Self-publishing 2016 – KDP Select woe

Following on from the post about my 2016 sales figures, I thought I’d share some other self-publishing insights I’d made in the last year or so.

A KDP Select quirk that cut my income by 2/3

KDP Logo

So, I’ve got two books in KDP select, the Amazon initiative where you sell exclusively through them, and get a higher % of sales, as well being listed in Kindle Unlimited, where readers download for free and you get paid per page view. Those books are my short story collection The Resurrection Tree and Other Stories and my SF comedy Higgs & Soap: Galaxy Delivery.

I put those two in the program as a test, mainly because I was seeing almost non-existent sales elsewhere anyway. They have now been in KDP Select since last April. Soon after enrolling in the scheme, I decided to take advantage of one of its benefits – the promotions. You can do a Kindle Countdown Deal, where you set the lowest price to sell at, and each day, over a set number of days, the price goes back up to the original value, or a Free Book Promotion, which is self-explanatory.

In May 2016, I did the latter for both books. I set them up for a 5-day free promotion and went on social media and Kindle forums to promote it as much as I could. And it went well – I shifted 137 copies of The Resurrection Tree (TRT) and 214 copies of Higgs & Soap (H&S). I was initially quite pleased. I had actually done a similar promotion with the short story collection during a brief dally with KDP Select in 2015 and had over 400 takers then, so this was down a bit, but still encouraging.

However, the following month, sales of my other titles plummeted…

Graph - sales drop

The big green and maroon bars in May are the free copies of TRT and H&S flying off the digital shelves, and it’s clear to see that sales of my superhero novels Powerless and Killing Gods dropped off significantly that month, and continued to stay low. At the end of 2015, sales had been increasing from around 10/7 per month of each to 70/30, and this continued until April 2016. The month of my free book promotion, these dropped to 40/30, and eventually settled around 22/10 on average.

Now, it could just have been a coincidence – readers suddenly tired of superheroes, I reached some kind of saturation point with my books, it was the start of Summer and people read less – but nothing else happened at that time that could account for it.

Why it happened I can only guess at. Sure, some people might have seen the free book offer and held off buying “Tony Cooper’s” other books for a month or so, but the free books weren’t in the same genre, and the sales drop has been consistent since. So, I’m thinking there was probably some Amazon algorithm at work here. Because I suddenly “sold” a large number of books for free, I’m guessing some code kicked in that either increased the visibility of those KDP Select books AND/OR decreased the visibility of my other books, as they weren’t “selling” as well. And by visibility, I mean in the recommendations system: “People who bought this…” “You might also like…” etc. And it looks like this effect has persisted ever since.

Anyhow, I am never going to do a price promotion on any of my KDP Select books again. A bit extreme perhaps? Maybe so, but I was approaching Β£100 per month sales before this event, on an upward trend, and I’m now back down to averaging Β£30. It could have been a mistake putting two books in the free promotion at the same time, maybe that’s what triggered this? If I had done one at a time, it might not have hit me so hard? The thing is I have absolutely no idea, as Amazon keeps their algorithms completely opaque.

Welcome to the wonderful world of self-publishing! πŸ™‚

Self-publishing sales 2016

First things first: Happy New Year to one and all! πŸ˜€

Now that’s out of the way, it’s time to delve into some sales figures. I have done this twice before, in 2013 and 2014, but skipped last year for no particular reason I can remember. I like to do this because there isn’t that much honest information out there for self-published creators into the reality of how it works and what actual sales and income look like.

Because I missed last year, I thought I would do a run-down of the last (first) four years of my self-publishing journey, along with a few hints and tips about things I’ve discovered along the way.

