Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Amazing Digital Year

It was one year ago today, Dec. 22, that I finally decided to try this "e-book thing" I'd heard all the kids raving about. I was dubious about the whole self-publishing movement and I still wasn't sure people were willing to "read books on computer." I'd been taught that serious writers never self-publish, and if I had been offered a bottom-of-the-barrel paperback deal, I would have taken it.
Still, I wasn't going to risk the whole shooting match, and I was shopping a couple of newer manuscripts. But I figured I would put up an old novella, Burial to Follow, and hardly anyone would notice, especially those peers I was so worried about. I did the cover myself, with art taken from the DIRT comic book. Yeah, it's a terribly cheesy cover. I sent it through Amazon for the Kindle, a device I'd read a lot about but had never seen.

And I sold two copies as 2009 drew to a close, but I also uploaded The Red Church, my most successful novel. I had held the rights for more than a year, getting a couple of small foreign deals, but I couldn't figure out a way to get it back in print. Of course, by "print" I was thinking of cranking up printing presses and spending thousands of dollars and worrying about bookstore orders.

I sold one copy of The Red Church before midnight, Dec. 31. In January, when the price was $1.99 and I was making a 35 percent royalty, I sold 67 copies of Red Church and 12 of Burial to Follow. The next month, I sold 413 copies combined. In March, I sold 771 copies as I added another book. It still wasn't much money, but it began to look reasonable and I softened my stance on self-publishing.

April took me a step back to 667 copies total. March moved up to 793, followed by 1,119 in June, 1,152 in July, and back down to 1,146 in August, when Amazon's 70 percent royalty kicked in and I raised some prices to $2.99.

I haven't done an analysis of how many titles I added during this time, or which book was selling at what price, but I had at least four novels up by then, as well as four or five story collections. Individually, nothing was knocking it out of the park, but collectively it looked like The Little Engine That Could.

During this time I'd been called by a Big Agent who had some interest, though primarily it was for ghostwriting, which would only interest me if it was a pay-off-the-house job. The third time I heard "I can't sell this," I didn't waste another second. I started putting everything up on Kindle as soon as it was edited, proofread, and formatted.

Back to numbers. September made a nice little jump, to 1,949 copies, and my first United Kingdom sales trickled in. October saw the first significant surge, up to 2,799 copies. November got crazy when Disintegration broke into the Kindle Top 100, reaching as high as #30 overall. For the month, I sold 12,422 Kindle e-books.

I'll be down for December, as Disintegration did its inevitable cooling, and as of last night I had 5,810 sales for the month to date. All these numbers are for Kindle e-books in the U.S. only. My U.K. numbers are still small in comparison but growing steadily. The Red Church sold 4,764 copies in a year, eight years after its original release and about six years after the publisher had left it for dead. I'm happy to see it is not dead, that people still read it and respond to it. That's one of the best things about this new era: nothing has to die. Ideas can fade and bounce back in a natural ebb and flow and readers can find them in their own time.

In my first full year in the Scott Nicholson industry, I sold 29,120 copies on the U.S. Kindle. I had some print-on-demand paper sales and additional e-book sales on other devices like Nook, Kobo, Sony, and iPad, but Amazon is my main outlet. After Jan. 1, many authors will be blogging about their numbers and their success. I'm not competing at a J.A. Konrath level (thanks for the inspiration, Joe) or an Amanda Hocking level, and I'm not laying out these numbers to brag or send anyone scurrying to measure themselves against me. But I have a pretty nice level that works for me and is easy to sustain and build, and that's all any writer should seek.

I don't even know how much money I made, and I wouldn't talk about that anyway, but I do mix my prices between 99 cents and $3.99. Suffice to say that's more copies than I sold in any of my last four mass-market releases, and I made more money in 2010 than in any year in which I was writing for New York. It's easy to get caught up in real-time numbers and rankings and feel like it's all slippery when you move down a few thousand slots in the rankings. But this is the first time I've stepped back and looked at the big picture, and it's pretty stunning.

