You Don’t See What I See

So I’m a woman. I don’t always point that out but part of why I started this blog was so that when I wanted to talk about issues relevant to that fact, I could. And today is one of those days.

Two things are prompting this post. First is a thread that’s been blowing up on Kboards the last couple days that is probably soon to be locked. It wasn’t the main point of the thread, but it came up during that discussion that there is at least one top-100-ranking male romance author (and possibly far more) using a female pen name, representing themselves to their fans as a woman, and interacting with their fans as a woman. Sometimes it seems as a black woman (although it wasn’t clear to me whether that was also in romance or not).

This male author said that they had gone so far as to have conversations with their readers on Facebook about their book boyfriends, etc. So it wasn’t simply a matter of using a female pen name and a stock photo or photo of the author’s wife. This also involves back and forth conversations with fans creating a space where they can talk to their favorite author about the interests they share. All the while knowing that on their side it’s complete bullshit.

The second thing that prompted this post is a thread over on Twitter where a woman was talking about being approached while walking her dog by a man who was at first friendly but then started asking uncomfortable questions about where she lived and if she lived alone and actually followed her and hugged her against her will.

Part of that thread was full of the well-meaning but completely lacking in understanding men who had to provide their perspectives on what she should’ve done. You know. The usual. Maybe the guy was just socially clueless. Or she should report him to the police. Or carry mace or a taser or…

Or why can’t you just be nice to guys instead of assuming they’re all creepers. If you just smiled at men and said hi this wouldn’t happen

Enough.

(Oh, and this post is prompted by a third thing. On Seth Godin’s blog the other day he included a comment that “…you have a theory that smiling at a stranger increases the chances that you’ll have a good interaction” and I laughed out loud when I read that because that was so clearly written by a man.)

So here is my PSA to men. And I’m not saying that any of the men who read this blog even need it, but this is my little place on the internet to share my experiences, so this is where it’s going:

You don’t see what I see.

You do not experience the world the way I experience it.

A man like Seth Godin can smile at a stranger and have them smile back and it’s a good interaction. I smile at a strange man, he follows me for four blocks trying to chat me up because he thinks that smile must mean I want to have sex with him. Right now. In that alley.

And before anyone jumps in with not every man or that’s doesn’t happen often, let me tell you…If it was just once that I had made eye contact with a man I didn’t know or smiled at a man I didn’t know and had an awkward experience, I would still make eye contact with men I don’t know or smile at them. I don’t.

I reached a point between working in big cities (Washington, DC and New York) and traveling in countries where men are very forward (France, Greece, etc.) that I found my best strategy was to (1) not react to any sound in my immediate vicinity because it was more often than not a man trying to get my attention, (2) not look directly at anyone because if I made eye contact with a man about nine times out of ten that would result in him seeing it as an opening and trying to chat me up, (3) not smile in public because see #2 (also see number 1 for how the “you should smile more” thing misses with me–I just don’t hear it).

Because of how I now am (no reaction to sounds, no eye contact, no smile), I sometimes get called a standoffish bitch. Or cold. Or frigid. (Thanks for that one, Jimmy.)

Men don’t understand. They don’t experience what I experience. They don’t get in taxi cabs and have the driver ask them if they’re single and then have to suffer through a twenty minute conversation about how they should find a man or (when they lie and say they’re in a relationship) questions about where their man is because clearly he shouldn’t let his woman out in public alone.

Men don’t get followed down the street by a guy who’s “just being persistent.” They don’t get stuck on a register at work with a guy who won’t leave and have to be polite to him because he’s a customer. They don’t walk out to their car after a late shift and see that same guy lingering around outside waiting for a chance to ask them out.

Men don’t get it because they don’t experience the world the way women do. So when these situations come up, they don’t put themselves in a woman’s shoes and try to see the world from her perspective. They look at it from theirs. They don’t see how a woman couldn’t look up from her book while riding the bus for fear of being stuck in an unwanted conversation with a guy who might follow her to her car. They think instead of that attractive girl who was sitting across from them on the bus last week who would’ve been perfect for them if only she’d looked up. (Not realizing they stared at her for five minutes straight like a true creeper.)

