It’s Kinda Funny…

That the better I do at this writing thing the more inclined I am to quit altogether.

Sometime in March I passed a big milestone revenue-wise and probably hit one profit-wise and also came within spitting distance of a new monthly milestone, too.

And for the last few years I’ve earned enough from writing that it would pay a reasonable person’s bills if they lived in a reasonable area and weren’t too extravagant and hadn’t been stuck paying for their own MBA because their former employer pulled a bait and switch on them. (Thanks, George.)

In short, I’m doing better than most and making progress year-on-year.

Not near as well as some, that’s for sure. I think I’ve mentioned before that I know of some authors who are seven-figure-a-year authors and I personally know more than one that makes mid-ten-figures a month and I’m definitely not close to that.

But I’ve been steadily doing better each year. Enough to have some glimmer of hope. Some years are years that “pop” and suddenly I see an 8-fold increase from one year to the next. Others are more steady-risers that increase about 10% or so. But things have trended upward year-on-year as I add more product and figure out what I do that people want to pay for. And I’m doing it at a sustainable pace, too, so it’s not like I’m thinking to myself, “Oh my god, if I don’t work 20 hours a day, seven days a week, this all goes away tomorrow” like some I know.

And yet…

The better I do with my writing, the less optimistic I am about my potential to get to where I ultimately want to go.

I think that’s because when you first start out you think to yourself, “Wow, there are people who make seven figures a year at this. I could be one of those people. All I have to do is try and work hard at it.”

But then you try. And maybe you do work hard at it. But…you don’t make seven figures. Or six. Or five. or four. Or three.

Or you’re like me and you find that you just don’t want to work as hard at it as those other people did. One of the seven-figure authors I know of says she sits down and writes/edits for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, every week of the year.

Me? I average 10 hours a week. I’m putting in a fourth of the time that woman is. Which is why she publishes 24 novels a year and I published three last year.

Or maybe you do work hard at it. Maybe you do put in those sixteen hour days. But then you put your book out there and…crickets. Or, worse, bad reviews. Or, you get, “Eh, okay, that was sort of good.” Your family and friends pat you on the back and say they enjoyed it. But they never ask for more. Neither do any of the strangers who bought it.

So you find that you’re not one of the crack-cocaine writers. You’re not addictive. People don’t crave what you write. They like it alright, maybe. But they don’t LOVE it. They don’t demand that everyone else read it. They don’t make absurd, unrealistic requests that you get the next book out NOW.

They just, you know, maybe will pick up the next one if it’s there and they can’t find something else they love more.

Those characters and those ideas that were so interesting and fascinating to you aren’t interesting and fascinating to anyone else. Or maybe they would be if your writing were better. You think maybe they would be. But that means that you’re writing isn’t that good right now? And who wants to think that? Especially if you’re a “that one story I’ve wanted to tell forever” writer.

Or maybe you do find fans. And you do work hard enough so you’re putting out enough books that it should work, but then you find out that there’s more to all of this than just writing books. There are so many other people who have written books, too, that you’re lost in the clutter. No one is finding your little adventure novel. No one is taking a taste and getting addicted.

You find out that it isn’t all about writing. You have to learn marketing. And cover design. And how to write ad copy.

Or maybe you have to pay for those things because you’re just not very good at those things. You can write a novel, but not a two-sentence zinger that gets someone to one-click.

And suddenly this thing that was going to make you a good living is costing you money instead. And you get bitter because wasn’t that cover beautiful enough? It if was, why didn’t anyone buy the book? Or why can’t you sell that book for more than 99 cents? Or $2.99? People spend more than that everyday on a cup of overpriced coffee that tastes bitter just to be cool and yet they won’t spend $2.99 on this novel that took you months to write?

And why does THAT book in your genre sell well when it’s so…not yours.

You start out all shiny and new and hopeful and optimistic that you’ll make it to the top. But then…life. And reality. Not everyone makes it to the top. Some barely get started. Some get stuck halfway. Some go up and then come crashing back down.

And the real kicker of it all is that it’s hard to know if you’ve reached the limit of your potential or if this is just a setback.

Is this moment, “Hey, you tried and you gave it your all, but this is as good as it gets.” Or is this the lull before you make that next leap up.

Maybe all you’ll ever be is that so-so writer that people don’t mind but don’t love. Or maybe you’ll turn the dial just a bit, try that next genre or that next idea or that next style of writing or reach that next reader who loves you so much they tell the world to read you, and it’ll all finally fall into place.

