Getting My First 100 eBook Sales Month

As one plods forth into the uncertainty of a writing career, it is important to set milestones which can serve as markers along the way. Several weeks into January, I realized I was in the position to reach one such self-created milestone: a 100 eBook sales month. I will briefly chronicle the road leading up to this achievement, and then reflect upon why it means so much to me, even as it means so little at the time.

Lindsay Buroker recently wrote about her first two years in the indie self-publishing scene, if I can call a writing career a scene. (To me, the atmosphere Amazon provides for indie authors represents a very cool scene.) I started learning about self-publishing and POD services in 2011. Quickly after learning I could forego the process of agent and publishing house submissions by doing this thing called self-pubbing, I decided that it was the road for me to take. At the time, I didn’t put too much research into which company to go with, so I picked Lulu. Their interface seemed easy enough to use, and before I knew it, I had mailed myself my first print copy of my own book.

Getting a copy of my first novel, Darkin: A Journey East, was an extremely motivating experience. The smell, the feel, and the idea of holding a real book, and no longer that bulky manuscript of 8.5 x 11, felt amazing. The way Lulu works, and all POD services, is that your book is only printed when a copy of it is bought. I held in my hands the only copy of my book–the cover didn’t even have color yet. I went to tell some friends and family that I had published the book, and that they could order it online. I did not know much about the eBook market, and my book was not available in any eBook form. About a year went on and I did no marketing. Several family members bought the book, two reviewed it for me, and other than that, not much happened. Sales were non-existent. The book, even at the cheapest price I could select, was around $11.00 before shipping. Little did I know, no one in their right mind would buy a book that cost $15.00 from a no-name self-published author. Self-publishing, as I learned after some time, carried a stigma synonymous with slush, or worse yet, trash.

Now, Darkin: A Journey East wasn’t a perfect masterpiece (whose first book is?), but I knew it was not trash. It is a good story; I truly believed that and still do. The main problem with it is that it starts off slow. The action does not start to really capture the reader, in my opinion, until around page 150. That’s nearly halfway through the book. Because of this, many people who did get a copy of the book probably never read it beyond chapter 4 or 5.

So with a book that has a slow start in a very niche genre (high fantasy in slightly–and deliberately–archaic language), my hopes of selling a lot of print copies quickly faded. As a full-time teacher, the writing and marketing often gets put on the back burner, and so it did for most of 2011. Another problem with the first Darkin book was that I had started writing it at 14. The slowest part (the first 100 pages), was the part I wrote at a much younger age (I am 28 now). During the next year and a half after printing my first self-pub print edition, several things coincided to set me on the path to my 100 sale month.

As a teacher, I saw the rising interest in eReaders, with students using them more and more. Some even asked me if my books were available in an eBook format (by this time I had written a sequel to Darkin, which is in my opinion a better and much more mature book in terms of language and style because I wrote the entire novel at 25 years old). Sadly, I said no, my books weren’t available. But I looked into Lulu’s offerings for eBooks. They had an option, and so I put one together. Still, the Lulu marketplace is horrible in the way of getting noticed outside of people you directly give a URL, so aside from those such sales, the eBook for Darkin didn’t move.

Then, a new idea was all over the news. Or at least it seemed that way to me. People were giving away their eBook for free. To this point, the thought or the avenue by which I could give away my book for free hadn’t been possible. Even giving away print copies was costing me nearly ten dollars a pop. I didn’t mind doing that, because I hoped people would read my book, but still, things were moving in the wrong direction, because my sales were being generated by myself–not a sustainable model for a writer. So I dropped the price of my eBook on Lulu to $0.00 and joined their free distribution program. That put my eBook on Amazon.

During the summer of 2011 I did a complete revision of Darkin 1 in an attempt to cut out and reword the language to produce a faster-paced read. I especially focused on rewriting the content that had been produced by my younger self. Surprisingly, I still feel the book is slightly slow to start, and I am considering an “author’s cut,” analogous to a director’s cut in film, except I will be shortening the novel from its 300 pages so that it is a brisker read and quicker to suck readers in, as a way to ensure they find their way to the sequel, Darkin: The Prophecy of the Key. That “author’s cut” project is currently on the back burner, as it were, for my writing has taken me in exciting new directions over the past year.

The real start of my indie author career started in August 2012. Over the summer, I was hard at work revising and editing Darkin 2, getting it ready for an eBook release. What kickstarted my ambition happened by way of a strange coincidence. I was watching Indie Game: The Movie on Netflix. The story of two indie gamers struggling to make and release independent video games touched a deep chord within my spirit. The ending was extremely inspirational, as their hard work paid off and they found success. After the movie was over, on a whim, I decided to check my Amazon sales, which I didn’t do very often, as I had been selling only about a copy of my story a month since I had first published it to Amazon Marketplace that August. Publishing to Amazon was my first endeavor away from Lulu, and though it was easier to tell people where to go to get my eBook, I hadn’t been doing any promotion, so no copies were moving. And at the time, I was more interested in devoting time to writing and revising and editing than promoting and marketing, which seemed a very confusing and financially impossible task (places like Lulu want thousands of dollars to run marketing campaigns for you).

To my surprise, when I looked at my Amazon sales after watching Indie Game: The Movie, I found that over 400 copies of Darkin 1 had sold for the month of September. As I freaked out, I scrolled to the right to see that there was zero profit. The paradoxical success which mirrored the indie game makers made no sense. I quickly hopped on the computer to research what had happened. I found out that Amazon “price-matched” my Lulu, Apple, and Barnes and Noble prices of $0.99. That meant that, for whatever reason, once the book became free on Amazon, droves of people began downloading it.

