Breathe

For some reason the level of “oh my god, the sky is falling” seems to have ratcheted up in the last few days.

The latest one I’m seeing is the “OMG, CreateSpace” drama because they decided to close their eStore. Now, I realize this does impact some people who used the store for discounts and perhaps sales at conventions, but I never used the eStore. I honestly never understood why it existed in the first place. Not like you could search it or really use it to shop.

So a business discontinued one aspect of its product offerings because it was probably minimally used and required too many resources to maintain.

And now there’s a five page long thread on Kboards of people saying they have to switch to Ingram Spark. Um, why? If you were fine putting your books out on Amazon using CreateSpace before this, that hasn’t changed. That’s not what they’re closing.

Now, if enough people abandon CreateSpace altogether that may just lead them to shut the whole thing down in favor of KDP Print. But we’re not there.

So, breathe.  Remember the whole serenity prayer? Focus on what you can control and stop freaking out about things that aren’t happening.

(This from someone who runs contingency plans in their head non-stop. If X, I’ll do Y, If A, I’ll do B, If C, I’ll do D. Oh, look, E happened.)

It Ain’t The Road That Kills You…

It’s the paper walls.

That’s from a song I happen to love by Marc Cohn:

The portion of the song where he says that doesn’t actually occur until the end. (At 3:39 on that video.) If you listen to it you may be asking yourself what on earth that song has to do with anything except people making really strange choices about who they hook up with and when, but stay with me for a moment.

Because, as always, I take something completely different away from that song than probably anyone else would. See, I hear that line “It ain’t the road that kills you…” and I think that the song is about how it isn’t being alone that’s the problem, it’s knowing that others aren’t and being able to hear (in this case) what you’re missing and how knowing what you’re missing is the real issue.

Now to bring this back to writing.

I ran a promo on Rider’s Revenge this weekend. It ends today. And, good news, I sold at least 374 copies of book 1 and 24 copies each of books 2 and 3. The promo isn’t even over yet and it’s already been profitable and sell-through to books 2 and 3 over the long-term will make it more so.

Fantastic, right?

Except I kind of felt like crap about it the last two days. Because part of the promo was an international-only Bookbub. And according to their site, the average number of sales from this particular list should be 550, but I’m only at about 300 off of the Bookbub.

It paid for itself. And I think I’m still missing Google sales and maybe even some iTunes sales. But I’m not going to hit 550. Which bummed me out.

I had a successful promo. I made a profit. I hopefully have a couple hundred new fans. And yet…knowing that others have done better running the same promo spoiled it for me.

It’s like we’re all trying to hike a mountain here. And I know that as long as I keep going and putting one foot in front of the other that I’ll get there eventually. But it’s harder when someone breezes by like there’s nothing to it or the person you started the trail with leaves you behind because you’re going so much slower.

(Real life experience: I hiked Mt. Quandary, a 14er, years ago with a couple co-workers. They were both in excellent shape and left me behind after the first hour or so. But I made it to the top. Eventually. Just in time for them to be ready to turn around and head back down…)

It’s easy to always be looking to others and feel constantly dissatisfied.  Because there will always be someone selling more, getting more reviews or better reviews, or signing high-profile deals. But you can’t do that. It’ll kill you.

Step back and remind yourself what you have done.  See how far you’ve come. Embrace the positives.

(I say as I continue to sit here and sulk.)

Remember, it isn’t the journey that will kill you, it’s comparing yourself to others and letting their successes (or how you feel about them) defeat you.

Serendipity (Or How I Ended Up In That StoryBundle)

There are some things in life that you can’t plan for and my inclusion in this particular StoryBundle is one of them.

What StoryBundle you might ask?  Well this one, of course.

NaNoWriMo Writing Tools Bundle ad

(Sorry, shameless plug. It’s gonna happen a few times over the next two months, but we’ll try to keep it to a minimum.)

A little background. I’ve wanted to be in a StoryBundle for a while now. I emailed them about Rider’s Revenge when I published it and never heard a thing. I have a friend who actually curates bundles for them, but had yet to convince her to build one I could be a part of, so would jealously look askance at people who had the chance to be in one but turned it down.

It’s been on my radar for a couple years now. But I hadn’t done much more than hope and bug my friend about it on occasion.

Then this year I went to a great conference in Colorado Springs, the Superstars Writing Seminars. As part of the conference they also ask you to join their groups on Facebook. One for the whole group and one for that year’s conference.

