Friday, October 3, 2014

Nice Dragons Deserve Numbers -- Sales Report, the Thirty Day Climb, and Kindle Unlimited

ETA: It has come to my attention that some of you hate reading white text on a black background, so I've also compiled this post into a normal, black text on white PDF to make reading easier if that's your thing.

My favorite thing about the indie publishing community is its transparency. I could not have made my decision to self-publish without the sales numbers and analysis posted by the authors who came before me. As all of you who read my blog regularly know, we are big big fans of paying it forward here at Casa de Aaron/Bach, and so it was a foregone conclusion that I would do the same once my own numbers started coming in.

Below, you will find the complete sales numbers/Kindle Universe borrows for Nice Dragons Finish Last followed by a few conclusions and observations I've drawn from my self pub results so far. Please know that I am not doing this to brag. While I did admittedly have a fantastic, amazing, beyond my wildest expectations two months, I'm still nowhere near the top of the publishing heap for either the traditional or self-pub side of the fence. These numbers are provided purely for the edification and benefit of the community of independent authors who have always been so generous with their information. Seriously, y'all rock.

Before we get going, though, a word of warning. I apparently had a lot more to say about this than I realized, because this post is one of the longest I've ever made (5400 words!). That's a lot to ask someone to read on the internet, and I seriously thought about splitting it up into multiple posts for easier consumption. After reading it again, though, I've decided to leave it intact. It was written to stand as one post, and that really is how it works best, so for those of you I'm about to give eyestrain, mea culpa.

I promise it'll be worth the long read! There's some pretty cool stuff in here if I do say so myself. That said, I totally understand if giant, numbers-heavy self-publishing analysis posts aren't your thing. So if picking apart Amazon algos sounds boring to you, why not go read about dragons instead? I won't be insulted!

And now, for those brave souls who are still here and ready to talk serious numbers, let's let this cat out of the box!

Getting a total number out of Amazon for sales across all their countries is notoriously difficult. After lots of kvetching about this on my part, my husband wrote me a program that automatically parses all the Amazon generated spreadsheets. That's how I got all the numbers below!

This made my life waaaaay easier. I used and loved the program so much, actually, that I wrote some CSS for it and put it up on my website so you can use it, too. It's called KDPplus and it's free, awesome, and easy to use. You're welcome, internet!

Nice Dragons Finish Last Sales and Borrows: July 13 - September 30, 2014

Book Stats: First novel in a new UF series, 118k words, 315 pages, $4.99.
July 2014*: Amazon: 953, Nook: 48, Kobo: 25
*Note that the book went on sale July 13, so the "month" of July only contains 19 days of actual sales

August 2014*: Amazon: 4310, Nook: 28, Kobo: 13
*Due to low sales on other platforms compared to Amazon, I put NDFL into Kindle Unlimited on August 16. But, since KU requires Amazon exclusivity, I had to remove the novel from other platforms, which is why my Nook/Kobo sales are so tiny here.

September 2014*: Amazon: 2259, Nook: N/A, Kobo: N/A
*First full month Amazon exclusive.

If you add all these up, I've sold 7522 books on Amazon, 76 books on the Nook, and 38 books on Kobo over the two and a half months since the NDFL release. That's 7636 copies of Nice Dragons Finish Last sold total.

But wait! As you probably noticed above, I also put NDFL into Amazon's subscription reading service, Kindle Unlimited. This allowed Kindle Unlimited subscribers to read my book, normally priced at $4.99, for free while Amazon paid me a variable rate per borrow ($1.54 for August, and the September rate hasn't been announced yet. Yeah, it's crazy, more on KU and why I decided to use it in a sec).

So how many copes of NDFL did KU users borrow and read to at least the 10% mark?

August 2014 KU/KOLL borrows*: 1306
*Again, I only got into the program on August 16, so this number only represents the last two weeks of the month.

September 2014 KU/KOLL borrows*: 2300
*includes 36 borrows from the new version of KU, which was launched at the end of the month.

If you add those two numbers together, I have 3606 KU/KOLL borrows all together. And if we add that to the 7636 sold copies above, we get 11,242 total copies of Nice Dragons Finish Last out in the wild!

Not a bad start for my first experiment in fiction self-publishing. :D

Hold up there, Miss Fancy Numbers, you can't claim self-publishing success yet. You only got all of that because you already had 8 trad published books out!

