Numbers and Analysis

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time then you know that I like me some analysis.

Earlier this week I had a great writing day where I wrote 5K words on my latest cozy. Which meant of course that I spent the next day building a new report in my Access database instead of writing more.

(I am not a daily writer. My backbrain usually needs more time to refill with the next scene before I can continue. The only exception for me is non-fiction where it’s all there already and the puzzle is just figuring out the best order to present it in.)

So anyway. The report I put together was sales by title by platform. Even though I am 99% wide with my books, meaning they sell on a variety of platforms, Amazon still dominates my overall numbers. It’s the biggest platform and I use AMS ads a lot which only lead to sales on Amazon.

Which means that when I look at things in the aggregate my best titles are the ones that sell best on Amazon. But when I split things out by store it gets much more interesting.

My YA fantasy series moves up the rankings. It’s #1 or #2 on most other platforms. Whereas on Amazon the first title in that series is #6. (This is just revenue we’re talking about here. Due to cover costs that series is not as profitable as some lower-ranked series.)

I also see variety across platforms because of the platforms themselves.

For example, Hoopla won’t carry two of my best-selling titles, so my top library titles are skewed because of that.

Same with the fact that other platforms don’t sell print or I don’t sell print directly with them, which means my titles that sell best in print aren’t my top sellers on ebook-only platforms.

I can also see the impact of advertising.

For example, I have been burned by both Kobo and Nook when I tried to use links to those stores in my Facebook ads. As in, get your account shut down burned.

So I don’t link to those stores in my ads anymore. But I do sometimes link to Google and Apple. As a result of that, the titles I advertise on FB do better on Google and Apple than they do on Kobo and Nook.

Also, I can see a skew from Bookbubs. That’s why the YA fantasy series has done well off-Amazon, because of Bookbubs. It’s my series that’s had the most Bookbubs.

And first in series free off Amazon has worked to bump one series for me without any additional effort putting it in my top ten on three platforms.

I can also see some word of mouth impact. I really don’t advertise Regulatory Compliance Fundamentals anywhere except for a very low-key AMS ad and yet it’s in my top ten on Google. (Granted, my numbers there are relatively low, so the bar is lower.)

Those patterns are an interesting reminder that the sales data we see today is a result of the choices we’ve made up to this point, which I think can be the hardest thing to understand and adjust for in this business.

That idea that if you use past data to drive all of your future decisions you can be missing out on something crucial that would have a significant impact on your performance.

For example. My Excel books have done really well for me the last five years, but they were not the first Excel books I wrote. I actually wrote one book before that as a companion title to my Budgeting for Beginners book.

It was one of those “being thorough” titles that I sometimes do.

Basically, my goal was to write the budgeting book but I also wanted to give people the foundation they needed if they didn’t know how to use a calculator (that’s the math primer) or Excel (that’s the Excel primer) to do the basic math needed for budgeting.

Because I don’t like it when the information I’m giving someone isn’t accessible to them because they’re missing a foundation to work from.

(That’s how Excel for Beginners and Intermediate Excel came about as well. I wanted to write a book on how to use Excel for self-publishing, but I didn’t want to leave behind people who didn’t know Excel.)

Anyway.

I noticed after publication of the budgeting titles that the Excel guide often sold on its own. People didn’t buy the budgeting book, but they did buy the Excel guide that went with it. That gave me an inkling that maybe people were open to buying guides to Excel from me.

If I had looked at my numbers and only made a decision based on what had already sold I would have never written another book about Excel. Even with those occasional sales of the primer, the numbers weren’t there to justify that decision.

Luckily for me I was so annoyed by self-publisher’s inability to use a basic pivot table that I went ahead and wrote four books on Excel anyway.

And it paid off.

Doesn’t always happen, though. Sometimes things look like they have possibility and they flop.

I personally try for 80% steady state (what you know works), and 20% risk (something new or an extension of something that hasn’t lived up to its potential).

Which brings me to audio numbers.

