Know Your Timeframe…

My senior year of college I interviewed for a couple of jobs where we ended up discussing various business ideas. This was 1999, so about twenty years ago.

In the first instance I ended up interviewing with the business development group for a television channel. And they were very excited about online content.

My reaction? No, not yet. Here I was, a senior in college, and I’d never even had a computer in my room until that year and the computer I did have was certainly not a fancy one. I was not alone in this. And the internet connectivity to support that kind of thing just wasn’t there yet.

To me that was probably a good decade away from being significant and I said so. (Didn’t get the job. No surprise there.)

Now, did it take people having that belief in 1999 to get to the point where things started to happen in 2005 and really started to pick up in 2008? Probably. But that man I spoke to in 1999 did not think he was nine years from launching his project.

On the other side of the coin I had another job interview that involved a written exercise where we were supposed to evaluate four different business ideas related to plane tickets. I had just flown from San Francisco to Washington DC using an emailed reservation. (Two years prior to that I’d gone to Europe and the only option was a paper ticket and you were screwed if you lost it.)

One of the options in that article was a kiosk that would be placed in large office buildings where business travelers could print off their ticket as they left for their flight. Great idea five years before when the world revolved around having a physical, paper ticket. Obsolete by the time I was traveling for work a year after the interview. Everything was digital by then.

Both were good business ideas for a specific period of time. Someone could’ve made bank with those kiosks if they’d done it five years earlier and managed a rapid rollout. And online streaming content is certainly a money-maker today.

But oftentimes the key to making money in an industry is knowing what’s going to happen when. And how quickly you can react to a situation. And what your personal timeframe is.

Let’s take KU for an example. I know of authors who’ve made millions by being in KU. There’s an author who posted on a certain forum who is all-in with KU who makes six figures a month. For that author and their timeframe, which is short-term, KU is a perfect choice.

Now, the flip side of that is how long KU will last. If you want to be an author making a living at writing in ten years or twenty, then being all in with KU might be a horrible decision. Because KU may not exist by then and when it goes away you will be staring from scratch on all the wide platforms along with every other KU author. You’ll have a backlist but you’ll potentially drown in a sea of new content.

(I should add that part of what prompted this post is a post that KKR just wrote implying that KDP will not exist long-term. In other words, no Amazon sales. Something that has crossed my mind as well once or twice because self-publishers routinely make themselves a complete PITA for Amazon.)

So someone who’s in this for the twenty year timeframe may be best off going wide and staying wide even if that means earning far less money in the short-term.

It’s interesting to look at these things, because I will often miss a good profitable short-term opportunity because I see that long-term it won’t be sustainable.

For example, last spring someone advised me to lean hard into my book on AMS ads. They saw real potential there for an alternative to the data-heavy model advocated by Meeks. (And it’s true that what I preach is far less analytical and labor-intensive than everything I’ve heard about his approach.)

But I said no. Because to me AMS is just one form of advertising that will eventually get glutted by self-publishers and then I’m suddenly a snake oil salesperson either telling people about a method that once worked but no longer does or trying to tell them about a new ad option that I don’t do as well with.

I did not want to build a career on that.

But there’s no denying that Mark Dawson and Brian Meeks have both made significant amounts of money off of their advertising courses. Short-term, telling people how to use Facebook ads or AMS ads is a good play.

Long-term? Let me just say that understanding how one ad platform works does not mean you understand how the next one does and that it can get a little shaky when you’re still looked to as an expert on something you actually no longer have expertise in…

So not something I wanted to do. Because my timeframe was five-plus years. If I’m going to devote time and energy to something I want it to have value five years from now.

Another example of this is writing to trend. You can make a killing writing the latest greatest thing that ravenous readers want. People have done so in LitRPG and reverse harem and step-brother romance. And if you’re timeframe is short, that’s great. Get in, get the money, get out.

The problem arises if you’re thinking that your short-term play has long-term potential. Because when that goes away, you are broken. The guy who raised funds to put kiosks in office buildings to print plane tickets? Sitting there five years later wondering what he does now because those kiosks are worth nothing.

