Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Three years ago, full of hope and inflated expectations, I put my first mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance, up for sale on Amazon. Good as it was, I thought it might sell 10,000 copies the first month.
It sold 11 copies, and I personally knew 9 of the people who bought it.
That was hardly an auspicious beginning, but the more I learn about self-publishing, the more I have come to realize it was par for the course. The old rule of thumb used to be that the average self-published book sells 150 copies. There’s a reason for that.
Sociologists figure that between work, church, clubs, neighbors, and old friends, the typical American knows about 150 people reasonably well. If you write a book (and who doesn’t these days?) you can figure half your circle of people will buy it, and a similar number of outliers will stumble across it somewhere as well. And perhaps Amazon has pushed the number of outliers up a bit.
Reason to Keep Going
Despite the slow start for my book, I started getting positive feedback from people who didn’t have to say anything, and the book gradually began getting positive reviews from strangers. Encouraged by the response, and experiencing a serious case of Writer’s Ego, I decided to write a second mystery in the series.
Wash Her Guilt Away was published at the end of April 2014. At the time of its release, I expected it would boost sales of The McHenry Inheritance by a bit. After all, I reasoned, people who never saw the first book might read and like the second, then go back to the first. In a good month, I figured, The McHenry Inheritance might sell half as many copies as Wash Her Guilt Away.
Wrong again. In September, the fourth month the second book was out, The McHenry Inheritance outsold it. And it continued to outsell Wash Her Guilt Away over eight of the next nine months. Furthermore, from the scant information Amazon provides its authors, it appeared that a fair number of people were buying the two books together.
What’s Happening Here?
At the end of May of this year, I published the third mystery novel in the series, Not Death, But Love. June was the first full month it was available. And The McHenry Inheritance had more paid downloads (e-book sales and borrows) that month than the new book did.
I must confess I’m at a loss to explain why the three-year old book is steadily outselling the newer releases. Is it because the cover is more of an attention-getter? Is it because it has more reviews on file than the other two books, having been out longer? Is it because it’s the first book in the series and people want to start at the beginning? Or is it some combination of those factors plus something else I haven’t thought of?
Whatever it is, the book is showing legs that I never imagined it would have, and the wise author takes any sale he can get. Last week, on the third anniversary of its publication, The McHenry Inheritance got two new reviews from strangers (five and four stars) and sold its first copy in Spain. Spain! If this be magic of some sort, I’m going to get out of the way and let it happen. The wise author also has to suspect that the readers might be right.