December has become my best sales month

I didn’t think December would make it, not with how quickly sales slowed down toward the end of the month, but it does now appear that December has become my best earning month to date for my self-publishing business (highest revenue and most units sold). The numbers are preliminary and do not include my international sales because I don’t know what they’ll come to once currency conversion happens.

If I had wanted to make this claim a few days ago, I could have, but I wanted it solid, with U.S. dollars. Now it is. :)

This is one reason I’m trying so hard to write more books in the coming year. I’m very close to a milestone earnings number and I would like to reach it within the next six months.

Currently, I earn a modest full-time living off sales of my fiction.

I want more. :D

 

KBoards needs a reality check

Of course, I’m too introverted to actually say that on KBoards. :D But it’s true.

The survivorship bias is huge on the boards, because no one wants to talk about what it means to earn a living writing, and yet not be one of the superstars. Some of that is because quite often any income that falls below HUGE is met with stuff like “if you want to be average that’s all well and good but I don’t want to be average so I have to do the things that will make me not average.” It’s a terrible paraphrase, but that’s the attitude I feel like predominates the talk when writer income gets mentioned.

From Wikipedia:

The U.S. Census Bureau reported in September 2014 that:

  • U.S. real (inflation adjusted) median household income was $51,939 in 2013
  • Real median household income averaged $50,781 from 1964-2013

I bolded this, because household income is not personal (per capita) income. It’s the income of everyone in the household. $51,939 yearly comes to $4,328.25 a month. This isn’t after-tax money. Oh, no. This is pre-tax.

From Census.gov:

Median household income (in 2014 dollars), 2010-2014: $53,482
Per capita income in past 12 months (in 2014 dollars), 2010-2014: $28,555

The per capita income is the one to look at: $28,555. That’s $2,379.58 in pre-tax money per month.

A new writer might want to make a lot more money than this in the longer term, but at the beginning of a career, to expect a whole lot more from a job that requires more skill than money to get started with seems kind of crazy.

And yet so many writers on KBoards are getting the idea that income like this, normal income for U.S. citizens, is failure.

Failure.

That’s why I titled this post the way I did. It’s just crazy to think of oneself as a failure because you aren’t a superstar.

This has been my public service announcement to all writers everywhere, especially to those just starting out.

Don’t quit when you’re just getting started because the income you’re earning is less than that of a superstar. Everybody can’t be a superstar. If that’s really your goal and you aren’t getting there, then quit, but if your goal is to just write and make a living, start with realistic expectations and go from there. Dreams are great. Pushing for more is great. But don’t feel like a failure because you’re average out of the gate. It can take time for most people to build up to better earnings in a career. This career path is no different.

So much to do! More on book covers

No restart on the writing streak last night. Today I will definitely be writing. Even though I have plans to do some other stuff too.

I stayed up way too late making those cover adjustments, but I feel like I’m starting to get somewhere with the covers. I can see a huge evolution in my skill level between the first covers I did and these last few.

I’m toying with the idea of playing with my earlier covers and not outright changing/rebranding them, just cleaning them up. That right there might be enough to make me happy with them for the time being, while I fight with myself over hiring a designer who can create something I love for them. :D

But hiring it out means less practice, and lots of practice is exactly what I need. I like designing the art for the covers, if I don’t put pressure on myself: if I needed to release this book I just finished the cover for in the next week, I’d be in a whole different frame of mind, and it wouldn’t be good for my stress levels.

Anyway, I have a lot to do and I need to get started. I want to write a lot of words today and I need to do so much other stuff too. Busy day ahead and I’m exhausted already. 4.5 hours of sleep last night isn’t going to do me any favors today!

Cover design frustrates me, but I do it anyway

Have I mentioned before that designing covers for my books frustrates me? Yes? I thought so.

