Coming Clean: Some small publishing stats from a modest seller

I have to come clean. In the last year and a half  since I’ve been on this indie journey, I’ve been interviewed about a dozen times both for newspapers and online. I’ve guested on a few blogs and even gave advice to other newbie writers.

I feel like a fraud because of it. Not because my answers were dishonest, but because there is one answer I always fudge on and squirm over when I’m asked.

“What made you decide to self publish?”

That’s it right there. That’s the one. I squirm over it because I know I’m not going to be completely honest when I answer it.

Sometimes there are things a writer does to promote and market: I like to try on authenticity as a tool.” I yam what I yam,” to quote Popeye, and in interviews sometimes a gal wants to seem smarter than she really is. Sometimes she wants to seem wittier.

And then sometimes she thinks her personal life is no one else’s business.

Am I right?

So by now you’re wondering what about that one question would make me squirm, what connection does it have to my personal business. Really. It’s such a benign phrase. It’s asked of every indie writer I know.

I always give an answer.

  • I want control over my writing destiny.
  •  I got tired of waiting for the Big 6 to see my genius.
  •  I wanted to offer my books now — because traditional publishing takes years.

None of these are true. Not really. I mean, they could be true, but they’re not the truest answer. The real answer is so selfish and so foolish you would laugh at me. Seriously.

It was all about money.

Okay. Assuming you have had your chuckle, let me explain that as funny as it is for all the reasons there truly are (indie authors I know you’ll chime in as to exactly why self-publishing for money is so durn funny) it really was my initial motivation. It’s just that selfish as it was, it was driven by fear, not greed; it was driven by need, not want.

Enter the issue of privacy on that dreaded question.

You remember my post about running, right? Well, it was only half the story.

For 18 years I’ve held onto a job I loved. Literally. I’m a teacher. I specialize in computer applications and writing skills, and there hasn’t been a day I dreaded going to work.

For the 23 years I’ve known my husband, he’s been a lobster fisherman. Tall, hardy, strong, all the things you imagine (sometimes deliciously grisly-looking at times too, but I digress as usual.) He was diagnosed with MS and we feared he’d not be able to work — he certainly couldn’t work until he was better.

I became the sole earner. We still had a car payment, a mortgage, a daughter going into her first year of college.

I couldn’t truly work more than I was. I knew I needed some passive income to help augment my salary. Even $50 a month could help, I realized.

At about that time, I discovered the e-book publishing world, and I thought I could upload a few of my backlist novels in the hope that they might earn a small amount but might eventually earn enough to sustain themselves. I didn’t care if they brought in $10 or 1000 — although 1000 would be better, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. (Litfic writer with topics and style to the left of mainstream, remember?)

Eight months after his diagnosis, at the near end of the academic year, the government decided to cut heavily into education. 21 teachers in my region lost their jobs.

You guessed it. I was one of them.

For 4 long weeks I faced the real possibility that our house would have no earners in it. The stress was incredible. After much angst, I found a temporary position at a nearby campus. It was a one hour and a quarter commute twice daily, but I was working — or would be come the fall. As grateful as I was, and still am, the fear remained — and still remains. I have no guarantee of continuing employment, and with the same government threatening more cuts to education in the very near future, I’m not sure where summer will land us.

So there you have it. The real reason — laughable as it was — for me to self publish.

I needed the money.

And although I’m not looking for pity, or using this as a marketing ploy, I’m saying all this to say this:

I want my books to sell on their merit: I always have. And one and a half years later they actually are selling — not as well as other authors, mind you — but a small trickle with enough good reviews that I think I can come clean, finally. Buyers are finding a Thea read slowly but surely, and they seem to be enjoying it. The marathon of sales has begun with painfully slow steps, but I have every hope that each novel and each reader brings me closer to staying on the track longer.

To those readers who have picked up a Thea read, I’m more grateful than you can know, and now you know why.

I just wanted to tell you that my writing account says, “Bless you.”