Now, let me tell you, I’m not a big joiner. I’m a happily content loner. So it felt a little awkward to me to have to join those groups. But I did it. And I occasionally participated as questions were asked that I knew something about.

And then in August the chance came that I didn’t even know was possible. Kevin J. Anderson said he was putting together a StoryBundle of epic fantasy books and needed a couple more to round out the bundle. He needed them soon. Was anyone interested?

Yes! Me! Me! Right here. Me.

Except…

The Rider’s books were in KU at the time. And not due to roll out until early September which was past his deadline.

I’ll tell ya, I was sorely tempted to see if Amazon would notice. But I like to stay on the right side of the rules, so no bundle for me.

I was very sad.

But Kevin had mentioned that there would be other bundles in the future, so I hoped that maybe someday I’d be in one. I figured maybe next year sometime.

In the meantime, I’d done something slightly crazy, which was spend most of my summer writing non-fiction. I couldn’t figure out a direction to take my fiction writing. (Another romance novel, a standalone fantasy novel, a MG fantasy series, a YA fantasy series, an adult fantasy series…The possibilities were endless and no one story was calling to be written.) Rather than sit there and stare at my computer day after day, I had turned to non-fiction writing.

I wrote a book on CreateSpace first. I was supposed to write one on ACX next, but decided I’d knock out an Excel guide to writers real quick.

As I started to write, I realized that what I used Excel for when I was on the trade publishing path was very different from what I use it for on the self-publishing path. And that the two really don’t overlap much.

I also realized that some of my audience might not be all that familiar with Excel. Or might be familiar with the basics of Excel but not the more advanced parts of Excel like pivot tables and conditional formatting.

Suddenly that one 20K-word book that was going to take me maybe two weeks to write became four books that took me quite a bit longer to write.

The whole time I was finalizing them I was kicking myself for being a fool to write them in the first place. Sure, it was fun to do. I’m a bit of a math and spreadsheet nerd and I like to solve puzzles, which is a lot of what writing them entailed.

But I didn’t expect that they’d sell, especially the writing ones. I mean, honestly, how many people have enough of an interest in Microsoft Excel to buy a book that combines Excel and writing?

(More should–if you’re going to self-publish you should at least know pivot tables–but let’s be honest here. It was a niche, niche project I was working on.)

So there I am. Almost done with the books, telling myself this is why I am a crap self-publisher who will never make six-figures in a year. Reminding myself that if the million words I’ve self-published had all been self-published under the same name and on the same general topic or in the same general genre that I might be doing really well at this right now.  And pointing out to myself that all that analysis I do is worth nothing because I don’t put it to practical use and…

Well, you get the point. I was not happy with myself from a business perspective. (From a writing/workday perspective, I actually had a lot of fun with it, which is why I keep doing projects like this, because if I can’t enjoy the day-to-day then I should go back to consulting full-time.)

Anyway. Not happy.

And then Kevin posted to the group again. He said he was doing a NaNoWriMo bundle and needed a couple more books. (I won’t lie, it’s possible I lunged at my computer in excitement.) I offered up Writing for Beginners. It’s a nice solid book for the writer who doesn’t know anything about anything and needs somewhere to begin their writing journey.

But I also mentioned these Excel guides I’d been working on. Kevin didn’t want Writing for Beginners, but he was intrigued by the Excel guides. He asked for more info. I sent him a list of what each one covered. He said he wanted them. Have them ready the next week.

And then silence.

(I probably shouldn’t be admitting my insecurity here since a lot of people who will read this blog in the next two months may do so as part of checking out the bundle and that doesn’t make me sound very authoritative, but if you’ve read any of my non-fiction writing books you’ll know this is just what I do.)

One week stretched to two. I was trying to be patient and confident. But in the back of my mind was this little voice wondering if he’d reconsidered. Maybe he’d found better books. Maybe he’d found bigger name authors to include. Maybe…

And then I got the email with the contract.

And I signed it.

And I sent in the files.

And then silence.

And again I worried. Maybe the files I’d sent weren’t up to snuff. Maybe they’d reconsidered and were doing some last-minute rearranging to replace me.  Maybe…

Maybe I’m a paranoid freak who has too much time on my hands. It’s just that I’d wanted this sooo much and I couldn’t believe it was actually happening until it happened.

