What I’ve learned from the sales of my guide

by | Apr 3, 2014 | Nathan's Books, Self-publishing | 27 comments

One of the best parts about self-publishing is getting nearly real-time data on how and where your book is selling. I’m not one of those writers who feels comfortable posting my exact sales and royalty figures online, but I’m seriously thrilled with how How to Write a Novel is doing and thanks to everyone who has snagged a copy!

As I was compiling some sales figures, I was struck by two findings:

1) People still want the print version

I brought out the print version of How to Write a Novel about a month and a half after the e-book version. I knew I would have to price it higher and wasn’t sure there would be sufficient demand to go through the trouble of putting it out in print.


Even priced at $11.99 vs. the e-book’s $4.99, the print version has nearly kept pace, and in the past month I’ve actually been selling more print books than e-books.

Print! There you have it!

2) Amazon dominates e-book sales

We all may know that Amazon has the dominant e-book platform, but it’s pretty stark when you see the raw numbers. Here’s what my US e-book sales look like broken down by platform:

89.1% of my e-book sales have been through Kindle, 7.55% through Nook, 2.1% through Apple and 1.23% through Kobo.

Now, to be fair, I have run some promotions where I used the Amazon link, but that choice was mainly driven because of the way these numbers looked even before those promotions. It also took longer to get the e-book up on Apple, so I lost some initial sales. But even after accounting for those considerations the numbers wouldn’t look that different.

Is Amazon’s dominance cause for concern? Have other self-pubbed writers seen something similar?


  1. Keary Taylor

    That's great the print sales are doing so well. I'd say 98% of my sales have always been digital.

    In the last year, I've seen a HUGE surge in iBook sales. For years Amazon was dominating, and while it still accounts for a huge chunk of my sales today, iBooks is quickly catching up. I would say my sales are now probably 55% Amazon, 40% iBooks, and 5% Nook.

  2. Beverly Diehl

    Well, I bought (and reviewed) the e-book version, and yep, through Amazon. I'm *trying* to curb my bookhoard by going electronic whenever possible.

    That said, when it comes to "how-to" books, I'm more comfortable flipping through the pages, putting sticky note flags here and there, for books I might want to refer back to frequently. While maybe the next generation of readers will be more comfortable with electronic bookmarking and underlining and such, it's not intuitive or easy for ME. Whereas reading a novel, or even a non-fiction book that's a one-off (like a biography), that I read cover to cover, e-book works just fine.

    Hope this info is helpful to you.

  3. M.R. Merrick

    My sales are always about 98% digital as well however, based on the content of your book, I can easily see why the print would sell just as well.

    Amazon is always my main outlet for sales, and for most of the other authors I communicate with, it is for them as well. To reconfirm what Keary said, I've also seen a spike in iBook sales lately. A lot of the authors I know are seeing the same response. Many have even seen iBooks sales starting to exceed their Amazon sales.

    One thing I have learned is that Nook and iBooks take longer to get traction, or so it seems. I'm sure like everything it depends on a lot of different factors: genre, author, audience, etc.

  4. D. Robert Pease

    Nate, I'd be willing to bet the main reason you see such a high percentage of print sales is that this is a self-help reference book. As a writer, I'd much prefer to sit a hard copy of a book I'm going to go back to on my bookshelf, than dig out my Kindle. Books that are more one and done, like most fiction, are much more likely to sell better in eBook format.

  5. Corinne OFlynn

    I wonder if the type of book you're talking about comes into play in the digital vs. print debate?

    When choosing digital over print for a book on writing craft or how-to anything, I usually choose print so it remains available to me as a guide, with room in the margins for notes and pages on which to stick postit notes.


  6. Spike

    I have 99% sales through Amazon. and createspace with the ebook outselling the print. I concentrate on selling ebooks. The print version is really for me to use as a marketing tool when I do book readings, etc. I have hand sold over 200 copies.
    Is Amazon worrisome? Yes, but today, being a bully instead of a partner will bite you. Partnering with authors and buyers is the new business model.
    Spike Pedersen

  7. daniel t. radke

    I've been researching self-publishing the better part of a year now, and like others are saying, I believe your print sales are due to your book being non-fiction. None of the successful independent fiction authors I've studied have decent print numbers.

    And yes, Amazon is the biggest player in the game. Some authors here and there get good traction at Kobo or B&N, but those stories are rare.

    And it is scary, Amazon dominating the market like they do. At any moment they can slash the 70% royalty to whatever they want. Most independents won't have much recourse.

    And speaking of Amazon and your novel, I apparently wrote the highest rated review. Woot!

  8. Angela @ HomegrownMom

    I almost always get non-fiction in print. For some reason, I have to highlight and take notes physically when it comes to non-fiction. I did download a sample of your book on my Kindle, and then waited for the print edition to come out and ordered that.

  9. abc

    I'm glad it is doing well. It is a great read!

    See you tomorrow in Madison, Nathan! Unfortunately it won't feel much like spring. Cardigan weather!

  10. Anonymous

    If these numbers are consistent across authors, it's safe to say that 5 years from now, Kobo and Nook will be gone.

  11. Patricia Smith Wood

    Nathan: I can tell you from my own perspective, when I purchase a book to teach me something, I want it to be the print version. If it's something to read for enjoyment, I'm very happy with the e-book version because I don't have to worry about where I'll find a place to put it.

    If you need to refer back to a instructional book, it's far easier to do so in a print copy. I made the mistake of buying the e-book version of an advanced manual for my Nikon camera and regretted it. Trying to locate a particular section is much more difficult on with the e-book.

