The Beauty and Danger of Publishing

One of the things that appeals to me most about publishing is that something I created long ago can continue to pay me money. I have titles I published in 2013 that continue to sell today. (Not many copies because those are all dead pen names that I don’t do much to promote, but sales are sales and that effort was done and dusted long ago.)

But most titles won’t continue to sell forever without continued effort to release more material under that name or promote them. So the same thing that appeals to me about publishing (long-term income from a project I finished long ago) is also what I have to guard against.

So far today I’ve sold 36 books on Amazon, which is great and will help pay my rent. But book sales are a lagging indicator. They happen after all the work has been done. After all the words have been put on the page, all the editing and formatting has been done, after the cover and title have been chosen, and after the publishing and promoting have been done.

It can be easy to focus on the sales number and forget about the months of effort that were required to get those sales. And because sales of most titles do trail off over time that means you can be headed for a fall off a cliff and not realize it. And when you do realize it you can be months behind where you should be to get things back on track.

So far today I haven’t written any words. I could probably continue to do that for six months without seeing any sort of huge impact on my income. It would probably require more promotional effort over time, but I could keep pretty steady for a while. But if I did that for a year? Or two? I’d definitely feel the pinch.

That’s why it’s important to track leading indicators as well. My big one, of course, is words written. (And to some extent, titles published. Writing words is meaningless for what I’m talking about here if those words aren’t going to lead to publishable titles.) The words I write are always the first step in the process. Without those, I have no new material.

The other one for me–that I also make into a New Year’s resolution–is ad spend. I target a certain amount of ad spend per month with the expectation that ad spend leads to sales.

So while it’s nice to see those sales and it helps take a little of the pressure off to know that money is coming in two months from now, it’s not safe to focus on just that sales number. I need to instead focus on production and building a base of material because it is far too easy to get lulled into a sense of false security with publishing.

 

Revise or Remove

When writing non-fiction you sometimes have to make a decision whether to revise a title or remove it. Or at least I do.

Case in point, Easy AMS Ads. When I first published that book it was current as of the date of publication but then Amazon made a lot of changes that made the material outdated. They removed an entire ad type, for example. So two years later I updated the book.

It ended up being an almost complete re-write by the time I was done because so much had changed in the two years since I’d published the original. And then within months of my publishing the updated version, Amazon made even more changes. They moved where billing info was located, they opened up additional stores, they changed where keywords were displayed, etc.

Which brings us to today. I had a decision to make with respect to that book (and the rest of the books in the Self-Publishing Essentials series.) I could try to update it again and hope that the pace of change had slowed enough for AMS that the book remained useful for a couple of years.

Or I could unpublish it and step aside from writing on that subject anymore. I’ve chosen to unpublish and step aside. Making money off of selling books about how to use AMS is not my focus as an author.

As of today my dashboard tells me I’ve sold over $113K worth of books using AMS ads, so I absolutely believe in the power of those ads. (That’s retail price, not what I actually was paid, FYI.) But I don’t want to have a product out there that isn’t up to date and I don’t want to have to keep updating that book every six months.

I’ve also unpublished the rest of that series which covered Excel for Self-Publishers, ACX for Beginners, and Print Books for Beginners. Excel for Self-Publishers had also become outdated. (It covered how to see your ad performance for a period of time but the AMS dashboard now lets you do that yourself.) And I haven’t done audio books recently enough to even know whether the ACX book is outdated. Print Books was probably fine, but without the rest of the books it didn’t make sense to continue to publish it.

I don’t expect that I’ll be publishing more books for self-publishers in the future. I’ve never directly had anyone say it to my face but I have most certainly noticed the number of times when authors make snide remarks about authors who publish books on self-publishing to “make a buck off of their fellow authors” especially when those authors don’t think that those publishing the books are successful enough by their standards to do so.

I published my books because self-publishing can be confusing and overwhelming and I saw misunderstandings and miscommunications in those particular areas over and over again. It was easier to put what I knew into a book format than to try to counter all the misinformation one forum post at a time. And because I’d put time and effort into creating those books, I felt I deserved to be paid for that time and effort and so sold those books instead of giving them away.

I hope those of you who bought the books found value in them. And I wish you all luck in the future. And, as always, I’m available via email if someone has a question or gets stuck. (Just have done your homework first or you’re likely to have me point you to one of the writers’ forums with instructions to read up a bit.)

A Good Post on Writing Scams To Watch Out For

One of the hardest aspects of getting published, either traditionally or by self-publishing, is knowing what’s legitimate and what’s a scam. And there are people out there who make a very good living by taking advantage of the ignorance and hopes of aspiring authors.

