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6 Weeks, 4000 print books: What I've Learned

2590 Views 18 Replies 14 Participants Last post by  Christopher Meeks
I've learned that it's Christmas.


Admittedly that's not very helpful so I'll expand a bit.

Point One: Christmas is a good time for kids books Since Nov 1, my 13 kids books have sold 4000 print copies through Createspace. In the previous 5 months before that, I sold about 800 print copies each month. I could delude myself into thinking this current level of success will continue...but it won't....until possibly next Christmas season.

Point Two: Different kinds of books have different seasons. Well, at least kids books do. People are looking for gifts around Christmas and for all the advances that the world has made to pong, books are still a viable gift. And since I know kids print books sell better during Christmas time, I need to be as productive as I possibly can to make more product available for next Christmas! Does your kind of book have a season that's busier than others?

Point Three: Luck is real. Man, this publishing thing is a crapshoot. can improve your odds of getting lucky by taking lots of swings at the plate. I've published 13 books since September of 2014. Some of them have failed spectacularly. In fact, I could argue that my 4 BEST books have all landed with thuds in the world. Three of those 4 were definitely my most expensive to produce books. Of the 4000 print books I've sold in the last six weeks, those 4 really good books (in my opinion) have only sold 59 total copies. Ouch! The lesson for me is to keep taking swings...but also, when I find books that people want to give them more of that.

Point Four: But don't give up on some of those bad selling books. Take the book Curial Diggs: World Treasure Hunter. This is my favorite book. It's my best book in several ways. It is absolutely my worst selling book. In some ways, this book is a mess. The title has proven to NOT work. I'm on my 4th different variation of the cover...and each one has been, in its own way, a mess. So while it wouldn't make sense to obsess over and spend an inordinate amount of time on this also doesn't make sense to abandon it completely. Fact is, its a good book...and some day, I'll figure out the right title, the right cover, and the right way to position it so that readers can find it. If you take enough swings, chances are you are going to have some misses. Chances are some expensive misses. That's life. Keep working.

Point Five: I have found that I do not have success writing and publishing older middle grade books. My success is with younger middle grade (8-10 year old readers as opposed to 11-12 year old readers). My books aimed solidly at the 8-10 year old crowd (like Math Inspectors and The Big Life of Remi Muldoon) do well. My books aimed at the older reader do not. Maybe that just isn't the right age group for me or maybe there is a larger lesson. Maybe Self Pubbers have a harder time with the 11-12 year old market. In talking to writer friends, here is our working hypothesis. Books aimed at the 8-10 year old crowd (especially boys) that are shortish and relatively inexpensive are the kinds of things parents are very willing to buy...and keep buying in order to keep that age group reading. Whereas the older reader is going to be making more their own decisions on what to read. We may be wrong...but if you write for kids and have not had luck with print in that older middle grade age might try the younger reader instead.

Point Six: This could all go away tomorrow. That's how I act. I assume something will change, my books will fall off a cliff and or everybody will realize I'm a gigantic fraud. So, despite my busy-ness...I try to do something every single day to push the ball up the hill. I do some illustrations. I write some words. I edit. I work on a cover. I run a promo. I spend an hour in my chair trying to think of ridiculous pictures....I don't know. The point is...every single day, I do something to move my author business forward. isn't much. But it is always something. Without fail. Every day. I never ever miss a day. Not ever. I miss days writing. I miss days illustrating. I miss days running promos. But I never miss a day doing one of them. And over a year, it's incredible what you can accomplish when you push the ball of the hill just a little bit each day.

Point Seven: Make plans...even though they will change. In 2016..I plan on releasing 4 more Remi books and 5 more Math Inspectors books. I plan on unpublishing 3 of my books and then releasing those 3 as part of a brand new series. There is almost no way that I will actually accomplish these goals. I'll probably fall a little short. But that's okay. Falling short of aggressive goals isn't the worst thing in the world and come next Christmas...I'm sure I'll be proud of what I produced. Good luck to you all!

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Good stuff. Thanks for posting. Hope you have a great 2016!
Thank you! Best of luck to you in 2016 as well!  Dan.
My 9 year old son loves math and hates reading. I just bought your first Math Inspector book, so thanks for that.
This is fantastic information.  Thank you so much, Daniel.