As I said yesterday, I have faith in the books I wrote. In the day job I’ve been paid very good money for what I can do in Excel and for my analysis skills in general. But at the same time, I’m a random person on the internet to most anyone who comes across those books. Across any of my books. There’s a certain level of faith involved in buying non-fiction from a stranger.

Which is why I love being part of this bundle. Because people can buy it for the names they recognize and basically get to check out my Excel guides for free at the same time.

So, for my writing friends.  How do you make something like this happen for yourself? I mean, obviously, as the post says, this was serendipity. It was a bunch of random choices that came together in a great way.

But here’s what I think are the takeaways:

One, make connections. If I hadn’t attended Superstars this year, I wouldn’t have been in that group to learn about the opportunity.

Two, put yourself out there. Kevin posted that he needed more titles for the bundle, but I had to respond and offer up my books. He might’ve turned me down. He did on the one book. But if I hadn’t posted to that thread, I would’ve been eliminating myself.  You can’t do that. (In anything in life. )

Three, have a finished product. It sucks to hear about the perfect opportunity but not be able to take advantage of it because that product you’re working on isn’t done yet.

Four, know what’s out there. One of the reasons I jumped all over this the minute it was posted was because I already knew about StoryBundle. And the reason I attended Superstars is because I’d heard about it from more than one source.

I’m lucky. I have no life. So I can write and publish and keep up on blogs and forums, too. I have friends who write and have families and jobs to juggle so don’t have that chance to keep up on the latest developments, which is hard. I think rule one has to be produce new material. But if you aren’t also monitoring the industry and what’s new, you’ll miss opportunities. (Or worse, get scammed.)

Could I have predicted this at all? No.

Do I know that it’ll be fabulous for me? No, it could be a disaster if people hate my work. (Although I’m already chuffed by the whole experience and we’re only one day in.)

Can I plan to make something like this ever happen again? No.  But it does mean I’ll probably make the effort to attend a few conferences next year that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Because you never know what little thing or new connection will be the one that sets a whole cascade of events into motion.

So there you have it. I look forward to all of you attending Superstars next year and Kevin having so many great choices to choose from on the next bundle he curates that I’m not even in the running. (Kidding on that last bit. I plan to be in the running, so bring your A game.)

The NaNoWriMo Writing Tools Bundle Is Here (And I’m In It!)

So this is the bit of news I was alluding to yesterday. My books, Excel for Writers and Excel for Self-Publishers, are both part of the 2017 Nano Storybundle. For $15 you can get both of my books as well as…

  • How to Make a Living With Your Writing by Joanna Penn
  • Hurting Your Characters by Michael J. Carlson
  • Writing as a Team Sport by Kevin J. Anderson
  • The Author’s Guide to Vellum by Chuck Heintzelman
  • Time Management by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
  • The Magic Bakery by Dean Wesley Smith
  • Business for Breakfast Vol 6: The Healthy Professional Writer by Leah Cutter
  • Q&A For Science Fiction Writers by Mike Resnick
  • The Unofficial Scrivener Workbook by Michael J. Carlson
  • Story Structure and Master Chapter Outline Workbook by C. Michael Jefferies
  • Blood From Your Own Pen by Sam Knight

Look at that list. Joanna Penn who has a brilliant podcast. Kevin J. Anderson who co-wrote the Dune series and is the mastermind behind the Superstars Writing Seminars. Kristine Kathryn Rusch whose Thursday business blog posts are a must-read.  And Dean Wesley Smith whose classes on depth and character definitely strengthened my fiction writing.

And those are just the ones that happened to be in my list of web links. I am honored and humbled to be amongst their number. (And proud enough of the Excel guides that I think they hold their own in that list.)

You’d have to pay $10 to get both of my books. For $5 more, look what else you can get. (And, of course, you can always pay more if you think that’s warranted since part of the proceeds are also going to charity.)

So, what are you waiting for? Go buy yourself some brilliant writerly wisdom while it’s cheap.

(I’ll be reading all the books myself and probably mentioning a few here on the blog during the next two months while the books are available. And I’ll also tell you how this all came about in another blog post, since that’s what would matter most to me as a self-publisher.)

Seeing Through the Fog

I’m reading a book right now called Fooled by Randomness.  It’s pretty interesting. And one of the things I’ve taken from it is that we often think that the way things are right now are the way things will always be. Which is seldom true for the long-term.