I’ve been trying to learn more about all of it, but I still can’t visualize what I want and then translate that into something that makes sense. I usually have to have a really good piece of stock art to get what I want quickly. Doesn’t usually happen. I’m not good at picking stock art, because I’m not good at visualizing what I can do with it once I have it. I seem to buy licenses for all the wrong stuff and then have to try again. And again. ;)

Today, I seem to have come up with an okay design for my next release, although something’s still off about it. Still, it will be a record-breaking achievement if I only make a few tweaks to this and consider it done.* It came together so much quicker than I’m used to stuff coming together. Or maybe it just feels that way because my new “publishing days” workflow gives me an entire day for cover design and nothing else! That my dear has turned out to be a genius move for me. I feel a distinct lack of stress about this cover. Also, I have finally accepted that covers just have to be good enough not to suck and they’ll get the job done; I’m sure that attitude is helping too.**

Finally, I do want to devote some more time to tutorials, but I’ve been so focused on increasing my daily word counts that I just haven’t had the energy left for it. Nor to spend on practicing cover design.

I have no interest in doing nothing but writing; I like having hobbies, and designing my own covers would be a great one to have. But I’ve had to focus on priorities right now, which is learning how to get more words written each day without it taking me all day to do it. :D I’ll get there, and then I’ll turn my attention to become a better cover designer for myself.

I want to redo a lot of my covers, and tbh, I would like to hire it out, but every time I consider it, I think about how that will bottleneck my publishing workflow and I really can’t stand the idea. If I had unlimited money where I could get anyone at any price to do the work on my timetable and do it exactly the way I wanted, then I think it would be easier to let go. But there’s also the fact that I want to be a good cover designer. Because of these things, I always keep coming back to the idea that I just need to suck it up and keep trying. If I don’t give up, eventually I’ll learn how to design great covers myself.

*I redid the cover and then redid it again and then again. In the end, I spent three entire days on this particular cover. :o

**Apparently that attitude didn’t help after all. See note * above. :D

Addendum: I tried hiring it out and I learned a valuable lesson: hiring out doesn’t work for me, at all.

How I’m building my new pen name: Four months in

You might want to read the first post about the pen name book before you read this one because I’m not going to rehash what I’ve already said, just talk about what’s happened since the two week mark.

I haven’t gotten the next book out yet. Fact is, if you read this blog you’ll already know my production is not where I want it. I’m hopeful I’ll get the next book out in December, but it means I need to be successful in getting my word count up!

If I don’t improve my speed to publication for this series, this experiment isn’t going to teach me anything I haven’t already learned from my main pen name books. That’s because I’ve ended up not experimenting with price like I had originally intended.

I did a Kindle Countdown deal with the pen name book in mid-September and that led to a few more sales, but at reduced prices. I had it priced $ .99 for one day only and set to go up in $1 increments until it was full price again.

I’ve had some additional sales at full price too (full price being $6.99). I was getting a few reads here and there but it had really tapered off, and then for some reason on the 15th of this month, the book started to get very regular reads.

What I’m hoping this means is that this series could do well if I got more books out. I don’t know though. My experience to date with my main pen name has been that if a book doesn’t sell well right off, it won’t take off just because I’m releasing more books. They sell more, don’t get me wrong, but none of the series that didn’t start off strong suddenly sell great just because I’ve published more books in those series.

I’d love to have this series with the new pen name behave differently. :D The other view is a bit disheartening when it comes to series I love but feel I shouldn’t spend much time on because it won’t pay off in the long run.

  US UK AU IN  
Earnings
2015 07 68.71 14.79 6.96
2015 08 30.50 3.28  277.61
2015 09 61.71 1.29
Total Earnings 160.92  19.37 6.96  277.61
Sales
2015 07 11 2 1 14
2015 08 1 1 2
2015 09 28 28
Total Sales 40 2 1 1 44
KENP Reads
2015 07 4,681 2,301 6,982
2015 08 4,988 984 5,972
2015 09 6,733 386 7,119
Total Reads 16,402 3,671     20,073

So far in October, I’ve had 2 full price sales and about 7,000 pages read. There’s been absolutely nothing except for that unadvertised Kindle Countdown deal to keep the momentum for this book going, so I guess I’ve been very lucky that it hasn’t dropped to 0 all around. :D

I’ll save the next update for after I get the second book in the series out. Currently the plan is still to go three books at least before I make any judgments about this series.

