I just wrote my first two novels (Severance Lost and Shadow Cursed) and am sorting through the self-publishing pricing problem, namely that I can assign any sales price to my book on amazon and I have no idea what the correct number should be when I simultaneously publish them. Besides that, a host of other decisions will all play a role in how well my book sells and eventually how much money I earn (if any).
Should I get an ISBN number? Do I put in the effort to push pre-sales? Should I sign up for Kindle Unlimited? Will any of it actually help me be a self-sustaining author? I only get one chance to do this right, so I decided to find as many of the answers as I could. Hopefully my efforts help you as well.
A thorough search of blog pages led to a whole heap of anecdotal evidence with few numbers. All of them agree about the difficulty in getting information on the subject, but the arguments for or against a certain price are usually reduced to testimonials.
One group preaches, “I want people to read my book, so I should lower my p
rice!” from their blog pulpits while the other camp r
ationalizes “I put too much effort into writing (Insert name of your great American novel here) to just give it away!” After many late nights writing my own novel, I can understand the sentiment, but I have enough business savvy to know the market sets the price for a product.
If I’m selling J. Lloren Quill’s secret sauce at the grocery store, it better be a competitive price with the sauces surrounding it on the shelves. If I look around the virtual amazon shelves I can at least estimate a price range to be competitive with the other books, but to stand out on the shelves, I’ll need something more. To truly understand the market, I needed some data.
Enter the May 2016 Author Earnings Report.
This comprehensive report by Hugh Howey and the Data Guy sends a spider crawling through amazon’s bookshelves and pulling back a ton of information. I won’t go into all of the methodology they used, but I will describe how I used their raw data. After downloading their free, anonymized spreadsheet, I started to segment their population data to fit me.
I filtered the data to only include information from independent authors publishing in the science fiction genre. If science fiction/fantasy wasn’t the primary category of book chosen, I excluded it. Then, I excluded all entries that didn’t have daily sales information or daily earnings. In the end, I was left with 2047 samples from the original million+ in the Author Earnings Report – a more manageable number that was much more pertinent to my own publishing efforts.
In the Optimizing Author Earnings blog series, I’ll take a deep dive into this data set ().
First, we’ll look at some descriptive statistics of the scifi/fantasy genre and be able to tackle some basic questions like:
- How much does a book earn on a daily basis?
- How long does a book continue to bring in money?
- What do the daily sales numbers look like?
- How long does it take to ramp up sales?
- Do authors that sign up for Kindle Unlimited make more money than their non-KU counterparts?
- How many independent authors use a pre-order period to market their books?
- Does anybody use an ISBN number anymore?
After that, the real fun will start. Can we optimize the amount of money a book brings in? I’ll share the results of a statistical optimization of daily author earnings that I performed that used all the meta-tags from the amazon sales data as independent factors. This data will show which factors correlated the strongest with the top selling (or bottom selling) books by independent authors in the scifi/fantasy space.
Why am I doing this analysis? Before you call me a money-grubbing Trump-lover, that isn’t my motivation. I’m doing this analysis because I put a ton of work into my books, and if I’m going to publish them with my own money, I want to give them the best chance to succeed. I also think this is an area that a lot of authors wished they had information but lacked the background or interest to do the analysis. I have a doctorate in engineering and this stuff is easy for me. If it helps me succeed, that’s great. If it helps someone else succeed, all the better…we’re all in this together. Best of luck everyone!