Since many of my followers on social media showed interest in such a post, here is a breakdown of my sales and earnings for 2017. I’m going to base this off of a combination of royalty statements received from my publisher and personal sales by hand. It will not be 100% accurate, as there is a delay between the date of a sale at a book store, when it is reported to the publisher, and when I receive a royalty check, but these are the numbers I have, so that’s what I’m working with here. (For instance, I don’t yet have the royalty statement for December yet, so I will probably update this post once that comes in, not that it will likely make much of a difference.)
First things first, I didn’t do a sales and earnings post for 2015 or 2016, so I’m going to share a few numbers from those, for posterity’s sake. In 2015, I sold 939 copies of my books (after returns) and made $414 with two titles, The Brass Giant and The Mechanical Theater, which both released in 2015 (May and June respectively). In 2016, I sold 3,348 books (after returns) and made $803 from three titles. I got a BookBub on The Brass Giant that year, which bumped my e-book sales up quite a bit, and I also released a new book, The Guild Conspiracy, in August. Both in 2015 and 2016, I spent almost all of my earnings on office supplies, promotional swag, and various writing-related expenses.
With no new releases, no high-publicity promotions, and no book news in 2017, my sales for the year sort of reflect that, and are a lot lower compared to 2015 and 2016.
In 2017, I sold 404 copies of my books (after returns) across three titles and made $388. Of my three titles, The Brass Giant sold 175 copies, earning me $255; The Mechanical Theater sold 43 copies, earning me $8; and The Guild Conspiracy sold 186 copies, earning me $125.
I keep very detailed spreadsheets to keep track of sales each month so that I can attempt to ascertain the effect of any price-drops, publicity, promotions, or in-person events on overall sales numbers. Each title has its own spreadsheet and includes monthly sales in e-book sales, bookstore sales of paperbacks, personal sales of paperbacks, and returns.
Here is a breakdown of each title, for those of you interested in more detailed numbers:
The Brass Giant:
Gross Sales: 194
. . . Ebook: 90
. . . Paperback (sold in bookstore): 56
. . . Paperback (sold at events): 48
. . . Returns: -19
Net Sales: 175
Total Royalties: $255.32
. . . Ebook: $41.30
. . . Paperback (sold in bookstores): $30.91
. . . Paperback (sold at events): $165.19
. . . Minus returns: -$12.32
. . . . . . Reserved pay: $245.84
. . . . . . Minus Reserve: -$215.60
Note: Reserves, for those of you who don’t know, are basically a buffer for the publisher against future returns. So if the publisher sends out 100 copies of a book and expects roughly 50 books to be returned, then they will withhold 50 books worth of royalties, rather than paying that out to the author. Over time, the publisher pays out that reserve, as returns come in (or don’t), until the author receives all of the royalties they are owed for books sold. It’s a way of making sure the author doesn’t get in the black and owe back to the publisher in case of returns.
The Mechanical Theater:
Total Sales (Ebook only): 43
Total Earnings: $8.22
The Guild Conspiracy:
Gross Sales: 257
. . . Ebook: 203
. . . Paperback (sold in bookstore): 38
. . . Paperback (sold at events): 16
. . . Returns: -71
Net Sales: 186
Total Royalties: $125.00
. . . Ebook: $53.02
. . . Paperback (sold in bookstores): $19.76
. . . Paperback (sold at events): $56.00
. . . Minus returns: -$42.42
. . . . . . Reserved pay: $520.24
. . . . . . Minus Reserve: -$481.60
A look at events:
As you can see, I had relatively low sales month to month. I had a $0.99 sale on the sequel, The Guild Conspiracy, in January (reflected on the statement from February, which I received in March; told you there was a delay), which helped sales of The Brass Giant. I had two events in March—a school visit, and a convention—where I sold quite a few copies by hand, earning me way more money that I would have if those books had sold in a bookstore or online. I did three signings at Barnes & Noble in the latter quarter of the year, which were of varying success, and a visit to ATU, my alma mater, where I managed to sell a little. My best event this year was at Dog Ear Books in Russellville, where I did very well and made a good chunk of money thanks to the owner letting me process payments myself instead of through the bookstore.
Note: December is a great time to sell books by hand, y’all. Everyone is in a mood to spend, and people love to support local authors, so it’s a great time to get out and take advantage of the gift-giving season.
One of the things that really hit home for me this year was how important personal connections are in this industry. That school visit was at my old high school, and I ended up selling twenty copies of my books. At AnomalyCon, I participated in panels and sold books from my table in the dealer’s hall, being genuinely nice and polite and saying hello to everyone who passed my table. For the visit to ATU, I was invited by one of the professors in my old department who remembered a reading I did a couple of years ago and wanted me to come back. The signings at Barnes & Noble are a sort of staple in my appearances these days, but I get readers come back for the second book after reading the first, and maybe someone doesn’t pick up my book the first time they see it, but maybe they will after the second or third or fourth time they see me there. The event at Dog Ear Books came about at the last minute, when one of their original authors cancelled, so they messaged me a couple of days before and asked if I could be there for the event. They only knew to contact me because I had stopped there before (after the event at ATU), talked to the owners, and gave them a couple of copies of my books to sell on consignment.
None of those events or sales would have happened had I not reached out to these people or gone to these places. I used to be very shy and hesitant about doing these kinds of events, but after doing a dual signing at Barnes & Noble with another author in the summer of 2016, I realized I needed to be better, so I started doing what she did and my signings started to be more and more successful.