If I were running a real business, like selling widgets, it's the kind of growth I could take to a bank. It trends pretty solid and steady, with plenty of potential for growth, considering Amazon is claiming 8 million Kindle sales this year. Sure, I have lots of books out now, maybe around 20, and that's swelling my numbers, but my response to that is: Why in the world do I care how many books it takes? I have them and people like them. I'd be stupid to release one a year like major authors do. I want readers to find all my books at any time. And I will write more. That's what I do.

But I also know I didn't do much besides what I love, and I would have written the books anyway. More than 30,000 of you took a bigger risk than I did. You said, "This Scott Nicholson guy is worth a little of my time and money." And I don't take that lightly at all. Thank you.



Vicki said...

Amazing is right. Here's hoping the trend continues, and I'm betting it will. Can't wait to see your post in another year.

Here's to 2011!


S.G.Royle said...

That's as much of an inspiration to me as anything else I've read. And congratulations on a great year. Any author, trade or not, should be pretty happy with thirty thousand books sold.
"But I have a pretty nice level that works for me and is easy to sustain and build, and that's all any writer should seek." - that's a really solid piece of advice for anyone. It is very easy to lose perspective - I am now where you were a year ago (except without your massive experience and backlist).
Merry Christmas to you and yours, hope you have a fantastic 2011.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Scott, I've noticed that you have most of your books priced at $0.99. I have recently lowered the price of all of my books to $0.99.

Do you find that the lower royalty ($0.35 vs. $2.00) is sufficiently offset by the greater level of sales?

Congratulations on an amazing year! Can't wait to see how well you do in 2011.

I was thrilled when my monthly sales grew from 75 in June to 1,600 in October. I'm finishing out the year at around 6,300 for my seven books. Which I guess is not bad for an author who has only been writing since 2006 and has never been traditionally published.

What a wonderful time to be a fiction writer.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Thanks, Vicki and Simon--I know Vicki's numbers would put mine to shame, but there is no shame in this game (can I be the first Kindle hiphop poet?)

Congrats, Robert, that is awesome. I feel it's fair to price story collections and novellas at 99 cents because fewer people read them (well, if you judged by paper sales, but maybe those aren't even apt anymore). I also broke Disintegration in at 99 cents because it was new--I think it's good to give a book a boost to start. The Red Church is automatically discounted by Amazon to 99 cents, but I am making 70 cents a copy so I ain't complainin' (my old paperback royalties were around 42 cents after agent cut). Mix your prices and see what works for you.


author Scott Nicholson said...

Also Simon, "experience" helps in writing. In fact, that's all writing success is--experience. But "writing business experience" may actually be a detriment at this point. People who think they "know how publishing works" seem to be doing the worst in this new era.

CJ West said...

Congratulations on a great year, Scott. I agree that you don't need to compare yourself to anyone. What you are doing is fantastic.

I am in the middle of my first year with ebooks and I am still fumbling my way around, but I will catch on eventually.

Thanks for the inspiration!

David H. Burton said...

"More than 30,000 of you took a bigger risk than I did. You said, 'This Scott Nicholson guy is worth a little of my time and money.'" - speaking as one of those 30,000, you're a brilliant writer and you completely deserve this kind of success and more. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us and congrats! Here's to an even better 2011!!

author Christa Polkinhorn said...

Congratulations. You work hard, your write fascinating books, you deserve it.

Anonymous said...

I found this blog post through Willie Meikle's Facebook status. Your experience is absolutely fascinating. I'm a year (and several books) behind you, but having published an autobiography for a friend, I'm now entering the water myself (and my first short story collection is being 'Meatground' by Smashwords as I type this).

May 2011 be an even better year for you!

Rabid Fox said...

Congrats on all your success, Scott. Fingers crossed on bigger and better things in 2011.

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Scott! You and I decided go indie about the same time. I'm totally impressed.

I also think one can earn more money with 99 cent sales, when increased volume offsets lower royalties. (I've experienced that for myself.) Having multiple titles with a mix of prices is ideal.

