51, 10 and 55. Remember those three numbers, because I’m about to tell you the truth about travel writing and book sales.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’ve recently published a travel book – ‘Takoradi to the stars (via Huddersfield)’. I’ve banged on about it quite a bit, in posts and on Twitter, and I’ve promoted it with book launch events, giveaways and the Amazon Kindle Unlimited programme. But what you don’t know is how well it’s doing – in cold, hard sales – because that’s the sort of things most authors don’t talk about. They’re happy to celebrate sales rankings – I’ve done it myself – and glowing reviews – yep, done that too – and, as writers with a book to promote, they remain relentlessly upbeat on social media about their work, which is all as it should be. We wrote a book after all. It was hard work, and our creative endeavours have been rewarded by publication. What’s not to celebrate?
But I thought it would be interesting for readers, followers and book fans to peer behind the wizard’s curtain and reveal the truth about book sales for most independent authors. I probably don’t even need a Spoiler Alert here. If you’ve seen the Wizard of Oz, you know the wizard isn’t actually a mighty, massive, majestic magician. He’s a pint-sized squirt. And for wizards, read self-published books.
So, those figures again. Are you ready?
I published the book as an e-book on Amazon via Kindle Direct Publishing at the beginning of December 2018, and the first thing I ought to say at this point is that I’m hugely proud of it. I’ve written scores of editions of guidebooks over the years, but this is a different kind of book for me – one that traces my career as a writer, charts my travels and celebrates the mishaps, oddities and adventures experienced along the way. Without being too big-headed, I think it’s a good book and, because I’m a professional writer and editor, I also like to think it’s properly designed, edited and proofread. That’s not always the case with independently published books, believe me.
The point is, I put my heart and soul into producing my book and did the best job I possibly could. That’s the least any writer can do, in my opinion.
51. That’s the total number of sales to date.
Just to be clear, this isn’t a lament or a complaint. I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to rely on book sales any more to make a living, and I was driven to write ‘Takoradi to the stars (via Huddersfield)’ by more than just a desire to make some money. Again, that’s true of most actual writers, in my opinion. Writing is just what we do; it’s a bit like breathing. Publishing our writing and selling our writing – it’s nice if we can do that too, but even if we don’t, most of us are still going to carry on writing.
So I’m not going to make any judgement about the book or my writing based on the number of sales, because that wasn’t the point of writing it in the first place. And I’m not even going to offer an opinion on the number itself, though you are probably surprised by how low that number is.
What I think is instructive for any would-be writers among you – maybe not helpful, but instructive! – is how difficult it is to drive sales as a self-published author. Because, although, in the great scheme of things, no one has heard of me, I did at least have a few things in my favour before I published.
For a start, my writing career has a certain name recognition – Rough Guides are pretty well-known for example. I have a lot of contacts, and I milked them all – you may well have been on the receiving end of a promotional email yourself!
Hustle, pester, promote
I hustled advance quotes for the book from respected travel industry insiders; I know how to craft a press release; I understand the importance of social media; I pestered friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
I ran a promotional release campaign, I sent out free copies to selected media, I printed and distributed advertising postcards.
I hosted both an actual and virtual book launch, and have used my blog to continue promoting the book at every possible opportunity – just like this, as it happens.
And the result is 51 sales to date, bolstered by the equivalent of another 10 books read under the Kindle Unlimited programme (whereby Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read the book for free, but authors share in a royalty pool).
61 sales then, if we include the Kindle Unlimited figure. On top of that I’ve run two separate ‘giveaway’ promotions on Amazon, where I made the book available for free for limited periods. That resulted in another 55 copies being downloaded, for which I received no sales income, but which helped in getting the book out there to a wider audience.
51 + 10 + 55 = 116.
Should I be downhearted by this number? Well, I’m choosing not to be.
The book is me and I’m unique
There are an awful lot of books out there and many of them are better than mine, but none of them are mine or have that essential Jules-ness that makes ‘Takoradi to the stars (via Huddersfeld)’ unique. I’m choosing to celebrate the fact that 116 new people have read my work and, I hope, enjoyed it (no one, at least, has emailed me to complain yet). In fact, a whopping 16 of them have left glowing four- and five-star reviews on Amazon, which – call me a nerd, by all means – represents a massive 13.79 percent approval rate.
So thank you, to my 116 readers thus far and welcome to anyone else who wants to join the small-but-select reading party. I’m inspired by the wonderful reviews I’ve received and will continue to write, here on the blog and in the follow-up book that I am already working on. Writing, breathing, writing, breathing – what else would I do?
In the end, the truth about book sales doesn’t lie in the numbers. Or, if it does, it’s in the way that each one of those 116 people is an individual who saw something in my work that they liked enough to want to engage with further – 116 people who have now shared some of my experiences – 116 people who have travelled with me from Takoradi to the stars (with a highly unexpected diversion to Huddersfield) – 116 people who, I hope, will be inspired by the book to make their own exciting journeys on this remarkable planet.
It’s what I was driving at in the very first lines of my book :
I’m Jules Brown, long-time Rough Guide author and travel writer. You might have had one of my guidebooks along for the ride in your travel bag – in which case, happy to have helped! – but now I want to take you on a different journey.
So I’m not going to worry about the numbers – the truth about travel writing is in the journey.
Enjoyed reading this?
Then why not sign up for my (roughly monthly) newsletter, where I’ll bring you exclusive news about my travels, books and other projects.
Sign up right here!
Image: Book sculpture by Ellen Forsyth, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0