A look at sales:
On a title by title basis, a thing that I’ve noticed ever since The Guild Conspiracy released is that no matter what I do, I have a really hard time matching the sales of The Brass Giant. It’s part of writing a series, I know, but it always bums me out when I still have a giant stack of The Guild Conspiracy left at the end of a signing. On average, I sell about a third to half of the number of copies of The Guild Conspiracy as I do of the first book. I do hope that the people who only purchase The Brass Giant at events eventually go on to pick up the other books, but who knows. When I do in-person events, I always give buyers a promotional card with the sequel information on it so that they can use it as a bookmark while they read, and if they enjoy the first book, they already know the title and cover for the second book. I don’t know if it actually works, but it certainly can’t hurt. Sometimes, people do purchase both books, sometimes, people who I’ve sold the first book to in the past come back and buy the second book at a later event, and it lifts my little heart.
Now, by the numbers, I did actually sell more of The Guild Conspiracy this year than The Brass Giant, but probably only because of the two $0.99 sales that the publisher ran for the second book, resulting in a lot more e-book sales. And maybe those sales are from people who have read the first book and now want to read the second. It’s hard to know.
And then there’s The Mechanical Theater, my poor, overlooked novella, still trucking along at its own little pace. It still sells some copies, which makes me glad because I do love that book, despite the little promotion I give it. I never expected it to sell as well as the novels in print, especially since it is such a niche book in an already niche genre, and it doesn’t forward the Petra-Emmerich plot of the other two novels. So any sales it does get make me smile.
All in all, it’s just really hard trying to push a series from a relatively unknown author, especially a series that isn’t yet complete. In-person events and price-drops have been my most successful sales pushers so far, but I do think that more books in the series would help, and new book releases are always going to give a boost to the other books in the series. I am hoping to release a new book in the series later this year, so maybe that will help the other books get a bit more visibility.
A look at the money:
The last thing I want to talk about is the money. I make $0.56 per paperback sold through a bookstore or online in the US (8% of retail), less internationally, and between $0.25-$0.75 per ebook sold, depending on the price of the book (25% of retail). For books I sell by hand, however, I make $3.50 per paperback (50% of retail), minus some change for PayPal fees here and there.
That’s a huge difference, and one of the reasons I constantly look for opportunities to sell my books by hand, whether it’s a library, a school, or a super awesome bookseller who lets me take my own payments. Those events are almost always worth the time invested because I get a much larger payout.
Even so, I made less than $400 this year.
It’s a good thing I don’t need to make money from my writing. My husband’s job pays well enough to cover all of our bills and then some, so I don’t have to worry about making mortgage payments or paying gas bills or buying groceries. I’m very lucky and grateful to be able to write full-time despite the lack of money I make right now.
At least I can pay for my writing supplies and convention tickets and so on. At least I’m making enough money to do that.
Let me sum up:
All in all, looking at the numbers like this can be depressing AF.
I put so many hours into my writing, both during the actual work week, between 5-6 hours every day, Monday thru Friday, and then for events, I work anywhere from 3-10 hours a day, depending on the event. After all of that work, it’s disheartening to see how little money I actually make, and what money I do make ends up going toward writing supplies, convention tickets, and research. (And like I said before, at least I can pay for those things with my own earnings. It’s a small thing, but it matters.)
But at the same time, I know that I’m at the beginning of my career. I have three books published, and while they aren’t making me as much money as I would like, they are making some money, and that’s something. And being at the beginning of my career, as long as I continue publishing books, these numbers are only going to go up. And up. And up. But only if I keep writing. Only if I don’t give up.
There’s a saying that’s become a sort of begrudging mantra in the back of my head when I look at those royalty statements that make me wonder why I do this:
Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.
Publishing is that way too. If you want to find success in the business, you have to stick with it. You can’t expect to be a mega-million-dollar bestseller right out of the gate (and maybe not ever). I certainly don’t expect that (though, no lie, it would be hella nice). At the end of the day, money is out of my control. Sales are out of my control. Popularity is out of my control. The only thing I can control is the writing, and hope that maybe someday, that will eventually pay off.
The thing is: I can’t imagine doing anything else. I wonder about it every now and then… What would I be doing if I couldn’t write? And… I don’t know that I have an answer. My heart sings for the written word, and as frustrating and difficult and disheartening as it sometimes is, I still love it.
So I might not make a lot of money right now. And I might not sell a lot of books. I might never win any awards or be a bestseller. But maybe I can write something that means as much to someone else as it does to me. It’s worth it for the mere possibility. The signing I did where I sold a scant handful of books was worth it because someone brought in their tattered, well-loved copy of one of my books and gushed about how much they loved the series and how they told all their friends to read it. The hours of writing were worth it for the person who told me that my words got them through a hospital stay. My time and effort are worth it for the possibility that maybe I’ll change someone’s life or someone’s mind or someone’s heart.
That’s powerful. And it’s my power to wield.
2017 taught me a lot about how to sell books, what’s worth my investment and what isn’t, some of what works and what doesn’t. And I’m going to use that to my advantage in 2018. I’ll keep doing what was successful in 2017 and do less of what wasn’t.
Most importantly though, I’m going to keep writing. I have a sequel to publish this year and another one to write after that. I have two other books already in the pipeline, each one of them another possibility to boost my recognition and my (tiny) popularity just a little bit more, maybe to the point that I’m making enough of a profit each year to do more with my money than just buy writing supplies (like that trip to Scotland I always wanted to take). And eventually, if I keep writing, maybe one day, I’ll be able to earn a livable wage from my books, or make enough money so that my husband can quit his job.
And maybe that will take me fifty years. Who knows? Maybe it will happen sooner.
All I can do is keep writing.