Caught you, didn’t I? You’ve been looking at your numbers again. You’ve been reading those doom-and-gloom articles about the fact that online sales are down for indie writers. You’ve read those silly year-end blogs by people who have not a clue about how business works who predict that Amazon with either shut down its Kindle Direct Program or will stop offering 70% to everyone who participates unless they join Select.
You worry that your year-end windfall didn’t happen. You’re concerned that your sales went down in the fall. You believe that the wonderful new world of publishing has failed, and it’s over, and you’ll never ever ever ever make any money at writing.
Oh, Ye of Little Faith.
Stop obessing now.
Here’s how you handle your year-end numbers. Write down your sales figures and your writing income for 2012. You’ll need that for tax purposes anyway. Store a copy in your 2013 calendar so at this point next year, you can compare your 2012 numbers with your 2013 numbers.
If you have 2011 numbers, compare them now.
If your numbers went up, then you’re on the right path. If they went down, ask yourself why. Don’t blame Amazon or Barnes & Noble or Kobo. Take a hard look at your product and see how it looks in the modern market. Examine your expectations. Did you expect to make a fortune? Did you believe you could promote your way to success? Did you publish anything new in 2012? (See my post “Writing Like It’s 2009” to see if you’re making any of those mistakes.)
Now, here are the important numbers, the ones you probably never thought to look at.
How much did you write in 2012? How many new words did you finish? How many books/novels/short stories did you complete? How many did you publish?
How many hours per week did you devote to writing? And by writing, I mean actual new words on the page. Not rewriting. Not research. Not promoting your work in social media. Not publishing. Writing.
How much time did you spend writing?
Compare that time to how many hours you spent publishing, how many hours you spent promoting existing work, how many hours you spent rewriting old material, and how many hours you spent researching.
If those numbers are greater than the amount of time you spent writing, then your business need restructuring.
You are the content provider in your business. Without content, without product, your business will wither away and die. No one’s business thrives without new product, and if you’re not producing it, then you are failing.
Yes, you need to publish that product somehow, but you cannot spend more time publishing than you do writing, or your business will grind to a halt. You need to balance what you do, with writing new words taking the top priority.
New words themselves aren’t good enough. Those new words have to add up to a finished short story, book, or novel. So count your new words, yes, but count your new finished product as well.
Remember, you can always hire a flat fee service to publish your work if you’re an indie writer. Go somewhere like Lucky Bat Books, which offers a menu service. If you don’t want to make your own covers, hire a cover designer through Lucky Bat or some other company for a flat fee. If you need a copy editor, go there and hire one someone else has already vetted.
Yes, I know, that costs money. Everything of value costs money. If you don’t have the money now, figure out how to get that money. Skip the latte at lunch. Put that $2 away every single day. Not only will your pocketbook thank you, so will your butt. That $2 adds up. You’ll have $60 by the end of the month, and $120 by the end of two. By the end of three months, you’ll probably have enough pay for some of those services you need—without you having to do the work, and without giving up your writing time.
Yes, I know, that means you won’t publish stuff as fast as you want, but we’re not in a race here. Take the time. Focus on the writing. Move forward at whatever pace your writing and your pocketbook take you.
Before we leave the sales figures and income entirely, realize this: the only person you’re in competition with is yourself. If your writing didn’t earn as much as last year, ask yourself why not.
When you ask yourself that question, remember the slow sales, the downturn in sales, are not Amazon’s fault, not the fault of the other e-tailers. Some people’s sales went up. Why did theirs improve and yours didn’t? Take responsibility for your work, for all of your work.
Realize that you will make mistakes.
Learn from them.
Remember that publishing—whether traditional or indie—has seasons. It’s also subject to the whims of the culture. Did anyone who has been complaining about declining sales numbers in the U.S. last fall think about the fact that there was an election? Traditional publishers did, and scattered their releases to avoid it. Traditional publishers have decades of data, and they know that when something major happens, it has an impact on book sales.
