The Big 2000

Last night, Pegasus Pulp crossed the 2000 lifetime sales threshold. I know that’s not much compared to some indies who sell ten thousands, hundred thousands or even millions of books, but it’s still a reason to celebrate for me.

It also shows that Pegasus Pulp‘s sales are growing slowly but steadily, as our line expands. We celebrated our 1000th sale in January 2015, i.e. it took one and a half years for the second thousand sales. Meanwhile, the first thousand took three and a half years.

As with previous milestones, let’s take a look at the sales breakdown according to retailer:

Amazon.com: 29.05%
Amazon DE: 27.45%
Amazon UK: 10.95%
Kobo: 7.05%
Barnes & Noble: 4.85%
Scribd: 4.7%
Apple: 2.55%
DriveThruFiction: 2.25%
Tolino general: 1.9%
Amazon AU: 1.75%
OmniLit/AllRomance: 1.45%
Smashwords: 1.35%
Amazon CA: 0.7%
Amazon BR: 0.6%
XinXii: 0.5%
Casa del Libro: 0.45%
Amazon FR: 0.35%
Weltbild: 0.35%
Amazon IT: 0.25%
Libiro: 0.2%
Oyster: 0.15%
Page Foundry/Inktera: 0.15%
Thalia: 0.15%
Feedbooks: 0.15%
Baker Taylor Blio: 0.15%
Amazon ES: 0.1%
Amazon IN: 0.1%
Book Republic: 0.1%
Overdrive: 0.05%
24symbols: 0.05%
Buecher.de: 0.05%
Der Club: 0.05%
Bookmate: 0.05%

The breakdown confirms some trends I have noticed before, but also suggest some new ones. Amazon.com continues to be my strongest single outlet, but its marketshare has dropped to an all time low of 29.05%, i.e. Amazon.com makes up for a little under a third of my total sales. Even back in July 2015, it was still 38.8%.

Meanwhile, sales at Amazon DE have more than doubled since July 2014 and are now almost on par with my Amazon.com sales at 27.45%. This is almost entirely due to a single book, Heiligabend im Café zum Lila Kakadu a.k.a. Christmas Eve at the Purple Owl Café. What makes this even more remarkable is that Heiligabend im Café zum Lila Kakadu was only published in December 2015, i.e. six months ago. Now Christmas Eve at the Purple Owl Café has always been a strong seller, even in English. Lesbian romance, particularly sweet lesbian romance, really is an underserved market and the story’s success demonstrates that. Besides, it’s a story that resonates with a lot of people and indeed I’ve had readers contact me to tell me how much it resonated with them. However, Christmas Eve at the Purple Owl Café is also a German set story, one of the fairly few I have written, and so of course it resonates even more with German readers. What is more, the German version of Christmas Eve at the Purple Owl Café is also the only time I have experienced Amazon‘s algorithm magic full force (I have had a few smaller experiences of Amazon‘s algorithm magic), since Amazon‘s algorithms unduly privilege new books which sell very quickly. Which is great, except that most of my books sell slowly but steadily. And indeed, the fact that Amazon‘s algorithms privilege fast sales out of the gate, which my books usually don’t get, is one of my main reasons that I reject the exclusivity of Kindle Select. And indeed, by now my sales at Amazon Germany have returned to slightly higher than normal levels. So in short, it’s nice if Amazon algorithm magic happens, though I don’t count on it.

By comparison, Amazon UK, which used to be head to head with Amazon DE for me, has lost some marketshare, though it’s still firmly in third place. Kobo continues to be my strongest non-Amazon retailer and holds steady, compared to the last time I did this. Barnes & Noble has dropped a bit, but then they have always been a weird outlet for me. For a long time, it was extremely difficult to get for non-US writers to get their books in Barnes & Noble at all. And even after I did, I hardly ever sold there. Then I switched distributors and started selling. However, of late Barnes & Noble sales have dropped again. The company has been rumoured to be in trouble for a long time – indeed, Barnes & Noble has been reportedly dying since I started indie publishing. Maybe this time they really are in trouble. At any rate, I no longer go direct with Nook Press/Barnes & Noble, so they won’t take my money with them, if they go under.

Scribd continues to be strong for me and indeed Scribd is the only subscription service where my books do well. The others, the defunct Oyster as well as 24symbols and library service Overdrive, are lingering in the under 0.2% ranks. Apple has never been a strong outlet for me, though they have managed to pass DriveThruFiction, which along with OmniLit/AllRomance continues to provide decent sales for a niche retailer. Meanwhile, Smashwords continues to hold steady. XinXii, where I used to do comparatively well (up to 4% marketshare), has dropped to half a percent marketshare by now.

