This I Know…

Right now I’m trying to decide what the next new project should be. Those three or four more Excel titles I could write? That new romance novel? That new fantasy series? Maybe a MG fantasy that I’d sub to trade publishers? A domestic suspense thriller? (Because you can never have too many names, right? Ha!)

Each has its pluses and minuses. Write more to market and maybe see much higher sales. Write something you know will sell but at a more modest level and you’ve added one more brick in the wall of steady long-term success.

Which do you choose? The guaranteed $10 payout or the 10% chance at a $100 payout?

I don’t know. Which is why I’m sitting here doing nothing. (Although I did just hit publish on a mini video course about an hour ago, so not nothing nothing. Just a little bit of nothing now that that’s pending approval.)

And what if it’s a choice between a $10 payout and a 50% chance at a $50 payout or a 50% chance at a $5,000 payout? Do I really know what the odds and payouts even are in all those different choices?

(No.)

This is what I know: If I do nothing, nothing will happen. Zero action means zero payout. So it’s better to pick a direction and go in it than to sit still and do nothing because I can’t decide.

So enough. Time to act. Maybe I’ll just break out the old D&D dice and roll the six-sided one. That’s always a healthy way to make life choices isn’t it?

There Is Hope. Maybe.

So May numbers are in for me. Mostly. Authors Republic is a black hole until the very end of the next month and ACX is just a guesstimate and D2D is also prone to adjustments until they  pay. But I have the ballpark numbers at this point.

And I’m pretty happy.

Because June of last year was the first month I’d ever made $1000 in revenues. That was straight-up sales. I went from my best month being about $800 in sales to my best month being almost $1,700 in sales.

A huge jump but a step back in terms of profits. It was one of my rare months for losing money. (I’ve only had three of those so far and all less than $100 lost per month. That’s just ads versus revenue, though. No production costs included, mostly because mine are usually minimal.)

Anyway.

A year ago I couldn’t crack $1,000 in revenues. Last month I closed out my fifth month straight and sixth month overall of profit over $1,000.

(A few times there I even made more than a local McDonald’s employee can make in a month with a forty-hour workweek…)

(Let’s not talk benefits, though. Those folks are still doing better than me when you factor those in.)

For me that’s a huge jump in one year. So I’m pleased.

Are the numbers where I want them? No.

Do I still think I’m an idiot for not focusing on consulting work instead? Oh yeah. Good thing I have lots of friends with nice couches.

Ironically, the closer I get to where I want to be the less possible reaching that goal seems.

Sure I just made a huge jump, but can I really expect to make another equally sizable jump from here? Because that’s what it’s going to take.

I want to. I want to hope. But…Yikes. I don’t know.

The reason I’m sharing this (since someone recently called out all those horrible folks who share numbers), is to remind people that incomes are seldom linear.

Even when I was in salaried positions this was true.

I remember sitting down after I got my first professional job and calculating how much I would be earning in five years and in ten years based on what I knew about the promotional path at my company (first promotion at 9 months and then every 2 years after that for about three promotions) as well as average raise per promotion (10% or so) and annual cost of living raise (3% or so).

Well…I hit that ten-year amount within the first two years.

Because I couldn’t see the jumps that would happen in my career. I couldn’t see that early promotion or that new bonus program they introduced or that new job I took out of state that jumped me up two more levels.

When I sat down at the beginning and ran those numbers, all I could see was a slow, linear progression.

But that’s not how it works in the working world. (Not always, at least.) And it’s not how it works with publishing. (Definitely not how it works in publishing.)

One title can change your life.

One title did change my income this last year. At least it’s responsible for my current baseline performance. It’s not all of it by any measure, but it’s a significant part of it.

Did I predict that? Oh, hell no. I believe my FB post at the time was about my wasting time and effort on yet another book no one was going to want to buy.

I don’t write to market. I don’t write what I think will sell. The non-fiction I write is driven by what I feel people should know. (I wrote four books because I wanted authors to know how to use pivot tables.) And the fiction I write is driven by the big picture questions I need to work out for myself.

