The Business Rusch: Year-End Numbers

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 obsessing.

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.

Write more.

Enjoy.

Repeat.

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.

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“The Business Rusch: Year-End Numbers” copyright 2013 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

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78 Comments

  1. I’m so glad you write just what I need to hear, right about the time I need to hear it.

    You wrote about life rolls a couple of months after my mom passed – so I forgave myself for not being able to write for awhile. Now I might be back on a track, guilt free.

    2012 was a strange year – not just for me. I hope 2013 is better in every way.

    Happy New Year, to you, Dean and everyone at WGM.

    Reply
    • I’m glad to help in what small way I can, Kat. I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. Losing a parent is earth-shaking, and always hard. I’m glad you recognize it for the life roll it is. I hope 2013 is better for you as well!

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  2. “Don’t read anyone else’s words until you’ve finished yours for the day.”

    Eeks!

    You’ve said you manage by going to the computer without the Internet connection; others of us block the tubes with programs like Freedom. The Internet has, for all practical purposes, an INFINITE amount of junk to read – and it can all wait.

    The only thing I missed – for THREE DAYS! – by staying away from the web was the killing of Bin Laden – and I later decided I didn’t need to know right away.

    I would like to add to your advice: Don’t write on your blog until your FICTION for the day is written. Even if you don’t actually post stuff you write, writing it sucks up ‘the energy that cannot be replaced.’

    I’m posting this advice to myself. Everyone else can do what they always do – and live with the consequences. I’ve recently started a blog – and find writing to it rather soothing, especially when I have to work a bit harder to create those new words of fiction you talk about. Self-sabotage – recognized and marked for execution.

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    • Good advice, Abe. And yeah, staying away is hard in the beginning, but it becomes habit. I read news on my iPad at lunch, but I haven’t inputted my e-mail data into the iPad’s program. I can’t log into my e-mail if I wanted to. I have to climb three flights of stairs for that. Not doing it until I’m on specific e-mail breaks. Ah, the games we play with ourselves. :-) Thanks for the comment.

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  3. I wish you a great new year too, Kris. On january, 1, I shared my 2012 numbers on my blog : http://emmanuelguillot.over-blog.com/article-2012-autant-d-ebooks-vendus-que-de-livres-papier-113960334.html

    One of the first numbers I shared was the words written. Not a great number, but improving.

    Regarding sales, I said something similar to you : “I believe it’s important watching yearly numbers and not monthly numbers.”

    I didn’t release a single thing in 2012, yet my ebooks figures were up (and I could have maintained my sales on paper book, but it would have been to the prejudice of writing). But yes, I can confirm ebook sales are down for the last months.

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your thoughts. Great post.

    Reply
    • Congrats on the annual sales being up, Alan, despite the fact you don’t have anything new in 2012. Here’s hoping that 2013 will improve on that front. I’m off to check out your link now… :-)

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  4. I never did understand those who obsessed over their sales numbers. I know how my brain works, and I know that if I looked on a daily basis, I would get depressed.

    So I only look once or twice a year. My brain can handle that much better. :-)

    Last year was not a good year for me – I did publish new stuff, under my romance pen name. Two novelettes.

    I had finished the 1st in a new fantasy series, but I wasn’t happy with it, so I refused to publish it. Liked the idea, but I’m revamping it. I like it much better now.

    Altho I can point to Hurricane Sandy as something that did a number on my writing (no power for 10 days), something personal happened during that time…and it’s ongoing, but I’m getting thru. (I’m also making a lot of headway on that novel – funny what unemployment can do to a person. ;-))

    I think what’s going to help me this year, despite the ongoing life rolls, is that I finally have a production schedule (up to April, but I’ll revisit it from time to time & update it).

    I simply must get more product out there. That’s the bottom line.

    Now, back to the fun! :-)

    Reply
    • Sounds like you know what’s best for you, Nancy. That’s great. And I’m glad you’re focusing on production. :-) Sorry to hear about the tough year. :-(

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  5. Wonderful post as usual! I am embarking on publishing this year so I will be learning as I go here. I’m still stewing over formatting but I’m learning and I have editing to figure out. I’ve done my edits but I need that second set of eyes so that will be the first thing I will be looking into. It’s scary but exciting and I’m trying not to rush into it.
    Happy writing to everyone this year!

