Cozy Mystery Publishing, Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mysteries

2019 in Review | Writing & Publishing Cozy Mysteries

It’s time for my annual “year in review” post where I share how things went on my writing and publishing journey during the past year.

Hang on a minute. Talking about my annual review posts sounds so grand. Truth of the matter is that I’ve only posted one of these so far. And that’s because I published my first book only a year and a half ago. So much has happened since then! I’ve gained a few pounds and lots more gray hairs, but I’ve also written a few more books.

So in honor of all the extra weight around my tummy and my gray hair (which has a mind of its own), I thought I’d continue my new tradition and let you know how it went for me in 2019. If you’d like to read my 2018 review first, you can find it HERE. Otherwise, let’s get started, shall we?

Writing & Publishing Accomplishments in 2019

I published a prequel novella (Robbery the Roller Derby) and two full-length books—Poisoned by the Pier (book #3) and Dead in the Dinghy (book #4)—in my Mollie McGhie Cozy Sailing Mystery series, as well as a box set of the first three books in the series. This series is inspired by my own adventures and misadventures living aboard a sailboat with my husband. Fortunately, I haven’t run across any dead bodies, unlike Mollie. For some reason, she seems to keep stumbling across them.

In terms of other writing projects I worked on during 2019, I started drafting the fifth book in the Mollie McGhie series (Shooting by the Sea) and sketched out the final two books I have planned in this series—Overboard in the Ocean (a full-length book) and Murder Aboard the Mistletoe (a Christmas novella)—all of which I hope to publish in 2020.

Random side note: I originally wrote “intend to publish in 2020,” then changed it to “hope,” cause you know life doesn’t always go the way you want. “Hope” seems to have more wiggle room than “intend.”

Covers for the complete Mollie McGhie series. Books 1 & 2 published during 2018. Prequel novella and Books 3 & 4 published during 2019. Books 5 & 6 and a Christmas novella planned for 2020.

I also worked on a high-level outline for my next cozy mystery series (The Dewey Decimal Library Mysteries) which I’m planning to launch in 2021. And I toyed around with another bright, shiny idea—a Mollie McGhie spin-off series of novellas set on Destiny Key which will feature a psychic and her pet hamster.

Random side note #2: “Planning” is another vague term for something I “hope” might happen.

Covers for the Dewey Decimal Library Mystery series. Looking at them provided inspiration when I was working on the high-level series outline. They’re going to be set in North Dakota. Brr…I feel cold just thinking about the setting.

And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s the travel rom-com series I have a hankering to write. Sigh. . .too many ideas, not enough time.

But enough about what I hope/plan/intend to do in 2020. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty details and numbers from 2019. Please note that I won’t be sharing the actual number of sales I made over the course of the year. Yes, I know, that’s the number some of you are quite interested in and I’m sorry to disappoint, but I just don’t feel comfortable disclosing that. However, there are lots of other numbers you may find fascinating below.

Random side note #3: Not all percentages add up to 100% and some items show up as 0% in the charts below due to rounding. Isn’t math fascinating? I’m kidding. It really isn’t. At least not to me. Now cookies, those are fascinating. Math, not so much.

Sales & Revenue

The chart below shows the peaks and troughs of my sales and revenue over the year. Note that I used the term revenue, not income. Revenue is how much money has come in from the sales of your books. Income is what’s left over after you deduct expenses. You may see people post their earnings in various Facebook author groups and be in awe of how much they’re making, but don’t forget that the numbers they’re sharing may be before expenses which means they’re taking home less than you think (in some cases, a lot less).

As an independent author, I have a number of expenses including:

  • editors (one of my biggest expenses, but so worth it to me)
  • ISBNs (these don’t come cheap if you’re based in the States—$575 for 100 of them—which is one reason why not everyone uses these book identification numbers)
  • proof copies of paperbacks and large print editions from Amazon KDP and IngramSpark
  • paid email promotions
  • advertising (I primarily use AMS ads, but I have also dabbled with Facebook and Bookbub ads)
  • licenses for images used in marketing and book covers (DepositPhotos and Shutterstock)
  • author website hosting / domain fees
  • other system subscription fees such as BookFunnel (used for ebook distribution to my ARC team and for distribution of my reader magnets) and Mailerlite (used for newsletter)
  • printer ink and paper
  • books related to writing craft and marketing
  • membership in the Alliance for Independent Authors (the cost of membership is offset for me by the fact that I don’t have to pay fees for paperback uploads / changes on IngramSpark)

Okay, enough talk about revenue vs. income and expense, let’s get back to the chart. You’ll note that I show both the number of units sold (blue) and the income (red). I like doing this because I can get caught up in how many books I’ve sold but that doesn’t always correlate with how much I’m making.

