10,000 Copies Sold

Sometime this last month I crossed the 10,000 copies sold mark. Half of that came in the last six months.

I should be thrilled. I should be dancing on the tables, overjoyed that maybe I’m finally starting to get some traction on this whole writing thing and to figure out how to sell what I write.

But I’m not.

While there is a part of me that’s excited about where I am, I know this might not continue on an upward trajectory. I have a color-coded list of income by month and I can look at that list and say, “Hey, there’s December 2014 when I published my first romance novel and a successful romance short and thought I was on my way. My first $500+ month.” And then I can look at July 2015 and see that I only made $56 that month. And that that was followed by August 2015 where I had a $600+ month. And then December 2015 which was again under $100.

So I know better by now. Some folks do great right from the start and just keeping going, but I’d say that for most writers it’s more peaks and valleys.  Good months and then not so good months.

What makes me even more uneasy is where those sales have come from this last six months. In July, almost half of my revenue for the month was from a single romance novel. In October, that novel is next to nothing for revenue, but I had a successful fantasy promo and non-fiction picked up the slack.

On one hand, yay, diversification. When one track slips, another can catch the slack. On the other hand, where do you put your efforts when from month-to-month there’s no good way to predict which titles will do best?

I like to tell my friends entering the corporate world to just get that first job, put your head down, and do the best damn job you can. Even if it isn’t the ideal position for you, you need to focus on where you are to get forward momentum and move up. You want to tell a good story when you’re ready for that next job, you need to commit to the job you have now.

That should be true of writing, too. Pick one path, focus on it, and follow it until you succeed. And I think it is for many. But what path do you choose when you could easily choose any of three paths?

(Me being me, I just wrote a new story on path four that I should just drop already. Someone please smack me upside the head.)

The other killer about that number is that it’s not enough. I know how amazed I would’ve been in year one of self-publishing to sell 10,000 copies. That’s thousands of people I don’t know who paid cash money for something I wrote.

Think about that for a minute.

Let that sink in.

Thousands of people have paid money for something I wrote. How many people can say that?

But then realize that selling 10,000 copies isn’t enough to make this sustainable. For one year, let alone four of them.

I often ask myself why I stick with the self-publishing. There are so many ways I could make money that would be far, far easier in terms of hours spent and money earned. And I think part of the answer is that it’s so damned hard for me. I have some weird, twisted need to fight for what I get or I don’t consider it worth keeping. If I’m not challenged, it doesn’t work for me.

(Also there’s theI get to work alone and from home aspect of it…)

Anyway, yay for me. Pauses to celebrate this milestone. Now time to get back to it.

20K here we come. And sometime this decade, please.

There’s Usually a Reason Regulations Exist

In my old day job I was responsible for enforcing a set of regulations that a lot of people found annoying and stupid. And, because I was on-site enforcing them, I got to hear about it. Often. And later when one of my areas of expertise was a new, but important area of regulation, I heard the complaints from both those enforcing the regulations as well as those who had to comply with them.

“Do we really have to be so hard on this firm just because they failed to properly identify who owns that account?” and “So what if we didn’t report that one little pattern of suspicious activity? Do you really have to fine us for it?”

Moment to moment, I could sympathize with their frustrations. When you have eight million things going on and deadlines and responsibilities, getting tripped up by something that seems minor or having to take a case for something that seems minor is frustrating.

What a waste, right? Everyone has better things to do, don’t they?

One of the rules that we enforced that people found most eye-roll-inducing was the requirement to file an FBAR. For those of you not in the know, an FBAR is a form that the U.S. government requires U.S. persons to file that “is used to report a financial interest in or signature authority over a foreign financial account.”

Basically, if you are a U.S. person and you have control over at least $10,000 worth of funds overseas, the U.S. government wants to know about it. And, if you fail to tell them about it and they can show you did so willfully you can owe up to $100,000 or 50% of the value of the account.

One little form. Screw it up and you lose half the value of the account. Seems absurd right?

Ah, but there’s a reason that form filing requirement exists. And a reason the penalty can be so high.

That’s because charging someone with failing to file that form is a hook a prosecutor can use to catch those who engage in activity they don’t want their government to know about.

Sometimes (often) it’s good old-fashioned tax evasion. Rich people love to hide their funds overseas where Uncle Sam can’t tax it. (Just Google UBS and tax evasion to get a small idea of the size of the issue.)

