Three Publishing Choices

When I’m stuck on writing (which is disturbingly often these days), I look at my numbers and try to decide what to do next. It’s all a big stalling game because moving in some direction is better than sitting around trying to figure out the “best” direction to go.

But, well, yeah. Some days spinning in circles is all there really is to do.

When I do this I focus on three key choices I can make. I think I’ve discussed this before, but it never hurts to go through it again.

1. Increase sales of existing titles

This is partially why I’m taking the FB ads course right now. Because I feel like I’ve maxed out what I can do with AMS for my existing titles and I wanted to find some other form of advertising that I could do day in and day out.

This could also involve putting an existing title out in a new format. Or moving a title from wide to KU or KU to wide. Or listing your books direct. Or listing them with all the little distributors you can find.

Sometimes that three hours of effort to do something like that can make more money per hour than writing the next book. Or it can make more money in the short-term than writing the next book.

If you’re not properly leveraging what’s already there, there’s a lot of room for improvement in this area.

(I would probably include as a lesser option here rewriting or rebranding existing titles. It can feel good to rewrite an existing title, but I’d argue it isn’t the best use of your time/efforts. I still remember going back to my very first short story and wanting to rewrite it and realizing there was no point because there was no central conflict to rewrite around. The idea was simply flawed from the get-go. And I did rewrite my first novel after I’d written a million words, but that was time I probably could have better spent on a new novel instead.)

2. Write more of the same thing

The second option is to write more of what you’ve already written. So you look at what sells best and you write more of it. More in that series, more in that world, more in that genre, more under that author name. You add to what’s available to feed your existing fan base and get another chance to bring in more new readers.

This is probably where most self-publishers spend most of their time and effort although I might argue that pursuing 1 and 3 may be the better option for a lot of writers. Not when you’re new, though. When you’re new production is king.

3. Write something new

The third option is to do something brand new. I usually do this at least once a year. So, for example, this year I wrote a book on regulatory compliance. It had nothing to do with what I’d published before but I figured it was worth the time and effort to see if there was any sort of market for it. I’m not rushing to write more but it did well enough I’m pleased I took the time to write it.

I added the cozy series two years ago and Data Principles last year. If something works, it goes into category 2 where you keep doing more of it. If it doesn’t, you move on. But you don’t know until you try. As I mentioned in Data Analysis for Self-Publishers, data analysis is good for what you’ve already done. Not near as helpful for what you haven’t tried yet.


Yeah, so that’s what I think about. And then I come up with a list with four ways to increase existing sales and eight ideas for writing more or something new. And then instead of doing any of it, I come write a blog post instead. Haha. Being creative while the world burns is not easy to do.

Ah, Amazon…

It took six days but the paperback version of Data Analysis for Self-Publishers is now live on Amazon. Or at least it was when I checked this morning.

This was the first time they ever managed to link the ebook and print versions of one of my M.L. Humphrey titles without my asking them to do so. But it didn’t help much when the book wasn’t available for purchase and no price was listed. I wrote them about it and they told me that was the standard publishing process. No, no it isn’t. But thanks for playing.

I had to wait two more days to politely email again and say, “Hey, this isn’t right” and then it finally got fixed.

While I was at it I noticed that my YA fantasy books which are about 400 printed pages as is were showing as 700+ pages because of the large print edition I did at one point. I’d actually gotten them to fix that six months or so ago and unpublished the large print editions to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, but there it was.

I do find that they generally fix things when I ask them to, so kudos for that, but it’s just one added level of angst on everything else especially when you have a lot of books and can’t possibly sit on top of each one all the time.

Like sometimes I forget that they require you to use HTML coding if you want paragraphs on your print book description. Or that you often have to email to ask them to add a new book to a series page listing. Or that they will often only do so for ebooks and not print books. Or the stupid linking of book formats if you use initials in your pen name. Or, or, or…

But they’re the big player so we’re all stuck with them and their many, varied quirks.

Alignment

I’ve been enjoying the Skye Warren FB ads class I’m taking right now. I have a successful ad running for the series I tested it on which is exciting. Fingers crossed it continues.

I’ve done okay with FB ads in the past, but I have this innate dislike of pricing low so I only ever ran them when I had a promotion going on elsewhere, but now that I have a completed six-book series it’s more palatable to me to put Book 1 at 99 cents to bring in a lot of readers.

I’m telling ya, the more books you have out there that tie to one another the more options you have.

