Halfway Through Nano

So it’s November 15th. Which means we’re halfway through Nano. I have never actually done Nano myself. It’s not something that would work for me. (Although I have written 20,000 words or so so far this month so may actually hit the Nano goal. But when you self-publish, most months are Nano-style months. Or at least you wish they were.)

And I suspect at this point that there are some folks out there that have maybe decided that Nano isn’t for them either. If you’re one of those people, that’s OKAY. One of the joys and frustrations of being a writer is that there’s no clear path that we all need to follow. It’s like a million streams rolling down a hill, each one taking it’s own unique approach. So Nano didn’t do it for you? That’s fine. Just keep writing when you can and at your own pace.

I’m taking a great class right now called Write Better Faster (https://www.margielawson.com/lawson-writers-academy-courses) that delves into how different personality types approach writing and how they encounter different issues with their writing because of it. Today’s lecture reminded me why one of my best writer-friends routinely does all her writing in a bar and why I have to do my writing in a dedicated home office. And why I would probably be miserable trying to write in a bar and she’d be miserable writing at home.

We’re all different. So if one approach isn’t working for you, don’t beat yourself up or think that means you can’t do this. It just means you need to take a different approach– one that works for you. Along those lines, Patricia C. Wrede had a great post up today: Pavement Conditions. As someone who cusses out the California drivers every year the first snow falls in Colorado and who grew up in the mountains, I found her analogy here very apt.

You have to know where you are and what will work under those conditions. And realize that sometimes what worked before isn’t going to work now. The key is to just keep trying and moving forward.

(And if you find that you’re sort of kind of done with Nano at this point but still committed to writing, might I suggest you take a look at the NaNoWriMo StoryBundle. There may just be a book in there that speaks to you…)

Let’s Talk Pricing

So over on FB a fellow author was essentially calling out trade publishers for how they price ebooks. And they’re not the only person who has ever done that. It happens on a fairly frequent basis that someone questions why trade publishers price ebooks so high.

Usually, the argument that’s made is that it doesn’t cost all that much to put out an ebook. There’s no paper or ink or printing process that needs to happen. So the marginal cost of an ebook is negligible.

But what those arguments all fail to account for is that people are willing to pay that much for those books. Lots of people. Right now The Midnight Line by Lee Child is $14.99 in ebook. It’s ranked number 2 in the Kindle US store. That means somewhere around six or seven thousand people were willing to pay that for that book today. And it’s a book that’ll be in the top of the charts for a while so that many people are going to be paying that much for that book each day for weeks.

What benefit is there to the publisher to drop that price? It won’t improve the book’s rank on Amazon. It’s already #2. Where else can it go?

Well, the argument goes, they’ll get more readers if they drop the price. Okay. True.

But they won’t make more money. And ultimately they may capture all of those readers. The problem with a lot of the “price lower” arguments are that they fail to account for long-term pricing strategies like price-pulsing

Let’s walk through some numbers to show you what I’m talking about.

First, we need a set of assumptions. For our fictitious book let’s assume that there are 12,250 people willing to buy this book. 5000 of those people will only buy the book if it’s available at 99 cents. 2500 will buy it for $2.99 or less. 1000 will buy it for $3.99 or less. Another 1000 will buy it for $4.99 or less. 750 each will buy it at $5.99 or $6.99 or less. 1,250 will buy it for $7.99 or less. 750 will pay $8.99 or less. 250 will pay $9.99 or less.

(I did this in Excel. It’s the chart on the left below. That third column is the cumulative number of customers who’d be willing to pay that price. So everyone would pay 99 cents, but only 250 would pay $9.99.)

Pricing Scenario

Let’s start with the ideal world scenario where we somehow manage to sell our book to every buyer at the maximum price they’re willing to pay. We capture the 99 centers at their price, but also get the $9.99 buyers at their price.

In that scenario, we sell 12,250 copies of the book and we gross $42,127.50. But you have to account for the Amazon cut, so we net $27,756.75.

That’s the ideal scenario. It doesn’t happen, because we have to list our book for sale at one price and even if we change prices over time (as we’ll discuss in a minute) there’s no way to ensure that the customers who are willing to spend $9.99 only see our book when it’s at that price. So in reality we’ll end up with a customer who would’ve paid $9.99 paying $4.99 or even 99 cents depending on when they see the book.

