2021 Goal Setting

Today I uploaded most of my December 2020 numbers in my Access database.

(Audio and Kobo are still outstanding and so is IngramSpark Australia for some reason and I never upload D2D until the last moment to give them time to finalize the numbers they show, but what I had at this point was 95% of the year so close enough.)

As I expected, revenue was down, but profits were actually up, so yay. It seems less people were clicking on ads perhaps but more were willing to buy when they did since most of my revenue is ad-driven. Either that or I just didn’t keep my eye on the ball as much in 2020, because, well…2020. Either way.

Steady improvement, but still not where I’d like to be. And still not sure that the market is long-term sustainable as it exists today. But that’s a post for another day.

Part of looking at my numbers involved comparing them to some goals I’d set at the beginning of the year for revenue and profit by author, series, and title for 2020 as well as lifetime.

After laughing uproariously at my early 2020 optimism (I was hoping to have lifetime revenue by now of $75K more than I have) it was time to set 2021 goals.

I realized what I needed to do was stop setting goals based on lagging indicators like revenue and profit and instead set them on leading indicators.

What do I mean by that? I’ve probably discussed this before at some point, but it’s a good topic to cover again. A lagging indicator is a result, but it requires other actions to make it happen. A leading indicator is an action you take that actually drives those results.

For me, with publishing, leading indicators are published titles and ad spend. If I don’t publish titles and advertise them, I don’t make money.

For some it could also be word count or hours spent writing but those don’t work for me. I need a tangible finished product that I can sell. If I write 50,000 words on something I don’t publish, that doesn’t help pay my rent. Right?

And sitting in my office saying, “I will make $50,000 in profits this year” sounds great, but unless I have something out there selling that well already, it’s not going to happen.

Fortunately, I normally do set new year’s resolutions some of which are things like, “Publish 4 non-fiction titles” which cover the “produce new product” side of things.

Where I tend to forget this is when I look at ad spend, revenues, and profit and loss. Because I’ll often jot down revenue and profit goals for a title separate from my new year’s resolutions. “I would like Title X to make revenue of $20K with a profit of $15K.” But I almost never jot down title-level ad goals.

Saying I want a profit of $15k is nice and all, but it leaves out the steps that are required to get there. Which for a published title comes from promotion and advertising. If I think a profit of $20K requires an ad spend of $5K, then I need to actually spend that much on advertising. That needs to be my goal.

If I can actually make that work. There are diminishing returns on ad spend for some of my titles. The market for them is only so big, so I can’t just say “Spend $500K to make a million” because, haha, no, not with what I write.

But what I can do is go back to that revenue goal of $20K that expects an ad spend of $5K and then break that down either monthly or quarterly and set a goal to spend $400 per month or $1,200 per quarter on that title.

Now, I know some people who publish don’t have that money to spend on their titles. It comes up in the forums often. So let me say this: Start small and reinvest your profits.

Especially with something like AMS ads, you do not have to spend hundreds or thousands or even tens of thousands when you’re getting started. You do need to bid enough for your ads to show, but if you can only spend $2 a day on an ad, fine. Start there. If that ad is making you $4 a day then next month you can spend more. And the month after that and the month after that.

(I think we all have a better grasp of exponential growth after last year, no?)

And if you spend $2 a day and don’t make anything over the course of a month, then something there isn’t working.

If you aren’t getting impressions, you’re likely not bidding enough. If you’re getting clicks but not sales, then something is off in that chain from first impression to purchase.

Are you targeting the right audience? Is there alignment between your target audience, your cover, your ad text, your sales page copy, your genre, and your look inside?

Does it all tell customers that they are getting the same product or does the initial impression look like a novel when what you really wrote was a philosophical treatise? Is the price you’ve set competitive for your genre? If it’s more do you justify that added cost with your presentation of the product?

And if you’re getting sales, but losing money, you may need more product to afford those ads. Often a first-in-series is a loss-leader and you make that up with the rest of the series. Or there’s something in that sales funnel that can be tightened up to get better conversion. But it’s good to start poking around and figuring that out so that when you’re finally ready to run you actually know what you’re doing and what works for your books.

Anyway. Some thoughts.

And now I have to go feed a “puppy” before she starts crying that I have cruelly neglected her by going 3 minutes past her lunchtime. (The real reason I write is so I can have the free time for her. Haha. Sad but true.)