So, here’s the graph of sales per year:

Sales Graph

As you can see, there’s an upward trend, with only a handful of things to point out:

  • The drop in Powerless sales from 2013 to 2014 was because at this time it was selling for full price (Β£3.99 if I recall), and I only dropped it down to 99p after the sequel Killing Gods came out in early 2014. I think this drop was partly due to sales fatigue at that higher price, combined with the fact it was a standalone book at that time (people less likely to pay that much if not part of a series) and the fact that prices seemed to be starting to drop overall in 2013/2014 across Amazon and the whole ebook world.
  • Powerless/Killing Gods is a combined ebook of the two books, and I never expected it to sell huge numbers as it was more an experiment in creating another line of income. Interestingly, this sells mostly on the Apple bookstore and Barnes & Noble in the USA, as opposed to Amazon.
  • Whilst The Resurrection Tree and Higgs & Soap have low actual sales, I have used free promotions on Amazon to “sell” 640 and 214 copies of them respectively. And because they’re exclusive to Amazon now, what this means is that the moment any of these 854 people start reading, I start getting paid per page read. And luckily for me, most people tend to read cover to cover – especially Higgs & Soap – which equates to a bit more than a full sale.
  • Quite pleased that my comic, Some Kind of Hero has sold decent numbers on both Amazon and ComiXology. You never know how these things will go, especially for a one-shot story that’s tied into a line of books! I’ll be promoting it more this year and we’ll see how it looks in next year’s graph.

All very interesting I’m sure, but you want to know about the money! So here we go:

Income graph

Almost made enough for my solid gold yacht! However, this year is rubbish πŸ™‚

I’m a little premature here, given that my Amazon payment for November isn’t due until the end of this month, but expect that 2016 column to go up by another Β£30-Β£40 or so. FYI, the 2014 dip in sales matches the drop in Powerless sales and low initial Killing Gods sales, which I’ve talked about above. But to be honest, it isn’t the most interesting graph, it’s this one:

Graph of Income per Book

This is how much each book brought in per year. Powerless was full price for 2013, then dropped to 99p for 2014 onwards, so no big surprise it’s not raking in the money. However, while Killing Gods was slow to start (coming in and staying at full price) as more people picked up the first book, more went and dropped cash on the sequel. At 99p, over 1400 people have so far gambled on Powerless, and over 400 on Killing Gods, which means (ignoring those who just bought the second book alone) there’s around another 1000 people who haven’t bought the sequel yet. Now some of those might have read the first one and genuinely aren’t interested in continuing, but there will be a number who are maybe holding off the sequel for now and an even larger number who haven’t even read the first one they bought yet.

It’s well known that Kindle readers will readily drop 99p/99c on an ebook and have a massive digital pile of titles to-be-read.

It’s also well known now that if, as an author, you have a book series, selling the first book at 99p/99c or even giving it away free will greatly encourage sales of the sequels. Give readers an “easy in” to your books, and if they like it, then you’ve got someone who might pick up the sequels. If they don’t like it, they’ve only spent less than a pound, so no great loss for anyone involved. And as it is, my graph above seems to bear this out.

Oh, and as for sales per channel, I’m not going to show the graph for that as it is so skewed, but Amazon netted 1114 sales in total with 15 for iTunes/Apple and 16 for Barnes & Noble, which is a similar pattern to previous years.

The truth of the matter is that self-publishing is a long game. Don’t quit your day job to finish that novel expecting to replace your salary when you release it. You won’t. You have to be prepared to keep promoting, keep bringing out new material, keep at it for years to start to see that upward trend turn into something that can support you.

To be honest, looking at that final graph, I should be banging out the third book in the series right now rather than working on a graphic novel! So that’s my plan after The Murder Club is released – to finish and publish book #3.

Hope this has been useful for you. Feel free to add your own info, or ask questions in the comments below and I’ll answer as best I can.

Tony.

Holiday Message

Well hello everyone! I’m sure you’re all busy preparing for the Winter festivities, however you celebrate, so this will just be a small update.

I’ve been busy adding stuff to my Patreon page – many of my posts there are available to all, and those that are ‘locked’ to donation levels include all sorts of exclusive art and stories. In fact, I’m going to post another short story later today for my $5+ backers, so go have a look and tell me what you think.

Work-wise, I’m cracking on with The Murder Club. As well as finishing the dedicated website, I completed an edit pass of the story and art, and I’m now into the inking phase. Pleasingly it’s going nice and fast, so I’m hoping to catch up with my schedule (a tad behind) and will release on time next year. For regular updates of progress and art, Patreon is the place to be, but here’s a freebie – an inked page from the comic, all ready for dialogue and toning.