For me, there’s no wrong or right about which timeframe to choose. The key is knowing your own timeframe and then making decisions according to that timeframe. Also, listening to those who share your timeframe and not the others.

I’d also say that you need to pick the timeframe that works for what you are capable of accomplishing. So if you want to be all-in KU and write to trend, you need to be able to write fast. If you want to take advantage of a short-term opportunity that could be worth nothing a year from now, you need to be able to develop and roll out a “good enough” product NOW rather than a perfect product eighteen months from now.

I also do think it’s possible to “ride the waves” and adjust when things change. So you go all in with KU now and write to X trend for however long it lasts, and when that dies you find the next wave and ride it. And when that dies you find the next one and ride it. You may miss a few. You may have down times. You may go from $20,000 a month to $500. But that doesn’t mean it was a bad choice.

It’s just a different choice than the slow and steady build. Both can have the same long-term financial result. Which you choose is very much about what you’d rather have: slow, steady progression upward or peaks and valleys.

The key, though, is knowing the decision you’re making. Know how those patterns play out based on your timeframe. Seek out the opportunities that match that and ignore the rest.

Know Your Audience

I was just on Facebook and saw an author mentioning that they’re writing six short stories to serve as an introduction to their main series of novels.

My immediate thought was, that might be a waste of time.

I as a reader am a novel reader. I don’t seek out short stories or novellas. I did recently find myself reading novellas by two authors I like (Kristen Britain and Ilona Andrews) because that’s what they’d released recently and I am constantly starved for more material from what I consider top-tier authors.

They were fine, but if that’s all they ever published again, I’d stop reading them because they wouldn’t be meeting my needs as a reader.

And for a new author? Someone I’ve never read before? I’m not going to buy that 99 cent short story or novella. I won’t even look at it because I’m not a short story or novella reader. Give me a free or 99 cent novel of yours and I might check it out. (Might. I’m weird so rarely buy books on those kinds of sales and still read mostly in print.)

And, yes, there are readers who cross over between stories of all lengths, so writing a short story or novella lead-in to your world might be an effective strategy to bring in a certain percentage of readers. And if you have an opportunity to be in a box set or themed anthology it might make some sense to participate to expand your exposure to new readers.

But, honestly, I would say that if you’re going to commit yourself to writing 50,000 to 100,000 words in a world that you stick to the same general story length and type you’ve already written so that you can pull the readers you attract to one of your titles through your entire series.

As always, YMMV, but something to think about. At the end of the day it all depends on your audience and knowing what they will/will not buy from you.

A Few Measures of “Success” for a Series

As a writer sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’re on the right track. Sometimes it’s obvious. If you have a thousand five-star reviews on a book you can bet that book has found an audience. And if you win awards or see people talking all the time about how wonderful your book is, that’s another one. Obviously, people writing to you and telling you how much they loved your book is also a good sign.

But most books don’t have a thousand reviews, good or bad. And most books aren’t so amazing that they generate buzz. And most readers aren’t going to drop you a line even if they love your book.

So a couple things I look for when it comes to a series of books:

First, I want my top also-boughts to be the rest of the books in that series. The theory is that also-boughts are generated from the list of how many people who have bought Book A have also bought Book B. If your other books aren’t in the top of your also-boughts then that means more people who bought your first book bought someone else’s book rather than your next book in the series.

To me that says that the first book they bought had potential but that it didn’t meet that potential.

This is less true in non-fiction than in fiction, but I do still look for it with my non-fiction titles. Here, for example, are the current also-boughts for Excel for Beginners:

Excel for Beginners Also Boughts 20181029.png

You can see here that there are four other books of mine in the top 7 also-boughts and that the two Excel titles that are in the same series as Excel for Beginners are in the first and second positions.

