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…

Too Much Focus on Earnings, Too Little on Expenses

Self-publishing is a business. You’re selling a product to people for money. And, unless you have some independent source of wealth, at some point you need to make more than you spend to keep doing it.  And yet…

What do self-publishers focus on 90% of the time? (I think the exception would be some of the promotions threads I’ve seen where people break down what they spent and what they earned from a promo.) They focus on earnings. Or how many books they’ve sold.

We talk about six-figure authors and how impressive they are without ever asking how much they spent to earn those six figures.  And we take their advice over the advice of others even if it’s possible that they’re worse business owners than someone who makes fifty thousand a year. If someone spends $90,000 to make $100,000 they’re actually doing worse than someone who spends $10,000 to make $50,000.  At least from a long-term sustainable business point of view.

(Now, we could argue about whether that person making $100,000 will be better off in the long run because they’re building a bigger customer base for all their subsequent books, but if you’re not in fast-build mode that 90/100 ratio is not going to be sustainable unless you can scale the hell out of it. And if the only way you’re bringing in those readers is with heavy advertising and they aren’t staying once you get them…Well…That’s not good either.)

So why am I talking about this? I’m not at either level.

Well, because I needed a reality check on this myself.  I was so proud in June to have my first $1,000+ month. And to repeat that in July and now August. I thought, finally, I’m getting some traction with this. I envisioned a $30,000 year maybe. And that was exciting to me.

And then I added advertising costs into the mix.

Revenue-wise, year four was more than four times year two. But when you account for advertising?  Year four was only 1.25 times better.

I made thousands more, but I also spent thousands more to get there. And even though I’m still net ahead year four vs. year two, it’s not by near as much as I thought it was. And my best month when you account for advertising expenses? The month I released my written to market billionaire romance short story. My second best month? When I completed the other stories in that series and ran a free promo on the first in series.

Good news is that since I started running AMS heavily in July of last year my months have been more profitable than before. But that sure shows me the power of writing to market, because when you do that customers are looking for you. You don’t have to pay to find them.