The big surprise is Tolino, Germany’s answer to Amazon and the Kindle. Now the Tolino alliance supposedly has 45% of the German e-book market, compared to 39% for Amazon. This has never been reflected in my sales figures and still isn’t, cause for me the total Tolino marketshare (Tolino general plus Weltbild, Thalia, Buecher.de and Der Club) is 2.5%, which puts it about on par with Apple and DriveThruFiction. Nonetheless, I am noticing definite growth at Tolino, even though Tolino still isn’t a very indie friendly environment (though they’re trying) and is almost entirely German language dominated. I think I have sold one or two English language books at Tolino. If you look only at German books BTW, all Tolino stores together make up 7.3% of my total German language sales, which is still a far cry from 45%. Altogether, German language books make up 30.7% of my total sales.

Of the “lesser” Amazons, Amazon Australia is the only one that manages to cross the 1% threshold. Amazon Canada lags far behind my Kobo sales in Canada alone. Amazon Brazil is almost on par with Canada, which was a surprise. But then I have a fan there. Amazons France, Italy, Spain and India are negligible. And indeed in Spain I sell much better at Amazon‘s local rival Casa del Libro (I’ve even sold German language books there) than at Amazon Spain. And for Italy, local rival Book Republic is not far behind Amazon Italy.

Now I know that a lot of indie authors discount the tiny stores, often in non-anglophone countries, in the sub 1% ranges. But taken together, all sales in the sub 1% ranges are about as high as my Kobo sales, i.e. as we say in Germany, even small animals make dung. All in all, my sales are about 70% all Amazons taken together versus 30% non-Amazon retailers, so KDP Select would make no sense for me. Never mind that Kindle Unlimited‘s cryptic payout system privileges long books. Most of mine are short, however, so I would only get a few cents per borrow, but would cannibalise my sales.

In general, I find that my readership is a lot more international than that of many other indies, who sell mainly in the US via Amazon.com. This largely comes down to what you write. If you write mainly for US audiences, then you’ll sell mainly in the US.

The big buzzword in indie circles at the moment is “writing to market”. And of course, “market” inevitably means the US Amazon market, since no one ever targets e.g. the Canadian Kobo market. What is more, Amazon.com not just caters mainly to the American market, it also caters specifically to certain regions in the US. Amazon and/or Kindle customers tend to live in rural rather than urban areas (people in urban areas have more access to brick and mortar bookstores) and they seem to be disproportionately concentrated in the South, the Midwest and what I’ve been informed is called the Mountain West (i.e. Utah, Colorado, Montana, etc…). So writing to market means appealing mainly to the tastes of readers who live in this particular parts of the US.

This is why e.g. Amazon’s space opera bestseller lists are dominated by military science fiction of the nutty nuggets variety, while urban fantasy is dominated by Harry Dresden clones, because that’s what people in those areas like to read. And if you look at the whole Sad/Rabid Puppies mess, you’ll note that a lot of the big names particularly on the Sad Puppy side hail from those parts of the US. A lot of them are also indie cheerleaders or indie/hybrid writers themselves. This is also why many Puppies and their supporters felt that the Hugos were rigged. They probably didn’t know anybody who actually enjoyed e.g. Ancillary Justice or “The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere” or “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love…”, so they cannot imagine that people somewhere else might have different tastes and might actually enjoy those works.

So if “writing to market” means appealing to American Amazon customers which are clustered in particular parts of the US and have specific tastes, what do you do when you don’t share those tastes? As I already said in my guest post on Sarah Ash’s blog, even though I have been exposed to American media and culture since a very early age, I am not American. The influences and experiences I bring to my writing are different. And indeed, a lot of tropes in US books, movies, etc… that looked like bugs to me are actually features to American audiences. Never mind that in some cases, e.g. crime fiction and thriller, even the genre definitions themselves might be different.

