Excel: How to Count TRUE or FALSE Entries in a Range

I’m working on a new Excel title right now and I was going to put a note in there about counting the number of TRUE or FALSE entries returned by the EXACT function, but then I realized that there actually isn’t a SUMA function that would let you do that. At least not in Excel 2013.

So I asked myself, how could I take a column of 10,000 entries and find out how many of those entries were TRUE versus FALSE?

You may be thinking to yourself, why would I even need this? When is that going to happen? The scenario I was looking at was using the EXACT function to compare two columns of text to identify any entries where those two columns aren’t the same value (like I do when I’m looking at AMS ad performance). I generally use an IF function for that so I have blank spaces or ERROR as my values, but if you use EXACT instead you’ll have TRUE and FALSE values. And it’s hard to scan down a list like that to count how many FALSE entries you have, if any.

So what can you do if you have a column of 10,000 entries that read TRUE, FALSE, TRUE, TRUE, TRUE, FALSE, etc. etc. and you want to easily count the number of entries that are TRUE or the number that are FALSE?

There are any number of options. You could filter your data. You could sort it. You could create a pivot table even. But how do you do this with a function?

It turns out that Excel assigns values to TRUE and FALSE. TRUE has a value of 1. FALSE has a value of 0. That’s why I thought there should be a SUMA function to tell Excel to sum your TRUE and FALSE entries. But there isn’t.

What there is is the AVERAGEA function which will average the values across a range, including your TRUE and FALSE values. So if all of your entries in a range are TRUE, you’ll get a value of 1 using AVERAGEA. If they’re all FALSE you’ll get a value of 0. If some are TRUE and some are FALSE you’ll get a decimal value representing the proportion of your entries that are TRUE.

It’s very simple to convert that decimal value to a count of TRUE or FALSE entries as long as you know the total number of values you’re averaging.

For TRUE entries it’s number of total values * AVERAGEA for the range.

For FALSE entries it’s number of total values * (1 minus AVERAGEA for the range).

And if you want to get really fancy because you don’t know the number of values you’re dealing with, you can use COUNTA to get the number of values.

So for Column G, for example, if we wanted the number of TRUE entries we’d use:

=COUNTA(G:G)*AVERAGEA(G:G)

COUNTA will count all entries including those with TRUE or FALSE values and then AVERAGEA will average all values in the range, including TRUE and FALSE entries.

This will only work if the entire range consists of TRUE and FALSE values or blank spaces, but it does work.

Like so:

Counting TRUE and FALSE Entries

Success and Shifting Expectations

I was looking at my sales numbers this morning and projecting what I was going to gross for the month as well as net. And I felt depressed by the numbers. Because this time of year my ad costs go up compared to my sales. So I was looking at grossing more than I ever have before but netting less than I did in September or October. And maybe even August.

But then I had to take a step back and give myself a reality check. Because where I am right now, on the 13th of December, for both gross and net is more than last December. I’m not even halfway through the month and I’m past where I was a year ago. That means I’m very likely going to double what I was earning this time a year ago and most likely triple those numbers.

That’s really hard to keep in perspective. Every single time I level up I seem to forget how hard it was to get to where I am now. I remember wanting and wanting and wanting my first $1,000 month. (Gross not net.) I came close a few times in the year before it happened–hitting in the $800’s–but I just could not break through that level. For years. I was in my fourth year of self-publishing before I broke through that level.

And, knock wood, haven’t gone below it since.

But now if I had a $1,000 month I’d be bummed. I’d wonder what on earth I had done wrong to slip that far. Each time you hit a new level, your expectations shift. At least mine do. That’s what keeps me moving forward.

But that makes it hard, too. Because you can never stay satisfied with where you are. And, of course, in indie land there are always people doing better with apparently no effort. “Oh I just write my books and throw them out there and they earn me six-figures a year. Isn’t that what it’s like for everyone?” (No. No it is not.)

Which is why I appreciated something I saw on KKR’s blog this morning. She said:

“A lot of you have told me lately that you’re “failures” even though your books are selling. They might only be selling one copy a week or they might be selling dozens of copies per day. It doesn’t matter, because you’ll find someone who you believe is doing better than you are…

That’s why I wrote today’s blog. Because I want you to celebrate each sale, each reader. Those sales are important. Someone liked your work enough to spend money on it. Be happy about that.

 

And it’s true. Sometimes we need to just take a moment and embrace the fact that we wrote something, put it out there, and other people bought it. Heck, they even liked it. Having that happen once is amazing. Having it happen hundreds of times? Thousands of times? That’s…there are no words if you really stop to think about it. (I’m high enough in Self-Assurance that I expect that to happen, but really, truly? It’s almost a miracle. If miracles are made from sweat, tears, and blood.)