Now, a lot of times the argument is made that you should maximum your sales by pricing low. So 99 cents. That captures the most possible customers. You get all 12,250 customers at that price, no doubts about it. So what do you earn with that approach? You gross $12,127.50, but you net $4,244.63. Same number of sales. But because you priced for the lowest-paying customer, you earn $23,500 less than the ideal scenario.

Of course, as we mentioned, the ideal scenario isn’t likely anyway. So let’s compare the 99 cent approach to another alternative, pricing at $4.99. That captures anyone willing to pay $4.99 to $9.99 but loses anyone who would only pay less than $4.99.  Instead of 12,250 sales you only get 3,750. But those 3,750 gross you $18,712.50 and net you $13,098.75. So you lose 70% of your potential customers but you make three times as much.

Now, what about the final option? Price-pulsing. You list at $4.99, so you’re giving away some potential income there, and then, after you’ve captured those buyers, you drop the price to 99 cents to capture the bargain hunters. Under this approach you sell all 12,250 copies. You do worse than the ideal scenario (because your highest price paid is $4.99) but better than the other two scenarios (because you’re capturing some of the higher-paying market by initially pricing at $4.99 as well as the lower-paying market by dropping the price to 99 cents). In this approach, you gross $27,127.50 and you net $16,044.

So, really, price pulsing is the best approach if you’re willing to be patient about when you capture your buyers.

And for trade publishers with established authors who aren’t struggling for visibility, pricing really high initially and then slowly lowering prices over time is the most profit-maximizing decision. That’s the approach that’s most likely to allow them to stay in business long-term and pay all those salaries and overhead costs and find new undiscovered authors who aren’t established and cant command those prices.

Does that mean self-publishers should price that high? No. There are other factors at play when you’re not Lee Child. Key among those Amazon’s algos that reward early success and seem to have a support level that means that ranking high early means better long-term performance. But it does mean that if you’ve chosen to always price at 99 cents that you’re leaving a lot of money on the table.

 

10,000 Copies Sold

Sometime this last month I crossed the 10,000 copies sold mark. Half of that came in the last six months.

I should be thrilled. I should be dancing on the tables, overjoyed that maybe I’m finally starting to get some traction on this whole writing thing and to figure out how to sell what I write.

But I’m not.

While there is a part of me that’s excited about where I am, I know this might not continue on an upward trajectory. I have a color-coded list of income by month and I can look at that list and say, “Hey, there’s December 2014 when I published my first romance novel and a successful romance short and thought I was on my way. My first $500+ month.” And then I can look at July 2015 and see that I only made $56 that month. And that that was followed by August 2015 where I had a $600+ month. And then December 2015 which was again under $100.

So I know better by now. Some folks do great right from the start and just keeping going, but I’d say that for most writers it’s more peaks and valleys.  Good months and then not so good months.

What makes me even more uneasy is where those sales have come from this last six months. In July, almost half of my revenue for the month was from a single romance novel. In October, that novel is next to nothing for revenue, but I had a successful fantasy promo and non-fiction picked up the slack.

On one hand, yay, diversification. When one track slips, another can catch the slack. On the other hand, where do you put your efforts when from month-to-month there’s no good way to predict which titles will do best?

I like to tell my friends entering the corporate world to just get that first job, put your head down, and do the best damn job you can. Even if it isn’t the ideal position for you, you need to focus on where you are to get forward momentum and move up. You want to tell a good story when you’re ready for that next job, you need to commit to the job you have now.

That should be true of writing, too. Pick one path, focus on it, and follow it until you succeed. And I think it is for many. But what path do you choose when you could easily choose any of three paths?

(Me being me, I just wrote a new story on path four that I should just drop already. Someone please smack me upside the head.)

The other killer about that number is that it’s not enough. I know how amazed I would’ve been in year one of self-publishing to sell 10,000 copies. That’s thousands of people I don’t know who paid cash money for something I wrote.

Think about that for a minute.

Let that sink in.

Thousands of people have paid money for something I wrote. How many people can say that?