Did anyone who has been complaining about declining book sales numbers in the U.K. over the summer consider the impact of the London Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee? Traditional U.K. publishers did, and planned for the decline at that time. I’ll wager you didn’t.
Yes, I’m saying that you should take responsibility for your declining book sales—if, indeed, you had declining book sales—but I’m also saying that you should recognize that book sales do follow a pattern.
Sales of traditional books go up in the fall as the big bestsellers have major releases for the holiday season. Note that those releases usually come in October and November, and rarely compete with each other. Ask yourself why sometime. (This year, the bulk of the big sellers came out in late September and early October to avoid…you guessed it…the election.)
Book buyers have limited budgets, so if they’re buying Grisham and Koontz, they’re not buying your brand new indie book. They know your book will be around in six months. So will the Koontz and Grisham, but these savvy readers have bought those bestsellers on release for years, and they’ve only just started with your books. You can’t compete yet. Recognize that.
When I tell you to evaluate your book sale numbers, do it annually. If your sales are down from 2011, then you have a problem because book sales went up in 2012—and that includes e-book sales. Those sales didn’t go up as much as predicted, but they still rose.
However, they rose across the board—on all e-book platforms. So if you’re not on all platforms, then that alone may have had an impact on your sales.
You need to examine your annual sales with a clear eye—and not take the sales figures personally. You need to see if what happened to your sales is the fault of your business model or if it can be explained away by something simple.
If you released five books in 2011 and no books in 2012, then your sales probably went down. That’s your fault.
If you released five books in 2012, and five books in 2011, and your sales still went down, then you have to do some in-depth analysis. How are your covers? How are your blurbs? What markets are you in? Did your five books come out under the same name or different names? Did they all come out in December?
If your sales grew, examine by how much. If it’s just slight, then that might reflect the growth in readers for all platforms. Accept the growth, and do your best to add to it in 2013.
Resolve to stop watching the sales figures in 2013. You won’t be able to tell from month to month how the year is going.
Resolve to focus on new words instead of promotion.
Resolve to finish new books/stories/novels.
Resolve to publish them.
Resolve to work on your writing (new words) more than you work on publishing, promoting, researching and rewriting.
Resolve to analyze your income and sales figures one year from today.
Resolve to do everything you can (new writing, publishing new product) to add to that income and sales figures without taking time away from writing.
Resolve to work smarter in 2013.
Your biggest limitation is time. Make sure you’re using your time to the best possible effect in 2013.
Remember that you’re in charge of producing product for your business, so start producing.
Stop worrying about things you can’t change (like what’s happening with Amazon’s market share) and start worrying about things you can change (like the number of new words you can produce in a week).
Do what all business owners do at the end of their fiscal year. Analyze that year honestly and figure out how to improve in the upcoming year. Chalk up some things to life: If you went through Hurricane Sandy and your production went down, that’s not your fault.
Chalk up other things to learning: If you just started as a writer/publisher, then you had a learning curve. Theoretically, you’ve learned this stuff now, so expect to save some time here.
Stop writing 200-word comments on other people’s blogs. Examine how many words you waste in e-mails, especially on list serves. Stop spending all day on Twitter/Facebook. Limit your internet time. Don’t read anyone else’s words until you’ve finished yours for the day.
Make some simple changes, the kinds of changes you can control.
Then move forward.
You won’t succeed every week. But you’ll succeed more times than not.
Every time you want to check the sales figures, look at your numbers for 2012 and remember your promise to yourself. You’re not going to look until the end of 2013.
Then get back to writing.
And—here’s the real key—have fun. Writing should be fun. Finishing projects should be a joy.
Take control of your writing business.
Thanks to everyone who has supported my business blog in 2012. I greatly value your input, whether it’s in sending links or pointing out things in e-mail or if it’s through donations.
The donations do keep the blog alive since it needs to be self-sustaining. I appreciate anything you can do.
If you’ve received anything of value from this blog in 2012, please do leave a tip on the way out.
And…since I haven’t said it yet…have a great new year.
“The Business Rusch: Year-End Numbers” copyright 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.