Even after a big promo I still expect to see this, because I expect people to buy my second in series more then they bought other books promoted on the same day. Here are the also-boughts for Rider’s Revenge in the UK. It had an international Bookbub a couple weeks ago:

Riders Revenge Also Boughts 20181029 in UK.png

A promo might mix up the also-boughts beyond those first few positions, but my books should always hold the top spots.

Second, I want to see that my review average is increasing as the series continues. This is definitely more for fiction series that must be read in order. The theory here is that with book one you’re going to attract readers who are not your reader, especially if you run price promotions that let people sample your work for free or 99 cents.

Those readers might review that first book but then should drop off as the series continues, which means that the people who review the later books in the series are the ones who liked the first books in the series.

If your review average is going down as the series progresses, then you’re somehow not satisfying the readers who did like the first book in the series. Mayeb you gave them the literary equivalent of cotton candy in book one and then offered them mussels in book two. You don’t want to do that. You want to keep the readers you found satisfied.

So, for example, here are the Goodreads ratings for the Rider’s Revenge series.

Goodreads Review Average RR Series 20181029

You’ll see that there are fewer reviews as the series continues, but that the review average went up as the books continued (from 3.75 to 3.94 to 4.25). If instead book 3’s review average was a 3.25, I would known that I’d failed to end the trilogy in a way that satisfied the readers who had stuck with the series to the end.

Now, granted, it’s not a perfect way to measure if you’re doing well with a series. (I actually consider the Rider’s series to have been a bit of a commercial failure. It took until just now to breakeven.) But it is one way to judge a series performance.

And it can tell you other things about your writing.

So, for example, my contemporary romance pen name has two novels and a novella. If I look at the also-boughts for each of the novels the other novel is in that #1 slot, but the novella is not in the #2 slot. It’s in the top 5 of the also-boughts for each novel, so it’s up there, but not right at the top. That’s because not all novel readers are novella readers and so that difference in story type means lower sell-through to the novella.

It’s also not the same characters, which could be another part of it.

That tells me that for that name I’m better off writing another novel than a novella. And perhaps staying in the same story world.

So if you’re seeing that your other works aren’t in the top of your also-boughts, ask yourself why. If it’s a related series, then you’re not hooking readers into continuing somehow. If you’re writing standalone works then it could be a different length or different type of story issue. Figuring out the cause and fixing it can make a significant difference in how well you do going forward.

Just something to think about…

(And note that I chose examples where this was actually the case as opposed to the ones for my books where it isn’t. Trust me, I have ones where this isn’t the case.)

 

That Hurt…

I just put up a post on my Alessandra Clarke blog announcing that I won’t have a new novel out under that name before year end. (Also announcing that Rider’s Revenge is on a 99 cent sale this week and that the box set is just $4.99.)

It hurt to write that, because even though I only have a dozen or so people who probably care, I don’t like not doing what I said I would do. As a matter of fact, if I had made that promise to one specific individual who I knew was waiting for the book I’d probably force myself to work insanely long hours to get that book out just to keep that commitment. (I’m #5 Responsibility on Strengthsfinder. It’s what we do.)

I have always envied those people who had one direction they knew they wanted to go in and who went in that direction without hesitation. With writing if you can be that person and you give readers what they want, it’s a path to tremendous success. (If you don’t give readers what they want, it can be heart-breaking to an extreme because that’s the only direction you want to go.)

But the fact is, I’ve never been that person. In high school I played three sports, enjoyed all of my classes except history, and also did mock trial and other extracurriculars. In college I triple majored and would’ve majored in ten subjects if they’d let me.

And because I’ve never been that person I have to pay the cost of it. Namely, with writing, the slower sales build and the risk of disappointing fans with what I choose to write next.

The good thing about my approach is that I am diversified and can shift direction easily. (Assuming I want to, which is another thing entirely…)

Anyway. Thought I’d share my writerly pain of the day. In good news, I did finish the first draft of that cozy mystery before my Strengths coach training so am hoping to get it edited and published in the next month. (Which will give me a whole new batch of fans to disappoint! Good times! Haha….Sigh.)