Anne R. Allen had an excellent post on her blog this week outlining ten current publishing scams to look out for.

My one quibble with what she said is that for non-fiction I think print is a much bigger part of sales than it is for fiction, even for self-publishers.

But still. Don’t go paying for a box full of books to sell out of your garage unless you are already established as a speaker with an audience you can sell them to. Print on demand (through KDP Print or IngramSpark) is the best option for print for self-publishing, IMO, unless you’ve pre-sold a large number of books already, like, for example, through a Kickstarter project and can justify the cost of a print run.

(And those scams targeting teens have been around for ages. I once “won” placement in a lovely gold-embossed book of poetry which was only $50 to buy. Fortunately, I was not so excited to see my poems in print that I paid it.)

Writing Speed

One of the conversations that often happens around writing is how much can a writer feasibly write in a day or a week or a month or a year.

Often people will discuss how many words per minute they can type and try to extrapolate that to some number of words they could write if they just had the time. “Oh, I write 50 words per minute, so if I have sixty minutes that gives me 3,000 words which means if I quit my day job and write for six hours a day I can write 18,000 words a day. That means I could write the first draft of a 70,000-word novel a week.”

Now most people aren’t that extreme about it. But there are definitely people out there who argue that it’s easy enough to write 5,000-10,000 words per day. And that doing so for five days a week gives you 40,000 words in a week which gives you a novel a month easily.

What got me thinking about this is that I started the next cozy mystery this morning. And in the space of about an hour I wrote the first 2,400 words of the cozy, which for me was two chapters, each written in a thirty-minute chunk.

It’s only eight-thirty in the morning right now. I have a call in half an hour and need to feed the dog and spend time with her, but I have at least four more hours I could write in this afternoon. Which makes it look like I could easily hit 5,000 words for the day. And if I can do that today, why not tomorrow and the day after and the day after.

But it turns out that, at least for me, how many words I can write has nothing to do with my typing speed. It has to do with my idea-generation and refilling-the-well speed. I wrote 2,400 words this morning but none the past three days. And I’ve been pondering the way into this story and the plot for the story for months now. (The general idea–a cold case–was actually going to be the idea I used one or two cozies ago, so I’ve been trying to come up with a good cold case idea for months now. Which, because it’s a cozy, also has to be a bit light-hearted, too.)

It’s quite possible I’ll be able to sit down this afternoon and write the next chapter or two. But it’s equally possible that I’ll sit down to write that next chapter or two and not quite be ready for them yet. Or that I’ll write them and then need to go back after five or six chapters and smooth things out and ramp things up to keep the story momentum where I want it.

After many years of this I’ve found that for me the steady writing pace that helps me keep moving with a novel and not burn out averages around 2,000 words a day. (Non-fiction averages closer to 3,000 words a day and requires less downtime between drafts.)

And that’s still a higher number of expected words than I actually produce in a year because I need downtime between projects where my mind is working on the ideas and turning them this way and that and imagining scenes or dialogue I might include but I’m not writing.

Others work differently. Some people are binge writers. They just dive in and write for hours on end until they’re ready to collapse. Some people extensively outline so that when it comes time to write they can also put words on the page for hours at a time. Some are so high in Ideation that the ideas are always there and they don’t need that pause.

And some have to achieve perfection the first time they type a sentence so only get down 250 words an hour.

The key is to learn what’s reasonable for you and to plan accordingly. Don’t push yourself to be something you’re not. Find that steady pace that you can hit comfortably and work from there.

And also understand that others work differently and so will have different results than you do. Which means you shouldn’t tell someone they’re not capable of writing faster than you do just because you can’t do it. But it also means you shouldn’t tell someone who writes at a slower pace that they’re just not trying hard enough.

We all work at our own unique pace.  The key is finding what works for you and is sustainable for you.

 

New Release Checklist

I’m always forgetting at least one thing I’m supposed to do for each new release, so I figured I’d try to put together a checklist to use for the next release and I’d share it here for anyone who needs one themselves.

Keep in mind that I am wide with most of my books and that I usually publish in print at the same time I release in ebook so there will be far more on my list than on some.

PB=Paperback, EB=Ebook

1. Upload PB to Amazon and proof with previewer. Make changes until final.

2. Upload EB to Amazon and proof with previewer. Make changes until final.

3. Upload PB to IngramSpark and submit.

4. (Next day) Proof and approve PB on IngramSpark.

5. Publish PB and EB on Amazon. (Write down foreign currency prices for use with other sites.)

6. Upload and publish EB on other sites. (D2D, Kobo, Nook, G+, Apple)

7. When published on Amazon, claim EB and PB versions on Author Central.

8. Create listing for book on Goodreads. (This prevents the book from being listed incorrectly under authors with the same name.)

