The new year’s challenge starts afresh. Lots of opportunities present themselves as I learn from the earlier two challenges through patient analysis…
The Great Writing Audience Challenge – Week 01 Results
Instafreebie/PW: 113/441 (25.6%) 1 non-IF, 33 no-openers moved off.
Overall Total: 2804 – slight increase.
IF/PW subscribers remaining after a year: 2673/10918 (24%) Percentage incresed. Note: I keep these more to see how IF/PW retention is moving. 6% retention rate after a year.
Book Sales: See below. Analysis for all of 2019 is complete. Next sales analysis is Dec 15 (this coming week) for November sales.
Books In Progress:
- Erotika Jones (series) -> Book Four
- Growing Up Felicity (series?) -> What Their Eyes See -> Book Five
- Two Ghost’s Salvation Book Two -> Book Three
- Wolfer’s Nation -> Book Three
- The Healer Chronicles (anthology)
- Ghost Hunters Anthology 09 & 10
- New Voices Vol. 009
Courses in Progress:
- “Strangest Secret” (now in beta),
- “Get Everything You Want Out of Life”, (now in beta)
- “If You Can Count to Four…” (now in beta),
- “Completely Change Your Life in 30 Seconds” – still in alpha.
I had a goal of 50 fiction works. What I accomplished was
- 33 single fiction works: 306,110 words
- 23 fiction anthologies: 1,554,709 words
- 4 courses, 3 mini’s and one mega still in alpha.
- 4 non-fiction (3 on writing and one Neville collection)
Total: 64 books.
Some interesting views on this just below.
Note: see Goals (below) on this in our near future. we’ll also be including audiobooks in this mix, but may or may not include hardcopy books in this count.
Changes in Self-Publishing
Key point that the analysis brought up, which only supported a hint I’d gotten otherwise, that paying attention to Amazon isn’t worth my time or money to invest in it. Meaning I can throw almost all of that data out (set aside, actually, since owning several terabyte external hard drives says that backing up data is simpler than ever.) Most of the advice is for authors who have only a few books that they can fuss over while they are hobbying-out their next one. (Taking a year to produce each novel meanwhile.)
I routinely crank out more than one original fiction story per week and then another half that as collected anthologies. This coming year, I’m planning to use a similar model for courses – collecting these up into mega-courses by using the smaller courses as modules. Meaning, I should be back up to a hundred books published next year.
Year End Booksales Analysis
These are rather revealing
Because they are based on raw stats.
Any analysis has to start with raw stats and then look for comparatives in the substantive data.
We’re saying there, is that you look at unit sales to see what’s selling where. Then you look to figure out how come.
All of this is looking for commonly recurring (stuff that happened over and over) where you can see a lot of a certain title selling. And you’ll be able to see where these are selling. So you know what to improve in your marketing.
Marketing is finding an existing demand and tailoring your promotion to that. In my case, the promotion is in the title, author, and cover for these books. I haven’t spent on advertising because there’s something I don’t know about it, so invested my time into understanding and practice in how to write better – as well as polishing covers and titles.
Fiction writing is great with that, since you can hone your abilities into being able to write a lot of stuff rapidly.
What we have to study here is there are two approaches with this “organic” approach. Ruling out advertising (also called “soft-launching” your books) means that we are depending on distributors/marketplaces to do our presentations. We are relying in search engines and search engine functions to bring customers to our products via those distributors. Except on Kobo and Apple where there is actual human curation.
My biggest income source has been Lulu non-fiction. Next largest is Amazon with about 25% direct sales. Below that, they drop off rather rapidly:
|Distrib Unit Sales Percent Sales|
|D2D Pb (Ingram)||104||4.02%|
Now, these aren’t apple-to-apple comparisons. Most are aggregators or sell other materials as well. Only Kobo sells just ebooks. Streetlib and Publish Drive are aggregators. Lulu mostly results POD sales, but also has it’s own digital marketplace. Amazon print and ebooks are separated out to see their impact in sales. Also, I haven’t published all books to all aggregators. Not really worth my time to invest that way for minimal returns.