I could of course force myself to write something that appeals to American tastes and hereby the specific tastes of Amazon’s US customers. I have even done this to a limited degree. For example, the Helen Shepherd Mysteries specifically came about, because I wanted to write something that would fit into the narrower US/UK definition of the mystery genre. I’m also planning a spin-off series from the Helen Shepherd Mysteries, featuring a supporting character from the upcoming next installment Kitchen Witch, which is supposed to tap into the popular amateur sleuth/cosy mystery subgenre. Now the idea of the amateur sleuth is a bit absurd and indeed German crime fiction hardly ever features amateurs solving crimes. So I needed the right character to pull this off and I also need crimes (usually more low-key than the ones Helen deals with) where it makes sense for this character to get involved.

So if I have an idea that fits into a popular niche or accidentally stumble upon one, then of course I run with it. But in the end I can only write my own stories. And if some of them don’t resonate with audiences, then so be it.

Talking of stories, let’s take a look at how my sales figures break down between the different books:

1. Heiligabend im Café zum Lila Kakadu
2. Seraglio
3. Under the Knout
4. Christmas Eve at the Purple Owl Café
4. The Kiss of the Executioner’s Blade
5. Outlaw Love
6. Unter der Knute
7. Der Kuss des Richtschwertes
8. The Cork and the Bottle
9. Hostage to Passion
10. Gesetzlose Liebe
11. Mercy Mission
12. Murder in the Family and The Hybrids (tie)
13. Rites of Passage
14. Hanging Day
15. Overdose
16. Four Minute Warning
17. A Bullet for Father Christmas
18. The Iron Border
19. Flying Bombs, The Spiked Death and Hangman’s Wages (tie)
20. Countdown to Death, The Butcher of Spain and Honigtopf (tie)
21. Seedlings, Christmas Gifts and Egg Hunt (tie)
22. Spiked Tea
23. Bank Job, Open Season, Pissed, The Other Side of the Curtain, Unter dem Galgen and Last Minute Geschenke (tie)
24. Flights of Madness
25. Debts to Pay, Dead Drop, Paris Green, New York City’s Finest and Kurierdienst (tie)
26. Bug-Eyed Monsters and the Women Who Love Them, Heartache and Familienkutsche (tie)
27. History Lesson, Partners in Crime, Mean Streets and Dead Alleys, The Great Fraud, The Hidden Castle, Family Car, He never brings me flowers… and Old Mommark’s Tale (tie)
28. Operation Rubber Ducky and Auf der anderen Seite des Vorhangs (tie)
29. “He has come back to me…”, Insomnia, The Apocalypse Protocol and Whaler (tie)
30. Acacia Crescent, The Four and a Half Minute Boiled Egg, Thirty Years to Life, Payback Time, Seeing Red, Courier Duty, Love in the Times of the Macrobiotic Müsli und Die Liebe in den Zeiten des Frischkornmüslis (tie)
31. Mightier than the Sword, Kiss of Ice, Loot, Dream Job, Demolition, Letters from the Dark Side and Reiche Beute (tie)
32. Boardwalk Baby, Cartoony Justice, Elevator of Doom, Honeypot, A History of the New Ice Age, Muse and Crisis, Our Lady of the Burning Heart, The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock and The Tinsel-Free Christmas Tree (tie)
33. Lovers’ Lane, Double Feature, Valentine’s Day on Iago Prime, Albrecht the Nightmare, Children of the Stone Gods, The Faulty Television Receiver and The Dark Lily (tie)
34. Conspirators and The Death of the American Dream (tie)

Compared to the last time I did this, sales patterns largely hold steady with historical romances and adventure stories taking the top few spots. Most of these stories steadily sell a few copies every month. After several years, this adds up.

The big surprise is once again Heiligabend im Café zum Lila Kakadu, which wasn’t even out the last time I did this and now sits firmly in first rank, while the English language version is in the fourth spot. As I said above, the success of this little story is due to a combination of an underserved niche (sweet lesbian romance), a story that resonates and Amazon algorithm magic.

The two series starters Mercy Mission and The Cork and the Bottle both continue to do well and I also notice that sales for subsequent books in the respective series are steadily growing. The Silencer, on the other hand, will probably never do very well, since retro pulp style thrillers are a niche interest. It’s notable that one book in the Silencer series – Elevator of Doom – sells much worse than the others. I suspect it’s the cover, since I was never quite happy with it in the first place. I should probably redo it someday.
Meanwhile, Alfred’s and Bertha’s Marvellous Twenty-First Century Life is a series that only sells a handful of copies, but has enthusiastic fans. The Day the Saucers Came…, my 1950s set B-movie style alien invasion SF series also doesn’t do too well, but then only the first book has been out for longer than two months.