The only thing I’ve ever written with an eye to it possibly selling was my first billionaire short story. (Which did sell, but let’s not go there.)

So what does any of this mean for any of you? This is my result, but who cares? Not like anyone else could duplicate my path even if they wanted to. (And you don’t want to.)

First, don’t give up. You never know when that pop in performance is going to happen. Sure, it’s more likely to happen if you’re aiming at a large, hungry market, but that’s not the only market out there.

Second, do put out brand new material. A new cover or a new version can sometimes help (I’ve done that myself a few times), but usually if the first version didn’t show some signs of life, all the retooling in the world isn’t going to get you the pop that something new could get you. (Do finish a series before you write it off, though. But that’s new material, see?)

Third, there are so many different ways to level up. If one doesn’t work, try another. This last year I benefited from AMS, participating in a Storybundle, and getting two Bookbubs on my fantasy series.

Each little piece helped.

So you can’t get a Bookbub? Try AMS. AMS don’t work for you? Try cross promos. Cross promos don’t work for you? Try first-in-series free. That doesn’t work, try Bookbub CPC ads. Or FB ads. Or ENT. Or Freebooksy. Or work Twitter until your fingers bleed.

Or screw all that and write something new. Forget advertising. Write. Write an entire trilogy. Or at least the first three books in a series. Then go back and worry about sales and profits when that’s done and out there.

The point is, you never know when the change is going to come. Or where it’s going to come from.

But I can tell you when it won’t come. It won’t come if you don’t advertise at all. And if you don’t release anything new.

If you lay down and give up on all of it, yeah, sorry, you’re done. I don’t believe in that kind of miracle. I believe in the kind of miracle that happens when you actually buy the lottery ticket or build the ball field.

So keep trying. You can’t lose this game unless you quit. And if you keep playing (and learning and changing things up), you’ll get there. Eventually.

New Release: 50 Useful Excel Functions

And it’s done. My first book of 2018 has been published. 50 Useful Excel Functions is just what it sounds like, a guide to the fifty Excel functions I find most useful.

It was a weird experience writing this one because at first I was going to do fifty functions and then I decided maybe I’d just do 25 and have four other guides for specific types of functions like Date & Time. Then I started writing it and realized 25 functions didn’t feel like enough content. But by the time I finished it 50 seemed like I was stretching for the last couple even though I’d started with a list of about 125 I thought were useful to some extent.

Anyway. It’s done now and I’m pleased with it and think people who want to learn about Excel functions will find use in it .

It does bring up an interesting point for self-publishers/writers.

Because one of the challenges with writing non-fiction is what to do when a title sells well. If you’ve said what you thought you needed to say what else is there to do with it? Write a new version hoping people will buy it again? Eh. Write another title that basically says the same thing over again? Ugh. (Not for me.)

Fortunately, when I was working on the video courses for Excel for Beginners and Intermediate Excel I realized that there were a few ways I could deliver more value and extend on what I’d covered in those two books. 50 Excel Functions is the first of those, but I have a few more ideas in the pipeline. So if nothing else the video courses were good for that.

Oh, and speaking of Excel for Beginners…It had a nice little #1 Bestseller tag on Amazon today. Might not be the first time but it’s the first time I’ve noticed it, so that was cool:

Excel 4 Beg #1 Bestseller Tag

Why Let Someone Control Your Dreams?

I realize that I am wired differently than most of the world so I’m probably not seeing something about this, but it fascinates me the number of authors I see who are broken-hearted or angry that they can’t find an agent or publisher for their work.

Today’s example was someone who worked for seven years to craft a story they clearly cared a great deal about. They queried it over a hundred times, didn’t find an agent, and now are done with writing.

And they’re broken because of this. The pain they’re feeling is clear.

They’re not alone.

I’ve seen author after author talk about how they were worried that this book they’d written that mattered so much to them was never going to be published. Or how they’ve moved on to more commercial books but that book of their heart is still sitting in the drawer waiting for the day when someone agrees to buy it.