Which is all to say: embrace every milestone. You may never be satisfied with where you are (I probably won’t be), but force yourself to stop every once in a while and appreciate how far you’ve come and what you’ve accomplished.

AMS Ads Revisited

I should be writing (as always), but I only have half an hour until the pup needs fed so I figured it was a good time to revisit AMS ads.

For me they’re still profitable and the bulk of my advertising.

My same basic strategy remains the same: one sponsored product ad per book with strong bids. Not ridiculous bids, but not 20 cents a click either.

This being December my ad spend has been climbing fast. Last month was higher as well. But my overall sales are not climbing. I’m still profitable but not as profitable as I would’ve been with that same ad spend in September. It’s just that time of year when you spend more for less visibility.

It’s also because I turned back on ads for some of my books where I’d had the ads turned off due to mediocre performance. I killed those ads again a couple days ago because the lesson is the same each time: Ads work better on books people want.

Every time I get billed for AMS ads I check my ad performance. I look at what I spent on ads for that time period and compare it to what I earned on those books during the same time period. Since I get billed weekly due to my ad spend, this is really the only time I worry about ad performance. I never bother with ACoS or any of the flawed data on the dashboard. (Since moving to KDP Print I have to wait a few days after the invoice date for all print sales to be reported on the KDP dashboard, but that’s the only change I’ve made recently.)

What I find is that the same five or six ads perform very well each time while the rest are basically breakeven. Those breakeven ads stay in a range of losing me $5 to making me $5 for the time period and rarely move outside of it.

I will on rare occasions have an ad that goes more than $5 negative on me, but usually it’s just one ad. When that happens I decide whether to pause it, adjust its keywords, or adjust its bids. The ads that do that are usually for the same small handful of books.

At the end of the day ad performance comes back to the book being advertised. Books people want to buy are more profitable to advertise than books they don’t. Changing keywords or bids or ad copy helps some, especially if you haven’t aligned your ad copy with your blurb and your cover, but it’s mostly about the book and whether it looks like what people want.

What I’ve found far more successful is changing a book’s title or cover if it’s not selling well with advertising. (I changed up my cookbook’s title recently and it’s now selling much better, for example.)

I also do better with non-fiction ads than fiction right now, but it’s hard to say how much of that is because my fiction is not generally written to market and my non-fiction most definitely hits its market.

My AMS ad for my new cozy, the only fiction I have written to market, was in the negative for the first month of launch when I had deliberately high bids but now that I’ve backed those down to something more reasonable it’s mildly profitable in and of itself. So I’d say someone who writes to market in a genre like romance could make a killing with AMS ads still.

Not at 99 cents, of course. Not unless there’s a huge series behind it with good readthrough. You need to earn enough on a sale to pay for your ads and you’re competing with others who do have enough backlist to bid high for ads.

Being in KU has an advantage, too, because there’s a certain percent of people who click on an ad looking for KU titles who won’t buy if you’re not available in KU. But my best-performing ads are all for wide books. (Again, non-fiction, but no reason it couldn’t hold true if you have a fiction title that hits all of the buttons for a large reader group.)

So my bottom line on AMS as of right now? Still well worth it.

(But if others want to hate them and refuse to use them and say nasty things about them every chance they get? So be it. Less people using them means lower potential ad costs means more profit.)

(And I’d add that for those who haven’t read my book or watched the video course that while Amazon has added some bells and whistles to the ads since those were created that the core advice in both is still valid.)

 

The Excel PRODUCT Function

I have to confess that the PRODUCT function in Excel is one I’ve generally considered pretty useless. SUMPRODUCT is much more exciting to me. But this morning I was trying to do some projections for sales of my new cozy mystery and I ended up using the PRODUCT function two different times.

And because I’m a nerd and Excel things excite me, I figured I’d share where and how I used it.

This will also be useful to any writers who write in a series or are thinking of doing so and want to extrapolate from sales of a first in series to sales of the whole series.

So here’s the thought process and how the PRODUCT function can come into play:

At its most basic, if I publish a single book then my earnings on that book are equal to the price of the book times the payout percentage. (In reality, if you’re in KU or have a print version it’s more complicated than that because each format has its own value but we’re going to ignore that for now.)

Now, there’s a temptation to say, “If I write ten books in this series, I’ll earn ten times as much.” But that’s not how it works.

