Comment | The Big Reveal: Mousetrapped One Year On
Catherine Ryan Howard tells us all about her experience of self-printing Mousetrapped.
Last September I wrote my first “Big Reveal” post and shared with you exactly how many copies I’d sold of my self-published book Mousetrapped, and how much money I was making off those sales. I promised an update a year on, and here it is. Apologies for the extremely long blog post – I’ve used headings as much as possible so you can skip to the bits you’re interested in!
(And yes, this was posted at 0:01. Not my usual blog posting time but by request of a blog reader who’s getting on a plane for 20 hours and couldn’t take the suspense. Plus it means I can lie in tomorrow…)
Then and Now
When I did my first “Big Reveal,” Mousetrapped had been on sale for six months, and I’d sold the grand total of 531 copies, 65% of which were e-book editions. This was good news for me, because my goal for that period had been 500. Still I’d just about made it, and wasn’t sure I was on track to meet my goal of selling 1,000 copies in the first twelve months.
Today Mousetrapped has been on sale for a year, and I’ve sold 3,969 copies of it in total. 88% of them were e-book editions, and about 65% of all sales have taken place since Christmas Eve.
Medium-to-Big Fish in a Tiny Pond
Lucky for me I’m a medium-to-big sized fish in a tiny pond, and these numbers have made headlines. (Well one headline, but still!) Were I in the States – or even the UK – and playing with the Big Boys (Hocking, Konrath, Leather, etc.), I wouldn’t even get a look in. Those guys are selling in a weekend what I’ve sold in a year, and if you’ve been within spitting distance of the internet in the last week you’ll already know that Hocking has just signed a deal a two million dollar deal with St. Martin’s Press.
But here’s the thing: there’s only one author in the world right now who has made two million dollars from self-published e-book sales and another two million dollars on a newly-inked traditional deal. But there are thousands of people like me who, while they pursue their “real” writing dreams of, say, a three-book deal (or two – I’m not picky!), are using self-publishing to earn a living as a writer and improve the chances of their real writerly dreams actually happening, by building online platforms and proving that they can get out there and sell their own books.
So while chances are you aren’t the next Amanda Hocking, you have every chance of being the next me. (The phrase “the next me” sounds horribly egotistical but you know what I mean!) If your book has any appeal at all, there is simply no reason why you can’t get out there and do just as well or even a hell of a lot better than I did. And all the big e-book sellers write fiction and have published multiple books, whereas I have just one non-fiction title for sale – so you’ll be able to catch up quick!
What I Did, or Skip This Bit If You Know It All Already
If you know nothing about my self-printing adventures, here’s a quick summary: I used the Print On Demand service CreateSpace to ‘publish’ a 232-page paperback measuring 5.5 x 8.5 and both Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) and Smashwords to release an e-book equivalent. The book tells the story of the eighteen months I spent living in Orlando and working in Walt Disney World, and I decided to self-publish after being told by an agent and three different publishing houses that while it was well-written and an enjoyable read, it didn’t have enough of – or anything resembling – a market to warrant publication. It was released on March 29th 2010, and is for sale online.
My Print “Royalties”
They are unchanged, although since my previous Big Reveal post I have stopped selling through my website, direct to readers and through my local bookstore, as to make life easier for myself I have avoided as much as possible scenarios in which I have to order stock (because I have to pay for shipping).
Mousetrapped retails for $14.95 for the print edition. To publish a POD book you just need to pay for one proof copy and then whenever it’s ordered CreateSpace fulfills the order, takes their cut and pays you the rest. My print “royalties” (profits, really) in descending order, are as follows (all percentages rounded to the nearest whole number):
- Createspace e-store: $7.92 or 53% of price*
- Amazon.com: $5.07 or 34% of price
- Extended Distribution, i.e. international Amazons, etc.: $2.22 or 15% of price.
*CreateSpace’s e-store is not really a viable selling option, as you have to register for a CS account before you can purchase from there and if that didn’t dissuade you, the ridiculous shipping costs most definitely would.
My E-book “Royalties”
The big change in e-book royalties since my last Big Reveal post is that Amazon’s 70% royalty rate has been extended to its UK and Canadian stores. This has made a huge difference to me, not least of all because I had a very good Christmas on the UK Kindle store, thank you very much, and UK payments are in British Pounds and come to me without any tax deductions. Smashwords has also increased the royalties for some retailers in its Premium Catalogue, e.g. iBooks, Barnes and Noble, etc. who switched to agency pricing on December 1st 2010.
Mousetrapped retails at $2.99 for the e-book edition. There are no costs involved in self-publishing an e-book, but getting paid works the same way: when someone downloads a copy, the e-book company takes their cut and you get the rest. My e-book royalties, in descending order, are as follows (all percentages rounded to the nearest whole number):
- Direct from Smashwords.com: $2.06 or 70% of price
- Kindle store higher royalty option: $2.06 or 70%**
- Barnes and Noble: $1.81 or 60% of the price*
- Apple’s iBooks: $1.80 or 60% of price*
- Sony: $1.80 or 60% of price*
- Kobo: $1.79 or 60% of price*
- Kindle store at standard royalty option: $1.05 or 35% of price.