Men don’t get it. They’ve never tried to politely tell a man they aren’t interested and have the man go from “Hey, sexy, what’s up?” to “Fuck you, bitch. You’re not that hot anyway” in less than a minute.

So all that helpful advice about how being nice works? Bullshit.

Of course, I haven’t talked yet about the other advice women get. The advice that says call the cops. Or take the guy’s photo. Or carry mace. Or a taser. Or…

Look.

The girl who started that Twitter thread said what I was thinking: If I called the cops on every guy who was a creeper towards me I’d never leave the courtroom.

And if I took photos of every guy who was a creeper, my phone would be full of dudes. (Not to mention that would escalate the situation.)

Now, I’m fortunate. I’m not petite. So I don’t get physically grabbed by men. They hover, they follow, they lean in, they linger, but they don’t grab. They just annoy. And cuss when I ignore them. So I don’t have it as bad as some women.

As for carrying a weapon…This shit goes down fast. With a true predator–a man who is going to try to harm you rather than cajole you–I’m not convinced that I could adequately use a weapon against him in the timeframe I’d need to use it.

It’s like using bear spray. By the time the bear is standing there in front of you, do you really think you can dig it out of your pack, get the safety off, and spray it before the bear attacks?

It’s not like a woman can walk home with mace in her hand and wave it at every man who gets within five feet. (Even if some days it feels like that’s the only safe option.)

Plus, most women learn that the average guy can be ignored or awkwardly avoided until he gives up. Pulling a taser or mace is likely to escalate a situation that could’ve been kept to awkward and uncomfortable.

So when this shit happens and a woman shares her experience, if you’re a guy maybe stop yourself before you reply.

You don’t need to tell a woman how to navigate this world. We get trained in it every fucking day. If a woman is in her thirties and not horribly scarred by terrible events, chances are she’s figured out how to handle all but the psycho predators. You don’t see it, because you don’t have to do it, but every woman around you has ways of handling her interactions with men (including you) to keep herself as safe as she can. She doesn’t need your suggestions.

If you do need to respond, a “That sucks. I’m sorry that happened to you,” will work just fine.

And as for that male author who is pretending to be a woman with his fans? I don’t care if a male author uses a female pen name. Or a fake bio. Or a fake photo. (I don’t like it, because I don’t think it’s honest, but I get that it happens.)

But when you engage in conversation with women, pretending to be a woman, talking to them about their lives? In order to make a little extra money off of them? (Because, really, if you write the right book you don’t need social media to sell it.) That’s just fucking predatory.

That’s using someone’s openness and desire to connect with others against them. It makes the world a worse place. And it’s an all too familiar violation for women who have had men lie about who they are to get close.

Remember, you don’t see the world women see. You don’t understand how doing that is right up there with the worst kind of crap that men pull. Don’t do it. Find a better way.

Wide Vs. KU

One of the most difficult decisions a self-published author has to make is whether to be wide (list on all of the vendors they can) or whether to throw in with Amazon only so they can be in Kindle Unlimited.

And as we move forward with this whole self-publishing thing it seems to me that the voices on both sides of the argument get more and more vocal. The Smashwords year-end round up was basically a “don’t blame me when you can’t support yourself with your writing five years from now because you gave Amazon all the power and helped force their competitors out of business” post.

And there may be some merit to what he’s saying. If too many authors are in KU thereby depriving other platforms of content and helping to drive down the price a reader is willing to pay for an individual title, that will have long-term consequences that aren’t pretty.

At the same time I know of authors who are making $200K up to a million a year because they’re in KU. How do you tell someone to walk away from a million dollars to support the long-term viability of the ebook market?

I in principle support being wide, but I just moved all of my romance titles into KU.

(1) I can’t get a Bookbub promo for those titles (some are too short, others just aren’t competitive enough in a highly competitive genre).

