Random Comments and Thoughts 20220205

A few random comments/ thoughts.

First, I just did a bit of a reorder on the website. I had maintained separate pages for each major store (Amazon, Apple, Kobo, Nook, Google, etc.) where my books are sold, but that was a bit unwieldy to keep up to date and certain books were starting to get buried.

When you have as many books as I do, trying to figure out what order to present them in is probably the biggest challenge. Especially when most of my books here fall under one category (Microsoft Office) but I do have other titles that people come looking for.

So I got rid of the store-specific pages and you’ll now see at the top of the website links to products on Microsoft Office, Business and Personal Finance, and then Writing and Self-Publishing.

I labeled each one products because there are video courses and templates in addition to the books.

For each title the thumbnail now links to Books2Read and the comments section below includes store-specific links as well as the print ISBNs.

The resources pages I had that linked to other sites or blog posts, etc. are now on the side.

Second, for fellow authors, one of the things I did while I was doing this massive update (it took about a day) was to also add my print links on B2R for at least Amazon and Barnes & Noble since I was already there getting the ebook links. Something to consider doing if you haven’t already.

I’ll have to circle back and do some of the other print stores later and also do audio links but not sure when I’ll get around to it.

One of the trickiest challenges of self-publishing is knowing where to put your time. Last year I added a few new stores and honestly they were not worth doing from what I’ve seen so far. But sometimes they are, right?

Going direct to Kobo was when I finally started getting some traction there because of the promotions tab. And being direct at Nook when I finally was able to access their promo tab really helped the year that happened.

So it’s always worth considering these new things that pop up, but often the best thing to do is just write more.

Third, I read a good book for authors the other day, Romance Your Goals by Zoe York. It is not just for romance authors, by the way. Might be worth checking out. Just ignore the goal profiles section.

(There’s an implied hierarchy and judgement in a few of the profiles that raised my hackles. Could very much be a personal thing. But overall a good book.)

One of the things reading that book prompted me to do was map out the various titles I have under each pen name. (Covered in Chapter 7 of her book.)

And it was clear seeing that map why my non-fiction outperforms my fiction. Because on the non-fiction side I have multiple series that tie into one another or complement one another.

I do have some distinct little buckets–as you can see by my new categories for products at the top of the website–but overall there’s a wide variety of “product” to pull in customers that feeds into the larger pool of books.

Compare that to my YA fantasy that has one trilogy, my cozy mysteries that have one series with a few side short stories, my main romance name which has two related novels and an unrelated novella, and my secondary romance name that has one series of related short stories and then one other short story in the same subgenre.

Basically, it highlighted what many authors know but maybe don’t implement. Which is that you need a big enough catalog or related titles to really gain some traction.

(I sometimes joke that instead of building one home for myself I am concurrently building five of them, which means a bunch of unfinished projects sitting around that will all suddenly hit at once if I keep going that way.)

With enough books, advertising becomes easier. You can have a permafree title or enough series to run rotating discounted promotions. Also, getting books out there consistently keeps existing readers engaged and draws in new ones.

Which is all to say that doing things the way I have on the fiction side is not a winning strategy. Not if you want to make more than a few thousand in profit per year. On the fiction side I need to focus.

But that leads to my fourth thought which is about closing loops.

I am one of those people who holds mental space for the things I haven’t finished yet. It’s why consulting was annoying to me. Because if I had a client who consistently used my services, but didn’t use them full-time I was still holding space for that client on the days or weeks when they had no work for me.

I actually ended my last consulting relationship because a project had ended and I knew that I’d be getting fifteen minutes here, an hour there, requests until something new ramped up.

But I also knew that I’d be giving that client far more mental space than they were paying me for because I’d be checking my emails regularly (I had an internal email account with them) and staying on alert for when they needed me. I preferred to move on and free up that mental space rather than stay on board for a little bit of income here or there.

(Clearly, prioritizing income is not something I do well.)

But I realized thinking through my goals for this year and what I’ve done and have to do that I also hold space for series that are started but not completed. They percolate as an open loop in my head until I finish them.

What will I include? When will it fit into my schedule?

I will mentally write parts of the next book while walking my dog or trying to fall asleep at night. It’s like my to-do list is weighted down with all these things I haven’t yet finished even if they’re not on my schedule to be completed anytime soon.

Which is why I’ve decided my goal for the beginning of this year is to close some of those loops.

I have three series that are one book away from being closed, so even though they’re not what I wanted to focus on right now, writing those three books should theoretically free up a ton of mental space. (I hope.)

(And one will in a sense be that final cap on my old career. Like, here, I gave you everything I know about that. Bye now.)

Good news for my non-fiction readers is that means two more non-fiction titles will be released soon. And probably the remaining Affinity videos by April or so because that, too, is an open loop since I already did one video course for those books.

Of course, if I pull that off it puts me in a dangerous spot mentally.

Because I will have, at least as far as I’m concerned, fulfilled all my writing obligations to everyone. There won’t be any loose ends. (Yes, I have readers on the fiction side who would want more, but I’d have no open series where readers were left hanging. I could walk away without guilt.)