Well, yeah. I have indeed written two series for Orbit, the SFF imprint of Hachette here in the US and a wonderful publisher that I adore. As one of their authors, I have absolutely benefited from the name recognition and general all around awesome that Orbit's cachet and PR (especially the efforts of Ellen Wright, who did the amazing publicity push for Fortune's Pawn) efforts have provided me. To claim otherwise would be both untrue and unfair in the extreme. That said, however, I don't believe the success of Nice Dragons Finish Last can be laid entirely at the feet of my traditional books. 

Make no mistake, having an established fan base was a huge help, especially at the beginning. Many of my reviews for NDFL reflect that these were readers who'd followed me over from Paradox or The Legend of Eli Monpress (to these people, I LOVE YOU ALL). But an equal number of the reviews that mentioned how the reader found my book claimed they'd never heard of me before this and only clicked because the cover/blurb/title looked interesting. And while review counting isn't a precise measure of whether the above sales are from new fans or old, going by my royalty statements, I think it's a pretty safe bet to say that I don't have that many die-hard fans who run out and buy my book in the first two months. Many of these sales (and I'd wager the majority of my KU readers) seem to be new fans who found and decided to buy NDFL purely on its own merit, and (as you see from the numbers above) primarily on Amazon.

This is no surprise. Amazon is the undisputed king of the ebook market right now, and having now used their services as both a consumer and a publisher, I can see why. Amazon is freaking amazing at getting people to buy books, especially self-published books, and looking at the graph of my own sales, I think I have an idea as to why.

The Amazon Effect and the Thirty Day Climb
I did practically zero promo for this book. I mean, I did the basics--tweeted the release to my followers, sent an email to my (then very tiny) mailing list, passed out a few eARCs to reviewers I'd worked with in the past--but compared to the relentless promo I did for my Orbit titles, I phoned this release in. Why? Well, frankly I was busy and I didn't actually expect the book to start selling until there were sequels.

That's one of the great things about self-publishing, though. There's no release week. You don't live or die by getting people into bookstores to buy your book during the 2-3 months it's actually on the shelves. You have time to let a title sit and gain readership organically. My plan was to release NDFL and just how it did with the knowledge that I could always promo it later.

And then this happened.

Click on the picture to see the big, readable version!

As you can see, I did indeed have a wonderful bump over the first two days from fans who were waiting on the release (I LOVE YOU GUYS!!), but after that, sales quickly drop off. From my experience up until now, this pattern was pretty normal for a book launch. You get a big burst and then a drop. But what happened next caught me completely off guard.

You see those weird flat bits at the beginning, where the graph almost looks like stairs? I've seen eight books worth of sales, never at this level of detail admittedly, but I've seen enough to say that ain't a natural sales pattern. Just look at the up and downs for the rest of the graph. That's what normal sales look like: good days and bad days. But in the beginning there, my sales were like a smooth sea. Likewise, on those days, my Amazon rank stayed almost perfectly static, like it was pinned. Then, after four to five days, I would suddenly jump up a few hundred ranks and the process would repeat, almost like I'd been moved to the next level.

How did this happen? Not from anything on my end, certainly. At this point in the release, I was so caught up in writing and other work that I was barely tweeting, yet my book was doing fantastic, and I had no idea why. But I could see the stair steps already. I knew something was going on, and so I started trying to predict when the jumps would come. Sure enough, I was able to predict the jump on July 30th, not through any promo or efforts on my part, but simply by looking at the patterns that had come before. And then, just before the infamous 30 Day Cliff, the stair steps suddenly ended, and I returned to a normal, up and down sales graph.

An inexplicable climb is almost as frustrating as an inexplicable fall. If my books were doing this well, then dammit, I wanted to know why. So my programmer husband and I looked at all the data, and while we can't presume to put forward any real answers based off such limited information, we did come up with a pretty cool theory, which is that this stair step progression pattern is actually an unwitting picture of the Amazon algorithms at work.

My book came into the Amazon system under pretty much the best possible circumstances. I was an already established author with other, proven titles for sale. I had several positive reviews, including one from a Top 1000 reviewer right off the bat (thank you, Mihir!), I was already selling thanks to the support of my fanbase, and I was competitively priced.