Now for the promised stats:

In February, I sold a total of 792 books

Before you get excited for me, let me explain that

  • 650 of those were the .99cent Pray for Reign novel. I receive .35 on that dollar. (I recently increased the price to 2.99 in the hopes I can earn a hair more)
  • 49 of them were the 1.99 Formed of Clay (I get .70 on each of those)
  • 3 were Crows and 3 were Anomaly and 2 were Clay Shadows
  • and because I offered Tahiti for free one day, I sold 85 of them in the days after.

In total, I think I earned about $350–the Amazon reports will be out soon, and I’ll let you know then.

So for me, it’s the numbers that show a nice increase. Now that all my novels are $2 and up, I hope to sell about 300 per month, which will pay the mortgage.

We can all dream, right?


If you liked this post, please do share.

Thea is the author of several novels that she considers left of mainstream. You can find her on BN, Kobo, Sony, Apple

Anomaly by Thea Atkinson

Thea Atkinson is a writer of character driven fiction.

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38 comments on “Coming Clean: Some small publishing stats from a modest seller
  1. […] I post Coming Clean: Small Publishing Stats from a modest Seller […]

  2. Mike Evan says:

    To be honest, you have nothing to squirm about. You’re out there taking on the trials of life face to face, and no decent person would fault you for your motives. In my own case, I simply don’t have the patience to leave the entire process in the hands of others who operate at their own pace. But rest assured: where one could legitimately find vice with my impulses, yours are filled only with virtue.

  3. Katie says:

    this post inspired me a lot, and it was encouraging to learn and also get some oomph at the same time. much needed. thanks for writing.

    • Katie. I’m so pleased this encouraged you; I think we get bombarded all the time by the Amanda Hocking stories and forget how hard this ‘thing’ is. Every sale is a victory.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. Jim Kukral says:

    Great job. Keep at it! This story is typical in the fact that the reason most people “choose” to change their lives is because of some other need that spurs them there. I can’t wait to see how much success you have moving forward as you continue to write books. Congrats!

  7. cyteen02 says:

    I like the privilege of making a mini contribution to you paying your bills, as well as getting some excellent books 🙂

  8. taniaarpa says:

    Thank you for sharing this! Good luck to you in your writing career 🙂

  9. […] Coming Clean: Some small publishing stats from a modest seller. Thea Atkinson […]

  10. I agree with Armand; I know I´d never be an Amanda Hocking, but it may not be impossible for me to achieve what you have done.

    So thank you for an honest and encouraging post. To some extent I´m in the same boat; plenty of diagnoses in our family which means I am not certain I can keep teaching for another 15 years. I have published some flash fiction before, and when I put my first cosy mystery out there in August, it was a very slow start indeed, but now I can sell nearly 100 copies per month. So I can see that if it is possible for me to write a couple more in the next few years, the income will begin to make a difference.

    Good luck to you from another satisfied indie.

    Dorte H, Denmark.

  11. mindy1114 says:

    Thea, your books look interesting. I will look into them. We are a one-disability-check family too and we have three dogs. Have considered giving them away but can’t bring ourselves to do it. So far, were just getting by.

    Much luck to you.

    Mindy Ross

    • oh Mindy: thanks for saying that. I have a dog that I adore, and I wouldn’t be able to give her away. I imagine 3 dogs would be three times the joy and fun.

      I hope to hear things look up for you to. I suppose getting by is better than some, eh? but it’d be nice if there was some additional. I shall pray for that for you.

  12. Shah Wharton says:

    Fabulous to allow us into your reality Thea. And I’m pleased your books are not only gaining a growing readership, but that you’re slowly gaining an income. Hopefully that will continue to grow. The hardest part of self-pulishing seems to me, is the promo/consistent online presence/trial & error of it all. I read all the time of those who struggle against the tide until something works and they finally get what they deserved. Others simply seem to fall into earning millions (egs. Hocking) by banging out book after book (and being shone on by the blazing light of luck).