On Collaboration

I’ll admit it, I don’t always play well with others. But when I was working in a corporate environment, I pretty much had to. A lot of the work I did involved coordinating my efforts with others and then writing up reports on what we’d found. Sometimes those reports were a hundred pages long and involved five or six people reading through and making sure that the terminology was correct and that we all agreed on the presentation of the facts.

So when I started writing I was glad to play in my own little sandbox. But there have been times I’ve been tempted to collaborate with a fellow writer. I have one writer friend who has brilliant off-the-wall ideas that I could never match. But I do better than they do with continuity and character development. So at one point I thought it might be good for us to combine those two strengths to write something together.

(We never did, but it was something I thought about.)

One of my hesitations though–other than the fact that I tend to prefer my own solutions to problems–was the legal aspect of it. You can’t just say, “Hey, let’s write a novel together.” You have to think about who owns the copyright, how much you’ll each earn from it, what happens if one of you doesn’t want to continue, etc.

There was just too much that could go wrong and that I couldn’t foresee for me to be comfortable entering into a collaboration like that.

And how do you work together? Who writes the first draft? Who makes edits?

There were just too many moving parts to it for me to be comfortable doing it.

But it turns out that one of the books in the NaNo Bundle (and only in the Nano Bundle at this point) is Writing as a Team Sport by Kevin J. Anderson.

(You might’ve heard of him. He’s the guy who’s co-written all those Dune books.  And many more besides. Been on the bestseller lists multiple times. Sold millions of copies of his books. Just an average Joe, really.)

In that book, not only does he talk about different possible approaches to collaborating and outline some of the pros and cons of doing so, he also includes at the end a sample legal agreement that you can use.

That agreement alone is worth the price of the bundle. For example, it would’ve never occurred to me to include an indemnification clause in a collaboration contract even though it makes total sense to do so now that I think about it. Or to mention plagiarism, for that matter.

The book didn’t convince me to rush out and start collaborating with other authors, but I do feel much more confident in my ability to do so successfully and in a way that protects both me and any potential co-author.

So if you’ve collaborated in the past or you’re thinking about it now, buy the bundle, read the book. It’s a tremendous resource that you should definitely check out and that will probably save you a lot of heartache or drama down the road.

(And, not covered by this book, but shared by another author recently: Be careful if you decide to collaborate with someone you’re dating but not in a long-term relationship with. Keven and his wife and DWS and KKR have both successfully collaborated and stayed married for decades, but imagine collaborating on a book with someone you then break up with.)

It’s Done When You Hate It

A lot of times newer writers ask when you know something is done and ready to publish. Often the answer is some variation of “when you’re so sick of looking at it that you need to get it out the door before you light it on fire.”

So true.

Last night I hit publish on four Excel guides. I literally wrote a novel’s worth of words about Microsoft Excel.

Why? Because I’m weird and I actually find solving problems with Excel fun.

And I have fiction writers’ block at the moment because I’m not sure what novel to write next, so while my back brain works on solving that problem I had to do something to keep busy. (Last year I wrote a random cookbook when this happened.)

It was fun writing the guides at first. Asking myself things like how do you teach someone about pivot tables?  Or how do you calculate a factor for AMS that accounts for KU borrows? Or how would you build an advertising tracker that calculates whether an ad was profitable or not? (Something I’d been doing manually up to that point.)

But by the time I had to redo all of the images in all of the files because I decided they were too blurry. And by the time I finish formatting each of them in Vellum, trying to decide which annoyed me more–an extra space above an image or an indented paragraph after an image. And by the time I decided that in the ebook form I really needed to split out sub-headings for some of the chapters into their own chapter so users could easily find those sections…

Yeah. By then I hated the guides. I’d seen those words so many times.

So so many times.

I was done. Get it away from me before I take a sledge hammer to it.

I get like that with novels, too. When I’m at the point where I think I’d rather poke sharp knives into my eyes than read the darned thing one more time, I know it’s ready to go.

(By then the creation part has long since passed and it’s just little fiddly bits and finding those last five typos that you swear weren’t there the day before.)

Of course, I’m actually not done just yet. I still have to do the paperbacks…

Sigh.

And publish to Kobo and Nook. And set up on AMS on the books. And…

Yeah.

Good news is I’ll be ready for a brand new project come Friday.  And it won’t involve Excel. Yay!

Bad news is I have to grit my teeth and push through today. (After I take the pup in for x-rays and have lunch with my grandma whose brother just died. Because some things matter more than the writing.)