To an Amazon bot, all of that combined makes me look pretty good. On paper, at least, I looked like a winner, and it's my theory that because of this, I was given extra visibility by Amazon in the form of a fixed ranking. And I don't mean fixed as in illegally fixed, I mean they stuck my rank on me with digital glue. That's why my rank didn't move, because it wasn't actually my rank. It was a bonus Amazon automatically attached to a book they predicted would do well, but that hadn't actually been out long enough to get the also-boughts and link ups that actually drive the Amazon sales engine.

The reason I believe this is because of the strange flat areas in my sales graph above. Those weird patterns aren't just stair steps, they're a lovely little picture of a nearly perfect ceiling function, a mathematical equation used in computer science to set top and bottom parameters on a variable number.
Ceiling Function plotted on a graph.

My first twenty days.

So why is there a ceiling function on my sales? Well, I think what we're seeing here isn't actually the effect of a ceiling function on my sales, but on my Amazon rank, which is closely tied to sales (so closely in fact, that the Author Earnings survey uses sales rank to estimate author income). Sadly, the Author Central sales rank tracker doesn't allow for custom date ranges, so I don't have a corresponding graph of the actual ranks over these days (BOO!). If I did, though, I bet we'd see an even prettier ceiling function stair step pattern, because the entire point of a ceiling/floor function is to set top and bottom parameters on a variable number, such as an Amazon rank. It is, in fact, exactly the sort of tool a programmer, like the ones who run Amazon, would use if she/he wanted to test the potential sales performance of a book; a famously unpredictable thing.

Because a book's Amazon rank is a very reliable way of determining how many people see said title while browsing, artificially fixing a new book's rank within a set spread (say, between Amazon rank 1000 and 900) is a built in way to test how well a title performs against other books who've achieved the same rank naturally. It's sort of like putting an untested horse in a race with a bunch of champions to see how the newcomer's time compares to the veterans, who are already known quantities. If the new horse keeps up, you move it up to the next race and the next race until it starts to fall behind. At that point, you can make a pretty good guess as to how well that horse will run, or that book will sell.

If you artificially fix a book's rank at 1000 with all the visibility that entails, and it manages to sell the same or better as the older books around it who've achieved the 1000 rank on their own, you know that title can run the race. If a book can't gain sales commiserate with its artificial rank, then Amazon knows that particular book isn't ready to be there and drops it back down. I'm pretty sure this is what happened to me at the end, because while I was outselling my daily rank all the way up according to the various rank/sales converters around the internet (ie, the kindle rank to sales calculator would say that a 1200 ranks gets 55-100 sales per day and I was seeing 130), I was not outselling my rank once I reached the 500s, which is when the stair step climb stopped for me. My horse, it seemed, had finally run out.

So what does all of this mean for authors? How can we exploit it to get more sales? I...actually have no idea. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It's just a thing I found, a glimpse into what I believe is the a bit of the math and strategy behind the Amazon curtain. I admit upfront that all of the above is pure conjecture based off a single experience. I can't even look back at my own books to see if this has happened to me before since 2k to 10k has been out too long for me to see it's first 30 days on KDP graph system and all my other titles are trad published, which means I have no access to this kind of granular data.

Caveats applied, though, the idea that Amazon uses a ceiling function to manipulate rank and improve discoverability for titles that meet its qualifications over the first thirty days makes sense on a lot of levels. Amazon's book business depends on selling people books they didn't know they wanted. Hot new hits are a great way do that, but everyone in publishing always says there's no way to predict a hit. I don't think Amazon buys that, though. I think this sort of new release rank manipulation, which I'm calling the Thirty Day Climb due to the stair steps, is their way of fishing for breakout titles.

New books have a chronic problem with discoverability. They're new, no one knows about them yet. The classic solution to this was a publisher financed marketing campaign to generate buzz, and I think the Thirty Day Climb is Amazon's way of doing just that within its own system. By picking newly released books with promising factors (great reviews up on the first day, good initial sales, etc) and putting them in front of tons of people via an artificial rank, Amazon can give these titles the exposure they need to achieve critical mass and become the Next Big Thing.

Now, obviously, most of us don't become the Next Big Thing. We end our Thirty Day Climb by tumbling down the Thirty Day Cliff, which is famously the point where you drop off Amazon's Hot New Release lists and, I think, Amazon stops all artificial rank manipulation and leaves a book to fend for itself. But even though sales fall off after 30 days compared to where they were on day 29, I don't believe they fall as low as they would be had the Thirty Day Climb not occurred. All those sales and reviews and word of mouth from that first glorious month are still working. Amazon didn't remove the floor, it just took away the stool.

