By Jordan Dane
For my last post in 2011 with TKZ, I found a Wall Street Journal article on self-publishing that offered something a little different. We’ve all heard the big blockbuster sales of a precious few who have seen sales of more than a million books, but who can really relate to that? We can all hope lightning will strike and we’ll be the one benefiting from that good fortune, but I picked out the elements of this article that addressed the digital trend, growing successes that have not gotten much highlight, and what one author—Darcie Chan—did to grow her self-pub sales.
Many have heard about Amanda Hocking and John Locke’s stories of hitting it big. These stories represent a miniscule fraction of independent authors, but success is still being found. According to Amazon, 30 authors have sold in excess of 100,000 copies of their books through Amazon’s self-pub Kindle program and a dozen more have seen sales of 200,000+ — a program started in 2007 that allows authors to upload their own books, set prices, and publish in multiple languages. Barnes & Noble have their own version for their Nook readers.
Self-published books have fueled the surge in digital sales from $287 million in 2009 to $878 million in 2010, according to the Association of American Publishers. Analysts speculate that e-book sales will pass $2 billion in 2013. We’ve all seen how the publishing industry (authors, agents, publishers, stores, etc) are scrambling to figure out how to capitalize on this exploding trend.
So here is one author’s story about how she stuck to her dream of writing a book she believed in and took the plunge.
It took Darcie Chan two and a half years to write her book during the hours she wasn’t working her day job of drafting environmental legislation. After getting feedback from friends and family, she sent queries to more than 100 agents, but since it was a cross genre story (with elements of romance, suspense and mystery), it didn’t fit neatly on retail book shelves and got rejected as a “tough sell.” She eventually landed an agent who submitted her book to over a dozen publishers, they all rejected it for the same reason, so the book of her dreams landed in a drawer and Darcie got on with her life. FIVE YEARS LATER, she read about the rise in e-book sales and self-publishing and decided to do something about her dream. Here is what she did:
She made her own cover for THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE (about an agoraphobic philanthropist) from a photo her sister had taken of an old mansion and added Photoshop graphic elements to make it look gloomy.
She uploaded her book into the Amazon Kindle self-publishing program and sold a trickle of copies. A few weeks later, she loaded it onto Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Apple’s iBookstore, Sony, and Kobo.
Her first royalty check was $39. That’s when she noticed that popular e-books were priced at $0.99 and immediately dropped her price from $2.99 to $0.99. (That cut her royalty percentage under Amazon rules from 70% on books priced at $2.99+ to 35% for novels priced below that threshold.) But sales picked up immediately for her and she found new readers who liked her book.
During the first month at her lower price, she sold 100 copies. She was thrilled with this, but by the end of June, her book got mentioned on a site called Ereader News Today, that posts tips for Kindle readers. Over the next two day period, she sold another 600 copies, giving her hope that she could drive her own sales.
She spent $1,000 on marketing, buying banner ads on websites and blogs devoted to Kindle readers and also bought a spot on Goodreads.com with its more than 6.6 million members.
She also learned that self-published authors could pay to have their book reviewed by some sites. She paid $35 for a review on IndieReader.com (who no longer offers paid reviews) and she paid $575 for an expedited review from Kirkus Reviews, a notable book review journal and website. (The Kirkus review service, launched in 2005, gives self-published authors the option to review privately if the review is negative. Darcie opted to have her book reviewed on Kirkus’s website and Kirkus called the novel “a comforting book about the random acts of kindness that hold communities together.” Darcie used quotes from the review and other reviews on Amazon and B&N for publicity purposes, to encourage more reviewers to try her book.
By July, she had sold more than 14,000 copies and got her noticed and featured on two of the biggest sites for e-book readers, which generated more sales. In August, she had sold more than 77,000 copies and had hit the New York Times and USA Today e-book bestsellers lists—and later she landed on the Wall Street Journal’s list too. In September, it sold more than 159,000 copies and 413,000 copies have sold to date.