9. Update Books2Read link when all major retailers are in. Give custom name to URL and review Author page for positioning of new title.

10. If there are followers for that name add book to BookBub profile to qualify for new release email.

11. Announce new release on website.

12. Announce new release to mailing list.

13. Update Also By section for EB of any related books with links to new title. Upload to sites.

14. Update Also By section for PB of any related books with new title. Upload to sites.

15. Update EB files for new release with links to new title. (If applicable.) Upload to sites.

16. Wait two days and if EB and PB versions are not linked on Amazon, request that they be linked via Author Central.

17. Add listing for new title on website.

18. Post to FB or other social media about new release, if applicable.

19. Start an AMS ad on new title in US and, if warranted, UK.

 

 

Some Days I Can’t Even…

There is a writer’s forum that I refuse to post on anymore after I watched a discussion of a fairly controversial topic where information was provided from more than one source on a topic most people aren’t well-informed about and then two posters basically said, “I chose not to read that information that was provided but here’s my outdated, uninformed, insensitive opinion on the matter.” I’m simply done with helping people who don’t want to be helped.

But I still drop by and read the posts.

And today…

Oh my.

There was a discussion on there about how a trade published author that someone hadn’t heard of (who has been a highly successful author with two to three trade pub releases per year for the last thirty-plus years and sold at least 20 million copies) must not be very successful because of their Amazon US rank. The individual making this claim said that he was just as successful as this author because their most recent releases were basically ranked the same on Amazon US.

First, I’m not sure what the commenter was comparing, but when I looked at the latest release by the self-pub author and the trade pub author, this is what I saw.

Trade pub author with a rank of 26K for an ebook priced at $13.99.

Self-pub author with a rank of 49K for an ebook priced at $4.99 and in KU.

Let’s just stop right there for a second. Because if a book is in KU and it is borrowed, Amazon gives that book a rank boost equivalent to a sale. Someone can open that book, decide it is pure drivel, return it, and that book will still get the benefit of the rank boost.

So to claim that a book that is ranked purely based on paid sales and a book that is ranked based on paid sales and KU borrows are equivalent in terms of their performance is absurd.

Also, setting aside the borrow issue, look at the price paid for each sale. One is selling at $4.99. One is selling at $13.99. More than double. And I do not believe that the one selling at $4.99 could continue to sell if it were priced at $13.99.

But there’s more.

Because the self-published title in KU doesn’t even have a paperback version. So all sales of that title are happening on Amazon in ebook.

Compare that to the trade pub author who is published in print. And well-established enough and popular enough to be carried in pretty much every single physical bookstore. And in libraries. Something that will not show on an Amazon US ranking.

The number varies widely for different genres and authors, but the most recent estimates I’ve seen thrown around were that print is about 65% of the overall book market.

This is the part that so many indies miss. Because most indies publish POD which comes with higher costs and therefore higher price points, we tend to miss the print market.

I can hit it with my non-fiction but not my fiction. That’s because my $15.95 YA fantasy has to compete with $10.99 YA fantasies or, worse, $7.99 mass market fantasies.

Print is an incredibly big part of the pie and especially in fiction it’s a part of the pie that most indies don’t get.

Sure, some indies make a lot of money. But it’s mostly in ebook or in audio. Dismissing print is like the authors making money in KU dismissing everything else. They’re making good money but it’s in a relatively small section of the overall market that actually exists.

Because indies don’t compete effectively in other portions of the market they forget that those portions of the market exist or they dismiss them as small because their ability to reach that part of the market is so limited that they assume it must be small.

Anyway. Bottom line. Honey, you ain’t anywhere close to touching the level of success of that particular author. But nice try, thanks for playing.

What Does It Cost to Self-Publish A Book

I tend to ignore the conversations where people discuss what’s required to self-publish a book. A few years back someone who’d done very well with self-publishing who I know and like posted a list of everything a new self-publisher should take care of before they publish and I remember staring at that list in horror and thinking I’d never have self-published if I’d thought it required all of that.

I always figure it comes down to a difference in philosophy. I long ago accepted that I will never be perfect and that the level of effort to reach perfection far outweighs any benefit I’ll receive from it. In school being perfect would’ve meant I couldn’t take all the courses I wanted to, play the sports I loved, and do the extracurriculars I enjoyed all at the same time. It seemed oddly limiting to me to spend all that time on one thing so I could get an A+ or up my shooting percentage in basketball when I could get an A- and still start varsity with a lot less effort.

