It's no secret that Amazon is shaking up the publishing industry. I've been watching a friend go through some interesting experiences with self-publishing recently, and he's given some figures and permission to write about it.

Paul's been writing (mainly crime) fiction for a little whole now, drawing on his experiences as a police officer in Brighton, and his slightly diseased imagination. After quite a long process of talking to traditional publishers about The Follow, a novel about heroin dealers in Brighton, he decided in November last year to start publishing digitally. There's still a bit of a stigma associated with this sort of thing - I think that an important part of a traditional book deal is the validation of a large publisher saying "we think this is good" - but with the novel sitting unpublished for a little while, why not?

He hooked up with Trestle Press and put it onto Amazon at a quite low price point of £3.69. By mid-February, he was selling a couple of copies a day.

In March, he dropped the price to £1.99 after taking The Follow back from Trestle, and publishing himself. Sales hovered at between 10 and 18 a week.

In May, Paul decided to stop promoting The Follow and see what he could publish next, but noticed that he could make it free for 5 days using KDP Select; he flicked the switch to see what would happen, and saw 3000 downloads in the first day: both a boost for the ego and not a bad promotional device: "Now thousands of people were reading my book, and it hit number 2 in the free Kindle chart."

Sales crept upwards after that. The next day he was the 400-or-so most published book on Kindle, and had sold 30 copies; the day after that he was ranked at 250; and a week after the promotion he'd sold 400 copies and was sitting outside the Kindle top 100 (and in the top 10 of the "procedurals" section, which I think is police fiction); sales at this point were about ten a day.

Reviews seem to have a direct impact on sales: after a negative review sales dip slightly, then increase again once a positive one comes through (perhaps the "most recent review" holds a lot of power).

Things I've noticed, watching Paul go through this journey:

  • Most people I know who write do it for love, and to reach an audience. Digital publishing seems to offer both this, and the promise of some sort of return.
  • I'm sure that a publisher knows how to market and distribute books better than the average author; but when the alternative is to not be published at all, digital self-publishing looks attractive.
  • A promotion can build sales traffic, but it drops off shortly afterwards.
  • The direct relationship between quality of reviews and sales.