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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Is My Book A Success Yet?

In terms of book sales, June has been a crappy month. In fact, it’s easily going down as the worst month in A Soul to Steal’s nine month history as a published work, including when I first beta-launched it last September.
After a blockbuster February and March, book sales have steadily dropped off, only to collapse completely when Amazon changed its algorithms around May 1. I’m hardly the only one to whom this has happened. Author’s blogs are filled with similar stories. Some wonder openly if this is the end of “indie” authors, whether Amazon—probably unintentionally—has killed us off.
I’ve struggled with this question, only to conclude that the answer really doesn’t matter. The real question is this: why did I publish my book in the first place?
I did it so I could tell stories to other people. Years ago, I wrote a good book. I consistently believed that if I could put it in people’s hands, they would enjoy it. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Program gave me a chance to test that theory. Sure, I had dreams that it would be a runaway bestseller, storming the charts and allowing me to launch my career as a novelist. But in my heart, I knew that wasn’t likely.
So I set a realistic goal for myself: if I sold 1,000 copies, I would consider the book a “success.” I passed that goal in early January, not quite four months after the novel first went on sale. But I wasn’t satisfied.
See, I have a problem with the notion of “success.” If A Soul to Steal was selling in the Top 100 Kindle books, I might reasonably conclude it was successful. But barring that, I have no idea what my parameters should be. How many sales are enough? Should the book always sell well, or should it wax and wane? How come I’m not selling like Fifty Shades of Grey?
In the past couple months, I have checked the sales figures and despaired. Has this book gone as far as it can? What if this is the end? Does that make the book a failure?
A friend of mine asked me recently, “Aren’t you just amazed at how well the book has done? Do you ever sit back and think, ‘Wow! I did it’?”
I stared at him like he was an alien. I never once had that thought. Not once. When people congratulate me on how well the book has done, I inwardly assume they are kidding—or worse, they don’t really know what “success” is in this business. After all, no one is buying movie rights. And it’s not like publishers are beating down my door to offer me a six-figure advance.
But I think I’m the one who needs to change my definition of success.
To help me, I decided to total up some statistics. To date, I’ve sold more than 3,800 copies of the book and had it borrowed around 250 times. During the book’s free days, an additional 35,925 people have downloaded it. All told, A Soul to Steal has been bought, borrowed or downloaded to more than 40,000 Kindles.
During its run, it has hit multiple Kindle bestseller lists, including #1 for Ghost-Horror and #4 for Horror. It was the thrill of a lifetime to see my book sitting alongside Stephen King’s latest novel, even if it was only briefly. It has even been in the top 20 for Thriller and Suspense novels.
I have sold books in the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. I received a note from a gentleman in Romania who said he enjoyed the book and wanted me to write a sequel quickly.
The novel was well reviewed by the vast majority of book bloggers who read it, won praise from random strangers on its Facebook page, and been featured on USA Today. It has earned an average 4.7 rating on Amazon with 88 reviews—all but three of which were 4 or 5 stars. It even earned a celebrity endorsement from Mark Metcalf, the actor who played The Master on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Best of all, I’ve had dozens of people I’ve never met not only compliment the book, but ask me when a sequel will be out (It’s coming soon, I swear).
For me, that is the best sign of all. Not only did people like the book but, God help me, they want me to write more. If the goal was to pen a runaway best seller, then it’s clear I have not succeeded. On the other hand, if the goal was to find and connect with readers, then I think it’s time to lean back and say, “Wow! I did it.”

P.S. As a final hurrah for hitting 40,000 downloads, A Soul to Steal will be free one last time TODAY (Wednesday, June 27). If you haven’t read it yet, check it out.


  1. Thank you for sharing the intimate details of your sales experience. I've often wondered how others are faring, to give me some measure of comparison. I admit to feeling like a blind man stumbling around in a strange room and am dependent on the kindness of others to provide a nudge in the right direction.

    1. Thanks, Jack. I, too, struggle to know how my book is fairing against other comparable works, so I've followed the example of Joe Konrath and put sales figures out. I'm glad it helps.

  2. Made this comment many times before. The holiday season for ebook sales was the 3 months after Christmas. The book industry for 40 years have had relatively flat sales for 46 weeks out of the year. They make their profit in the 6 weeks of the holiday season.

    The Borders/Waldenbooks stores I oversaw often did a weeks worth of business in 1 day in the 10-14 days leading up to Christmas.

    Book sales for the rest of the year are relatively flat. Only so many books are sold no matter how much advertising there is.

    Now add in the fact that Shades of Grey (all three) have almost accounted by some reports for 25% of all book sales in the past months. That means a 25% drop in other book sales. I can't believe how many women I know who have either read this book or are currently reading it.

    As a non-writer with experience in the book industry my advice is simple. You should all ready be planning your holiday marketing efforts. The big boys all ready know their books (that is what BEA is for).

    Task #2 for this time of year -- writing.

    Good luck and just my 2 cents worth.

    1. Thanks, Anthony. I meant to quote the statistics above in this post -- and now I don't have to!

      Trust me: I'm on board with the writing. My next novel is scheduled to hit just in time for the holidays (in my case, Halloween). That's not a coincidence.

  3. Outstanding words. I'm experiencing the exact same issues with all nine books. It's been only recently that I've revisited why I write and it's not to make millions (though I wouldn't complain if that happened). ;-)

    Thank you for sharing!


  4. Hello Rob, I notice today (July 1st) that your book is selling pretty well again. Think it’s a shift in the algorithms?

    I’m reading Soul to Steal right now and enjoying it very much. I have a brand new book promotion blog called New Fiction Engine. We talk about a new book every day and are always on the look out for good reads under 6 dollars. We’d love to feature Soul to Steal, maybe next week. If you’re interested, let me know. We also have an interview feature called 3 Good Questions - designed to be very easy for Authors and still get right to why readers might like the book. Take a look at it here -

    Let me know if you’d like to participate.



  5. Thanks, Stephen! I hope you enjoy it.

    Yeah, I bought a series of ads that ran on Friday, so that's the reason sales are up. Funny, though, the boost actually happened on Thursday before the ads kicked in.
    It is possible, then, that the algorithms have changed. I certainly hope so.
    Thanks for the invite. I will contact you separately about that.



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