Indie Authors: Tracking Book Sales

Earning a living as an indie author is very difficult. There are no advances, and books compete with well-known authors as well as other forms of entertainment, such as movies, TV shows, and music.

A couple years ago, many people claimed that most self-published authors earned less than $250 (even only a few traditionally published authors sell enough books to be rich). Now, more people are claiming that indie authors are often much more successful.

Hugh Howey, for example, has co-created Author Earnings, a site dedicated to gathering and disseminating information about self-publishing to help out writers. Publishers have access to sales data about their books, with services such as Nielsen BookScan and Above the Treeline (though to be fair that doesn’t help too much with ebooks), but until Author Earnings there has been no centralized place for indie authors to find data about ebook sales. Sure, some authors, such as Ksenia Anske and Rachel Thompson have generously shared their data, but it helps a lot more to be able to see the big picture.

Looking at bestseller lists is a start, and CEO of Smashwords Mark Coker often offers detailed information about ebooks on Smashwords (the latest is the top 25 ebooks have all been written by women).

But Author Earnings is about organizing a group of indie authors, and the site’s quarterly report has been the subject of many discussions. The first report stated that indie authors write books that have higher ratings than traditionally published authors’ books, and that indie books and books from small publishers dominated popular genres. Porter Anderson broke down how the site works and what it hopes to achieve, and JA Konrath added his own comments to the report, mostly arguing against what publishers would potentially argue.

Interestingly, Author Earnings‘ latest report, from July 2014, estimated “that self-published authors now account for 31% of total daily ebook sales regardless of genre.

However, not everyone agrees with the validity of Author Earnings’ data, and some people pointed out that the data used in the first report was just a snapshot of the top books. DBW‘s Dana Beth Weinberg analyzed the report and did not feel as optimistic about the results. She wrote:

[…] we learn many of the lessons I’ve been expounding based on my own studies and the Digital Book World and Writer’s Digest data. The findings are these:

  • Authors and publishers face a hard market, and it’s not easy to sell a lot of books.

  • Publishing is a segmented market. A very small percentage of authors are in a position to support themselves with their writing, no matter which publishing route they’ve chosen.

  • Publishers don’t have a lock on the answers, and the contributions they make to author sales and income are increasingly in question, leading to calls for partnerships that provide greater benefit to authors.

  • Self-publishing is making it easier than ever before for more authors to make at least some money, if not a lot of money, on their writing, but these authors are a small percentage of the whole.

For many authors, it’s about benefitting from the long tail. August Wrainwright wrote about why slow growth is good, and it takes a long time to achieve success. This includes time to build up a subscriber base and a backlist, but after a while, the results can be great. (Of course, it always helps to get a bump, such as what happened to Alice Monro’s books after she won a Nobel Prize.)

Though I like the idea behind Author Earnings, and I think it’d be great to have a centralized place for indie author data, I still like to also do my own research. If you’re like me and want to draw your own conclusions, here are some helpful tools:

  1. eBookTracker: eBookTracker is a free tool that shows real-time and historical Amazon sales rank and pricing information. This can help authors compare their books to others in the same genre, as well as see when sales spike or decrease, to help determine the success of marketing efforts.
  2. KDP Calculator: Another free tool that lets you input the current sales rank of any book on Kindle, and it will tell you how many copies are sold per day.
  3. KDSpy: A paid Chrome plugin that shows the average sales rank, average sales revenue, average price, average number of reviews of books in specific genres, as well as a breakdown of the top books in that genre that shows the title, price, estimated sales, sales revenue, number of reviews, and sales rank.
  4. NovelRank: A free site that tracks print and ebook sales on Amazon sites.

What do you think? Do you know of other helpful tools or sites that collects data on indie ebooks? Please share in the comments!

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