STEADY ON THE HELM, EYES ON THE HORIZON

Note: I talk numbers later in this post, lots of numbers, so bear with the more didactic start to my year end post.

I DON’T DO PREDICTIONS

2016There’s nothing wrong with predictions, I just think other authors tackle the subject better. Why reinvent the wheel, so to speak. Take a moment to read Russell Blake’s End of an Era and Joe Konrath’s New Years Resolution for Writers. Each author takes a different approach, but you’ll notice a common theme at the core of each post. Indie authors need to write, AND WRITE A LOT, to be successful. Not exactly rocket science, but it’s worth repeating. I’m going to make a small tweak to that message, which I think is critical to success.

WRITE WHAT YOU ENJOY WRITING—A LOT. Once again, no atoms have been split so far, but this is an important distinction, and part of the overall theme of this post. You can probably guess why.

Ship in wavesThe past two to three years has been tumultuous for both the indie and traditional publishing industry. Authors have seen ups and downs, like waves, and panic has ensued when they starts the downward journey into the trough. Of course, the waves come in different sizes for each author, and in some cases, the ride down is indeed scary—just like the ride up a massive wave of sales can be exhilarating. Kristine Kathryn Rusch does a far better job describing the wave metaphor in one her most memorable 2015 posts—The Hard Part. 

HERE’S THE THING. Storms always pass, leaving mostly calm seas.

You need to build a career strong and stable enough to weather these storms (real and perceived)—so you’re still around when the winds die down and the clouds part. 

10aruba106

What’s worked for me? You’ll be glad you didn’t pay for this. Ready? In keeping with the nautical theme:

KEEP A STEADY HAND ON THE HELM—WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO WRITE

KEEP AN EYE ON THE HORIZON—PLAN FOR THE LONG HAUL

ADVERTISE SMARTLY AND FREQUENTLY—I know, that’s not a nautical term. 

Feel let down? You’re not alone. I felt the same way when I dug into what has brought me the most success over the past five years. No tricks or gimmicks. This is it! And this is why I don’t do predictions. I don’t care what’s predicted for the next six month or year. Predictions have never changed the CORE of my approach. They’re little more than distractions. That’s not to say I ignore trends or pass on sudden opportunities. I just make sure they fit into one of the CORE tenets of my approach.

And I’m not claiming this was my master strategy all along. Far from it. It somehow naturally developed, likely while I was juggling a day job and publishing two to three books a year. I didn’t have time for distractions. I spent 95% of my available time WRITING and the rest developing long-term GOALS. Many of those goals seemed unattainable and SO far away at the time. Like a dream—but I saw the importance of pursuing them, regardless, in order to build a CAREER that could smash through waves. READ MY 2014 POST ON DIVERSIFICATION to learn more about these strategies.

I still have a long way to go, but based on 2015 numbers, I feel good about my  strategy. 

WHAT HAVE I DONE IN 2015? 

I released a grand total of one 75K word book and one 25K word novella (in Russell Blake’s Kindle World). Not exactly my most prolific publishing year. I typically release about three times this amount.

I wrote and delivered Fractured State (105K words) to Thomas and Mercer. Being the first book in a new series, I spent a considerable amount of time building the Fractured State world before writing in it. A sacrifice I was willing to make in order to realize the long term goal of publishing with Thomas and Mercer. More on that later.

I launched The Perseid Collapse Series Kindle World, which took an extraordinary amount of time and energy to coordinate. WELL WORTH THE EFFORT on many fronts. The world has attracted top notch authors across several genres. I couldn’t be happier or more humbled to be a part of it. Thank you to every author involved, and to Sean F. at Kindle Worlds for believing in The Perseid Collapse. To date, 25 novellas wait to be read by fans of post-apocalyptic and thriller fictionwith more on the way. 

I moved from Maine to Indiana. Don’t ask. Needless to say, this was the BIGGEST, unavoidable distraction of the year, and likely cost me the writing and release of a book. From March through the end of June, it was a non-stop event.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that I had a mediocre sales year. We all know the formula for success, right? Publish, publish, and publish again! While there’s certainly truth to this. I’m going to show you some surprising numbers, based on a very modest publishing year by my standards.

Underachiever

THE NUMBERS

-Overall income is UP 61.5% over 2014. Remember, 2014 was UP 57% over 2013. NOT A BAD YEAR AT ALL, considering my modest production schedule.

Ebook sales are up 20% (units sold increased by 25%), not including  Kindle Worlds or Kindle Unlimited numbers.

Paper is down by 25%, but this has never been a significant income area.