Life is change. There is no way to create a life that doesn’t involve change over the long-term. (Every single person who grew up in a very small town is looking askance at me right now, but even there things change eventually. The local mine goes bust–like what happened where I grew up–or the old tried and true crops lose popularity or….There is change, albeit glacially slow at times.)

And trying to predict the direction events will take is almost impossible.  And the direction they do take is sometimes counterintuitive.

One of the challenges I constantly face with my self-publishing is what to work on next.  And one of the “mistakes” I make with it is that I rarely work on what I should be working on from a pure numbers standpoint.

I’m good sometimes. I wrote a related book to Don’t Be a Douchebag this year because it’s been a consistent seller for me in audio for over a year now. (The related title doesn’t sell as well, perhaps because of the lack of a half-naked woman on the cover. I should rebrand and see if that changes things.)

But other times, what I choose to do makes no sense from a pure “predict the future” perspective.

In January of this year, 63% of my revenue for the month was tied to my fantasy series. 4% was tied to my romance novel.

If you look at those numbers cold, you’d say, “Write the next fantasy novel.” And I did. But between drafts on the fantasy novel I wrote the next romance novel.  The romance novel released in May, the fantasy novel released in June.

And…

In July 58% of my revenue was from the two romance novels and 26% of my revenue was from the fantasy trilogy. The fantasy series stayed about the same per-title, but the first romance novel caught on with AMS ads. (It was 45% of revenues for the month.)

I couldn’t predict that. No way I’d see such a turnaround for a novel that’s been out close to three years and has done fine when it’s promoted, but not fantastic.

You’d think, of course, that my next course of action while that romance was doing so well would’ve been to write the third in that series. Get it while it’s hot and all.

But I didn’t.

I turned to non-fiction. Partially because I was doing those presentations in September and wanted books out to go with them. But partially because I just wanted to write a couple of the books. They sounded like fun. I enjoy using Microsoft Excel writing those guides let me learn a few new tricks. (Like I could format the fields in a pivot table using Value Field Settings.)

There was a small inkling that the books might sell a bit because the Excel guide in my Juggling Your Finances series is the one that sells the best. But I had no way to predict the other thing that happened because I wrote those books. (Announcement coming soon, probably as Friday’s post.)

So where am I going with this? What are the lessons or conclusions?

I guess I’d say, don’t assume that things will continue as they are. But if you’re well-positioned to take advantage of the current situation and want to, you should do so.  If you aren’t or don’t want to do so, try something new. And don’t ever assume it’s over until it’s literally over and you have no ability to act.

(I’d also say don’t get hung up on making that one thing work for you. Better to try something new than bog down with the old. But maybe that’s more to do with the type of person I am.)

 

AMS and Bids

I almost didn’t write an AMS article today. I tend to write non-fiction when I’m blocked on writing fiction, but in the last four months I’ve written and published six non-fiction titles and am almost done with a seventh. Which means I’m ready to escape back into a fantasy world where dragons are real and good eventually prevails.

But there I was, poking at my AMS ads just now and trying to figure out what to do about it, and I figured why not? I’m having a few thoughts worth sharing.

See, there’s a lot of talk lately about bidding low on AMS and waiting for ads to start performing, sometimes weeks later.

I’m personally a little too impatient for that approach. If I start a Product Display ad and it doesn’t move I keep upping the bid until it does.  (And then think, oh shit, I need to turn that thing off before it spends all my money.)

But right now I have a few low-bid ads running. One is on the AMS book. It has 19,827 impressions, 29 clicks, an aCPC of 8 cents, has spent $2.36 and has reported sales of $14.97 for an ACoS of 15.76%.

That’s a successful ad. Do that a million times and you’d be rich.

But it’s taken it weeks to get those numbers.

On the flip side I have another AMS ad that’s currently turned off that has 81,314 impressions, 60 clicks, an aCPC of 31 cents, has spent $18.61 and has reported sales of $22.44 for an ACoS of 82.93%. (I should note that the book was in KU while this one was running so factor accordingly when looking at the ACoS.)

Not as successful an ad in terms of pure profit.  But the ad built up most of that performance in a much shorter period of time which meant a good rank and good visibility and a shot at organic sales and momentum.

So which is better?  The slow and low approach that’s pretty much guaranteed to be profitable but usually results in one isolated sale at a time and has no opportunity to build momentum?  Or the fast and high approach that can result in a good enough ranking that it generates organic sales and maybe plays more into that seven-impressions-to-a-sale phenomenon but can cost money if it doesn’t work?