The class uses a FB group so we get to see what other authors are doing with their ads and what questions they have. Today there was a post that reminded me of a conversation I had re: AMS ads a while back. It hasn’t been answered yet but for me it brought up the idea of alignment.

If an ad is getting lots of clicks but not getting lots of sales and price or KU enrollment aren’t the issue, then often the issue comes down to one of alignment.

To bring someone from clicking on an ad (AMS is what I know, but the principle holds for all types of ads) to your product page and on to purchase your book, everything has to be aligned.

I could put up a really sexy picture of a man with no shirt and killer abs and get people to click on that ad. But if the book I was advertising was Excel for Beginners, I wouldn’t get many buys from that click. Because people would click looking for a hot sexy man and find…Microsoft Excel. Not what they wanted.

The person I talked to a while back had an issue where they had written a book that was fiction but targeted the book as if it were non-fiction. So readers would click on the book thinking it was an academic sort of analysis of a historical event and then find that it was a fictional retelling of those events. This led to a lot of clicks and no sales.

Because the ad and the book page weren’t aligned.

Another way to think of this is that you don’t want any friction along the way.

It’s like when writing your story. You don’t want to say things that pop the reader out of the story and make them remember that they needed to do laundry today. You want to grab ahold and pull them all the way through without them having to think about it.

To create alignment with advertising you need everything to tell the same story: cover, ad copy, ad image, product page, customer reviews, etc. All of it has to point to the same potential experience.

That customer has a need and is trying to determine if what you’re offering will fill that need.

To carry this further, if you want sellthrough in a series then you actually need to continue that alignment through the entire book.

The customer has a need, you tell them you can meet that need, everything external to the book indicates that you can, and then you have to actually meet the need if you want them to ever buy from you again.

“This is a rip-roaring adventure that’ll grab ahold of you and never let go” sounds really good to a certain type of reader. But if you give that reader a book that has a hundred pages of navel-gazing ponderings about the nature of the universe, you will never see them again.

Just like a book advertised as “a cerebral examination of man’s search for meaning in a desolate world” can’t then be an action-packed comedy.

You’ll get the first sale if you do that, but you won’t get any more sales.

So, bottom line.

If you’re getting clicks on an ad but no buys, something isn’t lining up between the promise the ad is making and the product page.

If you’re getting buys and no follow-through to other books then the promise you made to the reader with your cover, blurb, and advertising wasn’t met.

(In non-fiction it could have been met and the need is now satisfied so no need to continue on but with a fiction series that first book is building trust and a promise about what experience you provide as an author. You need to deliver on that promise to keep that reader.)

Anyway. My thoughts for the day as I (yet again) struggle to start the next novel. (This is the hard part about finishing a series. There’s no pressing need to continue on with a specific project. Sigh.)

 

Data Analysis For Self-Publishers Now Live

I published a book yesterday. One I actually didn’t set out to write. What I wanted to do was quickly update the screenshots and text in Excel for Self-Publishers since I’d just gone through 600+ screenshot updates with my other books and I figured why not do it real quick and get it back out there.

Instead I ended up realizing that what I actually wanted out there was something more high-level that just dealt with the concepts of what data to look at as a self-publisher and how I use that data myself. (This is all in the introduction, by the way.)

Publishing this book shows that I don’t listen to my own analysis as often as I should. But this is my way of dealing with writer’s block. I get stuck on one idea so I do something else rather than just sit there and wait for inspiration to strike. Hence, the absurd number of non-fiction titles I have out at this point.

Anyway. The book is in KU and only $2.99 ebook instead of the normal $4.99 I’d charge. And the paperback whenever Amazon actually decides to show it as genuinely available will be $7.99.

So if this is something you need, enjoy. I will say that I published it yesterday and was already having mental debates with myself today about one of the things I said in there, so it’s not gospel truth, just one way of approaching things.

Also, I made the self-publishing/writing books I’d unpublished from the wide channels available on Payhip for anyone who comes looking for them because I ended up mentioning two of them in the book. You can go to https://payhip.com/mlhumphrey and then click on “Titles Removed from Wide Distribution” to find them.

Data Analysis for SP 20200522

A Few Random Thoughts

We’ll start with writing.

I’m taking a course on FB ads right now (by Skye Warren) that looks pretty good so far. It was hard to decide to spend that kind of money ($600 or so) but I figured I’m about at the point where I need to expand beyond using mostly AMS ads and I’ve been impressed by what she has to say over the last couple of years. Our mindset aligns on a lot of this.