    Keep up the good work!

  12. Susie Orman Schnall

    Hi Nathan. Congrats on the sales – that's so great! My two cents: I bought the e-book because I wanted to get it right away but I'm probably also (here comes the music to your ears…) going to buy the paperback. The reason? As I'm reading the ebook I'm taking notes on a yellow pad. For a book like this, I prefer the paperback so I can highlight, write notes, etc. For a novel, I still prefer a paperback but find myself also buying kindle versions sometimes for ease or immediate gratification. I self pubbed my novel last summer (CreateSpace and KDP) and found equal e-book/paperback sales. It's being relaunched by a publisher (woo hoo!) next week and I won't have access to the daily drug, I mean sales figures, so that will be a big fat bummer. I, also, really liked having all that sales data at my fingertips. Continued good luck with HTWAN!

  13. Chris Bailey

    The e-book is a good read. The print version is user friendly. Flipping pages and finding bookmarks on the E is cumbersome.

  14. Jill Weatherholt

    Congratulations! I was impatient and bought the e-version, but when I find a valuable tool, I like to have the paper copy…so…you can figure out what happened next. Great book! Well worth two purchases. 🙂

  15. tracikrites

    I like print because I can underline, post notes wherever something strikes me.

  16. Kate Avery Ellison

    I think you're seeing more print sales because it's a how-to book. I almost always buy those in print so I can make notes, dog-ear pages, etc. And yes, my amazon sales vastly outrank my other outlets.

  17. Anonymous

    Your figures basically back up mine almost exactly for my indie books, and we're talking about two very different genres. Other than I don't release in print anymore, and I do get equal sales between Amazon and one well known retail web site where romance books are sold most of the data is the same.

    But I have been wondering if releasing in print might be worth the investment. The problem for me is that I did have POD on Amazon for many of my books for a long time and the digital versions still sold much better. It also hurts big time to see the older backlist print titles being sold for fifty bucks on Ebay when they were less than twelve dollars a few years ago new.

    I think this is helpful information and thanks for posting it. Like I said, I can back you up with almost everything.

  18. Anonymous

    Just curious. I didn't see Smashwords. I get a decent amount of sales there, too.

    But poor Kobo, which is my personal favorite place, gets the least.

  19. Joanne Roberts

    I received my print copy of this book in the mail and have been racing through it, smiling, frowning, taking notes. Thanks for packing it with useful information in bite-sized, practical pieces.

  20. Lori Schafer

    Thanks for sharing, Nathan. Always fascinated by data like this.

  21. Petrea Burchard

    My ebook percentages look a lot like yours, except Nook is closer to zero. My book is fiction, and I've had the same experience as others–the paperback does well but the ebook outsells it by a wide margin.

    As for Amazon, I don't think anything lasts forever. But for now, if we want to sell books we have to be there.

  22. Justus R. Stone

    My results are even more extreme. My first novel has been out for a year and a half, my second for 8 months. Across all the retailers you mentioned, and also including Smashwords, Kindle accounts for 97.5% of my sales. I've done little promotion, so I can only surmise it's due to Kindle's dominance in the market and Amazon's superior suggestion engine helping out sales.

  23. Ernie J. Zelinski

    The people are right who say that the reason you are doing more print sales than ebook sales is because your book is non-fiction. In 2013 my self-published "How to Retire Happy Wild and Free" sold over 20,000 copies in the print edition (the best sales ever since the book was published 10 years ago) and around 3,000 copies in the Kindle ebook edition. Presently, the iBook edition does only about 10 percent of the Kindle edition. (I still don't have the book on Nook or Kobo.)

    There is a lesson here: Three years ago, there were a lot of so-called book experts saying, "Print is dead." At that time I said, "Anyone who says 'print is dead' is either lying or brain dead." Fact is, print is not dead!

    Incidentally, the first three months sales this year indicate that "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free" will sell even better in 2014 than it did in 2013. At the same time, Kindle sales are increasing too. So the increasing Kindle sales don't seem to be hurting the print sales.

    In short, I learned a long time ago to disregard the advice of over 90 percent of the so-called "book experts" on Facebook, Twitter, LinkIn, and the Internet in general. Trust me, if you do the same you will become much more successful at the game of writing and self-publishing.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    "Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free"
    Author of the Bestseller "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free"
    (Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller "The Joy of Not Working"
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

  24. Laura Martone

    Like Beverly, my hubby and I bought the electronic version of your book – we, too, are trying to downsize. But, still, this post was very enlightening, especially since I have had guidebooks traditionally published (in printed and e-book form), but plan to self-publish several books. So, thanks for sharing your experience (and the helpful graphic)!

  25. C L Deards

    As mentioned before I'm sure it's the non-fiction reference nature of your book.

    All of the reference books I own are in print.

    Until there is a non-cumbersome way of making notes and highlighting text I will always go with print when buying a reference book.

  26. Deborah Lucas

    I just purchased your book at the Writers Institute this last weekend in Madison WI. It was great meeting you, getting you to autograph the book, and hearing you speak.

    In your Saturday evening lecture, you helped me fine tune my use of Facebook and Twitter as a writer. I was the one sitting next to Jane Friedman.

    I know I will continue to learn from you on the web. Thanks for all you do to help writers figure it all out, from Social Media to the Publishing Industry.

  27. Tiffany

    I'm one of those few who bought it through Apple, for my iPad. I prefer print, but at the time it was midnight and I wanted it NOW. Plus it seemed easiest since I'm in Canada. Great book! Great advice!


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Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

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