This Week in Self-Publishing: Am I Going to Earn Any Money on This Book?

Money earned (total): $6,950.87

Money spent (total): $1,545

Money earned (this week): $2.79

Money spent (this week): $0

So we’re moving forward on the paperback copy of The Biographies of Ordinary People, and I’m starting to plan this summer’s mini-book-tour.

This is all good news for Biographies. The paperback is going to look great! I’ll get to go to bookstores and have conversations with other authors and readers!

It’s also good news for my career as an author, which is different from my career as a freelance writer (though closely related). I had a conversation with another author at the beginning of this process where she said, essentially, don’t wait to start acting like the person you want to become. I should start doing professional author stuff right away, like applying to be a panelist at local writers’ conventions, submitting my book for awards, and teaching classes.

Luckily for me, I’ve already been a panelist at numerous conventions—I used to do the geek convention circuit, and although I’ve scaled way back on my annual cons, I’ve been part of numerous panels on freelancing and crowdfunding and being a creative person on a budget.

I’ve also already read my fiction aloud at a handful of venues. I’ll read at pretty much any venue I can, honestly. (The public speaking part doesn’t bother me. I went to theater school.)

I’ve even started the teaching thing; this summer I’ll be teaching my second course at Seattle’s Hugo House.

So it’s all in the plan: teaching, panels, readings, award applications. I can do—and have been doing—many of the things I used to dream about doing someday.

But most of this work costs money.

When I ordered my promo cards for Biographies—you remember, the ones that I had hoped to hand out on the JoCo Cruise—I actually did the math on how many books I’d need to sell to make up the cost:

I’m kind of avoiding doing that math on other aspects of my marketing. I spent $1,125 to submit my book to reviewers, for example, which represents roughly 490 book sales.

I do in fact think I’ll sell 490 books. Maybe even by Biographies’ launch day on May 23, although that’s a stretch goal and I’m really hoping to sell 300 by then.

But the real question is whether I’ll sell enough books to start turning a profit beyond my expenses.

At this point you’ll probably ask “wait, what about the Patreon money? Aren’t you already well in the black because you crowdfunded the Biographies draft via Patreon and earned $6,909 from supporters and readers?”

Oh, for sure. In terms of straight-up earnings, I am going to be in the black for a good long time. But there are four things to consider here:

  1. That $6,909 figure was pre-tax. Only ~$5,182 was actual money in the bank.
  2. I earned that money a long time ago. I started earning monthly Patreon income in summer 2015. It’s still “in the black” money, but those actual dollars were put towards rent, food, and debt repayment months ago. (I’m debt free now, so that worked out.)
  3. That money technically went towards the drafts of both Biographies Vol. 1: 1989–2000 and Biographies Vol. 2: 2004–2016. I’m planning on counting the money I earn from sales of both volumes in a single pot as well, but there will be costs to produce and market Vol. 2—which I’m planning on doing this fall, so it can release in the first half of 2018—and that will shift the number on the earnings vs. expenses.
  4. I could very easily drop a few grand on a book tour/convention circuit.

I used to sell music and merch at geek conventions (long story) and although I knew how to hustle and how to get items off my table, I would rarely end a con with a net profit, even when I followed the “only eat one meal per day and keep string cheese in your purse” rule. Traveling is expensive, plus you have to remember that selling $600 in books or CDs or whatever doesn’t mean you’ve earned $600. You’ve earned the profit margin on each item, which might only be $2 on a $10 paperback, minus federal/state/business/sales tax.

So doing the book tour and paneling at conventions is much more about acting like the person you want to become than it is about making money.

I still want to do it. Right now I’m planning my book tour around cities I’m already scheduled to be in, which seems to be the sensible and cost-effective way to manage this, and only considering conventions that are within the Greater Seattle Metro Area. (And maybe Portland.)

But I’m also asking myself: when all of this work is done, will I have earned any money on this book?

I’d like to think so. The numbers, so far, work in my favor. But we’ll have to see what happens with sales.

Let’s say that both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are what’s considered a “success” in the debut literary fiction world, meaning they sell between 3,000–5,000 copies each. That would earn me:

  • Roughly $6,900 post-tax after the first book sells 3,000 copies. (It is interesting that this number is almost exactly the same as the Patreon earnings.)
  • Roughly $13,800 post-tax after both books sell 3,000 copies.

