Eighteen months ago, as Redshirts moved from its hardcover era into trade paperback, I did an examination of its sales to the point, across all its formats, and chatted about what its sales meant, or didn’t mean, and what we could learn from the numbers. Last week, Lock In, my most recent novel (until tomorrow), transitioned from hardcover to mass market paperback, and I thought it would be interesting and possibly useful to do something similar with it. So I asked for numbers from my publishers. Here they are, up to July 31, 2015. The numbers are rounded to the nearest 100.
For those who choose not to whip out their calculators, that’s total sales of 87,500 copies in Lock In’s hardcover sales era, in hardcover, eBook and audiobook. Note the hardcover/eBook sales do not include the UK edition of Lock In, published by Gollancz, nor any foreign language editions. These are North American edition sales (Audible owns world English rights for its version, and so the audio numbers may include sales outside North America). Note also that the audiobook numbers are sales, not downloads, important because Lock In had two versions, and the pre-orders included both versions.
So, thoughts on these numbers.
1. 87.5k is a pretty healthy number for sales here. If you want to do a comparison to Redshirts, the total sales numbers are up (Redshirts sold 79.2k in its hardcover era), although Redshirts‘ time in hardcover was shorter, so in all it may be a wash. The distribution of sales is also a reminder that all sales channels matter — if I were to lose access to bookstore distribution, for example, I’d lose roughly a quarter of my total sales for this sales pass. If I weren’t doing audio, in this particular case (I’ll discuss this more a couple of points down), I would have lost nearly half.
This continues to be my major concern with digital-only self-publishing, incidentally: there’s money being left on the table if you can’t address all these sales channels. Most self-publishers (or micro publishers) don’t have access to bookstores, nearly all of which continue to operate on a “returns” basis. This is not about the ability to create a physical copy of a book; at this point that can easily be done with print-on-demand options. It’s about having the book already on the shelves, attractively packaged and ready to buy, when the customer walks into the store. If you don’t have that, you’ve largely lost out in that sales avenue. Likewise audio if you’re not there.
At this point in my career, I’m a four-quadrant author, which means that at the end of the day my income as a novelist comes out of four areas: print, eBook, audio, and foreign sales. For any one book or project, one of these might be significantly out of proportion to others, in terms of sales. But over the length of time, they’ve all tended to even out as backlist sales kick in and other factors come into play. At this time, and I expect still for a while to come, the best way to address all these markets effectively and consistently is to partner with publishers.
. . . .
What does this tell us (anecdotally) about audio? One, that genre work can sell very well indeed in the segment, which should be immensely heartening to authors in genre; two, that audio as a segment is growing and it makes sense to get into it if you can; three, that audio has its own audience, with its own sets of desires and expectations, and that’s something you’ll want to factor in as you create you work. At this point I absolutely give consideration to how my worksounds as well as reads — I’m starting to use substantially fewer dialogue tags (“he said,” “she said”), as an example.
This also goes to my argument of why working with established publishers can continue to have its advantages for writers. Audible (in my case, other major audio publishers in the case of other authors) has the wherewithal to get the best narrators, an entire marketing and PR staff and the ability to push a title in the space, in a manner and with the wide-band strength that it would be very difficult for me, as an individual, to do. They do it well, which is a thing, and they also do it better than I would, which is another, separate thing. I benefit, and reach an audience I wouldn’t otherwise, through their competence and expertise. Which is why I’m glad to be working with them.
Which suggests this is a fine place to bring this up: Last Friday I signed a multi-year, multi-book contract with Audible, who will be the audiobook publisher for the books that are to be published by Tor over the next decade. I’m going to skip over the fiddly details of that contract right, except to say that I’m very very happywith it, and also very happy to be working with Audible for the next decade. Like Tor, they are simply the best at what they do, and I like working with the best.