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  6. Hi Kris,

    I won’t be surprised if you don’t remember (I wouldn’t if I were you) but I promised to update you at some point on my 2012 “big” goal.

    I started self-publishing in February and at that time set the goal of writing 50 “things”. I counted an e-publication and a printed publication of the same story or book as two things, since each had their own separate “thing-making” process.

    Anyway, I fell spectacularly short of the goal. I published 24 things as of New Year’s Day. However, I wrote and finished an additional number of potential things in the process: 2 novels (i.e. 4 potential things), 6 longer short stories (8 potential things, as they are designed to be collected in an additional anthology), a divided novella of 3 self-contained serial stories (5 potential things).

    Even if those 17 potential things had made it to publication, I still would have fallen short of the goal of 50.

    I’m of course not counting the potential things currently in progress (novel, some shorts, etc.)

    Anyway, the only thing of interest is “Why did I fall short, and why is there such a back log of “things” to be finalized?”

    The answer to both questions is the same: an unplanned improvement in quality and a learning curve to achieve it.

    My business model is one of limitation:

    1. Keep cash expenses per thing to a minimum (currently: below $50.) (Including cover, proofing, distribution, printing)
    2. Make appropriate covers.
    3. Spend zero time on marketing.
    4. Limit all time to content production and publishing.
    5. Make sure a reader can get anything I’ve published anywhere with the minimum possible hassle.

    What threw off my goal for a production schedule of 50 things was #2. What was appropriate in February was very easy: distort a public domain photo and encase it in solid banners and put the title on the bottom and my name at the top and go.

    But I eventually realized that while those covers were legible, they weren’t appropriate. I left them as they were (and certainly, they sold at some level, so I wasn’t going to fiddle with it) but committed to figuring out how to get the cheapest, best graphic designer on staff: so I outsourced that duty to myself.

    So better covers took production time.

    Also, I didn’t anticipate the difficulty after my first short print book was published: the second print one was a bigger anthology, and getting that sucker ready for print was a total bear, whereas the first had been relatively easy.

    So the learning curve on covers and prepping books for print is longer (not steeper, really, just longer) than I anticipated. Thus the backlog.

    Also, I’m doing more novels than I had originally anticipated. Writing a good one is not as difficult or slow as writing an equal amount (page wise) of good short stories – and that was not anticipated either.

    None of it really matters because out of all of the things I’ve done (my book with ghost stories from the Titanic has gotten quite a bit more attention, for example from descendants of Titanic survivors and more sales than I would have ever imagined), I don’t really feel like that I had begun to write well until what would be my 40th (or so) “thing.”

    Summary:

    1 – Covers are difficult but worth it for me.
    2 – Novels slow down “thing” production, but are faster to write than an equal distance in short stories.
    3 – Sales happen in the dark. I plan to leave the light off.
    4 – If I hadn’t have blown my goal (by making a lower one), I wouldn’t have produced as much.
    5 – Every “thing” is a new experiment – they can’t “fail” because they teach something every time as long as I know the question I want each to answer.

    Reply
    • Great analysis, Paul. Sounds like you had quite a successful year, when you really look at it.

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  7. Makes perfect sense to me. Have a happy new year!

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  8. Reading this post, I thought how easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day numbers. “Oh, I didn’t write that much today.” “Oh, no books sold today.”

    Over the course of 2012, sales edged up. My sales doubled through my Smashwords channels, and that’s before the December reports are in. No numbers worth bragging about, but up is better than down.

    I wrote about half a dozen short stories, two or three novellas, and one novel (and just finished another today, so two novels, actually). I have one novel project to start 2013 with, and another I can outline now and work on after that first novel is written.

    Thanks for the reminder that we should write and publish, and let everything else distract us as little as possible.

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  9. I really needed to see this. I used to check my sales 1-2 times a month because I was barely selling a copy every other month. Just today I checked all three retailers, and got depressed over another 0 week.