    Well done and best of luck for a continued growth. 🙂 X

    • Thanks, Shah!
      The promotion is a big piece, I know, and I recently decided that I wasn’t going to spend my life marketing. I wanted to get back to writing. We’ll see if my sales improve or get worse. grin.
      Thanks for the encouragement

  13. Roxie says:

    Nothing to come clean about…you’re a remarkable writer trying to get by. I think your honesty about the reality of self-publishing is extremely helpful, you’re such a great resource, I hope you continue writing and making $$$$ (see all the signs??? 😉 )

  14. George says:

    Honestly, I don’t think very many people would go through the arduous task of writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting a novel just for the pleasure of it; most of us who have published have done it for the money, and on that score my story goes along with yours. I’d written for myself for years, then I lost my job in our wonderful new economy on New Years 2010. Fortunately I found a part-time position, and spent ’10 finishing and querying my first novel. After sending out over 100 query letters with no response I decided that if I was going to see any writing income soon I’d have to self-publish. As with you, my sales aren’t superstar–less than 1,000/month–but they grew gradually and now provide a nice second income. Your shelf is much deeper than mine, so I’m sure you’ll do even better and we are just two of many many writers out there discovering audiences for their stories through the ebook market.

  15. Diane Tibert says:

    Thea, I don’t believe your reason for self-publishing is laughable. We all want to be compensated for our hard work. Control over our work, not waiting years for our stories to appear and not waiting for a large publishing company to give us the nod are icing on the cake, but one of the reasons I write is to earn money. I want to write more, so I need to make money with what I write.

    I’d still write if I had no dreams of being published but it would be minor writing and I wouldn’t strive to perfect it. The first draft might be written and tossed into a drawer. More than likely, I’d do more journal writing and less fiction writing.

    Because I had dreams of being published, I needed to get paid, so it would afford me more time to write and perfect my craft. Making money from writing also gives me the opportunity to be a stay-home mom for my three kids. Money from my writing gives me the flexibility I want.

    Yes, I write for the money as well as many other things, but the money allows me to keep writing. No, I don’t write for free.

    • yes, Diane. This exactly. I wrote nonfic for a while too, and I was happy to admit it was for money. Somehow, it took me a while to believe that my fiction could be the same. I’m so glad you stopped in; you are always articulate and reasonable with your comments, and I appreciate it immensely.

  16. Thanks for sharing this. It does provide encouragement. I hope the momentum continues.

  17. asraidevin says:

    I love your bank account, it sounds like it’s very nice. 🙂 Congrats on your modest success and future thoughts towards your MAJOR success. (And mine!)

  18. Pamela Jo says:

    Thea, Thank you for your candor. I understand very well what you are going through. In our household our only income is a disability check, his. Because of health problems, I can not even hold a part-time job… who wants to hire someone they can’t depend on to be well the day they are scheduled. I am still fighting the gov. about that, too. Your stats give me hope that I could get a little more income into the house to help pay the bills and maybe get a small savings account going for the big unexpected expenses.

    Pamela Jo

  19. Thanks for sharing so honestly. Being a writer is such a solitary thing, and unless you know and talk with other writers you rarely know what the reality in terms of sales and finance really is, or what’s possible especially with going the self publishing route.
    I’m about to take the plunge and publish a fantasy novel that got nice comments but not a contract from the Big 6. I wish I had more stored away; I have half a follow up written and just finishing an Urban Fantasy that I’ll probably try with the publishers first.
    On the sales numbers side – I salute you! I have 2 non-fiction titles published traditionally (I’m a professional dressage rider/trainer/judge and they’re about horse training/competing) and after the first flush post publication, they sell steadily at about 20 copies a month each. That earns me £2 per copy. However, neither has yet earned out its advance (£2000 each) and although book 1 has almost earned out, I’m not seeing any income as yet.
    Now, I don’t expect to ever fully retire (self-emplyed) unless I fall ill (which of course you know all about with your poor hubby), but as I get older, I’d like to work outdoors in all weathers a lot less, and supplement my income with my writing.
    You give me hope it might be possible.