See that peak in July? I did price drop promo of my first in series—Murder at the Marina—and sold a fair number of books. But because I was selling them for 99c (normally $3.99), I wasn’t making very much per sale (only 34c on Amazon). Contrast that with December. I sold less than half the number of books, but made more money because I was primarily selling full-price books.

Sales by Format

While the majority of my sales are ebooks (73%), I still sell a fair amount of large print (21%) and paperback (5%) editions. I’d be curious to know if this split between ebook and print books is the norm or not for indie-published cozy mysteries.

I have to confess that although I read mostly on my Kindle these days, I love the idea that people are out there reading my books the old-fashioned way by turning one paper page at a time.

I use both Amazon KDP and Ingram Spark print-on-demand services for my large print and paperbacks, but I sell way more books through Amazon then Ingram Spark. This is due in large part to the fact that I run AMS (Amazon Advertising) ads. They were particularly effective in the run-up to the holidays as print books make lovely presents.

Random side note #4: When e-readers first came out way back in the dark ages, my hubby wanted to get me one as a present. I poo-pooed the whole idea, swearing that I’d never be happy reading books electronically. My how times have changed – I can’t imagine life without my Kindle.

Sales by Book

Now that I have five books out, I’ve started to pay attention to what percentage of my sales come from each book. No surprise here, my series starter—Murder at the Marina—outsells the rest of my books (71% of sales). That’s because: (a) it’s been out the longest; (b) because I focus my advertising/marketing/promo efforts on it; and (c) after reading Murder at the Marina, some folks decide my cozies aren’t their cup of tea and don’t continue with the rest of the series.

Some of you are probably wondering what my sell-thru rate its. Others of you have no idea what a sell-thru rate is which is fair enough. I had no idea what it was until I got into this whole writing thing. Basically, you summon all your mathematical powers to figure out what percentage of readers go on from the first book in your series to buy the next book, and then the next book, and so on.

I’ve sliced and diced the sell-thru data in a variety of ways (by format and by retailer and by time span). Because the fourth book in my series—Dead in the Dinghy—was published mid-December 2020, I’m not paying much attention to the sell-thru rate from book #3 to book #4 right now, but I’m super interested in how many people go from book #1 to book #2 and book #2 to book #3.

Curious what I found out when I crunched the numbers? Here’s the sell-thru stats for my ebooks on Amazon for all of 2019—13% of readers went on from book #1 to book #2 and close to 100% went on from book #2 to book #3.

The 13% from book #1 to book #2 seems disappointing at first blush, but it’s not all that surprising given the big 99c promo campaign I did for my first in series in July/August 2019. Lots of people bought book #1 because it was a bargain. Who passes up a bargain?

So what happened with those bargain hunters? Some of those people probably never even read it (ask me how many unread 99c books I have on my Kindle), so of course they wouldn’t have gone onto the next one. Others might have started it but decided it wasn’t their cup of tea and gave the rest of the series a miss. And some folks might have read it and enjoyed it but didn’t love it enough to buy the next book in the series at full price.

As a writer you have to embrace the fact that not everyone is going to like what you write. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

It’s interesting to note that if I calculate sell-thru based solely on the last three months of 2019 (when Murder at the Marina was full price), around 40% went on from book #1 to book #2. The read-thru during that period for book #2 to book #3 remained consistent at close to 100%.

On a positive note, the nearly 100% read-thru from book #2 to book #3 is encouraging. Those are the folks who like my quirky sense of humor. Those people are my tribe. I just need to figure out how to find more of those types of readers and introduce them to Mollie McGhie.