The further along you get the more it can start to feel like maybe there’s nothing left to turn.

Sure, you could write more, except…you know you’re not going to write more. You haven’t written more in five years.

Or you could write with more action and less emotion, except…that’s not the writer you are. If you want to do something that isn’t you there’s a nice comfy corporate job that comes with health insurance that’s a lot easier to do and doesn’t result in strangers on the internet making conjectures about your childhood.

You could write shorter. Or write longer. Switch genres. Learn how to be likeable online. Except…That’s not you. You know that maybe that’s how others succeeded, but…you aren’t them.

So then what do you do?

Do you try one more time? Or do you call it? Turn the dial or walk away? Because, really, life doesn’t have to be this hard. Does it?

Focusing On the Right Goal

This is a writing-related post, so if you’re not interested in that, now’s the time to bail.

When I first started self-publishing there was a lot of talk about two things: how many copies someone had sold (a million copies!) and whether they’d hit six-figures.

Which are both great and wonderful things to talk about, but as I discuss in detail in Data Analysis for Self-Publishers, can be the wrong metrics to focus on. You can sell a million copies and not make a living from your writing. You can also have six-figures a year in revenue and not making a living from your writing.

The number of copies sold ignores what those copies were sold for, and selling a million copies at 99 cents is going to have a vastly different outcome from selling them at $4.99. And, of course, if you pay too much for advertising then all the sales in the world aren’t going to make a difference if you lose money on each one.

(Which is not to say I don’t believe in advertising. I absolutely do. I just believe in advertising for a profit. If you can’t advertise and be profitable then you need to change your ad strategy, change up the cover etc on what you’re advertising to make it more desirable, or write something new that you will be able to advertise at a profit.)

But that’s not what prompted me to write this post today. I’m currently in a Facebook group that is focused on selling books everywhere, not just Amazon. And there was a recent product release of a sales tracker that provides these pretty little circular graphs with each store in a different color. Members of this group LOVE to post those photos and talk about how “isn’t it great that Amazon is only 40% of my sales?”

Every single time I see one of those posts, I wince. Because it’s focusing on the wrong metric. One of the ones I saw this week, the person was proud to have Amazon as only 50% of their revenue but they’d also only made $70 on Amazon. You can’t live on $140 a month.

To be clear, I am a strong advocate for being wide because as I told someone a few months ago I have no desire to contribute to the collapse of the self-publishing ecosystem by placing all of the power in Amazon’s hands. As soon as they can they will fuck us all over. So if I want to be able to self-publish five years from now or ten and make any sort of money from it, I need to be part of there being viable competition for Amazon.

But the reality is that Amazon, especially in the U.S., is the single biggest sales platform for self-published authors. We don’t get into bookstores that often. So our sales are coming from Amazon, Kobo, Nook, Google, and Apple primarily. And for U.S. sales, Amazon is probably 75% or more of that market.

So even being wide, I expect Amazon to be a big chunk of my revenue. That’s why every single time I see one of those posts in that group I wince. Because the goal should not be to replace Amazon with the other stores. It should be to keep or grow your Amazon revenue while ADDING the other stores on top of that.

What I want to see is bar graphs or line graphs of increasing revenue. “I went wide and my income went from $1,000 a month to $1,500 a month.” That’s being successful wide.

(And, let me tell you, that’s probably not what most could say. Again, I am all for being wide, but the reality is that Amazon is set up to advantage exclusive authors in about a dozen ways so most authors who go wide take a financial hit. And those who start wide have no idea what they’ve sacrificed by being wide.)

Look, this is a hard business. You have to take every win you can find to keep yourself going. I celebrate the units sold. I celebrate the revenue. I celebrate the good months on each platform. (Thank you, Apple, for what I suspect was a recent feature of a free run I did on my fantasy series.)

But at the end of the day what I have to ultimately focus on is the things that pay my rent. That bottom line number of profit and loss. That’s what will let me keep doing this long-term. None of the rest of it will. It’s part of it, but if the bottom line isn’t good enough? The rest doesn’t matter.

So, please, don’t let yourself be distracted by pretty graphs.

Choices, Choices

I have been wanting to write another fantasy novel for a couple years now. The last one I published was in 2017 and that series still makes me money with new readers but I have nothing for the folks who’ve already finished the series. Plus, fantasy is my first love and what I as a reader spend most of my time reading.

But I keep not doing that.

When I stop and think about this fact, those are the days when I really envy those people who have one direction in life that they’ve always wanted to go. That one story they’ve always wanted to tell. That one person they’ve always wanted to be.