One huge question for you.  Where do you go to promote your lower middle grade series?  I'm thinking of writing one myself, so this would be really useful for me.  (Also, do you find it's crucial to write in a series, or do books sell well if they're standalone and catchy, too?)

Also, do you ever do books with color illustrations, such as picture books?  Or do you stick with chapter books mainly?
Congrats on your success this Christmas. Lots of good info in your post. Thank you.
Hearty congratulations on your success. I'm also seeing a surprising uptick in paperback sales over the last few weeks (selling about a tenth of your volume, but it's an improvement for me ;) ). I'm desperately pushing more of my projects towards the finishing line in time for the New Year so I can hopefully keep the momentum going!
Thanks for sharing that information! And congratulations on selling so many print books!  :)
Congrats on your success! I am always on the lookout for good books for children and I found them on this thread. :)
Hey Daniel, some great info and tips. I just started earlier this year myself and have six books ready so far but no where near the success of yours yet. I have a couple additional Dragon books planned and at least two more series to start on so I agree with having aggressive goals.

It would be great if you could give some tips on how you advertise, what sites you might use for your success. I know I, as well as others would appreciate it. :)
C. Gockel said:
My 9 year old son loves math and hates reading. I just bought your first Math Inspector book, so thanks for that.
HATES READING? That's a lot of pressure. I have eight kids. Some like reading, some hate reading. Sadly, not even my books can fully convert my die hard reading haters...but...I really hope your son enjoys it. Thanks so much for that! Dan.
UnicornEmily said:
This is fantastic information. Thank you so much, Daniel.

One huge question for you. Where do you go to promote your lower middle grade series? I'm thinking of writing one myself, so this would be really useful for me. (Also, do you find it's crucial to write in a series, or do books sell well if they're standalone and catchy, too?)

Also, do you ever do books with color illustrations, such as picture books? Or do you stick with chapter books mainly?
These are great questions, Emily.

First, on promotion. Starting in January of 2015, I tried to get a Bookbub four different times before finally getting a free Bookbub on June 2. That seemed to really help Math inspectors 1 get some good exposure. I followed that up in July with a free Bookbub for The Big Life of Remi Muldoon. I got four or five small advertisers around those 2 bookbubs. And again, the ebook exposure was great...but also kind of short lived.

Other than those bookbubs I haven't really done much on the promotion side. I'm the most disorganized guy on the when push comes to shove...I spend my time writing more books (but in reality I should be doing more promo).

Second, about series or stand alone. SERIES. SERIES. SERIES. That being said, I have a couple of the lower middle books (Pirate Ninja and But I Still Had Feet) that certainly sell enough to justify their existence :). Neither will ever be a breakout book but both make me money every month. So, although SERIES is where it's at, stand alones can work for sure.

Third, I have never done a full color picture book. I have one I'm working on. I don't think it will make me money but I just really want to do it. I'm hoping to have it ready for next Christmas.

Finally, in addition to trying to write as many books as I am able...I spent and spend alot of time on Amazon looking at what works. Especially from self pubbers who are publishing books in my category. If it's a self pubber who seems to have multiple high ranking titles...then I pay alot of attention to the colors they use on their covers...on the size of books...the price points...and the categories they put their books into.

I hope this helps! Dan.
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Thanks Rue :)

Hi Daniel, I am very glad to see you've sold several thousand copies of your novels. You have some great story ideas, but I do want to add my thoughts to your points:

Point One: Truth that December is the best month for selling, period, where people buy gifts. Though if you build enough of an e-mail list you could create your own day or week of the year. This way you can brand your own day and make sure parents remember August 24 is "back to school with the Kenney Gang" or something like that. And then keep doing it every year until you see momentum from your fans as they begin to remember your chosen date. Something I'd like to try. Same with seasonal selling.

Point three: good point. It's almost impossible to figure out why some books sell better than others. If publishers knew this, I have a feeling almost every book they'd publish would cover the advance. Out of curiosity, which of yours are selling well?