But making the decision to spend that money isĀ  part of one of the trickiest things you have to deal with in this business, which is knowing who to trust and when a big money spend makes sense.

There are a lot of people out there who charge a lot and don’t deliver. They may rank high but they’re doing so by buying that rank and you really don’t know up front that that’s what’s happening. (I took another class recently that wasn’t as expensive but where I suspect that was the case.)

I see so many people who’ve taken expensive classes later blame themselves for not being able to make it work when sometimes it was the instructor that was the actual problem. Maybe not deliberately, but sometimes they think they have it worked out when they don’t.

(I say this as I’m about to release a new book for self-publishers….Ah, irony. In so many respects.)

So I’m always nervous about a big spend like that, but sometimes you have to spend that big money to get to where you want to go. (This goes for covers and maybe editing, too, not just courses.) It’s a calculated risk.

One thing writing the new book and taking this class have reminded me of, though, is that at the end of the day what we have available to sell is what it is, which is very likely a flawed product in some respect.

(For newer writers it can be flawed in many respects. Maybe the writing isn’t there yet or it’s a genre mash-up that’s hard to advertise effectively or the cover isn’t what it needs to be or the blurb or the editing or…all of it. My first attempt at a romance novel the couple agreed at the end that they were better off as friends. Talk about violating genre expectations.)

So we can learn all these lessons about packaging and marketing and see that others had great results, but at the end of the day the book we wrote just can’t perform the way we need it to. We can bring readers in, but if the book doesn’t satisfy them then all that effort and expense is wasted.

Sometimes you can fix the book, but often you have to just let a project go and move on and do better the next time. Or lower your expectations. Know that this project isn’t going to be a top 100 title or a premium title or one that people shout about to their friends, but it may still be profitable for you…It may still pay those bills and have a loyal following.

Something to think about…


In non-writing news, I picked up my grandma yesterday and took her to see my mom. In these times something so simple is fraught with worry because they’re both at risk if they get this.

I’d been home except to walk the dog for ten days, my mom had been home for three weeks, my stepdad had been home for six days, and my grandma had been home for two months but with people dropping in probably more often than I’d like.

So there was risk. Ideally given what we know about disease spread none of us would’ve gone anywhere for fifteen days before we all got together. But it seemed like a manageable level of risk. And it was good to hug one another and share a meal.

But I do worry that my grandma took this as some weird sign that it’s now safe and okay to have people over or go to people’s houses. And that my mom and stepdad are now getting out more than they were before because somehow our state moving to a “safer at home” mode has changed things. (Nothing has changed, though. I think our governor just decided he couldn’t keep people at home much longer so he’d lighten restrictions rather than face insurrection.)

Hopefully we’ll see a seasonal dropoff with this thing and they will be relatively safe, but I suspect a lot of people will get caught out by this loosening of restrictions thinking that somehow the fundamental facts of the situation have changed. But as long as we have free movement across the country, and across the world to some degree, that’s not the case. It only takes one or two uncontrolled introduction events for things to flare right back up.

I’m lucky to work from home, but I worry about those who can’t. And I worry about some of the ridiculously stupid shit I see people say. (Nextdoor is a vision to behold in my area. Not to mention what I’ve seen elsewhere.) You’d think we could all agree on a set of objective facts, but it turns out that we actually believe different facts and I don’t know how you solve that when people don’t trust the methods used to determine those facts.

Anway. Life is weird right now.

For anyone looking for a good overview of the current understanding of SARS-CoV-2, Johns Hopkins has a Coursera course on contact tracing. The first week takes about an hour and is all about what’s known about the illness. (https://www.coursera.org/learn/covid-19-contact-tracing?edocomorp=covid-19-contact-tracing) You can take it for free and get a certificate, too. I thought it was worth the time.

And now back to editing…

Sprint-Style Crises vs. Marathon-Style Crises

This came up in a group I’m in on FB the other day. In my opinion there are two types of crises, sprint-style and marathon-style, and they require very different approaches. Which is why the first thing I do when something bad happens is ask myself if this is a long-term situation or a short-term situation.

Let me give an example.

Back when I was skydiving I had what’s called an off landing. Basically, I pulled my chute too late to cross the runway and get back to the designated landing area so had to find an alternate landing space. They teach you during AFF training what to look for. Be careful of power lines, don’t land on a road where a car can hit you, don’t land on the runway where a plane can hit you. Watch for fence lines. Avoid trees. Etc.