I tend towards fast and high. But I did hesitate to pause the slow and low AMS ad today. Partially because I think the fast and high ads require more attention than the slow and low and October is going to be one helluva month for me.  But partially because that’s a nice profit margin and no guarantee the fast and high ad will deliver more sales if I turn it back on.

So it’s tempting to leave that slow and low one going.  But there’s nothing like seeing sales hit your dashboard.  And mama’s gotta get her fix.  (Haha. I swear, I’m not drinking. It’s just Friday.)

Anyway. When it comes to bidding, both strategies can be profitable, but one probably has much more risk than the other.  And also the potential for much better outcomes. It’s all a question of how much of a risk-taker you are.

 

Long-Term Thinking in a Short-Term World

I’ve been playing around with my Access database today. It’s where I track all of my book sales across different platforms and I needed to update my reports to link the multiple paperback versions of the Excel guides so they wouldn’t appear on separate lines in my consolidated reports.

Anyway. Long story short, I created a “Net Profit and Loss by Series” report out of all of it that incorporates my advertising spend as well as what I’ve spent on covers.

Good news is out of 25 “series”, all but two are net profitable.

Bad news is that one of the series that’s still a net loss is my fantasy trilogy.

Why? Primarily because of the cost of the absolutely gorgeous covers.

Seeing that negative number on the report almost two years after book 1 launched makes my gut clench.

I feel this compelling need to second-guess all my decisions and hard work and where I’ve focused my efforts.

My top series in terms of net profits? That damned sort of kind of written-to-market billionaire romance series. My number two? My two romance novels that are standalone but related. Conclusion? Write more romance. But…

It’s not that simple.

Because I’m trying to play the long game here.

And part of my strategy meant not pushing too hard on promoting the series until it was done. I launched book 1 of the fantasy series at a price of $4.99.

Sure, I threw some advertising at it, but if my focus had been on getting as many sales as possible as soon as possible, I would’ve priced at 99 cents.

But that would’ve been penny-wise and pound foolish in my opinion. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. I think I’m a good enough author people will read through my entire series if they enjoy book 1, but not so good that they’ll wait me out like they do Patrick Rothfuss and George RR Martin.

If my books aren’t there to buy they won’t be bought. And I don’t write these novels in a few weeks or even a few months.

I knew book 1 was going to be hanging out there by itself for a while and that most of the readers I attracted to book 1 wouldn’t hang around for book 3 whenever it was out. So every reader that bought book 1 before the series was done was probably a long-term loss.

I’m weak, though. I’ve run AMS ads on the books for over a year now, because I just couldn’t stand to see them not selling at all.

And I weakened further in January when I applied for a Bookbub. I got it. (International-only in a small category, thankfully.)

AMS and applying for that Bookbub didn’t fit my long-term strategy of waiting for the series to be complete, but I just needed to know the series could sell.

Because it’s hard to delay that gratification that long. To see other authors talking about the thousands of copies they’re selling and see their great book ranks.

So after succumbing to the temptation of a Bookbub in January I reminded myself  repeatedly that I had a long-term plan.

When I launched book 3 in June and was less than impressed with the results of the promo, there was a huge temptation to drop the price on all of the books and scramble for more sales. To do something that would make me feel like I was good at this writing thing.

But I had a plan.

And doing that would’ve ruined it.

So I kept the price high, waited for my KU period to end, and applied for another Bookbub. A bigger one.

And I got it.

International-only still. But in a bigger category with the hope of a U.S. deal in the future.

(Thanks I’m sure in large part to those expensive covers.)

It’s killing me to watch my book ranks right now. To know that I’m not getting page reads through KU anymore.

But I have a plan.

I have to remind myself, it’s not about my Amazon U.S. ranking today. It’s about that Bookbub next month. And it’s about the series I’m going to write after this. And the one after that.

Twelve books. Four trilogies. That’s the goal. That’s when I’ll know.

I have  to remember that I have a strategy. One that requires white-knuckling it through the between times and having an oversized ego to believe for that long.

I know I’ll stumble along the way. The high of a sales spike is too tempting to resist forever. But I have a plan. A goal. A strategy. One that involves higher prices and slow but steady releases.

One book at a time, like bricks in a wall, I’m going to get there. Building up my catalog until together those books make something strong and powerful and lasting.

Or at least that’s the theory…