Which means if my best friend from forever ago comes to me in May and says, “Let’s start that packaged food business we joked about” I may well say, “Okay, let’s do it. Sounds fun.”

Because I also realized reading that book that my goals are not writing goals. There’s an exercise in there where you list what you want or don’t want from your writing, and it turns out I don’t want or care about awards, peer acknowledgement, celebrity, bestseller status, or having adoring fans.

I like self-publishing because it gives me complete control of my time and energy. And with the non-fiction at least it feels like I’m doing something meaningful that helps others. It’s also a good challenge where I can be perpetually learning something new.

So, yeah…I don’t actually need to be writing to be happy? Makes that whole five-year-plan thing a bit of a challenge.

Then again, that’s always been the case for me. My life was never certain enough that I thought five-year plans could be met. Of course, ironically, they could’ve if I’d set them.

But, for example, planning on having X person in your life five years from now so that the two of you can do Y is just not something my mind will let me do.

I had a terminally-ill parent who did live until I was eighteen but that was never guaranteed. I always had to have plan A, B, C, D, E…Z. And I never ever let myself put all my hopes on one outcome.

You never know when bad eyesight or someone more attractive or a global plague will make that thing you put all your hopes on impossible. Better to remain flexible.

I think we’ve now wandered into therapy territory, so I’m wrapping this up. Off to add print links for my cozies because they have a large print option on B2R and that’s just too exciting to pass up.

Ah, Planning Time

I usually sit down at the beginning of the year and set up some goals for both personal and business so that I have some sort of direction heading into the new year. Because of how the year started, I was a little behind on doing so and only sat down to think about that today.

(Not that I don’t have a running list of possible projects at all times, but this is usually the time of year when I try to at least pick one or two. Especially since some of those projects have been on that list for years now.)

Every year I ask myself, “If you could only write one more book, what would it be?”

Because that’s a good way to choose what to write if you want to accomplish something meaningful, right? Pick the one that matters the most to you.

Except…I never have an answer to that question.

I don’t have that “one” book that I’ve always wanted to write. When left to my own devices I tend to do something like write a book about an obscure software most people won’t use and for a niche audience on top of that. (Hence, Affinity Publisher for Fiction Layouts.)

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed writing that book and I’ve enjoyed writing the other ones like it that I’ve written over the years, but if someone did an exit interview with me at the end of my life, I probably wouldn’t list that book or any of those others as a life accomplishment.

So then I usually turn to the money approach.

What have I written that did well enough that I should write more of it? And that does sometimes work. Some of my more profitable titles have come from that approach.

Although most series have diminishing returns after a certain point unless you’ve really hit on something special. You can keep advertising the series, but people will fall off at certain predictable points in the series so that the number of readers who make it to Book 10 are almost never the same as the number of readers who read Book 1.

And sometimes there’s just no more to say or write about it. The couple got their HEA, the ultimate bad guy is dead, or it stretches believability to think that yet another person could possibly die in that quaint little village of a hundred people and in such a way that the only person who cares about it is the retired school teacher who now runs a knitting club.

That author can certainly write more. And in that genre or adjacent to that genre to try to keep those readers, but the series has seen its end. And not all readers will move to the new series.

Plus, not every author wants to keep writing the same thing, even if it is profitable.

The third option is the “shake it up” approach where you look at everything you’ve already done, decide that more of the same won’t get you where you want to be, and venture off onto a completely new path.

Depending on the path, that can be great. Or not.

I know more than one author who saw exponential improvement by switching genres. I’ve also known many who’ve found that non-fiction in an area of expertise they have has done far better than any of their fiction. But I also know of more than one author who switched tracks and saw even worse sales than before.

A side version of this is the new format/new platform goal. I’ve made goals in the past to list all my books on X site or to put out books in audio or print or large print. Sometimes that’s been a really good use of my time. Other times, not so much.

I was looking at audio sales the other day and I have one series that doubled my money and one that I might as well have never bothered with because it will never earn back its cost. Same with large print. Worked a treat in one genre, but a dud in another.

Bottom line is that sometimes it’s just a crap shoot and you can’t know what the dice are going to give you. Or how the world is going to change underneath you.

Which is why I usually go through this exercise, make goals to publish whatever I was working on in December so I do hit at least one goal for the year, make a few extra goals to have something to aim for for the year, and then completely ignore them but somehow end up hitting about 75% of them while also doing another two or three projects that weren’t even on my radar at the beginning of the year.

Honestly, the goals that work best for me are actually ad spend goals. I determine to spend $X per month on advertising my books which ensures that no matter what I decide to write for the year, I focus on promoting it and/or what I’ve already written and do so consistently month-to-month.

Whether that comes from AMS or a Bookbub feature or FB ads or a free first in series run doesn’t matter. It forces me to keep some sort of momentum. And if I find that no advertising works for anything I have, I can then brainstorm new covers, new titles, new categories, new blurbs, new audiences, etc. until I do get something that works.

Obviously, if you’re new to setting an ad spend goal like that, start small. You should build up to higher ad spends only after you know that what you’re doing will actually generate profitable sales.

So there you have it. My super exact approach to annual planning. One you may not want to actually follow. Haha.