As well as the piece of art and short story for my Patreon people, I’ve been outlining a novella that interests me. No idea when I’ll have the time to do anything with it, but it’s one of those stories that grabs you by the throat and you feel you have to get it out. And, randomly, I’ve been making clay gifts for my niece and nephew. Here is the clay owl I made for my niece, painted in her favourite colours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever you’re up to this coming week, I hope you have a great time!

Tony.

Patreon-exclusive short story published

Patreon Logo

I have just published an exclusive short story on Patreon for my $5+ patrons. It’s a science fiction tale called “The Bridge“, weighs in at about 4200 words, and you can’t get it anywhere else πŸ™‚

This is the first Patron-only content I’ve published (thanks to other stuff getting in the way at the moment), however I have more planned for the coming weeks, including small pieces of art and mini (250-500 word) stories based on randomly chosen topics.

Enjoy!

Patreon page launched!

I have gone and launched my Patreon Page!

If you sponsor me monthly for as little as $1, you get exclusive updates and a monthly Q&A session. For $3, you get ALL my past and future work in digital format. And from $5 a month upwards, you start to get exclusive, Patron-only rewards.

And the donation tiers go up to $100 a month, including such delights as high-res colour artwork, early access looks at draft stories and comics, a bi-monthly video from me, and physical rewards such as books, comics and merchandise.

Pateon Page

Follow the link, have a look around and tell everyone you know, because I’m all ready and waiting to make stuff just for you πŸ˜€

Tony.

I’m going to launch a Patreon page

Hello peeps,

Well, sadly, I wasn’t able to go to BristolCon this year as I took ill with “that cold that’s been going round”, which was a bit of a shame as it’s a great event. But hopefully I should be back to normal in time for MCM Birmingham on the 19th-20th November (just over two weeks away!)

So instead of going down to Bristol, I kept myself busy doing burndown charts for The Murder Club, so I can see visually how progress is going, and if I’m going to make my target release date. Yes, I was bored and ill πŸ™‚

Patreon Logo

Also, I set up a Patreon page for myself. For those unfamiliar with the website, it’s a place where you can support creators (artists, writers, filmmakers, etc.) by giving tiny monthly donations from $1 upwards, in return for rewards. I had avoided using it for a while, since I had been focusing on prose, and there were hardly any writers on there. But then more writers started using it – I guess they felt more comfortable doing so, as public perception about how much they earn changed. Also, I started veering away from prose writing into visual storytelling instead, which fitted better with the overall vibe of the site anyway.

Now, my Patreon page isn’t live yet. I wanted to get some feedback before I launched it properly, so if you follow this preview link and have a rummage around, I would love to have your comments on the content, the donation tiers and rewards (too many? wrong rewards? any rewards you would prefer?), and anything else. Yes, I know I should do a video, but making the Kickstarter vid for my comic has put me off for a while!

When the page does go properly live, I’ll announce it everywhere, so you won’t miss it.

Tony.

Self publishing: where do you go?

!LONG POST WARNING! πŸ˜€

If you’re just starting out in self-publishing, it can be a bit daunting nowadays with so many places to sell your work. It used to be simple: Amazon or nothing. In fact, before Amazon, it was ‘post your manuscript or comic pages to publishers, and wait years for nothing to happen’. But now there are so many options, with smaller sites trying to compete with the larger ones for market share.

The only advice I can give is based on where I currently publish my work and services. Which are the biggest? Which are the best? What are the pros and cons? Can I get through writing this long post without a cup of tea to prop me up? (Unlikely) So let’s get cracking:

 