Again, let me restate that all of this is just conjecture based off a single data set. You can't draw any real conclusions off a single instance, so if you've put out a book that's had this same stair step pattern, I would LOVE to hear about it. I don't know yet if the Thirty Day Climb is something authors can leverage to drive their sales even higher, I don't even know it if it's really a thing. This is all just theory. But, if I'm anywhere near the mark, I think that says some very positive and interesting things about Amazon's strategy when it comes to selling independently published books.

When authors like Courtney Milan talk about Amazon's algos picking you up and flying you away, that's a real thing. That happens. It happened to me! But it might not happen to you, because unfair as it sounds, Amazon does pick winners. Your horse might not win that race, or it might not be picked to run at all, and besides writing the best book you can with the best cover/blurb/title, there's not a lot you can do about that except keep writing and growing your fan base until you get too big for Amazon to ignore. And while that may sound depressing, I actually really love this system, because unlike other vendors who only promo books that are already successful or that they've been paid to promote, Amazon seems to be attempting to find and manufacture its own winners out of us. That's exciting, and given how many self pubs find success on Amazon, I'd say it's working.

Why Amazon is Dominating, the Independent Author as Consumer
If all of the above sounds like an Amazon love letter, that's because it kind of is. I have an admitted bias toward Amazon both as a consumer and a publisher, but it's not a blind, fan girl kind of thing. My love for Amazon has been hard earned and constantly tested, and every single time Amazon has come through. Not just because Amazon's services are amazing (they are), but because everyone else is so, so bad.

Leaving aside whether the Thirty Day Climb is a real thing or not, it's an inarguable fact that Amazon is amazing at selling my book. Where sales went down exactly as expected at Barnes and Noble and Kobo after my initial rush of fans dried up, Amazon kept pushing the book. Over the thirty days I had Nice Dragons Finish Last on sale at multiple vendors, sales from both of the non-Amazon sources combined were less than 5% of my total.

Keep in mind that this is the exact same book: same title, same price, same lack of promo on my end. But while Amazon is the biggest show in town, its share of the ebook market isn't factors of ten higher than Nook/Kobo. So either Amazon's customers are MUCH more excited about dragons, or Amazon is just way freaking better at selling books that don't have publishers paying for preferred placement.

I can't say this comes as much of a surprise. If you look at Barnes and Noble's site (my second largest seller), its book pages are almost stark compared to the explosion of other things to buy Amazon's pages are constantly throwing at you. That may sound annoying and cluttered, but those constant recommendations sell books, which is exactly what I, the author/publishing services consumer, pay 30% of my profits to Amazon to do.

This is why I felt confident putting my books in Amazon exclusively. Not because I'm an enemy of marketplace diversity or because I want to limit my reader's choices, but because Amazon is so, so, so much better at selling my ebooks than everyone else. The other vendors I've tried simply don't have the same level of granular categories that Amazon has to help readers find new books. They don't have all of Amazon's crazy lists, they don't have the same level of cross promotion, they just don't have anything compared to the vast array of tools that Amazon uses to get independent authors in front of the average reader's eyeballs.

Hugh Howey wrote a fantastic piece on why exclusivity can actually help a market, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. I'm all for a healthy and diverse marketplace, but as a self-published author, my other vendor choices are so uniformly below the Amazon standard it's physically painful. It's so bad, in fact, that I've actually been able to reach over hundred times more readers (comparing KU borrows to Kobo/Nook sales) by going exclusive with Amazon.

Now to be fair, I only published through two other vendors. Would that number have been different if NDFL had also been up on Apple's iBookstore? Maybe, but the program Apples requires you to use to upload books to their store only runs on Macs, and F that. I'm not buying a Mac for privilege of selling stuff on your store. Could I have gotten more sales if I'd published through Google? Maybe, but Google's self publishing interface was so terrible to use, I quit half way through, and that was before I heard about all the Google Bookstore customer service horror stories. KDP's customer service, on the other hand, has always been impeccable.

We authors aren't used to thinking of ourselves as consumers, but we are. When we give up 30% of our sales to a provider, we are paying for a service. If that service is not providing what we're paying for--in this case, a functional, powerful, profitable marketplace for selling books--why should we continue to do business with that company? We have no moral obligation to support subpar services in the name of arbitrary market diversity. In fact, by doing so, we only ensure crappy service will continue because we're supporting it.

