It is almost exactly a year since I launched my book In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree on you, the unsuspecting public. Years in its production (by which I mean writing and editing) I decided to self-publish…then worked furiously to get it ready for my deadline of 16 March.
A year on, I was intrigued to know how it had done. Historically, self-publishing has seemed to be the loser’s option: you can’t get published with a ‘proper’ publisher so you go and print it yourself. For some, this has just shown the traditional publishers to be fools: how could they possibly have missed such a gem? Others have sunk into the oblivion that the professionals had anticipated.
Advancements in technology have allowed the self-publisher to be much more respected. It can be cheaper to produce, due to print-on-demand and ebooks. It can be cheaper to promote, due to social media and the internet. And once you have got over those two major costs, your position is little different to that of most first time published writers. Though publishers have better access to nationwide media, most authors need to generate a lot of their own publicity. As with so much, it is so often who you know rather than what you know.
So what did I think I would regard as successful? I had two measures.
Firstly: sell 100 copies. That was my minimum aim. I would have been very disappointed if I couldn’t reach that target.
Secondly: sell 200 copies. That was where I expected to be. I thought I probably had enough friends and family whom I could cajole into buying the book that I would be satisfied with that.
Would that break even? That all depended on whether they were print books or ebooks, or whether I sold them myself from the box I pre-ordered. The latter had the greatest profit margin, although the biggest risk as I had to cover the cost of their purchase, whether or not I sold them.
Furthermore, it depends on how you calculate the cost. Seven years of drafting and redrafting has used up a lot of paper and ink! I have gone on occasional courses to learn how to write (I don’t have an English or Creative Writing degree) and I have paid for professional editors to criticise my writing. This doesn’t begin to count the actual costs of publication and promotion, which were not negligible: the cover design, the book launch party, posters, promotional bookmarks, not to mention the books given away as prizes, or as gifts to people who had helped along the way.
Ignoring the costs of the previous years, I estimated that the book had cost me in the region of £1,570 – a lot of money! Could I possibly break even?
Well, certainly not based on the book launch alone. I recognise now that I took a lovely but expensive route – lovely, as I had a wonderful evening with family and friends, but expensive as there are cheaper options than hiring a restaurant for an evening! I’m not decrying the book launch itself – that was wonderful, and a great boost to sales and publicity – but a different venue or style will be chosen next time. Another extravagance that I wouldn’t repeat was the printing of business cards: I don’t use them, I’m uncomfortable handing them out and, on the one occasion that I did, I realised that they didn’t have the relevant information on for the lady concerned (oops!).
But sales over the year have gradually built up, peaking over the pre-Christmas period. Since January I haven’t promoted the book so much, and sales have fallen away. However I did have a look at the sales that I had made up to 31 December and practically fell off my chair.
About 120 from home, 110 paperbacks and 313 ebooks. Total: 543 copies.
Happiness (you may recall) came at 200 copies; ecstasy when I realised I had more than doubled my estimate. Double ecstasy (if such a thing is possible!) when I compared that with authors in an article on self-publishing in Writing Magazine who stated they had sold about 200 copies and were pleased with that. Quite chuffed when I read that:
“The average book in America sells about 500 copies”
(Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006)
and that, on average, a self-published book sells less than 250 copies.
Would 200 copies have broken even? At £2.32 per copy, no. (I’m giving an approximate royalty: the amount received does vary according the type of book, and whether I had it on promotion or not.) Has 543 copies done the trick? Just about. Have I made enough money to retire to the Bahamas and live off my hard work? Certainly not!
Writing and promoting a book is genuinely hard work. When I first typed ‘The End’ I thought I’d done the difficult bit by writing the book, but in reality the most time-consuming and non-instinctive part of the job was still to come. My hat is doffed to all professional authors, for it is very difficult to make a living from writing alone (as can be seen from the average sales quoted above).
Would I do it again? Oh yes! I loved the experience, and I love the writing process. Indeed, the plan is to have Book 2 (a sequel!) ready for autumn this year… although I’m definitely finding it harder to write than the first book. Success in writing books is more than a financial reward: there is something intangibly magnificent about seeing… holding… sharing your created work.
But best of all was discovering this today:
If you look at Kindle store > Books > Non-fiction > Travel > Africa, I am a No 1 Bestseller!
In the Shade of the Mulberry Tree is available here in the UK and here in the US, both as paperback and kindle versions, as well as on other Amazon sites around the globe.