Second Attempt

Okay, I’ll admit it. This is my second attempt at a post this morning. I had one going about fan fiction and inspiration but trashed it. I just wasn’t feeling it. Which is ironic since I was writing about inspiration. Oh well. . . let’s talk a bit about the business of writing instead because that is where my brain is.

As you know if you’ve been following the blog for long, I went wide with my books this past summer. It wasn’t a decision I made lightly. But after watching the payouts per page reads decline for Kindle Unlimited reads and starting to feel more than a touch uncomfortable having all my eggs in a single basket, I made the leap. It took time and, honestly, it put my publishing schedule behind some. But, I did it and my books were finally available not only at Amazon but also BN, Kobo, Apple, Scribd as well as to libraries, etc.

Better than that, it quickly became clear that by expanding my market, I wasn’t going to miss the KU income. That has held true so far, thankfully. Amazon is still the majority of my income, but that margin is narrowing as the other storefronts gain traction.

Before word came out last week that Draft2Digital was acquiring Smashwords, I made the decision to try Smashwords again. It wasn’t an easy decision. I remembered the issues with the meatgrinder. I remembered slow payouts and a dashboard that sucked–and that’s putting it mildly. But if I’m going to do this wide this properly, then I need to utilize all the tools at my disposal and SW has outlets/partners Draft2Digital doesn’t. New markets means new potential readers.

To date, I’ve put up the Honor & Duty series, Fire Striker and a couple of other books. Over the next few weeks, I’ll add the rest of my catalog.

After a couple of weeks, I can come to a couple of tentative conclusions. The first, based on sales, is I did the right thing by making this decision. Second, using their coupons works. Third, the interface still sucks, just not as much. Fourth, why or why are their cover image requirements different?

Yes, you read that right. You will have to upload a different aspect ratio of your cover than you do to Amazon or D2D. And that can mean so tweaking of your book cover to make sure it doesn’t look wonky on their catalog pages. That’s why it is taking me a bit longer to upload the rest of my catalog.

Fortunately, you are no longer required to rely on the meatgrinder to upload and convert your book. You can upload your own ePub–which is what I do. So at least one headache is gone. Now all I have to remember is not to duplicate markets between D2D and SW. This will be something that goes away as the two sites eventually merge into one.

So let’s talk numbers, at least percentages. We are halfway through this month. To date, Amazon accounts for approximately 55% of my sales. Draft2Digital accounts for 25% and Smashwords the remaining 20%. It is going to be interesting to see how these numbers hold up over the next few months, especially since there are advertising potentials with both D2D and SW that I don’t have with Amazon.

Here’s a hint. Smashwords has a coupon option where you can discount or give a title away for free that you don’t get with Amazon. You can make the coupon available to anyone or you can code it so you can give it away to specific people. So that makes marketing a lot easier. Send out a newsletter, offer a coupon to your subscribers and run with it.

But, as with everything, it will take time to see how it shakes out.

Now, helping me track all this is a site called ScribeCount. ScribeCount is a subscription service, free until you sell a certain amount in a month, that you link your sales outlets to. It pulls the data together and spits it back out at you by storefront, title, country, format, etc. There is no new information there but it saves time by doing all the correlating for you. I highly recommend it for anyone going wide.

Finally, I’m going to repeat some advice you’ll see posted in any of the writers’ groups online: you need to write. Optimally, you should be putting out a new title every two to three months. Now, before you throw your hands up in the air and start cursing me, that doesn’t mean full-length novels. Yes, some folks can do that. I’m trying to.

What it means is put out a short story. Put out a novella. It might mean taking time and writing two or three novels or novellas and then doing quick releases on them to build traction for the series. Once you get that traction, you can slow–some. The question each of us has to answer is how to do this best. You might do it by taking time as I suggested and writing several titles in the same series and then doing quick releases. It might be by releasing a short story or two between novels. Or you might find a co-author to help with the writing, etc. That’s up to you.

And always remember, quantity–or at least consistency in release dates–is good but quality is still what your readers want.

Most of all, don’t be afraid to try something new. If you’ve been in KU for years and you’re seeing your income plateau or even drop on your page reads, take a hard look at how those reads equate into book sales. In other words, how “pages” are they saying have been read? Now, how many “books” does that compute out to? Is it enough to keep you in KU or is this the time to maybe take a series, put some push into it, maybe recover or rebrand it, and release it wide?

I’m not saying take everything wide at once. I’m not even saying you have to take anything wide. I am saying there are alternatives out there and it is easy to get used to doing things one way without actually taking a hard look at the bottom line. Take page reads and money estimated to be earned and then compare that with how much you’d make if an equivalent number of e-books were sold. Are you actually losing money? (And, yes, I know there are a lot of authors making more from KU than actual sales. I was that way before going wide. Now, my sales on Amazon are up and then there are my sales on the other platforms. I have had one month where my sales sucked since going wide. That month, almost every author I know said the same thing thing about their sales. So I’m counting it as an anomaly.)

