Before I launched the book I tried to envision how it would do. I did the Fermi math: there are millions of Canadians who need a book like The Value of Simple: people who are not DIY investors, but want to be (I even found stats on the number of discount brokerage accounts that are opened yet not used for DIY*); or who are paying outrageous mutual fund fees and don’t even know it, and would want to look at a low-cost investing method if they only knew. But I knew that despite the size of the target market, very few of those people would buy it. If I hit 10% of them it would be a huge, smashing success, but fractions of a percent were more likely. Sales measured in ppm were possible.
Like a good scientist I defined three levels of success for myself in advance.
I’m happy to say that at the end of the 2nd week of release, I have hit the first level of success — which perhaps I should instead define as not-failure. I have now sold enough books that I have broken even! When I put up my posts on the publishing process I’ll talk more about all the out-of-pocket expenses involved, from paying the artist for the cover, to the set-up fees at the printer, to printing and shipping review copies, to various office and mailing supplies. But those have now been covered by the sales so far. I was pretty sure I would hit this first level going in: I only needed to do a bit better in sales than Potato’s Short Guide to DIY Investing did to break-even, and The Value of Simple is a much better book than that first guide was.
The next level of success I defined as the point where I would get something close to minimum wage back on all the time I invested in writing and publishing the book — easily 1,000 hours that I’ve tabulated (and I’m sure I missed some in that estimate). That’s the point where I would feel really justified in the effort of putting out the book and would call it successful enough to actually consider doing something like that again in the future. That would be “success.” Beyond that would be a “smashing success” — selling over 5,000 copies, which is the approximate rule-of-thumb for being a Canadian bestseller (though whether the book would actually appear on any such list is another question).
The sales pattern for the first two weeks is kind of interesting: a peak at release, then another one after some favourable reviews and giveaways were posted, followed by an exponential decay — though I’m hoping that there will be an even larger peak to come with a lag from the first two as people read it, love it, and go tell ten or twenty friends about it.
* - A third of Canadians would like to invest for themselves, but don’t have the confidence to start. Half of those who have opened a self-directed account continue to pay an advisor.