6 Months In: How Many Books Have I Sold?

My debut novel Pathfinders has been available to buy since March 1st 2016. A book that was a decade in the making, it was quickly followed by a second novel, Sigil and a short story, Spectrum.

In recent weeks I’ve had a number of comments from aspiring authors who are working on their own stories. In the interest of transparency and managing expectations, I wanted to declare my own stats – six months into my own journey as a self-published author.

Before revealing the cold, hard truth, and to temper expectations, it bears reminding that self-published author’s are ordinarily responsible for their own marketing and promotion. We don’t have the marketing budget of a traditional publishing powerhouse, nor the contacts that can help open doors. Publicists and teams of people can be recruited to fill the gap, but many writers don’t have the finances to seek support.

Instead, many indie authors rely on word-of-mouth, building a community through their website and social networks; growing their email subscriber list; running giveaways and ultimately giving a lot of their product away for free, especially if they’re a relative unknown (which accounts for 99.99% of us).

Enough jabbering already. How many books have you sold?

Let’s define ‘sold’. I’m not talking about giveaways. Nor am I talking about KDP Free Book Promotion’s (incidentally I gave away 4,000 free copies of SIGIL which moved it into the #1 slot for three subgenres – see this post).

We’re talking about people putting their hand into their pocket and dispensing with real cash.

So, here we go.

sales spectrum pathfinders sigilsales pathfinders sigil spectrum

Pathfinders – 135 books
Sigil – 44 books
Spectrum – 27 books
OVERALL – 206 books

It should be noted that SIGIL and SPECTRUM were released in June, perhaps the reason why the sales figures are lower. Either that or I invested most of my budget and marketing channels on the promotion of Pathfinders.

So…is that good?!

I don’t know is the honest answer. I didn’t expect to quit my day job once I hit the publish button for my first book. I think many aspiring writers secretly hope that their life will change when they do, therefore I wanted to inject some realism into the equation.

For every Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking, there are many thousands that fall by the wayside. If a debutante author’s first book hasn’t sold, they could get discouraged and quit. Only if you’re truly passionate about your craft will you continue to labour despite the odds.

To put it into perspective, according to an article in the Guardian newspaper (dated 2014), ‘just over 77% of self-published writers make $1,000 a year…with a startlingly high 53.9% of traditionally-published authors.

The cost for me to create and promote 207 books in their polished final format came out significantly higher than any revenue I’ve received. I talk about the cost to self-publish in another post. So has it been worth it? I only spend what I can afford to lose. Despite the slow burn of my books (thus far), I’ll continue to invest money in their promotion.

If I wasn’t passionate about writing and enjoying the process, I would have given up.

If you’re reading this as an aspiring author and thinking of giving up, after reading these sobering stats…good. Less competition for me  🙂

spectrum sci fi short story

image attribution – Lili Vieira de Carvalho via CC flickr

47 thoughts on “6 Months In: How Many Books Have I Sold?

  • I guess we must write for ourselves first of all, and hope someone else may like what we say. As important as marketing is, we’ve got to be honest and realistic about it, rather than descend to the level of clickbait likes. Thank you for your honesty, from another aspiring author.

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  • Thank you for sharing! I appreciate your honesty and insight. I’ve been terrified to get any of my work published. But, I need to finish everything I’ve working on, first and foremost.

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  • Thanks for writing such an honest and interesting blog.

    I may do the same one day…when I feel brave enough!

    Good luck in giving up the day job. I’ve been trying for years now 🙂

    Do you think it was the release of Sigil and Spectrum in June that caused the sales jump in Pathfinders?

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    • Hi Niels. Thanks for commenting. The jump was hiring a third party email site that alerted their followers about a discounted promotion of Pathfinders. That is covered in a blog post a few weeks ago. Best of luck on your own writing efforts!

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  • Takes guts to be so honest. I’m in a similar boat. Though being a children’s author I can draw on school talks as a means of showing the books off (not to say that talks don’t come with their own unique set of challenges). All the best with it all and thanks for showing me I’m not alone 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  • I’m not sure either if that’s wonderful or not, but what I do know is that you wrote, edited and published your own book. Well done.
    I’m sure this is not the end for you. No one who writes can ever really stop and all you have learned will surely work in your favour.
    I for one am very impressed.

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  • I think it’s all a learning experience. What works for one writer, may be a bomb for another. I’ve found that the support of other authors has been a huge boost for me. I share their work and they share mine, and hopefully we all prosper 🙂
    Best of luck, Aidan, you’re doing great!

    Liked by 1 person

  • What strikes me is that in order to keep up the momentum we have to constantly market. You had a blip in June (related to the new releases?) and then it drops again. I notice that with my books too. *Sigh* To be honest, my sales are much better now that I transitioned all my books from traditionally published to indie. In my experience, unless we land one of the big publishing houses, it’s better to go it on our own. 🙂

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    • I don’t mind the marketing. My background is in sales and marketing. It’s differentiating yourself and finding that corridor of quiet amid the noise of others that is testy. Great to hear you’re having a better experience since transitioning from trad to indie. Thanks for commenting!