Darcie and her agent have since offered her book to traditional publishers, but none have matched her royalty rates of 35-40% that she gets from Amazon and B&N. (Average print royalties range 10-15% with digital royalties usually set at 25%.) Simon and Schuster offered to distribute the book—as is—but Darcie wants the book professionally edited and marketed. So as of now, she is staying the course, content with how well her book is selling. She made an estimated $130,000 before taxes PLUS she’s getting a steady royalty check every month.
And from her success, she’s seeing interest from other parties. Foreign rights and audio book publishers have made offers and six movie companies have inquired about film rights.
Bottom line is that Darcie didn’t give up, even when everyone told her “NO.” No matter how you’re published, I think we can all learn from this woman’s perseverance.
This is my last post for 2011 since TKZ will be on our 2-week hiatus starting Dec 19th—the day my virtual tour starts with YA Bound. Happy holidays to our TKZ family and have a great 2012.
That is inspiring and shows the value of commitment and the advantage you can give yourself by spending thousands on self-promotion. She made her money back in spades and that’s great to hear.
However, her success story is–as you mention at the beginning of the post–a lightening strike; she is just one of the dozen or so authors who have sold over 200,000 copies, and as such does not represent the vast majority of self-published eAuthors.
“…but since it was a cross genre story (with elements of romance, suspense and mystery), it didn’t fit neatly on retail book shelves and got rejected as a “tough sell.” “
That right there is the reason I as a reader and as a writer am excited about the digital revolution.
Kudos to Darcie and all who perservere in their publishing dream.
Hey Mike. Thanks for your comment & happy holidays. I featured Darcie’s story more for her belief in her book & for her perseverance & to show what she did to draw attention to her book. Yes, she represents a fraction of self-published authors, but if she had settled for selling 100 books or given up on her 100th agent rejection, we would never have heard about her story.
Readers have found something in her book that touched them enough to spread the word. It always makes me happy to hear stories about an author willing to take a leap of faith in their own project.
Jordan, thanks so much for sharing this. Not everyone is going to sell in Patterson-like numbers, or even in six figures, like Darcie. But thousands, or tens of thousands, of people reading someone’s books, isn’t bad at all. That’s a stadium full of readers.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. And have fun with that virtual book tour.
Exactly, BK. I write cross genre too. I think that stemmed from the love I had for books as a reader, but I blocked out any discouraging “rules” to writing my debut book and simply wrote the kind of book I wanted to read, regardless of what shelf it fit on. That’s when I sold.
Bottom line to Darcie’s story is that readers liked her book enough to recommend it to others. Her ad banners & Kirkus review got her name & book out there, but the feature on e-reader sites & book buzz from word of mouth is what truly sustained her momentum. Author craft and good storytelling are important.
Hey Joe. Season’s greetings back to ya!! And thanks for the good wishes for my blog tour. I’ll be working while you will be drinking egg nog.
In the WSJ article, Darcie & her husband said they danced around their kitchen table after she sold 100 books. That’s the real story here–one writer’s vindication that she COULD write a book someone wanted to read. Everyone’s measure of success will be different, but authors having more options to getting their passion realized is a good thing.
Thank you for posting this! I shared the WSJ article with some folks I know as well and we found similar value: concrete steps taken to promote a book, as well as the simple joys of unexpected success.
To correct the WSJ on one point (or maybe it’s just that new): while IndieReader no longer does paid reviews, they are holding something called the “IndieReader Discovery Awards,” where submissions are judged by a panel of industry editors and publicists. It’s more expensive than the $35 that Chan spent for a paid review – and there’s not even the certainty of a review, unless your book places well enough – but it’s an interesting opportunity.
Passing it along for anyone else grinding through the indie trenches. Happy holidays!
Thanks for the Indiereader update, John. Happy holidays.