Point Five: I wish you had talked to see sooner. I actually had a survey completed with book readership information (check out my blog next Tuesday and I'll post the survey results). Neilsen Bookscan did their own poll and found Middle Grade is the hardest to self-publish because it's the only genre where the purchaser is not the primary reader. Kids usually ask their parents for a book, which means whatever's popular in school. Indies with great reach in schools can pull this off. Most indies, however, do not have the name or marketing power to get lots of kids reading your book.
Yes, there is a difference between books for 8-10 and 11-13. Mine is Upper Middle Grade, ideally for 10-13.
As for the length, this is the biggest controversy with authors of all genres. For example, my first novel in my series is 73,000 words, or 5,000 less than the first Harry Potter. Publishers generally say that's too long, and at about 280 formatted book pages, this would be controversial. But...many of the bestselling books (HP, Fablehaven, Hunger Games) with tweens are actually longer than the average middle grade 130-150 story. Limited data I've had from kids suggests the length doesn't matter, they read it in 1-2 days. I am a sincere believer that it's the interest of the story, not the length, which ultimately drives any reader's interest. They will devour a great 300 page story but toss aside a 120 page one if the 300 page is deemed "better".

Point Six: yep, the reality of a writer  :(. I think you're one of the more successful middle grade indies though, and a testament to hard work and some luck.

Point Seven: Another contentious point.Some authors think you should publish at least x number a year, other say better to write the highest quality possible story and hope it sticks. As long as you are truly proud of every book you release, it doesn't matter if you publish 3 a year, 9 a year, or some other number. In any case, best of luck.
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Great question Jane. For my younger middle grade, I try to stay between 15 - 20K but that's not an ironclad rule. My first REmi book is 11,500 words and my second Remi book is 16,000 words. Math Inspectors trend towards 20K. I think, if you don't have pictures try to get closer to 20K. If you've got illustrations you can dip down below 15K. But that's just my guess. Ultimately, you will find your own sweet spot. Hope that helps!

Hi Dan,
Thanks for all the great info. Can I please ask - do you do your own cover illustrations or do you have an illustrator do them and then you give them to a designer to get the finished cover?
Hope that makes sense.

Thanks  :)

Your post is wonderful because it also reflects how most authors work. They love the writing, and the marketing is a huge challenge. My own self-marketing morphed into a company, White Whisker Books, where I now publish five other authors in addition to myself. Each year the marketing rules change for me. Two years ago, I could rely on BookBub promoting at least one of White Whisker's books each month, which helped in the marketing campaigns for each book. In 2015, I couldn't get a single space on BookBub, even with proven previous successful BookBub sales. Kindleboards' direct interaction with BookBub was fascinating (if that thread is still available) but in the end did not prove helpful for me. Even if I were to get a title up there, I suspect it'd be a nice blip, but without having a reliable place to advertise, BookBub doesn't make for good and planned marketing campaigns anymore for us. Blog tours right now are the best bet.

Print sales have also changed. When I started White Whisker Books on 2006, the majority of what I sold were books in print, using Lightning Source. However the more awards and the better the reviews one of my books have, the more money I lose. That's because bookstores order then through Ingram, and then the returns eat away the profits. One of my author's books is in the red because of so many returns. The reality is if a bookstore orders copies, it's likely to go on a shelf spine out. The store's software keeps tracks of inventory, and if a book has not sold after 30 to 60 days, it's returned. You use Createspace, so bookstores rarely if at all order your books or return them. (Bookstores tend to hate Amazon companies).

The other challenge with print editions is Bookscan. Bookscan keeps track of print sales, and my authors who don't have agents confront agents who use Bookscan. Basically, people who self-publish print editions and then try for an agent may receive a letter than says something like "Your query and new book interested me, but when I ran Bookscan on your titles, here's what came up." If you didn't sell well, then agents tend to shy away. I now offer my authors the option of NOT having print sales. In your market of middle-school books, you need print copies. The majority of authors on Kindleboards I'm sure make money through eBook sales alone.

On the positive side, if you've sold over 4,000 copies in print of any particularly title, that can be considered fabulous. I've heard various print publishers, such as McSweeny's and MacAdam Cage (the latter now defunct) speak on book panels, and they said that four thousand in print sales is considered a best-seller by them. It's a challenging world, publishing, but your points bring up many of the issues.
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