*Smashwords is the distributor. **The vast majority of my Kindle sales come in at the 70% royalty. NB: In order to qualify for the 70% royalty you must price your e-book between $2.99-$9.99. Evidence suggests that if you want your e-book to sell in the first place, you need to price it between 99c – $4.99.
My Sales Figures
Of my sales in the past twelve months, 12% were POD paperbacks and 88% were e-book editions.
Of my paperback sales:
- 44% were from Amazon.com
- 38% were from CreateSpace’s Expanded Distribution Channel, e.g. international Amazons, B&N online, etc.
- 14% were from other outlets, such as me selling direct to family and friends, through my website, bookstore, etc.
E-book sales by location. If you upload to Amazon KDP you end up on both US and UK Kindle stores. Everyone else in this list is covered by upload to Smashwords. This graph is why I’m dumbfounded when I hear of e-book self-publishers uploading only to Smashwords (who have yet to sort their Amazon deal). KDP should be your priority.
Of my e-book sales:
- 56% were from Amazon.com’s Kindle store
- 35% were from Amazon.co.uk’s Kindle store
- 4% were from Apple’s iBooks store
- 3% were from Barnes and Noble’s Nook store
- 1% were from the Smashwords website
- 0.7% were from Sony’s e-book store
- 0.3% were from Kobo’s e-book store.
Sales were pretty unimpressive up until September 2010, or six months after publication. This coincided with a significant bump up in my blog hits, which coincided with my first “Big Reveal” post. Maybe it was just a coincidence, as I do believe that the majority of my e-book readers find the book in the Kindle store by accident, i.e. key word search, Amazon recommendation, etc. In September, October and November I sold nearly the exact same amount of books each month: 180.
All sales per month.
Then in December: craziness. It was a good month anyway, probably because December is a good month for books for everyone, but on Christmas Eve, sales just took off. Between Christmas Eve and January 31st, I sold almost the same amount of books – 1,000 – than I had in the previous eight months. (424 in total in December and 882 in January.)
And here’s the interesting thing: for the first time ever, Amazon UK sales not only overtook Amazon US sales, but they did so significantly. Then the following month they went back down to about level with US sales, and in March they were only matching about 60% of US Kindle store sales, which is still a huge improvement on what the UK store was doing before Christmas, which was less than 30% of US store sales.
US Kindle store sales Vs UK Kindle store sales per month, March 2010-March 2011.
Detective Catherine therefore concludes that a lot of UK readers got Kindles for Christmas, and then went online looking for books to download to them. Lucky for me, many of them found Mousetrapped.
And if you’ve just self-published, hang on in there. A year ago I was selling about 2 books a day. But even if you never sell more than that, it still all adds up.
It took me AGES to figure out why my sales per day graph dips but my sales per month doesn’t. Clearly I hadn’t had enough coffee because of course it was because February has only 28 days. Therefore even though my sales per day went down in March (from 27 to 26), I still sold more copies in total during the month of March.
When people hear about this they say things like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah – but how much are you actually making from this? Like, how much do you get paid from these companies in any given month?“
This is impossible to answer accurately, because payment dates and frequency are all over the place. For example:
- Smashwords pays once a quarter and takes eons to update sales data
- Amazon KDP (US) pays at the end of the month for the calendar month that ended 60 days ago
- Amazon KDP (UK) pays in the middle of the month for the calendar month that ended 60+ days ago
- CreateSpace pays at the end of the month for the calendar month that ended 30 days ago, but has delays with its EDC sales reporting.
Therefore if I said, “Well, this month I got paid X amount,” it wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of what I actually earned this month, which is likely to be a very different figure.
So instead let’s do this: estimate what I earned this month. Will I get paid all this this month? No. I’ll get paid some of it this month, some next month, some in two months’ time, along with payments from other time periods. But at the end of the year I should be able to say that my earnings in March 2011 looked something like this:
- CreateSpace owe me for 70 paperbacks sold through EDC (which, confusing the issue right here at the beginning, probably weren’t sold in March) and 20 paperbacks sold through Amazon.com. My earnings here are $256.80
- Amazon KDP owes me for 439 US store sales and for 250 UK sales. The US store sales are a little tricky to work out because some will be at the 70% royalty rate (i.e. purchased by US customers) and some will be at the 35% rate (purchased from the US store from outside the US). But previous months suggest that about 10% of sales come in at 35% sow working off that Amazon KDP (US) will pay me around $859.79, and the KDP (UK) around $515.
- Smashwords – who knows? They normally pay me $70-90 per quarter, so let’s just throw in $25 for this.
That’s a total estimated gross in March 2011 of $1,656. (Or €1,175 or £1,033.)
Not too shabby for something that got finished a year ago, requires no additional effort now except for things I’d be doing anyway (blogging, tweeting, etc.) and is a Disney-themed travel memoir with a spectacularly niche appeal. It’s also purely income from book sales, and doesn’t include other potential income streams like feature writing, speaking engagements, paid blogging, etc.
