Last week, I hit my all time low in this process. That point where I was convinced, mathematically convinced, that this whole thing was a disaster. All the evidence to date fell into line, and I knew despair.
Let me back up.
When I first started showing this book to people, every one of them told me that they loved it, but that no one but them would get it. They were convinced this novel was unsellable. But I showed them. Right? Except for Goodreads, my reviews are good. I’ve been asked over and over for a sequel. My sales haven’t seemed spectacular, but they haven’t seemed terrible either.
Then in June, Howard Tayler posted about it on his blog. He had hundreds of click-throughs, but almost no sales. That worried me briefly because I was afraid that the cover of the marketing turned people off, but I still seemed to be doing all right, so I chalked it up as a fluke. Howard himself had mentioned that he’d done a particularly soft sell on his post. In my mind, I just needed to make it to my book bomb, and I’d be all right.
This week we had my book bomb.
A book bomb is where someone with a large following tries to get their followers to buy your book, all in one day, to help the Amazon sales rank. To my knowledge, Larry Correia is the only person who does them, and probably coined the term.
I took off work. I posted and reposted and put up samples all day. The comment thread wasn’t exactly alive, and the movement in the rankings wasn’t as much as I hoped for, but when you try to track the number of copies sold by ranking, I was coming out a little ahead of his last book bomb. There were lags, and highs and lows, but overall I felt good when I went to bed.
The next day Larry told me my numbers from his amazon affiliate link. They were abysmal. The worst book bomb he’s had in years. I was crushed. Devastated. Maybe they were right, all those years ago. Maybe I’d written an unsellable book. After all, people don’t usually come up to you and talk because they hate your work. Maybe the Goodreads reviews were more accurate than the Amazon ones. Maybe I’ve wasted all these years.
Then I realized that I could find out just how bad it is. My first royalty report, from June, should finally be in the system. I took a deep breath and I logged onto the site and opened it.
And blinked, a little stunned.
Now don’t get me wrong, the numbers I saw weren’t change-your-life numbers. They didn’t make me think about quitting my job or anything, but they were way higher than what I’d expected. More than three times my estimate of sales for that period. Almost twice my goal for the first three months (which was to sell more copies than the average self-published novel sells in its lifetime).
There were a couple things that weren’t in my estimates. My physical sales were higher than I thought because I didn’t have any way to estimate numbers from Barnes and Noble and the like. My ebook sales were almost twice my estimate from various affiliate links and rank tracking. But the big thing I didn’t expect helped explain that weirdness with the click throughs on Howard’s site.
Kindle Unlimited sales.
I knew I was being offered through Kindle Unlimited, but I didn’t really understand the implications. More than 27% of my sales are through Kindle Unlimited. I make less money on those, so it only accounts for about 11% of my royalties, but here’s the thing. Those won’t show up on affiliate links. So while Howard had a lot of click throughs and very little sales, we have no idea how many people downloaded that book through his link and into their Kindle Unlimited lending library. We do know that if you take all the pages read during that month, the Kindle Unlimited sales are in triple digits.
That’s an important distinction. For all I know my downloads are actually in quadruple digits. While the downloads effect my rank, I don’t have a really accurate way of translating that into numbers, and I only see money after people actually read it. If a lot of the readers are like me and almost never read a book the month they buy it, then I still have a lot of unread downloads out there.
And also, we don’t know what my real numbers were during the book bomb, but we do know that if my percentages hold true, the people who read it from Larry’s book bomb should at lead half again the numbers shown on his affiliate link (once you figure in the impact of non-amazon sales on those original percentages). I still suspect that these numbers are considerably less than many of his other book bombs, but they don’t terrify me nearly as much as previously.
And I don’t care about the money. Not yet. Yes, I’m in this to make a career and that means I’ll need money eventually, but I’m fine before you factor in any royalties. What I need now isn’t money, what I need are readers. Readers create other readers and growth, at this point, is far more important than maximizing the cash flow from each reader.
So the week started in a hope, finished on the edge of despair, and rebounded back into hope again. I have a better understanding of how my readership works, and a new understanding of how to push sales. Now that I know so many people are downloading the book on Kindle Unlimited, I know that educating readers on how Kindle Unlimited works, is as important as getting downloads in the first place because I don’t think most of them know how authors get paid.
And that is, after all, the end goal.
The next installment awaits...Slouching Towards Amazon: LTUE Post Mortem