I tried audio back when ACX was basically the only option for self-publishers, but after the initial high payouts had gone away. It looks like my first payments were March 2016 so about six years ago.

That first title earned out almost immediately.

It was a short non-fiction title with an audience that probably skewed towards listening on a car ride or at the gym. Six years later it’s returned 5x what it cost me to create. So that was a good choice.

And because it was a shorter title and non-fiction the money risked was low.

But because of that success I figured, okay, let me do this thing, and I put most of the non-fiction I could out in audio as well as one romance novel and one romance short story collection.

And…

Six years later I am still down $295 on an initial spend of $4,732.

I have two series that have paid off, one that is $3 from paying off, and five that have not. I have to look at it by series because collections sell well in audio but all those cost me is $25 to have my narrator record the opening and closing credits for me.

The fact that I’m still unprofitable with my audio has made me hesitant to do more.

Now, granted, there are a lot of reasons I have not done as well with audio as maybe I could.

I really haven’t advertised my audio at all. That’s huge. If I didn’t advertise my books I’d have almost no sales so extrapolate that to audio and it’s a small miracle I’m that close to breakeven.

I am also wide through Authors Republic which means I missed out on Chirp deals. My books are listed there, but I can’t apply for Chip deals because those require going through Findaway.

One Chirp deal would probably make any of those titles that haven’t broken even breakeven.

I also changed the name on two of my titles, but have not done so on the audio versions so they’re currently stuck with old, bad titles.

Also, the titles I put out in audio are ones I wrote six years ago. They may not be my strongest work.

And the narrators I went with were unknowns who didn’t bring their own audience, which can be a big deal in audiobookland.

There was also the whole ACX allowing returns and taking the money back without showing it which means I could have actually had more sales on those titles than I knew and it was just ACX fuckery that kept me from receiving payment. Theoretically that wouldn’t happen today.

So there are reasons to think past performance is not a good indicator of potential future performance with audio. And that putting some of my fiction out in audio could be a good decision, especially the cozies.

At the same time, audio is expensive. Even for my cozies which are only probably five hours of completed audio each, that could be $2,000 per title to produce if I try for a high-end narrator or choose a hands-off option where someone else supervises the production process.

With cozy #9 on the way that’s $20,000 or so to do the whole series. (Then again, compared to current stock market returns…at least I’d be paying for something tangible instead of losing value.)

So I don’t know. It’s an interesting thing to contemplate. If I could pull it off I honestly think I’d rather pay for a mass market print run of the cozies but I just don’t even know where to get started with that and Amazon would want $3.50 for each sale to sell through them. And if I ever were to warehouse books I’d technically have to change from cash accounting to accrual accounting, which ugh. No thank you.

Anyway. What I really need to do? Write some more words. But I have to say, the analysis and looking at these things from different angles is a big part of the fun for me. Now I just need to let my mind stew on all of it at which point you’ll see me publish something completely new and unrelated to anything I’ve done before. Haha. Why not?

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

2 thoughts on “Numbers and Analysis”

  1. Random tangent about a part of this entry: I keep hearing and reading that the audiobook market has grown considerably and is projected to grow a lot more in coming years. When I started reading up on voice over/voice acting as a career, the top two demands for voice over talent in 2021 was #1: online ads, and #2: audiobook narration (with videogame voice acting barely trailing in #3.) Definitely seems to support that your move of going through with audiobooks could eventually fully pay out. Especially if you put more advertising dollars into it. But then again, who can say for certain?

    If you’re curious and want another distraction from writing 😉 this is one of the articles I got that information from: https://www.voices.com/company/press/reports/2022-state-of-voice-over

    Like

    1. Nice! Thanks for the link. I do have a friend whose ebooks already do really well who is aiming for six figures with audio alone, so there’s definitely a market there, I’m just not sure there is for my particular books. But I think recording the cozies could be fun, so if I can fit a recording booth in my new place I’ll probably do it. I like this business because I’m constantly learning new things and, who knows, maybe voice acting commercials could be a little bit of an income supplement at some point? Haha.

      Liked by 1 person

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