How Many Books I've Sold - An Education In Numbers

There is an INSANE amount of stuff to learn in the publishing world.  Even more so if you are going to self-publish.  I discovered this the hard way.  Back at the end of 2009, beginning of 2010, I had received over 60 rejections from agents.  At the time I was trying to find a home for BRANDED.  No one wanted it, so I decided to go at it on my own.  Self-publishing was just starting to become an option then.  So I jumped in.

Boy was it a steep learning curve.

I didn't know anyone else who was doing it so I didn't have anyone to ask for advice.  I had no one else to model myself after.  So I stumbled along blindly for quite some time.

I believe in the value of being educated and knowing how those who have gone before you did things.  So I'm going to share some personal but business oriented numbers with you: my all time sales numbers.  This is odd timing to do this, normally I would do this at the beginning of a new year but well, I just found out myself.

Yes, I--well, my assistant--finally got our bums in gear and went through over 3 years worth of sales reports and compiled them into one spreadsheet.  This thing is mind boggling to look at.  It took my assistant 9 hours to pull all this together.  And then I went through and spent about 2 or 3 hours doing the monthly detailed totals and other stuff that threatened to melt my brain.

Just to give you an idea of how intense this document is, here is a VERY small screenshot of it...
But I finally know how many books I've sold and how many free downloads I've ever gotten!

And for educational purposes I thought I'd share it all with you.  I know I would have LOVED to see numbers like this early on in my writing career.

Here is my actual sales, meaning copies that were PAID for.  This does not include 2010 because there were a grand total of 324 copies sold from Feb-Dec of that year...  It took me a LONG time to figure out what the heck I was doing.  But these numbers go through August of 2013.

Forgive my crappy graph.  I've been pressed for time and skill.
Yes, if you really wanted to put in some effort and math skills, you could probably roughly figure out what my income is from this, but why spend the time?  I may post about that some other time, but that is getting a bit personal...

This graph includes sales for Kindle, Nook, and iBooks in all the worldwide territories.  This does not include my print sales because they are hardly worth tracking, OR sales that come through Smashwords because their reporting is horrendous and not enough for me to really bother with.

The two columns marked in green were my highest earning months.  Interesting to see that they weren't necessarily the months that I sold the most copies.  (Disclosure: I made this graph last month, before I actually knew last months income.  Shockingly, since my sales weren't that amazing-not that they were bad-last month, it was in fact my highest earning month ever.)

There certainly have been some ups and downs, but for the past year things have been pretty steady.

So, while looking at this graph, you also have to consider how many free downloads my books get.  Don't let anyone ever tell you that a free book is worthless.

Okay, I confess, I did these last month so the above numbers aren't quite 100% accurate.  The number of free downloads of my books is now 534,344.  Over half a million downloads.

What books do these free downloads include?

Branded mostly.  I set it for free in April 2012, took it off free for a brief time in July and August that year.  Biggest mistake.  So I put it back free and it has been free ever since.  I have no plans to change that when it has managed to maintain around 500+ downloads every day for the past year.  It also includes What I Didn't Say which I've put up for free for a total of about 15 days ringing in over 110,000 free downloads in those few days.  This also The Raid which is free currently.  The Ashes had a few free days, as did Eden, way back in the day when it was a standalone.

"So why offer books for free?  There's no value or means to make money from a free book!"

Not freaking true.

People often don't think twice about downloading a free book.  It doesn't cost them anything.  So oftentimes people hoard them.  But sometimes they actually read those books.  And sometimes they actually like those books.

And the trick is, often there are more books in that series.  For example: Branded is free, and hoards of people have downloaded it.  But then there is Forsaken, book two, which is priced at $3.99 and there is also Vindicated at $4.99 and Afterlife which is $1.99.  Those three non-free books are where I make the vast majority of my income.  Having Branded free makes me a lot of money.  Because of if just a small percent of the people who downloaded Branded go on to read the other books it adds up quickly.

But why would I offer What I Didn't Say for free?

Because I almost guarantee you 100,000 of those 110,000 people who downloaded it in those 15 days had never heard of Keary Taylor.  But now they have a Keary Taylor book on their e-reader.  And they might read it.  And they might like my writing style and they might go on to buy my other books.  This is a promotional tool to spread my brand.

This is why I offer books for free - explained very quickly and simply.

Now, you might be interested to see the overall sales numbers for all my books.  These numbers are everything, from February 2010, when I first started self-publishing, through September 2013.  Here they are:

BRANDED (Published Feb 2010)
Paid: 40,366
Free: 418,604

FORSAKEN (Published Jan 2011)
Paid: 48,417

VINDICATED (Published November 2011)
Paid: 33,554

AFTERLIFE (Published November 2011)
Paid: 13,368

FALL OF ANGELS OMNIBUS EDITION (Published December 2011)
Paid: 3,154

WHAT I DIDN'T SAY (Published May 2012)
Paid: 12,082
Free: 110,186

EDEN (Published June 2011, unpublished Feb 2013)
Paid: 12,496
Free: 3,000

THE BANE (Published March 2013)
Paid: 3,653

THE HUMAN (Published June 2013)
Paid: 1,844

THE ASHES (Published March 2013)
Paid: 751
Free: 1,322

THE RAID (Published March 2013)
Paid: 381
Free: 1,232

REBIRTH (Published Oct 2012, unpublished Feb 2013)
Paid: 867

Now, the overall total, paid and free downloads:

I believe in being informed.  While I know I have a LOT of room to grow, I could still sell a LOT more books than this, I'm not doing horrendously.  I've managed what a lot of other authors haven't: stability.

*But let's be honest about it, one of the secrets to making a good income writing and getting stable is to write a butt load of books...  

This is why I've harped that the most valuable way you can spend your time as a writer is to write, not to spend all your energy on marketing.  Yes, it is important, but it is more important for your readers to have another book for them to go buy, and then another after that.*

So, I hope you find this helpful and that you can learn something from it.  Let me know if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them!


Dianne Roberson said...

Thanks for this info. I have just started to write and need all the help I can get.

Heather said...

Really cool to see! Thanks for sharing, Keary.

Morgan Wylie said...

Thank you for sharing! That is really cool to see broken down like that.

Laura Howard said...

Great article. Thanks for sharing :D

Kathy Wheeler said...

Thanks for sharing.
I'm all for the free strategy.

Megan Bostic said...

That's really interesting. You know, I'm just getting started in the whole indie publishing world and I've learned a lot already and know the value of giving the book away, which I will after I put it out for a bit. And hopefully it will help the sales of my traditionally published book. I wonder how this experience will differ. The editorial process is already much different and much harder for sure. Thanks for sharing.

Jacqueline Allen said...

This is really cool! And so true...I had downloaded Branded and sat on it for months before I finally read it and once I did I kicked myself for not reading it sooner! I bought the rest of them and read 'em all in 2 days! I hope to make an amazing library for my kids someday so I bought them in paperback as well. I look forward to reading more of your work!

zachray taylor said...

Wow amazing stuff I really enjoyed thanks for the amazing stuff.
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