KDP LogoWHERE I SELL MY EBOOKS

  • Amazon KDP
    • The daddy of them all, making up over 97% of my sales and 94% of my ebook income. To self-publish, you need a .DOC of your manuscript (specifically formatted) and a separate cover image, as well as your bank details for payments.
    • They now have the option for you to set the publication date in the future, so you can do pre-orders.
    • They don’t generate an ISBN for you, so if you want to use one, you’ll have to get it elsewhere, although this isn’t a requirement for digital books.
    • KDP Select – if you wish, you can go exclusive to Amazon via this service for 90 days at a time (i.e. you are not allowed to publish anywhere else online, including via your own website). This gives you access to special promotional options: Countdown Deals (timed price drop, then incremental increases back to original price) or Free Book Promotions (for max 5 days in any 90 day period, doesn’t have to be consecutive). I currently have two books in this program, Higgs & Soap: Galaxy Delivery (HSGD) and The Resurrection Tree and Other Stories (TRT), mostly because they both had zero sales on any other platform, so it was no loss to me to go exclusive.
    • Kindle Unlimited – you are automatically enrolled in this if you sign up to KDP select, and it means that Kindle Unlimited subscribers can download your book for free, and you then get paid per page viewed. I’ve actually had quite a few page views for HSGD and TRT, which more or less make up for what the sale price actually is.
    • Personally I’ve never encountered any issues with them – the whole submission process is straightforward and quick.
  • Smashwords
    • These guys are a service where you can upload your manuscript and cover, and they will not only publish them on their own site, but also submit it to other ebook platforms for a small cut of each sale. This is really handy if you don’t want to hassle of going through four or five different submission processes, each with their own slightly different requirements and quirks.
    • They don’t submit to Amazon, but their main targets are Apple’s itunes store, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble (NOOK) as well as several other smaller library and subscription services (one point each if you’ve heard of Scribd, Overdrive, Odilo, Yuzu, txtr or Tolino).
    • I’ve had occasional problems with submissions, to do with an identical manuscript being passed then failed (or vice-versa) simply because it was a different person checking it over.
    • They do generate an ISBN for you if you wish, for free!
    • They have a great system where you can generate ‘coupon codes’ for your ebooks, where you set a % discount (or free) and you can then use the code for your own sales and promotional purposes, or to give to reviewers for instance.
    • Generally I get very few sales on their own site, but the remaining 3% that don’t buy from Amazon are from the itunes and NOOK stores.
    • A similar service is Draft2Digital, who have a much better looking website and process, but as far as I know, they are broadly similar to Smashwords.
  • Apple itunes
    • I publish here via Smashwords as above, and get a trickle of sales in the US.
  • Barnes & Noble (NOOK Books)
    • Again sold via Smashwords. If you wish to self-publish directly to them, their own service is called NOOKPress (formerly Pubit!).
    • There used to be a NOOK UK, but that disappeared in March 2016. Most of my sales were and are US based anyway.
  • Kobo
    • Also through Smashwords. This is actually a fairly big ebook service, heavily promoted with the devices sold through WH Smith in the UK. How many ebooks have I ever sold on here in three years? Two.
  • Google Play
    • Easy to forget about this one, especially since I hardly ever make a sale here, but there are BILLIONS of Android devices out there, so it’s worth it.
    • Their submission process is a bit of a pain (and it’s offline at the moment), involving very specific file names that must match a generated store code and contain descriptors of what the file is (‘content’, ‘cover’, etc.) Seriously, that’s the kind of stuff that’s easy to make a mistake with, and could even more easily be automated at their end.
  • DriveThruFiction
    • This is actually part of a collection of specific sales sites (others are -RPG, -Cards, and -Comics).
    • Somewhere else where I get a spattering of sales throughout the year, although I haven’t yet reached the payout threshold. Pretty straightforward to submit to, with some handy back-end sales tools and options.

Lost to history: Sony ereader, Nook UK, Oyster and moreΒ  πŸ™

 

