Periscope Depth

too close to miss: year one

Note: every time I talk about sales figures for Too Close to Miss, I open the post with a very self-conscious apology for talking about sales figures. I still feel self-conscious about it! Focusing too much on sales numbers turns writing from a noble attempt to bridge the unfathomable gap between Self and Other into a P&L exercise. It feels mercenary and cheap, and while I am a mercenary I hate feeling tawdry. But, at the same time:

  1. I believe it’s important to challenge the notion that self-publishing is not a viable means of releasing a book, and hard numbers are the only way to do that (“the plural of anecdote is data!”);

  2. It’s so hard to get sales data for any books – self-published or traditionally published – that any data is useful data.

Of course, all self-reported sales data suffers from survivorship bias. All you read about are winners. No one whose book languishes in obscurity will ever blog about it; if they do, no one else will ever read it. Until more comprehensive data becomes available, though, self-reporting is the best we can do.

Enough throat clearing! The numbers:

From December 2011 through November 2012 – twelve calendar months of sales – Too Close to Miss sold 2728 copies. That’s across Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, various Smashwords platforms (primarily iTunes’ iBookstore), and hard copies on Amazon via Createspace. Total royalties, in my pocket, were $3984.

What does this mean?

  • I had to give away 100,000 copies free to sell those 2700. It’s impossible to say how many fewer copies I’d have sold without that bump in rankings, but, going off the trends of the months leading up to May and June (when I saw the biggest spike in Amazon), I’ll say at least 800 fewer units. I don’t know if this is a sustainable pattern of promotion; I suspect not.

  • Four grand ain’t enough to live on, at least not anywhere nicer than Cape Verde.

  • This is 2700 copies sold on primarily word of mouth. I bought no ads, did no interviews, and held no book release parties. I had several very nice reviews, but nothing in huge, traditional venues. I find this pretty reassuring.

  • If I had sold Too Close to Miss to a traditional publisher in November 2011 – meaning, if I’d lucked out and found a buyer the same month I put it on the market, which is akin to a winning Powerball ticket – I’d have most likely netted a $5,000 advance. There’s no database of average advances for first-time, non-celebrity authors, but anecdotes I’ve heard (blog posts, conference speakers) say that $5000, if not less, is a good benchmark. And I wouldn’t have even received it all at once. And Too Close to Miss wouldn’t even be in print right now (lead time between signing a contract and seeing the actual book in stores ranges from 12-18 months, if not more).

  • More to the point, Too Close to Miss would have been a terrible investment for a publishing house of any real size. 2700 copies in a year? Which publishers do print runs of fewer than five thousand?
What do I take from this?

Self-publishing Too Close to Miss was the right call. If a traditional publisher had bought Too Close to Miss, I would likely have made less money, made fewer sales, and wouldn’t even have the book in print yet. This way, it’s trucking along at its slow and steady pace, getting my name out there and generating interest in the Mara Cunningham series.

Too Close to Miss, the first Mara Cunningham novel, is still available just about anywhere you can buy books online – Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and other stores. The second Mara Cunningham novel, Too Hard to Handle, is also available in select stores.

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