But then realize that selling 10,000 copies isn’t enough to make this sustainable. For one year, let alone four of them.

I often ask myself why I stick with the self-publishing. There are so many ways I could make money that would be far, far easier in terms of hours spent and money earned. And I think part of the answer is that it’s so damned hard for me. I have some weird, twisted need to fight for what I get or I don’t consider it worth keeping. If I’m not challenged, it doesn’t work for me.

(Also there’s theI get to work alone and from home aspect of it…)

Anyway, yay for me. Pauses to celebrate this milestone. Now time to get back to it.

20K here we come. And sometime this decade, please.

I’m Not Good At This Self-Employment Thing

The last time I held a full-time office job was right about this time in 2009. I think my last day was September 30th. I worked on-site on a project out of town until 10:30 that night helping my team finish up a report, went back to my hotel, and flew home the next day.

I then took off the next three months, something I had never done before since I worked through college, both during the school year and summers and all breaks. I’d take a two-week vacation most years after college, but the rest of the time it was work, work, work. Often sixty hour weeks.

I spent part of that time off traveling around New Zealand. I cannot tell you how amazing those six weeks were. Such a beautiful country, such amazing people, such fun things to do. I wanted more of that and less of the stress and deadlines of full-time work.

So January 1st, 2010 I got back to work as a self-employed consultant who worked from home (which in those early years turned out to be New Zealand a lot of the time). I’ve stayed working as either a self-employed consultant or writer ever since.

Now, you might look at that and think, “Well, you seem to be doing something right since you’ve been self-employed for seven years now. Don’t most businesses fail after five years?”

But I’m not really. It turns out I was so good at being full-time employed that it allowed me to coast into self-employment.

In two ways.

First, almost all of my consulting business has come from people I knew when I was full-time calling me up and offering me work. That’s what happened in December 2009 and it’s continued to happen since. Only one project I’ve worked on in the last seven years came from someone I didn’t know before I started consulting.

Worse, I like to work from home and I know that if I go out to companies and say, “Hey, you have any work for me?” and they say, “Yes. And it’s on-site in this random city” that I’m kind of stuck taking work that involves travel I don’t want. So I have sat back and waited for people to reach out to me and say, “Any chance you’re free?” so I can then say, “As long as I can work from home (and as long as the rate’s good).”

That’s not a way to run a sustainable business. A successful entrepreneur should be out there hustling for new clients or for more business from their existing clients. Instead I do things like decide that the work a client was giving me wasn’t challenging enough and wasn’t using my expertise (even though it was highly lucrative) and move on at the end of the project instead of hanging around for more opportunities.

That’s a horrible way to run a business.

And the only reason I can do that is because of the other thing that being good at full-time employment gave me: savings. I can walk away from a good-paying project because I know I can cover my rent this month one way or the other out of savings.

But you can only do that kind of thing for so long. And the longer you do it for the worse it all gets. The savings go down, the people who remember you become fewer and more far between. Your skills atrophy or your knowledge becomes stale.

It’s amazing how long you can coast without realizing that you’re failing.

I envision it sometimes as my early career was one of those ramps you see at the X games and I’m some motorcycle that has gone flying off the end. The initially trajectory was even higher, but at some point now that I’m off the ramp, I’m going to start coming down.

I think the year that happens is 2018.

Unless I finally get my head out of my ass and get disciplined about being self-employed and start to treat it like a real bona fide business that requires deadlines and focus (for the writing) or actually pursuing work (for the consulting).

(Before you get out the violins, I am in the five-figure range with the writing this year, so it’s not like I’m selling three copies. It’s just that it’s not enough for how I want to live.)

Anyway. As part of that effort to break myself out of this funk, today I read one of the books in the NaNo bundle: Time Management by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Reading it brought home yet again that I don’t treat my writing as a real business. I’m still treating it as a hobby, which I can’t keep doing unless I want to go get one of those day jobs I’m so good at but hate.

So there you have it. Even though I’ve managed to do this for seven years now, I’m not actually good at this self-employment thing. But I’m going to get better at it, damn it.

I swear. (And I’ll get right on that after I waste the rest of this morning on the internet…)

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 one of the writing forums 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.)