I am not that person. I am the person who has eight zillion possibilities I can see at any given moment, about half of which seem really interesting.

At this point I have published over 2 million words: close to a million non-fiction across about ten broad categories, about half a million in speculative fiction, about 350K in romance, and about 320K in mystery.

And I have books I want to write that would not fit with anything I’ve already published. (*head desk*)

Just imagine if I’d published 2 million words of just one type of fiction…That would be about 20 fantasy novels. Or 50 cozies. If you can’t find an audience with twenty novels, then, hm, maybe time to move on to something else.

Alas. I would’ve died of boredom before I wrote 20 fantasy novels in a row.

So I bounce around and pay the consequences which is slower build-up and lost momentum sometimes.

Now, ironically, the reason I haven’t written a new fantasy is because I’ve paid enough attention to numbers to know it’s a huge risk to take to do so and I’ve been trying to focus better the last couple years.

It takes me X hours to write most non-fiction titles. A cozy mystery takes about 2X. But a fantasy takes 6X. At least the last one I wrote did.

And right now my overall profit per writing/editing hour for non-fiction is 20x my profit per hour for writing/editing fantasy.

So, of course I keep choosing the thing that takes 1/6 the time and pays 20x the profit.

But…

Fiction is a tricky beast. Because it’s hard to see the potential before it takes off. Non-fiction you can have a single standalone title that does well on its own so if you hit with a title you can immediately see the potential. But fiction can be one of those situations where nothing, nothing, nothing, and then BOOM all of it moves at once.

I know of more than one author whose earlier series didn’t start to sell well until their second or even their third series caught on with readers.

Fiction also has more potential for additional titles.

You might find this hard to believe given the number of titles I’ve written on certain subjects, but there are only so many books you can write about each non-fiction topic before you run out of new things to say.

With fiction, though, if you create an interesting world or an interesting character the number of potential titles is limitless as long as your readers stay with you and you can keep it fresh for yourself.

So with fiction it doesn’t always come down to the numbers you already have. Sometimes it comes down to that gut instinct that you’re leaving potential on the table.

Of course, sadly, the only way to test that you’re doing so is to put in the hours to get that next title out and see how it does. (I mean obviously if you’re getting unending fan letters asking for more that’s a pretty solid indicator. But for those of us who are not getting those letters, putting in the work and seeing what happens is pretty much the only choice.)

And I swear I am going to do that this year with a fantasy novel.

And maybe a romance, too, since the last couple sold thousands of copies.

I’m going to do it.

Right after I write these next three non-fiction titles. And maybe another cozy. And then…yeah. Sigh.

Damn it. Where did my workaholic tendencies go? If only I didn’t want downtime to read other people’s books and walk my dog and see my family and veg out on silly TV shows like Cake Wars.

Ah well.

What I do know is that even if I still don’t publish that fantasy novel this year I will keep moving forward in some direction or other so that by the end of the year I have another 300K words out there of some sort.

Because I may be foolishly building a barn, a house, and a fence around my property all at the same time, but at least if I keep working at it one of them will eventually turn into something useful. (I hope.)

Some Writerly Comments

First, if you have audiobooks and didn’t pay much attention to the latest ACX email they’ve made some pretty significant changes.

As of March you should actually be able to see returns on your dashboard. No more hiding the extent of the return issue in sales. Which becomes less relevant with another change they made as of the start of the year which is that if a return is made after more than 7 days they’ll eat the cost instead of charging it back to the publisher of the audiobook.

And no more seven-year lock-in. Not even for those with royalty share. If you can make a deal with your audiobook narrator you can move to non-exclusive. And after 90 days you can even remove your books from distribution with them.

It’s basically everything I would’ve liked to see them do about 9 months ago when I first realized that I was basically listing books with them so they could give them away for free.

For me it was too little, too late, though. I asked them to delist my audiobooks and that should happen within the next two weeks.

I was able to do that because they’re such a small part of my earnings. My wide audio makes 30x as much each month as my ACX audio. (We’re not talking big numbers there.)

I’m doing it because personally have no interest in being in business with someone who so patently prioritizes their interests over their business partners’ and doesn’t act to change anything until things publicly hit the fan. So…

Bye-bye, ACX.

Second, some nice new developments at Barnes & Noble where they’re clearly making some efforts to support self-publishers. As of this month they’re going to a flat 70% payout for all price points.

I know they had that site glitch last year that upset a lot of people but all in all I like working with them and am pleased to see those developments.

