Thursday, 14 June 2012

Bad News

The Second Realm is about to hit a total of 250 Smashwords downloads (across all episodes) since the release of the most recent episode (about 3 weeks ago). 250 downloads in 3 weeks across 6 episodes equals a mite shy of 2 downloads per episode per day.

That's not the bad news. The bad news is that that's the good news. Why is it good news? Because the preceding 4 weeks, across 5 episodes, I had a total of 185 downloads, for an average of about 1.3 per episode per day. I've increased my download rate something like 150%.

My point? An increase of about .6 of a download per episode per day is success over a 1-month period. Divide that increase by, say 28 days (a rough month), and you get a rate increase of 0.02 per day. It sounds pitiful, and more to the point, it feels pitiful, but it has to count as good progress.

And that's my point. Success won't feel like success. You can sell 1,500 books in a year and it will feel like less than 5 a day. My improvement of 150% per month means that in six months' time (and factoring the steady increase in the number of episodes), I'll have over 5000 downloads in a month. Should the trend continue perfectly, a year after that I'll have well over a million downloads a month (which I very much doubt - other factors like the total size of the genre audience, and the share of it any one author would be able to capture, will come into play).

But it's been eight months since I published the first episode. It's been five since I published the second and starting getting the things out on a schedule. Success, right now, at this moment, is 2 downloads per episode per day, and that feels like naff-all.

And this is a lesson I think we all need to take on board as debut authors. Six months feels like a hell of a long time when you're watching the numbers tick up at one or two a day. It's easy to start to lose faith. Heck, I've seen some people lose faith after barely a couple of months, convinced that they're doing something wrong or that their books will never sell.

That feeling can be crushing. When I published 'Heaven Can Wait' (don't ask, I'll get it back out eventually, I promise), it did basically no traffic at all - in total, less than ten people bought or downloaded it, across the threeish months it was available. I felt deeply miserable about the whole thing (though, looking back, the amount of preparation I did for the launch was severely lacking) and gave up on it.

Something similar contributed to the three-month gap (which happened about the same time) between the first and second Second Realm episodes. I didn't have big expectations for either project, I thought - I'd read somewhere that the average for a debut author is to sell about 4 books a day in the first year. I was devastated to sell 4 books in the first month.

Here's the thing: if I do manage to shift 5,000+ downloads of the Second Realm in December, it will account for almost 40% of total downloads for the year. At that rate, of that 4-books-per-day (a total for the year of just under 1,500), almost 600 would have been in the last month, leaving an average across the other eleven months of the year of just 80 per month. You could get 4 sales in the first month and only need 155 in the eleventh to reach that average.

These figures are all necessarily approximate. They're projections, and some of them are definitely optimistic. The basic point stands, though: success is going to take a long time, and it's not going to feel like success. Even J.K. Rowling started slow: the 1997 first print run for Harry Potter was apparently either 500 or 1000 copies (Wiki disagrees with itself), but by the end of 1999, she'd sold 300,000.

I think we all expect 'success' to be a lightning strike; the month you sell a thousand books, the year you sell ten thousand. The big-advance book deal. The lottery win. It's hard to get excited about 3 books in a day. It's even harder to look at 3 books today after a string of 2-book days and think 'success!'

But on a day-to-day basis, that's what success looks like. Don't look for big steps, and don't give up because you can't find any. Keep at it, and the door will slowly, oh-so-slowly start to creak open.

(As a final note, and because I quite like the sound of broken records: the upward trend only accelerated when I stopped doing regular Twitter promotion - I reserve my tweeting now to one #SampleSunday tweet per week, plus a handful of extras around new episode time)


  1. I think you hit the nail on the head with this. Success takes time, sometimes a lot of time. And during that time, it's hard not to get down. I get down all the time (my latest blog post was me getting those feelings off my chest) I have considered giving up, but the stubborn part of me gives me a nice kick and I keep plugging along. Success will come as long as I work for it and giving up is not working for it. =|

  2. When I'm feeling polite, my writing mantra is 'Endurance is just taking one more step than you thought you could, over and over again'; when I'm feeling less polite, I go with 'Don't let the bastards grind you down'. Waiting is definitely one of the bastards ;)

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Another good post, Rik. In my old marketing days, we would have ads running for two weeks on, one week off, and interestingly enough, traffic increased more during the one week off than during those two weeks on.

    Also, I read "writing is one of the bastards". :) Which also is true!