End of Year Indie Pub Accounting: Am I Rich Yet? No. But We Have GROWTH!

Those coins represent my first six months of sales on Amazon.
Okay, not really. But close.
Accounting sucks. I don't even like reading fiscal stories in the news beyond knowing who's going under and who's crushing the competition. My husband and I have had some retirement accounts and 401Ks that we've since cashed out due to one financial trauma or another over the years. I had a brief infatuation with stocks and all that crap when I was in high school and even put a little money in the market once. It didn't give me so much as a semi (metaphorically speaking), which is probably why I will not die exorbitantly wealthy.

However, I do get a bit of a thrill counting up yearly sales figures. Not because I'm raking in a lot of money, but because it's interesting seeing the progression of this little indie pub career of mine since its inception in late 2010. Right now, I'm going to reveal some figures to you. There are those out there who probably think I'm making decent money at indie publishing, but I'm going to cut to the chase real quick: I'm not. In fact, everything I made in 2012 couldn't even pay one month's rent in this tiny house I share with my brood.

That sounds pretty disheartening if you're looking to get into this yourself, but it's best not to look at it that way. Why? Well, let me explain.

No one gets into this to get rich. Sure, we're inspired by the likes of Amanda Hocking and John Locke and other so-called "Kindle Millionaires," but the reality is that almost never happens and I've never been averse to telling people that. When you put your first book up onto Amazon or Smashwords, you'll be lucky if you make ten bucks in your first three months. I know I didn't, and most people will not either. So if your first book isn't selling, your natural tendency is to stop wasting your time, right? Wrong. It means you have to keep putting things out there. Build your catalog, attract new readers through free promotions and giveaways, and do all kinds of hard work for which you won't see a red cent for quite awhile.

Want to see some real numbers? Here are my 2011 earnings from Amazon (granted, I started selling at the end of 2010, but I don't think I got an actual deposit from them until March of 2012, because it took that long to break the $10 minimum "we're going to deposit this money now" threshold). Also, keep in mind that November and December don't get paid until the following calendar year because Amazon pays 60 days after the monies earned:

19.60 -- October
15.90 -- September
4.19 -- August
5.17 -- July
8.24 -- June
10.30 -- May
.70 -- December 2010
1.05 -- November 2010
TOTAL: $65.15

If you're curious, I made $45.44 over the course of three quarters in Smashwords sales, bringing my GRAND TOTAL across all markets to a whopping $110.59!

Cue the confetti and noisemakers! Pop the bubbly! (or maybe some generic Boones Farm in this case). I made in one year of selling a catalog of about four or five short stories about one week's worth of groceries. Or not quite one month's worth of gas for my husband's Toyota Yaris. Chump change doesn't even come close to describing it, but hey, I was a PAID AUTHOR. And the pride associated with that was worth millions.

But then something happened in the latter part of 2011. I sort of got "discovered." My short story, "Under the Scotch Broom" went free on Amazon, and I got something like 11,000 downloads in the course of one month. After that, I put up my entire small catalog up for free and got thousands more. Those thousands of downloads started leading to some reviews. Those reviews led to some actual paid sales. Those sales and reviews led to my discovery by Hobbes End Publishing and my eventual book deal with them. I put up more stories for sale as well as a couple novels. In the last year, my catalog of offerings has gone from 4 or 5 short stories to 17 or 18 (combined short stories and novels), and I project it will grow to near 30 by the end of the year.

Sales numbers and money have reflected this progression as well. Here are my 2012 earnings:

23.45 -- October
27.50 -- September
21.17 -- August
21.30 -- July
32.30 -- June
33.41 -- May
28.01 -- April
50.47 -- March
42.33 -- February
18.20 -- January
8.05  -- December 2011
22.95 -- November 2011
TOTAL: $329.14

Adding in Smashwords sales of $204.79 and that brings me to a GRAND TOTAL of  $533.93.

Now, to prove that the curve of growth is continuing, my November 2012 total is double what October's is. I grossed nearly $50 that month. In December, sales increased to $63, and for January of 2013, I'm on track to break $100 for the first time ever.

And in all but a few instances, ALL of the sales you're seeing above were made thirty-five cents at a time. Most of my ebooks are $.99, and $.35 is the cut I get. Every time I see a new buy on my sales reports, I hear a quarter and a dime clinking in my imaginary tin cup. Over time, those quarters and dimes add up. And this doesn't even speak to the numbers of readers I've gained, which are worth far more over the long run. Those are the readers who might just buy The Last Supper when it comes out, and that is when the real dollars start rolling in.

Is this earth-shattering money? Hell no. In fact, I wish I could brag more and tell you all that I'm paying all my bills off my book sales and that my husband has been able to retire from his 9-5 and start pursuing his own dreams, but you know what? If things continue along this track, that might just be the case in five years. If I saw a five-fold growth in my second year of peddling $.99 short stories, a five-fold growth in my third year gives me $2669 dollars. A five-fold growth in my fourth year gives me $13448. In my fifth year, that gives me $66741, which is currently $20,000 more than my husband's salary. And if I lived the rest of my life making about that much money per year, I would be a very happy woman. I don't need a lot of money to be happy. I just like being able to pay the goddamn power bill on time.

And like I said, that's just predominantly selling $.99 short stories. That doesn't even factor in the novels I might offer, or the possibility that one of those things goes viral and breaks me through another ceiling, similar to what I saw at the end of 2011. Anything could happen. The whole point is that it's all about making upward progression.
Have I exhausted the corporate lingo and imagery yet?
That's me being conservative with the numbers. That's me being patient. That's me not factoring in what might come when I have books from traditional publishers getting a much greater reach and market penetration than I've been able to get doing this by myself on a shoestring budget.

So what works? Talent, sure. Writing things people want to read, definitely. But also patience, perseverance, and productivity. Pumping out enough books to keep yourself relevant and fresh in people's minds. GIVING AWAY more books than you can probably stomach so that you can entrust yourself with new readers and make them want to come back and spend money on you. Knowing that you're not going to get rich doing this, but you can make a little bit of scratch and have a ball while doing it. And perhaps, most importantly, to do a little spin on that old canard from the sales industry: ABS. Always Be Selling. Or rather, in this case, Always Be Writing.