"Hi Ksenia! I am enjoying reading through your website. I need to reorganize mine. I am a relatively new author. I put Parenting . . . A Work in Progress on Amazon, KDP, Smashwords, Ingram Spark, and use a local printer. The next book, The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon is with the formatter and is awaiting illustrations. I am considering doing what you have done for the Charlie eBooks. I believe you have hit upon an excellent method and would like to try it. Do you use both Mobi and ePub files? Do you send something to explain to folks how to upload the file to their devices? Are you finding that most people send funds close to what you may have gained otherwise? Many thanks, Ellen."
Thank you, Ellen! I'm thrilled you enjoy my blog. You got me thinking here, with your questions. What follows will be part cautionary tale part answers to your questions, something I wish someone told me three years ago when I started writing, something that would've helped me sleep and not worry to death. So, here is the thing.
DON'T FOCUS ON MONEY, FOCUS ON WRITING.
Money is unpredictable when you do art, and particularly if you're an indie author in the business of writing and self-publishing books. The chance that you will make any money at all is slim and it depends a lot on luck and on your stories. If you happen to strike a combination of producing great stories and getting lucky—your book landing into the right hands at the right time—then yes, you can start focusing on the money side of the business because you will have money. Until then, have a day job, consult on the side, rob a bank, kill your rich uncle, do whatever you can to have a source of income THAT DOES NOT COME FROM YOUR BOOKS.
So, to answer your question, Ellen, I can't really answer it. The funds that people send are unpredictable. I used to track my free ebook downloads and donations and tried to make some sense out of the math and then I just gave up because it gave me more headaches than revelations about some hidden free-to-donation ratio that would help me map out my finances and the number of books downloaded. Here are a few little tidbits for you, to illustrate.
Sometimes when I publish a new book I get a lot of downloads and no donations.
Sometimes when I don't publish a new book and am in the middle of writing one, suddenly people drop $20 and $30 and even $100 into my PayPal tell me to keep writing and when I ask them how they found out about me or what did they read, sometimes they respond and sometimes they don't. Why now? What made them do it? The mysteries of the Internet.
Sometimes out of the blue one of my Patreon patrons would raise a pledge from $2 to $20, and sometimes I would get a pledge of $50 (WOW!) only for it to disappear the next day, complete with the account of the patron.
Sometimes I get donations that say this is not for your books, I haven't read your books, but I hear they're great and I hear you love socks (I tweet about socks often) so here is some $25 for new socks for you. What the fuck??? Thank you, stranger! I'll take it.
Sometimes one of my readers will gently tell me in the email that they're having a hard time downloading a particular format (to answer your other question about formats, and yes I offer Mobi and ePub and PDF), and I apologize and send them a free book and go and try to fix the issue, though I'm a techie idiot but I pretend I know my shit (I don't). So no, I don't send people instructions. Maybe I should, now that you mention it, but I have had very few complaints.
Sometimes I get a money order or a jar of jam in the mail from my fans, for no reason at all except love, and sometimes my fans drive me to other cities for book readings and put me up in their houses for free, and sometimes even corporations pay for me to feel like a queen and travel like a queen too (speaking of the Amtrak residency, of course). There is no rule to it. It's all spontaneous, but the summary of it does come out to a specific dollar amount.
Sometimes I have a surge of book sales, actual sales on my site, sometimes nothing, and I don't know if people still read my books in those quiet times? Perhaps. Perhaps those who read them are too poor to donate. That's fine with me. I know when then will make their millions, they will not forget me and will send me a case of vodka.
Sometimes I wish this money shit was predictable, you know? Sometimes it drives me crazy that I don't know but I have learned to ignore it and to plow ahead, first sustaining myself with my savings, then with unemployment, then with consulting, and now sustained by my partner Royce who said he believes in me (silly man) and is investing and expecting a huge return. In kisses. (Don't tell him, he thinks it'll be in dollars.)
But here is another thing.
Slowly my overall incoming money is climbing up.
The book sales slowly grow everywhere even with the gaps of inactivity. The donations grow a little too, with my patrons on Patreon steadily growing and their pledges getting higher. The donations on my site, as scarce as they are, happen a little more often. I don't track any of this individually, but I've noticed the overall monthly cash amount that drops into my account get bigger. Not much, but bigger.
So you're saying I've hit upon an excellent method, and in this I will agree and correct you only a little. I HAVE STUMBLED ON IT. "Hit" would presume I knew where to hit. I didn't. I just tried things and tried things and learned as fast and as much as I could and failed and tried again. Is this indeed an excellent method, giving away your ebooks for free and charging for paperbacks on your site and charging for both paperbacks and ebooks on all other sites like Amazon and the other behemoths? It remains to be seen.
I don't do KDP and Smashwords like you do. KDP, because I can't have my books there and since I offer them for free on my site, that's against their rules. So if you go my route, you won't be able to use it either. Smashwords, because I don't like someone else to post my books at various online places, I want to have full control so I do it by hand everywhere myself. I do have my books on Amazon and on Ingram Spark and I can tell you that the printing quality is better at Ingram Spark and once I run out of my stock I will print my books with them because I'm tired of getting books that are cut wrong (literally, 0.5 inches too short) and that barely use any ink inside so the pages look like they came out of a depleted Xerox copier.
I would say, if you are able, forget about the money, the donations, the downloads. Just go for it, and when it reaches critical mass and you have enough data to glimpse, you can return to this again. I certainly don't plan to start spending my time on figuring out how my downloads are doing versus my donations. Fuck that. To get really good, and I mean, REALLY REALLY GOOD, I need at least another 7 years or so as it seems that spectacular writing comes from those who have been at it for a decade or more (all those overnight success stories are bull, dig up any of them and you will see years and years of experience behind each). I've only been at this for 3 years, so I have a long road to go. So far I was able to seduce my number one fan (I love you, Royce) into feeding me while I lock up in my cave for days on end and write. I got lucky. See? Luck and work. Work and luck.
I hope this helps you, Ellen, and thank you for reading my ramblings. I wish you all the patience and the inspiration and the luck in the world.