Monday 14 July 2014

Self-publishing experience, Day 3

My new book, Return on Investment, went online at the Amazon KPD store mid-day on Saturday. Here's my experiences so far with my first self-published book--mind you, there will be many more stages in the process, as well as a mid- and long-term view, but maybe some people will find this interesting.

Set-up & cost

I found the set-up less complicated than it looked at first. Yes, to receive direct deposits, I had to link a bank account and get the IBAN and BIC codes, but a visit to my bank cleared that up really quickly. I also had to answer a tax questionnaire for the IRS (amusing - Amazon doesn't really pay tax, but it's strongly enforced on the individual authors), which went well. I expect it to be easier for US authors, but generally, having successfully applied for an ITIN, I found this not overly complicated.

While I bootstrapped the book, some strategic investments made the publishing easy--so I paid for excellent file conversions and a professional-looking layout, both of which meant all I had to do was click "upload file", rather than have to mess around with converters or doing it myself. I figured just the time savings was worth it.

As I said, I bootstrapped it--in other words, most of the editing was done by friends, most of whom are writers who apply very high standards to their own writing. All of them bar one were non-financial people. One friend worked in financial journalism and had some inside information on aspects that I didn't, and she helped me a great deal, too. I also paid a proofer/editor for a final pass.

So, with cover, editing/proofing/layout/conversion, my costs ran to $500-600, which is dirt cheap production for a 106k novel. It's also roughly what most of the m/m publishers seem to pay, though many players out there pay much less. It's production on a tight budget for an indie/small press.

Target group/market research/guesstimates

Based on my historical sales numbers, my lowest-selling books (Skybound, Gold Digger and Incursion) sell between 800-1,000 copies over 2 to 2.5 years. Mind you, this includes peak sales, so it's not like 400-500 copies a year, more like 600-800 copies in year 1 and then much less in year 2, with numbers settling at a very low level. After year 2-3, it becomes looooooong tail.

Based on that number, I estimate that my "reader core"--the people who buy anything I do because they love my voice--is about 900 people, maybe 1,000.

I felt that this book--unconventional, quirky, genre-busting, but very "Voinov"--was unlikely to draw people outside my core readership. It's not a "drive-by" or impulse buy, and I assume gay financial thrillers are a niche within a niche within a niche ... and so on. Thrillers aren't known for being open to LGBTQ content, and I have gay, bi and trans* characters in there. So I expect to sell about 900 copies over two years.


I set the price at $5.99, which may appear high to some. However, I feel I'm an established author and a known quantity in my market, and many of my readers don't mind paying slightly more, because many many of them are aware that I'm trying to make a living off writing. I also think that asking $5.99 for a very long book is acceptable. I wouldn't go higher than that with a self-publishing title, but I also need capital to fund the next one. (I made an agreement with my partner that I can only self-publish if it covers its own costs.)

Also, regarding pricing, most $2.99 books I've read suffered massively from a lack of editing. My gamble is that people are willing to pay $3 more if they're not distracted by stupid typos or awful grammar. It's based on feedback from my readers and my own willingness to pay more for a salad that doesn't contain snails or dead flies, but YMMV.

Of course, the higher price point also gives me the ability to do sales promotions via Amazon KDP. I went with Amazon as my only distribution channel, because frankly, I'm working full-time and have only a few hours left in the day to do fun stuff, and running publisher accounts, doing book-keeping from a million different sources and tracking payments is not my idea of fun. Moreover, I've looked long and hard at my royalty statements, and 95% of my non-direct sales are via Amazon anyway. I applied the Pareto principle that says 80% of all results come from 20% of all efforts, so in the interest of keeping myself sane, I kept it as simple as humanly possible.

That said, I love and value my non-Kindle readers (hey, guys!) and made sure I got EPUB and HTML conversions. Since I'm pretty close to my readers, I made sure to post notes everywhere (Facebook, Goodreads, Twitter, this blog) to contact me if anybody needs a different format. I sent some out against PayPal payments, others were gifts to readers in economies where a book paid in dollars is a huge part of disposable income (note to self, I need to look at relative pricing in economies like Brazil, India, etc.)


At $5.99, capturing 95% of my audience of 900-1,000 (855-950 people), an average royalty of $4.11 per book, and disregarding lending or "free" reading by Amazon Prime customers, I would expect royalties of $3,514 - $3,905 over two years. Let's take my average of expected costs ($550) off that: $2,964 to $3,355.

Of course, I'll have to pay tax from that, so let's be generous and apply a 20% tax rate (it's slightly higher, but I like simple numbers), because my income goes into a company, from which I'm drawing money as dividends, and I have an annual allowance that is taxed at 20%. So net income over 2 years should be $2,371 to $2,684 after cost, after tax. Not sure how I feel about the total number for a book I worked on for many, many months, but there you have it - my "salary" per hour would be in the very low dollar amounts, and far below minimum wage.

