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.

Conspiracy Theories

The indie self-publishing world needs to take some deep breaths. The blows have been coming fast and hard lately. Kindle Worlds is gone, people lost half their KU page reads for April, RT convention is gone, there was that whole trademark thing…

Everyone wants to understand. They want an explanation. They want it to make sense. And it doesn’t. At least not given what we know.

So then the conspiracy theories start…

Like the one that says that running AMS is why people lost page reads.

Or the one that says that somehow Amazon used Pronoun as some sort of data gathering effort and then turned on Pronoun and merged with Draft2Digital? (By the way, person who said that, that word does not mean what you think it does. A merger is a very different thing from a distribution agreement. VERY. Also, Amazon doesn’t need Pronoun’s data. I think you got that backwards.)

So let’s all take a deep, deep breath. In…..Out…..

Here’s the deal:

Self-publishing is chaotic. It’s one of the only areas in my life where I’ve ever felt the need for the serenity prayer. You know the one that basically says grant me the strength to do what I can and ignore the rest?

If you’re going to stick with self-publishing long-term, you need that. Put it on your wall. And every time one of these situations arises ask yourself: “Is this something I can do anything about?” and “Is this something I should do something about?”

If it’s yes, then act. If it’s no, then move on. Usually the answer to one or both of those questions will be no.

Also, if someone makes some sort of insane claim about what’s going on, step back. Think Occam’s Razor. The simplest solution is usually the correct one.

It’s not some vast conspiracy. There is not some masterplan bent on your personal destruction. Usually what’s happening is the outcome of a lot of people or companies making decisions that are best for them without thinking about the impact on anyone else. It’s that simple.

Yes, there are cutthroat assholes out there. At the individual level and the corporate level. For them it’s rarely personal. They make decisions based on what will earn them the most money. So once you know that about them, act accordingly. Don’t feel betrayed that they acted within their nature. They are what they are.

One more point.

I was about to respond to the umpteenth post I’d seen recently about how everyone who had page reads stripped last month seems to have been running AMS. (Not necessarily true. Just like it wasn’t true that they were all running Bookbubs last year when page reads precipitously dropped for some people.)

I was going to make a comment about how it’s easy to look at a small number of people who had X happen to them, see that they all had Y in common, and conclude that Y was the cause, while failing to see that there are a hundred times as many people who also had Y but where nothing happened to them.

But then I asked myself whether I should be spending my time on the internet trying to convince strangers to calm down and stop seeing conspiracies around every corner.

No, I should not. I should be writing. I have a book I need to finish editing. So I can publish it. And advertise it. With AMS.

AMS and Writing

I had an interesting conversation over the weekend about AMS Ads for Authors and writing in general. And one of the points we discussed in that conversation is something I specifically call out in the AMS video course (now renamed Easy AMS Ads), but maybe not as strongly in the book, so I thought it was worth addressing here.

Which is that: as a self-published author looking to make money off of your writing (lots of assumptions in that sentence, but that’s who I’m talking to here), you need to keep producing new material.

Yes, you should market what you’ve already done. (And I am arguably not as good at that as I should be which is why I thank my lucky stars for AMS because I can run them full-time and with maybe fifteen minutes a day spent on them.)

But more importantly, you need to feed your readers. You need to give them new material. Otherwise you’re spending all this money to acquire customers (readers) and then you’re losing them because you have nothing more to offer them.

The most effective use of advertising is when you can bring people in the door and then keep them there and buying more from you. (See Amanda M. Lee for a good example.) Now, not everyone can write that fast, but if you’re spending all your time advertising what you’ve already written to the detriment of producing new material that is not a successful long-term strategy.

And what’s even more important about this is that AMS are an Amazon ad product. Meaning they favor new and shiny and already successful.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m running ads on books I published in 2013, 2014, 2015. But my most successful ad the last six months was on a book published September 2017. My second most successful, same thing. There’s a reason for that. Amazon is the reason.

So writing one or two books and then running AMS on them to the expense of everything else will perhaps do really well for you the first six months or year or maybe even two years you run the ads. But after that you need something new. You need new material to throw at the ads.

(And you need new material for your fans, too. Don’t forget them.)

Never ever lose sight of the fact that new material is what will keep the lights on. The JK Rowlings of the world who have a series selling well a decade after release without new material are the rarities. (And even she has had new stuff come out related to the original HP books. The movies. A play. A book of the play. The website that tells you your house and your patronus.)