Google seems to be picking up some steam as well these days, so that’s nice as well. And I think Apple and Kobo are still in the hunt and making improvements, too. So some promise there.

Third, I just did my ad numbers for January and have to say I’m still pleased with AMS ads for my core books.

To be clear, the ads no longer work for all of my books. I just don’t have a deep enough catalog for them to work well in some areas, but overall they definitely move the needle for me.

And compared to what I need to do to set up a Facebook ad, which I also did some of this week, they’re a helluva lot easier to get up and running. No ad creative to come up with, no three fields of text to populate with something engaging, no need to worry that the link you provide in the ad will actually work for the reader…

As far as AMS goes, I was having a conversation earlier this week with someone about the ads and their effectiveness and I think the key point is that you need alignment between everything the potential customer sees along the way from search term to purchase.

If someone searches for “dragon fantasy” then the best possible match for that search term is a kick-ass cover with a dragon on it. (Not an okay dragon. A kick-ass one.) That has to be followed by a book description that’s all about dragons and fantasy worlds and a price point that matches the genre and reviews that are like, “OMG, the dragons!” The more every piece and step lines up, the better the ad performance is going to be.

Miss one step and you have an impression without clicks or clicks without sales. Enough of that and your ad dies or you’re out a lot of money or both.

Fourth, I’m having one of my periodic “what the hell am I doing with my life” thoughts, which I think most self-publishers (or writers) do at some point. (I know there are some who don’t, but not all of us have that stellar rise to the top and ability to stay there.)

Even though I’ve made steady progress year after year, this is not an easy business.

(That’s actually why I like it, which is absurd. I get bored with things I can do well and no amount of money makes up for that lack of challenge. Although I may feel differently about that when I’m 50 and unemployable and all I have to show for my life is my books…Haha. Sigh.)

Spending time and effort on something that can feel like slogging through molasses at times has to make you stop and wonder every once in a while what exactly you’re doing with your life. Like, wouldn’t I rather go back to that six-figure-a-year-part-time project where they treated me like a glorified admin than do this every day?

But I like my dog. And I like not having to be on 28 Zoom calls a week. (Like my brother right now.)

And I like living in my own head instead of trying to figure out how to get that semi-senior executive who thinks he knows all the answers to listen before something vital crashes and burns.

So I continue while I can and I put my faith in the powers that be that something will save me from me when the time comes that it all finally collapses. Haha.

Anyway. We live in interesting times.

What’s Possible

This month the husband and wife writing team Ilona Andrews self-published a title, Blood Heir, that ties back to one of their incredibly successful trade-published series about Kate Daniels and an Atlanta with waves of magic.

As I write this the ebook is ranked #167 in the Amazon U.S. store selling in ebook at a price of $6.99 and the paperback is ranked #4,403 selling at a price of $14.39. The book is available wide, meaning not just on Amazon, and is doing equally well on the other major retailers.

The book made #5 on the New York Times bestseller list which is almost unheard of for a self-published title. That’s also about as well as a title can perform. And the key is that it was self-published. Being able to hit that level of performance without using a publisher is HUGE.

I’ve been following the Ilona Andrews blog for a while now and it’s clear that they have an incredibly devoted fanbase. As I write this there are already 3,662 ratings on Amazon and the average rating is 4.8. Every time they post on their blog about publishing anything new, self-published or trade-published, a large number of people say, “Please!”, “Yes!”, “I’ll read anything by you.”

This was not the first title or series they’ve self-published. They’ve been hybrid for a while now. But I think this was a turning point and that they may very well focus on self-publishing for the time being. They’ve certainly indicated that’s the case for the next year.

It’ll be interesting to see how this evolves. For me one of the benefits of trade-publishing is on the print side. For example, Ilona Andrews has a series they’re currently wrapping up that’s published by Avon in a mass market paperback size for $7.99. Self-publishing is currently not capable of matching that price point without a print run. (Same with YA print. The price points they can offer books at are well below what I can get from POD printing.)

I know on the trade side they’ve been talking about the demise of mass market paperbacks forever, but for me as a reader that’s how I find a lot of my authors. I’ll happily spend $8 on a first-in-series title. $16? That’s harder to justify. For now it looks like their readers have followed them to the higher price point in print but I wonder if long-term that may slow down.

For Blood Heir they’re doing print on demand through Ingram, but theoretically they could do their own print run on a mass market paperback because unlike most self-published authors they know they have the numbers to justify the up-front cost.

If they go down that road things could get very, very interesting. So something to keep an eye on if you weren’t aware of it already.