Audio unit numbers are down 6.5%, but sales are up 37%. Head scratcher, but deeper analysis shows that the royalty escalator clause (no longer offered) kicked in big time this year for The Perseid Collapse books, and I’m getting paid more per audiobook. I can’t stress the importance of audiobooks to building a strong career. Audiobooks account for 15% of my total business, and they seem less susceptible to some of the sales cycle storms that occasionally strike. Do some research here. It’s not a guarantee of quick income, but it is a viable long term strategy. It has paid off handsomely for me in both genres, more so in the post-apocalyptic books. Invest in audiobooks—NOW!

Kindle Unlimited. You’re either going to love this part or hate it. For me, it’s a love story. Let’s start at the beginning. All of my titles are in Kindle Select, but it hasn’t always been this way. My Black Flagged Series had spent nearly two years out of select, gaining LITTLE traction in the wider world of ebooks. When I finished the series in 2013 (4 books over two years), I took the series wide after enjoying enough success with the books to quit my day job (the books sold well to say the least). Good thing I had a hot post-apocalyptic series in the works, because going WIDE didn’t work. Not even BookBub could not ignite a steady income stream outside of Amazon. It took me until June of 2015, right before the advent of KU 2.0, to throw it all back into Kindle Select. Good timing. KU 2.0 boosted income across all of my book.

Units borrowed increased 132% over 2014. Close to 25K units total. After July, I divided pages read by the KENPC calculation for each novel to arrive at unit numbers since the program was now measured by pages read. For 2015, sales through KU increased by 158%, and much of that came from the second half of the year under KU 2.0. The Black Flagged franchise was a big part of that.

Kindle Worlds. It’s hard to compare this from year to year, since 2014 was my first year publishing on Amazon’s fan fanfiction platform. Here are the raw numbers. Between three novellas and an omnibus, I’ve sold close to 9,000 units in Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines Kindle World. I had a big surge in  sales when Wayward Pines hit Fox Network as a mini-series. That was the business side of why I wrote the novellas in 2014. I mostly wrote them because I loved the series and can’t get enough of Blake’s work. That said, a little looking ahead made it a no brainer decision to take time away from The Perseid Collapse series to indulge in Wayward Pines. I also used some time in 2015 to write a novella for Russell Blake’s JET Kindle World, adding another 1,500 units to the Kindle Worlds mix.

ADVANCES made up 10% of my income in 2015. I can’t get into specifics, but 2015 was the first year I was ever paid an advance. I like the concept, and hope to that percentage increase.

Foreign Translation of The Jakarta Pandemic? Let’s just say that German readers weren’t ready for an intense pandemic survival story based around an all-American in New England. Who could have guessed? I was pushing for the translation of my international espionage thriller series. I made money, but thankfully did not invest any of my own capital.

HOW DID I DO THIS?

I aggressively advertised multiple books in both series. This is listed first, because it had the biggest impact—and it’s a bit complicated to pile onto this post (another will follow). In a nutshell, it’s no secret that BOOKBUB is a powerful advertising and book marketing tool…depending upon how you use it. I use it to generate buy through for an entire series and expand readership. A short and long term goal. I don’t mind giving away free books to meet that end.

I experimented with Facebook ads. I’m not going to lie to you. I haven’t seen uber success selling books directly through Facebook, though like any hardcore gambler, I’m convinced my luck is about to take a turn for the better with the next ad.  Always experimenting. With that said, I have seen considerable success growing my mailing list with targeted Facebook ads.

I grew my mailing list from around 1,000 to 9,000 (not all through Facebook!). They bought a lot of books, full price and at special discounts. My goal for early 2016 is to better engage this list and turn it into a powerful marketing and promotional tool to launch books. Sounds all business-like. Let me rephrase this. I want everyone on the list to look forward to my updates and special offers, especially the ones announcing a book launch.

I resisted the temptation to write another purely post-apocalyptic series, and instead, created the story I’ve been dying to write. Fractured State. No genre is a sure thing, but post-apocalyptic books sell. I know from experience, which is why this was a hard decision to make. I had my reasons. I made some contacts at Thomas and Mercer in 2014, with the hopes that they sign me in 2015. I’ve had my eye on this goal since 2013, when I became a full time writer, knowing that they don’t publish post-apocalyptic novels. By the time my talks with the editorial staff at Thomas and Mercer blossomed, I was in a position to present a full series synopsis and 10K words of the first novel in the series. Fractured State will be published by Thomas and Mercer, in May 2016, followed the second book in January 2017. I have no doubt this decision will make 2016 my most successful year ever.

I diversified in 2014. Every time one of my book titles rose in Amazon rank during a promotion, buyers, borrowers and audiobook listeners alike were drawn to the commotion—and all of my books. Sales across all platforms increased, contributing heavily to the bottom line.

I had a little help from my friends. I certainly didn’t do this alone. I can’t stress enough the importance of community for writers. We all sit behind desks most of the day, by ourselves, and there is only so much you can do to get the word out about your books. I love helping other authors, and find that I’m not alone in that feeling. THANK YOU to everyone that helped. This includes writers and READERS!

