“Never launch a book in December!”

That appears to be the advice freely proffered to independent authors by those who (allegedly) know best.  I’m not sure whether or not it’s accurate, but I’m in the process of finding out.  You see, circumstances kind of forced my hand.  Let me tell you about it, and the lessons I’ve learned from it (so far, at least).

At Libertycon in June 2015, I was afflicted by the first kidney stone I’ve ever endured.  It was no fun at all, and I spent most of the convention lying on my bed, groaning.  Two hospital procedures followed over the course of the next six months.  No sooner had I gotten over them than we moved to Texas, in early 2016.  Shortly thereafter a gall bladder problem manifested itself, eventually requiring a third surgical procedure.  All in all, it took fifteen months to sort out my various and sundry medical misadventures, during which time my writing came to a grinding halt as far as new work is concerned.

In the middle of all this, I was fortunate to be offered a contract to publish a Western novel I’d written some time before.  I put a ‘teaser’ chapter up on my blog, and within 24 hours received an unsolicited offer to publish that book plus two sequels.  Needless to say, I accepted with enormous relief!  Editing the book for publication (with an editor’s help, not having to do it all on my own – a new experience for me) was a lot less stressful than writing it from scratch.  ‘Brings The Lightning‘ was published in May 2016, and has done relatively well for a first book in a new genre from an author previously unknown there.  Certainly, I’m satisfied with results so far.  I’m now plotting the first of two sequels, and I hope more will follow.

 

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However, this still wasn’t helping me get back to creative writing.  My wife exercised what I can only describe as heroic patience in seeing me through my medical trials and tribulations.  How she avoided hitting me sometimes is a mystery, but she did – yet another reason why I love her.

I found it very difficult to ‘get back into the groove’.  My brain had become soggy with ongoing pain, the insidious slow poisoning effect of a necrotic gall bladder, and the mentally numbing effect of painkillers and other medication.  After all the treatments were over, it took me two to three months to begin to produce work that I thought was worthwhile.  It was a very frustrating time indeed!  Still, as the sages tell us, “This, too, shall pass” – and it did.  By early October 2016, fifteen months after my medical misadventures began, I was again writing fiction that I felt was readable.

Meanwhile, of course, my sales had fallen off the proverbial cliff.  “Publish or perish” is a well-known phrase in academia.  It has a different, yet equally ominous meaning for most independent authors.  We depend on getting new work out to our reading public at regular intervals to keep our names fresh in their minds.  We have no publicity machine working on our behalf, no publisher spending money on advertising campaigns, no public relations firm firing off press releases.  If we don’t produce work that readers want to buy, they look for other writers to satisfy their needs.  For fifteen months, I was unable to produce or publish any work in the military science fiction genre where I’d hitherto developed a following.  As a result, my sales tapered off, slowly but surely, until they were barely limping along.  A writing income that had averaged four figures a month, pre-Libertycon 2015, declined to a lot less than that by the fourth quarter of 2016.  (Of course, this excludes earnings from ‘Brings The Lightning’, which were in a different genre and came through a publisher at biannual intervals, rather than monthly, as most indie authors receive them.)

We were able to survive the lean times because we’d built up a reserve from previous royalty earnings (the importance of which has, of course, been drastically reinforced in our thinking by recent events!).  Also, my wife found a job locally, which helped to keep the wolf from the door.  (Did I mention I love her very much?)  Added to our slowly declining independent royalty income, plus earnings from ‘Brings The Lightning’, those measures sufficed to keep us afloat.  Nevertheless, it was clear that I needed to start earning more money from my independent writing again, as quickly as possible.  Therefore, as soon as I was able, I got down to business.

I’d completed about a quarter of the next volume in my Maxwell Saga, ‘Stoke The Flames Higher‘, before illness laid me low.

 

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I spent some time in September revisiting and revising what I’d written, then began expanding on it.  By late October it had taken shape, and I was able to send it out to initial readers and begin the revision process.  By late November, it was in publishable form.  The question was, should I publish it right away, in the pre-Christmas period that many claimed was not the best time to do so, or wait until the new year?  We heard dire warnings that December was clogged with so many potential gifts, all chasing consumer dollars, that a new book would be lost amid the clutter and go unnoticed.  What’s more, we’d be chasing dollars intended for entertainment in general, not just books.  We’d be competing with movies, computer games, sporting goods and everything else that comes under that heading.  In such a season, books were unlikely to be a priority for most potential purchasers.

