Volume Matters

This is a post for the fiction writers, so if you’re not a fiction writer it may not be of interest.

I’m supposed to be starting on a new novel today. I have eleven days between now and my house inspection after which I’ll be (hopefully) desperately packing to move. But of course me and starting a new novel means me and doing anything but starting a new novel most times.

And today that meant looking at numbers. 2021 has been my best year profit-wise so far with my writing and I like to know where that’s coming from. Which lead to the title of this post: volume matters.

For 2021 as of the end of April I had sales across 101 different titles and seven pen names. That included 14 titles I released this year. (I just released four more in May but those haven’t hit my reports yet. It’s been a busy year.)

Obviously some of those 100+ titles sold far more than others. The 80/20 rule very much applies to this business.

And four titles actually lost me money when you take into account advertising. But three of those were first in series and the overall series was profitable. (The other lost me 35 cents because I can’t help but try every once in a while with a dead title to revive it.)

I believe that a large part of what has gotten me to the point I am with my writing income is the volume of titles I’ve published.

There’s the “try until you find something that works” aspect. There’s the increased visibility that more titles can give. There’s the little streams adding up to bigger streams idea. There’s the idea that the more writing you do the more you theoretically improve. It all ties in there.

But there’s also the base fact, at least in fiction, that more titles means more room to play with advertising. (Assuming you have sellthrough. If you don’t have sellthrough you have a genre expectation, reader engagement, or writing quality issue.)

My YA fantasy and cozy mystery series are a perfect example of how this can play out.

The YA fantasy series has three books in it which are currently priced at $3.99/$5.99/$5.99 but for most of the year were at $4.99 each. The cozy mystery series has seven books in it each priced at $3.99.

Both series have received similar promotions by me because I’m lazy so I tend to say something like, “Let me make all my first in series fiction titles free this month and then sign up for X, Y, and Z ads for all of them.”

Here’s where the volume thing comes into play:

Of these two series for 2021 the cozy mystery series has been more profitable. Even though the 2nd and 3rd titles in the fantasy series are individually more profitable than the 2nd and 3rd titles in the cozy mystery series.

Having the four additional books for readers to move to with the cozies has meant that even though they are priced lower and have worse sellthrough, I make more on that series than I do on the fantasy series. Which makes sense because if someone ends up liking the series they spend $28 on my books versus $15 for the fantasy series.

A few years back I dug into which authors were in the top 100 authors for the SFF genre on Amazon and my unscientific gut result was that it took about a dozen novels to get there. Sure, there were authors who were on there with one or two titles, but those were the exceptions.

It was the authors who had enough titles to benefit the most from advertising and to get enough visibility and were productive enough to stay visible who did well.

Now, just like the review myth, volume is obviously not enough. You also need writing that appeals to readers in that genre and enough readers that like your writing that it’s sustainable.

And it’s easier if you’re writing about subjects that interest those readers. Dragons will always do better in fantasy than shape-shifting millipedes. The more off-center you are from a genre the harder it is to get a toehold.

(Again, not saying it can’t happen, but just saying that being on the outside or fringes of your genre increases the difficulty.)

Also volume isn’t everything. If you write a bunch of useless crap to achieve volume that’s not gonna work. You still have to write what readers want.

But if you have a good book and you’re feeling frustrated about your sales the answer may very well be to write more. Don’t double-down and promote that book for five years at the expense of writing. Don’t give up and walk away. Write the next in the series.

Such a Tragedy…

Perhaps that’s not the best word to use in these here times when there are significant tragedies that people are facing, but that’s the phrase that came to mind.

I often find new authors to read via my own fantasy novel also-boughts. Most recently that led me to ordering the first couple of books in a series by author Michelle West. I liked those first couple of books enough to order two more and then one more and then five more and then six more.

Today I ordered ELEVEN books by that author. I’m hoping they are good. I suspect they will be. Due to the somewhat convoluted way the three series storylines intersect I’ve now read three in the author’s most recent series and one from what I think is the oldest of the three intertwined series.

Here’s where the tragedy comes into play. Seven of the books I ordered? Used copies. I loved this author and am happy to pay for their books, but because their publisher, for whatever stupid reason, seems to have decided to no longer publish some of their books in a mass market paperback size the author isn’t going to receive a penny for those seven books. And the publisher won’t know how much money they’re leaving on the table either.

