Self-Publishing Mathurbation

Getting objective information about whether and how much success is taking place in the self-publishing realm is an interesting task for non-math whizzes. Personally, I like cold hard numbers, so it was with pleasure that I found “Top Self-published Kindle books in 2011 So Far”, a blog referenced by Passive Guy.

Here’s what I, a non-math whiz, make of the data Piotr Kowalczyk gathered.

  • The causes of the surge in self-published sales between February and May shown in Table 1 is unknown.  As shown in Graph 4, Amanda Hocking’s books were already doing well before that. The cause of the precipitous drop off in June (of self-pubbed books on the top 100 list) to the January rate of sales is also unknown, but speculated to be due to fewer media articles mentioning self-published books, or a lessening of the stimulating effect of the .99 price point.

Personally, I’m not perturbed by the return of self-pubbed sales to 13% of the top 100.  A year ago there were no self-pubbed books on the list.

  • I think had Piotr used median price rather than average price the data would have been more useful. In Table 2, “Self-published books in the top 100: 2011 UTD,” only 7 of the 27 (26%) had prices above .99 – $1.00. This information gives a strong indication that if you want to be in the Kindle top 100, you’ll do well to price your book at .99, at least initially.

The .99 price is no guarantee, however. We don’t know, for example, what percent of self-pubbed books priced at .99 make it to the list. Furthermore, the low price is not in an author’s long term best interest. Dean Wesley Smith makes a good argument for not using the .99  pricing strategy except as a promotional tool, if you’re interested in maximizing your income.

  • A lot of people have been talking about Amanda Hocking and John Locke’s success. It’s important to remember three things about them with respect to this data.
  1. “They already had several titles published in [the] Kindle Store.”  (Piotr Kowalczyk) It takes time to build momentum in a self-publishing career.
  2. “They used all ammunition – and in June they didn’t make it to Kindle Store’s Top 100.”  (ibid) In fact, no self-published author remained on the list for 6 months.
  3. They’re Outliers. As they say in the weight-loss ads, “Results are not typical.”  This doesn’t mean you can’t make a good living from digital publishing, just don’t expect to sell a million copies with your first few books.

One of the the things I’ve  discussed recently with some of my fellow travelers on the road to self-publishing is how to measure success in the early days of our journey.  (How do you know to make course corrections if you can’t accurately measure your progress?) Unlike in traditional publishing, where early success is often measured by a discrete event like signing a contract, or getting a big advance check, and later success is measured by sell-through, success in self-publishing is a more gradual and  relative thing. (Does success come for you when the book is available for sale? When you break even? When you’ve made the equivalent of a good tradpub advance? When you sell more books than the other guy?) And because sales build as additional books are released, (hopefully) how does an an author know if their early numbers are good, exceptional, or poor? Even if you can get the info from other authors, comparing your sales numbers is not necessarily useful because each author approaches  marketing differently.

I love cold hard numbers, but they’re useful only if they measure the same things, and measure the things you need to know.  I look forward to seeing Piotr’s future posts. Hopefully they’ll hold more useful information.

1 Comment

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One response to “Self-Publishing Mathurbation

  1. Pingback: My Self-Publishing Journey: The Pricing Debate Continues | Frankie's Soapbox

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