Monday, 15 October 2012

32,000 paid downloads for self-published ebook

This is the story of how I wrote, self-edited and self-published a Regency romance I'd had gathering dust in my bottom drawer for several years, and made far more money from it than I could have dreamed possible.

The Earl and His Tiger has sold more than 32,000 paid copies overall. That's an Amazon UK link, by the way - all others in this article are links.
In August 2011, I published The Earl and His Tiger, a lively Regency romance of some 75,000 words in length. I had already tested the waters with a Regency short story (A Most Dangerous Lady) and a full-length Regency romance of a darker kind (The Uncatchable Miss Faversham), both of which I had written speculatively for Harlequin Mills & Boon but had failed to place there.

Initial sales of those two titles seemed promising, though nothing to write home about.

But then I published The Earl and His Tiger, and something about this novel seemed to catch light. I still consider its USP to be its unusual and tongue-in-cheek title. It must have provoked a few startled double-takes by jaded readers when they saw the word 'Tiger' in a Regency title! Then the book's entertaining premise and cover took them that all-important extra distance into the decision to buy.

I'm not sure of how my particular statistics stand in the general scheme of Kindle self-publishing, but to me, 32,000 paid downloads - roughly a quarter of them at $2.99 and above - seems like a pretty large number for a self-published novel by a self-publishing novice. Not only has this book sold consistently on Amazon (and Smashwords), but this consistency has somehow been achieved with only occasional Twitter and Facebook plugs, and some very rare blog posts - a glance at how often I've posted on this blog will soon confirm that I am not exaggerating.

So it would seem these romances will just sell themselves if you hit the sweet spot. The real issue is finding the sweet spot in the first place. Then staying there. Because sales figures can turn on a dime.

I dropped this early 'Uncatchable' cover for a more conventional one, but still rather like its sense of fun.
In September 2011 alone, the first full month after publication, The Earl and His Tiger sold 7,132 units in the US and 3,350 in Europe. (No one has ever downloaded a copy for free, these are all paid sales over that 30-day period.) At this point I was enthusiastically tweeting links to the book every other day, hoping to engage an audience of like-minded romance fans to help me with retweets and 'shares' on Facebook.

This strategy worked well at first, but of course I eventually ran out of audience, having sold it to all those who loved romance novels, yet not having made enough new 'friends' online in that short period to boost sales via my tweets. So after that, my tweets and Facebook posts slowed down. Yet the book continued to sell.

I was so thrilled with this avalanche of sales - 400 downloads in a day was nothing unusual at one stage - that I allowed my greed to get the better of me. Just as the romance entered the Top 100 Kindle books, I slammed the price up to $2.99.

Sales didn't stop. Not at first. But they slowed almost immediately. People no doubt saw the price and hesitated, and a fewer percentage pressed BUY.

That's when the higher price really began to take its toll. By the time stats came in for the following month, October 2011, sales of that one title had dropped to 4,708 in the States and only 1,103 in Europe.

By November, US sales were only 739, with roughly the same again in Europe.

The book had died.

For several months I seemed unable to revive it, though I reduced the price to under a dollar and tried to boost interest around the peak buying time of Christmas with a few blog posts and serial tweets. Nobody gave a damn. Then, for no apparent reason, sales began to pick up again in March. Both in that spring month and in April sales rose to nearly 2000 in the States, with just over half as much again in Europe.

The latest addition to the Elizabeth Moss Regency stable.
Since then sales have continued to bob around erratically, with some months feast, others famine. But I have learned huge amounts about self-publishing and how to pique interest in your title on both sides of the Atlantic. Price point and getting into the Kindle Historical Romance charts seem to be the key factors in keeping my Regency sales healthy and ticking over.

Once in the charts, ebooks have a tendency to self-sell, as people browse the charts and click on anything that interests them. My motto for Kindle selling is now 'The more books you sell, the more books you sell.'

I have kept the book at the lowest possible price of 0.99c, and just published a prequel to A Most Dangerous Lady (another fun highwayman romance entitled Poppeia and the Petticoat Club) in an attempt to spice things up. The Earl and His Tiger is currently occupying healthy chart positions in the Historical Romance Bestseller charts on both the US and UK Amazon sites. (Though some days they slide out, then slide back in again after a few days.) But so far I have not seen a return to the massive, almost outlandish sales figures of last autumn.

But as more Kindles are sold to more lovers of historical romance, who knows? The best days of The Earl and His Tiger may lie just around the corner ...


  1. Very interesting article. Well done. But what was the initial price before you ramped it up to $2.99?

  2. Thanks, Marilyn.

    It was 0.99c. in the US which translates to 77p in the UK. That's the lowest you can go (apart from free, which is tricky to achieve for any length of time on Amazon and is obviously counterproductive if you want to make money).

    I did sell it for $3.99 at one stage too, to see if MORE value would be helpful. It wasn't. Though it still made a respectable number of sales, the sheer volume required to keep it in front of browsing readers wasn't there, so the higher price killed the book's turnover.

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