Monday, May 1, 2017

Two Years of Free Books



It's been two years since I self published my first science fiction novel, A Summer in Amber on 27 April, 2015. I followed that book with Some Day Days on 9 July 2015 and then A Bright Black Sea on 16 Sept 2015. Since I'd been working on those stories for more than five years, I was able to release all three within five months of each other. In 2016, faced with the fact that my next story, the companion volume to The Bright Black Sea would not be finished before the last half of 2017, I published the first, 70K word, “episode” of the book as a stand alone story, Castaways of the Lost Star on 25 July 2016. The complete book, a 340K word long planetary romance, The Lost Star's Sea is on track for release this summer.

My books are targeted at a very small market – me. I have old fashioned tastes in books –  mostly adventure novels from the first half of the last century, give or take a decade or two – so they're not written to be commercial products for today's mass markets. Having no commercial ambitions, or any need for the few dollars they'd likely bring in if I tried selling them, I offer them for free. Amazon requires at least a $.99 price, but they've been kind enough to price-match free in the US store and 2 books in the UK store. Because I hate self-promotion – and work – I'm content to let price, reviews and word of mouth promote my books. And since I value good reviews over downloads, I write my blurbs to attract only the subset of readers who will likely enjoy them. I can publish free books without losing a penny because I can do – almost – everything involved in self publishing in-house. The exception being, as I found out the hard way, proofreading. However, I now have a crew of very kind volunteer proofreaders willing to help me with that.

There are many ways to build a readership. I've chosen the way that suits me best – honest descriptions and the elimination of price as a barrier. So how does it work? Let's take a look.


A Summer in Amber
Release 27 April 2015
1st year downloads & sales - 2,222
2nd year downloads & sales -1,357
Total to date                       3,579

Rating & Reviews
         1st Year 2nd Year Total
5 star 13        12            25
4 star 16         -             16
3 star -           4              4
2 star 4           2             6
1 star -           -              -
Total 33         18            51

Some Day Days
Released 9 July 2015
1st year downloads & sales – 1,139
2nd year downloads & sales –   511
Total                                  1,650

Ratings & Reviews
         1st Year 2nd Year Total
5 star -           2           2
4 star 2          1            3
3 star 1          4            5
2 star 1           -           1
1 star -           -            -
Total 4           7           11

The Bright Black Sea
Released 16 Sept. 2015
1st year downloads & sales - 3,176
2nd year downloads & sales – 2,569
Total to date 5,745

Ratings & Reviews
          1st Year 2nd Year Total
5 star 59         33            92
4 star 12           7           19
3 star 4            4             8
2 star 1            -             -
1 star 2            1             3
Total 80          44          124

Notes: Amazon dropped price matching in March of 2016 until Sept. of 2016, so I have no data to determine if and how the release of its sequel affected sales. Downloads in Sept 2016 were twice the highest number recorded for any other month – I suspect that the spike was due to some sort of promotion by Amazon. (I saw a similar unexplained spike in A Summer in Amazon Sales in its first year as well.) I didn't happen to catch it at its peak, but several days later is was still at #20, so it may have well been the #1 free Space Opera for a day. Selling at $3.99, it sold 16 copies during the March – June time period. And in the July – August time period when it was priced at $.99 it sold 15 copies. Foreign sales currently run 1 to 2 copies a month at $.99.

Interesting enough, my downloads on iBooks dropped by more than half once Amazon started offering all my books for free again with the release of Castaways in Sept 2016. That seems to be the only reason for that to happen.

The Castaways of the Lost Star (a sequel to The Bright Black Sea)
Released 25 July 2016
2nd year downloads & sales - 1700
Total to date - 1700

Ratings & reviews
         2nd Year
5 star 6
4 star 4
3 star -
2 star -
1 star -
Total 10


Coming this Summer: The Lost Star's Sea. The concluding volume of the Lost Star and the adventures of Captain Wil Litang.



The Complete Totals

First year downloads/sales of all books – 6,537*
Total number of ratings/reviews - 117

Second year downloads/sales of all books – 6,137*
Total number of ratings/reviews - 79
Two year cumulative download/sales – 12,674*
Cumulative number of ratings/reviews – 196

*Kobo does not report free downloads to Smashwords so this number is no doubt vastly under reported. Maybe by 100. $ Sales constitute only a small fraction of these totals. And the straight 400 download difference between the two years is just weird.

I release my books through Smashwords and Amazon. Last year Smashwords distributed books including iBooks and B & N but not Kobo outsold Amazon by 2 to 1. The cumulative totals now are about 50-50.

Two calender year profits: (2015 & 2016): slightly under $50 from Amazon sales.

With no data to compare these results to other self publishing authors who entered the science fiction market in 2015, I have no idea how they stack up to the more conventional ways of establishing a self publishing venture. However, I'm very pleased with the results and have enjoyed the whole experience. I've learned a lot, made new friends, and accomplished something I've always wanted to do – write a book or two that are read and appreciated.

I'd like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who helped make this publishing venture both very enjoyable and modestly successful. While my name is on the title page, other people have helped to making the books better than I could've done alone. First off, I'd like to thank my volunteer proofreaders and beta readers. I produce a vast number of typos and have an amazing ability to be blind to them, so a sincere thanks goes out to Sally L., Carlos S., Hannes B., Nicole B., Martin V., Walt, and Stephen B.. I truly appreciate the efforts they've made to make my books better for every reader. I'd also like to thank the readers who took time to write to me. And all the readers who have taken the time to review and/or rate my stories. I'm not writing for money. Reader satisfaction is my benchmark of success, and while I know that I can not please everyone, I am glad that the people who do like my stories seem to truly appreciate them. And finally, I'd like to thank you, dear reader, for selecting my books and spending time alongside the characters and in worlds I've discovered lurking in my imagination. A story without a reader is a pretty sad thing. I'm glad that my stories have found readers, and readers who have enjoyed them.