That was a sprint-style crisis. Between the time I recognized the issue and it was over less than five minutes passed. (One of my best landings ever, by the way.)

Examples of other sprint-style crises are an appendicitis, gallbladder surgery, and losing a job when you’re quickly able to get another one.

It doesn’t have to be a very short-term situation like my skydiving example. I usually would call it a sprint-style crisis if it resolves in six weeks or so.

Marathon-style crises are different. They require endurance. They’re long-lasting. They may have no end in sight. (And at some point you can actually transition from a marathon-style crisis to a new normal where things are stable and predictable but they’ll just never be what they were.)

I think of my dad’s illness as a marathon-style crisis. He dealt with it for forty years and it never stabilized into a new normal. Over the course of that forty years he was in steady decline with occasional sprint-style crises sprinkled in. So he’d be dialyzing three times a week, going along living his life, and then he’d get pericarditis or an infected hematoma on his hip or, my dad being my dad, hit by a discus that some dipshit chose to throw straight up in the air.

With a sprint-style crisis you can put everything on hold and focus on the current issue. You need your appendix removed you call your boss and say I’m having emergency surgery, I’ll be out for a week, and they say okay. Everyone rushes to your side, wishes you well, you have the surgery, you recover. All attention is focused on the issue and then it’s over and you move on. You lock down your attention and go into a hyper-vigilant “must deal with this now” sort of state until the situation is solved.

But you can’t do that with a marathon-style crisis. A marathon-style crisis requires juggling. Because the world continues despite your crisis. You can’t call the boss and say, “Hey I have cancer and will be dealing with the treatment for the next two years” and have them say okay.

And when it’s a personal marathon-style crisis you find that people can’t stay focused on your suffering long-term. You get some initial attention and then most drift away or stop asking about what’s going on. Or expect you to talk about something else other than the crisis as well. Attention does not stay focused on you.

In a marathon-style crisis you have to deal with the crisis while also managing your relationships and finances as if you weren’t in that crisis. You can’t be hyper-vigilant. You can’t be 100% locked down, perfect, and focused on the issue in a marathon-style crisis. It’s simply not sustainable.

The reason I bring this up today is because in that group someone said they’d hit the wall recently with dealing with being quarantined. They were the perfect spouse, parent, etc. for the last month. They’d given up their home office to their spouse, they’d made homemade gifts, they’d Zoomed with friends, they’d kept up on the news, etc. etc. And then one day they just broke. A month of perfection followed by feeling like everything was falling apart.

When I saw that comment my immediate thought was that this person thought they were in a sprint-style crisis and then realized they were in a marathon-style crisis.

Which can happen. You don’t always know what you’re facing at the start.

My buddy who has Stage IV cancer went through this. When he was diagnosed he had two large brain tumors as well as a lung tumor, skin cancer, and I think a kidney tumor. (That last one might have come later.)

When he agreed to treatment he thought he was in a sprint-style crisis. He thought he’d give it the good old college try and be dead within three months.

But then a year passed and he wasn’t dead. He wasn’t healed either. He found himself in a marathon-style crisis.

He’s three years in now taking daily oral chemo that’s going to work until it doesn’t. Which means living his life as best he can. He had to find a pace he could sustain long-term.

Because you can’t put aside life in a marathon-style crisis. You have to have goals. You have to have purpose. You have to move forward while knowing that it can all fall apart again tomorrow.

My buddy was a skydiving instructor but he can no longer do that job, so he had to find a new one. Because in a marathon-style crisis all the bills keep coming in and need to be paid.

What you do and how you do it all depend on the timeline you’re dealing with. Which is why my advice when facing a crisis is to assess where you are.

Is this a sprint? Is it a marathon? Is it a new normal?

And then plan accordingly. Pace yourself for the nature of the challenge.

 

50,000 Paid Sales

I realized just now that sometime in April I passed the 50,000 paid sales mark. It’s a lot less than a lot of people have hit, but it’s a helluva lot better than the 53 books I sold my first year of publishing.

So what changed? How did I go from just over 50 books sold in an entire year back when things were supposedly easier to almost 20,000 last year? And not at 99 cent price points either. Last year I averaged about $3 in revenue per unit sold.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again and again and again: What you’re publishing matters. All titles are not created the same. The market size isn’t the same, the price points aren’t the same, and your personal ability to deliver to that market is not going to be the same.

