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Will Your Self-Published Book Sales Grow Over Time?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Will self-published books make money over time?

Will self-published books make money over time?

The Financial Longevity of Self-Publishing

Many authors focus solely on making sales at the initial launch of their book. But what about future sales prospects? Is it realistic to believe that self-published book sales will continue or increase over time?

Here's what you need to know.

The Book Sales Waterfall

Self-published authors often put lots of effort, time, energy, and money into getting a rush of book sales at launch. Then the inevitable happens. The book is no longer “new” and its fans’ attention is on the next new thing. This creates a unique product life cycle for books.

When graphed, normal product life cycles follow the familiar bell curve. The product has a small number of sales to early adopters in the beginning. Sales continue to grow until they reach the peak of the bell curve. Then they decline over time, until they either become cash cows that continue to drive some sales over the long term, or they die out completely.

But books usually follow a waterfall-shaped life cycle curve, that looks like the right half of the normal bell curve. At a book launch, there’s a swell of sales, usually representing the peak of the book’s sales, like the top of a waterfall. When the book is no longer “new,” sales can fall precipitously and then flow at a slow pace for a very long time. Occasionally, there may be a sales spike here or there, due to increased sales resulting from advertising or a sudden unexpected interest in the book’s topic or genre. But that’s likely an exception.

Authors realize their resources are depleted from the launch and that they’ll have to spend even more to keep sales going. Just as it’s nearly impossible to force water upwards back to the top of a waterfall, pushing book sales back up to the launch period peak can take a massive investment in advertising and promotion.

Being aware of this unique sales cycle can help authors plan for a more cost-effective maintenance level of marketing over the book’s entire lifetime.

The Self-Publishing Hamster Wheel

Another strategy authors use to sell more self-published books is to keep self-publishing more and more books. The theory is that new books help promote the author’s previously published books. There is some logic to that. If a reader likes your latest book, they may be interested in buying whatever else you have available. So some self-published authors are constantly churning out new material, hoping that this will be the thing that increases book sales of their existing books.

The downside to this strategy is that it keeps authors on a self-publishing hamster wheel, always expending energy and resources on producing new material, but not dramatically increasing income. This can be exhausting from constantly being in book production and launch mode. I’ve done that. What I found is that I make sales of only a handful of the titles I’ve created. So far, my biggest selling book title over time has been my first one.

The other aspect of constantly creating new books is that you’re not leveraging your existing fan base. Think about this. I’ve found that a realistic forecast for annual unit book sales is about 1 percent of your total author fan base. One percent! So there is ample opportunity for marketing your existing books to your existing fans.

As you continually build your fan base numbers, you will have a lot of new fans who also don’t have your existing books either. This is where the new growth is. When coupled with the majority of your fans who haven’t actually bought your book, you should find that ample book sales opportunities exist within your fan community.

The Two-Pronged Approach for Future Self Published Book Sales

There are really only two things you can do to cost-effectively promote future book sales:

  1. Build your fan base; and,
  2. Market to that fan base.

But your fan base isn’t a “set it and forget it” investment. Beyond the book launch, your fan base will take nurturing from now until you officially want to stop selling your books. That means investing in social media, podcasts, videos, blogs, events, email subscriber list building, and other public relations efforts to keep you top of mind for fans, both old and new.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 18, 2020:

Hi Umesh! Thanks for the reading and for the kind comment. Have a great weekend!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on January 18, 2020:

Good guidance for writers who are self publishing their books. Nice reading.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 15, 2020:

Liz, thanks for sharing that additional proof of how this market works. Cheers!

Liz Westwood from UK on January 14, 2020:

I agree with your suggestions about growing book sales. A self-published book author told me with great pride how many books he has recently sold. They were all sold to members of his fanbase.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 14, 2020:

Liz, good to hear that your friends' experience aligns with these estimates... even though that's kind of discouraging. :( Thanks so much for sharing this with us! Appreciate your support and Happy New Year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 14, 2020:

Mel, like you, many of my articles and books on past business efforts are still selling, getting traffic, etc. But after I switched topic gears, it's been challenging to build momentum. Lots has to do with market conditions which have changed dramatically over the past few years.

For the novel, you'll have to start by building a whole new audience. As I just noted, that's a huge effort. But whatever genre it is, it's probably worth joining and participating in some Facebook groups around your novel's genre (e.g., fantasy, sci fi, etc.). It'll give you an idea of what's hot in those markets. Also, don't forget that groups of authors in those genres are readers, too. So also look at genre author groups, too. At least it's a place to start. And as they get to know you as a valuable contributor, when you announce your new novel (some groups have strict rules on how to do that in the group), they're more likely to check it out.

Good luck with your new novel adventures! Thank you for your support and Happy New Year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 14, 2020:

Peggy, thank you so much for reading and for sharing! It takes quite an effort to make a good deal of money in self publishing. But I'd rather know that going in before spending a boatload of cash on marketing that may never produce.

So appreciate your support! Happy New Year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 14, 2020:

Pamela, I know 1 percent seems ridiculously low. But that's how advertising has been for a very long time. Getting anything over 2-5 percent is stellar. Thanks for chiming in and Happy New Year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 14, 2020:

Linda, it is a lot of hard, and ever-changing, work if you want to make a living off of self publishing. For most it will be a hobby. Thanks for stopping by and Happy New Year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 14, 2020:

Hi Doris! Glad you enjoyed it even though it might not be pertinent to you right now. Happy New Year and thanks for stopping by!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 14, 2020:

Bill, the other aspect of this is that marketing methods keep changing all the time, increasing our investment in it. Let your priorities decide what's best (the goats and horses need you!).

Looking forward to updates on your memoir and other projects for the New Year. Cheers!

Liz Westwood from UK on January 12, 2020:

This is a realistic and interesting assessment of sales of self-published books. I have read it with interest as only today I was discussing sales with a recently self-published author. What you say about a fan base tallies with their experience.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on January 10, 2020:

My postal articles get pretty good traffic, but everything else I write is just a labor of love. I have a novel blog I might put into ebook form. Unfortunately, not many of my postal peeps are interested in my fiction. I suck at self-promotion. My question is, who do I market my novel to, and how? Great work here.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 10, 2020:

This is excellent information to know. I know several friends who are interested in publishing books, and this may enlighten them as to what needs to be done in order to be successful. I will pass this information on to them. Thanks!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 10, 2020:

This article has very good information for authors who are ublishing self publishing, Heidi. The one percent sounds low but not unexpected considering the competition.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 09, 2020:

I appreciate the realistic assessment, Heidi. It sounds like a lot of hard work is needed to achieve success,

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on January 09, 2020:

Good information, Heidi. I'll file it away in my head even if I don't know what I'll do with it. I always enjoy your articles.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 09, 2020:

I'm willing to bet I could increase my sales if I spent any time marketing my books. LOL Seems pretty obvious to me. This morning I was feeding goats and horses in the rain and mud....maybe I'll get to that marketing tomorrow. :) Great information as always, my friend.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 09, 2020:

Hello and Happy New Year, Flourish!

It is truly paltry. I guess it doesn't fluster me that much since I was in advertising and have done a fair amount of online advertising, too. In some cases, 1-2% response or conversion was a stellar result.

If I can impress upon authors that they need to continually build their fan bases, I'll feel like I accomplished something.

Hope your New Year is starting off great. Cheers!

FlourishAnyway from USA on January 08, 2020:

One percent! Yikes is that paltry! Excellent information that gives a realistic perspective for self-published authors.