Draft2Digital started print sales this year, but is only through Ingrams right now.
Outside of Lulu’s direct sales, Ingram has over 60% of hardcopy sales (paperback and hardback) and Amazon sold just over 33%.
The major difference is probably found in a single title which has been blocked on Amazon as ebook and probably paperback as well. Only on Amazon. A false DMCA complaint. One title alone (my top-seller) is completely non-Amazon and itself is over 600 copies (about 12% of total). Meanwhile, my second-best-selling book is nearly 9% of total sales and sells almost exclusively on Amazon.
As a note, it’s worked out better to use Lulu to send books to Amazon, as KDP Print has a poor interface (worse than CreateSpace, if you can imagine) and also, that gives them digital access to my files, so they can block them easier with their self-serving acceptance policies.
Those sales I’m getting from direct paperback sales there are then legacy books from 2018 CS publishing. Publishing fiction to Lulu is far more time-consuming than D2D and with almost no sales. So I’ve dropped that effort.
You can also see that my workup above belies the touted trends in Amazon income. Amazon may have 50% of the US market, but doesn’t contribute more than a third of my own income. And not surprisingly, I get more income from each hardcopy sale than I do through most ebooks. That stems from Amazon’s “race-to-the-bottom” strategy where indies are foot-shooting themselves on that platform. Non-fiction is almost always higher on Amazon and other ebook platforms.
Of course, I had to spend hours digging through all that to get here. It was faster than last year’s analysis and more complete.
The core takeaway is that I get the bulk of my sales though paperback (and the vast majority is non-fiction) this says where I should get more income expansion by tapping and leveraging these sales. The bulk of these are not giving me email subscribers, and that is the single approach to improve.
I noted this the last two years, going into this as an experiment that I would use my recurring non-fiction sales to finance my fiction experiment. And when I saw, then confirmed that my approach with fiction wasn’t producing any viable volume of sales, I see that this is the single approach to take immediately.
The argument is that I get more personally out of writing fiction. But a hobby is a hobby. Now, it may take five years of producing 50 books per year (on average) to breakthrough this logjam. And I will probably have to start advertising on Bookbub to make that happen.
However, the simpler approach is to start treating courses as a form of published book in themselves. These have built-in email subscriptions, at least where they sign up directly. (Udemy and Skillshare – and newcomer TabletWise – do not enable email access, much like the other book outlets.) So the paperbacks (and ebooks) need to be revised as soon as possible to enable that.
In each type of book content, I have several market leaders, which usually sell more than 90 units this last year. So those will then become supplemental mini-courses.
In courses, you have your own-hosted versions, but also through Teachable/Thinkific. Satellites to these are Udemy, Skillshare, TabletWise, and Leanpub. Those all are where you put mini-courses which can give you links back to your site for email opt-in. Otherwise, they mainly give you some scattered income. This goes back to hub-and-spoke marketing. And your promotion to these subscribers forms the backbone of your non-fiction promotion.
As covered earlier, this says that when you publish non-fiction, you produce and “publish” the course first, so that you can then link to it in the backmatter, as well as your other digital and print versions. Since these exist in vertical silo’s, they are much more easily leveraged than fiction. They will tend to buy more versions.
What Makes Fiction Sales Fail – Conventional Wisdom
More and more and more, I see the mistakes I’ve made were drinking the Amazon Kool-Aid. Where I’ve dealt with people who push KDP Exclusive is where I see the biggest failures. Those authors who have gone “all in” with KDP have seen their incomes halve. With AMS ads now polluting the author spaces (both author page and book pages) that is simply another tax – and Amazon already (per Gaughran) host some 200 alternate links on any Amazon sales page. Ads run on book sites that have nothing to do with that book.
And since they are only a third (Amazon ebooks are actually just under 17% of my income, and fiction ebooks are just over 7% of my total unit sales (again, with lower royalties than non-fiction) then that is about the amount of attention I need to give to selling fiction books there. And the amount of attention I need to give to Amazon in general.