(2) Most other promo sites have minimal reach outside of Amazon. (Even when I run promos on wide titles I get 90% Amazon sales.)

(3) The promo sites with a wider reach are overpriced for what they deliver so running those promos is a losing proposition.

(4) I’m not a big enough name to get merchandising opportunities at places like Nook or Apple.

That means that those romance titles sold a few copies based on free downloads that led to a sale of a collection (1:100 for me) or as part of a Kobo promo. But other than that, they were dead in the water.

I can put those same titles into KU, run AMS ads against them, and see sales most days along with page reads.

So for me for those titles the decision became stay wide and earn basically nothing on them versus go into KU and earn something. And, yes, that something may one day become nothing as Amazon gains power and sucks us all dry (which I don’t doubt will happen), but when the alternative is nothing, what do you do?

Now, on the flip side of that, I do have my fantasy series wide at the moment. It’s taken a hit by being wide. Instead of ranking in the 30K range on Amazon and selling steadily most days at $6.99, it’s now selling every few days at $4.99. But that title does get Bookbubs. And each one I get seems to help a little bit more with organic sales on other platforms. So I’m letting it stay wide until the next series is released. Short-term, I’m taking a hit with lower sales. Long-term, I have the potential for steadier sales at higher sales.

I also have all of my non-fiction wide and pretty much always have. (I did run most of them through KU in 2016 when you had to be in KU to start a Sponsored Product ad.)

One reason is you just don’t earn a lot for page reads on non-fiction even if someone reads the whole book, at least not compared to paid sales. And if people are interested in the subject, about half will probably just buy the book if it’s not in KU. Plus, having been in the StoryBundle with two of my Excel, I’m committed to keeping all of the M.L. Humphrey titles wide in case anyone reads those books and wants to read more of those titles. I don’t want to force them to go to Amazon for that.

So that’s where I’ve fallen out on things as of January 2018: romance in KU, fantasy that isn’t written to market wide, non-fiction wide.

Will that change? Probably.

The woman who runs the Write Better Faster class asked all of us what our touchstone word for this year is. At the time I didn’t have one. I just had a lot of “so many directions to go in, which do I choose” anxiety that I didn’t give an answer. But I’ve decided my word for this year is: ADAPT.

Honestly, I think that’s the word that every self-publisher (or writer) should embrace every day of every year that they’re trying to make money from their writing.

A Winding Path to Five Figures A Year

I think I know by now the “best” path to being successful at self-publishing. Write in a popular genre (billionaire romance, LitRPG, reverse harem, space opera, thrillers, etc.). Write in a series. Release frequently. Price competitively.

But after four years at this, I’ve come to realize that knowing something and doing it are two completely different things. And that I am not going to be that person that writes a book a month. (Or if I do write a book a month it’ll be a non-fiction title one month, a romance novel the next, and a fantasy novel the month after that.) And that if I do write to market, I’ll likely lose interest and not continue on that momentum even when it’s obvious that the written to market title performs the best with the least effort and expense. (I’m looking at you billionaire romance serial.)

There are MANY days where I wonder if I’m being a fool for continuing to do this self-publishing thing, because there are other ways for me to make far more money than I do at this. But I like it. I don’t know why. (Having my pup curled up asleep five feet away and not having a boss or co-workers is probably a good part of it…)

It helps that over the last four years I have seen steady progress. Even though I’d love to be in the high five-figures or low six-figures, this year I did manage to break into at least the low five-figures.

So I’m here as proof that it’s possible to write what you want, self-edit, do your own covers, be generally anti-social in terms of group promos and FB and Twitter, and still do alright. It’s not the fast path to success. Let’s be clear about that. But it’s also not the “oh my god, you will forever lose money and suck” path either.

Because I’ve taken such a convoluted path to get to where I am right now, it’s hard to tell someone else how to take that path. So this advice is going to be a little high-level. More strategy than tactics, I guess.

