The business of being an author

I’ve been feeling quite productive this summer and have been looking at my numbers a bit more closely than usual. Having published my first gamebook a bit over three years ago there’s enough data now for it to be somewhat meaningful, and given plenty of price changes and other factors there’s plenty to speculate over – I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Firstly, I’ll give the approximate timeline since 2019:

  • The Altimer – first in my sci-fi trilogy
  • New Gaia – second in the trilogy
  • Escape From Portsrood Forest – my original approach to gamebooks and an introduction to the Portsrood Protectors
  • Solar War – the finale of the trilogy
  • Problematic Protective Poisonous Purple Paint – a silly gamebook joke
  • You’re A Wizard! – a gamebook for kids
  • The Bradfell Conspiracy – another with the Portsrood Protectors
  • How to Thrive as a Coach in a Digital World – nonfiction, published through Open University Press, a traditional route
  • Superhuman Coaching – nonfiction, published myself
  • Guilt of Years Emerging – an interactive poem

And below you can see the league table, showing the order of popularity as far as sold copies are concerned.

The order of publication is important, because the most sold books, generally speaking, have been around for longer. I suppose that’s comforting. But it isn’t exclusively true, which brings me to my observations. Rather than spend ages extrapolating each one, I’ll just bullet point them.

  • EFPF is at the top, and I’m pretty happy about that. It’s the first one I did entirely in my own style, so while I think Bradfell is probably stronger, it’s very pleasing it’s my bestseller. It does well through Amazon Advertising so that probably is the single biggest factor, so perhaps I need to look into that to see what I can learn.
  • I’m extremely disappointed with YAW!. It’s full to the brim with original illustrations, everyone who’s read it enjoys it, and it’s targeted right at children. In my head this should be in top spot, but clearly my readers aren’t buying books to read with their kids. I wonder if that’s true across the gamebook scene. I’m particularly sad about this one because I’m splitting the royalties with the illustrator, so they’re currently getting pretty much nothing for their hard work. It does demonstrate why self published authors need to think very carefully about upfront costs though, if I’d paid standard illustrator rates I’d still be at a loss on this one, and given the amount of effort that goes into creating a book that just seems plain wrong.
  • My most quirky book, PPPPP, is my worst performing. I get that, although there’s a bit of me that would like more people to experience it.
  • Superhuman Coaching has probably had the most successful first month of any of my books, and I suspect it outperformed the equivalent I published through a traditional publisher. I don’t see the numbers on that side so can’t compare, but the idea I had in my head that traditional publishers provide a massive global marketing platform is clearly false – Amazon ads do the same thing but give me the control instead.
  • GOYE has sold so few you can’t even see it here. No concern yet, it’s only been out for a week or so, but I hope other people do pick it up. I think it’s a lovely, melancholic book that people will appreciate, although again it’s a bit more creative and quirky so if it does poorly that’s probably to be expected.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased, and it just goes to show that a range of books helps to make up the whole. It doesn’t look like I’m ever going to retire on the royalties, but if I keep on producing at this rate there should be enough good performers to balance out the ones that make very little.

I’d be fascinated to know how this is reflected among other gamebook authors!