Earlier this year, I worked out that if you were going to promote books, it would be through Bookbub (subscription-based newsletters) to Kobo (the single ebook-only sales outlet). And my work in fiction will now reflect that, as I simply start publishing my new fiction books through Draft2Digital to Amazon – on a sink or swim approach.
Non-fiction are put through D2D if based on original material – not public domain. (Otherwise, the single aggregator still willing to take PD books is Streetlib.)
Now, in essence, it’s worked out best to have one aggregator take care of your publishing. While you can have hundreds of more outlets deal with your books through PublishDrive and Streetlib, if you don’t go to Apple, B&N, Amazon, and Kobo through them, then you won’t see many sales. Just a simple fact. So the extra time and care it takes to also go through these other aggregators isn’t worth it.
That starts to give us a workflow on these…
1. Publish original fiction through D2D. They’ll create print versions for you if long enough.
2. Publish public domain through Streetlib.
3. Skip fiction print versions for PD fiction unless they take off there.
1. Produce your content backwards in text, audio, video, graphics.
2. Publish your alpha course to your own site or Thinkific/Teachable. Proof this up and develop it to beta.
3. Publish ebook, print, and audio through Draft2Digital – with backmatter that promotes the course as well as the other versions.
4. Cross-publish mini-courses of these on Udemy, Skillshare, and TabletWise.
5. Polish these up as you get feedback and your skills improve.
6. Rinse/repeat for the other top-sellers in your subject area.
Like a set of courses to study all-time classic fiction: set this up as a weekly or bi-weekly paid email subscription with links for downloads sent to subscribers. You could also sell these through gumroad as a single digital download. As well, the books could be offered through Streetlib with links to the course.
Out of this, I’ve seen that my top-selling book is on Copywriting. Not too strangely, this also improves both fiction and non-fiction writing. So that is my next step. Produce this book in several modules, and also the books that come next in sales. Offer a list of the collected works in the back of each book, all in addition to their course. Build longer courses out of these mini-versions and sell them as an overall subscription.
The trick is to publish one fiction, one non-fiction each week. There is more work to building a course than a simple non-fiction short-story book, even though the amount of text is close. And that is how you build course modules as well. Then combine the modules into a flagship course. Where any module isn’t viable, you can leave it or come back and improve it later.
So that is then my approach to book production this year. Continue weekly fiction writing and also work on a course that week. 2 days for fiction, the rest for non-fiction. Simple. (Other than the single day where you do analysis like this and your emails.
That’s the gig. I won’t particularly promise at this point that I’m go into taking ads out for books. But I will be doing the content marketing gig on these. Publishing fiction and non-fiction to Wattpad/Medium respectively. And boning up on Content Marketing again, as Copyblogger gets a rebirth now that its founder has made his millions and can come back to devote his talent to his real love. (While Pulizzi is experimenting with fiction writing…)
Instafreebie/Prolific Works – Fail and Handling
Essentially, I got a small tribe of subscribers that I am winnowing down. Staying connected to the various IF/PW giveaways enables me to add a few on each week – less than 25% of who claim my books through their giveaways (which is already only 30% of total claims). And only 16% of these remain after a year. So 4% remain active – close to that 97% figure that I bandy about. Another commonality appears. About 1 out of 10,000.
Still, it’s a relatively cheap way to get potential fiction subscribers.
Acquiring Real Audience
Obviously, I need a re-study of Pulizzi’s Content Inc. That is written for non-fiction authors, and so that aligns as I’m seeing my income is more from non-fiction. The conventional wisdom for acquiring fiction subscribers is by running ads. While non-fiction is getting them by getting them to your site and having them opt-in organically.
There will also need to be a re-study of Copyblogger, now that they’ve streamlined their core staff and focus.
What is needful to both is enabling content syndication for each as a different public.
What is the Real Promotion?
Bookbub. (Forget the privacy-stealing Facebook and Google. Forget AMS – that’s just another tax on authors.) Bookbub is built on an email list. So it’s the only real method to directly get your books in front of people who really want to only buy books.