1. Don’t Be Afraid to Fail and Don’t Quit If You Do

The first title I self-published was Don’t Be a Douchebag. At the time I still fully expected that I would go the trade-publishing route with my novels, but I got annoyed with my experiences online dating and decided to write a book about it. I had no interest in building a platform, which is what a publisher would require, so I just put the book up on Amazon.

It had a horrible cover. Horrible. So bad I will not post it here. About the only thing I got right on that cover was the color scheme for dating books for men. It was that bad.

The title barely sold. Following up on the horrible cover I then did a free run on the book. Why? I had nowhere for readers to go. Maybe I thought they’d leave a review. (They didn’t.) But I had no plan or strategy or idea of what I was doing. I just knew other people offered books for free, so I did too.

A few months later I actually unpublished the title for a while. (I thought it was maybe a little harsh and I felt bad about being so mean to men who were just trying to meet someone and generally clueless about how to do so.)

But eventually I republished it and put the book into audio. And, while they’re not impressive numbers for fiction, that title has now sold over 300 copies, mostly in audio, is nicely profitable, and continues to sell every month with no or minimal effort on my part.

That book was a failure. I did everything wrong when I published it. Bad cover, no promo followed by bad promo, and I let my family buy copies which meant the also-boughts were a nightmare. But eventually it found it’s own little niche. (In 2016. It was published in 2013.)

2. A Book Doesn’t Have to Succeed Immediately

Douchebag is an example of this, too, but the first romance novel I published proves the point as well. That book came out in December 2014. It was the second novel I’d ever written and the first I self-published. They say we all have a therapy novel in us–that novel that’s sort of exorcising your demons. This one was mine. I was supposed to be writing an MG fantasy novel while I was living in Prague and instead I ended up writing this thing. (It originally ended with them not getting together because the whole point of writing it was to point out how they shouldn’t get together. Who needs a therapist when you have writing, right?)

Anyway. I wrote this novel even though I had no intention of becoming a romance novelist. So I self-published it. And it sold. It made me something like $400 in the first month. Which for me at the time was a big deal.

But I wasn’t looking to write romance novels and instead of saying to myself, “Aha, I’ve found what sells,” I wrote a series of books about managing your money.

Now, conventional wisdom is that since that book didn’t sell thousands when it was released, that it was dead and not worth following up on. (And I think that may be good advice if you’re writing to market. I have a theory on written-to-market titles versus “evergreen” titles and how the sales curves behave for each one.)

But after a few years I suddenly had the urge to write a follow-up novel featuring a minor character from the first book. So I did. And somehow, between the release of that second book, a free run on book 1, KU, and AMS ads, that novel that I published in 2014 made me close to $3,000 this year. (And probably would’ve made me a lot more if I hadn’t randomly decided to pull it from KU to try for a Bookbub.)

So don’t give up on a title just because it doesn’t go gangbusters right away. Especially if it wasn’t written to a hot market.

3. Experiment

Both of the above examples teach another lesson. And that’s the importance of experimenting. At a time when people were saying that AMS ads were horrible and too expensive, I started to try them out. And they did well for me. I had a product display ad on that romance novel that cost me $8 and led to $100+ in sales. (They’ve since fixed the glitch that made that possible.) And a large part of the sales of that novel this year were also due to AMS.

Will you always succeed with experiments? No. I paid far too much for Early Bird ads this year that were not worth it. But you don’t know if you don’t try.

With Douchebag, putting the title into audio worked. If I hadn’t done that, that title would be doing nothing for me right now.

I also move titles into and out of KU. Some do well wide, some don’t. Some do well in KU for a bit and then die off. Without trying, how do you know? And the “nice” thing about having a low-performing title is that you have nothing to lose by trying something new except maybe a little time and possibly some money. There is no momentum to lose, there are no fans to anger. When you’re small, you have far more flexibility than when you’re big.

4. Sometimes It’s Better to Be Cheap

This one is dicey. And I know I’m going to get kickback on it, which is why I stay out of these discussions on any public forum. But I’m trying to give an alternative view here, so I’m going to talk about this even though I’ll probably regret it.