Not everyone who reads the first book will go on to read the other books. I have a series of eight related short romance stories and I see a drop off from story 1 to story 2 and then from story 2 to story 3. But from story 4 onward it’s very close to a 100% readthrough.

If I want to calculate the value of a new customer I can’t just take the price of each story times the payout. I also have to factor in how many readers actually make it that far into the series.

So the value of book 8 to me is not price times payout. It’s price times payout times % of readers of book 1 who read it.

This is the first place you can use the PRODUCT function.

Because the calculation you’re doing here is: price times payout times % who read book 2 times % who then read book 3 times % who then read book 4 times % who then read book 5, etc.

(In Excel for Self-Publishers I did a similar sort of calculation but used a different approach that just looked at book 1 to that particular book in the series because I had real data at that point. But this is extrapolating when you don’t have any data yet.)

One way to write that calculation is: =A1*A2*A3*A4*… where each of those values is in a different cell in Column A.

Another way to write it, though, is using PRODUCT. You just write =PRODUCT(A1:A9) assuming your price is in A1, your payout is in A2, and your readthrough rates are in Cells A3 through A9.

Isn’t that nice and simple?

I know, it’s a little hard to visualize. And you’re probably not going to set your data up exactly that way.

But let’s look at a simpler example, which is the second way in which I used PRODUCT.

First I had to calculate the value above. I assumed I had a ten book series with book 1 priced at 99 cents and the rest at $3.99 with a fifty percent readthrough from book 1 to book 2 that then goes up to 80% and then 95%, I calculated that I would earn $7.54 for each new reader.

Currently book 1 is priced at $3.99.

So that’s an increase in overall revenue by a factor of 2.70 just based on having more books out. (7.54 divided by 3.99).

But we also have that price drop factor at play. How many more people will read book 1 if it’s priced at 99 cents than are currently reading it when it’s priced at $3.99? For my purposes I said three times as many.

(This is for cozy mystery. Other genres might see no increase or even a drop. Or readthrough might be severely impacted depending on book 1 and book 2 prices. You have to know what you’re selling or have a guess how it’ll behave to do this.)

Next, we have the series factor. Some people prefer to read series instead of standalones. And more books means more visibility. So how much will having ten, presumably well-reviewed, books in a series impact book 1 sales? In this case I assumed that would double sales although there’s a good chance it could do more than that.

So if I want to take current sales on book 1 and try to figure out what I might earn if I have ten books out in that series what I need to do is take the amount I’m earning each month on that book and multiply it by that readthrough factor and then multiply that by the price drop factor (assuming I’m dropping book 1’s price, otherwise it’s just 1), and then multiply that by the series increase factor.

Which is another place to use PRODUCT. Here’s the Excel worksheet so you can visualize this:

Series Value Estimation

I have the increase factors in Cells C34 through E34, so my formula in Cell F34 is =PRODUCT(C34:E34) to get my overall factor of 16.2.

I can then take that number and multiply it by the amount I expect to earn on the first cozy when things reach a steady state. Let’s say $250. (In the image above that calculation’s done in Cell G34.)

(You can use PRODUCT again here, which is what I did. In that case, the formula is =PRODUCT(B34:E34) because I have Book 1 sales in Cell B34. Or you can just do =B34*F34.)

Based on these calculations I can say that if I have a Book 1 in a series that is earning me $250 a month and I write nine more books in that series and discount the first book to 99 cents while selling all the other titles at $3.99 with my assumed readthrough rates and price drop and series increases that I will earn, on average, $4,000 a month from those ten books.

Understand, though, that there are many many assumptions at play here. If my Book 1 to Book 2 readthrough is 75% instead, that number goes up to $6,000 a month for a ten-book series. If I see a four-fold increase in sales from having a series rather than a two-fold increase then it’s $8,000. If I have 75% readthrough AND a four-fold increase, then it’s $12,000 a month.

On the flip side if there is no series increase and dropping the price only doubles sales then it’s just $2,000 a month for a ten-book series. And if people fall off of the series as it continues (say you have lower and lower readthrough rates after Book 6) then it’s just $1,445 a month for that ten-book series.

(Don’t continue a series like that. Wrap it up as soon as you can. Book 1 to Book 2 you should see drop off. Family and friends will buy Book 1 to support you but not read the whole series, some people will find that the book just isn’t for them, and some will buy and not get around to it for five years. Book 2 to Book 3 may have another drop off because people who were on the fence with Book 1 may try Book 2 and then decide not to continue. But from Book 3 onward, you should really have your core audience.)