Always be sure that whatever strategy you take to promoting your books doesn’t keep you from producing new material.

Speaking of. I have a book that’s waiting on final edits.

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.

Why Aren’t You Making More?

Once  a month I meet up for dinner with folks in my old critique group. I personally hate critique groups because I need to find the story I want to tell and to do it in the way I want to, but I like the people in the group. And once a month they have dinner before critique and I join them.

A lot of them are venturing into the self-publishing or small press publishing waters. And last night one of the members essentially asked me, “you have so many titles out, why aren’t you making more money?”

My first reaction was, “I know. Seriously, right?”

My second was “Oh just wait and see and you’ll start to understand.”

I never actually managed to answer the question because we got distracted, so let me answer it here.

According to my titles tracker, I have published 126 titles total. Some of those were republished under a different name. Some are now unpublished. Some are collections of shorter stuff. And two were free from the date they were published.

So if I just look at what I have published now, it’s 84 titles, 47 of which are short stories or collections of short stories.

There’s the first issue. Apart from erotica or erotic romance, shorts don’t seem to sell. At least not for me.

I have one short story series that has made me a couple thousand dollars, but most of my short stories don’t do much. The next most successful short story series has made me about $700.

That leaves me with 37 published novels or non-fiction titles.

Six are novels, the rest are non-fiction. Now, novels do sell and they’re eligible for more advertising options, which is key for getting visibility. And five of those novels are in my top ten in terms of gross revenue earned.

But they’re split across three pen names. Three novels are under romance pen names, the other three are YA fantasy. So basically it’s the equivalent of having an author with two novels out, an author with one novel out, and an author with three novels out.

Issue there is how frequently I publish a novel. My romance novels were three years apart. My fantasy novels were about a year apart. (And the next fantasy novel will be released more than a year after the last one.)

And the number of titles. I don’t write to market, so people aren’t seeking out my books on their own. Which means I need enough titles to catch in a reader’s mind and to give them chances to find me. I don’t have that with any of those names.

Which leaves us with the non-fiction titles.

Those are spread across three pen names and cover ten topics. Some can overlap. I have guides to Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word, and if you look at the also-boughts you’ll see that people cross over there. But people reading my book about dealing with grief aren’t also reading my cookbook.

So again it’s like having an author with just a few titles out under their name. And with non-fiction there’s only so much you can write about a topic.

I think part of the reason I’m starting to see some traction with this author name (M.L. Humphrey) is because I finally have a decent number of titles out under this name and that they can potentially flow to one another.

I also, especially with non-fiction, tend to write what I feel like writing. I’ve lucked into a few where people actually wanted a book that covered that topic, but I have others that have made me $50 and that’s probably all they’ll ever make me.

Putting out all those titles has been good for me in terms of learning the mechanics of how you do things, which is why I felt comfortable writing the how-to books on ACX and CreateSpace. Put out twenty titles in audio and you learn a few things. Publish over forty paperbacks through CreateSpace and you see a wide range of what can go wrong and how it works.

But having a lot of titles out in the way I do is not the profit-maximizing approach.

If you want that, you focus on one name, in an area where people are going to come looking for your books, stay consistent in what you deliver, deliver on a steady schedule, and promote regularly.

If you can do that, you’ll probably do very well.

I…can’t. Or won’t. I’m not sure which.

Every year I sit myself down and say, “If you want to make good money at this, you need to crank out six books this year under one name in a hot market. Like dragons. Write dragons. Ready, set, go.”

And then I go write something completely different instead.

Despite my inability to do what I know will make me money, it’s slowly adding up. March of last year I grossed $440. Right now for March I’m at $3,500 and my profit for the month is over four times what I grossed last year.

I am incredibly proud of the progress I have made. At the same time I ask myself daily why I’m not making more money doing this. You know, what’s wrong with me that I’m not a six-figure author yet. (See above for the answer. And maybe have a reality check about how common that really is.)

And it’s hard to have knowledge to share that you know will help others but to not be some bright blazing example of success. But it is what it is. And I figure that my true target audience is those who are where I was two years ago. My third full year of self-publishing I grossed $2700. In this my fifth full year of self-publishing I’ve grossed more than that in this one month.

So when that question comes up, that’s what I focus on. Where I started, how far I’ve come, and the fact that my progress may be slow but it’s steady and improving.