My first year of publishing I put out a handful of short stories and a couple non-fiction titles in an area where I had no established expertise.

With rare exceptions, short stories just do not sell as well or for as much as novels. If I were still only publishing short stories I do not think I’d have increased my sales all that much. It let me practice publishing, but if you’re writing short stories, and especially in SFF, you are much better off submitting to the SFF magazines and getting published that way.

I honestly am not even sure short stories as a lead magnet are all that worth it. I remember a few years back an author who got the rights back to a series and republished it and did really well doing so. I read their first book and enjoyed it, but when I then went and picked up their lead magnet I did not. If I had been a reader who found the lead magnet first I would’ve never read that series.

Personally I believe that short stories and novels are two different forms that require different skills and I’d argue that readers prefer one over the other most times and that most writers tend to do well at one given length but not at any length.

(I do think that can vary across genres. My mysteries naturally come in at 45K words, my fantasies come in around 90K, and my romances around 75K.)

What else changed?

I also learned more about marketing and covers.

My first covers were horrible. One might argue that my current covers aren’t amazing works of art, but I do think they get the job done. Those first covers…did not.

But I kept trying until I got something that did work. I didn’t just quit right away. Or leave it as is.

It’s also scary to look back and realize that I didn’t spend any money on advertising until fifteen months after I’d published my first title. Maybe that was a good thing because, like I mentioned, the covers weren’t where they needed to be. So I may have been throwing money away if I’d tried to advertise early on.

Then again, back then there was a lot less expectation of quality covers.

When I did finally start to spend on advertising, I would argue I didn’t initially spend my money on “good” advertising. Some options, like AMS, simply didn’t exist back then. But I was also cheap. So the list-based advertisers I used were not the best. When you are only willing to pay $5-$20 for a promo you’re going to get what you pay for and it’s not going to be a whole lot of anything.

These days I primarily spend on AMS because I can advertise full-price books that way. But if I can get a Bookbub feature or a Kobo promotion I’m all for that, too. With a Bookbub feature I’ll add in Facebook and Bookbub click ads. I’ll also run the occasional other promo with a well-regarded advertiser like Freebooksy/Bargainbooksy.

There are still many flaws in how I approach all of this. And I pay for those flaws. I am not doing as well as I could be. I know enough now to know what I do wrong (for the most part, there’s probably more I don’t know I do wrong yet) but I’ve had to accept that I am not going to be that perfect book-producing machine.

The way to maximize your performance is to test things out until you find what you’re good at or good enough at and then to keep producing in that one area.

And ideally to find something you’re good at that can support that continuous production. That’s why genre fiction is such a good choice. Fantasy, mystery, romance. Any of those will work if you’re giving the readers what they want. Do so consistently and frequently enough and back it up with promotion and good packaging and you’re on your way.

I do think it’s the rare author that can actually do all of that, though. They’re out there, don’t get me wrong. There are hundreds of authors making six figures each year who manage to do that. Who produce a product people want, do so on a good consistent schedule, get it in front of that audience so they know it exists, and package it in a way that appeals to that audience.

But there are probably tens of thousands of authors who don’t do that and never will. And I probably fall on the upper end of that group of tens of thousands.

So am I pleased with where I am?

Yes and no.

I’m glad I’ve improved as much as I have. (I wouldn’t still be doing this if I hadn’t. There’s a difference between having faith in yourself and being blindly foolish about something. I’ve put in enough time and effort to expect improvement year over year.)

And my profit per month is now at a point where I could live on it if I weren’t extravagant in how I chose to live or if I lived somewhere cheap. But I want to be a little extravagant, so I’m not where I personally want to be yet.

(I don’t really want to get back to my consulting-level income, though. I don’t honestly need that kind of income and it creates weird barriers with the people in my life who matter to me. Plus, it’s easy to become a jackass when you’re making a lot of money or maybe that’s just me.)

Also, it frustrates my ego that I’m not doing better on the fiction side. I get good reviews but I haven’t cracked the launch and marketing combination to get the sales I want on that side of things.

I may never crack it, honestly. I have a love/hate relationship with getting attention for my work and I don’t think there’s a way to get to where I want to with sales that doesn’t involve developing a fan base which comes with headaches I really don’t want.

So, anyway. That’s me. Big milestone-yay. Not where I want to be yet-boo. Still going to carry on for the time being because working at home with my dog and not having to deal with office politics is my personal idea of bliss.