Hey, I realized recently that no one knows how much another author sells. We kinda just guess and imagine that everyone is killing it. But in reality, it’s a lot harder than it looks.
For instance, last year when the Boost House compilation The Yolo Pages broke, I wanted to know how many copies they sold. No one knew. They went into a second printing, someone said. But still, I was curious.
The same with Mira Gonzalez’s poetry book from Sorry House. It was in bookstores. Mira was getting interviews and reviews. How much did they sell 1,000? Or 10,000? I should probably have emailed the publisher and asked. But I didn’t. (Fine, someone email me and tell me).
In that spirit, I thought it would be helpful if I talked about the metrics of my latest ebook, WOODBINE.
First, the facts.
Woodbine is a short ebook with about 8 stories about my neighborhood.
I wrote this kind of on a whim, thinking of several things that happened to me and wanted to put them together. The ebook is memoir-ish and somewhat humorous. I wrote it during the spring and summer of 2014, edited it, designed it and then released it to the world in August 2014 via Gumroad.
Most small launches like this depend completely on the community and the author’s publishing history. My history at this point is a bit mixed.
This book was a stretch for my readers (how few they are) for several reasons.
It was a memoir, not fiction. My longest work to date is a novella called Ambient Florida Position. After that, I’ve posted a few excerpts from my forthcoming novel, Taco Jehovah. Both Ambient Florida Position and Taco Jehovah are fiction.
My other non-fiction chapbook of similar length was What Kmart Is Like Now. It’s ironically focused on the subject of Kmart and I include some cultural analysis along with some funny anecdotes (fiction and non-fiction) about the store. The tone was different than Woodbine, which was more serious.
I charged for Woodbine even though I didn’t charge for many of my other books in the past. Even Ambient Florida Position was listed as a free download from the publisher, though the print version costs money.
To advance my career as an author, I thought it was important to start charging so people would place more value on my work. Many people find books on Scribd or wherever, but then quickly forget about them (or maybe that’s just me…). I figured at some point I should make money from my fiction and creative writing (albeit however small that amount is). I make money from my professional writing, and if someone is willing to throw $3 repeatedly for a coffee somewhere, I think my insights, talent and hard work are worth at least that.
Trying to make money from fiction (any money…not to make a living) seems impossible. I think that’s because as writers we make a lot of concessions for the sake of “exposure.”
Instead of trusting my books for that, that’s what I want the excerpts and blog to do.
But charging for the books was a change. And since that time, I decided to charge for all of my other books.
I did some promotion, but it wasn’t focused. I sent out a few review copies. I had started an email list off of this blog, but it’s not well established. Otherwise, I depended on social media, mostly Twitter and some Facebook.
Somewhat unrelated, I was asked to a few different readings during the fall. For these, I printed off 100 postcards and sent them to a few people who asked for them from Facebook. I also had them available at the readings, and though several people picked them up, they didn’t result in many sales. I had an offer code specifically to get Woodbine for $1.99 rather than $2.99.
Two people used this offer code and I still have a few postcards left (yes, I’ll send you one…).
I realize now that the book was hard to find outside of my immediate influence. I didn’t list it on Amazon and I only recently listed it on Goodreads.
The best promotion I did was completely accidental. I submitted an excerpt to the Human Parts collection on Medium. I have played around with Medium, listing a few novel excerpts and some blog posts.
The excerpt, “This Is Not, This Is Not, This Is Not Who I’m Supposed To Be” was my second essay for Human Parts. The first received about 500 reads. After two days, this excerpt received more than 20,000 views and is currently at 26,000. For most of that traffic, I did not have a direct link to purchase the book. Because of my history on the site, I didn’t set up my biography for sales.
After I listed a direct link to purchase the book after about 13,000 views, I sold three copies.
However, I did grow my email list, adding about 25 subscribers in those two days.
You would think because my subject matter was local, that I’d have a bulit-in audience. The problem is that I live in a neighborhood that’s doesn’t meet the typical artistic dynamics…i.e. not many adventurous readers. On top of that, a lot of people even within Nashville aren’t familiar with Woodbine.
I didn’t do a lot to “warm up” the local audience or set up a formal release party or anything. If I would’ve used my friend group a little bit more, it might have resulted in more sales.
Because of the diverse differences in my tone and style for each of these books, it was hard for the people that have supported me in the past to know what to expect. After they read parts or early excerpts, they may not have thought Woodbine was for them.
437 views on my website
350 views on Gumroad
$50 in sales for Woodbine or about 30 copies.
What can I do differently next time?
For Woodbine, I could find a way to list the book or at least an excerpt on Amazon. Because it has a lot of images and different textual effects, it doesn’t translate well to the Kindle. But I think an excerpt would work.
For all my books, I’m going to explore Facebook ads more closely. My readers there seem more engaged and when I recently ran a Facebook ad for this post just for one day, I had an uptick in traffic. It seems like I had better engagement than running Google ads in the past.
I’m still trying to work on my blogging efforts, while also writing new material. My next focus will be on promoting Taco Jehovah. This promotion will be focused more on reviews, to taco blogs (maybe…?) and Christian blogs for its subject matter.
I’m interested in putting a small tour together and running some cross-promotional stuff in conjunction with Dig That Book‘s other titles. (Dig That Book is publishing Taco Jehovah).
As I work with Dig That Book in finalizing the release date, these will crystallize some.
I need to see what marketing channel gets the most traction and scale from there, instead of trying to promote through every channel at once.
What do you think? What should I do for my next book? Leave a comment below.