The sales really inspired me. And as I wrote about in a blog post earlier, receiving inspiring emails from fans really motivated me further. Someone taking the time to write me and tell me that I had a gift for great storytelling made me feel reassured that I was not wasting my time on my dream of finding a wide audience of readers for my imagination. But the sales weren’t “sales,” even though Amazon called them that. From what I read online, Amazon really helps you come up more in search results after 1,000 sales, but they had to be paid sales: in other words, freebies wouldn’t count.

It was at this time that I published Darkin 2. I also started to read a lot more about marketing and promotion, and soon found another indie author who wrote fantasy, named Lindsay Buroker. Soaking in the information and the inspiration helped me push into my own marketing campaign. Of course, I didn’t have thousands of dollars to throw behind it, so I had to do all the stuff that could be done for free: Make several websites, establish a social media presence (including Twitter and Facebook, which I didn’t really love, and perhaps in my ignorance, loathed a bit even), and start to blog. For me, consistency is always a problem, be it just exercising consistently, or remembering to post blog entries regularly. So far, several months in, I am still consistently posting blog entries, marketing, and learning about marketing.

The sales didn’t really start to come on a consistent basis for me until I did a genre change. I have always felt myself to have a ton of novels in me, and only some of them were fantasy. In fact, I don’t think myself a fantasy author at all, in that static sense, since I write in a wide range of genres. Some people suggest not to do this, as you may find it harder to gain traction with a dedicated band of followers, but I found the opposite to be true (so far in my fledgling writing career). I had a story I’d been kicking around in my head for a year or so–the premise: Someone is out for a walk in a suburban town with their dog, and they see someone in the window of their house upon returning home. They call the police to investigate, but the police find no one inside. That is the basic and terrifying concept behind the beginning of House for Sale. I wrote and published the story after receiving great feedback on Scribophile, a good writer’s workshop community. I decided with this story, and with Darkin 2, that I would go exclusively with Amazon so I could utilize their Kindle Select program. I sent off five days’ worth of House for Sale freebies, entered the top rankings for horror freebies on the site, and soon had steady paid sales coming in for the book. (I learned later not to use all five of my days consecutively, and to advertise whenever my free days will be). Now, Double Windsor Films is interested in producing the short story as a film. I just have to get around to writing up a damned screen play, which work and other writing projects have gotten in the way of.

Since House for Sale caught on, I have been selling about two copies a day. This has given me roughly 60 of my sales for this January, my 100 eBook sales month. The book has seen borrows, which is encouraging. After the success of House for Sale (to me this rate of sales was a success and another milestone), I wrote another horror short called Living Alone. Living Alone hasn’t yet caught on in the same way that House for Sale has, but I still have hopes that it will. On top of Living Alone, I decided to publish my sci-fi thriller novel Black Hull in episodes. My decision to publish it in episodes as opposed to a complete novel came after reading about the so-called 2012 resurgence of the serial novel. Even Amazon started its own serial program in September. Having the “an episode every two-week” deadline has helped motivate me to stay on track with my writing, revising, and editing. The book is already published through to episode 3, which I attribute as the catalyst for my reaching the 100 eBook sales month mark.

At last, still with several days to go, I have achieved 100 sales. My sales in the UK, Germany, and Canada pushed me over the edge today, and got me to my milestone. So, here are some screenshots of my Kindle Sales window. I will now shove off toward February, and continue to work toward my next milestone–a 200 sale month. After that, 1,000 total sales. Goals and consistency, I am finding with an indie writing career, are as important as air and water. The sales of House for Sale may slow, but they may also increase. I may dip back under 100 next month, but I may rise. I am choosing to see things optimistically. If what I have been doing is working, and gains are increasing, then why would I stop? I think I need a little faith that hard work pays off. And that consistency absolutely must accompany that hard work.

Here are the sales and my all-time history for author rank on Amazon:

I’ve had a steady rise in author rank. This graph is independent of genre, and is a general, all-purpose rank of me as an author on Amazon. To me, though many consider this ranking a gimmick, I see it as a source of encouragement and a way to visually chart my progress.

Here are my US sales. The final push to get over 100 came from UK, Canada, and German sales, which are not shown here.

So, though 100 sales doesn’t mean much in the way of cash, it means a great deal to me in the way of showing me that hard work pays off. In the month of January, it is important to note that I spent NO money on advertising. Everything I did was free (social media, forum posts, blogging, and Kindle Select). I feel as if the 100 mark is a sign of emerging success, especially given I didn’t run any ads. What could a month where I run ads like yield for me now? Unfortunately, I don’t have cash to throw into advertising, as I’m saving for a wedding. Like I said, my sales have trickled in steadily, and have not come in bursts. To me, that’s reassuring. And seeing people borrow the book, write positive reviews on Goodreads and just plain like my stories, makes me feel as if this milestone is something to be proud of. I wish all you sub-100 sales-per-month authors success in getting to where I am at now. And for the successful, super successful, and ultra successful authors who laugh at 100 paltry sales, you serve to motivate me further. Thank you.

4 Thoughts on “Getting My First 100 eBook Sales Month

  1. Congrats on the milestone Joe, and keep up the good work!

  2. Congrats on the milestone! You can now retire to a life of sipping wine from fancy glasses and expounding impenetrably deep verse to your flock of worshipful erudites.

    But seriously, this is great news for you. Tell everyone. I know how hard it can be to keep going, even when you intellectually know it’s a long game. Now you have numbers to spur yourself with!

  3. Pingback: Joseph A. Turkot | 300 Indie Book Sales in a Month

  4. Pingback: How to Sell 2,000 eBooks in a Month | Joseph A. Turkot

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