The postapocalyptic trio (The Hybrids, The Iron Border and Four Minute Warning) sell surprisingly well, especially since they are standalones. But then, postapocalyptic fiction is popular among Amazon’s US core demographic, though I’m not sure whether my postapocalyptic fiction is what those readers are looking for, since both The Iron Border and Four Minute Warning are damned depressing “everybody dies” stories. It’s also notable that apocalypses which have at least a reasonable probability of happening (killer virusses, nuclear wars, killer asteroids) sell better than the absurd ones featuring giant monsters and alien invasions.

The success of my crime fiction collection Murder in the Family surprised me a little, since it has been out for a long time and never had more than middling sales. However, of late it started to take off in Australia of all places.

In general, I’ve found that a lot of the stories I had mentally filed away under “Oh, that one never sells” actually do sell, though at a slower clip than the steady sellers. Even the perpetual neversellers Whaler and Seeing Red do sell on occasion. If I do have a neverseller, it’s The Dark Lily, which has a great cover and is IMO a good story, but which simply doesn’t sell. There are two books with even lower sales, but these have both been out for less than a month and haven’t had a chance to find their audience yet.

There is a school of thought in indie writer circles that you should unpublish books/stories that never sell, because they might negatively influence your Amazon Author Rank (which hardly anybody ever looks at anyway) and harm your brand. Sometimes, this is also coupled with remarks along the lines of “Well, maybe you want your Amazon author page look like a thrift shop, but I want mine to look like The Gap.” To which I replied, “Well, I hate The Gap and their boring clothes and really like thrift stores, so yeah.”

That should show what I think of unpublishing books that don’t sell, namely that it’s an awful idea. Besides, as my experience shows, even the slow sellers do sell. Fan engagement also doesn’t necessarily correlate with sales. Some of my lowest selling titles have the most eager fans.

Besides, if I really wanted to streamline my brand, the books I should remove is stuff like Seraglio or Under the Knout, which I only wrote for a quick check more than ten years ago and which no longer reflect what I write now. However, if you look at my sales figures, you can see why this would be a really bad idea.

One of the ralleying calls at the start of the indie revolution was “e-books are forever”. No more treating books like yogurt, to be thrown away after a few weeks on the shelves as with traditional bookselling. Another ralleying calls was “We can finally write what we want. No more trying to fit our stories into the little boxes of traditional publishing.”

And now, five years later, we have indies unpublishing books because they don’t sell or don’t fit their brand or whatever (and unlike with print books, e-books really do vanish into a memory hole) and adhering to formulas more rigid than anything traditional publishing ever imposed. The produce thinking is back as well, because Amazon‘s algorithms so strongly push new books. I find this sad, since so many of the initial promises of indie publishing have been squandered.

However, everybody must make their own path. I’m happy with mine and I’m also seeing steady growth, though slower than the “write to market”, KDP Select only types.

So here’s to the next thousand.

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5 Responses to The Big 2000

  1. Macarena says:

    I’ve been lurking around both of your blogs for years now. This post motivated me to say something for a change.

    First of all, CONGRATULATIONS on crossing the 2k sale threshold! 😀 You definitely deserve it, and I’m happy that I contributed to it, albeit in an extremely limited way.

    “Amazon Brazil is almost on par with Canada, which was a surprise. But then I have a fan there.”

    I wonder who that could be… 😉

    Anyway, in the future I may start buying from other shops. The only reason I buy from Amazon BR is the fact that the payment options it offers are the most convenient to me for now. I’m sure this will change at some point though, and since I’m all for supporting smaller and niche businesses, I’ll change my buying habits accordingly.

    “If you write mainly for US audiences, then you’ll sell mainly in the US.”

    I want to point out that this issue isn’t limited to an author’s books. It extends to their blogs and social media presence too. A whole lot of authors behave as if the USA is the only country in the world, or at least the only one that truly matters. Meanwhile, your blogs convey a nice welcoming feeling to all of us who come from other countries, because you always keep in mind that the world is a big, diverse place. That’s why after lurking around your blogs for some time, I decided that I wanted to support your work as a writer, and thus I started buying your books little by little.

    “The Silencer, on the other hand, will probably never do very well, since retro pulp style thrillers are a niche interest.”

    That’s a shame. 🙁 I read book 1 in the series and I really liked it.

    “It’s notable that one book in the Silencer series – Elevator of Doom – sells much worse than the others. I suspect it’s the cover, since I was never quite happy with it in the first place.”