It’s also more than I was making doing the job the book is about – as an entry level front desk agent in Walt Disney World, my gross was about $1,600 a month. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?
NB: I’m doing this a day ahead of time, so the figures might be slightly off from my actual March sales reported above.
It’s Not All About Numbers: The “Feelings” Corner
This post is, but self-publishing my book hasn’t been. Other than going to Florida in the first place (or going to Holland to start working in the travel and tourism industry, thus qualifying me for a J-1 visa a year and a half later), it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done. And rather than nix my chances of getting a traditional publishing deal, all it’s done is improve my chances, because I’ve proved that I can sell my own books, I’ve built a readership and I’ve managed to get publicity for my self-published book that some traditionally published books don’t get (The Sunday Times, The Marian Finucane Show on RTÉ Radio, etc.)
But there is another benefit that might be even more important in the long run: I feel like a writer now. A few months ago – before Mousetrapped sales took off – I was feeling very low about my Published Writer prospects. I’ve always believed (and I still do, deluded or not) that it will happen eventually, but I was getting desperate. If you’ve been following my blog you’ll know that thanks to a combination of hating my job with every fiber of my being and realizing that at 28, I may not have the opportunity to be so reckless again, I quit my job to live off my savings and finally write The Novel. (Also: Ireland had sunk into a recession, so it was suddenly socially acceptable to be unemployed!) As you can imagine, this put an enormous amount of pressure on me to succeed, both from myself, the people around me and my credit card company (!). When the novel went out on submission and got “We love it but we don’t love it enough” and “We love you, but we don’t love the book” it should have been great news, but instead I felt panicked at the thought of having to write a whole other book. I’ve always believed that you don’t just need free time to write but free headspace too, this pressure wasn’t doing any good for me or my novel.
Flash forward to today, and while Catherine is invariably highly caffeinated, she is also a lot calmer and relaxed. (Not when she looks at her To Do or To Read piles, but in general…!) If I get a traditional book deal, fantastic. But if I don’t get it for five or ten years, so be it. I’ll always have one eye on the phone, yes, but I won’t be biting my nails at the same time. Because I’m already doing what I love and getting paid for it; I already have readers. I’m already a writer. And I can’t tell you what emotional and psychological space that frees up.
The best part of all this though is that I’m in control. With my fiction, I’m not. I have to wait for someone else to say, “We want to publish this.” And if that’s all that was going on in my life, I’d be climbing the walls. But instead I have my non-fiction, which I can write, publish and sell whenever and however I want to. It makes the waiting so much easier, which means I can do it for longer without freaking out, chopping an agent-shaped chip in my shoulder and turning into one of those “Down with the Big Six!” self-publishers that I loathe and despise.
(If you’re wondering why I don’t just self-publish my novels too, you’ve clearly missed this post.)
If I Were to Do It All Again…
Well I am doing it all again, with a second travel memoir, Backpacked, this September. I talked yesterday about what I’m going to do differently this time around, but if I had to pick just five lessons learned it’d be these:
- Make releasing the book one of the last things you do (building online platform, promotion, getting reviews, etc. all comes first).
- Hire a cover designer. You CANNOT use the “Cover Creator” programs on those POD sites AND succeed. It’s one or the other.
- Price your e-book at $2.99. This is the sweet spot: low enough so people take a chance, high enough to qualify for 70% royalty.
- Don’t do any selling that involves you ordering stock (book launches, bookstores, etc.)
- No matter what, wait a year.
(If you want to find out more about my self-printing adventures, you read the blog posts here, or wait until May 14th when my book Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing comes out. You can read the (very long!) table of contents here.)
I may be crazy to say this in public, but by the end of 2011 my goal is to have sold 20,000 books. It sounds like a huge number, but when you break it down it just about sounds doable. (Sort of!)
- I’ve already sold nearly 4,000 books, that leaves 16,000 more to sell
- If I continue to sell Mousetrapped at its current rate of about 700 copies per month, I’ll have sold another 6,300 copies of it by the end of the year, which leaves 9,700 more to sell which I’ll divide between the two books I’ve coming out in the next few months
- Self-Printed will be out in May, so let’s say that gives me 7 months (June-December) to shift 4,850 copies of it, or an average of 692 copies of it a month. I’m completely on the fence about whether or not this is doable. On one hand I think it has a far wider appeal than Mousetrapped does and in e-book form is fantastic value, if I do say so myself (100k words for only $2.99, people!) and then on the other I wonder why anyone would buy it?! So it could go either way. We’ll see.
- Backpacked, the sequel to Mousetrapped, will be out in September. I have high hopes for it and don’t think its unreasonable to imagine that it will do as well as Mousetrapped, especially considering it’s a more “mainstream” travel memoir and might therefore appeal to more people. There is also the primed readers factor; hopefully if you read and enjoyed Mousetrapped, you’ll want to read this as well. To make my 20k I’d also have to shift 4,850 copies of that but in less time – 1,212 copies of it a month between September and December, which is a very tall order indeed. But impossible? No. I hope not, anyway!
So crazy or not, 20k is the goal.
And I do like a good challenge…
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