I also long ago learned that arguing with the perfectionists is exhausting and a waste of my time and energy. And in self-pub especially where everyone thinks they can see and judge your performance it’s an even more obnoxious experience. Because, since of course I’m not perfect, if I say, “you can do it for free” then someone will call out my writing or my covers or my blurbs or my book rank.

But here’s the thing: You can do it for free. Or at least close to it. It just takes time.

I’ve published two books so far this year. One non-fiction title in an area of expertise I have. One cozy mystery.

I used GIMP (a free software) to create the covers myself. Will they win awards? No. Do they achieve their purpose? I like to think so.

The non-fiction cover had one stock image, the cozy cover had three. I’m still working through a DepositPhotos package I bought that came with something like 100 images for $50. So, let’s say one cover cost me 50 cents. The other cost me $1.50. And time. It maybe took me an hour, probably less, to create each cover.

(Keep in mind at this point I’ve created well over a hundred covers in GIMP. Probably more than triple that if we start counting paperback covers as separate.)

I also self-edit.

Yes, that means that there are people out there who will read one of my stories and tell me it could’ve been better. But every story can always be better. Every single one ever published. And no story will appeal to all readers. Ever. But the stories I publish are me. They are consistently mine. People may not like what my characters do or what they value or the level of action/emotion/exposition/etc. in my novels, but for those who do like my worldview they know they’ll get a novel that delivers what they like.

I did have three subject matter experts read the non-fiction title to make sure I wasn’t saying anything dramatically controversial but at the end of the day that was my take on a field where I have twenty years of expertise. It was delivered in my voice and with my opinions based on my experience.

And, sure, maybe I could pay a few hundred dollars and have someone find five extra typos, but I don’t think it’s worth the expense. It’s certainly not worth it on the fiction side to find someone who may not know any more about writing than I do to tell me what they think is wrong with my story.

I format my own files as well.

Nowadays I use Vellum for ebooks and for fiction print books. But before I purchased Vellum a well-formatted Word file worked just fine. (Styles are your friend.) I still use Word to format my non-fiction print books using the free template from Amazon. I’m not trying to deliver the most beautifully formatted book out there. I’m just trying to deliver my words in a way that lets the reader absorb them easily and without distraction.

I also upload the files myself.

And write my own blurbs.

(Again, my blurbs may not be the best blurbs that could possibly be written for each book, but they’re mine so they fit perfectly with what someone will actually get when they buy the book.)

Because of all of that I was able to write, prepare, and publish two books for $2.

And my time.

The reason you might pay someone to do these things for you instead is because there’s a learning curve. My first-ever cover was absolutely horrid. I did not know how bad it was. I thought I’d done a good job with it.

But that’s the beauty of self-publishing. A cover can be changed out in a day. It will only live on on Goodreads if you were unfortunate enough for it to make it there. (Which for that book I was not.)

As a new writer I had that time. And really, honestly, if I’d paid for those services back then I would’ve been throwing my money away because I didn’t know enough to judge what I was paying for.

I have no doubt there are “formatters” out there right now charging a couple hundred bucks to run a file through Vellum because there are authors out there who don’t know better and will pay them for that.

Now, of course, in any discussion about this someone will inevitably come along and argue that six-figure authors don’t do it all themselves and give that as proof for why new authors should pay for all of this, too.

But that’s a fallacy.

Because the decision a six-figure author is making is very different from the decision a new author is making.

My most successful title has made me a profit of $725 per hour it took to write. If I knew that every title I wrote would be that successful then I’d be a fool to do everything myself.

Better at that point to pay someone $250 for a cover than spend an hour (which is worth $725) creating my own.

This is why a number of the very successful authors I know pay for editors. Not because they can’t do it well enough themselves, but because that time they’d spend on editing can be better spent writing the next book. They can publish a couple more books a year by using an editor.

They have the ideas and the audience for that to make sense.

But for a new writer? It doesn’t.

The sad truth is that for most new writers that first book will not be a resounding success no matter how much money you spend on it. You can get the best edits, the most beautiful formatting, the perfect cover. You can even spend on blog tours and hire a publicist (which, really, honestly does not make sense for 99% of self-publishers). And you can put thousands into ads and develop a launch strategy and all of that.

But at the end of the day that book will still not sell.

Because most first efforts are simply not that good.

And what they generally do have going for them are the things that extensive inappropriate editing can destroy. (Voice, a unique perspective, etc.)

So remember: You really can publish for free. And if you’re new, that may really be the best choice to make.

Take the time, learn how it’s done. Get that first title out there. See what happens. Rinse. Repeat.

(And if that title does have legs, if you’re one of the rare early successes, then use your profits to buy a prettier cover or some paid ads. Just be sure you know by then what will work for the type of book you published.)