Sunday, October 4, 2015

It's Been A Year?

It's been a little over a year since I hit publish on a book called The Unearthed, a paranormal thriller that has punched well above its weight. At the time I had the next two books in the series mostly written, had some ideas for a fourth, and was working with my buddy Nathanael Green on our historical series (and another top-super-secret, if I told you I'd have to kill you, project).

I didn't know what to expect. I'd read a lot of conflicting advice online:
  • exploit social media v. don't waste your time on blogs or on Facebook;
  • price your books cheap v. keep in mind the reader's perception of value;
  • make your book free v. make your book $0.99;
  • publish frequently v. leave them wanting for a little while to build anticipation;
  • exclusive on Amazon v. don't put all your eggs in one basket;
  • stick to one genre v. spread your wings and create a diverse portfolio of IP; and on and on...

My actions over the last year have been what I call quasi-purposeful. The goal was to release something once a month. When I set out on this crazy journey I didn't know what those somethings would be. Instead I just used momentum to write. Wherever my energy seemed to point me, I followed it and once I got rolling, I tried not to stop until I got to the end. Of course it didn't always work out like that but for the most part it's a good policy (and one of Heinlein's Rules!).

I didn't quite produce one novel per month but I can't be upset with my results so far. Right now I have 8 novels out and 3 more that I might sneak in this year. And the effort I put in to writing short stories cut in to my novel-writing time much more significantly than planned. I won't make that "mistake" again, though it's hard to consider it a mistake because I spent that time writing different kinds of stories so I'm hoping I learned a thing or two.

Over the year I've seen things change pretty dramatically. For the first eight months, I saw a steady rising trend in sales with The Unearthed series accounting for about 95% of my royalties. Then, for whatever reason, the trend reversed during the summer and sales have slowed on those books. I don't know why. My overly-simple theory is I haven't put a new one out in almost six months. In self-publishing time, that's like sixty-six months!

What I have learned in a year? First and foremost, that I have a lot more to learn. But if you're thinking about self-pubbing, here are some things to keep in mind. None of these will be earth-shattering:

  • Novels sell (MUCH) better than shorts;
  • Series sell (MUCH) better than standalones;
  • Genre sells better than literary fiction;
  • Genre series sell the best;
  • Readers start treating the books as a series (in terms of sales) once you release book four or five;
  • Publishing frequently, one novel per month, gives you the best shot at breaking out (I can say this not because I've done it but because I've seen others do it with success);
  • The hard part isn't coming up with ideas. The hard part is guessing which stories will work, then executing on the idea. Writers never run out of ideas; and
  • I cannot justify any time spent writing short stories.
Twelve months of doing this and that's all the advice I have? Yes, that's all the advice I have right now. This goes back to what I was saying earlier. I did everything this year quasi-purposefully. I had some general goals in mind but nothing that specific. Rather than chase every new fad or trend or marketing scheme or ebook fancy-schmantzy software, I focused on production. More books out meant more ways for readers to discover me.

I have bigger plans for year two ;-)

Here's what I hope to answer over the next twelve months:

  • Does marketing work? I spent zero time this past year marketing, outside of starting a mailing list and doing the occasional giveaway on Amazon. Could this be the missing link for me?
  • Do I need different book covers? I already know the answer here, actually. Yes, I do. Too many other people in the know have mentioned this for me to continue ignoring their advice. It's a shame because I love the covers I have (they're different than everything else in my genre). But it's time to switch them out and try something new. Get ready for the new ones. They'll be out soon ;-)
  • Can I grow different readerships across genres? By the end of 2016, I'd like to have four different series published. Right now I have two going strong, with a possible third starting soon (the top-super-secret project). When 2016 comes to a close, I want to take a long, hard look at sales to see where I'm succeeding and where I'm failing and make intelligent decisions about how to spend my writing time.

Here's what I WON'T try again:

  • One short story per month. This is much harder than it seems and folks, I'm telling you the God's honest truth, short stories just don't sell. They really don't. I've gotten great feedback on my shorts from readers, so quality isn't the issue. Now I know all of you are going to say "Well, what about SO AND SO" and I'm going to tell you every single example you can come up with is an outlier. You can hope to be an outlier, but you can't plan a business strategy around being one. Plus, if you're like me, you have limited time to write (DAY JOB!), which means short story writing cuts into your novel writing time.
  • Permafree. I tried this with The Unearthed and moved 40 - 50 copies per day. Good thing I didn't hold my breath waiting for all the other books in the series to take off. Everybody told me they would, but they sure as shit didn't. Don't know why.
  • Too Many Standalones. This will be difficult to stick to (I can already see myself breaking this rule). I have a bunch of standalones in flight right now, and plenty of ideas for more. But I really want to make sure I focus my efforts in 2016 on series. So I'd like to close out the few I have in progress ASAP and then get back on the series track.

So that's all to report on for now. Sorry that there weren't any great pearls of wisdom. Some indies will share their sales data publicly - I ain't that kind of guy. But I can tell you I've made much more than I expected and more than what I would have gotten from an NY publishing house. And the best part of that is, I've held onto my IP rights. This should come as no great shock to anyone that has been paying attention to the Author Earnings website, which very recently showed that authors just starting out today have a better shot at making a living writing over time by self-publishing as opposed to getting a contract with a house.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank all my Year One readers. You folks got in early so you'll always hold a special place in this humble writer's heart. Now if you'll excuse me, I have like eighteen books to finish...

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