All of this happens separately from the book buyer's experience. There are probably lots of Nook owners who love the Barnes and Nobel book buying experience, but I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the book selling experience from the point of view of a self publisher. Independent authors who write and upload books themselves are a new and growing economic force, and so far, Amazon is the only company who actually seems to cares about that. Is it any wonder, then, that when they say "come be exclusive, we'll give you all this awesome stuff," many of us listen?

Kindle Unlimited
I know there are plenty of people out there who love the non-Amazon vendors I've mentioned above, and I don't mean to insult that. If you're making great money on Apple or whatever, I am super happy for you. You have achieved where I have not. For me, however the decision to switch to KU was a no-brainer that started with all the factors I just mentioned above.

At the time I decided to go Amazon exclusive to participate in Kindle Unlimited, I was selling 3 books a day on Nook/Kobo combined, compared to 100 per day on Amazon. When I went over the 30 Day Cliff, and my sales on Amazon correspondingly began to drift back down, KU was the obvious solution. After all, at 3 books a day, I only needed to rack up 7 borrows at an assumed $1.50 each to make up the sales I'd be losing from my other vendors. Not exactly a high bar even with the batshit insane way Amazon calculates monthly KU payouts. (Seriously, Amazon, that variable Kindle Lending Library Global Fund nonsense is bananas. Can you make it less panic inducing? Please?)

Plus, free KU borrows count as sales for the purposes of determining Amazon rank, which, as I'd just learned from all that Thirty Day Climb stuff above, plays a huge factor in book visibility. The more people see your book, the more chances you have that they'll buy it. Therefore, my thinking went, free borrows would actually increase my sales by keeping my rank high, and I'd still get paid!

Even with the non-guaranteed payments, that sounded like a winning combo to me. And as you can see from the graph below (and the numbers at the top of this post), it was.

As you can see, my borrows (blue line) immediately began to mirror sales (red line), essentially doubling the number of books I was moving. Since my sales graph was already moving down after the Thirty Day Cliff, I feel I can safely say that these were sales I would not have otherwise gotten, and while $1.50 or so per borrow isn't the $3.42 I earned from a sale, it's better than nothing, and waaay better than the crappy 3 a day I was doing on the other vendors.

It's safe to say moving to KU was a flat out win for me. Not only did I trade barely a hundred dollars in sales from 2 vendors for thousands of dollars in KU borrows, I also increased my paid Amazon sales. One of the biggest worries I see from indies about KU is that it will cannibalize sales, but mine actually went up. In fact, I sold 435 more copies of NDFL on Amazon in the second 30 days when the book was Amazon exclusive and in KU than I did when I had wider distribution.

And keep in mind, this is after the Thirty Day Cliff. Once I joined KU, my rank went from sinking out of the top 1000 to living in the 400s for nearly two weeks, and it was all thanks to the boost I got from borrows. Also, all of those borrows are potential sales for the next book in the series, so not only has the decision to get into KU benefited me now, it's going to benefit me in the future as well.

I realize all of this sounds extremely mercenary and unfeeling. Don't I care about my Nook and Kobo readers? How could I abandon them? Believe me, this was my biggest problem with KU, and as an author, I still feel wrong about it. As a publisher, though, the business case for KU compounded on the failures of other vendors to actually sell my books were simply too huge to ignore. At this point, I've made over $6000 more from being in KU than I would have by staying out. That's not money I can afford to leave on the table.

It's a problem of economics. Kobo, Nook, and so forth are the Betamax to Amazon's VHS, only in this case I feel that VHS actually offers the superior product. The hard truth is that Amazon can get my books in front of more people than the other vendors, and as an author, that's my number one goal. My success and future depends on my stories being as widely read as possible, and it's a sign of just how sick this market is that the best way to do that right now for me is to go exclusive with Amazon.

Is this Amazon's fault? No. They might well be unfeeling corporate overlords, but their only crime in this particular instance is being miles better than their competition when it comes to selling my book, which happens to be the factor that I care the most about. Thee are lots of people who say that Amazon is evil, and that by going exclusive, I'm contributing to the death of American literature. To these people, I say, have you seen how many books Amazon is selling? I'll be the first to agree that the current mono-culture isn't healthy long term, but I don't believe that's Amazon's fault. They're winning right now for a very simple reason: because they're good, and everyone else isn't. Consumers just aren't going to use sub par services when better ones are available. So if you want to promote true, healthy marketplace diversity, don't pull Amazon down. Make everyone else go up.