    I wanted to start marketing. I even considered giving up…but you’ve made me rethink things. I’ve only sold 16 books in my first year. 16 more than in my 5yrs trying to get trade published, but nothing like the stories you hear about.

    Maybe I need much more practise than I thought. I had crappy covers for the first 6 months. My blurbs also got a makeover. I only had 5 titles for most of the year. The retailers didn’t update the changes, even after I told Smashwords. Some books are still under the wrong name 5 months later…

    That is all frustrating. What upsets me the most was the amount of time I wasted watching the Olympics, tennis, Paralympics, tennis, etc. Then I wasted time on gossip blogs – the hate on those sites isn’t healthy – and publishing blogs with fearmongers going on about nonsense like Amazon being evil because free doesn’t count any more.

    I should’ve done more, and this year I will.

    2013 sales WILL be better. If I can’t beat 16 sales, I’ve got big problems. It’s just harder to avoid Smashwords/Kobo numbers because they’re so in your face.

    That’s my first 200-word comment for the year. One more for your husband and I’m done this year. Thanks for listening.

    Reply
    • We’ve been having a lot of trouble with Smashwords updating the changes. Plus the material that goes through Smashwords to Kobo at least is a mess.(Covers missing, blurbs impossible to read) We went direct with Kobo at the end of the year, and are going to do so from now on. In fact, our resolution for 2013 is direct when possible, Smashwords only when it’s not possible.

      I wish Smashwords would improve their service in a variety of ways. The one that worries me the most, honestly, is their accounting system. I don’t like the quarterly payout, which is another reason to go direct to Kobo, iBooks, and other places. Your sales might improve if you go direct.

      Good luck with all of it!

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      • I removed my books from the retailers via the Smashwords Channel Manager. Then opted back in. The covers were updated on most, but the blurbs and name stayed the same. Of course, I haven’t sold on those sites, so I had no ranking or readers to lose in the 2-4 weeks the books were down.

        “In fact, our resolution for 2013 is direct when possible, Smashwords only when it’s not possible.”

        That’s my aim too. I moved my books to Kobo last year and the process was nice. I was a bit worried by the horror stories when the service first appeared.

        If I could afford an Apple computer and was American (for Barnes and Noble), I’d already be direct. I don’t want a middle man unless absolutely necessary. It’s not much hassle going direct. Totally worth keeping 20% lost on both websites via Smashwords.

        Thanks! You don’t need a good luck from me, but I hope your success reaches a new high. It will. You deserve it for helping us like this.

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        • Thanks. Always good to hear what others are doing. And yeah, making the change is hard (as with Smashwords) but worth it, I think. And I appreciate the good wishes. The same to you!

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      • Unfortunately non-US citizens have no choice – to indie publish our books we need to go through Smashwords, as Amazon is the only one who will allow non-US writers to join. Having said that, I’ve always found the Smashwords team to be very helpful with reshipping changed books. And at least their threshold for payment is only $10; with Amazon it’s $100 – at my rate of sales I won’t see any royalties until 2014! And that’s US sales – UK and the rest I might not see until next century! But at least I am having lots of fun doing this.
        Michelle

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        • I have a hunch that will change, Michelle. And have you looked at Kobo? Because it’s not an American company; I’m surprised that you can’t upload from other countries on their system. Just keep an eye out for changes, because they will happen.

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          • Yes, Kobo Writing life or iTunes Stores or Google Play are accessible for non-US countries.

            Even before Kobo Writing Life existed, I used to treat directly with Kobo as an indie author, so everything is possible.

            I go direct whenever I can, and I have been since the beginning of ebooks.

            I can’t go direct with Pubit !, though (Barnes & Noble). I could go with them through Smashwords, but I have a no-DRM policy. Smashwords has also to improve the transparency regarding which of their publishing partners do use DRM and which do not.

          • As Alan says, Kobo and Apple are accessible to non-U.S. writers. The only major retailer that accepts direct uploads only from Americans is B&N — and based on the numbers they’ve been releasing lately, I suspect that policy is beginning to bite them back.

