Thursday 24 January 2013

A Year in Self Publishing

A Year of Self Publishing

Those of you who know me well will know that I’ve been writing since forever, but it was only one year ago, January 24th, 2012, that I self-published for the first time.

I’ve been traditionally published before to a certain extent – two short stories in professional magazines and more than 20 times in the small presses. In total, I’ve sold 33 short stories, however a lot of those sales were to magazines that bit the bucket before my story (and my pay check) ever saw print.

I won’t go too much into my reasons for deciding to self-publish, but it was mostly an attempt to save myself as a writer. I’d written what I thought was a seriously top drawer book (Tube Riders) and seen it rejected time and again by publishers and agents (it actually got three partial requests, but that was about it). My confidence in being able to sell was at such a low ebb I was close to quitting. I hadn’t written anything meaningful in more than two years and I’d been wasting my time doing all sorts of random things which weren’t writing fiction, generally throwing away whatever shred of talent I had.

Self-publishing was something I felt I had to try. I wanted people to read my books, had confidence in my writing skills and my stories, and saw it as an opportunity rather than a last chance saloon.

This is what happened.

On 24th January 2012 I uploaded a previously published short story, Forever My Baby, to Amazon, followed a few days later by another short story, The Ageless.

By the end of January I had made four sales – two to myself, one to my dad and one to a mate.

In February I added three more previously published short stories and a collection of ten, Ms Ito’s Bird & Other Stories. By the end of the month I had sold 22 total copies, mostly to friends and family, and made about $20.

So it continued. In March I published my novel The Tube Riders, followed by another novel, The Man Who Built the World, in September. I added several more short stories, the first two episodes of a novella series, and I split Tube Riders into three parts, primarily as a marketing tool.

By the end of the year I had 21 items for sale on Amazon.

My sales ticked over very slowly without really kicking off. Still, by the end of the year I had sold 415 books and had make a fraction under $700.

Ebook sales totals by month
(all Amazon stores combined)

Jan – 4
Feb – 22
Mar – 15
Apr – 13
May – 6
Jun – 32
Jul – 30
Aug – 27
Sept – 20
Oct – 72
Nov – 33
Dec – 113
Paperbacks (Sept to Dec) - 18
Total – 415

Revenue - $699.66

October’s spike was the first time I offered Tube Riders as a Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select free promotion, and in December I did another one. While I’m not a fan of giving books away for free, I am very serious about making this into a career and in the early days it is important to get as many readers as possible. Hopefully in the future I will be able to move away from KDP Select into other distributors and more traditional forms of advertising beyond the free promotions that Select allows. However, so far it has helped me a lot, although for those sales I have given away roughly 16,000 free books through promotions. It is quite some figure, but considering there are probably more than 10 million people with Kindles alone it’s a drop in the ocean, and it allowed me to reach readers that would otherwise have not found my work. It’s a form of advertising, and costs me nothing, whereas billboards or newspaper ads would cost a small fortune I don’t have. So far it’s been worth it.

So, $700. It's a solid figure, but not so much when you consider the outlay. So far, my rough costs have been –

$650 – production costs (cover design, formatting etc)
$200 – advertising (paperback giveaways, competitions, ads sites, websites etc)

And how about time?

It’s impossible to tell for sure, but at a rough estimate over the last year I’ve spent an average of 2 hours a day on writing, advertising, designing covers, formatting . . . so even if I hadn’t had the expenditures I would still have earned less than $1 per hour for my efforts.

What does this tell me?

That self-publishing is no easy cash grab. I have a day job and some days I’m out of the house working from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fitting in so much work on self-publishing around that was pretty hard. In layman’s terms, I busted my ass on this.

Am I satisfied?

I don’t consider myself a flash in the pan or a fly-by hoping to make a quick buck. I am a careerist and sooner or later this will be my full time job. It’s not open for debate. The number of great reviews I’ve had back up my own confidence in my material. I’m currently working on a seven year plan to go full time (by the time I’m 40) so I have six to go. As I write this I’ve already had 113 sales in January which is 528 in my first year. If someone had offered me that at the beginning of 2012 I would have jumped all over it.

While some people blow up with just one or two books and start selling by the thousand, I never realistically expected that to happen to me. I’ve always been a grafter, but that’s fine. Health permitting I’ll be putting out the same amount of product (and hopefully more) each year. Unless there’s some random market crash I only expect things to improve.

I’ll save what I’ve learned from self-publishing over the last year for another post, but self-publishing has already achieved what I needed it to achieve.

It has saved me as a writer.

For years I wrote roughly a novel a year, but by the age of 30 (2009, when I wrote Tube Riders) the years of rejection and failure to find a publisher had taken its toll and my creativity was at an all time low.

Back in June last year, three months after I published Tube Riders, I realised that it was time to start writing again. In the past seven months I’ve written a shade over 275,000 words, or three good-length novels. That is my most productive period ever, and with 24,000 words in January so far it is showing no signs of abating. I’m back, and writing better than ever.

And I’m committed to continuing to improve. Not just my books, but my knowledge of the business side of self publishing.

There’s a lot more to come from me. I hope you’re looking forward to it.

24th Jan 2012


  1. Congratulations, my friend. I see much success for you in self-publishing. You have both the talent and the drive to make it.

  2. I will always love your stuff whether you're a drunk poker master or a filthy rich writer.

    1. Thanks, dude! I'm currently more likely to be one than the other but I'm working on it...

  3. That was my partner Carol who bought your first book in January. I am too old to be allowed access to a Kindle. However I have read all your books and you are very good at writing. A chip off your Grandads block, also a writer though not a novelist.


    1. Haha, for the sake of word count I was counting you both as one entity, pops! But cheers, although I'm not sure what grandad would think about what I write! I'm sure he'd appreciate the effort!

  4. You rule. The Tube Rider series is going to be the cornerstone of a fantastic career, and, just keep going man. The good guys DO win, and you're one of them.

    1. Thanks, John! I'll see what happens once I finally get part two out...

  5. Hmm, 24 000 words a month? Damn it, I write this much in a week, when I'm writing a book. I wrote two books before in Lithuanian language - both were rejected, so I decided to write something in English and sell it through Creative Share. I hope this time it will work. I write non fiction targeted literature. :)

    1. Good luck with it, Tom. I hope things go well.