More Amazon A+ Content Thoughts

I just went through the process of updating some of my A+ content on Amazon so thought I’d share a few additional thoughts.

One, someone pointed out that on mobile the A+ content shows up above the blurb. So if you think you have a really powerful blurb and that’s what sells your books, you may not want to use it. Or may only want to use it on your print titles which may be more likely to be purchased by desktop users.

Two, I found out the hard way that you have to list all versions of the book separate for the content to show up on the product page. So I’d listed my ebook ASINs when I set up my content and had to go back and edit the ads to include my print ASINs.

Three, you can only put the content on books published via Amazon. For example, I have a couple of print books that I only publish through IngramSpark because I want them to have spine text and for those ones I couldn’t add A+ content.

Four, Amazon will automatically copy your U.S. content to the UK, DE, IN, CA, and AU stores for you. All you then have to do is go to each of those stores and click the “show auto-created content” button to show those ads. They’ll be in draft format so you have to go through and submit them for approval, but at least you won’t have to recreate them.

Five, if you do edit a U.S. ad the foreign copies will revert back to draft. This includes adding new books to the listing. So when I added my print books to my A+ content in the U.S. that put all of my foreign ads back to draft. (Good times.)

But, yeah, overall I like it. I’m sure readers that scroll for rank and reviews aren’t as happy, but that’s a very small subset of most readers and probably mostly author-types that do that I’d think.

Random Self vs. Trade Publishing Thoughts

I think I mentioned that earlier this year I had discovered Michelle West’s epic fantasy books, which span three different series but are all one large interconnected story. I devoured them. Sixteen books, most around 800 pages or so. I finished the last one in July. They were meaty and complex and had characters I liked without having any main characters I hated.

(I find that sometimes authors make choices about characters to “keep it interesting” that push me right out of a series. These books aren’t light and fluffy by any means, but they somehow manage to include brutal parts of the world without being brutal themselves.)

Anyway. After finding and loving those books I was then surprised to see that she basically had to part ways with her publisher on the remaining books in the story (a new series, but the continuation of the whole big arc) because the books were just going to be too long. And perhaps too numerous.

Good epic fantasy (not just alternate world fantasy, but actual epic fantasy) is so hard to find that it was really sad news for me as a reader. So when she mentioned that she was starting up a Patreon to let her write that final series, I decided I’d support it. (You can find it here: https://www.patreon.com/mswest)

For me as a writer it’s been worth my money so far because she’s been posting really interesting discussions about her writing process. And it also gives me good mental fodder when thinking about trade vs. self-publishing.

I hope she won’t mind my quoting from today’s post, because I think this is an important thing to understand for anyone considering the trade publishing path.

“The Patreon has been enormously freeing. It’s been — I don’t think I can put into words just how much of a difference it’s made to the writing. I’m not terrified, at the moment, of writing these books. I’m not afraid of allowing the story to breathe and grow from the roots that have existed since┬áBroken Crown.”

From what I understand of what she’s discussed, she was finding herself constrained by the requirements of her trade publisher. They wanted the books to be under a certain word count. And they’d bought four books when the series was likely going to be six and if I had to guess may ultimately be eight to ten books.

And so the author was feeling like she couldn’t write the story she wanted. She couldn’t include certain characters or plot lines. She was trying to tell a full, living, breathing story with one hand tied behind her back because of publisher requirements and it was interfering with her process.

(To be fair to the publisher and her editor, it sounds like over the years they’ve really worked hard to let this series continue and be what it needed to be. But they just hit a point where that couldn’t happen anymore.)

I think this issue she raises is probably the biggest trade-off that authors need to recognize if they want to be trade published.

As a self-publisher I can faff around all I want and the only one I’m harming is myself. So I can write a book or not write a book, or write a book that’s three times longer than I planned or half the length I planned, and it doesn’t matter.

But if you go the trade publishing route, you need to meet the expectations of your publisher. That includes length of book, length of series, timing, etc. And if X does well, you better be prepared to provide more of X. If Y doesn’t do well, you better be prepared to start writing Z instead, assuming they give you another chance and don’t just show you the door.

Which can make self-publishing sound really appealing, right? Freedom! Creative control! Telling YOUR story!