Conventional wisdom is that you should have a gorgeous cover and professionally edited book. And I get the argument for putting out the best product you can. But I think for a lot of newer writers, including myself, they don’t have the experience to judge a good product from a bad one. I have seen more than one post by an author who said, “why am I getting complaints about how my book needs to be edited? I paid for an editor!” And more than one author who asked why their book wasn’t selling who had an attractive cover that was absolutely not a good fit for their genre.

And even when you do get it right, it takes a lot to earn back those expenses. I have twenty-six “series” that I track. These are groups of books, like Excel Essentials which includes Excel for Beginners and Intermediate Excel, that I treat as part of the same advertising group. All but five of those groups are profitable when I look at money made from sales versus money spent on advertising, covers, and editing.

Only one series is in the red more than $50, and that’s my Rider’s series. I would argue that the covers for those books are gorgeous and hit their market. But they were expensive covers and I’m still paying for them.

All those other series where I did the covers myself? They’re profitable. The one where I put up the big bucks is not.

Fact of the matter is, most newer writers have an issue that no amount of editing or cover will overcome. And that’s that they wrote a book that isn’t hitting the market and no amount of paid promo, beautiful cover, or perfect implementation of Strunk & White is going to help.

Most authors would be better off spending a small amount of money on their initial book or two, learning the ropes, and then spending big money once they have an idea of what they’re actually doing. (In my opinion. Yes, there will be a handful of authors every year who would’ve taken off if they’d done it all “right” up-front, but there are far, far more who spend money they shouldn’t on a first book. You can always change covers or even re-edit a book later. You can never go back if the launch of that first book breaks your soul and your bank account at the same time.)

5. Rules Schmules

What most writers focus on when judging one another’s writing is not what most readers focus on. A few years back my mom gave me some Nora Roberts books to read. And after I’d done so I asked her what she thought of the head-hopping that occurs in those books. (The ones she gave me were 90% third-person limited but Nora would jump into someone else’s head for a sentence or two when she felt like it.)

My mom hadn’t noticed. She’d probably read a hundred books by the woman and never picked up on the head-hopping.

There was some other author she read who switched between present and past tense in a way that annoyed me, but my mom hadn’t noticed that one either. All my mother, and most readers like her, wants is to be entertained. She wants to lose herself in the story.

Writers get caught up in technical rules that readers don’t care about and they forget that the goal they need to focus on is writing an entertaining story (for fiction) or an informative book (for non-fiction). That’s what readers care about, not whether you use “whom” correctly.

For example, I use alright. Happy to do so. It’s a conscious, deliberate decision I’ve made. When I say, “Alright now, let’s talk about x” that is one word to me, not two. But there are grammar purists out there who would probably be horrified to read anything I write because of that. (Fortunately, those people are not the bulk of readers.)

I went to Stanford, have an MBA from Wharton, worked in high-paying consulting jobs, and have read thousands of books, and the first time I ran across this “all right” issue was when I bought a copy of Strunk & White. Until then I’d always thought it was “alright.” After careful consideration, I still do.

Language evolves. Writing styles evolve. The question is: are you finding the readers who can read what you write in the way you write it and enjoy it? If yes, keep on keeping on. If no, consider a change.

6. We’re All Different

That leads me to my final point or piece of advice. We’re all different. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. What works for one writer (detailed plotting, for example) may not work at all for another. The thought of creating a five-page character profile horrifies me. So does letting people read what I’m writing before I think it’s a polished product. For others that’s their jam.

So if some bit of advice isn’t working for you, don’t listen to it. If you’re looking for solutions to a problem, then absolutely try different approaches or techniques. But don’t let someone else tell you the path to take or the way to do this thing if it doesn’t work for you. I get bored writing the same thing. I know it’s the successful way to do things, but it’s not me. I’ve had to find a non-traditional path to where I am because I couldn’t follow the one everybody swears by.

For me it was a question of doing it my own way and continuing to make forward progress or letting all those other voices into my head and getting nowhere. Find what works for you and what makes you happy. No one else has to get up and live your life everyday. You do. So do what works for you. (Easier said than done, by the way.)