Most effective promotion:
- Guest blog posts (Wattpad, Medium, book bloggers)
- Guest interviews
Least effective promotion:
Social Media, real or virtual book tours, and just about everything else that’s recommended. (See Tim Grahl’s work on this – he has a repeating 45-minute seminar that takes his up – and as common, the last half is a sales pitch.)
- ebooks – Kobo. They only do ebooks.
- hardcopy books – Lulu
- aggregators – Draft2Digital
- courses – Thinkific, self-hosted. And promote your courses by putting mini-versions on Udemy, Skillshare, – and – TabletWise. These then should send you a little income and enable readers to access a (landing) page that offers the main course and it’s textbooks.
A Short Amazon Summary
- Use a via (aggregator) to get your books into KDP – not worth personal your time. Most advice in this area is for people who want to write novels, and take at least six months to get their next book ready, if not years. (Not like us people with over a thousand books in our backbench – and adding more each week.) Best aggregators are Draft2Digital, Lulu, Streetlib.
- Without running ads, your Amazon book disappears. AMS is just another tax.
- Go wide and ignore their idiosyncrasies. Focus on commonalities all other outlets use. (I.e. ignore advice about getting reviews. Instead, tell people to leave recommendations on Bookbub.)
- Ignore all advice about fiction publishing there. Real income comes from non-fiction, where the silos are vertical and there is much less competition, but lots of cross-sales in other book versions.
- Amazon and all outlets are best used as subscriber pools you can go fishing in.
- Amazon doesn’t own any course providers – that’s where your real income is. So put your ebooks out there so that you can get course subscribers and leverage your real income.
How Writing Fiction Model Has Changed
I first started out simply writing with headlights on – trusting the story to tell me where it’s headed. And I still do this quite a bit. But while I sorted out building courses last fall, I still worked with my fiction stories and wrote down the inspirations I received – from my own ideation and my First Reader as well.
Still, these aren’t plots. But you do work out a lot of the story arc and some interesting details. It’s also given me more stories that are there to be written as I sort out continuity issues. A lot of these have come from writing backstories for various characters.
And I do find that the core skills I’ve learned are valid as I’ve tested them. Some greater or lesser amount of these I owe to taking DW Smith courses. While I quit because of finding myself routinely having to winnow his opinions out from actual useful principles, I am sorely tempted to invest in one of his challenges (writing a short story every week) and so earn a lifetime access to all his other courses. Since I’m doing that anyway, I could leverage that. Pay $600 and get access to some $5200 worth of 120+ courses and lectures. Very tempting, even if I’m prepared to throw 90% of it out.
DW Smith, like most authors-turned-professors, prizes his own opinion very highly. But his heart is in the right place. And is worth studying for his business model example (far more profitable than reading his fiction.)
Upcoming Lessons Learned
I’ll make some time in the next few months to take these 52 posts and extract what I discovered. Edit these into a single book and publish.
This Year’s Goals:
- Fiction books published – one per week.
- Courses published – one every other week – with updating those book series with backmatter and cover/metadata upgrades.
- Weekly curation – three articles/installments per week to both Wattpad and Medium.
- Podcasts – building a 5-day, 50-week set of Nightingale lectures and upgrading my existing recurring podcasts. Then work up new non-fiction collections by theme out of these.
- Other books – audiobooks will come into view for non-fiction. So figure that these will be present for every course production. If D2D does the paperback it won’t be counted – but where I need to go to Lulu for a hardcopy book, it should be.
- Figure something like at least a hundred new books (not updates) will be produced this year.
Last week’s to-do’s:
- This analysis & emails – Yup
- Monthly analysis of Nov booksales – Yup
- New fiction book written and published. – Yup
- Copywriting research the rest of the week. – Yup
- In the squeaks of time, continue notes for next year’s challenge. – Yup
This week’s to-do’s:
- This analysis & emails –
- New fiction book written and published. –
- Re-queue podcasts. –
- Define and start next year’s challenge. –
- New course added in spare time. –
Also published on Medium.