And sometimes it’s someone representing the interests of a foreign government against U.S. interests who wants to hide what they’re doing.

Either way, that little form is very handy when these things happen.

Proving tax evasion and money laundering and criminal intent can take a ton of effort and documentation and chasing money trails all over the world, and possibly years of effort to build the case. But proving that someone had over $10,000 stashed overseas and they failed to file that little form? That’s pretty damned easy to prove. (As we just saw.)

So all hail the mighty FBAR.

And the next time you’re tempted to complain about some useless regulation, remember: there’s usually a reason regulations exist.

 

I’m Not Good At This Self-Employment Thing

The last time I held a full-time office job was right about this time in 2009. I think my last day was September 30th. I worked on-site on a project out of town until 10:30 that night helping my team finish up a report, went back to my hotel, and flew home the next day.

I then took off the next three months, something I had never done before since I worked through college, both during the school year and summers and all breaks. I’d take a two-week vacation most years after college, but the rest of the time it was work, work, work. Often sixty hour weeks.

I spent part of that time off traveling around New Zealand. I cannot tell you how amazing those six weeks were. Such a beautiful country, such amazing people, such fun things to do. I wanted more of that and less of the stress and deadlines of full-time work.

So January 1st, 2010 I got back to work as a self-employed consultant who worked from home (which in those early years turned out to be New Zealand a lot of the time). I’ve stayed working as either a self-employed consultant or writer ever since.

Now, you might look at that and think, “Well, you seem to be doing something right since you’ve been self-employed for seven years now. Don’t most businesses fail after five years?”

But I’m not really. It turns out I was so good at being full-time employed that it allowed me to coast into self-employment.

In two ways.

First, almost all of my consulting business has come from people I knew when I was full-time calling me up and offering me work. That’s what happened in December 2009 and it’s continued to happen since. Only one project I’ve worked on in the last seven years came from someone I didn’t know before I started consulting.

Worse, I like to work from home and I know that if I go out to companies and say, “Hey, you have any work for me?” and they say, “Yes. And it’s on-site in this random city” that I’m kind of stuck taking work that involves travel I don’t want. So I have sat back and waited for people to reach out to me and say, “Any chance you’re free?” so I can then say, “As long as I can work from home (and as long as the rate’s good).”

That’s not a way to run a sustainable business. A successful entrepreneur should be out there hustling for new clients or for more business from their existing clients. Instead I do things like decide that the work a client was giving me wasn’t challenging enough and wasn’t using my expertise (even though it was highly lucrative) and move on at the end of the project instead of hanging around for more opportunities.

That’s a horrible way to run a business.

And the only reason I can do that is because of the other thing that being good at full-time employment gave me: savings. I can walk away from a good-paying project because I know I can cover my rent this month one way or the other out of savings.

But you can only do that kind of thing for so long. And the longer you do it for the worse it all gets. The savings go down, the people who remember you become fewer and more far between. Your skills atrophy or your knowledge becomes stale.

It’s amazing how long you can coast without realizing that you’re failing.

I envision it sometimes as my early career was one of those ramps you see at the X games and I’m some motorcycle that has gone flying off the end. The initially trajectory was even higher, but at some point now that I’m off the ramp, I’m going to start coming down.

I think the year that happens is 2018.

Unless I finally get my head out of my ass and get disciplined about being self-employed and start to treat it like a real bona fide business that requires deadlines and focus (for the writing) or actually pursuing work (for the consulting).

(Before you get out the violins, I am in the five-figure range with the writing this year, so it’s not like I’m selling three copies. It’s just that it’s not enough for how I want to live.)

Anyway. As part of that effort to break myself out of this funk, today I read one of the books in the NaNo bundle: Time Management by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Reading it brought home yet again that I don’t treat my writing as a real business. I’m still treating it as a hobby, which I can’t keep doing unless I want to go get one of those day jobs I’m so good at but hate.

So there you have it. Even though I’ve managed to do this for seven years now, I’m not actually good at this self-employment thing. But I’m going to get better at it, damn it.

I swear. (And I’ll get right on that after I waste the rest of this morning on the internet…)

On Collaboration

I’ll admit it, I don’t always play well with others. But when I was working in a corporate environment, I pretty much had to. A lot of the work I did involved coordinating my efforts with others and then writing up reports on what we’d found. Sometimes those reports were a hundred pages long and involved five or six people reading through and making sure that the terminology was correct and that we all agreed on the presentation of the facts.