  20. Wow, thank you for that peek into your personal life Thea and I really hope that things will work out for you financially. Also will pray for your husband’s healing and your job.

    I will be lucky to break 1,000 sales in 6 months, let alone per month (or per week as per Armand?). Here’s hoping for good things for you in your future.

    • Hi wendy:

      Well, the peek was a long time coming. I ususally keep things personal, well, personal, but every interview I do, i dread that question. I know there are tons of writers like me who write for love of writing, and then end up finding the hope that they can earn a few dollars from it. We all have struggles, and I think to know we are not alone is a big deal.

      I don’t expect to ever hit 1000 a month, but I’d sure like to keep it at something that will pay a bill or two. And I think I’m in the majority…not seeing huge sales, just working at it bit by bit and finding happiness in meager sales.

      I will post my full stats very soon, and you’ll see that it took me many months to hit 1000. keep your chin up and keep doing the work.

      • I’m sure it took awhile Thea…patience has never been one of my virtues I’m afraid. I know it will come eventually, not fame and fortune, but as a nice little bonus income from doing something I love.

        I was always under the impression that getting paid to do something you love was a myth. One of these days I will be thrilled to debunk that one. 🙂

  21. I applaud your candor, Thea. I am in a similar position. Money was not the reason I began to write but it has become more important in the service of my future solvency. Actually your sales look promising. I wish you the best with their increase. 🙂

    • Thanks, Yvonne.

      I don’t think I intended to reveal quite so much, and I’m pretty pleased I didn’t reveal as much as i could. grin.

      I think the great think about the indie world that Amazon has opened up is the ability to see some success. How we measure it is up to us.

      Good luck to you to; here’s hoping we can all make enough to pay a phone bill or two each month

  22. Jeannie says:

    This stream of income is worth its weight in gold! I’m sorry for the challenges you face…but I’m thankful your needs are being met for the day. What if you had not written these books at all? Thank goodness for self-publishing today! I’m also glad you shared this–it gives hope to many who are struggling, and there a lot of us! Bravo for your strength. And prayers for your husband, and you both to get through this difficult time in your lives. xo

  23. Viv says:

    Thank you for your beautiful honesty… and thank you for your books.
    I dream of being able to turn down work, from one job, because I have the sales to cover the gap. I worked out I need 10 sales a day average to be able to pick and choose what teaching I do. I’m still a way from that but I can see it is possible.
    Like Armand, I have a very niche area of books but also, like both of you, I have loyal fans.
    xxx 🙂

    • Viv.

      Your books should be selling 10 a day, and they can. I wish I could help you find out how to. The Amazon really is a jungle, and BN is no better for visibility

  24. Great post, and you struck a chord with me… I’ve been self-publishing for years but always to augment my household income and be able to take a trip or eat out twice a month. In September I got laid off from retail management and haven’t been working since, but I’ve increased my writing output and my sales have gone up.

    I paid most of the utilities last month on my Amazon payment, and hope to someday be able to pay the rent as well… little things like that make you enjoy this as your job…

    I’d rather read about real authors like you making ends meet each month and what you do to get there, rather than about the ones making thousands a week in sales…

    Armand Rosamilia

    • I’m so gratified to hear you say that, Armand. I always resisted posting my stats because they were so meager, i didn’t think anyone would be interested.

      I’m sorry to hear about your loss, but excited that you too are finding small ways to make those ends meet. We have all a story, I bet, of hardship. We indies are not like the big name authors in terms of sales, and I know we each value every sale because if it’s a simple coffee we can buy, or a mortgage payment, it’s one more day we can keep a wolf from our doors.

      So glad you dropped in

      • I’d much rather know that you’re excited over breaking 1,000 book sales in a month, than someone selling thousands a day… I write mostly zombie fiction, which is a very small but loyal niche of customers… my fans are incredible, but don’t know if I’ll ever build it to hit thousands of sales a week… like to read about people like me, who get up, start the coffee, and then stare at their Amazon report and hand-count how many sales they have so far this month… and how many more they’ve sold since they checked 6 hours ago right before they went to bed…

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