If we go all the way to 5,000 copies, those numbers bump to $11,500 and $23,000 respectively, which is money I’d be happy to see in my bank account, but also: before expenses, and probably spread out over two years. ($23,000 over 24 months is $958 per month, which actually looks better than I thought it would.)

You’ll probably also ask “why not charge more for your book, so you can earn more money faster?” Because the $3.99 price point has been determined by multiple sources to be the optimum price for a self-pub literary fiction ebook—that is, the price that gets the most purchases while also allowing the author to have the highest possible profit margin. (The paperback will be more expensive but will probably have a similar profit margin.)

I know that my biggest fans will buy the book whether I price it at $3.99 or $9.99. I’m keeping the ebook price at $3.99 for everyone else; the people who haven’t heard of me but want to take a chance on this story.

For me, acting like the person I want to become has always included being honest about the financial part of it. I’ve been sharing my freelance income online for, like, five years now, and I’m going to share my publishing income as well. I want to explain what it costs to become who I am (in the case of freelancing, it included $14,000 in credit card debt as I built my career, which I have since paid off in full) and I want to show exactly how much I’m earning.

So that’s why I’m asking whether I’m going to make any money off my book, and showing my work as I work towards the answer. ❤


This Week in Self-Publishing: Selling Books and Getting Reviews

Money earned (total): $6,948.08

Money spent (total): $1,545

Money earned (this week): $30.71

Money spent (this week): $0

I’ve got three pieces of exciting news: first, Pronoun is now giving me Amazon sales data. Since we last checked in, I sold nine books on Amazon and two on Google Play, for a total of $55.86 in gross sales and $30.71 in net profit.

I’m not sure if the fact that I don’t have any sales data for iBooks, for example, means that I haven’t sold any iBooks. I know that I’ve been selling books on Amazon fairly consistently, with the exception of the week I went on the JoCo Cruise, because I’ve been watching my Amazon sales rankings. So just because I haven’t gotten sales notifications from Pronoun doesn’t mean I haven’t made sales on iBooks/Nook/Kobo, or that I haven’t made sales on Amazon prior to this week.

It just means that I’m getting a little more information about sales now.

(As a reminder: retailers treat pre-orders as separate from actual sales, which is why I haven’t been getting all of my sales data. I don’t know if Amazon changed it’s deal or if Pronoun did, but I’m getting Amazon data now.)

Here’s what I did this week that might have contributed to those nine sales:

I wrote an article about musician and friend Marian Call’s new album, Standing Stones, that included a reference and link to my book. (One of the tracks on the album has very similar themes.) That article got retweeted by a number of sources, including NPR’s Marketplace.

I sent an email to my TinyLetter mailing list that included my second piece of exciting news: my book launch party will be held at Seattle’s Phinney Books on Tuesday, May 23. (If you’re in the Seattle area, I hope to see you there!) The email also reminded people—especially my recent subscribers—to pre-order the book if they hadn’t done it yet.

I also wrote an article for Pronoun’s online magazine The Verbs, about the importance of creating and maintaining a mailing list. (Which included a link to my pre-order page.)

I’ve said before that I make a few sales every time I mention The Biographies of Ordinary People online somewhere—which is a theory I’ve developed by tracking my Amazon sales rankings—and that all I need to do between now and the launch date in May is mention it as many times as possible. Without being weird or gross about it.

But I can mention, for example, that The Biographies of Ordinary People just got its first professional review.

That’s the third piece of exciting news: BlueInk Review sent over their review this week, and I love it.

Here’s the pull quote:

In less capable hands, the style could grow quickly tiresome, but Dieker takes her time establishing the personalities and relationships, encouraging a bond with her audience. In the end, the book succeeds in drawing readers into this quiet world.

It isn’t a starred review, which means I’m not sure if it will automatically be submitted to library distributor Total Boox. (Total Boox automatically accepts all books that get BlueInk “favorable reviews,” and… it’s not unfavorable!)

But the BlueInk review corroborates pretty much everything else I’ve heard from readers and industry people: this is a well-written book. Not much of a plot, more like a series of events that reveal character and relationship, but compelling in its own way.

Which is all I needed to know. ❤

This Week in Self-Publishing: Catch-Up Thoughts

Money earned (total): $6,917.37

Money spent (total): $1,545

Money earned (this week): $0

Money spent (this week): $0

I’m catching up after a week of being on the JoCo Cruise, so here are some catch-up thoughts.