    FWIW, I don’t have a problem with that cover. I’m yet to buy “Elevator of Doom,” but that’s just because I didn’t even read book 2 so far, and I’d like to follow the release order for this series.

    “Meanwhile, Alfred’s and Bertha’s Marvellous Twenty-First Century Life is a series that only sells a handful of copies, but has enthusiastic fans.”

    Oh, yes, it does! *raises hand enthusiastically* <3

    "Fan engagement also doesn’t necessarily correlate with sales. Some of my lowest selling titles have the most eager fans."

    And I'm happy to be one of them. <3

    "I find this sad, since so many of the initial promises of indie publishing have been squandered."

    As a reader whose tastes do not align with what's popular, I find this whole situation really depressing. I used to have high hopes about the so-called indie revolution. So, I developed an habit of reading blogs and forums where self-published authors gathered, because that's how I expected to learn about interesting, unusual, original books that I might want to buy. And that's in fact how I found your books, Cora. 🙂

    But as time went by, the harsh truth became painfully obvious: many indie authors seem to think that readers like me either don't exist or are just too unimportant to count. I'm afraid this has become the dominant point of view among indies. As a result, I've mostly given up on indie literature, and I quit visiting indie sites. There are maybe a dozen self-published authors whom I'll keep supporting as best as I can, and of course you're one of them. But I'm no longer searching for new (to me) indie authors, because their views on readers with less conventional literary tastes make me uncomfortable, to say the least.

    Again, congratulations on your 2k sales! Here's to many, many thousands more. <3 Also, thank you for understanding that readers are a diverse group! The literary world–indie or traditional–needs more authors like you. <3

    *end of shameless fangirling session*

    • Cora says:

      Thanks for the lovely comment and the congratulations. I’m glad you like both my books and my blogs. Fans like you make writing worthwhile. 🙂

      I hear you on the US focus of many writers, bloggers, tweeters, etc… Unfortunately, a lot of Americans, including some otherwise smart people, can be extremely blinkered when it comes to looking beyond their own country. The rest of us don’t have that luxury, alas.

      It always infuriates me when American indie writers treat readers from beyond the US (“Oh, there’s only a handful of them and they probably don’t even speak English.”) as if they don’t matter. This is also why I am vehemently opposed to Amazon exclusivity, because Amazon is actually not the best choice or even a choice at all for readers in many parts of the world. I also believe in giving everybody the choice to buy from whatever store they prefer.

      As for the formulaic nature of so many indie books, it seems for a lot of people writing is more of a get rich quick scheme than something they genuinely want to do. Not that I condemn people for writing for money, some indie writers are unemployed, disabled, single parents, retirees or otherwise in dire need of money and if they need to write Claimed by my stepbrother, the billionaire alpha werewolf in order to pay their bills, then who am I to judge them? However, it annoys me when any reader whose tastes don’t match a very narrow range of approved formulae is immediately disregarded as not being worth the trouble. For example, I’m a lifelong science fiction fan with a specific love for space opera and yet I’ve been told by a “writing to market” advocate that unless I’m a fan of three or four indie space opera writers (all of whom write about manly space marines and grizzled space captains doing manly things in space), I’m not their audience. Well, if that writer insists that I don’t read their books, I certainly won’t bother.

      It also pains me how many indie writers treat their work as disposable throw-away entertainment. For if not even the authors themselves believe in their work, then why should anybody else.

      I find that I visit indie writing sites and fora less and less myself, because the “writing to market” atmosphere there has become so toxic. It’s also sad to see how many of the writers that populated those sites a few years ago, writers who wrote quirky, interesting and different books, have either vanished or abandoned their old books in order to focus on a new streamlined “written to market” series, often in a new genre. There still are indie authors who are doing their own thing and writing books that defy any standard formulas, but these writers are getting rarer.

      Regarding Elevator of Doom, it’s notable that this Silencer story sells a lot less than even the stories that come after it. As for the cover, I still like it, but the look is more expressionist movie poster than 1930s pulp magazine. Of course, the problem is that it’s very difficult to find stock art that looks appropriately retro and has that certain pulp magazine vibe. If I ever come into a money windfall, the Silencer series is the first that gets illustrated custom covers.

      As for Alfed and Bertha, there is a new adventure of the two of them coming up, complete with hilarious technobabble. Coincidentally, you’re one of two enthusiastic fans of Alfred and Bertha that I know of. I suspect there’s one or two others, based on the sales numbers.

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