The traditional publishing industry keeps their numbers opaque, especially sales.
Kate is a literary agent and her Substack is an inside baseball look into querying and publishing.
Lincoln is an author who goes into specifics on the business side of writing. This post is a gem:
In that vein, let me go through my numbers, one month in, for Zen and the Art of Coaching Basketball: Memoir of a Namibian Odyssey.
You’ll likely be surprised at how few books I’ve sold, even though I topped Amazon’s charts in several categories, including “Sports Travel,” “Coaching Basketball,” and the overall category of “Basketball.”
And that was more than enough to top several categories.
Couple of notes:
Two-thirds of sales were physical copies. Mark Paul (@MarkPaulAuthor) advised this would happen. BTW, my interview with Mark is filled with gems about successfully self-publishing. The takeaway is, if you are self-publishing and planning on eBook only, you are leaving a lot of sales on the table. Plus the hardcover looks and FEELS great:
-It doesn’t take much to hit #1 in niche Amazon categories. When you upload your manuscript to Amazon, you select two categories in which to place your book.
You’ll see from my screenshot, I drilled down and slotted Zen into two niche sub-categories:
Nonfiction > Sports & Recreation > Coaching > Basketball
Nonfiction > Travel > Africa > South
When you slot your book in a narrow sub-category, it is automatically slotted into every “parent” category. So, for example, my book topped Nonfiction > Sports & Recreation > Coaching > Basketball and also reached #2 in Nonfiction > Sports & Recreation > Coaching behind Seth Wickersham’s (@SethWickersham) new release about Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
So, when self-publishing, finding the niche category to slot your book is important.
Wait, why is it important? I mean, besides vanity?
It’s important because you want Amazon’s algorithm to start recommending your book to others, to people you don’t know.
In any industry, word-of-mouth is the most desirable, and least predictable, form of marketing.
The Amazon algorithm recommending your book to others is a facsimile of word-of-mouth advertising.
If you have a #1 bestseller in “Coaching Basketball,” the algo will kick in and market your book here:
Let’s look at my day-by-day sales from November 2nd (launch was November 1st but I’m writing the first draft of this post on December 2nd and Amazon’s chart is more legible with a 30-Day look):
The November 2nd sales (and the sales from the day before) were friends and family, my network, buying the book.
The sales on November 3rd, 4th, and 5th?
That’s the Amazon algo kicking in and recommending to others what, at that time, was the #1 book in “Coaching Basketball” and “South African Travel Writing.”
Still, for the entire launch week I was promoting the book on social media, etc. Everything from November 8th? That’s the long-tail of the internet, Amazon’s algo, at work, one or two copies a day, here and there, again and again.
There are some important details that I’ll go into in future posts. These include:
How to choose the correct categories, i.e. in which categories are you likely to have a bestseller and which should you stay away from.
How to have Amazon slot your book in more than two categories.
Which means now is the perfect time to subscribe to my totally free newsletter.
Let me know what questions you have.
So how do you feel about this? You worked hard on your book and you only sold 164 copies. Aren’t you disappointed?
My goal, which I told my author friend Greg Larson (@TheGregLarson) on Pub Day, is to sell 300 to 500 copies over twelve months. I should hit the low end of that goal.
Writing and self-publishing my book has been a great experience. I’ve made a number of new friends and contacts, been hired by a 3x NBA champ to co-write his memoir, learned a incredible amount from editor Glenn Stout (@GlennStout), and seen my writing improve by leaps and bounds.
I told the story of the Blue Devils, elevating them to larger-than-life status :-)
And I learned the process. How to write a book, how to edit one, how to design a cover, how to network and market, etc.
I also learned how to sell more books (Hint: Start promo much earlier).
As I’ve progressed in life, I focus on process.
If the journey is about process, you can’t lose.
Speaking of process…
In 2017 I directed a student improv group in Namibia. I fell in love with the form. Now that I’m back in the States I’ve taken two improv classes through the Squirrel Comedy Theater.
In this podcast episode, classmate Alyssa McGillvery and I dive deep into the process of character creation AND improv two scenes.
Looking ahead, Thursday’s podcast is Part 1 of a four-part miniseries on positive coaching. There are coaches, teachers, and academics doing great work in this space. I interview four of them. This Thursday’s guest is mindfulness and performance coach, and Beatles fan, Greg Graber (@greggraber).
Have a great week!