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.

It’s All About Having Enough Product

Over and over and over again, I come back to this central conclusion: that writing success is all about having enough product. When I look at the authors I know who are really killing it, almost universally they have more than a dozen titles out under one name and those titles feed into one another.

It is incredibly rare (not impossible, but rare) for an author to be making six figures with just one or two books. I know authors who’ve done it. Who published a title and just seemed to connect to the zeitgeist of the moment and took off.

But the ones who steadily earn well year in and year out tend to be ones with a significant body of work. An oeuvre, as they say. (I tried to use that word years ago on the LSAT and could not for the life of me figure out how to spell it…)

Which makes sense, right? When I was doing the videos for AMS Ads for Authors and Excel for Self-Publishers I kept bumping up against this idea. The the more works  you have out there, the more effective and cheaper your advertising per title becomes.

If you have one book to promote, you’re kind of limited in what you can do with it.

Set it to free with nowhere for readers to go and it’s going to fizzle out fast. Not to mention, unless you’re in KU and get page reads, you won’t make anything off of it.

Set it to 99 cents and now you’re making 35 cents a sale which requires some serious volume to make any money worth speaking of. (Again, assuming we’re not talking KU reads to bolster you.)

Plus, then what? So someone reads and likes book 1 and then…That’s it.

They could love you and think you walk on water and are the best author in the world and re-read that book a hundred times and get tattoos on their body inspired by your book, but if there’s nowhere else for them to go, that doesn’t do much for you in terms of paying your bills.

I guess you could do a Patreon or a tip jar, but I like to deliver value for value, you know. So if you’ve just got that one book, you’re very limited in what you can make from it.

We aren’t selling toothpaste here. If you sell toothpaste, you hook a user, you keep your product consistent and your price reasonable, and they’ll buy it for the rest of their lives and you’ll earn $x from that customer every n months from here to eternity on that one product.

But a book sale doesn’t work that way. People usually buy it once. Maybe twice. Maybe three times at most.

Which means you need more product to offer them. You have to keep feeding that hunger.¬† Produce more to please those who like what you’ve already done. (Or find a way to make your books toothpaste…Calendars anyone?)

ANYWAY. Just a fun thought for a windy Tuesday when I have more ideas than time to implement them in.

What Makes A Story Well-Written?

Over on Twitter someone mentioned that they were starting to “read” (audio version), Nora Robert’s Year One and that reminded me that I’ve been trying to decipher for myself what makes a book well-written.

I normally try not to call out specific books, but that one represents for me exactly the conundrum that this question brings up.

My mother is a huge Nora Roberts fan. She’s currently re-reading all thirty-plus JD Robb books and routinely rereads her Nora Roberts romances. So she loves this woman and her writing in whatever form it takes.

But she was disappointed in Year One.

And I think the reasons why highlight something that I’ve been trying to sort through for myself as a writer.

I think there are two types of good writing. There’s writing that pulls you from page to page through a story. It’s something in that particular writer’s word choice and sentence structure and description and dialogue that keeps you reading. For my mother, Year One had that. She finished the book in two days even though she didn’t really like it.

I did, too.

There’s something about how Nora Roberts writes a story that is easy and enjoyable. Whatever this combination is (and I think it’s unique for each writer that has this skill), it makes reading a pleasurable experience.

But that kind of good writing isn’t guaranteed to make a book an enjoyable read that you want to recommend to others or read again. It doesn’t mean that you’ll have that satisfied feeling that the best books give.

SPOILER ALERT:In this case, part of the issue was that this book isn’t a romance but it also doesn’t do well as what it is. There’s a couple at the beginning of the book and by the end of the book one of those two is dead and the other person is with someone new. And the story is not about moving from that first relationship to a better one. So not a romance. Also, it starts as multiple viewpoint so you’re led to care about numerous people, but then the book skips over a significant part of their personal journeys and ends with us not knowing what happened to all but one character. And not in a cliff-hanger way. In a “the last 100 pages are about one person only and who cares what happened to all those others when they were all attacked” way.

So I keep asking myself what it was this book was missing. Because I read it. Cover to cover in two days. I didn’t set it aside.

It was well-written, but I think perhaps not well-told.

And I think that a truly great story is both. It has writing that engages the reader but it also has believable characters and good conflict and it keeps all the story lines gathered together and resolves all of them in a satisfying manner. There aren’t incongruent scenes. (A problem I had with book 2 by a different author recently.) And you see the key parts on the page. (I happened to think the last Brad Thor book was one of the better ones he’d written recently until the last twenty pages or so when it skipped ahead a couple weeks and summarized how things ended. Like, what? That takes all the satisfaction away, thanks.)

I don’t think there’s one formula here. I can think of a dozen authors I think write well and can carry any story and they’re all different in how they do that. And I can think of another handful who don’t write so well but tell a story so riveting that you just have to keep going.

As a reader my personal dread is the person who writes well but tells horrible stories because I’ll keep reading even as I hate them for making me do so. It’s terrible to want to throw a book away but be drawn forward by the writing. I’d far rather read a good story with messy writing than an awful story with good writing.

Anyway. It’s something I think about and try to learn from although I clearly haven’t puzzled it all out just yet.