I don’t get it. Because if you loved that book that much. If you spent hundreds, perhaps thousands, of hours writing it. If it physically hurts you that no one else will have a chance to see this book, then why not publish it yourself? A decade ago maybe that wasn’t easy to do.

But today? If you’ve put seven years into writing that book of the heart, you can put three months into getting it out there. If you’re broke it takes more time because you’re going to have to do it yourself, but it can be done. Anything you need to do to self-publish a book you can learn.

So if you’re one of those people, stop letting a very small group of people keep you from sharing your book with the world.

Now, will it sell?

Perhaps not. And that’s not on you.

It could be amazing and wonderful and just get lost in the sea of other books. And that may hurt, too.

But if you cared that much about your book, is how many copies it sells what really matters? Won’t holding that book in your hands, knowing it’s a real, physical object that can sit on your shelf be better than having it be lost forever?

Put it in print. Order twenty copies. Give them to all your friends.

Give them to the woman who’s nice to you at the supermarket.

If this is about love and passion, then put it out in ebook, price it at free, and let it go. (But don’t think that just because you do that hundreds of thousands of people will buy it, that’s not how it works.)

All I’m saying is if this means this much to you don’t stop just because one path didn’t work.

Far too many people in this world spend far too much time and energy trying to be accepted by people who will never accept them no matter what they do. Stop being one of those people.

Take control back. If someone won’t publish your book for you, publish it yourself. You’ve come this far already, don’t stop now.

You Don’t Have to Love It

A lot of times you’ll hear someone say that you have to love what you do to be a writer. Or that if you can imagine doing anything else you should.

And I get where that advice is coming from. Because this is not an easy path to walk. It’s not straight uphill to fame and fortune. (Maybe it is for some, but not for most.)

So you need something that drives you to carry on when things aren’t going well. You need something internal that puts your butt in that chair and your hands on those keys. Something that keeps you writing after that first rejection and that first bad review. Something that pushes you through that moment when you think it’s all going to start working now and then it doesn’t.

But it doesn’t have to be love.

For me it’s sheer pig-headed stubborness because I don’t like to fail. I’m sitting here brooding instead of writing and casually thinking I could always go find some consulting work. And that maybe I should. (Even though I’ve been seeing steady signs of improvement and have already doubled last year’s income.)

That funk won’t last though.

Because in about five minutes my “you only fail if you quit” side will kick in. And it’ll force me to keep going, because I’m going to master this thing, damn it even if I end up living in my car to do it. (Okay, maybe I wouldn’t take it that far. Pretty sure pup would not appreciate the lack of six different beds to choose from.)

So I don’t do it out of love. I do it because it’s a challenge that I think I can master.

I’d even go so far as to say that if you love it, if this really is the only thing you can ever imagine yourself doing or the only thing you’ve ever wanted to be, that that’s the hardest path to take.

Because every setback will hurt that much more. And every critique and every delay won’t just feel like a challenge to be overcome but something personal. Something that strikes at the very core of who you are. It’s easy to become bitter if you love something and can’t have it. Especially if someone else doesn’t love it and does get it.

So you don’t have to love it. And maybe you’re even better off if you don’t.

But if you’re going to commit yourself to the writing path, you have to have something internal that keeps you moving forward. No one else is going to drive you through the years it takes to get there.

It has to be you.

The Dirty Little Secret of Self-Publishing

I’m sure there’s actually more than one, but the one I’m thinking about today is this:

How many copies you sell is meaningless.

It’s what so many people talk about and you see it used in advertising all the time, but at the end of the day no author is going to be able to do this full-time, even if they’re selling millions of copies, unless they’re actually making a profit on those sales.

Self-publishing is horribly myopic in this respect. Rarely do I see someone report “I made $X profit.” Instead it’s “I sold X copies” or “I’ve sold $X worth of books.”