            I have direct accounts with Amazon, Apple, and Kobo, and deal with B&N via Smashwords. So far, I’ve had a sprinkling of direct sales via Smashwords and a decent number through Amazon; hardly anything from the other retailers. But then, I’ve only been publishing since August, and because of a ghastly bout of illness last autumn, I didn’t get my second book out till December. 2013 will be the real tell.

        • Where are you based, Michelle? Because I’m in the UK and can upload direct to Kobo. So worth taking a look.

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          • I’m from Australia. I’ll have another look at Kobo, see if I can go direct through them now. I know B&N’s Pubit! is still out though. Not sure about Apple. I heard horror stories about how they will ban your book for (seemingly) no reason. I didn’t even think about Google Play; thanks Alan.
            New Year’s resolution; check everything out again. Thanks for all your comments and help, much appreciated.
            Michelle

          • Can I check, is ISBN mandatory (with associated upfront costs) on Kobo or optional, like Amazon? Thanks.

          • I believe it’s optional, Patrick. But just check their site.

  10. I’m not bothering to look up unit sales, but my revenue was almost 8 times 2011. I’m still dealing with small numbers, but I’m happy to be in the three figure range. I am also glad I took your advice about Select. My Amazon sales died in November and never really recovered, but the other channels picked up the slack. Plus, my pen name has finally started to sell, so yay!

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  11. Sales happen in the dark. I plan to leave the light off. — I love this! Thanks, Paul.

    I’d also add the four P’s of marketing, re your “zero marketing” comment. These help me keep focused on what marketing really is … Product, Price, Placement, Promotion. So … with a good book/cover/blurb, Dean’s guidance on pricing appropriately for your target market, print and ebook placement in all stores, and promotion your name/brand via submitting short stories to trad markets, there you have it — “zero” marketing! ;)

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  12. Another terrific blog, Kris, but I have a different problem with respect to numbers. Numbers have been quite steady, and slowly increasing, but then, suddenly, in mid-december, they shot up 80% in one day. I waited day-by-day to see if maybe it was a fluke, a one-time event, or whatever. But for three weeks now, the 80% continues, and in fact has grown to more than 100%. (Like 500 to 1000+)

    I suppose I could just be happy with the results, but my business instinct tells me that I ought to at least try to find out what’s happening out there, so I can continue doing whatever good thing I’ve done, even increase that good thing, or simply relax and say that something good has happened out there that I have nothing to do with.

    So, I could use some advice about my choices. I’ve spent a little time trying to find out why, but nothing simple has come up that affects dozens of books at the same time. I don’t want to take too much time from my writing of new stuff. Can you or any of your readers help me?

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    • Jerry, was the bump only on one site or on all sites? If on all, then someone somewhere with influence mentioned you and helped your fans discover you. If it was on one site, then you might have benefitted from a promotion done by the company, which then got you on lists, and now your good work is keeping you there. Lots of factors, and many you might not be able to figure out.

      For example, my book How To Negotiate Anything is selling like crazy in Australia and has since Sept of 2010 when it did what you describe here. I don’t live in Australia and a Google search told me nothing. But someone somewhere goosed it or something, and from that moment on, the book has sold. Wish I knew, but I don’t, so I’m just going to stay happy about it, and write more. :-)

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      • Kris,
        The boost was on all vendors’ sites, in all countries. Like you, I tried googling, to no avail.

        So, I guess I’ll just take you as my model (again) and continue to enjoy the boost, as long as it lasts. (It’s still going, still increasing.)

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        • Congrats, Gerry! Something went right. Ride the wave (and read Steve’s post). :-)

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    • I’ve experienced this, too, Jerry. My belief is that there’s a threshold where you finally gather enough critical mass that word of mouth or lists or whatever kicks in. It could be that the thing you did right was write your excellent work and put it up for people to buy. Like lighting a bomb with a long fuse–it was always going to explode, it just took awhile. Congratulations on the success!

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    • Gerald, that happened to a friend of mine, as well. His first e-book started slowly, then started selling quite briskly and has now repaid its costs plus a little. As Steven says, I think there’s critical minimum mass of sales, plus my friend got two very good reviews.