Random side note #5: I love spreadsheets! It’s so much fun to track sales and then make groovy charts from the data. I know this makes me a big weirdo.

Ebook Sales by Retailer

I’m wide—and I’m not just talking about my hips. When I first started out I decided not to be exclusive to Amazon. Instead, I publish widely, i.e., on Amazon as well as on other retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple Books, and Google Play.

Given its market dominance, it really isn’t surprising that the majority of my ebook sales were on Amazon (57%). But I am pleased that I sold almost half as much on other retailers. This is a huge increase from last year when Amazon accounted for 86% of my ebook sales.

After Amazon, I did best on Barnes & Noble last year (31%), in large part due to a 99c promo they invited me to take part in. Kobo came in third (8%), followed by Apple Books (3%). I sold some books on Google Play, Scribd, Biblioteca, and Overdrive, but nothing to write home about.

Random side note #6: For those of you not in the know, Biblioteca and Overdrive are two systems libraries use for ebooks. I love seeing my books in libraries, both print and ebook editions! If you’d like to ask your library to acquire my books, you can find a handy-dandy info sheet HERE.

Well, I think that about sums it up. Overall, 2019 was a good year for me in terms of writing and publishing and I’m looking forward to more of the same in 2020!

How did 2019 go for you? What are you looking forward to in 2020?

Are you interested in learning more about my cozy mystery publishing journey? If so, check out these posts:

Cover Design | Draft #743 | Beta Readers | Traditional vs. Self-Publishing | Editing | Going Wide or Amazon Exclusive | Ebooks, Print, or Both | Book Formatting| Distribution Channels | Book Release in Numbers | Blog Tours | ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) | Large Print Books

24 thoughts on “2019 in Review | Writing & Publishing Cozy Mysteries”

  1. I’m so impressed on how much writing you get done living on a boat and how well you have been able to analyze the data on your sales. Looking forward to you sharing how 2020 turns out for you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve accomplished so much and you’re so wonderfully organized! I don’t keep track of any of the stats on my stuff at all. (It depresses me too much!) I do know the vast majority of my sales are on Amazon and the first book in any series far outsells the others. I’ve also found that not many folks pay attention to sales with discounted books or even free ones like they used to.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are not a slacker at all! What might look like prep work is actually procrastination. Nothing better than thinking about future books than actually working on the current book. 🙂


  3. Inspirational and useful, Ellen. You must be prolific to have achieved so much in a short time. Can I ask if you had other books drafted before you published the first, and how many were near completion? Second, at what point did your books become self-funding? I ask as my publishing stalled with my debut, even though I wrote a sequel and have a series drafted – stalled by financial constraints. I fear publishing needs a financial pump primer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had my first book ready to be published in April of 2018 – I think. I remember having a relatively long pre-order period for it in order to give me time to figure out all the ins/outs of publishing. I don’t think it was until book #1 was published that I started working on book #2 in earnest. I do tend to write in fits/spurts rather than a steady day in and day out kind of thing.

      Self-funding? LOL. I’m still waiting for that day. Hopefully, that will happen this year. This is one expensive hobby. 🙂 Self-publishing does require an upfront investment which can make it challenging. I totally understand where you’re coming from.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Here’s to a viable future of self-funding your writing, Ellen. I was lucky to start with a small press who covered a few costs. But other investments seem to have moved ahead of the writing/publishing – like step-kids who seem to have gone through thousands of dollars. At least, I’ll be leaving a legacy of unpublished manuscripts for someone.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Are you sure you’re not twins? You are kicking A in the productivity department! Great run down on your year. I love how much you share the “behind the scenes” nitty gritty details.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You had a super productive year, Ellen! Wow. I’d call 2019 a success for writing and publishing. And, the plans you have are industrious and amazing. I hope you can stick to them. But, don’t go RVing and sightseeing, because you won’t have enough time left for writing! 🙂 I surely love your imagination!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love your graphs!

    It will be interesting to compare your new Romcom series (which I assume will appeal to a wider audience ) to you Mollie McGhie series (which I assume is more of a niche market) – although I get it if you don’t want to compare one child (book series) to the other.

    I hope you are pleased with all your results. As always, I am in complete awe of your prodigiousness and success.


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