But there’s the discoverability issue for new authors who self-publish. I know that if I hadn’t discovered this author’s works through her trade published series I wouldn’t be supporting her Patreon right now. (I also know if I hadn’t been able to read those books in a mass market paperback size that I would’ve never started the series either.)

The reality is that if some unknown writer said, “Hey I want to write an epic fantasy series, give me money to let me do that,” I’d laugh and say, “No.” I’d have no guarantee that they could write one nor that they could do so in any sort of timely manner. And I’d definitely have no reason to believe that it would be good if they did manage to write it.

Which means for a brand new author with no trade publishing track record to write a series like this one on the self-publishing side they basically have to self-fund and go all in and write the first story arc at least before they can expect any sort of traction. That’s a good million words probably.

Too many readers have been burned by unfinished series at this point for an epic fantasy book one to really take off, IMO. (I could be wrong on that, I mean I have started other epic fantasy series that were unfinished even though Melanie Rawn never finished what at the time I thought was the best epic fantasy series I’d ever read, but that was also long before some other unfinished or not-yet-finished series that have really put out readers.)

Writing a million words up front is a hard ask. And most self-publishers won’t hold back the books until the series arc is done. Which means they’ll put out Book 1 to crickets. Or friends and family sales.

And then…Do you keep writing 300K-word novels? Or do you write shorter novels that you can write faster? To get traction. To make money. To justify how you spend your free time to everyone who thinks you just publish a novel and start printing money.

Honestly, as someone who loves character-driven epic fantasy it worries me. Because if publishers AND self-publishers both focus too much on the short-term bottom-line profit, the trend is going to be toward more simple or constrained stories. Which means I as a reader am not going to get those great, sprawling, complex, intriguing fantasies I love so much.

Or I’m only going to get them from already-established authors. (Which I am grateful for and will read.)

I don’t know the answers on this one. I suspect if I myself were writing an epic fantasy series I’d try trade pub with it, even knowing how hard a sell it would be. But that’s also because I don’t think self-publishing print costs can compete with trade publishing print costs and I think print is still a strong part of that particular market.

Anyway. Just my random thoughts for the day.

Amazon A+ Content

Of course the day after I made my post that mentioned A+ Content and said I didn’t have any of my own to show, my content was approved. So thought I’d circle back here to show what I did. Obviously it’s not perfect, because it usually takes me a dozen tries to get advertising-type content where I want it, but just to give a few more ideas.

So for the non-fiction, here’s what I put together for my Excel Essentials series:

I love this. Because it lets me show on one page how the three series work together. So people can see that there’s a quiz book to support each of the main titles and also which of the main titles each of my Easy Excel titles are derived from.

Also, at least as of this moment, my product page shows the main product description, the series listing, an also-bought carousel, an also-read carousel, and then this. The first sponsored ads carousel is below the about the author section. Amazon is constantly changing things so no guarantee that will hold, but yay for owning more of my product page and with useful information for potential customers.

On the fiction side, with my fantasy series I changed out the cover last year for something more symbol-based than character-based but I’ve noticed that with FB ads the ones that perform the best are the ones with the original character in the background, so I figured I’d use A+ Content to get that on the Amazon product page.

I included the also read carousel just above so you can see an example of what the series covers now look like. Books 2 and 3 are the first two entries listed there (Rider’s Rescue and Rider’s Resolve).

For my cozies I went in a different direction.

Already I think that comparison chart there that shows the two collections generated a sale this morning since that comparison chart links right to the collection pages and usually I see sales of the books 4-6 collection but not the books 1-3 collection.

So there you have it. A few ways to use A+ Content. I’m very pleased with it, but will likely be fiddling and changing things around as I usually do. I may not get things right the first go round, but the key is to keep improving as you learn more, right? Right.

New Releases and Random Writing Thoughts

First, I had a few new releases recently. Between moving and unpacking (how many books can one person own??), I didn’t post about them here because they were compilations of the Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Access titles I released earlier this year.

But here you go: Excel Essentials 2019, Word Essentials 2019, PowerPoint Essentials 2019, and Access Essentials 2019. These are perfect choices for anyone who knows they want to go as far as I can take them with learning one of the above programs. Otherwise I recommend starting with the beginner title in each series because often that’s all someone needs to learn when they’re just getting started.