Keep up the good work and have a great new year!

author Scott Nicholson said...

Hi CJ, David, Christa, Debbi, and Gef--looks like a good year for all of you. And Gerald, enjoy the ride. No matter how it turns out, it's exciting!


Neal Hock said...

Congrats on your success this past year. I can't think of an author that deserves it more. I wish you an even better 2011!


Douglas Dorow said...

Scott, great post on the tail of your blog tour. Glad the indie route is promising. I hope to go the same route in 2011. I love my kindle and hope lots of readers find kindles under their tree for xmas and look for books like yours and other indie's to read. The price is right for a great adventure.

Happy holidays!



Simon Wood said...

Congrats, Scott. Very inspiring. I hope to get my sales up to your levels soon. :-)

author Scott Nicholson said...

Neal, thanks for your excellent proofing eye!
Doug, just go for it.
Simon, everybody has to find their own levels--that's half the fun!

JL_Bryan said...

Great post, Scott. That's amazing growth during your blog tour!

I've said it before, but you were the one who steered me to focus on indie publishing and the Kindle. My only regret is not taking your advice sooner!

Moses Siregar III said...

I'm thrilled for you, Scott! You deserve every bit of your success and then some. Can't wait to see what you will do in 2011.

Charlie Pulsipher said...

Exciting, Scott. Us, unpublished writers, are keeping our eyes on these type of stories as we decide what to do with the novels in our heads and in tupperware under the bed (got to keep it fresh). Thank you for sharing!

Brenda said...

I always thought that your huge talent and hard work would some day be recognized or "discovered", but I admit I never imagined it happening in such a wonderful fashion, with the readers being the lucky ones to directly discover you. This way everybody wins! It is fun and inspiring to watch. I look forward to 2011. Thank you for sharing.

author Scott Nicholson said...

JL, I wish I had started sooner, too! If not for my tunnel vision, I would have probably had a good 2009 as well! But it's never too late to start forever...

Thanks Moses and Charlie and Brenda--you guys are the next wave of this thing.


Moses Siregar III said...

Scott, can you talk about what you did differently with Disintegration, since it sold so many more copies? Thanks!

author Scott Nicholson said...

Actually wasn't much different. I used Kindle Nation Daily ads before, but the only difference this time was genre--mystery/suspense instead of supernatural--and price, lowered to 99 cents. Plus it was relatively brand new but not too new. I think it was just serendipity, a lot of hard work conspiring with opportunity and generous reader support. In a word, magic.

It's not something I think I could duplicate in the same way. So I "plan" to do it a different way next time! What worked yesterday won't work tomorrow because this is all changing so fast.

Moses Siregar III said...

That's pretty amazing. Thanks.

Joe Konrath said...

Awesome. Congrats on the success.

Jennifer Becton said...

Thanks for posting about your numbers so candidly. I've always felt that was lacking in this industry. I look to you as inspiration.


author Scott Nicholson said...

Thanks for visiting, Joe and Jennifer, I don't like to talk about numbers much but I think this is educational (especially when major publishers report that ebook growth is flat). I think what is happening is a real schism--high-priced books are slowing down but cheaper ebooks are catching fire. Two totally different industries at work.


Jennifer Lane said...

I love to hear about success stories like yours, Scott. Congratulations! What do you think helped get the word out about your novels?

Anonymous said...

In this day and age, I feel like people are making more of a commitment taking the time to read my stories than buying them. I feel honored not just that people are spending the $ to buy my books, but more that they spend hours of their time reading them! Here's to great sales and more fans in 2011!

author Scott Nicholson said...

Daisy, that's so true, hours are more valuable than a buck or two.

Jennifer, I just try to connect with people and be of value and service, mostly online. It's better to contribute than just hype my books all the time.


Anonymous said...

Congrats Scott! I'm glad you did so well! The blog tour was a blast and I had fun reading your books, a genre I don't normally read much.

Here's to an even better year in 2011!

David Wisehart said...

Well done, sir! Congratulations, and I hope your career continues to grow by leaps and bounds. :)