Yes, it’s an opportunity. I also thought it would be interesting to learn what the more popular ereader sites are, the ones she hit but weren’t listed in the article. (I ran out of time to research this.)
Anyone care to share?
As Joe notes, writers don’t have to sell in “Patterson like” numbers to make a good living at this. For each “lightning strike” there will be many who do the two things that are most important for long term indie success: 1. Write excellent books; and 2. Write a lot of them.
And there’s always a chance that lightning, or at least a lot of static electricity, will hit one.
Happy Holidays to you, Jordan, and have fun on your YA blitz.
Thanks, Jim. I too like stressing a good quality read. And I hear that for most authors, it takes multiple books to get noticed. Good reminder.
Have fun with your family!!
Some time ago, I took notice of how so many authors work on their first book for 2, 3, 5, 10 years, all the while trying to get someone to notice it. It seemed to me that the solution is to just write more books. I figured that the more books you have out there the more likely it is that you have a book out there that a lot of people want to read.
I still think the idea is sound, but it turns out to be harder than I imagined. I only have eight books, but who knows, lightning might still strike.
I agree, Tim. I also think we learn best from our mistakes & only writing can allow us to experience new things & ways that not only improve our craft but also are personally satisfying.
Great observation. Thanks
I love stories where someone perseveres despite the industry standards keeping them down. I want to read suspense stories and horror stories where there are elements of romance. Are you kidding me? Good for Darcie!
Yeah, Diane, I KNOW. Cool, right?
Bucking that “tough sell” mentality was always hard, especially if you believed in your project and the main objection anyone had was THAT. “I loved the book, but…”
Having the option to self-publish those projects that got rejected by the guardians of the gate is exciting to me. This story demonstrates it too. Definitely kudos to Darcie.
Thanks for your comment and merry Christmas.
Thanks Jordan, it’s a great story and shows once again that a good book is a good book no matter how it gets out there! Happy holidays from down under!
This article inspires me to push forward. I keep telling myself it can be done. I write everyday, I promote my books everyday and I try and make contact with someone new every day. Who knows 2012 might be my year.
I love that cross Genre’ story too, Jordan and Diane – and you know, I believe that’s why my agent couldn’t place my novel Careful.
I think TPI didn’t know what to do with it.
I love it that Darci did so well with her cross-genre self-publication – who knows what’s in the future for that brand of story.
Perseverance – I love that concept.
Hey everyone, send a Big Shout out to my very own Brother-In-Law, Chuck Millhouse! Glad you’ve joined the frackas, Chuck (yes, we’ve multiplied 🙂
Merry Christmas Jordan, and good luck with your YA tour. Thanks for posting this article.
Look forward to more in January.
Ha! Paula – I recognized the last name & wondered if you related to Chuck. One more for the TKZ family.
Happy holidays, you two.
Thanks for the cheers from down under, Clare.
Chuck–Keep writing. Sounds like you have a plan that’s well-rounded. Perseverance, my new friend.
Persevere, adhere, steer, cheer, like a headlight staring deer, don’t veer, far or near, be a dear, gimme a beer.
Oh, and don’t give up either.
Bizeere, Basil. Ditto on da beer, bro.
I love this story- thanks for sharing. It really is all about perseverance.
Excellent post, Jordan, as usual!
Never give up–coupled with a willingness to spend a little $ to market is a winning formula, epsecially now with the Internet highway for a marketing vehicle. Believe me, I KNOW!! I sent my first MS out in 1983 and was rejected over and over during the years. I had a few nibbles, fits and starts along the way but because I never gave up, my career is finally taking off. And I have to say, given where I am in life right now, the timing couldn’t be better. I am thrilled.
So I join your encouragement to never give up. Write on, one and all!!
PS: Basil . . . you never cease to amaze me!
Great comment, Kathleen. I also think it’s best to keep looking forward & not dwell on the past. Maybe things happen when they’re meant to. Have a great holiday season, girlfriend. Hugs!