Now on to the writerly thoughts…

First, I had to work on these books a little earlier than I wanted to because of the lovely changes that IngramSpark (“IS”) has made recently. If you’re not aware of them, then settle in for a quick rant.

IS charges about $50 for every new title that’s uploaded to them and then they charge $25 to change a cover or change the interior. But there have always been promo codes floating around. Participate in NaNoWriMo, get a code for the next six months. Go to a conference, get a code for the next six months. Join a member organization like ALLI or IBPA get a code for however long it last until they decide to change it.

I joined IBPA and had a code from them that I happily used for all of my uploads and updates. But then suddenly this year IS decided that you could only use that code 50 times in a year. Which seems like a lot. 50 times. Who would need more than 50 uses?

Well, let’s look at my year-to-date. I published 22 titles so far. The four main Excel 2019 titles, three Word 2019 titles, three Access 2019 titles, three PowerPoint 2019 titles, and the Microsoft Office for Beginners 2019 title were all in paperback and hardcover. So that’s 28 uses of a code right there. Plus the other 8 titles that in this case were just paperback. So 36 uses for new titles.

Normally I might do something like update other titles I already had out to change the Also By page to reflect my new releases. If I did that for my cozies at this point I have 9 titles in paperback, paperback large print, and hard cover large print. That right there is 27 code uses and we’re not even touching on the new title which would be another three uses. So for one new release of my cozy mystery series I’d need 30 code uses.

Well, imagine how unhappy I was when IS decided that limiting codes to 50 uses per year wasn’t enough and instead decided that you could only use a code five times in a month. More uses per year (60), but it would take me six months to get all of my cozy titles updated for a new release under that scenario and wouldn’t be able to publish or update any other titles in the interim.

What makes it even worse is that they seem to have an automated process for interior updates once a book is published. So they’re literally charging $25 for a process that doesn’t involve a person. And they’re changing their rules to try and get that money out of authors who’ve been publishing with them for years who didn’t sign up for that kind of b.s.

(Their stated reason is because they want to support legitimate publishers only and not scammers, which…well. Way to throw the baby out with the bath water.)

So anyway. This latest release of four titles involved eight books, one paperback and one hard cover of each title. So to avoid paying $50 for books that might not make that money back (I do the hard covers for libraries but there’s no guarantee they’ll want the collections), I had to start the process in July and use my five codes in July and then finish it in August to do the last three titles.

Good times. Love me some self-publishing fuckery. (And there is always self-publishing fuckery.)

What else? If you haven’t yet heard about A+ Content on Amazon, it’s worth taking a look now that they’ve opened it up to all self-published authors. I’ve submitted some content for some of my titles, but it takes about a week to get approved from what I’ve heard so I don’t have examples of my own yet, but here is a link to what an author I know has done and I think it looks really good.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08NJLC6R1

Scroll down to the From the Publisher section to see what she did.

One of the advantages with adding this content is that it can push an entire carousel of Sponsored Product ads down below that section, allowing authors to own more of their product page. (Not always, but sometimes.) Also, it’s pretty if done well. I think each of the images she’s added to her page there make a reader more likely to buy the book. For example, it takes what was already a strong image from the cover and makes it much larger and more engaging.

To add A+ Content, click on Promote and Advertise for one of your books and then scroll down to the A+ Content section. Next, choose a marketplace and click on Manage A+ Content. That takes you to a separate dashboard where you can create your content.

You can add the same content across books by listing multiple ASINs. (If you have a lot of books you should really have a list of these as I discussed ages ago in Excel for Self-Publishers which is no longer widely available but still available on my Payhip store.)

Content has to be added for each country, but there’s a note that they’ll let you know which other countries would accept content in that language and let you carry it across. I won’t know how well that works until my content is approved and I can test it out, but basically if you’re adding new content, just do it for one country and wait for it to get approved before you try to do all of the countries.

Also, if you use the comparison chart option it’s not well-sized for cover images, but you can do a white background and have your cover only take up part of the allowed space and that seems to work.

What else? I’m sure there were some other writerly thoughts I’ve been having lately but I’m still in post-move malaise so don’t ask me what they were. If I remember, I’ll post again.

