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I Hate Numbers But…My Publishing NUD-venture

The Spy Who Kissed Me cover art

My first book!

I’ve never been a numbers gal. In fact, my friends can tell many mildly amusing stories of my problems with numbers. And a few of my teachers could weigh in, though I don’t think those still living follow my blog (thank goodness! I’m already causing my past science teachers – living and dead – a lot of trauma and heartbreak by writing science fiction).

Well, I wasn’t a numbers gal until I contracted my first book. Then numbers became enormously fascinating (though only adding. Subtracting was a major bummer.). At first it was just simple math. How many books have I sold? Then that stunningly humble moment came when I got my first royalty check. Ouch.

I like to joke (so I won’t cry) that it was easier to write for free than for money.

For a LOT of years.

Only my love of storytelling kept me going.

When I began my publishing adventure (NUD-venture?) in 1998 (yes, I’m that old), I didn’t have a ton of publishing options open to me. Even then, I went around the road block that was traditional publishing by going with a digital publisher LONG before it was cool. I chronicle my early years here, so I won’t do it again (you can thank me in the comments).

So, I was sick for most of January and February and decided to use the down time to look back at my sales numbers for all my books. It was not fun, but it was interesting.

Some background. While I began my publishing adventure with a small, digital-only press, I was able to parley my toe in the door into five contracts with a mid-size traditional press called Five Star. They sold mostly to libraries and the books cost a lot, but they put my books into hard cover, which gave me some street cred, or would that be reader cred? I’m not sure.

The books that followed were published by a variety of small presses. The last was L&L Dreamspell (who closed their doors last July). Prior to L&L shutting down I self published one book.

So here’s the break down (with notations about books with awards and reviews that would impact sales; books in a series also seem to sell better):

Five Star/Small press titles (Update: List price ranged from $25-ish to $5.99-ish, also going to add my average profit per book sold over life of book):

The Spy Who Kissed Me (aka Pig in a Park) (Award-winning; nominated/RT Book Reviews); 1998/2000 ($1.73)

Lonesome Lawmen series:
The Last Enemy (award-winning; reviewed by Booklist/RT Book Reviews); 1999 ($1.49)
Byte Me (nominated); 2001 ($2.79)
Missing You (award-winning; reviewed by Booklist/RT Book Reviews); 2002 ($2.73)

Standalone:
A Dangerous Dance; 2004 ($6.70)

Small press only (prices ranged from 3.99 – 5.99):

Do Wah Diddy Die, 2000 ($1.82)
Out of Time (award-winning); 2005 ($2.94)

Project Enterprise (series):
The Key (award-winning), 2006 ($3.18)
Girl Gone Nova (award-winning), 2008 ($3.91)
Tangled in Time, 2009 ($2.58)
Steamrolled, 2010 ($2.94)
Kicking Ashe, 2012 ($3.12)
Project Enterprise: The Short Stories, 2012 ($1.00 <– this number includes what I made when stories were in publisher anthologies)

Self Published:

Relatively Risky , 2013 ($2.51)

I’m not going to get into why I opted to self publish. This is a post about the numbers. For five books I had traditional publisher “support,” which somewhat impacted the numbers I received advances for those five books. When the first two books earned out, my advance increased some, though the advances were never stellar. L&L also paid modest advances.

Girl Gone Nova cover

This time the impossible might not be possible…

For the most part, the books stayed on sale from release, though there were brief interruptions when I changed publishers.

My most profitable book is: Missing You. (Note that it got a nice boost from a Booklist review and was an RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice winner)

My best-selling book (by the numbers) is: The Last Enemy (also got a Booklist boost and was an RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice winner).

But—and this is where the numbers get interesting, IMHO—the book I earned the most per book was A Dangerous Dance. I got the biggest advance for this book and I made a whopping 6.70 per book. It also came in at #3 on earnings list, though it is far down the list in the number of copies sold. The reason? No Booklist review (doubt it even got sent out for review) and I didn’t push the book at all, because of a disagreement with Five Star, so it didn’t come close to earning out the advance.

After A Dangerous Dance, my best per book number is for Girl Gone Nova—which was small press, then indie published. The Key comes in third for per book profit. In fact, my remaining four traditional-publisher-supported books come in at 6, 7, 11, and 12.

My Project Enterprise series boasts the best per book profit numbers—with most of the money accruing since I went indie.
Also interesting, to me at least, The Key sold less than half the numbers of Missing You, but made more than half the money Missing You made (did I write that right?).

For some reason, Five Star used to include what they made from my sales. I’m not sure if other publishers do this, but I do know it is still depressing to see how much money they made from my books.

What is the takeaway from this long (and author-centric) post? What most authors (traditional and indie) have learned:

  • Series books tend to do better
  • Not a shock that my per book is better for indie books, since I make more per book.
  • While I loved most of my small press publishers, I still have to note that my series did better after I indie published. Some of it was because I’m making more per book, but I also sold more the first few months after going indie. Three of my series appeared on Amazon niche bestseller lists, which kept them visible for longer. Visibility is everything.
  • My sales aren’t close to those being posted by a lot of self published authors, but they are enough that my writing business is self supporting for the first time in my sixteen-year writing NUD-venture. (I did mention that in many ways it was easier to write for free, than for money. Sigh.)
  • I’m happy. There were times when I wasn’t. This business can beat you up pretty bad. But being able to write the books I wanted to write, finding publishers and people who loved them—has been truly amazing. That part has been an AD-venture, not the NUD-venture part.

So, are you still with me? What do you think about my NUD-venture? Am I crazy? Is it what you expected? Are you disillusioned about the “glamorous” life of an author?

You know that all comments are entered into my drawing for an AnaBanana gift basket ($25 value). I announce the winner the first blog post of the new month.

AnaBanana logo

Perilously yours,

Pauline

“Readers of romantic suspense novels will certainly not go wrong if they take a trip to New Orleans with Relatively Risky!” LASR

Relatively Risky cover art

A girl. A guy. Bad guys with guns. What could possibly go wrong?

You can now buy my books at most online bookstores.