I’ve been seeing a bit more of statistics hitting the web lately, with regard to different independent authors’ successes at finding audiences and making money online. There is only a tiny percentage of people who are comfortable revealing such statistics, but as more and more authors begin to use the internet to get their words in front of people, the pool grows and -with it- the number of numbers available. I have considered, now and again, posting my own statistics. My numbers. My facts and figures. Sometimes I have given a few numbers. Here and there. I’m still considering it.
All these numbers, they’ve helped me get a bit of perspective on my own numbers. Working in a near-vacuum, it’s been very difficult to tell whether my numbers were good or bad. Whether they painted an average picture, or a below average one. Whether my struggle was a result of the medium, its newness, and the fractional nature of the cutting-edge (it is, by definition, not mainstream) – or whether my struggle has been a result of some failure on my part. The more numbers I see, the more clear it is to me that I am -at least in part- to blame.
(This may be my severe depression talking.)
I am aware I am not even trying to write fiction with mass-appeal. I’m not trying to write like other authors. I’m not trying to fit into any particular genre or genres. I do things with my books that no one sees, no one notices, no one thinks about (or if they do, no one mentions – and those I’ve asked are oblivious), and while I’m doing unseen things I require readers to carefully parse sentences and to consider meanings, just to get through the books. I use “big” words, uncommon words, and I use them in long sentences to express complex concepts. I am aware that I am not writing easy books, or books for everyone. It’s my fault I write this way. I’m to blame.
It’s also a choice. I didn’t choose to be an author because I thought writing would be a good way to make a living, or because I thought I’d be good at cutting off a slice of the multi-billion-dollar worldwide publishing market. I chose to try to find a way to make money selling my books because I know I’m an author, and because I’d rather be doing something that comes naturally than struggling just to survive every day. (2007 was the soul-crushing, creativity-wrecking breaking point – I was still writing, but could barely manage to write more than a haiku’s length at once, and it was mostly about how painful working my corporate desk job was: I published it anyway, it’s Worth 1k.) … and though the struggle still exists (in fighting with a world that still expects me to pay the bills in months when people aren’t buying what I’m selling, and in fighting the traditional publishing world, and in fighting my own severe aversion to business and marketing), it is significantly less here, and distant.
Though the depression does get a hand up, when I see some of the statistics out there. I don’t get anywhere near as many downloads of my free, serialized audiobooks as other authors – fewer people are interested in even so much as giving my work a try, at no cost, than they are other authors’ work. Often by an order of magnitude or two. I just read tonight about an author whose first podiobook was downloaded by “over ten thousand listeners” who gave him lots of positive feedback – but that he was disappointed that it didn’t translate to sales of the paper copy (or donations). Depending on how he’s gathering his statistics and over what period, that’s not-less-than double my best (and longest-running) podiobook by its biggest and least-accurate accounting, 15+ times the most certain accounting of said-best-book, and either 10 or 100 times more popular than my least popular podiobook. He said sales of the paper copy came out to around 2% of the size his listening audience – he’d expected a bigger conversion rate. (Probably because so few talk numbers! Stupid vacuum!) 2% is better than I get, and worse – that’s <2% of a significantly smaller number of listeners, no matter how they’re counted. The closest I have to trustworthy numbers indicate around 40-80 downloads of each book’s free eBook per month and 100-300 people downloading each podiobook per month. My monthly proceeds from book sales (alone) has ranged, in 2009, from as low as $3.19 in July to as high as $98.86 in March, with more than 1/2 of months (through September) producing less than $20 in sales. For the purposes of this paragraph, that’s gross of direct sales plus net of indirect (ie: eBooks, wholesale books, & podiobooks donations) – I’m just counting my take of each sale, whether that’s $14 from hand-selling a paperback or a fraction of a dollar from the sale of a kindle eBook. There are some numbers for you. I don’t have unit numbers in front of me, though I’ll admit that I’ve ‘sold’ fewer than 30 eBooks through Smashwords, ever, including totally FREE copies ‘purchased’ during a promotion or with a coupon code. And I don’t have October’s final numbers from Amazon, yet, but I think I’ve sold around 20 kindle eBooks, year-to-date. I’ve almost certainly sold fewer than 50 total paperback books by hand this year-to-date. I read about unknown authors selling eBook-only and being disappointed in only selling “1 or 2 copies a day” – I would love to sell one or two copies a day. That would be super. Selling paper copies wholesale nets me about the same amount as selling eBooks, though it happens much less. Selling paper copies by hand nets me 3-4 times as much, per copy.
Just this weekend I had my first sale of paper books to someone who had definitely already listened to them on the podcast – they loved them & bought 3 books at once! And by trying a new tactic (and partially because my wife decided to become a book blogger, herself), my new zombie book is about to be reviewed by a dozen different book bloggers and half a dozen giveaway winners will probably review it on goodreads. Even if everyone agrees they don’t like it, at least it’ll be getting added visibility! And if some of them do like it, perhaps that will translate into sales! Statistics are tricky. But faith helps. I have faith that I’m doing the right thing (even if it isn’t the most financially wise thing), not just in the sense that it’s the right thing for my general mental health (and not just because I still (gladly) suffer depression in the midst of this), but also in the sense that the concept I’m trying to follow is a valid concept, and one that will be used by authors throughout the future. I know what I’m doing. I know about the unseen mysteries I’ve built into my books. I know the carefully crafted structure of the zombie book I just wrote. I know that the incredibly controversial backstory for the next zombie novel I want to write (none of which occurs in that book) requires so much research I dare not attempt to write it for NaNoWriMo. I know that there are people who love my books. And my art. And the way I record an audiobook. And so much more. I have faith, I have hope, and I will persevere.
I may never achieve the numbers of mainstream creators, genre writers, and people who are comfortable marketing their work, but that won’t be the reason I give up. (Heck, knowing my depression & history, I’ll probably end up killing myself over something trivial, someday, that happens at just the wrong time for my mind’s fragile chemistry.) Statistics, and seeing myself in perspective with other creators’ success, will not be the end of me, nor the end of this. (Though it’s all quite a bit depressing, isn’t it?)