(I should also add that there could be a time factor at play here. The longer the series the longer it takes someone to read through that series. On a recent podcast someone mentioned six months for how long it can take to read through a series. For a very long one, I’d agree that might be true. For a trilogy, if you’ve really hooked a reader, I’d say one month at the longest. Of course, that’s from when they start reading it. But once you reach steady state for a series that should disappear in the wash because people should always be reading through your series each month even if they’re at different points in doing so.)

Anyway. You can make all of this insanely complicated if you want, but this was just a basic calculation I wanted to share using PRODUCT which I had so unfairly misjudged. Once you set something like this up, it’s easy enough to play with the numbers and see your full range of values.

 

 

Know Your Timeframe…

My senior year of college I interviewed for a couple of jobs where we ended up discussing various business ideas. This was 1999, so about twenty years ago.

In the first instance I ended up interviewing with the business development group for a television channel. And they were very excited about online content.

My reaction? No, not yet. Here I was, a senior in college, and I’d never even had a computer in my room until that year and the computer I did have was certainly not a fancy one. I was not alone in this. And the internet connectivity to support that kind of thing just wasn’t there yet.

To me that was probably a good decade away from being significant and I said so. (Didn’t get the job. No surprise there.)

Now, did it take people having that belief in 1999 to get to the point where things started to happen in 2005 and really started to pick up in 2008? Probably. But that man I spoke to in 1999 did not think he was nine years from launching his project.

On the other side of the coin I had another job interview that involved a written exercise where we were supposed to evaluate four different business ideas related to plane tickets. I had just flown from San Francisco to Washington DC using an emailed reservation. (Two years prior to that I’d gone to Europe and the only option was a paper ticket and you were screwed if you lost it.)

One of the options in that article was a kiosk that would be placed in large office buildings where business travelers could print off their ticket as they left for their flight. Great idea five years before when the world revolved around having a physical, paper ticket. Obsolete by the time I was traveling for work a year after the interview. Everything was digital by then.

Both were good business ideas for a specific period of time. Someone could’ve made bank with those kiosks if they’d done it five years earlier and managed a rapid rollout. And online streaming content is certainly a money-maker today.

But oftentimes the key to making money in an industry is knowing what’s going to happen when. And how quickly you can react to a situation. And what your personal timeframe is.

Let’s take KU for an example. I know of authors who’ve made millions by being in KU. There’s an author who posted on a certain forum who is all-in with KU who makes six figures a month. For that author and their timeframe, which is short-term, KU is a perfect choice.

Now, the flip side of that is how long KU will last. If you want to be an author making a living at writing in ten years or twenty, then being all in with KU might be a horrible decision. Because KU may not exist by then and when it goes away you will be staring from scratch on all the wide platforms along with every other KU author. You’ll have a backlist but you’ll potentially drown in a sea of new content.

(I should add that part of what prompted this post is a post that KKR just wrote implying that KDP will not exist long-term. In other words, no Amazon sales. Something that has crossed my mind as well once or twice because self-publishers routinely make themselves a complete PITA for Amazon.)

So someone who’s in this for the twenty year timeframe may be best off going wide and staying wide even if that means earning far less money in the short-term.

It’s interesting to look at these things, because I will often miss a good profitable short-term opportunity because I see that long-term it won’t be sustainable.

For example, last spring someone advised me to lean hard into my book on AMS ads. They saw real potential there for an alternative to the data-heavy model advocated by Meeks. (And it’s true that what I preach is far less analytical and labor-intensive than everything I’ve heard about his approach.)

But I said no. Because to me AMS is just one form of advertising that will eventually get glutted by self-publishers and then I’m suddenly a snake oil salesperson either telling people about a method that once worked but no longer does or trying to tell them about a new ad option that I don’t do as well with.

I did not want to build a career on that.

But there’s no denying that Mark Dawson and Brian Meeks have both made significant amounts of money off of their advertising courses. Short-term, telling people how to use Facebook ads or AMS ads is a good play.

Long-term? Let me just say that understanding how one ad platform works does not mean you understand how the next one does and that it can get a little shaky when you’re still looked to as an expert on something you actually no longer have expertise in…

So not something I wanted to do. Because my timeframe was five-plus years. If I’m going to devote time and energy to something I want it to have value five years from now.

Another example of this is writing to trend. You can make a killing writing the latest greatest thing that ravenous readers want. People have done so in LitRPG and reverse harem and step-brother romance. And if you’re timeframe is short, that’s great. Get in, get the money, get out.

The problem arises if you’re thinking that your short-term play has long-term potential. Because when that goes away, you are broken. The guy who raised funds to put kiosks in office buildings to print plane tickets? Sitting there five years later wondering what he does now because those kiosks are worth nothing.

