Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Reflections on My First Year of Self-Publishing

If I remember correctly, yesterday was the one-year anniversary of my career as a novelist.  (Or, more specifically, when I put my first novel on sale.) It's hard to believe how fast time flies and how quickly things have changed - all for the better, in my opinion. Bearing that in mind, I thought it was worth a quick look back to see what a difference a year makes.

Books Published
The natural assumption is that I started off with one book published. In truth, I published two books - Warden (Book 1) and Sensation - in such close proximity that it's almost like I started off with a double bang.  (This was more by accident than design: I used the service Amazon offers on CreateSpace to format my first book for Kindle, but it took about 6 weeks. By the time the first book was ready for Kindle, I had finished the second and had it ready as well.)

Anyway, fast-forward a year and I've got 7 books under my belt: four in my Kid Sensation series (plus a boxed set) and two in the Warden series.  Not bad in my opinion, not to mention the fact that I'm on the verge of publishing the third Warden book. (I did a cover reveal here recently, which is something new for me.)

Books Sold
I've been blessed in that my books started selling almost immediately. Readers seemed to enjoy my work, and I was fortunate to find a number of fans early on.  The first month, I sold a couple of hundred books, which was quite a shock (in a good way).  As of yesterday, I had sold almost 23,000 ebooks and almost 400 paperbacks during my first year. (This is not counting borrows from when I was in KDP Select or returns.)  Altogether it came to a total of over 23,000 books sold over the past 12 months. (I had been shooting for 25,000 books sold, but you can't have everything and I'm super excited about the volume I did have.)

Lessons Learned
Needless to say, I feel like I've learned a lot over the past year - so much in fact, that I don't think I could possibly reduce everything down to written words. Nevertheless, I'll mention a few of the things I found to be most important.

Lesson #1: It's a Volume Business
There are some people who will write a novel and immediately hit it out of the park, selling tens of thousands of copies of a single tome in just a month or two.  I haven't been fortunate enough to be one of those people (yet), but not being in that rare stratosphere has taught me something: the number of books you write affects your long-term success.

A few months back, I wrote a post about Making a Living Selling 3 Books Per Day. The premise of the post - and you can run the numbers - is that if you could write twenty books and sell about 3 copiess of each of them per day, you could earn in the neighborhood of $50,000 per year.

Moreover, I've found that each time I publish a new book, my overall sales typically increase. That, in and of itself, is another reason to keep producing new material. In short, always stay focused on getting the next book out.

Lesson #2: Get Professional Help
Despite the ease with which you can now get a book on the market, publishing is still a professional endeavor and you should treat it as such. That means getting quality help with all phases of your novel, starting with editing/proofreading.

Simply put (and I've probably said this a hundred times), it's almost impossible to edit your own work. You really need to have it done by a professional - not just to catch typos and such, but to see the amount of value that they can add. Personally, I use Faith Williams at The Atwater Group, and she has been worth her weight in gold.

Likewise with my cover artist, Isikol (whose gallery of work is on deviantART). I know the limits of my own skill, so I set out to find an artist who could capture my vision. Isikol did that and more. Thus, if you're terrible in terms of cover art, don't try to do it yourself thinking that the great story you wrote will overcome the shoddy cover. It won't. Bottom line is that if your cover is the artistic equivalent of a leper, then readers will treat it that way and keep away out of fear that they'll contract something vile.

In short, you wouldn't give yourself a root canal or open heart surgery just to save a few bucks; you'd turn to the professionals. Not that a book rises to the same level of importance, but you need to be willing to get expert help if you need it (and let's face it, most of us do).  Needless to say, hiring professionals will cost you.  However, in my opinion, you'll be far happier in most instances with the end product you get from them than something you got on the cheap or put together on your own.

(In addition to Faith and Isikol, you can find other useful links for publishing here.)