Do what is best for you. But be honest and take a hard look at what you are doing and ask the hard questions. Don’t be afraid to make changes. After all, nothing is written in stone and you can go back to how you were doing things if it doesn’t work out.

24 thoughts on “Second Attempt

  1. ScribeCount is a subscription service, free until you sell a certain amount in a month, that you link your sales outlets to. It pulls the data together and spits it back out at you by storefront, title, country, format, etc. There is no new information there but it saves time by doing all the correlating for you. I highly recommend it for anyone going wide.

    That is brilliant, honestly.

    I mean, just think about it–
    Get folks use to using something you made for yourself, right? Then turn that work (and the cost, because sites do cost, and upkeep and all) into a really useful service for folks that have the same dream of Making A Living.

    It’s a wonderful blend of respecting the customer (see our quality, this low-cost-to-us sample will help you get an idea of how to sell more) with return on investment (it doesn’t stay free, once it is working you pay for it).

    1. Exactly. It is worth it, to me, for the time it saves me having to try to pull the information together in a format that is easy to use and visual–yeah, I like visuals. Instead of looking at multiple webpages or spreadsheets to find the information, and take hours to pull it all together, I go to one site, click update and it is promulgated in minutes for me. It is a win-win, imo.

    1. It is only Amazon, judging by their landing page. The pricing for the two is slightly different as well. ScribeCount is free until you earn $1k a month. It costs $15/mo if you earn between $1001 and $2000. After that, it is $20/mo. Or you can buy a yearly subscription which is on sale right now for $185. Looks like Book Report is $19/mo once you reach that $1k threshold.

  2. What happens if you aren’t at the one per two to three months level? Just takes longer for things to gain traction, or is it more like the YouTube burned out subs problem?

    Wondering how the dynamics work when one is starting out and still writing on the slower side?

    1. Honestly, you have to work harder on the promo if you are only putting out one or two things a year. With the number of e-books being released each month, it is too easy to get lost in the crowd. That is especially true for new authors. There are a number of readers now who won’t start a series, especially one by a new author, unless it is finished or substantially so. They have been burned too many times by getting caught up in a series only to have it never conclude.

      That’s why it is important when you start out to have something already in the hopper before you pull the plug on book 1. As I said earlier, that can be a short story or novella. Honestly, these very well may be loss leaders, there not to make you money but to keep readers’ interest until the next book comes out. So, yes, they will make you money, but in the long term and not necessarily in the short term.

      Another things some authors do, especially newbies–and this is being recommended by a number of well-known and successful indie authors–is to have the entire series (or at least three or four books) ready to go before you release book one. That way you can advertise the next in series, have an active link if you are doing pre-orders and have release dates ready to go.

      1. Interesting. I wonder if one solution is to break up larger story arcs into novela sized chunks and have definite arcs? Sort of a return to a more serialized form?

        I’m also wondering if this is something that’s actually in flux at the moment? I’ve heard elsewhere that novels are one’s bread and butter, and that even very prolific short stories won’t really pay the bills, yet it also looks like ebook publishing may be heading towards a short, rapid update from instead.

        Going to have to keep an eye on how the markets develop. I’m probably about two years from writing stuff that I’m trying to get paid for; currently practicing story building in fanfic work, and wanted to finish that arc before setting up the framework to start trying to publish my own IP.

        1. You are getting the two confused. But let me try to address several things you just brought up. First, serialized fiction. This is what the new Amazon Vella program is. It works for some but not for others. The fact that, last I heard, it had not yet been opened to non-US markets makes me wonder if Amazon is going to stick with it.

          Now, as for writing and releasing shorter “installments”, you have to be careful with that as well. Years ago, people did this with Kindle releases, calling them episodes. It fit the quick release schedule but it wasn’t–on the whole–something most readers liked because they want a whole story. They don’t want to pay for chapters or scenes. After a bit, they start realizing they are paying more for what eventually equals a book this way. That’s a good way to piss off your readers.

          As for writing shorter “books” or novellas that expand on an overall arc, okay. But keep in mind readers still want a fully developed story, most absolutely abhor a cliffhanger and you are still stuck with the same concern that got us started on this in the first place. If you are a new author, they aren’t going to buy it (at least a lot won’t) until the series is finished or you have at least shown you have a track record they can trust.

          Honestly, I’m afraid you are trying to see hurdles that aren’t there right now. You need to focus on writing the story as it needs to be written to be its best form. You need to have at least the second book planned out in your head and be able to pimp it some in the first book when you publish it. Even if it isn’t written, you need to let the reader know it is “being written” and what the publication date will be. But, to be honest, in this day and age of indie publishing, I’d have that second book at least drafted out so you can give a blurb and move quickly with it. Yes, it might mean postponing the first book for a bit, but here’s the thing. You need to look at it as a business. What best suits your business plan and optimizes your profit?

          Now, as an aside, I know you’ve mentioned on several posts now that you are working on fanfic to hone your craft. That’s fine. But I do have a concern. A lot of folks never get out of fanfic writing because they continue trying to perfect the craft within the confines and universe/rules of that particular “world”. My advice is not to stop what you are doing but to start something of your own. Get with a crit group for the support and see how what you have been doing in fanfic translates into your own world.