ComiXology LogoWHERE I SELL MY DIGITAL COMICS

  • Comixology
    • The big momma of the digital comics world. Now owned by Amazon, which means little to you as a seller, other than you can log in with your Amazon account, and if you list your comic both here and on Amazon, a little “Buy on ComiXology” link appears under your title.
    • However, the link with Amazon doesn’t extend to ease of submission. Wow, talk about a ‘black hole’, this is like the old days of submissions to the ‘Big Five’ book publishers where you sent your work and got no feedback at all. Essentially, you create a ‘Publisher’, create a title, upload your PDF, then submit and wait for weeks. Many. Weeks.
    • You see, each submission is checked by a person for suitability (banned content checks and overall quality checks I guess), and indie comics are low down on their priority list, as they also publish Marvel, DC, Image and others. I do understand the need for this for indies (and apparently, the process is speedier for subsequent submissions – i.e. you’ve proven you’re good and not trying to slip nasty stuff onto their service) but the utter lack of communication, other than a status change on the ‘submit’ page, is really bad.
    • Oh, and also, when it’s approved, you have no control over the release date. They choose that. I discovered via accidental bored browsing when Powerless: Some Kind of Hero was coming out (there was no notification email or anything), giving me just a few days to promote it. On the largest digital comics service online. Poor.
    • Also, whereas on Amazon, you can see instant sales stats and get monthly reports, ComiXology only do quarterly reports (my first arrives end of November) and there is no ‘chart’, so you have no idea for up to three months how your comic is selling.
    • So yeah, you have to be on here for outward visibility, but inward visibility for indie self-publishers falls way behind the new parent company. Here’s hoping this can improve.
  • Amazon KDP
    • What, again? Yes, you can sell digital comics on Amazon, as well as ComiXology, which is somewhat confusing, although they do link to their newly purchased site. It’s a similar submission process to ebooks, and thankfully within a similar time frame.
    • Also thankfully, you get access to the fantastic daily stats they provide. Surprisingly, I’ve had 16 sales on here, which makes me even more interested to find out how it’s done on ComiXology.
  • DriveThruComics
    • As with DriveThruFiction – same submission process and data behind it.
  • itch.io
    • Now this one is interesting. I knew of this site as one you can submit indie games to, but had no idea they had expanded to comics (and ebooks).
    • Submission was an absolute dream! One of the easiest-to-use back ends I’ve seen (and I’ve seen many back-ends, “oo-er-missus” etc.) – I created an account and had my comic up there within half an hour.
  • Etsy
    • I had no idea Etsy sold digital items until I investigated them. Unfortunately they have a tiny upload file size limit, which meant I had to split the comic into two files, which is not ideal either for sellers or buyers. No sales here yet, but not expecting many to be honest.
  • Gumroad
    • These guys have been around for a while, but have quite an odd site. There is no ‘browsing’, no overall store. You create an item to sell, and link to it from elsewhere (your own website for instance). So it’s great for simply selling stuff direct, but there is no chance of ‘discovery’ by anyone.

Also: there are various mobile/tablet only sites for comics I have yet to fully investigate, which might be good for digital sales.

 

Createspace LogoWHERE I SELL MY PHYSICAL BOOKS AND COMICS

  • Createspace
    • Another Amazon company, and where I get all my books printed. They are a Print On Demand (POD) service, who sell directly, but I simply use them as a printing service for myself, as authors get discounts on their own work. HIGHLY recommend getting a proof copy by the way – a tad pricey, but very, very worth it.
    • Submission is not quite as simple as KDP, as print books need to be formatted differently, not to mention all the cover and paper settings, but once that’s done you get the option to opt-in for distribution services to bookstores and libraries for free.
    • Once everything is set up correctly, their approval process is surprisingly swift. And being part of Amazon, as soon as you create a title, it checks to see if it already exists on their digital store and automatically links the two, so that shoppers can order a POD paper copy if they wish.
    • I did look into printing my comic through here, but the formatting and sizing was a nightmare, so I gave up in the end. There are no default comic book sizes available, and a test submission came back with some odd errors I couldn’t ultimately be bothered figuring out.
  • Comicsy
    • UK based, and apparently the ‘No. 1 Indie Comics Marketplace’ (their own words). There are various pricing options from FREE and upwards for more web storage space for your digital titles. Yep, they now do digital sales, but I haven’t yet put mine on there yet. There was a reason, but I can’t remember what it was, so I didn’t included it above.
    • Setup involves creating your own ‘store’ via a WordPress (blog) based back-end and then adding pages for each title. Luckily, I have run my WordPress blog for years, so this was fairly straightforward for me, but I can see this being quite confusing and actually off-putting for those who have never done this before. It’s very different to other submissions processes and might take the less technically inclined some time or outside help to get set up properly.
  • ComicHaus
    • Another UK based website for selling paper comics. The two main differences between these guys and Comicsy are: 1) ComicHaus don’t use WordPress, so set up is 1000x simpler, however, 2) there is no option to bulk list titles. This means if you have 50 copies you are willing to sell, each one needs to be listed individually. So what they give with one hand, they take with the other.
  • Etsy
    • Not just for knitted animals, cute clay animals, animal hats etc., little did I know that Etsy had a category for physical comics too! Pretty easy to list, but not sure about the visibility on a site that is more catered for arts and crafts.
  • Conventions!
    • Obviously, I sell most of my books and comics at conventions. They are the best place to be honest, as that’s what most of the visitors are there for (depending on the event). But this could be a separate blog post all by itself, so I’ll just leave it here for now.