Against these warnings, there was the simple reality that I needed to get back to earning a living from my writing.  We’d coped with the demands on our finances during my prolonged illness, but that couldn’t continue indefinitely.  We had to pay off credit card balances run up during the ‘lean times’, and rebuild our depleted reserves.  That reality forced my hand.  Whether or not it was the wisest thing to do, I needed to get something new into the hands of my faithful readers who’d been waiting for far too long, and I needed to begin rebuilding the momentum that my writing career had lost.

‘Stoke The Flames Higher’ was published earlier this week.  The timeline went like this:

Dec 4 – Day 1:

The book was uploaded to Amazon.com.  Even before I publicly announced its launch the following day, dedicated fans had found it, and bought almost 50 copies.  One even submitted a review that evening!  Hooray for fans!

Dec 5 – Day 2:

  • I announced the book release on my blog, and asked my friends, fellow bloggers and fellow writers to begin publicizing it as well.  We also sent out an announcement to my mailing list.
  • Thanks to brisk initial sales to blog readers, the book jumped straight into the top 20 (i.e. on the front page) of Amazon.com’s ‘Hot New Releases’ lists in both military science fiction and space opera genres.  This was wonderful news, as it put the book before the eyes of a great many potential purchasers, who use those lists to browse for reading matter.  (This reinforces the huge advantage of having a popular blog or large social media following.  Those readers are the core of our fan base.  Their early purchases drive our books up popularity lists for our genre[s], making our work much more visible to other potential readers, who may never have heard of us before.  Effort invested in building a blog or social media following is not wasted – it’s intrinsic to our publishing success.  I spend a couple of hours every day blogging, and I don’t regret a minute of it.)

Dec 6 – Day 3:

  • A number of reviews (all 4- or 5-star) began to appear on Amazon.com.
  • We found that Facebook was ‘throttling‘ almost all release announcements concerning my new book, which was very disappointing.  As a result, I think I’ll discount Facebook in future as a primary way to get the word out about new releases.  However, blog publicity was bearing fruit.
  • The book was also available on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription library service, and by this date, page reads took off like a rocket.  I noted that initial sales were slower than I’d expected, but KU ‘paid loans’ were higher.  This tends to reinforce my earlier impression that people have fewer dollars to spend on entertainment these days, so they’re using them on the most cost-effective forms of entertainment (including reading) that they can find.  This isn’t good news for authors, who will sell less books as a result;  but, on the other hand, we’ll at least earn something from KU royalties for pages read.  “Half a loaf is better than no bread”.
  • Sponsored product links began to show up on the book’s Amazon.com page.  Sales of earlier books in the Maxwell Saga also began to pick up, as readers who’d come across my protagonist for the first time in the new book started to look for more.

Dec 7 – Day 4:

  • The book was added to my Maxwell Saga series list on Amazon.com, and to my author page there.
  • Also-boughts‘ began to appear on the book’s Amazon.com page.  I’m watching them with keen interest.  It appears that many who buy my books also buy from Castalia House, other indie authors who write here on Mad Genius Club, and from Baen.  That’s a pretty select group, if you ask me!

So far, as I mentioned earlier, sales are somewhat slower than I’d hoped, but I ascribe that to three reasons.

  1. I’ve lost a number of readers who are no longer looking for new releases from me, thanks to the long gap between my mil-SF and space opera novels.  I’m going to have to rebuild my following in those genres, and that will take time.
  2. Christmas is a bad season in which to publish, as we’ve often been warned.  I’m sure that’s having an effect on our sales.  On the other hand, I’ll take what I can get!  The financial drought has gone on too long.  I need to break it.
  3. I’ve been saying for some time that we’re not competing for consumers’ reading dollars;  we’re competing for their entertainment dollars.  They can buy entertainment in many forms, from going to the movies, to buying a DVD or video game, to going out to eat, to whatever.  We need to provide something so compelling that they choose to spend their dollars on our books, rather than something of greater interest or value to them.  Also, because economic times are hard, there are fewer entertainment dollars available, and consumers are seeking to spend them in the most cost-effective way possible.  We’re likely to see declining direct sales, and increasing membership in subscription libraries like Kindle Unlimited.  That means less money to us as authors, but at least there will be some money.  We’re going to have to adjust to that changing economic climate.