          1. Point. I do have a hard stop on the fanfic, so don’t plan on getting stuck there. Just want to finish this character arc and ID all the structural defects I’d built into it for fixing in the things that come after.

            I suppose my real problem is I’m tied up with some rather boring stuff for the next several hours, and I’ve got story parts that are bugging me, but won’t be able to assemble any of them until after the other thing is over for the day…

            Laziness is definitely a vice of mine. Need to fix that…

        1. The same considerations apply. You still have to write a great book, do your promo and advertising and make sure you get new material out there to keep your name in the readers’ minds.

    2. Back in the dark ages, that being 2012-13, when I started releasing stuff, slow release meant very slow sales. It wasn’t until book five of the series (A Cat Among Dragons) that things picked up, in part because readers could see that I wasn’t a “one shot” writer. So that took two years or so, at the rate I was releasing books. The advance then was one per quarter at most, so you didn’t eat your own sales.* Now? Things are different. When I don’t have a series release every four months or so, or even a non-series release, sales dip.**

      *A hold-over from legacy publishers, then then Big Eight.
      **Except for my back-list, which is seeing steadily growing sales. People come for the Familiars and Merchant, and sample the earlier stuff. But back-list is a post for a different day.

      1. So does it require five in a series, or just at least five books? Or is the market for singletons not really there anymore?

        It sort of makes sense people would be looking for serials now. Known quantity and people who read now read fast. Some of the ideas I’ve got work for series, but some of them are definitely better off as singletons.

        1. There is no right answer. Years ago, Kris Rusch said you started to see a good spike in sales once you had 10 novels out. That is still what I’m seeing with a lot of authors. But there are a lot of factors that go into how quickly you build traction and whether or not you can maintain it. Yes, publishing regularly and on schedule helps. More importantly is making sure you are putting out a book folks want to read. Marketing and advertising comes into play as well. So does when you release a book and how much you charge for it. My second piece of advice goes back to what I said earlier. Don’t worry so much about how often you should publish and how long the piece should be. Finish something first. None of this matters one whit until you get that first book finished.

        2. You can do singleton books, but people seem to like books “in the universe” so to speak. They like familiar characters even if you switch to a new main character. If you keep to familiar rules of magic or tech, similar tone, they seem to feel at home. I try to have solid, satisfactory conclusions for each book, and over arching problems that get solved in two or three books at the most. I’ve tried spinning off books and calling them a different “series” mainly because, well, “Book fifty-six in the Wine of the Gods Universe” looks a bit intimidating to the new reader.

          Take a look at your ideas, and see if they’ll work in one universe, even if the connection to the others is a bit tenuous.

  3. As a reader I’ll miss seeing things in KU but I fully understand the issues with Amazon and making a profit on your books.

    I’m fiddling my budget to allow me to buy a few books a month and I’ll have to explore options other than Amazon for buying and Kindle for reading them. Any tips on good choices would be welcome.

    1. Keep an eye out because I will be issuing more coupons in the future. Probably a quarter to six months after a book comes out, or before the next book in the series comes out. The coupons will be on Smashwords, at least right now, but you would be able to download an ePub without DRM and convert to whatever format you want. I know other writers are doing the same thing. I will always be grateful to Amazon for opening the market up to indies the way they did. But I’m old enough that I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket any more.

      Or, when I get ready to release a book, tag me here or email me, and I’ll send you a review copy. All I’ll ask in return is a review on your preferred storefront. You would have to note you got the book as a review copy.

  4. *quietly takes notes in a corner* Well… maybe not so quietly.

    I know my current plan is to put out the current things as I get them done, muddle through until I hit enough books for read-through to start happening. (According to Rusch, whom you cited, 10, I’ve heard 20 from Smith for where things really start hitting.) My natural bent is to trilogies it seems, so I may play with some of that over time. At least with trilogies there’s less of a long series dragging down and grinding to a halt. (Doing a little bit of a sanity check with this.) I figure I should use my natural bents as much as possible and find the best way to market what I do rather than try to force it and go SPLAT spectacularly.

    1. The number for “write this many and Gold Mine!!!” seems to be changing with time. It used to be five, now ten, perhaps as many as twenty, or as few as three. I do know that every time I get to the magic number, it changes. *rueful kitty grin*

      1. Honestly, I’m not hoping for the gold mine effect. I’m just hoping for ‘the bookstore isn’t empty so I should look around’ effect, personally. Figure it’s a more manageable target for a newbie.

  5. Amanda, I am glad you have branched out from Amazon. I avoid buying books on Amazon. I do not use the monthly subscription. I already have your new Fire Striker, am looking forward to the next book (write faster, darn it, kidding, kind of). Plus the Nocturnal Live Series. Looking forward to others as my book budget allows. I prefer B&N just because most the sites I started on were eventually bought and merged into B&N. The 5% auto discount because I’m using the B&N Visa/Mastercard helps too.

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