(And man do I love those Luisa Pressler covers. I saw her work on Twitter a couple years back and reached out about a possible cover but she was just a little out of my reach at the time and I’m sure is completely out of my reach now. But I love her style so much…)

So You Got a Bookbub Deal

First, congratulations. It’s scary to spend that kind of money on a promotion, but in my experience it’s been worth it every time even with the ones that didn’t perform as well. (My worst took four days to pay for itself with sales of that book and followthrough sales and I’ve only ever had 99 cent deals on standalones.)

Second, on the day of the Bookbub do not freak out if the sales aren’t there when you think they should be. I’m in the middle of the United States and inevitably think my deal is a big dud because the Australian sales for me don’t report until the next day on Amazon and that’s always a big chunk.

Now, the reason I am writing this post is because I’ve seen one too many questions about how to adjust pricing for a deal, especially how that works for authors who are wide.

So I decided I’d just run through it here once and then anyone who wanted to could find it on the internet and I could just link to this post if it ever comes up in a group again. This is for a non-free deal. Usually 99 cents but I’ve seen a few $1.99 etc deals.

We’ll start easy:

Nook: Change the price to your U.S. deal price. Done, because it’s just U.S. sales.

Amazon: Change the U.S. price and then click on Other Marketplaces to show all other markets. Make sure that the prices in India, United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia match the price listed in the Bookbub acceptance email. (For 99 cent deals that’s 0.99 for all except India which is 65 INR.)

Apple: Change the base price and then go and confirm that all of your Bookbub markets are the price you want. There is no India option to worry about.

Google: Two options.

Simple option is to have one USD World listing and then one listing for each of the Bookbub countries (Canada, UK, Australia, India) using the deal price. So USD 99 cent WORLD and the rest are CAD 99 cent Canada, AUD 99 cent Australia, etc.

Make sure the tax-inclusive box is checked for each country so that you don’t end up with a 99 cent book priced at $1.06 which will mean that country doesn’t run as part of your Bookbub deal. (I do it for every country rather than try to figure out which ones have a VAT in place.)

The more complex option is to leave your usual listings in place and then for U.S. WORLD, Canada, UK, Australia, and India to list a second price for each country that includes your dates of your promotion and your sale price. This should mean that the deal shows as a discount off your full price on the book page.

I’ve been bit on this one before when it didn’t override my normal price because my normal price was not listed as tax-inclusive but my sale price was so I sometimes just go with the simple option instead.

Kobo: Two options here as well. Start on the set the price page for the book.

Your first option is to change the default list price to what you need and then make sure that the price listed for each country in your BB deal is what it should be.

Your second option is to leave that section alone and instead use the schedule a sale option. Works the same, basically price-wise, except you set dates for you promotion. (I tend not to use it because I end up cancelling the sale early because I always want it to end on the 14th but when you put in the 14th that means it will end on the 15th.)

Draft2Digital: They have a promotion option that lets you schedule a promotion but last I checked it was USD only, which I don’t trust because of currency conversion. So…

I go to the Publish page for the book, click on Manage Territorial Prices, and make sure that the USD price is set to what I need and then all the other prices are set to their requirement as well. To customize a country price you check the box next to that country and enter the price you want. Click Apply Territories when done and submit the change.


That’s it for the ones I use. I assume other stores would work the same. Basically, don’t rely on currency conversion to get the right prices for your deal.

Also, be sure to check your listings in each country before the day of your deal.

For Google you can add &gl= and then the two-letter country code at the end of the URL to see the price in each store. For Apple change the current two-letter country portion of the URL to the one you want to see. Same with Kobo.

(The UK two-letter code is GB.)

For Amazon you need to change the amazon portion of the address to match the amazon url for that country. So amazon.com becomes amazon.co.uk, for example.

You won’t have buy options in each store, but you should be able to see pricing to confirm that you got it right.

2021 Goal Setting

Today I uploaded most of my December 2020 numbers in my Access database.

(Audio and Kobo are still outstanding and so is IngramSpark Australia for some reason and I never upload D2D until the last moment to give them time to finalize the numbers they show, but what I had at this point was 95% of the year so close enough.)

As I expected, revenue was down, but profits were actually up, so yay. It seems less people were clicking on ads perhaps but more were willing to buy when they did since most of my revenue is ad-driven. Either that or I just didn’t keep my eye on the ball as much in 2020, because, well…2020. Either way.

Steady improvement, but still not where I’d like to be. And still not sure that the market is long-term sustainable as it exists today. But that’s a post for another day.