For me, there’s no wrong or right about which timeframe to choose. The key is knowing your own timeframe and then making decisions according to that timeframe. Also, listening to those who share your timeframe and not the others.

I’d also say that you need to pick the timeframe that works for what you are capable of accomplishing. So if you want to be all-in KU and write to trend, you need to be able to write fast. If you want to take advantage of a short-term opportunity that could be worth nothing a year from now, you need to be able to develop and roll out a “good enough” product NOW rather than a perfect product eighteen months from now.

I also do think it’s possible to “ride the waves” and adjust when things change. So you go all in with KU now and write to X trend for however long it lasts, and when that dies you find the next wave and ride it. And when that dies you find the next one and ride it. You may miss a few. You may have down times. You may go from $20,000 a month to $500. But that doesn’t mean it was a bad choice.

It’s just a different choice than the slow and steady build. Both can have the same long-term financial result. Which you choose is very much about what you’d rather have: slow, steady progression upward or peaks and valleys.

The key, though, is knowing the decision you’re making. Know how those patterns play out based on your timeframe. Seek out the opportunities that match that and ignore the rest.

CreateSpace to KDP Migration Additional Comments

So it’s been about three months since I migrated my books from CreateSpace to KDP at Amazon’s insistence.

A few thoughts.

First, if you still haven’t done so, just do it. It’s literally a button push and you’ll make sure that the books end up connected to the right account assuming you follow the pretty simple directions.

Second, if you have migrated and haven’t noticed this yet, you may want to check in with your CreateSpace account for a few months after the migration. I’m still getting expanded distribution sales reported through my CreateSpace account. (And then paid separately as a CreateSpace payment.)

Third, because CreateSpace didn’t have as many keyword slots and only allowed one category, when your books move over they move over with just those five keywords and one category. You can go in and update the book to add more keywords and categories, but you have to go through all three screens to do so. I hesitated to do that because I was worried something wonky would happen with my files (and some people had reported having that be an issue), but I think you’re okay as long as you don’t try to upload new files and just save through the second screen. I updated all of my books this last week and they went through without any issues. Only issue I had was an old title I renamed and the cover didn’t meet their specs when I changed just the title text and uploaded it again.

Fourth, the territories for books that migrate over are not worldwide. I think the boxes that are checked are the ones that Amazon/CreateSpace actually distribute to, but you can, while you’re in there, change it to worldwide availability. (Canada is one that isn’t be default checked, for example.)

Fifth, I will say that for some reason I lost all Euro sales after the move. I was making about 150 Euros per month in paperback sales and have had maybe 10 Euros in sales in the three months since. No idea why. Maybe that worldwide checkbox. We’ll see, but so far I’m not seeing any difference.

Sixth, I’ve uploaded new titles and it’s been pretty simple. A too-wide spine text and that one that didn’t meet their dimensions but in both cases the error message was very clear on what the issue was down to them telling me the exact inch dimensions that one cover needed to be.

And that’s about it. I took a few days’ hit when I first moved over because KDP Print reports when a book ships and I think CreateSpace reported when it was ordered, but now that I’m three months in that’s not an issue anymore. But do be aware that the print sales you see on your KDP dashboard on any given day may have been ordered up to 10 days before that date. (Generate the Excel file and look at the Order Date column to see when the books were actually ordered.)

That delay makes AMS tracking a nightmare for me. I suspect most people won’t have that same issue since most fiction titles sell far better in ebook than print.

Anyway. Yet another change. Wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. Had some annoyances of missing books the first week or so, but that’s all sorted as this point. Onward and upward.

Excel Templates Now Available

I’m trying an experiment. We’ll see how it goes.

Basically, I’m making the Excel files I used for Excel for Writers, Excel for Self-Publishers, and Excel for Budgeting available for purchase via the Payhip store. These are for anyone who wants to perform the calculations in those books but would rather not go through the steps of recreating all of the worksheets themselves.

They are not ready to use out of the box. They will need to be tailored to each individual’s information, so there is definitely still Excel work that needs to be done to use them. But for those who aren’t as comfortable with Excel as I am or who just want to save a little time, they’re now available.

The Excel for Writers and Excel for Budgeting templates are 99 cents. The Excel for Self-Publishers template is $2.99.

Note that these templates are meant to be used in conjunction with their respective books so they do not come with detailed instructions for how to use each tab because that is covered in the books.

We’ll see how this works. Hopefully it’s useful for people but if it turns out to create more confusion than it’s worth, these won’t remain on sale for long.