And I get it. The gross numbers certainly look a lot better for everyone than the net number. It’s far more exciting to say “I sold a million copies” than “I sold a million copies but it cost me so much that I’m now in the hole $10,000…”

And in this business you gotta celebrate every little victory no matter what. (And perception matters, too. People want to read what other people read. They want to associate themselves with success.)

Anyway.

What prompted this thought is that I realized yesterday that my first-in-series fantasy novel sold it’s 2500th copy sometime in April. Which is a big milestone for me. I had no idea I’d sold that many copies of that title until I stopped and looked at my reports.

Woohoo! Right?

But.

Here’s the interesting thing about that title and that series: it’s my least profitable series. I actually consider it a failure.

It’s only one of three “series” (out of 26) I have that are in the red. And the only one that’s more than $50 in the red. (It’s the cost of those damned covers that I love so much…)

Interestingly, my most profitable series has sold only half as many copies but grossed more because it’s never been on sale and been significantly more profitable because it’s easier to advertise.

It’ll never get a Bookbub. (I can’t even apply for one because it’s under their page count threshold.) I don’t get fan mail for it . I barely get reviews on it.

And yet…

That’s where the money is. Not in the one that’s sold a lot of copies and had three Bookbubs. But in the little workhorse title that just chugs along day after day racking up sales rain or shine.

So if you want to do this full-time. If what matters to you is being able to work for yourself and from home, don’t focus on how many copies you’ve sold. Focus on profitability. Focus on making more in sales than you spend to get those sales. And on leveraging every sale the best way you can. (By writing in series, for example.)

Another Five-Figure Year And Yet…

2017 was my first five-figure year self-publishing. It was a huge milestone for me seeing as I’d only had my first $1,000 month that June. And I didn’t cross that mark until the end of October last year.

So to reach that same mark three and a half months into the new year is awesome. And even better, I’ve made more in profit this year than I did all of last year. (It’s nice to write a book people are actually looking for and want…)

I should be ecstatic. And I am. In rare moments.

But I’m not satisfied with it. It’s not enough.

There’s this part of me that fears it will never be enough. Me being me there will always be something that keeps me from just settling in and resting on my laurels, so I’ll always be striving to be better in some respect. And will occasionally throw everything out and start over (like I did when I started writing) just to have that challenge.

With the writing I tell myself I just want to get it to the point where I’m earning enough to pay all my bills, do a few little fun projects or buy a few luxury items, and put some aside enough for the down times.

(Not much to ask for is it? Except for when you actually ask what that number is and then laugh outrageously at what I think it takes to have all that.)

But I wonder if that’s true. Because if I reach that level I want to reach, I won’t be at the top. There will definitely be self-published authors who are doing orders of magnitude better than me. (I could probably reach that level with titles that never crack a ranking of 10,000 on Amazon US.)

I like being self-employed (even the consulting work) more than being an employee because I don’t have to go through all the “but why did Bob get a promotion, too” or “why does Suzie earn that when I earn this” drama. I can set my rate, work my hours, and get paid. Or I can put a book out there at my chosen list price and people will either buy it or they won’t.

But being self-published doesn’t eliminate that ability to compare yourself to others. It’s one of the most bizarrely transparent industries I’ve ever seen when it comes to income. People talk all the time about what they’ve earned. Publicly. (Myself included it seems since I’m doing so right now.) And then there are things like Data Guy’s Author Earnings reports that put it out there even more. (I love those reports, though.)

So there’s no way to live in a vacuum and just write and publish and hit your goal and not know what others are doing. I mean, I guess there is. I could just avoid all author forums, but then I’d miss out on all the industry intelligence that I’ve found so incredibly valuable.

Sigh. I don’t know. I like this industry because it’s so uncertain. And at the same time I hate this industry because it’s so uncertain.

But we have to celebrate our little victories when they occur.

So for just one little moment–I’ll give it ten seconds–I’m going to bask in this accomplishment. 10, 9, 8…

Alright. Time’s up.

Back to the grind.