One Year of Self-Publishing

Update: My friend Greg Bales reminds me that you don’t need an agent to get a good editor. NB: He’s a great editor!

graph of sales of night sweats

One year ago today, my self-published memoir went out into the world. Since then, it’s been purchased by 515 people or entities (60+ of those are libraries). Since I published it really just so that family and friends could get copies, I’m rather stunned and flattered.

I have done very little to promote the book but have been fortunate to have several strokes of very good luck, as you can see from the graph above. There was an initial rush when I first put the book out and my friends and family and the first few libraries bought it, and then, as you would expect, there was a rapid downward trend. The next two spikes on the graph are the result of Will Manley’s column in Booklist and my piece in the New York Times. I still have no idea how Manley heard about the book (although I know many of the people who have written reviews of it, he is not one of them), nor do I have any insight into how to get one’s writing accepted for publication, other than the usual chestnuts of reading the publications you submit to and then submitting writing to them.

Those 515 sales represent 312 print books and 203 ebooks. The only piece of advice I can offer about selling books, at least based on my numbers, is that it’s useful to have your book available through Amazon, in whatever format.

It is ridiculously easy to buy things through Amazon, and it’s apparently (or so I am told; I’ve only ever purchased one) especially ridiculously easy to purchase Kindle books. My sales numbers would seem to bear that out. A few people purchased the epub through Lulu, and an even smaller number apparently bought it through the Nook store, but Amazon’s Kindle store is by far the big winner.

In print, the book was initially only available through Lulu. It took a few months for it to get to Amazon, and Lulu only began offering distribution to Ingram a few months ago. It’s possible that the Ingram sales might be larger had that option been available earlier, but, again, I’m guessing Amazon would still take the cake.

I would not recommend self-publishing if you want to get rich. Then again, I’m pretty sure no one really recommends traditional publishing as a way to get rich, either. Very few people, relatively speaking, make a living from writing books. I was all on fire about self-publishing (or perhaps I was all defensive about self-publishing) when I started out on this adventure. I look at my book now and realize it could have benefited from further editing. But I lacked both the patience and the courage to pursue an agent — if I hadn’t hit Publish the day I did, I’m pretty sure it would not have happened at all.

I enjoyed the process of putting it together. I like learning things, and, as it turns out, I enjoy typesetting and copyfitting. I have Walt Crawford’s excellent book The Librarian’s Guide to Micropublishing to thank for everything I know about doing that. I’ve enjoyed being able to send some money to Our Bodies, Ourselves, and of course I have not been opposed to earning some money myself. Money is not everything, but it is very, very helpful. And I remain proud of the little book I produced, despite its flaws, or maybe even because of them. It is, as it was always intended to be, a document of a very particular time in my life, a time that was, as Euripides once wrote of the powers of the gods, most terrible and most wonderful. Thank you to everyone who has shared it with me.