10 Years/3 Million Words

In early July I finished my 10th year of writing towards publication. Ten years ago I was in New Zealand with some downtime between consulting projects and an injured knee that led me to stop skydiving so I decided it was time to finally try to write a novel. And I did.

Took six weeks. It was awful. Glad I set it aside for another six weeks before I went back to read it so I could understand just how much work it needed. (I tend to under-write, so that novel which eventually was 90K words ended its first draft at 45K words.)

Fast forward to ten years later and I’ve now written 3 million words. Not all of that is fiction, though. About 1.2 million words of that is various non-fiction. And only 1.3 million of that is novels, the other 500K words is short stories.

I hadn’t initially planned on the self-publishing route. Even when I self-published my first non-fiction title, I still expected I’d go the trade pub route for novels.

And, who knows, I may still end up hybrid at some point. But I don’t know. I don’t have the patience it seems is required for the trade published route. The idea that it’s acceptable in the industry for you to submit a query to an agent and wait a year for them to respond just floors me.

And the idea of having someone that non-responsive handle my business interests goes against everything I ever learned in the corporate world. If I am paying them a fee to sell my product, you’d think I’d have more standing with them than it seems most authors do with their agents.

Plus, I’m a control freak. I was recently negotiating a potential publishing contract for non-fiction with a decent publisher I’d be willing to work with, but the clause where they get all my rights and then can enter into any contract on my behalf without any input from me just stops me cold each time. That’s my name and reputation, you’d think I could have a veto on a disastrous contract.

So I don’t know. We’ll see. There are definitely opportunities that I don’t have access to as myself that I would through a publisher, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to negotiate a contract that makes it work for both me and them.

Which leaves me with the self-publishing. I love the freedom to do what I want when I want. And the flexibility to write the stories I want how I want to write them. But those are probably also my biggest dangers with self-publishing, too. Because I don’t do what you need to do to succeed even when I know at least one of the formulas.

(Write in a series that appeals to readers, release on a consistent and regular schedule, brand well for the genre.)

I’ve been lucky. Despite my writing whatever whenever and self-editing and mostly doing my own covers I’m still closing in on a quarter million dollars in revenue and have made over six figures in profit at this point with just about 70,000 paid sales across all my titles.

It’s a lot more than many authors manage. But it’s also piddling compared to some of the others I know who “do it right” and I’m self-aware enough to realize that if I worked longer hours and with more focus that I could probably have done exponentially better. (Because publishing is one of those industries that is very much winner-takes-all. The top titles do very, very well while the majority of titles sell next to nothing.)

Across those ten years I only spent 3,100 hours writing and editing. (Compare that to when I was a full-time consultant and probably worked 60 hour weeks which with 50 weeks a year of work over ten years would’ve come out to 30,000 hours spent working. Obviously there was some administrative time in there for the consulting and the writing and editing is not all I do on the publishing side, but I definitely am nowhere close to working as hard as I did as a full-time consultant.)

So what to do now? Keep going? My profit has gone up every year so there’s indication that if I keep writing and publishing I can keep growing that profit.

Try to focus and do it “right” this time using everything I now know? Even though I’ve done better in non-fiction I’m still firmly convinced that fiction is where the true upside potential lies.

Or step back, let writing be what I do when I have downtime, and take the easier route and pursue consulting again? I’m not one of those people who must write or I’ll die. I’m certainly not one of those people who must publish. And for hour of effort put in the consulting is going to be more financially rewarding 99 times out of 100 for me.

I don’t know. It’s not a simple question. I’ve never been one of those people who wanted one thing in life. And the things I do want–time to read and spend with my dog, family, and friends–can’t be the number one priority or I’ll eventually lose them.

I could spend two years just hanging out reading and walking my dog, but then I’d be broke and two years further away from any skills that would let me not be broke, right? So it’s always a balancing act. And sometimes the repercussions of those choices can’t be seen for years. There are life paths that you step off of that are almost impossible to step back onto later.

But I digress. Anyway. Ten years in. Not bad, not great. No regrets for spending the last decade of my life the way I have, but not sure if I’ll spend the next ten years the same way.

(Actually, I know myself. There’s no chance the next ten years will be like the last ten even if I do keep my focus on the writing. I am simply not one of those people who settles in.)

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.

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.

Like:

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.

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.)