An experiment with my next cover, GIMP, and Photoshop

Okay, so in only a little over a week or so, I really have to begin work on a cover image for an upcoming book. I thought I would run an experiment. I’m going to try to create the same cover in both GIMP and Photoshop and see which one I work best in. Despite being almost certain Photoshop is going to win, I’m not ready to commit to the subscription service if I don’t actually find it easier to create a cover in Photoshop. The proof will be in the real world application and not in that place in my head where I think I know something is true without having put it into practice.

I’m only as good a cover designer as I’ve needed to be, so this should be fun! :)

Prioritizing an income producing series

It’s come to my attention after a bit of back of the napkin math this evening that I’ve been giving lip service to the idea of prioritizing my income producing series while I’ve been avoiding just that thing.

That back of the napkin math has shown me the error of my ways.

If I focus on writing only my income producing series instead of trying to fit in all the other series I have going (I have five!), I can earn more money with 1/3 of the writing in the next five months. Basically, I can earn more money with 3 new books than I can earn with 6, because of how significant the difference in earnings is between the books in the various series and because I would have fewer books released in my income producing series. (I realize this looks like I did my math wrong, but it has to do with the length of the books and how much I still need to write for each one. In the one scenario, it’s 80,000 words a month, in the other it’s 25,000–30,000 words a month. There were also some other books in there that I love writing but that just don’t earn.)

It was an eye opener for sure.

I have a lot of resistance to the notion of putting all my writing effort toward my one series, but I’ve come up with a mental shift that I think will make it work for me.

  • I’ll have deadlines for the books in the income producing series, but I won’t have deadlines for the other books.
  • I’ll always work on the books in the income producing series first every day, with an eye toward keeping myself on track to finish by my deadline (one book every two months).
  • If I am on track or ahead of pace, then I can devote leftover scheduled writing time to working on whatever book I want in those other series.
  • I’m going to start taking one to two days a week off the writing schedule, based on how I’m staying on pace to finish my latest book in my income producing series.
  • I won’t take off more days than that on a regular basis, even if I am getting ahead on those books. The extra writing time can go toward those books that don’t have deadlines.

The reason I’ve had misgivings about this in the past and the reason I continue to feel weird about it is that the only real way to know if I could earn more money with the books in the other series is if I could put out the books considerably faster than I’ve been putting them out. I would have to put off writing the books in the income producing series so I can devote more time to writing all these other books, but the risk associated with that is just too great. I kind of like having enough money to pay my bills. :D

If I continue to make progress on sticking to my schedule, I should be writing more than enough words to meet my deadlines for the income producing books and get some of the other books written and start having a few days a week off if that’s what I want. (Today was a rest day because I haven’t been feeling well since yesterday, so no guilt for not writing.)

How I’m building my new pen name: Two weeks in

Here I’m going to lay out my plan for building my second pen name without doing any kind of active promotion. Active promotion generally means most of the kinds of promotional activities you’ve heard of.

This post is the first I’m going to do for the new pen name. It’s part of my plan to build an empire, so that’s where these posts will go. (Yay! I’ve finally figured out something to put in that category.)

The truth is, I feel like a beginner still, but I’ve been publishing my books since July 2012, three years now. I’ve been a writer since I was a young teenager—a very young teenager. Maybe it’s impostor syndrome or just that I know there’s so much I don’t know (that I might never know) about this business, but it’s hard for me to talk to other writers without feeling like the one standing on the outside of success and looking in.

This post is an exercise in getting past all that.

I’ve learned a few things in the last three years and accomplished a lot, and I think I can make a success out of this new pen name even though it’s getting off to a slow start.

So here goes. I’m not planning to give away my new pen name for this experiment. Seriously. If you figure it out, please do not tell me you’ve figured it out. If I didn’t want to be anonymous, I would have chosen to reveal my pen name(s) right from the get go. I would never out you and I would appreciate it if you didn’t out me. ;)

Thank you in advance for being understanding about that! :D

I first published the new book a few days into July. I published at $3.99 because I had heard from a lot of other authors that that was the best price at the moment, and because experimenting with different prices was the entire reason I wanted to do a new pen name. I looked into the market and saw that this was a popular price point in the genre the new book fits into. I’m not used to pricing this low. It felt really weird.

