The E-book Experiment: Year One

On 7th July 2011 I uploaded my first e-book to Amazon. It went live on the 8th. I was curious as to how it would go. 6 months ago I published the data I had collected over the previous few months, and said I would report back again in six months. Six months passed. I was flattened by flu on the anniversary date but I took a snapshot of my sales with the idea I would write them up as soon as I felt better. Other factors lengthened the delay. More illness, deadlines and a holiday without access to the Internet intervened. Anyway, better late than never…

So how did it go?

Better than I ever imagined when I did that first upload. In my first year I sold approximately 18000 e-books. I say approximately because all of the numbers are not yet in. I don’t have numbers from B&N or some of the Smashwords associates for June but I can say with some certainty I sold at least 18221 copies.

The actual numbers were as follows:














(If you add the numbers above to the numbers from my first six months sales you wont get a total of 18221 for the year.  The discrepancy with the earlier published figures for the first six months arises because I did not have up to date figures back in January for my total sales on Smashwords and accurate figures for the last part of December on Amazon. I have added those sales in.) 

You can see that the first few months of 2012 went really well and then sales fell off as the summer approached. In some ways this is what you would expect, since there was a huge sales boom post-Xmas as all those new e-reader owners filled their machines with reading material. The spike in sales in March comes mainly from a boost given by a very successful free giveaway of The Inquiry Agent. 

I should also say that the numbers are complicated by my experiment in making Death’s Angels, my biggest selling e-book free in May. If I had kept selling the book, you could probably add 450 to the sales numbers in May, and 600+ in June.

The vast bulk of sales (14804 copies) come from my Terrarch series. The total numbers are as follows:

Death’s Angels


Serpent Tower


The Queen’s Assassin




The Inquiry Agent


Sky Pirates


Stealer of Flesh


Various Short Stories



Again, sales of Death’s Angels are low because of the number of giveaways in May and June. What do these numbers tell us?

The first and most obvious thing is that series sell. The full Terrarch series of gunpowder military fantasy novels has been available since last December. It has sold in what would be respectable numbers for a small press. Death’s Angels sold for an average of 99 cents at a 35% royalty rate until May when it went free.  All of the remaining Terrarch books sold at an average price of $4.99 and at a 70% royalty rate. This means they have earned very well by the standards of a mid-list author such as myself. 

The numbers are not quite so rosy when it comes to the non-series books. Sales of my Victorian detective novel The Inquiry Agent are good considering it is in a genre where nobody has ever heard of me. The book did have two very successful Kindle Select promos earlier in the year. Sadly, since Amazon changed its algorithms these are no longer as useful as they once were to the vast majority of people who might try them.

The numbers on Sky Pirates and Stealer of Flesh, which had been on sale for roughly 5 and 3 months respectively don’t look nearly so  impressive. Sky Pirates, a sort of cyberpunk/anime/sword and sorcery novel, had one half-successful Select promotion earlier in the year, and I have done no promotion at all for Stealer of Flesh. I have not even had time to write my usual author’s notes for the book so far. Yet I am happy enough with the way things are going. I am pretty sure sales will pick up when I release new books in each series, as I intend to do. It should also be noted that I wrote Stealer of Flesh, a series of linked novellas about the monster hunter Kormak, in my spare time because I have always wanted to try something in that style. It seems peculiarly suited to the rugged form of sword and sorcery. 

So would I say the e-book experiment has been a success? Indubitably. The thing that pleases me most is that the books have found an enthusiastic audience who seem keen to read more. It has also proved to me that I can find a market for the sort of books that I want to write but that conventional publishers don’t see as being commercially viable. That is thrilling.

21 Replies to “The E-book Experiment: Year One”

  1. Well done, Bill. Thanks for sharing the info, its interesting to see how sales data breaks down on this format. What it does show is that quality still sells, even in the age of the rock-bottom priced digital download – thank god!

  2. Huge congratulations on your success so far! The sales (and money!) are very nice, but I think this might be the most important part long-term: “The thing that pleases me most is that the books have found an enthusiastic audience who seem keen to read more.” 🙂

    1. Agreed Brian, and thanks. It is exciting to think that is now viable to write the sort of books I love to write but which no mainstream English language publisher was interested in. This is a whole new kind of niche publishing and it makes me very happy.

  3. Congratulations! Can’t wait for the next Kormak adventure, it will shorten the waiting time for Sword of Caledor 🙂 Keep up the great work!

  4. Love the chance that you get to get some of your pet stories published. I have used the to start a Gurps campaign as who can say no to swords guns magic 1750’s and call of the cuthluu. That’s such a interesting mix!

  5. Very interesting reading, Bill. Your e-book blogs have certainly opened my eyes to an aspect of publishing I know next to nothing about. Hmmm! Definitely food for thought. Good luck with the their ongoing sales!

    1. It is definitely an up and coming area, Ant. I started doing it as a hobby to get my backlist into print but it very swiftly became obvious that something really big was going on here. I could make a living from this quite easily.

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