How to Sell More

I sat down a while back and looked at everything I had written to date and asked myself, “How do I sell more? How do I make more from this than I am right now?” The specific list of items I came up with for myself isn’t really relevant to anyone else, but I realized today that the three ways to sell more that I came up with do matter to anyone trying to make these kinds of choices.

So without further ado, these are the three categories I came up with for myself:

Get better at selling what I’ve already written

So, for example, for me this would’ve happened when I started advertising my books after the first year. (I laughed as I wrote that since looking back I can’t believe I didn’t advertise my books at all the first year.)

Later, this would be when I learned how to use AMS ads.

If you have a viable product you’ve already created, then ask yourself, how can I sell this product? What form of advertising will work best for this?

For me, in general, what I’ve decided is that CPC ads work best for non-fiction because I can advertise it at full-price and reach customers who are looking for that topic when they’re actively looking for it. With fiction, price discounts and list-based promotions like Bookbub are equally or even more effective.

Expand on what I’ve already written

This is writing the next book in that series. Or in non-fiction it’s writing a related book. For me this year that involved adding 50 Useful Excel Functions to the Excel Essentials series. Last year it involved writing another romance novel set in the same world as my first romance novel.

I think the key here is to see where you have some glimmers of hope and then add onto that. And it isn’t always going to work. My most successful dating for men book has always been the first one I wrote. The other two I added on after that to target different parts of that market never sold as well as that first book.

If you’ve met your consumer’s entire need in that area with your first book, this isn’t going to do much for you. And if you don’t realize what the need that was met with that first book was, then writing more and missing the point won’t help either. You have to have an audience who wants more and give them more of what they in fact want. (With fiction just giving them the same characters will not be enough if the story also doesn’t meet what they liked about your first story.)

Write something new that’s more marketable

I sort of stumbled into this with some of my titles, but I’ve done it deliberately as well. That holiday-themed billionaire erom short story I wrote was very much an attempt to do this. My current attempt at a cozy mystery is as well.

One issue I found here is that some of my ideas that were more marketable also lent themselves to a trade publishing approach. (Such as MG or picture books.) So I had to decide if that was worth pursuing given timelines and other issues. (For example, I can self-pub a picture book and no one will know or care that I also have published erom stories. A trade publisher might. But if I want to make money on picture books it pretty much has to be done through a trade publisher because of where that market finds its books.)

* * *

Anyway. Just something to think about if any of you are asking yourself that sort of question and trying to figure out where to go next. (And the categories are broad enough I’d say they really work for any product you want to sell, not just books.)

It’s Okay to Let Go of What Isn’t Working

I just did a little cleaning and purging and thinking about things. Any of you who’ve read this blog for any length of time know that my biggest problem as a self-publisher is that I write across too many pen names. If I’d written that many words for one author name and in one inter-related area, I’d probably be making twice as much as I am if not more.

(Although I did just hit the $50K mark, so I’m not totally sucking at this.)

But anyway. I’ve decided it really is time to narrow the focus. (Sort of, kind of, as I do.)

Which means of the eight pen names I’ve used to-date, I’m focusing in on only three–the one that does romance novels, the one that does YA fantasy novels, and this one that does non-fiction with respect to finances, Microsoft Office products, and writing. But even there I’m focusing in a little bit more and I don’t expect to publish more books about self-publishing or writing or to further revise the existing ones.

Part of this decision was actually motivated by an opportunity I received to present at a conference about AMS. And it was a pivot point for me. I realized I could do that presentation and build more of a name for myself with respect to AMS and move in the direction of being one of those go-to authorities on self-publishing. And I was going to do that. It was part of why I listed the consulting services option here on the website.

But then Amazon made more changes to AMS. They renamed them, changed the website address, and added new features to new sponsored product ads. And that made me realize that if I wanted to be know for AMS,  that AMS would need to be my focus. It couldn’t be one thing I happened to use for myself and talk about for others.

But AMS is too shaky a foundation to build on.

