In mid-August last year we launched our book. We’re going to sell thousands, I thought. And because we are self-published we’ll be able to keep most of the royalties and be rich!

On the surface, those hopes weren’t completely absurd. The book was called Expert in a Year: The Ultimate Table Tennis Challenge and was a biographical account of the year I spent trying to learn to play table tennis and become one of the best in the country (yeah I know… pretty niche).

But the story behind it had got very popular. We had this cool YouTube video that had been viewed a few million times. Our blogs were getting a few thousand hits a day and people-in-the-know were telling us that publishers would love to buy our story.

How exciting. A book really is the dream of passive income. Once it’s out there you can sit back for years to come, collecting on those royalty checks and droning on to anyone who’d listen about that time you were a bestselling author.

We used a service called print-on-demand. We just uploaded some files and whenever someone bought the book it would be printed and sent to them. No need to hold any stock or worry about logistics. Pretty darn cool.

I’m not going to talk too much about the self-publishing process in this post, but if you’re interested you can check out these two posts. The first one is about how we self-published the audiobook version of the book. The second is on a different book that I set myself the challenge to write and self-publish in three days but does contain a step-by-step account on all the parts of the process.

This post is instead about all the riches we have made since launching!

I wish.

The Launch

The book launched and it looked like it was going great.

We immediately peaked at the top of a few of the Amazon bestseller lists. Including:

amazon bestselling book

Which sounds awesome. But wasn’t quite as great as we had originally thought. There are hundreds of best-seller lists and despite being top of a few of them, we were still nowhere near the top of every book on Amazon.

It was pretty exciting and got me a lot of likes on Facebook.

Then the reviews started to come in, and they were outstanding.

expert in a year reviews

Surely that will convert to even more sales.

The Sales

Drum roll… after one year we have sold 952 books for royalties of £3,074.42 (about $4,500).

What do you think about that? It’s quite a lot less than I had predicted. But looking back now I think we were far too optimistic and it’s actually a pretty good result. The percentage of people in the world who are interested in a non-fiction book about learning table tennis has got to be pretty small.

The Numbers

Let’s look into it a little more. Here are the monthly sales for each version of the book.

It was actually pretty difficult to work out how much we had made. The royalties come in nine different currencies depending on where the book is sold. Amazon then converts it all to GBP and deposits it into my bank account in loads of micro-transactions. But that takes about two months or so to happen. To make it even harder there is a different website and different system used for each format of the book.

For the table above I have used the GBP amounts received into my bank account. Which is great, but only takes us up until July. For the final two months, I have taken the royalty amount in each currency and converted it to GBP using the Google exchange rate. Way too much work.

The website with the most straightforward interface is Createspace – the company we used to create the print-on-demand paperback book. It’s the only one where you can handily group together all the royalties and sales for the year.

createspace screenshot

Delving Deeper Into The Numbers

There are a few surprises here.

The paperback is the biggest earner

The paperback stomped all over the kindle version in both number of sales and in revenue.

I assumed that the days of the physical book were almost over and that 90% of our sales would be in a digital format. We even considered not launching a paperback at all. Only doing so in the end because we thought it would be cool and add some extra credibility to the listing.

There is also something incredibly satisfying about being able to hold my own book. A physical representation of the hours, sweat and tears that went into creating it.

holding your own book

Before launching, we did quite a bit of research into self-publishing and a lot of the stuff we read suggested paperback was a waste of time. I don’t know why we seem to have bucked that trend. Maybe our audience is slightly older than most, or not regular readers and so don’t own a kindle. It’s hard to say. Maybe we’ve just been lucky.

The launch was A wet fish, but the rest of the year was remarkably strong

This was my biggest surprise. Even blasting emails to the six thousand or so people who had chosen to follow our blogs, and swamping Facebook with updates, we only managed to sell about a hundred or so copies.

Although it is a bit disappointing that we didn’t sell thousands in the first week, it’s actually really encouraging to see how steady the months since have been. Especially as we haven’t really done any active marketing since that first launch.

I had expected a huge peak in month one and then the sales to die down to hardly any. Instead, there was a small spike at the beginning and a regular trickle ever since. We even sold more in December than during the launch. Thank you Christmas!

August saw sales jump again. This time for two reasons. One, the Olympics seem to have got a lot of people interested in learning a new sport. Including table tennis. Sales of our table tennis equipment also rocketed and Ben’s table tennis blog had its best ever month for traffic. And two, we put on a promotional day to mark the 1 year anniversary of the book where the kindle version was reduced to just £0.99.

Christmas will come again and because of the reduced revenue from the sales in August I think we can mostly ignore them for guessing future profits. Therefore I reckon on an average month we made a little bit over £200. Touch wood, but I don’t see any reason why that won’t continue indefinitely.

I now just need to do it ten more times and I’m covering my living expenses

Conclusions

What I would love to see are some analytics on where exactly the sales are coming from. Is it people searching on Amazon? Or is it mainly referrals from our websites and YouTube videos.

On one hand, if you put in ‘table tennis book’ into Amazon UK we are the number one search result. That sounds awesome but we have no way of knowing if is anyone actually searching for that. Or even if they are, we don’t know if they are then choosing our book over the others further down the list. Maybe our blurb just sounds really boring and of no interest to the average person searching for a table tennis book.

back of the book

My gut feeling is that most of the sales are from referrals. The YouTube video still gets about 250,000 views a month and we are getting a lot of click-throughs to the book from our blogs.

But what clinches it for me is the audiobook income, almost half of it was from something called a bounty. A cash bonus that ACX awards if your book is the first purchase made by a new subscription customer to Audible, provided they then stick around paying the subscription for at least 61 days. We’ve had 5 of these $50 bounties which means that at least 5 people have signed up to Audible solely to buy and listen to our book. Who knows how many more have signed up, purchased the book and then didn’t take up a subscription.

The Future

So now I’m officially an author earning an adequately low author’s wage. What’s next? Will I write another one? Perhaps in the same style about my year of trying to learn a martial art. Or maybe something totally different. Or should I just retire and move somewhere where you can live off £3,000 a year?

I don’t think so. It turns out that writing a good book is really hard work. I mean that’s pretty obvious, but it is a lot harder than writing a blog. It might be worth it if it paid as well, but I actually earn a lot more per word from this blog while getting the instant satisfaction of having the post/chapter out there immediately. No six months of waiting for the book to be finished and polished.

I won’t be writing another one with the sole purpose of making money. But I do plan on writing some fiction. It’s probably going to be pretty rubbish and won’t sell anywhere near as well as the Expert in a Year book, but I do think I will enjoy it. So watch this space!

Ps. If you have any good ideas to get some more sales then please drop me a line.