I sold 8 copies at 3.99 in 3 days, then 0 copies for 2 days. I posted the book on my author site, but since there’s never been any activity there because, hey, no books, I don’t consider my pen name to have any kind of a platform. No twitter, no facebook, no G+ profile. I plan to keep it that way for as long as possible. I have a website for the pen name and a mailing list that readers can sign up to. That’s it.

After the 2 days of no sales, I raised the price up to 6.99. I mean, if I’m not going to get lucky with an unexpected hit right off and sales are going to be slow until the second book is done, then I might as well, right? When I use the countdown deal before my 90 days in KDP Select is over, at least the discount will look better.

I sold 3 books at 6.99 in the next 3 days and then back to 0.

At about the one week mark, I put the book into KDP Select and moved on.

It’s a 328 page book as far as KENPC goes, and there’ve been 3006 pages read as of today.

So somebody’s reading it.

Now the wait is on until I get a second book written and published.

I’ll post first month results when they’re available, but the fact is, I don’t expect much. New pen name, no promo, high price, etc. There’s just no real chance that anything of note will happen until the next book comes out.

My goal is to put out the next book in the series for the new pen name within 90 days. I’d go for 60, but a lot of stuff is going to have to fall into place to make that happen, including me cracking through to a higher level of daily word count. I’m working on it, but I’m certainly not ready to count on it. :)

The mindset of a dedicated re-reader

I think re-readers have a different mindset than people who don’t reread. I’ve begun to believe the difference in mindset comes down to why you’re reading. Are you reading to find out what happens, or are you reading to experience certain feelings? People who don’t reread often ask why those of us who do choose to. For me, it’s because I know what I’m going to feel when I read a certain book and that’s what I want.

That’s the same reason I reread my own books. I want those feelings I got when I wrote/read it the first time. Rereading is easier than writing an entirely new book so I can experience those feelings again. There’s a trade-off though. Doing the former satisfies an itch, doing the latter helps my bank account. ;D I’ve had to learn to sacrifice quick rewards for long-term benefits.

People who don’t reread often just want to know what happens in the story, and once they know, they’re done. Why revisit?

Lots of authors think it’s crazy to want to reread your own books long after they’re done and published. Some people think it’s ego driven. I can tell you right now that this has nothing to do with ego. I’m not reading my stuff and thinking, wow, what a great writer I am. I’m enjoying the story and how it makes me feel.

I happen to like rereading very much and I think the non-re-readers are the crazy people. ;)

*This post was inspired by this comment on someone else’s blog.

New editions of old books

Well, I’m struggling with this decision. I have a change I’ve made to one of my cover images to make it look a bit more like the rest of the books in the series. It’s been in print longest of all my books. I have the option to produce a new paperback edition or just revise the edition already there.

I can get a bit more time in the new releases lists if I produce a new edition. However, the only changes to the book are going to be the cover and some of the front and back matter. I don’t think there are any edits, although I’ll probably give the paperback a quick read through just to be sure (since I’m already needing to reload the files for review at Createspace).

I don’t plan to change the length of the book even with the front and back matter changes because I don’t want to have to do any major revisions to the cover’s spine—it was a pain in the butt the first time I did it (this was my first paperback) and I imagine it’ll be just as big a pain this time (this book is narrow and the spine is just within the limits that Createspace will accept).

If you have advice, I sure wouldn’t fuss if you decided to give it. :D

Why I don’t read reviews

Some authors read reviews. Because—

  • they want to hear their audience’s reaction
  • they want to learn what they might need to do different to meet the expectations of their audience
  • they feel obligated to read the reviews
  • they want to put out the best product they can and they think reading the reviews will help
  • some other reason I can’t fathom

Like most things in life, those reasons matter to those people, but they don’t matter to me. I’m sure someone, somewhere, thinks those reasons should matter to me, but … nope, I still don’t care. :D

I don’t read reviews (not on purpose anyway), because—

  • they affect my writing
  • they make me crazy
  • my books are products to the people who buy them, but they’re not products to me; they’re my art
  • they don’t help me learn how to write a better book because the only person I’m trying to satisfy with my books is me; no one else’s opinion on my books has any bearing on how I feel about those books

