Once a month I meet up for dinner with folks in my old critique group. I personally hate critique groups because I need to find the story I want to tell and to do it in the way I want to, but I like the people in the group. And once a month they have dinner before critique and I join them.
A lot of them are venturing into the self-publishing or small press publishing waters. And last night one of the members essentially asked me, “you have so many titles out, why aren’t you making more money?”
My first reaction was, “I know. Seriously, right?”
My second was “Oh just wait and see and you’ll start to understand.”
I never actually managed to answer the question because we got distracted, so let me answer it here.
According to my titles tracker, I have published 126 titles total. Some of those were republished under a different name. Some are now unpublished. Some are collections of shorter stuff. And two were free from the date they were published.
So if I just look at what I have published now, it’s 84 titles, 47 of which are short stories or collections of short stories.
There’s the first issue. Apart from erotica or erotic romance, shorts don’t seem to sell. At least not for me.
I have one short story series that has made me a couple thousand dollars, but most of my short stories don’t do much. The next most successful short story series has made me about $700.
That leaves me with 37 published novels or non-fiction titles.
Six are novels, the rest are non-fiction. Now, novels do sell and they’re eligible for more advertising options, which is key for getting visibility. And five of those novels are in my top ten in terms of gross revenue earned.
But they’re split across three pen names. Three novels are under romance pen names, the other three are YA fantasy. So basically it’s the equivalent of having an author with two novels out, an author with one novel out, and an author with three novels out.
Issue there is how frequently I publish a novel. My romance novels were three years apart. My fantasy novels were about a year apart. (And the next fantasy novel will be released more than a year after the last one.)
And the number of titles. I don’t write to market, so people aren’t seeking out my books on their own. Which means I need enough titles to catch in a reader’s mind and to give them chances to find me. I don’t have that with any of those names.
Which leaves us with the non-fiction titles.
Those are spread across three pen names and cover ten topics. Some can overlap. I have guides to Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word, and if you look at the also-boughts you’ll see that people cross over there. But people reading my book about dealing with grief aren’t also reading my cookbook.
So again it’s like having an author with just a few titles out under their name. And with non-fiction there’s only so much you can write about a topic.
I think part of the reason I’m starting to see some traction with this author name (M.L. Humphrey) is because I finally have a decent number of titles out under this name and that they can potentially flow to one another.
I also, especially with non-fiction, tend to write what I feel like writing. I’ve lucked into a few where people actually wanted a book that covered that topic, but I have others that have made me $50 and that’s probably all they’ll ever make me.
Putting out all those titles has been good for me in terms of learning the mechanics of how you do things, which is why I felt comfortable writing the how-to books on ACX and CreateSpace. Put out twenty titles in audio and you learn a few things. Publish over forty paperbacks through CreateSpace and you see a wide range of what can go wrong and how it works.
But having a lot of titles out in the way I do is not the profit-maximizing approach.
If you want that, you focus on one name, in an area where people are going to come looking for your books, stay consistent in what you deliver, deliver on a steady schedule, and promote regularly.
If you can do that, you’ll probably do very well.
I…can’t. Or won’t. I’m not sure which.
Every year I sit myself down and say, “If you want to make good money at this, you need to crank out six books this year under one name in a hot market. Like dragons. Write dragons. Ready, set, go.”
And then I go write something completely different instead.
Despite my inability to do what I know will make me money, it’s slowly adding up. March of last year I grossed $440. Right now for March I’m at $3,500 and my profit for the month is over four times what I grossed last year.
I am incredibly proud of the progress I have made. At the same time I ask myself daily why I’m not making more money doing this. You know, what’s wrong with me that I’m not a six-figure author yet. (See above for the answer. And maybe have a reality check about how common that really is.)
And it’s hard to have knowledge to share that you know will help others but to not be some bright blazing example of success. But it is what it is. And I figure that my true target audience is those who are where I was two years ago. My third full year of self-publishing I grossed $2700. In this my fifth full year of self-publishing I’ve grossed more than that in this one month.
So when that question comes up, that’s what I focus on. Where I started, how far I’ve come, and the fact that my progress may be slow but it’s steady and improving.