 

CPUK Logo“But where do you get comics printed?” I hear you cry – well I go to Comic Printing UK! They came recommended to me, and also print work by many well-known independent comic creators, so have the skills and knowledge to tackle pretty much anything. And they are super friendly, helpful and patient with first-time creators, so don’t hesitate to contact them with your queries.

And that’s just the tip of the sales iceberg. For artists, you can sell your art and art services via places like Fiverr, Etsy, DeviantArt, Patreon and others. For game developers, the main platforms are Steam (the Amazon of the digital games world), Humble, itch.io and Good Old Games (GOG). But all these I’m not so familiar with, so I’ll just drop those links in here for you to look at yourself.

Well, I hope this super long blog post had been informative. Feel free to ask questions or leave other recommendations and reviews in the comments below, or drop me an email if you want more detailed info an any of the above.

Tony.

 

Hire me on Fiverr!

Fiverr Gig

That’s right, I am now signed up to one of the largest paid service websites as an artist! Ever looked at my art and thought to yourself “I fancy a bit of that!“, then your wish has become true. Pop along to my ‘gig’ and have a look – I can draw anything you want starting from just over Β£12: comic-book superheroes, film or TV characters, or even transform yourself or someone you know into a hero or famous drug kingpin!

You can have just the figure art (line art or colour), or have a background of your choosing too. In fact, if you’re looking to have a comic book cover made, then the ‘Premium’ option is ideal – just let me know that’s what your looking for and we can discuss the details.

So hire me today!

“This month, I have been mostly making nails from thumbs!”

Hello again,

I promise you that subject line isn’t quite as grim as it sounds!

I’ve been a bit quiet the last few weeks, but that’s because I’ve been trying to cram a lot in and finish some tasks off. So, what have I been up to? Here’s a handy list:

  • Created temporary website for my comic The Murder Club – At the moment it’s just a splash image and links out, but I will be updating this with art and progress as the project proceeds
  • Finished thumbnail layouts for all 116 pages of The Murder Club – wanted to get this out of the way before I started the actual art, so I knew what I was diving into

    Roughs

    Some rough layouts

  • Scaled up all 116 thumbnail layouts to full pages size – might not sound enough for a bullet point of its own, but this took days to do! But now it’s ready for the ‘blue pencil’ rough sketches over the top
  • Started work as a Game Designer for Cold Furnace – oh yes, I’m working on their game Atrocity: Field of Hands, but any more than that I can’t tell you right now, so keep an eye on their websites for more info to come

As for right now, I’m going to have a week off, then hit the ground running on the pencils for The Murder Club – not forgetting BristolCon at the end of the month, and MCM Birmingham in November!

Tony.

The Murder Club – details of new graphic novel project

The Murder Club

Oh yes, it looks like I didn’t learn anything at all from spending 6 months making a 24-page colour comic, so I am now making a 100+ page black and white graphic novel as well!

The Murder Club (official website) stars two seventeen-year-olds, who decide that the only true test of their intellect is to murder someone, then try and get away with it. It’s a story about psychopathy, manipulation and control, and I don’t intend to shy away from the disturbing side of any of those elements.

The idea came to me after watching far too many episodes of Hannibal. I wanted to create something with a similarly dark and psychological feel (minus the cannibalism, obviously). And there was something else stuck in my head at the time, I think from a news article,Β  about exceptionally bright young schoolkids becoming easily bored with lessons that are far too easy for them – and the two thoughts just coalesced.

At the moment I am working on the rough layouts – up to page 66 of somewhere around 115 or so pages – at the same time as finalising the first draft of the script. Once I’m happy with the layouts, it will be onto the full line art, inking and tone shading.

I’m taking a bit of a leap into this, and planning for several volumes (would work out at roughly one a year) because I’m excited by the idea and the one thing most people say about creative work is that you should make things you would read and/or buy for yourself. So here’s hoping other people like it too, but until then keep an eye out for regular updates and teasers!

Tony.