I’m happy to sell my art as a product, but like a used car it’s an “as is” purchase :D

Yes, I’m an artist. “Artist” isn’t a bad word. I’m also a business person who has looked at the business in question, decided on her priorities, and planned accordingly. :) I prioritize my own pleasure from my books higher than I prioritize money. That certainly doesn’t mean I don’t want any money for my work (quite the opposite), just that I know what I want more and that I’m willing to sacrifice some of the one to keep more of the other…

If you’re a business person, you need to decide on these things for yourself. It’ll keep you sane. ;)

My writing and publishing (non)strategy

I price high(ish) for the genre I’m in. Mostly so that I won’t have to go in and change prices anytime soon. Nothing lower than $2.99, and novels for $6.99. Collections at $8.99, but I don’t bundle novels. Too much work, tbh. Someday I might though and sell them only on non-Amazon stores where I can make a decent royalty for stuff over $9.99, because I’d likely want to charge $16.99 for a 3 novel bundle.

I don’t run sales on my books. Mostly because that would mean I had to go to some dashboard somewhere and change prices. So let me add a caveat. I’ve given away a code on my author website for my main pen name that allowed my site visitors to get a book of mine for free for a limited time, and I’ve done this twice in the last two years. It was a gift to anyone who came by my site.

I don’t study the market. In fact, I don’t read that many books in my pen names’ genres. I used to read a lot of fan fiction in related genres and I’ve been a voracious reader my whole life, but I don’t enjoy a lot of the books in the genres I write in currently. That’s why I write my own books, because I’m an unsatisfied reader.

I have a mailing list. The only time I ever send a notice is when I publish something new. I didn’t even bother to notify my list that I’d published a collection of my short stories. I might throw it at the end of my next announcement for a new book. I might not.

I publish paperbacks of all my work, but I’m behind because I do all the formatting myself. In Word. And I hate widows and orphans and runts and ugly hyphenation, so I’m a bit of a perfectionist about it. ROI means nothing to me when it comes to my paperbacks even though I keep telling myself it should. ;)

I like to write and that’s what I want to do. But I want to write what I want and publish what I want and although I do hope to make readers happy, my first goal is to make myself happy. :) Of course, I don’t talk about that on my author site. That’d be a bit rude.

I … can’t really think of anything else I do or don’t do right now but if I remember anything, I’ll update. :D

Amazon’s Six-month Cliff

It exists. Very much so. However, it does appear it’s possible to climb out of that abyss. For no apparent reason, sales in the month since the nose dive off the cliff are on an easily identified upward trend (sales dashboard graph) so apparently all is not lost when one dives off that cliff. It’s been interesting to watch. On the other hand, it’s time to publish another book. Good thing I’ve been working on a couple. :D

This is actually the most cliff-like drop in sales I’ve ever noticed. Probably because I don’t do typical promotions so all my sales tend to be spread out instead of in clumps that might trigger an algo adjustment. It’s possible I don’t know what I’m talking about here, fyi. This is also the longest I’ve gone without publishing a new novel, so I haven’t had a chance to see a six-month cliff before.

I have read about others who experience 30 day and 90 day cliffs but I haven’t noticed those before. My reports show fairly steady increases, and then declines, between releases. Spikes are unusual.

This started me digging into my numbers a little more, and lo and behold I discovered an interesting thing. My not-as-popular novel series has barely earned more than my short story series in the last 90 days. Makes me think I should write more short stories instead of novels, unless they’re novels in my popular series, because … ouch. Those novels are 6x as long (and probably take more than 6x as long to write!) and that hurts my ego just thinking about it.

Microsoft Word and Embedded Fonts; Open Type Is a Problem

These things matter because I need embedded fonts to generate the right kind of PDF file for CreateSpace. I never noticed a problem with this before, but apparently the font I’m using is an Open Type font and Word won’t embed that font.

Now, this really surprised me when I researched the issue today, because the book I’ve been preparing is the third book in a series and is the third book to use that same font. Why I didn’t notice, or why it didn’t seem to matter, the last two times is beyond me, but this time, it came up as a problem in CreateSpace’s Interior Reviewer.