Conclusion

I don’t know if any of that helped. I hope it did. This post wasn’t for those who want to skyrocket up the charts. My approach is not the way to do that. It’s for those who are struggling to get off the ground and want a bit of hope that they can do so even if they don’t follow the “correct” path.

Will I be able to improve on this year next year? I hope so. With writing there seem to be some natural support levels.  I hung out in the $300-$400 a month range for months with an occasional foray into $800 a month before I suddenly popped up to $1500 a month and have held steady above $1000 a month now since June.

But this self-publishing thing is a constantly moving target. What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. What’s popular will change, what advertising works will change, and so will price trends. You have to be willing to try new things and to not quit.

(And, honestly, quitting isn’t such a bad thing. Read Seth Godin’s The Dip sometime. For some it’s a matter of pushing through, but for some it’s realizing there’s a better place to focus your efforts. Only you can tell which one you are.)

Anyway. Here’s to 2018, whatever it may bring.

AMS: A Tale of Three Ads

Here is a screenshot of statistics for three of my AMS ads:

December 2017 Top 3

One is a non-fiction title, one is fantasy, one is romance. If you look at the far right-hand column, you can see that the non-fiction title has an ACoS of just 33%, the romance title has an ACoS of 255%, and the fantasy novel is at 123%.

If you were just judging the ads by ACoS you’d probably think “shut down the fantasy and romance ads”, right? I mean, if you assume a 70% payout then anything above that is losing money.

But not so fast…

There are a few things at play here that make the non-fiction ad perhaps not as impressive as it looks and the romance ad actually profitable. (In fact, all three are profitable.)

First, with respect to the non-fiction ad, AMS ads report both paperback and ebook sales. And for this particular title, paperback sales are a large portion of the sales reported. As nice as it would be to get a 70% payout on print sales, that just doesn’t happen. Which means for a title that sells predominantly in print you can’t use 70% as a benchmark. (Same goes for an ebook priced below $2.99.)

Instead, for print, you need to look at the list price of the book compared to your payout and calculate a percentage from that.

Of course, most titles aren’t clean in terms of print versus ebook sales, so ideally you’d then calculate a weighted average that takes into account approximately how much of your sales are print versus how much are ebook. (I give some examples of just how different that ratio can be in CreateSpace for Beginners. For non-fiction, I see a decent amount of print sales. For romance, I see almost none.)

So the first thing to realize about those three ads above is that the non-fiction ad is potentially not the most profitable ad on that list even though it has the lowest ACoS.

Now let’s look at the romance. With an ACoS of 250%+ it looks horrible. It looks like I’m taking a bath on that ad and just handing Amazon my money.

But another thing you have to account for with AMS ads is that they don’t include KU page reads. This particular title had about 500K page reads when it was in KU. When I crunched the numbers I found that I had about 3.3 full reads from KU for every sale. (For those of you who picked up Excel for Self-Publishers, I walk through how to do that calculation in there.)

This title was also part of a series. So when I sold book 1 with an AMS ad, a certain percentage of the time that also lead to a sale of book 2. Between KU reads and sellthrough to book 2 that ad was profitable even though it doesn’t look it.

The third ad, the fantasy ad also benefited from KU reads and sellthrough. In that case, for most of the time I was running this ad the book was the first in a three-book series with each book priced at $6.99. Now, in terms of borrows to buys, it didn’t reach the level of the romance novel. I was closer to 50:50 borrows to buys. If I’d had an ACoS of 250% on this ad I would’ve been losing substantial money. But 125% was still profitable.

Which is all an argument for judging your ads based upon the performance of the individual titles not some arbitrary number that Amazon chooses to display on its AMS dashboard.

Something else that’s not addressed in the AMS ACoS is that I am positive the non-fiction title has had sales due to its increased visibility from my running AMS that are not reflected in those numbers. (AMS are the only ads I’ve run on it on Amazon.)