First, I paid $75.24 a few weeks ago to get 200 promotional cards to distribute on the JoCo Cruise. On all the JCCs I’ve previously been on—which is to say five—there was a big central space for everyone to deposit and share their promo and swag.

This year, there wasn’t. Which means I am very much regretting having printed the words “pre-order” on these cards, because they’ll become obsolete in a few months. Why didn’t I just print “order?” Or just leave it at the tagline and the website? (Because I was going to be on a boat with 1,400 people and I thought for sure I could give away 200 cards.)

It is interesting to think of how much money I’ve “wasted” on stuff I didn’t fully understand, like the fact that there wouldn’t be a promo table on JCC, or that deal with the ISBNs. It’s all tax-deductible, so that’s fine, but still. Learning costs. (Which currently total $350.24.)

One thing I didn’t learning-cost myself into was subscribing to Adobe InDesign for $19.99 a month. I did a free trial instead, and quickly decided that I’ll probably need to outsource the print layout. I can do it myself if I need to, but it might look better if someone else does it. I’m working on getting all of that sorted right now.

On the “things I’m doing right” column; we’re one month from the pre-order launch and I have sold between 75–100 copies, based on the data I’ve gotten from Pronoun and Amazon. I’m telling myself it’s very definitely 75, that I shouldn’t hope for more, but I’m also telling myself that selling 300 copies before the launch date in May equals SUCCESS (selling 500 copies equals HUGE SUCCESS) and I am a third of the way there.

I can’t really start checking my email for my Kirkus, BlueInk, and Foreword Clarion reviews until next week, but I’m already getting antsy because I want a few stamps of approval—first to have them and second so I can leverage them as part of my media strategy. (“Why yes, you absolutely should read my brilliantly-reviewed novel and interview me on your thing.”)

I mean, maybe the reviews won’t be good. There is always that possibility.

I’m reading Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy, which I put off until I had drafted both volumes of The Biographies of Ordinary People because I didn’t want to be influenced inappropriately.

It was a good choice, because the two novels share both content and style similarities, although they’re so vastly different that no one’s going to say I’m copying Smiley. The way the books are the same has to do with the way the narrative progresses through time (which is the obvious comparison) and the use of a really tight, third-person limited point of view that alternates between characters’ perspectives.

It’s the tight part that’s similar, and it’s something I’ve only seen in a handful of other books, and there’s probably a word for it that I don’t know.

But some books, especially ones that span decades of story, have narration that kind of swoops up and gives you an overhead view of three or four years flying by before barreling down and settling in a particular character’s POV. (I’ll call this the corvid method, because that’s how they fly. Including the part where they like to get really close to people’s heads for five seconds before taking off again.)

Smiley’s trilogy, and my… duology… never rise up to the overhead view. We stick to short, intimate moments in our characters’ lives, and then we share another moment that happens a few months or a few years later, and we trust that our readers will get it; that the single, focused scenes share more about the characters, and how they’re changing, than would a bird’s-eye view of the passing years.

(Also, the bird’s-eye view thing often makes me feel like I’m eating food too fast. To mix multiple metaphors.)

The other really interesting thing about Smiley’s trilogy is that her second volume has the same problem as my second volume. Book 1 takes place within a single town and a few fixed locations (home, school, best friend’s house) and Book 2 takes place when all of the children have left home and are moving to new colleges, towns, jobs, etc. every year or so.

So I’d be reading her second book and thinking “wait, where are we? DC or San Francisco?” and then having to backtrack, my brain doing extra work that it doesn’t normally do when the entirety of a book is set in a single town (and when a character walks into a living room, it’s the same living room as it was 20 pages ago).

It’s good to know that the problem isn’t in the writing, or even necessarily in the reading—it’s in the way we’ve been trained to read books, which aren’t usually about people who live the way real people do, moving apartments and changing jobs every few years. (Smiley’s trilogy also doesn’t have a “plot” in the way Biographies doesn’t have a “plot.” I love this. It’s proof that it works.)

I want to send Jane Smiley a copy of The Biographies of Ordinary People and say “look, we both wrote these stories, and they are different and good and important,” but that would take a level of presumption that I do not have, and also I’ve heard authors hate that kind of thing.

So those are all of the catch-up thoughts I’ve had this week. See you next Friday. ❤