Wow, that was long.
Tell me about it!

Anyway, these have been a few of my thoughts about the self-pub process. As you see, I've been very involved, and at this point I'm ready to say it was a wild success! The money has only just started trickling in since Amazon pays on a 60 day delay, but I'm on course to make almost $30,000 off this book already, and it's only been on sale for two and a half months. I know that's pennies to what some authors make, but for me, that's crazy.

I hope something in all of the above helps you with your own publishing journey. Again, these are just my experiences and theories. This post is not meant to be a roadmap or a promise of self-publishing success. Every book is unique, and the publishing landscape is constantly changing. My experience and your experience will almost certainly be totally different. You might hate KU, or find wild success on Apple, or read all of this in horror and decide self-publishing sounds like torture and New York is the only way for you.

Those are all perfectly valid conclusions. As I said, this isn't meant to be a lesson or a lecture, but a conversation. Making good decisions requires as much knowledge as possible, and that's what this post is meant to be: a description and analysis of my experience. Take from it as you see fit, and I wish you good luck in all your publishing adventures.

Yours sincerely,


Kai Herbertz said...

Dear Rachel,
thank you very much for the detailed post and sharing all those numbers! Glad to hear that NDFL is doing well.
All the best,

Jenna said...

All I can say is I'm glad I got my B&N copy before you removed it from the site! I would have done the same based on your numbers. Could you possibly also put the next one up on B&N for like a week before you go the Kindle exclusive route? Pretty pretty please?

Rick Smith said...

Thank you Rachel for this view from the hill. As a middling SP Author, who's stuck faithfully to Amazon throughout, I'm 100% with you w.r.t. their skill at selling books. If you get some visibility, their hidden tools will keep you there for a long long time. Lots of authors are complaining about KU (I'm in total agreement about the Global Fund malarkey) but it's a good time to start thinking about how to exploit the fantastic opportunity that it brings, if you can adapt. Love your blog, please keep it coming! Rick

Chris said...

I only buy in print (he said optimistically, still hopeful that someday it would be possible to read this book), but still this was very interesting and I especially appreciate your willingness to share so much information.

Unknown said...

That... was really interesting. Really really interesting. Thank you so much for the number crunching, theories, and detailed explanations. It's incredibly useful.

Also, I am ecstatic at how well Nice Dragons has done so far. Well deserved and wonderful news. <3

Ani Gonzalez said...

Congratulations! I hope the book keeps doing well. Thank you so much for posting the numbers. This post must have been a huge time sink, but, as a writer, I really appreciate it.

Anna_esq said...

Thanks for sharing your data :-) I have shared this post with my writing cooperative.

Jack said...

Rachel - thank you for sharing you thoughts & decisions for NDFL. I can see why you would go to KU at this time. I'm thinking that you may want to use BookBub or a similar tool to get NDFL out to more readers. It would be interesting to see if the discount method woudl bring more readers and how long the effect would last. Good luck, I have enjoyed read NDFL and I'm looking forward to your next book inthe series.

Jennavier Gilbert said...

That was really interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Congrats on your success! You're kinda preaching to the choir with me so I don't have much to add other than thank you for being open with your data. I just have a couple comments on benign details.

1) have you tried a nifty little Android app called "Afterword" to tally your sales across Amazon platforms? It's probably my favorite app related to self publishing.

2) The results of the "Generate Report" button at the bottom of your Dashboard has all the info in it, including KU/KOLL borrows. If you generate a month solid, it takes five minutes with your pivot tables in Excel to make a report of it. No need to download multiple sales reports and then upload them to another app.

Disclaimer: you kinda have to be a fan of Excel already to do those things, but the Generate Report button at least gives you live, raw data in a clean format (you can download accurate data daily if you choose to). The monthly royalties reports don't even convert your currencies for you (which they ought to, if you ask me) and the format is stinky for producing reports from.

Aside from that, I'm curious, what would you say your increase in revenue, percentage-wise, was for your KU royalties over the royalties you previously had from other retailers?

