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.)

 

What Do You Say?

I went to bed last night worried about the pup and whether I should take her to the vet. I woke up to news of the worst shooting in American history. (Ironically, by one death at the time, but don’t want to miss that headline do we?)

What do you say?  How do you react to the fact that we live in a world where one single individual can kill more than fifty people and injure more than four hundred?  And does so.

A world where members of our own country are neglected and dying because they’re not white enough or not American enough to warrant help or attention.

A world where two bombastic fools keeping push one another closer and closer to war.

A world where standing up for the freedom to protest triggers a level of hate and vitriol that’s so extreme you wonder how different your experience of the world is from your neighbor’s.

I don’t know what to say. To any of it.

I don’t know how you “fix” this. My mind runs like a hamster in one of those stupid little wheels trying to find a solution to a problem I’m not sure anyone can solve.

Earlier this week I had a friend tell me with absolute certainty that they expect they’ll die of the cancer they’re fighting. A year from now or ten, they expect this will be what kills them.

What do you say?

How do you acknowledge their experience of their illness and their choices with respect to that illness while still trying to encourage them to see that the path their life will take is never certain?

What do you say? (The wrong thing, most likely, because there is no right thing to say in a circumstance like that, no magic set of words that will thread that line.)

Yesterday I tweeted a part of a quote from Ilona Andrew’s blog, but I want to share more of that paragraph here:

 

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.

 

Miss Priss Monday (and a Depositphotos deal)

First the deal so you don’t have to suffer through puppy photos if you don’t want to. Appsumo is currently running a deal where you can pay $49 to get 100 credits from Depositphotos. It’s a great deal and the credits don’t expire which is better than the monthly plans I’ve paid for before. (Scroll down to actually see the deal terms.)

This is nice for people who do their own covers, but also if you want to use photos on your blog and not get in trouble for using a photo you don’t have the rights to.

And now, Miss Priss photos. (I’ve been neglecting this the last couple weeks.)

First, a weird one:

Foot above the couch

Hard to tell what’s going on here, but that’s the pup’s foot jutting up above the edge of the couch. Which means that on the other side of the couch she was fast asleep on her back with her legs thrust up into the air. You wouldn’t think that was comfortable but it must be because she does it often enough.

Second, here she is keeping me company while I work:

My Office Companion

As you can maybe tell by now, she likes to sleep in weird positions.

And, finally, here she is in the “library.” I’m just including this one because I like how it all fits together. (Couches courtesy of my brother, center pillow and panda latchhook courtesy of my mother. If I got rid of everything in my house that someone else had given me I’d have a lot of books but not much else.)

Priss in the Library

So there you have it. Happy start to your week. Here it’s rainy and fall-like which I happen to love. Good weather for working.

 

AMS And Losing Keywords

The folks who’ve read Excel for Self-Publishers will know that I recently shut down one of my best performing keywords on one of my ads after doing some analysis on how each keyword was performing.

Long story short, when I really feel like analyzing my keywords I take the amount reported for sales on my AMS dashboard, gross that up to include an estimate for how many KU borrows I’m not seeing in that number and then adjust for series sell-through. This lets me see that some keywords that initially appear to be non-performing are in fact doing just fine.

But with my “romance” keyword it was still showing as losing me money.

So I shut it down.

And the next day I had six paid sales at $4.99 on that book, so it didn’t seem to do any harm.

But I hated having that keyword shut down. According to AMS, that keyword was responsible for $198.49 in sales. When I gross it up for borrows and adjust for series sellthrough it was more like $430 in revenues from that one keyword.

That’s hard to walk away from.

So yesterday I decided I’d take my “loser” keywords that had generated sales but were net negative and figure out a way to keep them running but at a lower bid.

This is what I did:

I took that grossed up revenue number (the $430) and divided it by number of clicks (2396 in this case). That gave me a rate I could pay for that keyword and still be profitable. Then I doubled it, since most of the time the amount I pay per click is about half what my bid is.

Will this work? I have no idea. I suspect that for romance it’s too low a bid to do anything because I won’t win enough auctions for it to run. But with some of the other “losers”?

Hopefully.

It’s worth a try, right? Right.

 

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…

It’s True Until It Isn’t

Long before I got into this writing thing, I was considered a national expert in a little niche area of securities regulation. Well, not too niche, but niche enough. Part of my job at the time was working with a very small group to decide how serious various violations of those regulations were.

Now what made this really fun is that we weren’t the final authority. We had our own regulators who sometimes informed us of their view of the seriousness of those violations that we then had to follow and convey to our staff.

And, of course, the rules and guidance changed over time, too. What wasn’t a violation one year was the next.

Which all meant that I could tell someone something on Monday and by the next Monday the answer could be different. (Not often, fortunately, but it happened.)

I learned then that what I told people was true at that moment for that situation, but that it could change.

It makes putting yourself out there as an expert on anything a bit fraught. You give the advice you know as you know it at the time, but no one ever knows anything 100%. Ever. And if they do, only for that moment.

Why am I on about this today?

Well, first, after writing a book about CreateSpace just a month or two ago and saying in there that publishing a book in color is cost prohibitive, I just published three books in color.

And I do stand by it being cost prohibitive for a full-length novel. You’d have to list a novel at about $36 to publish it in color while using expanded distribution.

And it was still enough of a bump in cost that I also did black and white versions. (I went with $17.95 for each of the color versions of the books instead of the $12.95 for the paperbacks. And even then one is not going to be available on expanded distribution because it would’ve had to be $21.95 before I was at a point where I didn’t have to pay CreateSpace for each sale.)

But still. It makes me twitch that I made that statement and then turned around and did the opposite.

The fact of the matter is you almost never have time to discuss all the ins and outs and nuance of a question in such finite detail that you’ve covered all your bases. Especially if you want to give people a level of information that they can use without burying them in what they don’t need.

I’ve been thinking about this with respect to AMS recently too. I hope in the book I wrote on AMS that I set forth the mechanics of the ads, how I use them and why, and made it clear that they’re a constantly shifting target and that what works today may not work tomorrow or that what works for me may not work for others.

But still it’s in the back of my mind all the time that I put that book out there. And because of that people will look at my books and their U.S. Amazon ranks and judge what I say in that book based on that.

Even when AMS isn’t the strategy I’m using on my books at the time.

When I was knee-deep in the Excel guides, I actually turned off almost all of my AMS ads. I had been experimenting with a low-bid strategy on a lot of them since that’s been the topic of discussion lately, but I decided the experiments were a failure. I didn’t have time to get new ads up and running, so I shut down the old ones.

But no one would know that. They’d just see the book ranks and think, why listen to that idiot? Which, fair enough. It’s why I tried to spend as much time on mechanics and thought process as I did on what to do. So readers would still have that base of knowledge to work from for their own ads.

Now I’m just rambling. So let me bring this home.

No matter who the expert is. No matter what they say. You need to weigh that against the current environment and their current level of knowledge on that subject.

Especially in publishing where things are changing at lightning speed. Remember that any advice someone gives is very likely true at the time they give it and given what they know in that moment, but it may not be true later or if they had other facts. Your best bet is to learn the fundamentals, find the most up-to-date knowledge you can, and apply that to the fundamentals.

(I know, easier said than done.)