I've decided to examine the sales figures for my Kindle short stories now that it's been a little over a year since I self-published the first two, I am the Wendigo and Melon Heads. I went through all the sales spreadsheets Amazon has provided and have totaled them up.
For starters, "Wendigo" has been an unqualified success. I sold fourteen copies in 2012 and nineteen so far in 2013. Thirty-three copies at 35% royalty copies out to $11.55. Considering how I sold it for the first time (in late 2006, to the now-dead webzine Chimaera Serials) for $20, this is a profitable second run indeed. And it's pure profit, considering how Udo Wooten did the cover for free. A lot of paying markets pay $10 or less, so I've made a good business decision self-publishing this one rather than scrounging for a market that would accept a reprint (rare) and pay a decent rate (rarer).
"Melon Heads" came out of the gate strong, selling twenty copies in 2012, sixteen in the release month of September. However, it faltered in 2013, selling only five so far. That's $8.75, which is better than giving it away for free or selling it to one of those $5 magazines. Not as good as I could have gotten if I'd sent it to a $10 magazine, assuming they'd buy it. Unfortunately I tried to promote it using Google Adwords that proved to be an epic fail (no sales whatsoever during the period the ad ran), so this one is still a net money loser despite its stronger sales.
My Lovecraftian tale The Beast of the Bosporus was released later, in November 2012. I sold fourteen copies in 2012 and eleven through September (I've sold one so far this October). Not including the October sale, that's $8.75. Still better than the freebies. This was the first story I've tried to promote with a post on this blog that I managed to get hosted some other places--a faux excerpt from a historical journal implying the story was gleaned from newly discovered Ottoman manuscripts. Fortunately I'd gotten the cover done free as well, so this one has been profitable.
Despite commissioning a beautiful cover, Illegal Alien has proven a disappointment. Only five sales in 2012 and eight sales thus far in 2013 for $4.55. Considering I paid $45 for the cover, this one won't be making a profit for awhile. A pity Kindle publishing didn't exist when I wrote this at the height of the 2006 immigration reform protests or else I could have pulled in some major money due to the timeliness. Life lesson--if you're writing a story to cash in on a current event, Kindle-publish it because by the time a traditional market runs it, it'll be too late. Roger Corman made one of his movies in a month or so to cash in on the Moon landing, but that's not really possible with written fiction.
In August, as sales begin to fall for my original four (only ONE sale in July), I put out three new stories. That spurred sales back to the level they'd been earlier this year, although they never reached the euphoric heights of September 2012. So far the alternate history spy adventure Picking Up Plans In Palma has sold only five copies, all of them in August. Combined my two stories starring superveillain protagonist Andrew Patel, Übermensch and Needs Must, have sold nine copies, with "Ubermensch" selling seven of those. However, it's too early to write them off as failures, since although "Wendigo" started weak (only six sales the first month), it proved to have good staying power.
This year-long experiment in Kindle publishing has led me to reach some conclusions:
*More "mundane" creature horror sells better than more niche Lovecraftian stuff. However, there's a complicating variable--"Wendigo" is explicitly advertised as a reprint of a traditionally-published story, which no doubt makes it more attractive.
*Horror sells better than science fiction.
*Alternate history and superhero/supervillain tales do worse than standard science fiction.
*If you can get good covers for cheap enough rates, self-publishing can be financially more profitable than sending them to markets that pay only a small amount ($5 or $10) and definitely more profitable than giving them away for free.
You may be tempted to write off Kindle publishing short fiction as a waste of time or a poor investment. However, there is such a thing as a tipping point and it'd be a shame to give up just before you get successful (there's a rather sad cartoon showing a miner giving up when, if he'd dug a few more inches, he'd have found a trove of diamonds). My friend Jeff Baker, in the addendum he added to my guest blog post, said that at LibertyCon, the consensus one needed 20-25 items available on Amazon before they started feeding off each other. And I've just bought a Kindle e-book on guerrilla marketing one's self-published fiction, so hopefully I'll get some good advice and my sales figures will go up.
Still, at DragonCon one year some panelists said short fiction isn't worth the amount of time invested in it. Although I'm going to try to sell my unsold stories and Kindle-publish the ones I can't (I have two fantasy stories submitted to traditional markets at the moment), I'm going to focus on my novels Battle for the Wastelands and The Thing in the Woods. If I can sell one of those, hopefully it'll spur sales for the short stories.