Lesson #3: Write What You Love
I know that we all want to make a living as authors, so it's only natural to feel the temptation to write in the popular genres, like romance.  My personal feeling is that writing is not only hard, but also a highly personal endeavor.  There are some novelists who write only for money and are very successful (the great Jack Vance was one, for example), but I think that most people in my position (those who are indies) are writing because they have a story to tell.  Thus, I think you need to focus on telling that story - not the one that you think will sell a million copies, but the one that's been rattling around in your head, making noise, dying to get out. The one that you have to write.

In short, write what you love. If you have to write other stuff for commercial or fiscal reasons, there's nothing wrong with that, but somewhere along the way you have squeeze in the stuff that you want to write about.

Lesson #4: Treat Writing Like a Business
Like lots of indies, I have a day job. However, since I'm trying to become a successful author, I have to treat my writing just like a business, with me as the owner.  Thus, I've got to keep regular hours, work at a steady pace, and keep manufacturing products for my clients.

In essence, it is a tough row to hoe, but that's what you have to do if you want to be successful.  The most obvious complaint in adhering to this principle, of course, is the lack of time.  However, in my experience, people can generally "find" additional time by cutting back on one thing: the amount of television they watch.

I recall reading that the average American watches something like 34 hours of television per week - almost the equivalent of a full-time job. Even if someone could just cut that number in half, that would be an additional 17 hours per week that could go towards writing.

Of course, it's not television for everyone in terms of where you can cut back or find time. For some people, it might be working in their garden. For others, it might be happy hour with friends a few nights per week. Regardless, we all typically have something that we can trade in order to get the time we need to write. One you know what it is - and are willing to make the sacrifice - you'll be surprised at how productive you can become.

That's about everything I can think of off the top of my head. All in all, this last year has really been a thrill ride. I haven't had a Harry Potter-esque runaway best seller, but I'm fortunate to have enjoyed a modicum of success and count myself lucky. Hopefully, as I continue to write, I will be able to build on the number of readers and fans I have such that the next 12 months are even better than the past 12 have been.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

My Passive Income Earnings from Online Articles

Update (Aug. 24, 2014): Squidoo is shutting down! Roughly a week ago Squidoo's founder released a statement that the site is going the way of the dodo and will be selling it's content to rival HubPages. It's not a huge surprise if you were familiar with some of the things that were going on there (such as what's noted in my previous blog post), but I feel sorry for all the people who devoted hundreds or thousands of man-hours to the site - especially in the past year or so.

Update (Aug. 30, 2016): It appears that WebAnswers has gone the way of the dodo as well.  Don't know when exactly it happened (I haven't been on the site in ages), but it's gone.  That's sad, because it really was pretty easy to start earning there. Oh well...c'est la vie.

One of the great things about being an author, from a  pecuniary standpoint, is the fact that your writing has the potential to produce passive income. In essence, you do all of the work - the writing - on the front end, and then, with any luck, your efforts will go on to produce income indefinitely with little or no active involvement from you. I suppose it's kind of like recording a hit song, and then getting paid every time it's played on the radio.

Just about anyone who has been writing for a while (or contemplating the prospect of doing so) is well aware of the fact that there are a ton of online sites where you can post your work - usually in the form of articles - and, depending on various factors (like web traffic) earn some moolah. Prior to writing novels, I tried my hand at this, with mixed results. Here are a couple of the more prominent places where I was writing:

This is an article-writing site with 75% revenue sharing (authors get 75%), which isn't bad at all. I believe I wrote a couple of dozen articles, but I never earned more than a buck or two per month, maximum - and probably not more than $10 overall. (I checked just a few minutes ago, and I've got a few pennies in my account there so I'm still earning - go passive income!) Back when I was active, I think the top earner on the site made close to $3K per month.

HubPages is a 60% revenue-sharing site where you build web pages called "hubs" on whatever topic suits your fancy. I made scores of hubs (which are basically articles), and some of them even made decent money. At my peak, I was probably earning an average of $50 per month on the site.  (Top "hubbers" on HP made a couple of thousand per month, if I remember correctly.) These days, I'm earning about $5/month, which is great when you bear in mind that I do practically nothing to promote my writing there (or on any of the sites I note in this post).