My financial goal is for Return to Investment to pay for itself, and allow me to hire my favourite editor for the next novel, who charges around $700-1,000 for editing, so with covers and layout and conversion, I'd expect the cost for my next self-publishing novel to run to $1,200-1,500. So, yeah, it should achieve that in about 1.5 years, according to the pre-launch number crunching.

Actual sales performance

On launch day, 12 July, Return on Investment sold 45 copies. On 13 July, 33 copies. Today so far, 7 copies. Some are international sales, so the GBP and EUR numbers don't quite translate, but if pretend they do and treat them like USD sales, I have 85 total sales for a total turnover of $349.35 so far, more than half my costs.

I did a "soft launch" - about 5 reviewers got copies on Saturday (files weren't ready much in advance), I tweeted about it, I blogged, I posted on Facebook and Goodreads - and then went to watch football (yay, Germany). I'm emphatically not doing a blog tour, because all my contacts are romance bloggers, and this doesn't qualify as a a romance in that sense. In my desire to not mis-sell the book, I pretty much opted out of selling it at all. Also, now that I'm full-time employed, I really need to focus on doing my quite demanding job and writing more books. I'm trusting my core readership to accept this as my latest offering, or turn their backs on it if it sucks. In any case, I don't have time or energy to keep posting, "BUY MY BOOK".

Regardless, it debuted on #2 and #3 of Amazon's Financial Thriller category (a few ahead of a John Grisham--never mind it's an older John Grisham), and the lowest Amazon rank it reached was about #4,400. (So, yeah, 45 sales will get you to the top of the category and into the 4,000-5,000 ranks). Today, it's down to about 9,700.

I'll keep tracking the numbers and see how things go. It's a fresh release, so Amazon's "also bought" sales engine hasn't got hold of it yet, but from experience, sales pick up when that happens (in about 5-7 days after release). That should produce a small or large uptick. After that, however, sales are entirely driven by word-of-mouth, and that can't be controlled or manipulated.

Over the mid-term, I expect sales to keep dropping to maybe 1-2 copies per day, and 0 on many days. It's a performance I've seen with other books. I'd be thrilled if it beats those expectations, but my sales record suggests low, steady sales. And that's fine by me. I'm considering this an interesting adventure, an experiment, and, above all, I'm glad I could liberate my much-rejected genrebuster from the drawer. After 6+ years, I thought it was time to let it go out into the wilds and find its few readers.


  1. It's fascinating to see the numbers broken down. Good luck with it. The price is a bargain, too.

    1. Thank you. As a financial journalist, I believe in hard numbers. :)

  2. Aleksandr, you can easily put your epub up on and hit Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo that way, all with one upload and one account to manage. It's well worth it. D2D takes their cut, but you get almost real-time sales info and their interface is very, very easy, and if you want to do sales, the price changes happen very quickly. It's well worth a little more effort to get the book out more widely and make your fans happy. (I go direct with most of the vendors myself, but use D2D to get to Apple and my freebie to B&N, and I love it how easy it is to use.) Good luck! :)

    1. Hi Dana - good point. I'm currently experimenting, so I might widen distribution, but I'm not sure if losing what I get for Amazon exclusivity is worth it for me at this point. I have friends who love D2D, so I'll look into it, quite possibly in a few months once I have hard data on this book. :)

  3. As an accountant I'm *thrilled* to see the process laid out like that :) and also of course to read the book. Plus I'll be dipping my toe in the self-pubbing pool at some stage. Good luck and kudos so far!

    1. You can't take the finance out of the finance journalist. :) If you need any help, I can definitely recommend you a good converter. Cover artists you probably know yourself. :)

  4. I'm impressed you could keep your costs down so low. As a self-published author, my average cost per novel (70K novel) runs at $1500. The one I'm currently writing has an editing cost of $2200 alone. But I believe in paying editors fairly too; editing is a job after all!

    But you're right, it has to be sustainable . . . which might be why I'll be turning to traditional publishing soon, LOL.

    Really hope RoI does well. Your writing has great tension, so I reckon so!

    1. Hi Anyta - Yeah, that sounds like you're going with a dev and a line editor and a couple proofers. My favourite editor does both - proofing is mostly done by friends, though, and by me (I'm a decent proofer myself).

      Regarding sustainability - it's a long-term game, of course, and hopefully readership increases over time. The sustainability thing came up specifically when my partner made the case for me to send it off to traditional publishing and I didn't want to, for several reasons. At the very least I promised him it'll pay for itself. He's actually quiet impressed with the launch numbers/yield, so next time it'll be less of a battle on that front. :) And thanks!