February “SSH Mastery” sales numbers and expenses

I promised several authors results of my private label publishing experiment. I now have sales numbers from February from Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, and CreateSpace. Just like the January post, this comes with some caveats:

  • This includes only SSH Mastery. I have removed my fiction from the totals. Again, fiction sales are considerably lower, but growing.
  • This excludes the 200 copies bought at cost by the OpenBSD/OpenSSH team for fundraising, and the 40 review copies I ordered.
  • I’m not going to regularly report sales numbers to the general public. I will say when I break even.

    Without further ado, here’s the numbers:

  • Amazon Kindle: 163 ebooks sold (135 US, 14 UK, 10 DE, 2 FR, 1 IT, 1 ES), for a total of ~$1100.83. (Amazon reports European royalties in euros or pounds, so the exact total will vary with the day they compute the check).
  • Barnes & Noble: 8 ebooks sold, for $51.92
  • Smashwords: 109 ebooks sold, for $869.80
  • CreateSpace: 4 physical books sold, for $41.27
  • Total: 280 ebooks, 4 physical books, for a total of ~$2063.

    I said last month that February sales were lower than January’s. One a per-day basis, they were much lower. But the book only went live on Amazon on 20 January. The excellent January numbers were due to my hard-core fans buying it. (And I thank you all, sincerely.)

    Similarly, the print version was available on 27 February, if you bought it directly from my CreateSpace store. It went live on Amazon on 29 February. One copy sold on the 27th, and three on the 29th. The March average per-day sales per venue will be lower, but the greater number of days will create higher totals.

    A couple sales per day per channel adds up. The B&N sales don’t look impressive, but hey, it’s $52 that I wouldn’t otherwise get, and eight readers I wouldn’t otherwise have.

    I expect sales to go down from this point on. Reviews drive sales. Reviews this far have all been from people who follow my work. There’s nothing wrong with that — indeed, I appreciate every review. But I think I’ve basically worked through all the reviewers in my hard-core fan base. In the future, I must attract disinterested reviews. I have saved the contact information for everyone who has ever reviewed my work, and am working my way through the list offering review copies. I’m going slowly; I’d rather have 3 reviews a month for 6 months than 18 reviews in one month.

    So, what about the expenses? Publishing this cost:

  • $2,581 for the publishing workshop I attended. Mind you, I took two workshops in a row, I flew to Oregon, I rented a car, I ate at a couple really good restaurants.
  • $227 for artwork. My graphic skills are appalling, so I hired a graphic artist. This includes getting all the line drawings for the book done professionally, some touch-up on screenshots, and the Tilted Windmill Press corporate logo in high-res in six different sizes.
  • $226.50 for page layout. I don’t feel like learning to use InDesign right now.
  • $150.00 for copyediting the manuscript.
  • $214.57 for CreateSpace print fees. This includes several rounds of proofs and 40 review copies, as well as the fees to get the book into the Ingram’s catalog for bookstores.

    So, how much more do I need to sell to break even?

    Total expenditures: $3,399.86.
    Total Jan-Feb royalties: $3506.88

    I have made $107.02 in about forty days of sales (assuming my time is free). So, I’d like to give a sincere “thank you!” to the 482 people who bought SSH Mastery in January and February, as well as those who bought it since then.

    Again, this assumes that my time to write, design, lay out, test, corral reviews, and so on, is free. Also, I don’t have that cash in hand yet. Ebook retailers delay payment for 30-60 days after the close of the month or quarter. I’ll get my first check at the beginning of April.

    Clearly, the self-publishing route is viable, if you have good content. (I’ll babble about tech book content, and the distressing quality thereof, some other time.)

    If you want to do this yourself, I strongly recommend you to get into Dean Wesley Smith’s Think like a Publisher workshop. No, I don’t encourage you to go. I command you to go. DWS is a fiction writer, and his other workshops are for fiction writers, but TlAP is suitable for all sorts of writers. I spent weeks pounding my head against the desk trying to figure out how all the different ebookstores work, and this workshop not only solved all those problems, it let me get this book into print as well.

    I’m also going to cut off the Big Question that I get asked any time self-publishing comes up: “What about Absolute OpenBSD, 2nd Edition?”

    Even if self-publishing SSH Mastery turns into an absolute freaking gold mine and self-publishing showers me with riches, I will finish AO2e. I will send it to NSP. I’ve promised that I would do this book, and I know many people are eagerly waiting for it. Breaking my agreement with my publisher and, more importantly, my readers, would be blatant asshole behavior. And I’m just not going to behave that way. AO2e will be the next big book I publish.

  • 7 Replies to “February “SSH Mastery” sales numbers and expenses”

    1. Michael, It’s great that you’re making these sales figures available to all of us. I hope aspiring authors read them.

      I can easily add another data point for them. My own figures for my non-fiction books almost exactly match the relative proportions you show among Kindle (Amazon), Smashwords, B&N, and CreateSpace.

      My books have a similar audience to SSH Mastery, so I think what we’re seeing is something about that audience.

      The proportions are the same, but the totals differ for each book. I think that’s about the quality/relevance of the books themselves.

      My fiction sales are also similarly lower, but growing. I suspect our audience is not used to reading much fiction. I wonder if we could put our heads together and figure out how to reach them better, or reach a different audience for our fiction. The perpetual mystery of marketing still seems to govern us, but I really appreciate the way your sharing data is starting to throw a little light on the topic.

    2. the number of ebooks sold is impressive. i own the ebook and am about halfway through it.

    3. Gerard,

      Glad you find it useful.

      I think our audience does read fiction. When I go to a BSD conference, I see lots of novels. Overwhelmingly hard SF. My fiction is horror. I suspect that my fans get quite enough horror in dealing with their computers.

      I’ve spent a dozen years building an audience for my tech books. I see no reason why a fiction audience should be any quicker, sadly. Unless we’re lucky. Just keep writing, and putting yourself out there.


    4. I read it cover to cover on Sunday, after getting it from Amazon.com. Great book, this is going to hang around a while for reference, and I highly recommend it for other self-taught geeks looking to fill in a few gaps.

      It also provided me with a list of a few other gotta-buy-em-soon books, such as your PGP & GPG book and the books by Richard Bejtlich (intrusion and extrusion). I read your Absolute OpenBSD book years ago and loved it, right as I was cutting my teeth as a systems administrator. You have a great tone as an author. Please keep writing these books, I’ll keep buying them.

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