So when I started writing I was glad to play in my own little sandbox. But there have been times I’ve been tempted to collaborate with a fellow writer. I have one writer friend who has brilliant off-the-wall ideas that I could never match. But I do better than they do with continuity and character development. So at one point I thought it might be good for us to combine those two strengths to write something together.

(We never did, but it was something I thought about.)

One of my hesitations though–other than the fact that I tend to prefer my own solutions to problems–was the legal aspect of it. You can’t just say, “Hey, let’s write a novel together.” You have to think about who owns the copyright, how much you’ll each earn from it, what happens if one of you doesn’t want to continue, etc.

There was just too much that could go wrong and that I couldn’t foresee for me to be comfortable entering into a collaboration like that.

And how do you work together? Who writes the first draft? Who makes edits?

There were just too many moving parts to it for me to be comfortable doing it.

But it turns out that one of the books in the NaNo Bundle (and only in the Nano Bundle at this point) is Writing as a Team Sport by Kevin J. Anderson.

(You might’ve heard of him. He’s the guy who’s co-written all those Dune books.  And many more besides. Been on the bestseller lists multiple times. Sold millions of copies of his books. Just an average Joe, really.)

In that book, not only does he talk about different possible approaches to collaborating and outline some of the pros and cons of doing so, he also includes at the end a sample legal agreement that you can use.

That agreement alone is worth the price of the bundle. For example, it would’ve never occurred to me to include an indemnification clause in a collaboration contract even though it makes total sense to do so now that I think about it. Or to mention plagiarism, for that matter.

The book didn’t convince me to rush out and start collaborating with other authors, but I do feel much more confident in my ability to do so successfully and in a way that protects both me and any potential co-author.

So if you’ve collaborated in the past or you’re thinking about it now, buy the bundle, read the book. It’s a tremendous resource that you should definitely check out and that will probably save you a lot of heartache or drama down the road.

(And, not covered by this book, but shared by another author recently: Be careful if you decide to collaborate with someone you’re dating but not in a long-term relationship with. Keven and his wife and DWS and KKR have both successfully collaborated and stayed married for decades, but imagine collaborating on a book with someone you then break up with.)

Breathe

For some reason the level of “oh my god, the sky is falling” seems to have ratcheted up in the last few days.

The latest one I’m seeing is the “OMG, CreateSpace” drama because they decided to close their eStore. Now, I realize this does impact some people who used the store for discounts and perhaps sales at conventions, but I never used the eStore. I honestly never understood why it existed in the first place. Not like you could search it or really use it to shop.

So a business discontinued one aspect of its product offerings because it was probably minimally used and required too many resources to maintain.

And now there’s a five page long thread on Kboards of people saying they have to switch to Ingram Spark. Um, why? If you were fine putting your books out on Amazon using CreateSpace before this, that hasn’t changed. That’s not what they’re closing.

Now, if enough people abandon CreateSpace altogether that may just lead them to shut the whole thing down in favor of KDP Print. But we’re not there.

So, breathe.  Remember the whole serenity prayer? Focus on what you can control and stop freaking out about things that aren’t happening.

(This from someone who runs contingency plans in their head non-stop. If X, I’ll do Y, If A, I’ll do B, If C, I’ll do D. Oh, look, E happened.)

It’s Friday…

Which means I should say something about AMS. And I will in a minute.

First, Dave Higgins has a poll up on his website about which books from the NaNo bundle he should review. So if you are tempted by one of the titles in the bundle but not quite sure it’ll be what you’re looking for, get over there and vote. (You should also take a look around and read his other posts while you’re there.)

Also, when I was over there grabbing the link to the poll, I noticed he’d already reviewed my Excel guides. Reviews are here. I’d had someone ask about whether the books could be used with programs other than Excel and I couldn’t honestly answer them because I haven’t used other programs enough to judge that, but here’s Dave’s comment on it:

“Humphrey includes sufficient explanation of the intent behind a step that authors are likely to be able to reproduce the reports in other office suites (such as Open Office or Libre Office) [with] a little extra effort.”

I’d also had someone voice concern about their level of Excel ability since the introduction says you should be familiar with Excel to use the guides.  And here’s Dave’s comment on that aspect of things:

“…both books also include both a clear definition of terms and extensive appendices of methods and commands, and provide instructions for each report in fine detail, so authors with even basic experience of any Excel are likely to find each report easy enough to recreate.”

