I released a new novel yesterday, and I thought I would share how the process went and what my numbers looked like. The voyeuristic nature in many people might find this bit of the self-publishing adventure especially enlightening. First, let’s start with what I did to prep for launch.

Launch Support
One of the most common notions I read about in the weeks leading up to release day was that it was essential to put an email signup link in the back of my books. Readers who finish the book and love it will very likely want to sign up for more books from the same author. So, in preparation for this book release, I started to promote my mailing list. As of yesterday morning, I had 64 subscribers.

I also went into launch day with 1,166 twitter followers. I usually apply the 10% Rule to that figure, though, meaning I can reasonably expect about 116 followers to interact with my book promotion (click the link, maybe retweet me, and a few purchases. I don’t read every single tweet in my twitter stream, and it would be wrong to expect others to behave differently.

I use the Alpha network on App.net (most people just call it ADN) and have about 975 followers there. Same rules apply, though, so I really only expected about 97 people to notice my post.

Lastly, my blog has around 1,500 RSS subscribers. That told me to expect about 150 visits to the site when I posted my launch announcement. Again, that’s pessimistic, but I like to set my expectations low, rather than walk face-first into the brick wall that is disappointment.

A Word About Sales Ranks
Your book sales on Amazon, in relation to the sales of every other book on Amazon during that hour, result in a sales rank. The more sales you receive, the higher your rank becomes (a lower number). But Amazon also has another trick up its sleeve: books fall back down the sales charts just as fast as they climb them. A 3-hour burst in sales, followed by nothing will result in a very fast drop back down the rankings.

Why are rankings important? Because higher-ranks books appear on more lists that shoppers use to look for new books. Depending on your category/genre, that might mean landing on the first page of results for something like the “Bestsellers in U.S. Horror Fiction”, or never coming close to the Top 100. The larger the category, the harder it is to crack the Top 100 within it. The more visible my book can be, the more “organic” sales I’ll experience.

Having a good number of reviews helps convince potential buyers that the book is worth their sack of gold coins. What most self-published writers do is launch their book, cross their fingers, and wait for the reviews to roll in. That rarely happens. To help a book succeed on launch day, it’s important to have some reviews waiting to influence those first-time shoppers.

To that end, I handed out about 15 “advanced review copies” (ARC) of my book about 10 days before launch. About half of those ARC readers finished the book on time and wrote reviews, and when the store pages went live a day or two ahead of launch, I sent them the links and they posted their reviews. Their reviews are honest and uninfluenced by me, but just having them on the Amazon page for the book is super helpful.

Cost to Produce
Lastly, let’s touch briefly on the cost for me to produce this book. I typed an average of 1,000 words per hour, and the book is about 58,000 words long. So, you can assume a minimum of 60 hours to write it, which was spread out over the course of about two months. There was also editing time on my end, which was another 20 hours. Let’s assume a super-low rate of $25/hour, and the book is already at $2,000 in my time (but I don’t charge $25/hr for my design time..it’s much, much higher).

Outside editing would have been around $500, but I managed to trade design skills with an editor, saving me that expense. And a normal self-publisher would have had to buy a pre-made cover for $100, or commission an original cover for $400-$700. Being a professional designer, though, I was able to handle that role myself, again saving me a large chunk of change.

All told, had I paid an editor and bought a professional cover, I could have been $600-$1200 in the hole before selling a single copy, never mind the huge amount of my time that it took. That’s a hard pill to swallow, which is why many self-published books have crappy covers and piss-poor editing. I like to think that the extra quality in my book will help it float up the charts over time.

Launch Day Figures
I sent out my email announcement at 9am yesterday, February 6. I had hoped to wait until 11am to tweet about it in order to give West Coast people a chance to wake up and start their work days, but a few of my newsletter readers were too excited to contain it, and shared the news on twitter. So, I pushed everything out by about 9:30am. And “everything” means the blog post, the promotional tweet, and the post to the Alpha network on App.net.

Across Twitter and ADN, I received a total of 22 retweets, 9 original mentions and 14 congratulatory replies. That’s 45, across two social networks with a total follower count of over 2100.

My email announcement to 64 subscribers was opened by 45 people (so, 70%) and had a 23% click-rate. Better than 10%, I guess.

Lastly, my blog post received 214 views (out of a potential of 1,500, remember), and 71 of those visits came from Twitter (meaning, not from my 1,500 subscriber base). So, close to 150 non-Twitter visits is a good 10% of my 1,500 RSS figure. Not bad.

And how did that translate into sales? See for yourself:

  • Amazon = 17 copies (a total of $47.43)
  • Nook = 1 copy (a total of $2.59)
  • Paperback = 2 copies ( a total of $8.14)
  • Google Play = nada, zip, zero, nothing

So, after all that work and prep, I earned $58 yesterday. Sound enticing? And at the end of the night, after 12 hours on sale, my book was around #10,000 on the full Paid book list (out of a couple million titles, mind you) and #28 on the Top 100 Thriller/Paranormal bestseller list. For some reason I decided in the middle of the day to switch to the Horror category, and I now hold the #59 spot there as of this morning.

Here’s the deal with digital publishing: it’s forever. My book might be on that digital Amazon shelf for 20 years. Who knows. And while launch day sales are typically the biggest day of sales most authors experience, many books grow over time. Great reviews, a bit of random discovery and some promotions might help it grow beyond its current rank.

The best marketing, though, is to write more books. So I’m happy to say I’m already about 2,500 words into my next novel, another modern-day supernatural thriller. I hope to have it completed and available by May.

Lastly, if the stats from my website and email announcement yesterday have any other nuggets to share, it’s this: about 60% of my viewers wanted the Kindle version, but a little under 40% wanted the iBooks version. Sadly, though, Apple still has yet to approve the book for their store. I submitted it 48 hours before my intended launch date, and here we are 24 past that and the book is still “In Review”. In the future, I will most likely submit to iBooks a week or more before launch, and just not mention it until launch day. Then again, this could take days or weeks, so I have to weigh the cost and benefits of making it available there at all.

If you bought my new book, thanks for making yesterday such a fun ride. If you haven’t yet, I urge you to buy it in the next 24 hours. That can help extend my time on the right charts. And for everyone, any promotion you can do, or reviews you can post, will be incredibly helpful. Who knows—I just might manage to make an additional $20 today!