Last September I published my own book, The Walk of a Lifetime: 500 Miles on the Camino de Santiago, and set the modest goal of selling 1,000 copies in my first year. I’m happy to say that I crossed that milestone early this month, after only ten months, and I’m celebrating.
Like many other authors, I was on a roll this winter. I had done three author appearances to over 400 people in February and sales were phenomenal. I loved talking to readers and signing copies of the book. More events were planned, or in the planning, for March and April and into May. I was doing what I loved, especially talking directly to readers.
Then Covid-19 hit, everything shut down, and book events vaporized. To make matters worse, book sales on Amazon, my biggest customer, screeched to a halt. (They were too busy shipping hand sanitizer and toilet paper.) Things looked dismal. I could no longer do the thing that I loved most.
But April came and with it, book sales suddenly went back up. While Amazon was still slow, I discovered that they had shifted most of the sales of my book to Ingram, the book wholesaler, and the picture brightened. (Amazon and Ingram both do Print-On-Demand, or POD, and when Amazon couldn’t keep up, it gave Ingram the sale.) For that reason alone, I was glad that I had set up my book through Ingram as well as Amazon.
In June I began to do some Facebook Live events and got some luck with a good story in the AARP online magazine and through it encountered an entirely new audience. While in the past 1,000 copies would have been lackluster, it’s not any longer. Self-publishing has created tens of thousands of new titles per year and readers are finding their attention distracted by social media and smartphones. Bookstores are hard to find, if they are even open. A good-selling book in the past would have needed to sell 10,000 copies; now it’s one-tenth of that.
And I’m doing all the promotion myself, without the aid of a publisher’s marketing department. All things considered, I’m happy with that benchmark. My goal is now to reach the next 1,000 in six more months.
I also got to that goal without any gimmicks, deep discounts or strong-armed promotions. I often say I have figuratively and literally hand-sold over half of those copies. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s also been immensely satisfying. And I should add that I’ve been pretty consistently in the top 1-2% of all books on Amazon. That’s been a much better perspective than looking at sales’ ranks or raw numbers. I have sold a lot of copies through my own website and that has enabled me to connect directly with readers.
I’m thankful to my many friends, classmates and relatives, who offered advice, input and encouragement, read drafts and wrote reviews and hauled copies of my book to Spain. More about how I used crowd-sourcing to write my book can be read here. Developing a wide and diverse community has been an advantage for me. And through my book my community has expanded.
My next book project, which was to be on a walk in Italy, the Via di Francesco, is now shelved, since I’m not traveling overseas for at least another year. So, in the meantime, I’m starting a formerly-back-burner project about a bike ride along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O towpath, from Pittsburgh to Wash. D.C. That’s 350 miles along a rails-to-trails and an old canal towpath. I hope to have that one out early next year.
I love writing and the fact that I could rediscover this passion at this point in my life. It’s never too late.