This Week in Self-Publishing: I Lost All My Amazon Pre-Orders

Money earned (total): $7,012.34

Money spent (total): $1,545

Money earned (this week): $103.34

Money spent (this week): $0

So I’m resetting the “money earned” tally to only include money that has arrived in my bank account. That means, so far, just the $6,909 I earned writing the Biographies drafts on Patreon, plus the $103.34 I received this week because… um…

Because this week all of my Amazon pre-orders got canceled.

Yes, that actually happened. There was a bug in Pronoun’s system, and they worked quickly to fix it, but my book disappeared from Amazon for about 8–12 hours and everyone who had pre-ordered the book through Amazon got an email indicating their pre-order had been canceled.

I’ve been in contact with both Amazon and Pronoun pretty much constantly since I realized what was going on, and both of them acted quickly and worked to find a solution. Pronoun also sent me the $103.34 I would have earned on royalties from the lost pre-orders, which was an unexpected and really lovely touch. Meanwhile, my friends and readers rallied, and I got a bunch of re-pre-orders in the past two days.

I also got a very useful piece of information: The Biographies of Ordinary People had 37 Amazon pre-orders prior to the mass cancellation.

I thought that number was closer to 100.


As you might remember if you’ve been following this series, I didn’t have pre-order data in my Pronoun dashboard for the first month after my launch. That meant I spent about five weeks estimating my Amazon pre-orders based on my Amazon sales ranking. I’d pull my daily sales ranking off Author Central, plug it into one of the many “convert sales rankings into sales” calculators, and tally that number on a spreadsheet.

My sales rankings weren’t bad, either. Biographies was ranked #11,896 out of the million-plus Amazon ebooks when it launched. As of this writing, it’s #38,999. Compared to all the ebooks on Amazon, I’m doing well! I’m almost in the top 100 of the Literature and Fiction/Literary Fiction/Sagas subcategory!

But my guess is that those “convert sales rankings into sales” calculators were created a year or two ago, and Amazon has since added hundreds of thousands of books to its catalog, and an #11,896 ranking doesn’t mean what it used to in terms of sales.

Based on my Amazon sales rankings, I thought I already had 100+ preorders and might get between 300–500 pre-orders before Biographies went live on May 23.

Now I’m expecting my pre-orders to be significantly smaller.


While all of this was going on, I got a five-star review from Foreword Clarion Reviews.

I want you to read the whole review, because this reviewer writes about Biographies in a way that makes the book clearer to me. What this story is about, who it’s for, why it’s important. But here’s the pull quote:

The Biographies of Ordinary People contains artful writing and delicately drawn characters who navigate through the universal tragedies and triumphs of everyday life. This first volume is deeply satisfying.

I feel like I could live the rest of my life on the happiness of reading this review.


Then I got an email from The New York Review of Books, asking if I’d be interested in advertising Biographies in its Independent Press Listing. They’d seen the reviews, and thought Biographies deserved the opportunity to get “mainstream attention.”

I am well aware that I will be paying for this opportunity (and that for all I know they send it to anyone who gets good reviews). But it’s a curated opportunity, and it’s the NYRB, and they’ll put my book and a quote from its five-star review in a magazine that will be sent to 150,000 people who are very serious about books, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to do it.

It also got me thinking about what the goal of publishing The Biographies of Ordinary People actually is.

If it’s pure profit, then I should be avoiding the NYRB’s invitation to advertise. I should have avoided sending my book to Foreword Clarion. I should have done Amazon KDP Select and let them autoformat my print book directly from my ebook (instead of hiring a designer to do my paperback, which I did) and just jammed out as many sales and Kindle Unlimited pageviews as I could.

But I want to make art, and I also want to be recognized for having made art, and those are two different things.

And I’m realizing that I may make very little profit on this book while simultaneously having people and organizations whose opinions I value tell me that it is very good.

I kinda feel okay about that. (It helps that I’m earning a good living already, which means that I don’t have to do this “for the money.” It also helps that I “earned my advance” already, through the generosity of my Patreon supporters.)

So maybe I’ll publish these books and they’ll do exactly what one agent suggested might happen: sell a small number of copies to a small group of readers who really like artful, quiet novels.

Or maybe I’ll send my book to the NYRB Independent Press Listing and it will get mainstream attention and I’ll sell 3,000 copies.

Or maybe I’ll pay to submit Biographies to the BookLife Prize and the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards, and maybe I’ll be a winner or a finalist, and maybe that’ll sell more books and maybe it won’t sell enough books to make back the cost of admission.

Or maybe all the pre-orders I got in the past two days will get canceled again. Anything could happen.

But I got a beautiful review from Foreword Clarion Reviews, and I’m still so happy about that. ❤

 

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