Yesterday’s blog post was a bit out of character for me. It has always been my goal to make my blog a positive space where even my mistakes can be used to offer perspective and encouragement to other writers. But, because it’s also always been my goal to be transparent, I decided to be very honest about how I’ve been feeling about my latest release. Not to encourage or even discourage other writers, but to show people that no matter how many positive reviews you get, how many books you sell, criticism still hurts. Success does not separate the art from the artist. Nothing can. My books are me and when those pieces of me are rejected it feels like I’m being rejected too.
I’ve chosen not to dwell on that feeling today. Instead, I’m forcing myself to focus on data in the hope that I’ll gain some much needed perspective. You see, 2016 was an amazing year for me as an author. Denying that would just be another form of rejection, except this time I’d be the one rejecting myself. The truth is I maintained a level of success other authors only dream about. Just two years ago I was one of those dreamers. For five years I worked and hoped and worked and hoped and still I remained invisible. But I’m not invisible anymore. I’m not a millionaire but I’m no longer alone on this journey.
Readers-strangers I’ve never met before–are buying my books and then telling their closest friends who are telling their mothers who are sharing them with their daughters who are recommending them to their classmates who are showing them to their teachers and it hasn’t stopped. For 2 years these books have been working their way across oceans and continents simply by word of mouth. I have paid for 0 advertising. I haven’t begged bloggers to review one of my novels in almost three years. I am so incredibly lucky and I hate using that word to describe any part of my success because I have also worked my ass off writing 7 novels. But when I think about all of the other indie authors out there who are doing the same…and paying for advertising, and organizing their own blog tours, and taking every online course and reading every self-publishing handbook to try to conquer their own obscurity, I’m faced with this question: why me and not them? The only answer I can think of is luck.
So, while I realize that my blog may no longer be a place (and maybe it never was a place) where other authors can find formulaic advice guaranteed to help them duplicate the success I’ve had, I still believe my honesty and transparency can help someone out there gain some perspective on what it’s like to be an independent author.
It’s been a while since I talked about numbers, but when I was first starting out, they were the one piece of the publishing process I was the most interested in. Why? Because numbers don’t lie. They show the reality of what it means to be indie, and even though some indie authors are making a lot more money than I am, there are also many who are making a lot less.
*According to authorearnings.com any writer making more than $25,000 a year is considered mid-list and this is where I fall. You can check out the earning report for October 2016 here*
These are screenshots of an excel spreadsheet where I track my monthly/yearly sales. If you look up at 2015, you’ll see that it was May when I finally got my miracle. I still don’t have an explanation for the huge jump in sales but after 20 months they still haven’t slowed down. Every once in a while I’ll get a spike in sales (again, for reasons I still do not understand since I do absolutely 0 promotion) that will take me into the $3,000 or $4,000 range but for the most part over the past 2 years I’ve been consistently making about $2,000-$2,500 a month. That’s almost what I make as a 1st year teacher.
TDOTN came out in October so payout for those pre-orders will be on 2017’s spreadsheet. However, you can still see the surge in downloads for that month, which adds up to about $7,000. Since then, November and December have also seen an uptick in sales due to the addition to my backlist. In November I made about $5,000 and this month I’m on target to reach $4,000. I’ll be interested to see if the addition of TDOTN keeps me in the $3,000 range once things settle down a bit or if sales will fall back down to the $2,000 range. Whatever happens should give me a better idea of how much I can expect to make with the release of future novels.
These projections will be important for figuring out when I might finally feel comfortable transitioning to writing full time or how I should reinvest that money in order to grow my reach & diversify my product beyond just e-books. If things fall off unexpectedly, it might also help me determine if going hybrid and subbing a few novels rather than self-publishing them would be a good choice.
Some people might think I’m crazy to still be debating whether or not to make writing my full time job but in my opinion 2 years of steady sales just isn’t long enough for me to see the big picture. While $31,000 a year is definitely enough to live on if I were to continue living in an apartment and had no plans to reinvest in my business…it is not enough to grow. And not just my business but myself. I want to grow this thing I’ve created and that means minimizing the risk now so I can take a huge one later. One of the greatest lessons self-publishing has taught me is to be patient so that’s what I’m doing. I’m still dreaming, except I’m no longer dreaming of conquering obscurity. Instead, I’m dreaming of something else. Something bigger and not quite fully formed. Something worth waiting for.