Part of looking at my numbers involved comparing them to some goals I’d set at the beginning of the year for revenue and profit by author, series, and title for 2020 as well as lifetime.

After laughing uproariously at my early 2020 optimism (I was hoping to have lifetime revenue by now of $75K more than I have) it was time to set 2021 goals.

I realized what I needed to do was stop setting goals based on lagging indicators like revenue and profit and instead set them on leading indicators.

What do I mean by that? I’ve probably discussed this before at some point, but it’s a good topic to cover again. A lagging indicator is a result, but it requires other actions to make it happen. A leading indicator is an action you take that actually drives those results.

For me, with publishing, leading indicators are published titles and ad spend. If I don’t publish titles and advertise them, I don’t make money.

For some it could also be word count or hours spent writing but those don’t work for me. I need a tangible finished product that I can sell. If I write 50,000 words on something I don’t publish, that doesn’t help pay my rent. Right?

And sitting in my office saying, “I will make $50,000 in profits this year” sounds great, but unless I have something out there selling that well already, it’s not going to happen.

Fortunately, I normally do set new year’s resolutions some of which are things like, “Publish 4 non-fiction titles” which cover the “produce new product” side of things.

Where I tend to forget this is when I look at ad spend, revenues, and profit and loss. Because I’ll often jot down revenue and profit goals for a title separate from my new year’s resolutions. “I would like Title X to make revenue of $20K with a profit of $15K.” But I almost never jot down title-level ad goals.

Saying I want a profit of $15k is nice and all, but it leaves out the steps that are required to get there. Which for a published title comes from promotion and advertising. If I think a profit of $20K requires an ad spend of $5K, then I need to actually spend that much on advertising. That needs to be my goal.

If I can actually make that work. There are diminishing returns on ad spend for some of my titles. The market for them is only so big, so I can’t just say “Spend $500K to make a million” because, haha, no, not with what I write.

But what I can do is go back to that revenue goal of $20K that expects an ad spend of $5K and then break that down either monthly or quarterly and set a goal to spend $400 per month or $1,200 per quarter on that title.

Now, I know some people who publish don’t have that money to spend on their titles. It comes up in the forums often. So let me say this: Start small and reinvest your profits.

Especially with something like AMS ads, you do not have to spend hundreds or thousands or even tens of thousands when you’re getting started. You do need to bid enough for your ads to show, but if you can only spend $2 a day on an ad, fine. Start there. If that ad is making you $4 a day then next month you can spend more. And the month after that and the month after that.

(I think we all have a better grasp of exponential growth after last year, no?)

And if you spend $2 a day and don’t make anything over the course of a month, then something there isn’t working.

If you aren’t getting impressions, you’re likely not bidding enough. If you’re getting clicks but not sales, then something is off in that chain from first impression to purchase.

Are you targeting the right audience? Is there alignment between your target audience, your cover, your ad text, your sales page copy, your genre, and your look inside?

Does it all tell customers that they are getting the same product or does the initial impression look like a novel when what you really wrote was a philosophical treatise? Is the price you’ve set competitive for your genre? If it’s more do you justify that added cost with your presentation of the product?

And if you’re getting sales, but losing money, you may need more product to afford those ads. Often a first-in-series is a loss-leader and you make that up with the rest of the series. Or there’s something in that sales funnel that can be tightened up to get better conversion. But it’s good to start poking around and figuring that out so that when you’re finally ready to run you actually know what you’re doing and what works for your books.

Anyway. Some thoughts.

And now I have to go feed a “puppy” before she starts crying that I have cruelly neglected her by going 3 minutes past her lunchtime. (The real reason I write is so I can have the free time for her. Haha. Sad but true.)

Aer.io

I’m supposed to be setting up a Facebook ad for my new release but I ended up going down a bit of a rabbit hole with a site called aer.io.

Basically it’s a site associated with Ingram that lets you create a storefront to sell any print books that Ingram distributes.

You can create collections and offer your own discounts off of the list price. It’s a little clunky still (see the Stephen King book cover in the attached link which is not in English but fine when you click on the link) but definitely intriguing.

If you want to see one of my experiments, here’s what I did for a list of the books on my best writing advice books shelf. There were only two on that shelf I couldn’t find in their catalog:

https://shop.aer.io/WritingBooks

And here’s the link to the non-fiction store I’ve been working on for my books:

https://shop.aer.io/MLHumphrey

There are things I don’t love about it like the overlay on collection names. And it seems to like to overwrite the description for the page that you give when you go in to edit, but other than that…pretty cool.