Overall, I’m satisfied with progress thus far.  I’m going to continue to publicize the book launch over the next couple of weeks (and if those of you who blog or have a social media presence could please mention it to your readers, I’ll be very grateful).  I expect initial sales to be lower than my previous book in the series, ‘Stand Against The Storm‘:  but I’ll gladly take what I can get, and build on that foundation as I strive to rebuild my fan base.

I’ve got big plans for next year, if my health remains good.  I discussed them with my readers in a blog post last week, and asked for their feedback:  and I analyzed their responses in a subsequent post.  If all goes well, I hope to produce four books next year.  Two will be independently published, and two through a publisher.  I think that sort of mixed approach will probably be important in the longer term, so that I’m not dependent on an income stream from one avenue of publication only.  I also have a short story scheduled for publication in a Baen anthology, and possibly a second in a proposed Castalia House anthology;  so if all goes well, 2017 should be a banner year for me.  Here’s hoping for good health, and for writing success!

 

44 Comments

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44 responses to ““Never launch a book in December!”

  1. Robin Munn

    Does Amazon tell you how many people read your book on KU at the same time that they tell you how much you earned that month? Or in any other way give you some numbers that you can use to calculate how much you earned when one person reads through a book on KU, as compared to when one reader purchases the same ebook at list price?

    I ask because I’m considering shelling out the $10/month for KU at some point soon, and I would like to know if the authors I’ll read by doing so will be getting more or less the same amount of money from me (assuming I finish the entire book) as they would have otherwise, or if I’ll be giving them a LOT less money via a KU read. That might make a difference in my decision.

    I do know that Amazon doesn’t do a fixed amount per page, but rather divides up the total pool of KU payouts between authors based on pageturn ratios. But if there’s any consistency month to month, I’d love to know the relative numbers between your payout for a KU read and your royalty check for a purchase, so that I can know what effect I’ll be having on authors if I do choose to go the KU route.

    • Robin, a lot depends on the sale price of the book in question. If it’s priced at, say, $1.99 for a Kindle e-book, the KU page fees will amount to almost as much as the author would have received for a sale. On the other hand, if it’s priced at, say, $4.99 for a Kindle e-book (as most of my books are), that means a KU loan will net less than half the money for me that a sale would.

      Of course, I know this before publication. I have the option to decline to enter the book into the KDP Select program (which puts it into KU as well). I’ve chosen to participate in KU because market penetration (i.e. number of eyes reading my work) is just as important to me as overall earnings. I’d rather accept less money per copy, but get my book in front of more eyes. That builds my audience for future books. (It’s also very nice that some readers who find my books on KU go on to buy copies after they’ve read them. That’s a great compliment to any author, IMHO.)

      • Price and word count are the main factors. My mil-sf books average about 100K words and come in at some 500 KENP (determined by some Amazon algorithm or another). Given that per pay payouts hover near half a cent (0.43 to .51 cents has been the typical range through 2016), that makes it between $2.15-$2.50 per full read, which is a lot less than the almost $3.50 a $4.99 sale gets.

        For all that, after a few tries going wide, I’ve put all my books back into KU. Like you say in the main article, the service represents a sub-market made up of people trying to maximize their entertainment money. I know that when times were tight for me last year, almost everything I read came through KU, just like all my movie watching happened through Netflix. When disposable income is tight, subscription services offer the most bang for the buck. On the plus side, those subscribers seem to be more willing to give indies a try, or new authors in general. And now that payouts are beginning to inch towards $200-million-a-year, it’s a pretty big sub-market.