As I recall, Squidoo is a 50% revenue-sharing site.  In my opinion, it's essentially another version of HubPages, except the web pages you build are called "lenses" on Squidoo (and I built dozens of them). That said, there are people who will swear that one of them - either Hubpages or Squidoo - is infinitely superior to the other, so be careful about getting sucked into those conversations/comparisons. At present, I'm probably earning something like $1/month on Squidoo, although my historical average is more akin to something like $5/month.  (In my prime, I think I was earning roughly $40/month.) Again, though, I seem to recall top earners on the site earning several thousand dollars per month.

Squidoo, however, is wickedly competitive in the sense that only the top 85,000 lenses earn anything from ads on the site.  The lenses are divided into 3 tiers, with the first being for lenses ranked 1-2000 (and the bulk of the money goes to these, naturally); 2nd Tier is lenses ranked 2001-10,000; and the third Tier consists of lenses ranked 10,001-85,000.  If your lens is one of the millions ranked below that, you can go pound sand with respect to getting a share of the ad dollars (although you can still make money from affiliate sales on places like Amazon and eBay). Moreover, there were ways to game the system to make your own lenses rank higher.  (I'm not saying that anyone did or that it's happening now - just that it was, and probably still is, possible.) Surprisingly, despite the fact that I only even visit Squidoo once every blue moon, I have a handful of lenses with decent rankings.  Go figure...

WebAnswers isn't really a passive income site. You essentially get paid to ask and answer questions. However, there's a participation component to the algorithm that determines how much you earn. In essence, WebAnswers requires that you remain active on the site - even if it's just asking/answering one question per day.  (FYI: you can skip a few days with noticing a drop in earnings.) In spite of all that, however, I thought it was a great place to earn money - not to mention being a lot of fun - and when I was active (which, in my book, means answering just a couple of questions per day), I earned around $50/month. In fact, WA is undoubtedly one of the quickest, easiest ways I found to make money online, since you start earning within days; I just had trouble participating at a level that would allow me to achieve scale (ie, make more $$$). These days, I rarely even visit the site.

There are probably a dozen other article-writing sites like these that I was active on, but I won't go through the trouble of listing them all. Frankly speaking, I didn't make a particularly large amount of money from my efforts, and some of those articles required extensive research. The truth of the matter is that, like a lot of things online, you generally needed traffic in order to generate earnings, so you had to devote time to those efforts and success wasn't likely to happen overnight.  

In addition, it seemed like every few months Google would tweak their search-engine algorithms so that just when you were building up steady traffic, it would get decimated. You'd go from a decent number of page views to almost nothing in a heartbeat. (It also didn't help that Squidoo sort of went on the warpath, declaring lenses to be unfit for publication almost at random it seemed. Squidoo's actions, which I wrote about here, were reportedly a response to a Google algorithm adjustment.)

At some point, it occurred to me that with all the writing I was doing for various sites, I could have written a book.  That wasn't the only reason for the shift in my focus from articles to novels, but it played a part.  Also, I like to think that all the article-writing I did helped me in terms of books.  For instance, writing articles taught me that volume - your level of output - matters.  Right now, of the sites I mentioned, I don't think it's a coincidence that Hubpages - where I wrote the most articles - is also the one that currently makes the most money, followed by Squidoo (where I have the second-most articles, I think) and then InfoBarrel, where I've posted the least. (WebAnswers is a different kind of beast, but I think I'm still earning a few bucks there every month.) Likewise, I've found that my earnings as a novelist seem to move up a notch with every new book that I publish.

In short, aside from simply writing novels, there are a number of venues that authors can take advantage of in order to generate income. These can be particularly appealing if you just need to take a break from writing your next book, or if you simply want to see if cranking out, say, an article a week can tack on a decent amount of income. (When I was hitting on all cylinders, I was earning $100-$150 per month from my article writing - a lot more than the $5-$10 I'm earning from it now, but I also had to constantly promote back then as well.) Personally, I've found writing novels to be far more rewarding financially.  But there's always a chance, of course, that you'll be one of those people who manages to hit a home run in terms of articles and become one of the top earners on one of those sites. Needless to say, there's nothing wrong with that.