Don’t get me wrong, those ads are driving a large part of my sales still and I love them and will continue to use them. But being an authority for others is a whole different thing and when it came time to make that leap in that direction I realized it wasn’t the direction I wanted to leap.

So I’m not going to. I’ll leave the book and video course up because they still provide value. I just won’t be revising them or trying to keep them current going forward.

I also turned off all ads for four of my pen names. Again, I’m not unpublishing those books because I think they provide value, but I realized that if one of those books really took off it wouldn’t be a direction I would want to pursue. So best to just leave them to their own devices at this point.

You’ll note that I also pared back the books listed on this site to just the ones under this name. That’s to narrow things down and focus in on what matters going forward. I doubt that most folks who come here for Excel guidance really care about my non-Office and non-finance non-fiction. And I certainly don’t think they care about my YA fantasy series. (The romances were never listed here.)

Of course, at the same time I’m paring back to just the three names that represent 94% of my revenue, I’m likely going to be adding a pen name, too. That for the cozy mystery I’m going to publish later this year.

(I know. After what I just said above. But this is my big write-to-market experiment. And I’ll either see that I’ve learned what that means or that I still have a long ways to go to learn what I need to learn to succeed in this business.)

But just wanted to post this to say that there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that something didn’t work or work as well as you want and letting it go in order to pursue something better. Sometimes that’s the only way to make the leap to get to where you really want to be.

All the Non-Writing Stuff

I haven’t written a single new word since July 27th. Part of it was working on a consulting idea you’ll hear more about soon, but most of it was deciding to re-do all of my covers.

This wasn’t a big design change. I suspect most people won’t even be able to tell the difference. But I decided to get on the up and up with my font usage. See, problem is that GIMP pulls fonts from your Windows folder but those fonts aren’t always available for commercial use.

Now, there’s a question about whether fonts are even copyrighted and it seems that the computer coding that renders a font is copyrighted but the font itself is not. So maybe I was okay. But I get something into my head and there I go.

Initially I was just going to buy a subscription to a font package that included all the fonts I needed. I figured $9.99 a month wasn’t much to pay for peace of mind. Unfortunately, because it’s a subscription and they don’t trust you, the files were hidden somewhere on my computer where GIMP couldn’t access them. So there I was with access to the fonts already but no access to them through my subscription. And could I really be sure that the Bodoni version I was using that was already on my computer was the same as the Bodoni version in the subscription? No.

So, long story short, I tried, it was a miserable failure, I cancelled the subscription, and switched over to free fonts instead. Which meant going through all of the covers I’ve done and checking the font on each one to see if it was a free one for commercial use or not and changing it over if it wasn’t. I also figured I’d update backmatter at the same time.

Now at this point I have about sixty books that are live where I’ve done the covers myself. And almost all of them are wide. And a lot of them are in paperback.

So my August so far has been: check and/or redo ebook covers for all sixty books, check links for all sixty books, regenerate ebook for all sixty books, load to five different sites (Zon, D2D, Kobo, Nook, Google), redo paperback for all sixty books, update also by in paperback for all sixty books, submit paperback for approval to CreateSpace.

It’s an ongoing process. I suspect this will take at least another week. Especially because I’m spacing the CreateSpace submissions out so that all of my books aren’t down at once.

Also, me being me, it’s lead me to redo three covers (but oh my god the CreateSpace for Beginners cover is so much better now) and reformat two paperbacks into a new size.

I’ve also had to angst about which books to list where. My ego hates to have books on Amazon with bad ranks even though I know that at least if those books are there they’ll occasionally sell to those who want them. So I sometimes take books down from Amazon. But then I change my mind. And then I decide to take them down again…

(As of now, five of the M.H. Lee short stories are up on Amazon again. Until the next time I go through this.)

Anyway. Writing is not all sitting in your posh office creating new worlds or puzzling out how to explain a complex topic. Sometimes it’s just hours and hours of uploading files and checking that they look good. At least, that’s the way it is if you self-publish.