        Borrows also affect Amazon sales rankings (which raise visibility via the Also Bought/Hot New Release/Best Seller lists). Say my book hadn’t been available on KU: even if only half the readers who borrowed my books had failed to buy them instead, my sales ranks would have been much worse, which almost certainly would have further reduced overall sales (the book wouldn’t have shown up in front of a lot of potential readers).

        So far, I haven’t regretted sticking with Select.

        • Same here. I make roughly half the sales price from a KU borrow, but joining the KU program didn’t hurt my sales. It’s tapped a slightly different market, and added money to my income.

      • Max

        If it’s priced at, say, $1.99 for a Kindle e-book, the KU page fees will amount to almost as much as the author would have received for a sale. On the other hand, if it’s priced at, say, $4.99 for a Kindle e-book (as most of my books are), that means a KU loan will net less than half the money for me that a sale would.

        It’s worth mentioning that it comes down to page count as well. A 300 page novel is only going to make 300 page-turns worth of KU money. If the book is $4.99, then the KU money is going to be less in question. But a much longer work can tip the scales in favor of KU.

        My last release was a little over 1100 pages, but sold for $7.99. Doing the math on a KU read-through, I get almost as much for a read of the book as I do for a sale. It’s only off by a little bit. Because the book is big and grand.

        So length factors into things as well.

        Note that I didn’t write a long book just to make KU money. The book just happens to be massive.

        • Yup. I have a 2,000-page 3-book omnibus edition (retailing for $7.99, paying out about $5 and change after subtracting transmission fees) that earns me $8-10 per full read. And it gets quite a few borrows, because it only counts as a single book versus the 10-book KU borrow limit. I’m going to be doing the same for my current series as soon as book four comes out.

      • I am an Amazon Prime customer which means I will be reading your Maxwell Saga on KU might be a bit before I work up to the newest novel 😉

    • Latest payouts to authors on KU have been around 0.5 cent per page. The Amazon listing will tell you the number of “Kindle Equivalent Pages” in the book. My title, The Hidden Truth has 426 KEP so I earn ~$2.13 when you download it and read it all the way through on KU. On an outright $3.99 purchase I make about $2.74 after Amazon takes its cut. Financially, it’s close to a wash. Since this is my first fiction book, I’m just glad that someone checks it out so I can begin to develop a following of folks as eager for my next release as I am for Peter’s. Also, if you really like the KU book, you can always go back and buy it outright to give the author an extra tip by way of thank you.

    • No, they do not tell you that. They only tell you how many pages were read. So you don’t know if people are reading all of it, or just the beginning. You can only guess.

      • Yeah. To guesstimate how many books I “sold” through KU, I divide pages read by the the full length of the book, making the assumption most people are reading the whole thing. It’s probably not very accurate, but it gives me a ballpark figure of total copies sold to put on my spreadsheets.

  2. Aimee Morgan

    For me, the best time to publish a new book is December. If you publish it any earlier, I will have already bought it and read it, and it’s no fun to open presents on Christmas and find nothing but “used” books. If I get it late enough in the month, I can usually delay reading it long enough to get it wrapped.

  3. Hmmm … I’ve always tried to have a new book ready to go in the October/November/December time frame because I’m doing a lot of holiday events in the latter two months, and I like to have a new book ready to go for the fans, and for Christmas-buying.

    That said, the second of two prepped for this season was delayed for a month, as the graphic artist working on the cover for the print edition fell off a hill while mountain-biking, and couldn’t complete the cover until a week or so ago. I didn’t want to go to another artist, mostly because he’s my younger brother and he keeps the same “look” for my covers.
    https://www.amazon.com/Golden-Road-Celia-Hayes-ebook/dp/B01N0641ZI/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

    • I’m planning some freebies and some new released for the after-Christmas period. In theory, there will be some first time Kindle owners looking for ebooks for the first time, and lots of Amazon Gift Cards to be spent.

  4. If December is a no-launch month (saturation) and summer is no-launch (people don’t read/vacations eat their money/school shopping and tuition), that leaves early spring and early fall.

    On the gripping hand, people get gift cards for B&N, Amazon, iTunes and so on in December, so why not release to catch people who might have a small boost in entertainment money?

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Peter.