*If I didn't state it already, earnings for the sites mentioned above typically are the result of Google AdSense and affiliate sales.  Also, I think I note it in my Disclosure statement but it bears mentioning again - particularly in light of this article - that several of the links on my blog are affiliate links.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Warden (Book 3) Cover Reveal

Up until now, probably the first indication that I was anywhere near finishing a work-in-progress would be the message to my email list that I had just published something new.  And with each publication, I would generally declare that I would make a better effort next time in terms of things like a cover reveal. Well, I have finally made good on that promise.

I'm including in this post the cover for the third book in my Warden series.  In keeping with the spirit of the previous books, I have tried to shy away from the "normal" monsters and write about creatures that typically don't get a lot of air play.  In this instance, the primary focus is on the aswang, which is a legendary monster from the Philippines.  

As usual, the cover art was done by Isikol. Needless to say, I'm very attached to his work at this point, and I think he did an excellent job here.

The big question, of course, probably revolves around publication. Frankly speaking, I don't have a hard-and-fast publication date in mind. Right now, the manuscript is in the hands of my editor, Faith Williams (of the Atwater Group). When she finishes, I'll look over her changes and suggestions (and incorporate them) before reading everything one or two more times.  It's only after the end of that process tha publication will occur.

Bearing everything in mind, I'm assuming that I'll probably publish early next week, barring any unforeseen complications.  Of course, we all know Murphy's law: "If anything can go wrong, it will." Thus, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A Thinning of the Herd in Indie Publishing?

Per Wikipedia, there were over 1800 automobile manufacturers in the U.S. from 1896-1930. Over  a 34-year period, that averages out to almost 53 new car manufacturers a year - over one a week!

Needless to say, that's far too many, especially for a fledgling industry. Thus, it's not a surprise that few of them were able to endure the test of time.  

In fact, a large number of them practically withered on the vine, lasting no more than a few years. (The Acme Motor Car Company, whose ad is shown here, actually lasted 8 years, from 1903-1911, which is surprisingly lengthy compared to many of its competitors.)

In a similar vein, there are some who say that the world of publishing is undergoing a comparable expansion. Basically, with anyone being able to publish whatever they like at the push of a button, we now have millions of books being produced outside of traditional channels. However, just like the auto industry couldn't support almost 2000 manufacturers, there are some who think that the current number of indie authors will eventually lead to a shakeout - a thinning of the herd - because it's simply not possible for every indie author to earn a living writing books.

Personally, I'm not convinced that there's an exact parallel. For starters, not everyone who publishes a book does it for profit or with the intent or hope of becoming a full-time writer. For some, it's simply an item on their bucket list, like climbing Mount Everest or going skydiving; for others, it's just that one story that they have to tell. (I suppose it's a lot like a person who works in their garden or goes to the gym every day - they do it because they enjoy it, not because they're looking to grow a prize-winning rosebush or be crowned Mr. Olympia.) Frankly speaking, these are people who may be one-and-done, but as soon as one leaves someone else with the same one-book desire steps in to replace them.

Of course, there are other people with a profit motive who will publish and ultimately abandon the idea of being an indie. A number of them will decide that it isn't profitable for them. Many may find that they hate the process or that it's too time-consuming. Still others will decide that they only want to be traditionally published. As before, though, as soon as someone in this category departs, there's another individual waiting in the wings to fill the void created by their exit.

Bearing all this in mind, it's easy to see how some might feel that there's a glut of books flooding the market. In retrospect, I suppose the ultimate question is: Can we have too many writers (or at least, too many indie writers)? While it's not on par with asking if we can have too many doctors or too many teachers, I certainly don't think so - especially not when everyone's motive for writing is so different. That said, I think there will be a shakeout in the sense that there are people who are publishing today who may not be doing so - for various reasons - two years down the road. However, self-publishing these days is a business with very low barriers to entry (for which I am grateful), so I believe that there won't be a significant net loss, if any, in terms of the overall number of people who consider themsleves indie authors. And that's a good thing, in my opinion.

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