So there you have it. Keep an eye on his blog for perhaps more reviews over the next six weeks.

Alright, so AMS. First, the original AMS thread on Kboards has become a bit overwhelming for anyone trying to read it from the start, so there’s a new one that will hopefully catch on: A New AMS Thread. The first ten or so posts summarize what we’ve all been able to agree on about the ads and how they work. It’s a good place to start if you’re just getting into the ads.

As I’ve said before, they’re a bit of a moving target. They were wonderful for my romance novel for four months, but then ads on that book just sort of died off for me. It’s hard to say why. I think part of it was I tried lowering my bids because it just made me uncomfortable to spend $800 to make $1000. I know, the rational part of my brain says if that’s what’s happening, then find a way to spend $1600 to make $2000. But I’m just not sure when I’ll go back to that pen name, so I didn’t think it made sense to push too hard to attract all those readers when I only had one other title for them to go to.

Which is maybe the thought for the day which isn’t AMS-specific: In a weird sense you are better off the later in your writing journey you attract readers. Because they’re that much more likely to read the rest of your books. If you have one book out and it takes you a year to get book two out, every reader you attract to book one during that time has to like you enough to come back in a year.

And maybe they will. I’ve certainly circled back to writers (or musicians) years later to see what else they had out now. But they won’t all wait for you. So all that ad money you spent to get that reader to your first book ends up being wasted, whereas it would’ve been really profitable to bring in that same reader when you had four or five books available.

I constantly struggle with this.I don’t want to have low sales. It’s demoralizing to think no one wants what you’ve written. But at the same time, none of my pen names (except maybe now M.L. Humphrey) have enough titles out to really justify pushing hard to get in readers. I’m pushing on the Rider’s series now because the trilogy is complete, but even there I should be waiting until I have at least one more trilogy out and possibly two. That’s the difference between breaking even on a promo and making two to three times the promo cost.

That’s one of the reasons I like AMS ads. They let you get in a little trickle of sales that makes you feel good about where you are, but it isn’t like cranking out a Bookbub and generating 400+ sales in a day. (Although I still want them to burn a little hotter than they do most days, because I’m a fool and I like to make money.)

Anyway. That’s where my thoughts are today. I’ll tell you what I’m telling myself: Write more and publish more. The rest will follow.

(And sorry for anyone who saw this post while the formatting was messed up. Block quotes were not my friend today.)

Some Great Writerly Advice

First, yesterday Chuck Wendig posted An Oubliette of Unconventional Writing Advice. Read it. It’s excellent. I particularly agree about the critique group point. His example is Tolkien (who is too slow for me as well), but my example is Nora Roberts. If I were in a critique group with her I’d tell her to stay with one point of view per scene and not to randomly move to another point of view for a paragraph just because she wants to.

But you know what? Nora Roberts has done just fine for herself without advice she would’ve received in probably 99% of critique groups. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that what readers went is a good story that resonates with them emotionally and that as long as your writing stays out of the way of telling that story, you can do pretty much anything.

Sure, writers who are also readers may hate you and cite you as an example of horrible writing, but the standard reader like my mom won’t even notice.

Second, Joanna Penn has gone through some of the books in the NaNo bundle and pulled out a few gems in her post on how to win Nano. Definitely worth taking a look.

And speaking of Joanna Penn…

One of the perks of being in the StoryBundle is that I get all of the books for free. And the first one I decided to read was Joanna’s How To Make A Living With Your Writing. The first part is a good solid overview of your publishing options when it comes to books, but it was the second half of the book that had me thinking.  The second half covers other ways to make money with your writing, like affiliate income and providing courses.

I’ve been toying for about a year with the idea of putting the information covered in the Excel books either up on YouTube or as course offerings through a site like Udemy, and I think her book has pushed me to decide it’s time to do that. (Now it’s just a matter of prioritizing it all, but don’t be surprised if you see a tab show up on this page with Excel videos at some point. I just have to figure out the best software to use for recording the videos and where it’s best to post them.)

So that advice right there would’ve paid for the bundle for me. And if I were earlier on my publishing journey the first part of the book would’ve saved me hours of research. And that’s just one of the thirteen books in there. If you haven’t already, check it out: NaNo Bundle.