    • I wonder if a steady set of releases overcomes some of the market ups and downs. (I know this has been periodically addressed here…) Though this account does seem to back up that steady releases are important.

  5. Best wishes for the new book. The advantage of indie is that the speed of your launch isn’t the only thing determining the success – that new book isn’t going to go away in six weeks from the shelves in the bookstore.

    I’d say get things out as soon as they are ready for public consumption – and don’t worry about what day it is.

    You can always do a price promotion in a ‘better’ month sort of as a relaunch. Or a box set.

    Or another book – and people will be reminded to get the previous ones. If you write it, they will come.

    • Very true. Unlike the traditional system, books don’t have eight weeks to make it before they are removed from the shelves and remaindered. I’ve seen books take off months or even years after their debut.

      • I’m fervently hoping mine will, especially when the whole story is out, but 167K was too big to hold back for two more sections about that long, and it is complete in itself, by design.

        Plus the lovely reviews and comments have kept me from despair. Yes, despair. It is a lot of work for me – the appreciation has been lovely, especially since my marketing efforts are a massive fail so far.

        • Every new release provides a chance to kick-start sales for the previous books. My third series helped double the sales of my other two (although in the horror novels’ case, that still didn’t amount to a heck of a lot, which is a bummer because I think they are technically my best work; but them’s the breaks).

          • I know the principles of the system – just can’t produce.

            When I finish what I’m writing, the Pride’s Children trilogy – and possibly a short story set in its future – then I may have also speeded myself up a bit. Dunno.

    • A fast launch does improve your visibility, though.

      • And you get the advantage of the ‘new’ section, if your book qualifies.

        But it’s not the kiss of death if you have more books, previous and future.

        Do you think he should have waited? You have experience.

        • I’d think the timing was reasonable. After Thanksgiving and before school’s out for Christmas . . . sorry, Winter break . . . there’s a breather where a good read could be welcome.

          Peter’s idea of a bad day probably beats most of my good days, so I’m not sure of the relevance, but the only thing that really helps my sales are multiple, close releases. After Christmas and late summer/early fall have been the best times. So far.

          • Permit yourself to be envied. I am never going to be able to do several release in a year, much less a short period.

            It is what it is.

            • This includes a lot of short stories and novellas. I try for two full sized novels a years.

              • The short stories and novellas also sell? I’m of two minds there – it takes me a fair amount of work to make a satisfactory shorter piece. Not sure it’s worth it at my production rate, as they also use up a whole idea.

                • They’re in the series, and seem to do well. I have a small but loyal fan base.

                  • ‘In the series’ is the key. If I read a particular writer, I want everything.

                    My one short story prequel is the one I want to get up. It will be available on Wattpad – where it has 66K+ ‘views’ (equivalent to over 11K people reading the whole thing) – in gratitude for the support it has received.

                    And you can read it on my blog if you click through a tiny bit.

                    But I’d like to give it the cover I want, and put it up, because it already exists.

                    It’s just the slowness, which has taken many additional hits these couple of months.

                  • mrsizer

                    I like the shorts BECAUSE they fit into the series. Short stories normally annoy me because, well, they’re short. I spend more time finding them than reading them and I’m left with “well, what’s next?”

                    If they fit into some larger context, the short read isn’t so frustrating.

                    Go Xen! But another Directorate School novel would be fine, too 😉

  6. Elliott Starr

    Can you get Audible to release your books in audio book format? I have some eye problems that make reading interesting(after about 10 minutes, I have difficulty focusing at any other distance, and I get eyestrain even with glasses. I would love to have your books in audio format.

    • That’s being addressed. Castalia House will be bringing out all my indie SF books in audio format, although I’ll retain e-book rights. They have a good narrator lined up, and the production expertise I lack, so I’m happy to let them run with that particular ball. Look for them next year.

  7. I’ve never released a book in December before. That being said, I’m releasing one next week.
    I’m looking at it as ‘after Christmas there are going to be a lot of people with time on their hands’ and figuring I’ll pick up sales then, and January. I have noticed a bit of a surge after the holidays, so I’m hoping to capitalize on that.