That difference was the most telling thing for me, when I put my entire catalog into Select after having about 25% of my revenue coming from the other retailers. Suddenly my Amazon sales were up AND my KU royalties accounted for roughly 50% of my revenue. I was hoping for it to at least match my income from the other retailers, but it far exceeded it (doubled it, really). That was the moment when I knew I wouldn't go back. As long as Amazon maintains a borrow royalty I can live on, I'll be happy.

Bill Peschel said...

Thanks for sharing. That's some substantial food for thought.

Check out EBook Tracker, that records your Kindle rank over a month.

Jan Suzukawa said...

Here via the Passive Voice.

Rachel, thanks so much for this post. I bought your 2K to 10K book and it helped me to become a faster and more prolific writer. I was considering going with Kindle Select and KU with one title only, and now having read this, I'm definitely leaning toward the idea.

I didn't know you were self-publishing now, in addition to your Orbit books. Congrats on your new self-pub success!

Athena Grayson said...

Officially now fangirling the living daylights out of you! Thank you so much for sharing all this information with the rest of us.

I'm so very torn on the exclusivity package. I'm one of the handful of people who bought you off B&N (so your cover shows up right on my nook), but my own experience as both an indie author and a consumer is that I can only go to nook when I already know what I want. Yet the last thing I want to do is alienate a reader because of format (especially since I like epub better than mobi).

You're spot-on with the takeaway, though--the best thing an author can do is build an audience until she's too big to ignore. :) Once again, thanks for putting all this together and sharing it. You are a true class act.

m.r. forbes said...

Rachel - thank you so much for this post, and congrats on your success. I've been seeing your book plastered EVERYWHERE on the also-boughts for my titles, so I'm hoping maybe your good fortunes will trickle down a little (I know it doesn't really work like that, but one can hope ;) )

Also, thanks to both you and your husband for the parser. I always wanted to write something just like it (I'm also a software engineer), but never wanted to take the time away from writing :)

I'm going to try it out now.

Laura Kirwan said...

Thank you for taking the time to write this post and for articulating better than I can why I feel I'm doing the right thing to be on KDP Select. I'm not seeing the same algorithm benefits yet, but I'm a new author with only one book out that I'm not promoting because I'm focusing on getting more books written. I've benefited already though from the countdown deal promotion. Both my ranking spikes occurred during countdown deals and I'm really interested to see what happens when I release the second book next month, with a countdown deal on book 1 during the week leading up to the release date.

I get a lot of pushback from fellow authors who insist that I "can't put all my eggs in the same basket." But they aren't eggs. They aren't fragile, they won't smash if the bottom drops out of the Amazon basket (which I don't see happening anytime soon), and I'm free to move them around any way I wish after the current Select term expires. As a self-pubbed author, my books don't have a "sell by" date. They're more like stones than eggs. If the Amazon basket falls apart, I pick up my stones and put them in a new basket. But, at this moment, Amazon offers the best basket by far.

Rachel Aaron said...

Awww, thank you guys so much! (and I'm totally trying for Bookbub once the 2nd book is out)

I'm so glad you enjoyed the post/numbers. Even if all the Amazon theorizing turns out to be nothing more than tealeaf reading, it's still interesting to see graphs and try to figure out what's going on.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this detailed post! I'm not an author, but my family has had a used bookstore for 10years, now. For years, I've been incredibly Anti-Amazon because of that fact (always seemed like Amazon was out to crush the little stores and become master and overlord of book-selling), but I have plenty of indie author friends who Adore Amazon and I've always sort of scratched my head at this phenomenon.

This description of the sales and how things work, explains quite a bit about it.

I am curious... and I know this is a bit off-topic, but how do you feel about Used Bookstores? I realize that they don't generate royalties for the authors and the argument that they create "more exposure" seems a weak and flimsy thing, but I also find it hard to imagine a world without used bookstores. So, I'd be interested to know how authors feel about them. :)

S. J. Pajonas (spajonas) said...

Wow. This was quite a post... and you are selling A LOT of books :) Thanks for all the data and stats. They were very eye-opening.

Phyllis Humphrey said...

Thanks for the post. It's valuable information for new SP writers like me. BTW I loved your 2000 to 10,000 book. Awesome!

E. KaIser Writes said...

Hey Rachel! So glad to see this kind of break down and super thanks for your transparency in sharing these kinds of numbers with us!!!
Also, very muchas gracias for the black text on white pdf... that really was tons easier to read! Thanks!!!