Looks like anyone can set one up and you’re basically a little online bookstore.

New Year, New Releases

The Excel Essentials 2019 series is out! That consists of three titles, Excel 2019 Beginner, Excel 2019 Intermediate, and Excel 2019 Formulas & Functions.



I’m going to take a moment to talk about them and then I’ll dive in on some thoughts for the writer folks who follow this blog.

So, how do these differ from the Excel Essentials series? If you’ve already read Excel for Beginners, Intermediate Excel, 50 Useful Excel Functions, and 50 More Excel Functions do you need to buy these, too?

The answer is no. These books are written specifically for anyone using Excel 2019 but 97% of what I talk about in the two series remains unchanged so if you already read the first series you’re fine.

In the formulas & functions book I do cover a few new functions, IFS and TEXTJOIN being the two main ones. MINIFS and MAXIFS as well. But in the prior series I covered nested IF functions and CONCATENATE which were the old way to accomplish the same thing as IFS and TEXTJOIN. And the older functions are still better choices if backwards compatibility is an issue.

Which is why I continue to recommend the Excel Essentials books for anyone using an older version of Excel or who needs to worry about structuring things so they work for others using older versions of Excel.

I basically came out with these books because I just upgraded computers which meant upgrading my Office version to 2019 so I had access to it and also because I know there are users out there who want a book focused on their particular version of Excel so why not give it to them now that I could.


Which is the perfect segue (an interesting word because I want spell it very differently based on the way it’s pronounced) to talking about this from the writer perspective.

Whether you write fiction or non-fiction you always have to think about self-cannibalization at some point if you’re going to publish more than one title.

On the fiction side writers do this when they release bundles. If I have a bundle of books 1 through 3 and books 1 through 3 available on a standalone basis I should expect that some readers will buy the bundle instead of books 1 through 3 standalone. Which means that every sale of the bundle is a sale I don’t get of books 1, 2, and 3.

But it can make sense to do so anyway, because there are readers who are bundle readers who won’t buy a book standalone and it’s also often a way to reach readers who won’t pay as much without having to discount the standalone titles. So you broaden your potential audience in two ways.

The drawback is on a site like Amazon that is so rankings-driven it can decrease overall visibility. Maybe. Because sometimes getting a Bookbub promo is easier with a bundle which can then increase visibility. (Of course at that point you’re selling at high volume but low per-unit profit, but that trade off can make a lot of sense depending on when you do it. My general inclination is to price low only when I have somewhere more expensive for readers to go after that because it’s not easy to make a living on 35 cents a sale.)

In non-fiction there are any number of ways to do this as well.

One is an updated edition of a book. Most readers if there’s a 2010 and a 2020 edition of a book will buy the 2020 edition assuming it’s the “better” edition so publishing a new edition often means no longer getting sales of the editions.

If someone takes another pass at the material you assume they will find better ways to say what they were saying the first time around and update the book for any changes over time.

(Although I will say with cookbooks this isn’t always true. I have Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks spanning thirty years and some of the older recipes are the better-tasting ones because they weren’t trying to be heart-healthy. Although, let’s just take a moment to be glad that 1970’s entertaining suggestions stayed in the 70’s. Hanging bananas off of a centerpiece is an idea no one should have ever had, ever.)

Getting back to the point.

With non-fiction other ways I’ve cannibalized my own sales is through bundles. For example, I have the Excel Essentials title which is the four Excel books from the original series combined into one title.

(Even though it’s a discount over the four individual titles, the individual titles still sell much better, probably because the initial price point seems daunting to someone who hasn’t read my books yet.)

I also have the Easy Excel Essentials books which are extracted from the main series titles and focus on specific topics, like Pivot Tables.

They’re less economical for people to buy if they buy them all but people do still buy them either because they only care about one specific topic (Pivot Tables or Conditional Formatting) or because the price point seems more reasonable to them. They’d rather buy six books for $3 each than buy three books for $5-$6 each even if there’s less overall content in the six books.

Of course, another reason to release new titles has nothing to do with sales, but instead has to do with visibility.

For example, the newly-available-to-everyone AMS Sponsored Brand ads work best with three or more titles. So I went ahead and released Access Essentials so that I’d have three books on Access that I could advertise via one of those ads. I didn’t actually expect high sales on that title, but it gave me another advertising option so it was worth it.