And, also, I’ve noticed with the fantasy series that readers will often buy all three books at once but AMS will only count the purchase of book 1.

I will add, too, that you don’t need a lot of keywords to have a productive ad, you just need good ones. That non-fiction ad only has 66 keywords and I’ve paused some of those.

So anyway. There you have it. A real-life comparison of three very different titles and how they were each successful with AMS even though they look like they had very different outcomes.

Happy Holidays

Hard to believe another year is almost over. I’m just glad I was able to spend a nice holiday with my family which seems to get smaller every year since none of us that are stateside have had kids. The only casualty for the day was my thumb which has an inch-wide blister at the moment. (Note to self: Do not touch a roasting pan that has been in the oven for close to two hours with your bare hand.) At least a combination of running it under cool water, holding the inside of an aloe leaf to it, and then walking around with a wet rag pressed to the blister for the next couple hours seems to have done the trick. It’s amazing how much you use your thumbs.

Anyway.

I figured I’d share this cool picture I took of the pup this morning. I’ve lived in snowy states most of my life and I’m sure I’ve seen single snowflakes before, but for some reason this time I really noticed how cool it is that you can see the pattern in a snowflake without needing a microscope. I was going for the snowflake at the bottom left but captured three of them in this part of the photo:

IMG_4433 (4) - Copy

Added bonus that it was on the pup’s nose.

For those of you who find yourselves with a little extra holiday money, there’s a Boxing Day sale on at Kobo with tons of books 60% off. That link should take you to the page where they’re all listed. Don’t forget to use the promo code when you check out. (My title The How to Meet A Woman Collection is one of the titles. It includes Online Dating for Men: The Basics, Don’t Be a Douchebag, and You Have a Date, Don’t F It Up. At full-price that’s three for the price of two and with this discount it’s even better. So if any men out there have been thinking about finding love in the new year, might be worth checking out. If not there are lots and lots of other titles included in the promo.)

I’m wrapped up on all the writing I’d planned to do for the year, so might take a few days off to just relax before I hit the ground running in January. (Who am I kidding? I’ll probably be back at work on something by tomorrow…Unless someone can recommend some really really good books to me? I’ve had a run lately of okay but not amazing reads and am dying for a book that can really suck me in and make me put everything aside until I finish it.)

It’s Been A Strange Year

First, for anyone looking for info on AMS ads, it’s one of the categories on this site so just look for posts listed under that category.

Second, I just had a random pleasant surprise. I was doing my usual evening ritual of surfing various websites and dropped by Joanna Penn’s site to see what she had up. It’s an interesting article about what people look at on Amazon book pages that’s well worth a read in and of itself. But the surprise was that the author of the post, Michael Alvear, gave my book AMS Ads for Authors a shout out.

Which brings me to how this has been such a strange year for me. I did far better this year than any previous year, but how I did that is the part that’s so strange. Back in May I was preparing for Taos Toolbox and didn’t want to start on a new novel so decided I’d work on some non-fiction titles instead. I had three presentations planned at RMFW in September and two of them (one on CreateSpace and one on ACX) didn’t tie into anything I’d written yet. So the idea was to write a book about each.

Instead I wrote a book about AMS. I’d been finally seeing consistent long-term sales across titles and I could chalk almost all of that up to the use of AMS and thought I’d learned enough to share it. Little did I expect that that book would actually sell. I mean sure, I used AMS to get it out there and that helped. But what I hadn’t expected was that members of Kboards would pick it up, too, and that some of those members would share with others how useful they’d found it. (Thank you to all of you who did so either through a review or a forum post or just a private comment.)

That was the first odd outcome of the year. Writing a book on a whim and having people actually like and recommend it.

The second was when an AMS ad I’d had running for almost a year took off in June and stayed hot for close to four months resulting in far more sales of a book I’d released in 2014 than I’d ever expected from that title. I could’ve never predicted going into this year that one of my top revenue producing titles for the year would be one I’d published two and a half years before.