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  • Wow…when I first saw the numbers I was thinking, wow! But then to put it in perspective with how much you spend on publishing a book, I realize the problem. But we aren’t in it for the money, are we? 😉
    I haven’t even finished my book, let alone thought about publishing it. Have you shopped it to the smaller companies like Xpresso and Curiosity Quills? I don’t know much about the publishing game, but those books get MAD publicity from what I see.

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    • I wanted to go the self pub route because my background is sales and marketing. I figured I could get eyes on it without giving up certain rights/commission by going the traditional route and seeking a small publishing house. Each to their own. I am of course assuming it is good enough to be trad published which is no guarantee, but I’ll keep plugging away with this strategy until I burn out and may need an agent/publicist/publisher. Thanks for commenting and please keep us updated about your own book!

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      • Thank you for breaking it down. And yes, I will keep you updated.
        Keep us updated on your book! I always root for the self-published author! My Uncle just published a book called Summer Warriors, and I had to introduce him to Goodreads to get reviewers. I know it’s gotta be hard, so I give you major props.

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  • I admire your honesty and praise you for telling it like it is in a world where people will happily pull the wool over the eyes of others all too often. I hope you don’t ever get disheartened because I really enjoyed Pathfinders and I think you have a talent. I also intend to get to Sigil in due course.

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  • Hi, Aidan, WordPress told me you liked my “Gunslinger” post this morning, so I took their advice and came over to see what you are doing. Your willingness to share your indie sales figures is refreshing. I’m in contact with some indie authors on Google+, and most believe they are the next Stephen King. I have self-published two books for children and neither cost me anything but time; however, marketing to children is difficult. In spite of that, my little 27-page bio of St. Kateri Tekakwitha has sold enough on its own to require filing tax papers for a small business, much to my husband’s chagrin! I enjoy books of all genres set in Ireland, so as soon as I stop bothering you here, I will go to Amazon and buy “Sigil.” Good luck with your books and writing, Aidan!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Catherine – Many thanks for taking the time to comment. The Gunslinger is a series I’ll be getting into soon ahead of the movies that come out (always prefer the books!). Great to hear that your bio took off! Kudos to you! I look forward to exploring your site in more detail – looks really interesting. Aidan

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  • But how many books have you “Sold” all together? Have you mentioned that in another blog? Because it seems like they would be correlated. When you gave away Spectrum/Sigil, people weren’t buying it, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I got both by the way 🙂 Haven’t had time to read Sigil yet, but I reviewed Spectrum for you.

    I know I go back to authors, even years later, when I’m looking for a new book to read. Keep them coming. It will only get better for you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Rq. Great to hear you got both! The 206 books were sold, all at full price. I ran a few promotions and made them free to get the ball rolling. I gave away thousands of such copies, so that isn’t factored into the figure. There’s a definite correlation when I ran a free promotion for a short time and then the book flicks back to full price. I’m only 6 months into this adventure so it’ll be better to see the results after a full year! Thanks for commenting!

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      • I imagine the bulk of it would be in the States because I had top spot there for my genre. But as far as I know there is no way of knowing the country breakdown for free digital downloads. But don’t quote me on that 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  • I really appreciate your candidness. Similar to your first book, it has taken me a decade and a half to get to where I am today– mostly because, . . . well the story, unbeknownst to me, wasn’t over. The real ending to the story came about half a year ago, and since then I’ve had two professional editors (a macro and a micro); plus I have paid for a third through Createspace because I can afford it and want it to be the best it can be.

    All along I was planning to go trad,but someone with a similarly personal story said that having control was important to her and that is why she decided to self-publish. It was never about becoming famous and I loathed the query process so I thought, “Hell why not?” I am hoping to change a few lives and donate proceeds. That’s my purpose.

    Again– thank you for feeding us poor souls out there with your informative blog. Good luck with your books! I have purchased some books from other bloggers and have enjoyed them. I am generally into true stories, memoir and such. I am a voyeur I guess! Bonsai

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    • Thanks very much for taking the time to write a message Bonsai. Best of luck on your own journey. Sounds like you’re in it for the right reasons too. Instead of making a quick buck, your values seem more aligned to entertain and amuse others. I agree wholeheartedly with making each book as best as it can be. There are too many shoddy, half-assed works out there which pollute the indie space. Not to say mine is anything special, but at the very least, an editor and recruiting readers before you hit publish should be a pre-req. Best of luck Bonsai and more power to you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I worry about being classified as someone who wrote a book that “couldn’t make it” and therefore self-published. I don’t think that at all actually, but traditional publishing is arduous and I do want to retain control of this very personal story. It makes sense for me. And it is a shame that many cannot afford good editing and end up polluting the space. Sad really. It gives those who have spent years and years on a project a bad rap. But hopefully a few good reviews will get me over the initial hump and it will become a nice little mission. Thank you again for your insights!

        Liked by 1 person

  • I have no idea if that’s good or bad either! But it doesn’t sound too shabby. Remember the more people read it, and REVIEW it more importantly, the more likely you may be picked up by a ‘real’ publisher. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with self-publishing, but it’s a lot of hard work. Giving away thousands! Wow – I hope they left reviews. I ALWAYS leave reviews everywhere I can when I get a galley book, or a pre-publish book. I love to support small authors, being one myself!
    I’m trying to get an agent at the moment – and that’s hard work too!
    Anyway, best of luck – I’m going to check out your books now!

    Liked by 1 person

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