Again, from your "write fast" posts to your true life publishing reports, you have been a huge inspiration for me! (And I know, many others as well. :-) )

Super thanks for it all!!!

Unknown said...

Thank you!! You also pointed out one of my concerns with going exclusive and having fans from other sites not able to purchase BUT my sales outside of Amazon don't even come close and its a tough decision I need to make. Also thank your husband for the awesome graph generator

Jacqui Gonzales said...

I'm one of those KU sales! I actually popped over here to see if the next Nice Dragons book was out!

I'm also one of those people who haven't read any of your trad-pub books (I do own/have read 2k to 10k, but I didn't realize it was the same author until after I finished Nice Dragons.) I found it through KU and said "this sounds interesting" and read it within 24 hours. If it hadn't been on KU, I'm not sure I would have picked it up.

The numbers are impressive, especially when you factor in KU. Does Amazon tell you how many people who borrow it via KU then purchase the book? I wonder how much that factors into purchases.

As a reader, I prefer epub format (generally via Kobo now, since I purchase them through a link on my local indie bookstore's website.) but thanks to Amazon's domination of the market, it's almost impossible to get indie books that way (as a writer, I understand why and am all for it.) I've heard that KU is dropping the exclusivity requirement. Will that change your listing over the coming months and with the second Nice Dragons book?

Elizabeth Ann West said...

Politely, I think there's other reasons for why you have steps.

The first is the scale of the graph, which automatically adjusts to your highest sales. With such a large scale, numbers close to each other will look the same even if they are not. Whether or not that difference is significant or not, I'd have to go fetch my old college statistics textbook.

Second, the first six-eight days a book is out, the Also Boughts are still calculating. If you didn't have a preorder, your also boughts would be a major factor. These get changed out roughly 2-3 times a week (some people have pinpointed the days). As sales happen, your book gets new Also Boughts, it also places in new places on the Also Boughts of other top sellers. That could be another factor for why you see those steps. That's the three or four day adjustment on an Also Bought. Having your book move to the front page of top selling books that are lower than you in rank would bring up your sales.

I say these things because I also released in a similar timeframe as you three novellas, and did this with other friends in the same genre, watching our sales rankings. There was nothing hinky in our rankings as our sales matched up to where we were.

Finally, that sales chart is not accurate for ranking. Amazon has confirmed that as soon as someone clicks Read under the Unlimited program, our ranking shoots down. It counts as a sale for ranking purposes. It does not show up on the blue line until someone reads 10%. We call these ghost borrows. So, when you see your ranking moving around, but nothing moving on your sales chart and you are in KU, you are getting borrows that haven't read 10% yet.

Awesome job though Rachel! Congratulations!!!

BFuniv said...

It will be nice is once you put up the sequels and you have a team of horses pulling. Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Great article, thank you for including the numbers - I've wondered for a while what authors earn from kindle sales, while being slightly afraid that's its actually a bar to authors. Nice to see that it isn't.

To reiterate what Jacqui Gonzales said and go a step further - I'm a KU reader who WOULDN'T have read NDFL without it being on KU. I also actually popped over here to see if the next Nice Dragons book was out...

The thing about KU which appeals to me as a sporadic voracious reader who will go through several books a day when he can - it gives me the chance to find new authors. Samples of books aren't enough usually to persuade me to buy a book - unless it's a good chunk, like half - and finding a sample that big is rare.

So, finding a 'free' book on KU that appears interesting is enough for me to borrow and read it - the bar to ownership is essentially nil. As above, I'm a sale(ok, borrow) you'd never have got without KU.

This then leads me to other books the author may have written in the series, or outside - so it isn't just giving you the potential for sales for the next book in the series(I'm currently working my way through 3 other series on KU as proof that this works), it's also introducing readers to the rest of your body of work, and sales there. It's probably worth looking at the sales of your other books and seeing it there's any correlation that can be made there, too.

The other thing to remember is that it's early days for KU. Once more people sign up for it, the wider your audience is, and the more sales you'll make; I can see in future the majority of kindle sales being via KU.

TL:DR - great article, great book, hurry up with the next one please, when's it due out?

Cheers, Jim.

Natalie Westgate said...

Really great read! It would be interesting to see how doing a lot of promotion at the time of the steps would change things for the long run. Taking even more advantage of being in the race, as it were.

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