Those readers keep buying my books! And to that, I am eternally grateful.

SHALL I END HERE? WHAT ELSE CAN I SAY?

2016?

-I shall write the books I want to write. As many as I can. It’s worked for me so far.

-I shall advertise aggressively.

-I shall stay in Kindle Select, even if the seas look rough.

-I will continue to look as far ahead as possible and steadily build the sturdiest ship for those waters.

-Hopefully go on a nice vacation.  

I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST IN 2016!

What are your plans for the NEW YEAR?

 

 

 

 

 

11 Comments

Filed under Year end review

11 responses to “STEADY ON THE HELM, EYES ON THE HORIZON

  1. Nancy

    My plans are to read Fractured State! and at least 100 more books. I really like Kindle Unlimited when I’m new to an author so I can check him/her out and then go on to buy their other books if I like their style. I seldom take a chance with a brand new author if I have to buy their book outright…I’ve had too many I didn’t like.

    • Sounds like a solid plan, Nancy. FS will hit home for you in the state of California. You’ll love it, though you might start looking for real estate in Idaho. 😉 Glad you’ve embraced Kindle Unlimited. It has so many advantage, and now that authors get paid fairly for borrows, it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

  2. tgerock@aol.com

    Keep up the good work!!! Lot your books.

    Col Tom Gerock USAF Ret.

  3. Thank you. This is very inspiring to read.

    • Jo, glad this could give you some inspiration. It’s a lot to take onboard, but overall a rather simple plan. Easier said than done, I suppose. LOL!

      • I think it is a matter of listening to others and learning from their experiences/successes/mistakes. The one thing I have not mastered yet is the art of selling books. I should also stop writing books no one wants to read LOL! Time for commercial books. 🙂

        2015 was a learning curve with very little writing. 2016 I plan the reverse, and to do exactly what you have mentioned. I want to go back to pushing out books. I’ve seen which social media platforms work and what is a waste of time.

        A clever person tries something different when what he is doing isn’t working well hehehe. I’ve decided, like you, to write more and spend less time selling to people who aren’t listening anyway.

        Anyway, I am always pleased to see someone doing well, so it is inspiring to read.

  4. Renee

    You’ve had a busy year! If you don’t mind me asking, what prompted the move to IN? (We moved to the NKY/tri-state area in July.) I’m really looking forward to othe release of the new book! Does this mean that your’e permanently veering away from PA fiction? Because quite selfishly, I love your PA fiction and so does my husband. In fact, I recently gave my mom a Kindle loaded with all of your books and I think she’s blown through everything you’ve written (except for the Kindle Worlds stuff) in a little over a month, so she’s hooked now too. Have a happy New Year, Steve, and keep the books coming!

    • Renee, the good news is that I’m not permanently veering away from PA fiction. I love the genre and the stories…and have 2 or 3 floating around my head at any given time. The book publishing process with a traditional publisher is a lot slower than my usual pace, so I’ll have time to write books and hopefully release a few in between the Fractured State book launches. Don’t worry. I’ll destroy he world a few times over in the next year or so. LOL! And THANK YOU for passing along my work to your mom…that’s a fantastic idea for a gift.

      To answer your question about moving. More like dodge your question. Many reasons. My mother and brother live a few hours north of us now. One of the biggest reasons. We miss the ocean and natural beauty of Maine dearly, but IN has more of everything else.

  5. Many of the books I purchase and read come from recommendations in newsletters. A favorite author often introduces me to another great author. By connecting to other authors, all can be helped – reader and writer. I also use Kindle Daily Deals, but don’t subscribe to it and use it less and less. I mainly appreciate it when they have a lot of books by an older author I want to collect but not necessarily read again now. What I use most is Kindle Countdown Deals. Love getting a bargain!

    Though it makes a lot of sense, Kindle Unlimited has no appeal for me. I can see that it would be a good option for some. I never start a book I don’t want to finish. So I try to make sure to do my research before I start.

    Your business plan is working well for you and I wish you continued success. You are a good source for fellow authors.

    You don’t really need mainstream publishing which Amazon is probably going to put out of business, eventually…………….Carol

  6. Scott Matthews

    Steven,Thanks for your year end post. I’ve followed you for a couple of years now, after seeing you being mentioned by Russell Blake and the respect he has for your writing and business acumen. Making the business side of being an indie writer work is the hardest part of this endeavor, in my experience.I’ve gotten great reviews for the four books in my Adam Drake thriller series, using Scott Matthews as a pen name (combining the names of my two sons, something I probably wouldn’t do again), but unless I’m blessed with a BookBub promotion ($8,900 one month), sales stay in the $1,000 to $2,000/month range. So I admire the way you’ve grown your business and appreciate the time you took to share the steps you took along the way to make it all work.Jay Perry, writing as Scott Matthews.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s