Writing, a year in review

One of these years, this post will be from the perspective of “The Year I Made My Entire Income From Writing” This year isn’t that year, but it’s a good stepping stone toward that goal.

This is the first full year with more than one book out, so I have more data, and (yay!) more income.

Books

First of all, how many books are ‘live’ now? Four, well like three and a half.

Book 3 didn’t go live until a few days ago, so the bulk of the money and points in this post are primarily around books 1 & 2.

Book 1 didn’t go wide until June 3rd with book 2 being released wide the end of June, so most of this data will be Amazon. Though it’s definitely interesting how well the other stores have done (at least to me) in the short time I’ve been with them.

For those curious, why wide? That’s fodder for its own post, but the short of it is, that while I own a Kindle, I am very wary of the power Amazon is accumulating. They’re actively hostile to their partners (those who sell on Amazon), despite our being part of their income stream. As a proponent of transparency, they’re the antithesis of what I like in business.

Their Kindle Unlimited (KU) program is a boon for readers (I pay for it) but for writers, it’s the only time in publishing, that it’s a zero sum game. Amazon makes authors duke it out for a cut of a really massive pie. They ignore (until recently) bad actors, and require for that tiny cut of pie, ebook exclusivity. So for me, it’s a hard NO. I don’t begrudge those who do it, many make their entire living off KU reads. That’s just a little too risky for me.

Sales

So how many books have I sold? This is NOT free books. That’ll be later. This is only how many books did someone give me money for.

Drum roll……5390*

Now, this is all books, and mostly book 1, which for most of the year has been $.99 so keep that in mind :)

Sales By Store

While I don’t break down sales of each book (I probably should), I do keep track of sales by store.

  • Amazon: 4329
  • Barnes & Noble: 399
  • Kobo: 224
  • Apple Books: 362
  • Google: 76

Clearly Amazon is the big dog, that was never in question, but I like the numbers I’m seeing from the other stores. Part of my plan (for as much as I can control it) is to build my brand outside Amazon so that those stores grow their presence in my income report. I know authors who make almost half their income from stores that aren’t Amazon.

Books Given Away

The concept of a permafree book is not something I like, so Space Rogues book 1 is $.99 I value people who value my work. I understand the loss leader concept and maybe when I have 20 books out, I’ll give book 1 away, but probably not. That said, there is value in the occasional sale. These numbers are driven by a Bookbub deal that I was selected for in September. I layered on (that’s another topic below) an ENT and Bookbarbarian deal.

  • Amazon: 6791
  • Barnes & Noble: 2616
  • Kobo: 3346
  • Apple Books: 6644
  • Google: 5425

Overall I am at 1:6 sales to free books. I’ve nothing to compare that too, so can only assume it’s not bad. It’d be a much ‘better’ ratio but as you can see, Google has no shortage of free book grabbers, and a distinct lack of book buyers…

Money

OK so, how much did I make as a writer this year? I’ll give a total, and by store breakdown, because I track that :)

  • Total: $6,435.11
    • Amazon: $4,856.43
    • Barnes & Noble: $529.00
    • Kobo: $118.18
    • Apple Books: $742.92
    • Google: $188.58

A long(ish) way to go before it’s actually a “living” but certainly not anything to shake a stick at.

Expenses

As with any business there are expenses. In writing it’s services (editing, proofreading, covers, etc) and promotion.

This year I spent about $1500 on editing/proofreading. I spent about $400 on cover design, and about $600 on promotions. And about $2000 on ads. Ads are sadly pretty much a necessity. Eventually you get more for each spend, because ideally someone continues on to read the rest of your series. I’ve gotten wiser and more strategic in my ad spending, so I expect that number to either go down a bit in 2019 or garner more sales. At least I hope! Oh and snake oil, there was a fair amount of “classes” and tutorials paid for this year (and last)

Take Away: What Did I learn?

I learned Google isn’t a great place to sell things. They’ve cultivated a user base of freeloaders and cheapskates, and it shows. That’s fine, I’ll list my books there, collect what little sales I get from there.

I learned that stacking promos is probably not worth it. In September, I had a Bookbub, an ENT and a Bookbarbarian promo. Each has a cost, so you have to hope to recoup that cost with sales down the line. The larger your back catalog that easier that is. Sadly it’s nearly impossible to track what sale was from what, but being three of the largest promo sites, I think the spend would be better if spread across the year. Wait for the sales to slide back to normal, then a boost, rinse and repeat. I think the real help there, would be in (amazon) rankings, since the book promo’d would be active longer than a single few day surge, which is quickly disregarded by the algorithmic gods of Amazon. No idea how the other stores track this stuff.

I also learned that the old folklore around writers not making a living, is just that, folklore. Am I yet? No. Do I see a path to that? Yes. There’s a Facebook group (and conference) called 20BooksTo50K, the idea being (if it’s not obvious from the name) that 20 books is when you hit 50k in sales. I don’t know if it’ll take me twenty books or forty, but I know I can keep writing and that each time someone buys the book, I’m reminded that people are interested in my creative output. This year I released 2 books, I’m hoping I can keep that pace up, but honestly am not sure.

Lastly, I learned that while Barnes & Noble can’t figure out what to do with their real world pressence, their device and device owners are READERS, and more importantly, BUYERS. I was honestly surprised to have such a strong showing from B&N.

Future

So, what’s the future hold? Well more books that’s for sure. Space Rogues 4: The Horror Movie Job is in progress, and I hope to be starting on Book 5 sometime in the spring. Fingers crossed.

The future also holds better use of funds. There are a lot of authors out there that have realized that there’s even more money in selling “how to be a writer” type classes than selling books. That’s not a knock per se, but many aren’t that informative if you’ve paid even the slightest attention to the industry and our own results while getting started. Lesson learned.

I’m really excited for 2019! I’ve got no shortage of books to read (because THAT’s important) and no shortage of books to write. Let’s do this!

FootNote

* I’m writing this post on the 26th so there are a few days left to gather sales.

By John Wilker

I'm a science fiction writer and conference organizer. In 2017 I published my first book, 'Space Rogues', a fun Sci-Fi adventure with a fun cast of characters. I'm also the co-founder of 360|Conferences, a conference and event logistics consulting company.

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