The third was what happened with the Excel guides. I wrote those four books and the whole time I was writing them I thought I was wasting my time. I figured Excel for Writers and Excel for Self-Publishers would each sell maybe a handful of copies. But once I’d started writing them I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to get down on paper how I used Excel for my writing.

And then, even more bizarre than the first two surprise outcomes of the year, I had an opportunity to put those two books into the NaNo StoryBundle. Suddenly, books I’d thought would sell a handful of copies had a chance to sell thousands.

And the more general guides that I wrote because I’d written the other two, Excel for Beginners and Intermediate Excel, have been doing better and better, giving me my best-ever month for print sales this month.

I’m glad that those passion projects have turned out well. It’s made it a much better year than it would’ve been otherwise. But I have to say it does make trying to figure out what to do next even more confusing. At this point in my career, this is all I know:

This is a constantly changing market. What works today will likely not work tomorrow or not work as well tomorrow. The more product you have out there, the better. (As long as it’s good work that its audience will enjoy.) And for me, personally, it’s better to write eclectic projects that I enjoy and that keep me writing than to try to force myself to write what I think is in demand. (Although if I could write reverse harem or alphahole romance I’d certainly be doing so right now…)

Anyway. It was an interesting year to say the least. Here’s to another one in 2018.

Some Microsoft Word Tips

This morning I hit publish on my last titles for 2017, Word for Beginners and Intermediate Word. That makes 441,312 words written (give or take) and 409,252 words published for the year. Phew. A little more than half of that was non-fiction since that seems to have become my focus for the second half of the year, but I did have two novels in there, too.

Anyway.

While I was writing the Word guides I kept finding myself saying “never do this” based on things I had actually encountered in my professional career. Finally, I started writing them down so I could share them.

So here they are. Things you should never do in Word (because there’s a better way to do it). With suggestions of how to better handle it using Word 2013 as my source.

1. Never manually number a list of items. (Especially in the midst of an automatically numbered list.) Instead use the Numbering option in the Paragraph section of the Home tab. Or the Format Painter in the Home tab if there’s already a numbered list you’re trying to continue.

2. Never add a return between paragraphs to create space. Instead, use Word to add space before or after your paragraphs. You can do this using the Line and Paragraph Spacing option in the Paragraph section of the Home tab or by right-clicking and choosing Paragraph to bring up the Paragraph dialogue box.

3. Never use the tab key or, worse, manual spaces to indent a paragraph. Instead, right-click, choose Paragraph, and bring up the Paragraph dialogue box. Then go to Indentation and under Special choose First Line.

4. Never manually add page numbering to your document. Instead, go to the Header & Footer section of the Insert tab and choose from the options in the Page Number dropdown.

5. Never manually add headers or footers to your document. Instead, go to the Header & Footer section of the Insert tab and choose from the options in the Header or Footer dropdowns.

6. Never manually mark text to be deleted with a strikethrough. Instead, use track changes which is available under the Review tab.

7. Never manually mark text as inserted by changing its color and/or underlining it. Instead, use track changes which is available under the Review tab.

8. Never make comments within the text of the document and set those comments aside using brackets, highlighting, or different colored text. Instead, use New Comment from the Comments section of the Review tab.

9. Never use enter to get to the next page when you need to start a new chapter. Instead, insert a page or section break into your document by going to the Page Setup section of the Page Layout tab and choosing from the options under Breaks.

10. Never manually build a table of contents in your document. Instead, use the Heading 1, Heading 2, etc. styles on your section headings and then have Word insert a table of contents by going to the Table of Contents section of the References tab.

11. Never manually break a table that’s long enough to repeat across more than one page into multiple tables so that you can repeat the header row on each page. Instead, right-click on the top row of the table, choose Table Properties, go to the Row tab, and click the box for “Repeat as header row at the top of each page.”

There you have it. My list of eleven things you should “never” do in Word.  And, of course, it just so happens I covered how to do all of these things the “right way” and much, much more in my Word guides. Items 1 through 5 are covered in Word for Beginners. Items 6 through 11 are covered in Intermediate Word. Just sayin’…