And, as fiction authors who focus on Amazon sales know, there is value in being in the new release charts. (Although that’s only self-cannibalization when it’s an omnibus or bundle release, but that can make people realize they missed book three in that series and go buy it.)

Anyway. It’s something to think about if you’re a slower writer and trying to figure out what you can do. Think about new formats, bundles, etc.

But I don’t recommend new editions unless for this purpose. (These three books took me over a hundred hours to create and with novels or short stories I’ve redone it took as long as writing a new one and probably wasn’t such a vast improvement it was worth it.)

Also, I highly recommend having a release of some sort in January because it’s a nice, easy way to hit at least one New Year’s resolution. 🙂

Checking In…

I haven’t been posting much, mostly because I figure I can post annoyance at the world or I can put my head down and do something productive that moves things forward. So I’ve been working, working, working.

Yesterday in the mail I received the paperback proofs of the large print versions of my YA fantasy novels and the hard cover proofs of the large print versions of my cozy mysteries and I have to say they look really good and I’m glad I took the time to do that project.

Large print was something I sort of tried doing a few years back but I didn’t do enough research I don’t think to really get it right. It’s more than just a larger font size. For example, no italics. Those have to be replaced with bolded text. And font choice matters. So does placement of the chapter name and page numbers, etc.

I figured I’d judge the success of the large print books by sellthrough to the rest of the series. If people buy book one in large print and no one buys book two then that means I failed somehow on the formatting. But the cozies are showing good sellthrough. (Once I went into the Amazon listings for the regular print versions and told people how to find the large print version. It seems Amazon buries the large print version so that you have to be Houdini to find it and I don’t expect my cozy readers are.)

What else? I don’t know if it’s 2020 or it’s me, but things seem to be taking longer to do these days than before. I’m working on some new editions on the non-fiction side and I swear the books that were supposed to be revisions of old titles are taking twice as long to create as they did the first time around.

This is what it means to be a Maximizer in the CliftonStrengths world. I can’t pass up an opportunity to make something just that little bit better, which in one case led to rewriting 80% of the book. It wasn’t bad to start with but I was combining two books and for that to work I needed to change the approach substantially. (I know, I’m being vague but you’ll see when I publish what I was talking about.)

What else? I find myself glad I write both non-fiction and fiction books because this time of year, if you’re not pushing your fiction, can be brutal for sales. Fortunately, it’s a good time for print sales and with non-fiction I can price competitively enough that I don’t take as big of a hit as I would if I only did fiction.

Which is a reminder when looking at other’s recommendations and advice to pay attention to what they write. I find the fiction advice I see is often bad for non-fiction. Like don’t worry about print, price your print with thin margins, put your first title free, etc.

Same with if someone has a well-selling ten-book series. What they can do with that versus the author who has two or three books out is vastly different. I also think sometimes people who are a lot farther along on their path forget some of the struggles of being new or close to new. Like, they have books that just sell and don’t understand that that’s really not the case for most new writers.

And, of course, the genre differences. Writing for an audience that devours books and marketing to that audience is vastly different than writing for an audience that reads, but not at a book-a-day, give-me-the tropes pace.

Of course, every time I’m tempted to wander off into the wilderness alone and just stop listening to anyone anywhere and do my own thing, there’s something that comes up that makes me stay connected through FB groups or forums or whatnot.

This year the ACX returns thing finally blew up and it was good to know it had since they won’t delist my books but also ignore my emails and no longer even send me those helpful updates that others get. And I was able to get access to Nook promos which have helped. And I think I may have access to Apple promos now but haven’t looked closely at that email yet to be sure of it.

All of that comes from being tied in through groups here or there as painful as the experience sometimes is. (Kboards is such a pale version of what it once was that it’s kind of sad…)

Oh, and I put my books in for Amazon promo consideration but not holding my breath there. But good to know you can at least do so now.

So, yeah. We’re heading towards 2021 and I’m neither glaringly optimistic about it all nor darkly pessimistic. Thanks to EIDL and PPP I made it through 2020 unscathed (knock wood) and able to keep writing and publishing. We’ll see what 2021 brings.

Another thing to think about is property ownership. I was burned to the cost of $30K when I left full-time consulting and sold my condo in DC so I don’t always think that owning property is the best bet, but I am very grateful that I bought my house that I live in now because that property appreciation certainly helps. It’s the cushion that lets me take some of the risks I do. I can look at that equity I’ve built up and think, “Worst case scenario…”

Anyway. Pup is crying to be fed and then I have to proof three books and get them off to the printer for print proofs, so back to the grindstone. Hope you and yours are well.