    And yes, the number of people moving to KU is disheartening, because it has really hurt my bottom line. I’m starting to think of pulling out of KU completely. The high fluctuation in pay per page reads is hard to deal with, and when you see the discount put on your books in all foreign countries (india is the worst) it’s a bit hard to swallow at times.

    • mrsizer

      If it makes you feel better, I KUed your two Hammer Commission books this weekend. I wouldn’t have bought them. I might buy all three after the next one – especially if there is a tempting omnibus edition – now that I know I like them.

      KU is addicting. Whether I buy something these days is dependent on two things: 1. Will I read it again? 2. Do I want it available off-line?

      I’m loving the Kurthurian Chronicles, but I highly doubt I will ever reread them, so KU it is.

      • The Kurthurian Chronicles are proof positive that spelling and grammar have no effect on sales at all. I figure the author has made close to a million dollars in royalties by now, as he seems to sell about 2K novels a -day- if I’m reading his sales numbers correctly between all of the books in that series.
        He definitely struck gold with his world, and releasing a large group of books at once (I think he did like ten in a month) also seems to have worked for him. And his novels look to run around 60K (at least the ones I’ve looked at so far) so going short over going long also helped him I think.
        I just wish he’d fix the formatting, the space between every paragraph is really annoying. I don’t know why people do that.

  8. Uncle Lar

    I’ve been working with an author on a new series she’s developing.
    We were debating when to release the first book so I sought the advice of a very savvy publishing promoter who’s observations on the business had always impressed me. I believe you just might know of whom I speak, writes here under the screen name fynbospress.
    Based on her advice we have decided to hold off release until early January. The logic being to avoid competition with the pre Christmas trad pub releases along with all the other entertainment options. Instead, we hope to catch the new Christmas Kindle owners and those who received Amazon gift cards under the tree or in their stockings.

  9. richardmcenroe

    I believe the actual advuce was ‘Never launch a book with a land war in Asia, but it got garbled.

  10. Chris Nelson

    “3.I’ve been saying for some time that we’re not competing for consumers’ reading dollars; we’re competing for their entertainment dollars. ”

    You’re not competing for my entertain dollars, you’re competing against the spouse’s hobby budget, the ammo stockpile budget and the crazy entertainment that is 2016.

    That being said, I’m hoping for some Amazon gift cards that my spouse doesn’t find out about…. LOL!

  11. celebran

    Yea!, a new book from Peter… excellent.

    A number of the new books I buy are directly related to articles on MGC mentioning those releases. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to keep tabs on authors I enjoy so the new release blurbs on Amazon as well as the few blogs I have time to watch do it for me.

  12. I’ll be making my Christmas book buys tomorrow. Thrilled to add Maxwell saga to the list.

  13. Steffen

    I’ll be looking forward to completing my Laredo war book set.

    I haven’t tried going on KU as of yet. So far, pacing myself and buying my mail order packages with no-rush shipping works out okay. I net myself $1 toward digital purchases on Amazon every time I do it. I assume that this way the author gets paid in a more timely manner than having to wait until I dig further in my to-be-read pile.

  14. ChuckC

    Don’t neglect MGC and mentions on the blogs of friends. I don’t read the blogs of every author I read the books of. There are many authors I first heard of here or at accordingtohoyt or other blogs, and many more releases — including this one. (Auto correct thinks accordingtohoyt is according to hot, which is the most accurate corruption I’ve ever seen!)

    Regarding KU, at this time I’m unlikely to try a new author unless it is a KU lend or the price is under $2 for a novel. I will pay more for an author I know. So, data on KU is distorted because it allows an increased rate of growth in fan base, more than immediate sales; this is hard to measure and analyze, like reduced price on the first book in a series. Also, if I re-read a KU series I buy it rather than borrow again, in the expectation of more re-reads; so if a series is such that I re-read it, the author gets both KU rent and a sale — assuming indie pricing. It”s not really either/or.

    I always heard January was a very slow retail month, so am surprised authors find it to be a good month.

    Regrading hopes for the future economy: For all Trump’s many failings, he has economic growth as a primary goal, and his choices reflect that, which is reason to hope.