What I discovered is that Microsoft Word won’t or can’t embed Open Type fonts even if you have license permissions for those fonts to be embedded. I checked, and sure enough, I have the right permissions. Word just won’t embed Open Type fonts.

The solution was ditching the Word “save to PDF” option, and a search for a decent PDF printer that would embed those fonts for me. I installed several, including doPDF, CutePDF, and finally, PDF Creator (their website seems to be a bit broken, but this is the one that worked for me in the end). I couldn’t get any of them to print to the right sized paper for my book (5×8).

Turns out I had to create a new “form” for my printers.

That was tricky to find, since I’d never heard of this before. I found it under my control panel, printers, and when I clicked one of my printers, it was something I needed to do in the “Print server properties.” I created a new 5×8 form, with measurements of, you guessed it, 5×8 inches, and then when I “printed” my Word docx to the PDF Creator printer, it saved just fine!

A lot of work just to get some fonts embedded in a PDF file but it was worth it to know I’ve done it right.* I’m left wondering, though, how in the world did I get my last two books in this series through CreateSpace?

Also, although I ended up using PDF Creator to successfully create my PDF file, I have to wonder if the others would have worked just fine once I had created the new 5×8 form. I didn’t discover that I needed to do that until I found a FAQ on the PDFforge.org website, Word documents with custom page size are converted in default size:

By default, PDFCreator only knows the paper formats that are created when it is installed. If a custom format is defined in Word, PDFCreator does not recognize it and thus Word will use the default page size.

To create new paper formats, they have to be created under Print Management->Server settings. There you can create name and dimensions of the format. Aftwards, you can use it in Word.

And there was the tricky bit. I had no idea what “Print Management->Server settings” meant. But once I figured it all out and did it, my file came out great.

I uploaded it earlier this evening, and there weren’t any apparent issues according to CreateSpace. Yay!

*What I really need to do is learn Adobe InDesign, but for what I do, it’s just not worth it at the moment.

My Obligation as a Writer

Hah! I start this off with a blatant misdirection because as a writer, I feel I have only one obligation. That obligation is to tell a story that means something, either to myself, or to those I want to read it.

Since no one is obligated to read my writings, I feel the same lack of obligation to make any adjustments to my story for any particular person.

A lot of people claim that if you want to publish your writings, you should pay for proofreading, cover creation, line-editing, and sometimes even more editing, but first I ask why?

And then I say, No.

Are artists obligated to have someone edit their art, adding splashes of color where maybe it needs a little something extra, or throwing on another daub of paint here or there? I don’t think so.

I’ll be honest here. I’m not that good with metaphor. That’s why I make it a point to avoid any kind of deliberate attempt at metaphors when I write.

But I can’t think of that many instances where people are sitting around telling an artist that if they don’t have the help of others, then they’re not doing their best work.

I can’t imagine writing as an interactive process, either with readers or editors. That’s not why or how I write. It really is all about me, until I’ve crafted something I want to share and then I personally feel a small obligation to make the story I wrote come across as cleanly and crisply as I imagined it in my head. So I reread, and I edit myself, but no one knows what I intended better than me, so having someone else do this stuff for me is not part of my process. I don’t want people telling me I’m not clear here or I need more description there. The story is what it is. The reader isn’t obligated to like it. The reader isn’t even obligated to read it.

Seriously, I never finish reading a story I don’t like, because I don’t have enough time in the day as it is.

When I get done with a story, I know it’s right for me when I find myself wanting to reread it, and when I do reread, I don’t find anything I don’t like. Boring parts? Don’t need to be there. Clanky sentences? Rewrote. Bad plotting? Trash it. The thing is, I’m telling a story. If it sucks, I know it. If it doesn’t, then maybe there’s someone out there who will enjoy it as much as I do.

I reread the stuff I really like. I can reread a good story within a day of my first read. And if I’m not finding myself tempted to reread my own stuff? I haven’t written a good story. Plain as that.

That’s my obligation as a writer. Admit when I haven’t written something worth rereading. For the rest, edit myself, proof myself, and take full ownership for everything in my story as my art.