Sure, there are ebook versions available. And even at a reasonable price. But I’m not an ebook reader. I download ebooks and they molder away on my computer sight unseen.

I am a physical book reader. And more importantly I am a mass market paperback reader for the most part. I might, might try a trade paperback size for an author I know I like, but if I have the choice I will always go for the mass market paperback. In this case I could pay (used) $25 for an entire six-book series in mass market paperback or I could pay $22 for the trade paperback version. I would’ve happily paid $60 for the books new in mass market paperback but I was not going to pay $120+ for them in trade paperback.

Which is the tragedy for that author. People are reading and loving their books but they’re not getting paid for it. All because their publisher won’t keep their books available in a mass market paperback size.

(And I should add that for the new books I bought they weren’t even available on B&N, I had to go to Amazon. Like how do you expect new readers to find and love a series when the full series isn’t even available to purchase easily? Come on.)

Microsoft Office 2019 Beginner Now Available

And to cap everything off for Office 2019, Microsoft Office 2019 Beginner is now (or will soon be) available at all fine retailers. Easiest way to find it is through the universal link here.

It includes Word 2019 Beginner, Excel 2019 Beginner, and PowerPoint 2019 Beginner and would make a great desktop resource for a new grad or someone with their first office job. (If I do say so myself.)

Ah, Choices

It’s interesting thinking about a “normal” job versus publishing (or really any entrepreneurial venture) because a normal job doesn’t really involve the same number of branching paths as publishing. And I’d say to a certain extent the biggest challenge of publishing is in that freedom to choose so many paths.

Which is not to say that a normal job doesn’t involve choices, especially a “professional” job like the one I had right out of college. There were any number of times during the almost decade that I worked for that first company where I had to decide whether to apply for different positions. Did I want to be a manager? Did I want to move to Dallas? Or to DC? Did I want my career to progress or was I good where I was? Should I stay within my department or try to move to a different one? Would getting an MBA help me move up? Should I do that even if it took away from my current job performance?

But the reality is I could’ve not made any choices and still coasted along just fine for years at that company. Once I was hired, all I really had to do was show up and be competent at my job. As a matter of fact, had I been less driven to make choices and want improvement it’s possible I could still be very happily putting along working at that company, still in the office I started out in, earning the type of salary that lets a person have a nice middle-income life with a house, a golden retriever, and 2.2 kids.

(Of course, I’m not that type of person, unfortunately.)

Which leads to publishing where you can be competent at the writing but still fail because you took Path A when Path B was the path to success.

And the reality is that the path to success is not Path A or Path B, it’s Path A-1-c-(2)-f-4.-z. It’s not just one little choice you make once and BOOM success. It’s like ten choices that all have to be made right and then you’re good for a day or a month or a year and if you don’t make the next choice right, well, back to square one.


Did you write something that will sell?

Did you pick the right path to reach your readers? Trade versus self-pub, KU versus wide.

Did you make the right choices along that path you chose? Good publisher/bad publisher, genre-appropriate cover and pricing, advertising.

Did you pivot when you should have? Did you not pivot and stay the course when you should have?

Did you trust the right people?

Every single one of those is a branch along the path. And every single one can lead to a dead end.

And, sure, you can reverse course. I know fiction authors who tried self-pub and failed and then signed six-figure trade pub deals. I know authors who tried one genre and failed and then tried another and found tremendous success. I know authors who started wide and then went into KU and did very well (to the tune of $50K a month).

But while they were finding that path and backing up and starting over and trying again, no one was paying their bills. Because that’s how entrepreneurship works. All the glory if you succeed, but all the failure and sleepless nights on the way there, too.

I currently find myself living in some sort of fractured reality where publishing comes into play because for at least the first four months of the year, things have been good overall. Really good. I have some series that are doing quite nicely.

And yet at the same time I find myself looking at a couple of my series and thinking, “How did I f you up that bad? And how do I fix it now?” And then thinking, “Ugh, KU. Fricking Amazon and their fricking exclusivity b.s. and distortion of the entire ebook fiction market with their thumb on the ranking scale in favor of their own damned books so that we’ll all cave and go exlucusive with them so they can then burn us down in fire five years from now.”

But, ya know, that’s just me. Haha. Sigh.

Ah, choices.