I recently tabulated how many copies of my books have sold and been given away freely across all sales channels in the entire time they’ve been out . . . and how much money I’ve made.
There seems to be an unwritten code amongst poorly selling self-published authors that we don’t talk about the money. You know me, I’m not one for obeying rules, especially ones only enforced by some nebulous Them I don’t recall ever talking to.
So I have no problem disclosing to you that, in the four years and almost four months that I’ve been a published author, I’ve made $14.86. That’s it. And I’m pretty sure most of that came from my mother buying physical copies of at least one of my books for people. (Thanks, Mom!)
Now, according to a certain sort of Serious Professional Self-Published Author, this is the point where I should either give up on the whole crazy career and accept that I just don’t have what it takes to make it as an author, or I should reassess my marketing strategy and do a whole lot of things with spreadsheets that I only vaguely understand.
I, as should surprise absolutely no one, am taking a third option. I’m going to keep putting my writing out there, going to keep writing full time, and I sure as fuck am going to keep calling myself a professional author, even if I decide not to charge for any of my books ever.
For a variety of interconnected reasons:
First, because I don’t give much of a damn about the money. Yes, I’d like to make money from my writing, but that’s, I know, partially because of fucked up societal expectations of what constitutes being an adult. And partially because I’d like to buy my wife more pretty things than I presently can.
And soon I’ll have more on how, exactly, I plan to make money going forward, despite seriously considering not charging for any of my stories any more. It’s going to be a big experiment that I hope at least some readers of this post will be willing to help me with.
Second, because I realized after an Arlo Guthrie concert I went to back in November that if I were to have a “mission statement” for my writing career, like some insist is essential, it would read thusly: I want my stories to move people — to tears, laughter, whatever is appropriate — as much as good music moves me. I can’t do that with one eye on the marketability of what I’m writing. Some can, but not me.
And third, and most importantly in my eyes, because while my stories don’t sell, as the pathetic amount I’ve made from them shows plainly, when they’re free, people want them. Jake’s Last Mission, which I consider the best of the works I’ve published (despite having recently finished a revision and expansion of it that I feel improves it quite a bit), has a few copies downloaded every week. It fairly regularly is making the Top 100 Free Space Opera list in Amazon UK and occasionally makes the American list.
“Once A Hero, Always A Hero” also moves pretty steadily, but less often makes the best-seller list because it doesn’t get as many downloads.
The Crown of Eldrete has yet to be price matched to free on Amazon — any country’s Amazon — and even where I have been able to make it free it’s my worst “selling” title now. And I am, in fact, considering taking it down — but not for any commercial reason. No. My reasons for considering taking it down are purely artistic: I view it as a pale shadow of what it should be. It embarrasses me, not because it doesn’t sell, not because people don’t seem to want it even when it’s free, but because it, to be blunt, sucks. (If you actually like it — I can almost promise you’ll like the re-written version I’ll do eventually better.)
Now, I’m not so naive as to think that everyone who downloads my stories for free reads them. I’ve read — never sourced, so I don’t know the authenticity of the statement — that Amazon estimates something like one out of three hundred free downloads is actually read. (Or maybe it was one hundred? Or four hundred? Or maybe I’ve seen all of these numbers . . . like I said, it’s never sourced.) I have my doubts that the number is that low but, well, I’ve got free stories I downloaded ages ago that I haven’t gotten around to reading yet. (Including at least one by the twin of someone who reads this blog regularly . . . sorry about that.) But, the thing is, I assume most people who downloaded my stories are like me: They fully intend to read what they’ve downloaded, someday.
And an earlier version of this post was going to start with this quote, but I can’t work it in smoothly now. It still awesome though, and a statement I agree with whole-heartedly, so I’m going to end the post with it: