What I Learned in 2014 as an Indie Writer in the Self-Publishing Industry

For you fellow writers out there and those of you who are thinking about getting into the self-publishing industry, here are my sales numbers for 2014. I have been working at writing and publishing books since 2011 and I wanted to once again be transparent and share with you how I did in 2014. And, if you're interested, here are my sales from 2012 and 2013.

As of December 2014, I have the following books for sale:

  • Dorothea's Song
  • Lost: Cinderella's Secret Diaries (Book 1)
  • Stolen: Cinderella's Secret Diaries (Book 2)
  • Found: Cinderella's Secret Diaries (Book 3)
  • Cinderella's Secret Diaries Bundle (Books 1-3)
  • The Jovian Gate Chronicles (short story collection)

Through most of this year, I was not part of Amazon's KDP, but did have Lost go perma-free. My goal for 2014 was to broaden the markets that my books could be sold. First, let's start off at a high level view. This year I gave away from that 10,000 free ebooks on Amazon (mostly through perma-free):

  • 10,214 Lost: Cinderella's Secret Diaries (Book 1)
  • 250 Dorothea's Song (through KDP select)

Sales:

I sold 226 books ($607.31) through a variety of channels: Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, and Barnes & Noble. That means that with giving away 10,464 free books, I only had a conversion rate of 2.16% (that's if people discovered by books through the various advertisements).

In the Spring of this year, I spent a lot of time producing updated versions of all my books so that there was clear call to actions (CTAs) at the end. I put links to the next book in the series and made it as easy as possible for readers to purchase the next book.

Expenses:

In 2014, I spent $1,055.56 on the following:

  • New covers for Found, Lost and Dorothea's Song
  • Proofreading fees for Found
  • Facebook ads (what a waste of money!)
  • Copyright registration fees for Found and Dorothea's Song
  • A Girl and Her Kindle.com promo (translated into 0 sales).
  • ebookbooster promotion (helped a bit on sales)
  • Booksends.com promotion for Lost (I didn't break even on the $125 I spent on the ad).
  • Squarespace years website hosting fees
  • Domain registrar fees

When I look back at 2014, the biggest waste of my money was on Facebook ads. I spent more than $350 on Facebooks ads and although it drove a tremendous amount of traffic to my Facebook page, that did not translate into sales. My hope was to sell a bundle of books (all 3 of the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series at a cheaper price). I did get a good number of likes to my Facebook page, but you can't put food on the table just by having people like your page. In retrospect, it would have served me best to save the $350 and use those funds in some other type of promotion that was strictly book related (like Booksends.com).

With the market being so saturated with free or $.99 bundles out there, it's really difficult to sell a bundle. Again, engagement was high, but that didn't translated into someone converted and becoming a customer.

My total sales for the year came to be $607.31, and when you factor in my expenses ($1055.56), I lost $448.25 in 2014 (note that this does not factor in taxes for Uncle Sam).

Why did I spend so much on expenses? I had proofreading and cover fees, but I also decided to factor in my website hosting and domain registration fees this year. I wanted to capture the true fees of what I'm spending on building my brand. I could have saved a lot of money by not running the Facebook ads, but the biggest advice I could give to other writers is common sense that I've seen many other indie writers give: Write more books! With only one trilogy in my portfolio and then one separate stand alone, there aren't many books for writers to pick up next. I'm working on that, but that's going to take time since I'm working full-time.

The Future:

When I look forward to 2015, I have the following goals:

  • Build my email newsletter list.
  • Write and publish more books.
  • Network with other writers.
  • Get in on a book bundle.
  • Learn more about the business of writing.

With limited time and funds, I'd like to be smarter with my goals for next year. The biggest goal is to write more books. The more well-written books I have out in the market (in multiple platforms), the greater chance of my success. As of this writing, I just finished a 101K first draft of a new series. That book is out to my beta readers and I'll start working on re-writing it and publishing that book (if at all possible) in 2015.

I also have a first draft of the 2nd book of the Dorothea's Song trilogy on file and I'd like to go back and re-write that as well. Again, the more books I can crank out, the better. When I look at all I have to learn and where I have failed, I'll be honest: It's been a difficult year. I lost money this year and put a hell of a lot of time into writing, editing, social media (another area I need to cut back on) and all the other writing/publishing work I did this year. Why do I keep writing? It's simple: I believe in my work. I believe that my books are good and I have seen really positive reviews (and really nasty ones as well!).

I'm in the writing business for the long haul and I'm working on building my novel base and my brand. All of this is taking me a lot more time than I would like, but I don't know how to speed up the process. I need to keep writing and learning.

With giving more than 10,000 ebooks away this year, I'm not happy that all the data for those readers is not available to me. This is why I need to build my email newsletter list up. It's great for Amazon that they have all that data, but it doesn't help me at all. I do not know if those 10,000 people are more women than men, their ages or their geographical location. And that's put me at a disadvantage.

I've worked hard to be competitive, but I'm being outpaced by thousands of writers who can publish several books out a year. At this stage of my life, I'm not able to do that. But when I look back, I had zero books available only a few years ago whereas now I have 5 books.

I said this last year and I'll say it again: The self-publishing industry is not a get rich quick one. There might be a few superstars who have done fantastic, but that's not the norm. If you expect to knock one book out and be rich, good luck at that. Anything is possible, but I have my doubts. I'll be curious to see where the industry trends lead us in 2015. Should be an interesting one with all the big publishing news we had in 2014 (Amazon vs. Hachette, etc.).

Thanks for stopping by and, if you're interested, feel free to download a free copy of the first book in the Cinderella's Secret Diaries series. Happy New Year!