So it’s been more or less three months since Kismet was published. How’s it doing?
The only direct feedback I get is the Amazon sales ranking. During its first week it was as high as 22,000; most of the time since then it’s been averaging in the 200,000s, although as of this writing it’s around 550,000.
Is that good? Bad? Well, objectively, if you’re averaging even one book a day you’re going to be around 100,000. So draw your own conclusions. This doesn’t count direct publisher sales, but I don’t know how well that’s doing, either. We do reasonably well at conventions but my impression is that we’re not really selling that much at Argyll and FurPlanet’s online stores. And, they don’t publish to any other ebook stores, so if there would have been any sales at iBooks, Nook, Kobo, et. al., I’m not gettin’ em. (Depending who I talk to, “non-Amazon” ebook sales are as low as 5% and as high as 40% of Amazon sales.)
So, I suspect that an optimistic read is that we’ve moved about 300 copies. It may be closer to 200.
Is that in line with my expectations? Honestly, I wanted more; my dream goal is to have Kismet sell enough copies to qualify for SFWA membership, which requires netting $3000 in twelve months. When I was working out numbers about a year ago, I figured I could do that with less than 1000 copies, but I was also assuming I’d keep ebook rights, which I didn’t end up doing. My royalty rate is pretty good by industry standards, including for ebooks, but it pretty much doubles the number of sales I’d need to make to hit that SFWA target.
So here’s a few thoughts, in no particular order.
First, let’s talk about self-publishing. Whenever anyone suggests the sis boom rah! web sites like AuthorEarnings paint a perhaps overly rosy vision of how wonderful self-pub is, they get derided as shills of the evil legacy trade publishers. But this isn’t about industry politics, it’s about simple math. We all dream of being the next Hugh Howey or Jennifer Foehner Wells, but most of us aren’t going to be, any more than we’re going to be the next Kim Stanley Robinson. While I have only anecdotal data from talking with friends who are “median” self-pubishers and folks with traditional publishing contracts, it’s pretty clear to me that the support traditional publishers give you–advertising, ARCs to major review outlets, book tours, and not insignificantly, placement of actual physical copies in actual physical bookstores–can make a big difference.
And let me underline I’m not saying that people can’t be successful going the “midlist” route with self-publishing. Successful self-publishers like Annie Bellet and John Van Stry have arguably moved into a niche created by the effective death of the paperback original: suspenseful serials designed to be not just quick reads but quick writes. It’s remarkable how much advice I’ve come across in the past few years to self-publishers that basically boils down to “the only way to be successful is to write multiple books a year.”
And that’s clearly a way to be successful. But the argument that I’ve also seen–that it’s the only way to be successful–seems to be wilfully ignoring how many authors are household names who barely manage a book every two or three years.
Self-publishing is probably best if you are a series writer and are confident in your ability to pump stories out on a schedule. I’m not. I never have been. I’m not taking some kind of anti-sequel stand here; I’m just being honest about my own writing speed and, frankly, what kind of stories I like to both read and tell.
So back to Kismet. If I’d self-published, the bottom line is that while I’d have made more per ebook sale, the chances are I wouldn’t have sold substantially more units, even at a lower price–and I’d have forgone the print sales, which probably account for 20-25% of the units moved so far.
While Kismet isn’t self-published, it really isn’t a traditionally published book, either. I didn’t go get an agent, or sell it to one of the few bigger name publishers that still takes unagented manuscripts. I went with a small press I’d worked with before that was interested in breaking into more “mainstream” markets.
So, Argyll paid for the cover art and design, editing, printing, and such, and they’ve done some advertising. And I got to work with the cover artist directly, something that wouldn’t happen at a big publisher.
On the less great side, they don’t have much more experience with the kind of promotion a book like Kismet probably needs than I do. If the book had come out from a bigger publisher, it would have probably been sent out to dozens of potential reviewers months before publication, for instance, and they’d have contacts in the retail industry for setting up readings and sales to book stores and such. I don’t doubt that they’ll get there over time, but they’re learning as they’re going, just like me.
(And, of course: no advance. I didn’t ask for one. Technically, an advance of $3,000 would qualify me for SFWA membership, but I don’t think they’d ever make it back.)