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  13. Kris, another great post! I always take what you and Dean say seriously, but I look for ways to verify, too. Last year was a terrible year for me from a production standpoint, due to some ugly life rolls. I wrote a little more than 100,000 new words which is one of my worst years in recent memory. (BTW I only count words if the story/novel is finished and off in the mail to someone who can buy it–or indie published.)

    Anyway, because of my subpar production, I can look at my data and evaluate what happens without additional works being published. My conclusion is that publishing new stuff is very important. Publishing a novelette associated with a novel seemed to cause a 3-4 month bump in the novel sales. Also, I’m starting to see what looks like seasonality to me. My sales peaked in July and then started dropping after the summer reading season. However, they started to climb again after Christmas. It’s only been 1.5 weeks, but the difference is enough that I can see it.

    From the facts I can glean in my own little corner of the world, your assessment seems right on the money. I think your advice is very good!

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    • Thanks, Steve. Sorry to hear about the life rolls and productivity. That happens, as you & I have talked about before. It’s really hard too, because you want to produce, but life won’t let you. I hope 2013 is better for you. Good assessment on all of the number/facts. As long as you can look at them with a hard cold eye, then there’s nothing wrong with following numbers and using them for business purposes. Most writers can’t though, so once a year is good enough. :-)

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      • Thanks, as always, for the support, Kris! : ) Working hard to write more words this year!

        Kris said:

        >As long as you can look at them with a hard cold eye, then there’s nothing wrong with following numbers and using them for business purposes. Most writers can’t though, so once a year is good enough.

        Just to be clear, I think this is excellent advice. I am watching my numbers much less than before.

        In another life, when I worked at improving manufacturing processes for a multi-billion-dollar company, we used to talk about an aspect of a process (e.g. scrap %, holding a critical tolerance or dimension, production rate, etc.) as being defined by inputs (x’s) that produce a desired output (y). Or in mathematical terms f(x) = y. Our philosophy always was, if you could study and understand the x’s (what factors cause scrap to go up) and then control them, the y’s take care them of themselves. (Control the inputs to scrap, and the output, scrap, goes down.)

        What you’ve done for people, Kris (and Dean, too!), is identify the x’s. The most important x is writing more. So if you drive that x up AND get the work you finish published AND improve blurbs and covers, the y (sales) takes care of itself WHETHER YOU WATCH IT OR NOT. One of the reasons I’m watching numbers less, is I’m just worried about them less. I’m satisfied I know what the x’s are, so I’m focusing on those.

        One more point. The beauty of focusing on x’s rather than y’s is that x’s you can control. Since y’s are the result of x’s, YOU CAN’T DIRECTLY CONTROL A Y. Still, people who are y-focused try. The y is unacceptable so SOMETHING MUST BE DONE. They fiddle with the process in random ways. They look for someone to blame. Or they lie about the results. I saw it in manufacturing a thousand times. All this either has no effect on the Y or actually makes it worse.

        Focus on the x’s–you’ll be happier and more successful in the long run.

        Reply
      • As long as you can look at them with a hard cold eye, then there’s nothing wrong with following numbers and using them for business purposes. Most writers can’t though, so once a year is good enough.

        Exactly. I cannot look at my numbers without it screwing with my mood. I really need to stop looking, but it’s so hard.

        This past holiday season, I ran some free promotions and whatnot and it made my sales explode. December was a very good year. But now that things are settling, the rank of my top seller is slowly fading.

        I did this once before. Promotion. Sales exploded. Then faded, faded, and went to nearly nothing.

        Not sure what that means, but it gives me ulcers. And since I already have too many negative voices threatening my work, I MUST stop this and get back to writing.

        As far as promoting goes, I’m curious if you’ve read Russel Blake’s latest take?

        http://bit.ly/VDu7Jr (His stuff on marketing/promotion is toward the bottom)

        It almost sounds like he’s addressing you and Dean directly.

        Reply
        • Thanks, Rob. Glad to know you have figured out what gets in the way of your writing.

          And yeah, Russel Blake is probably talking about us. Sometimes promotion can boost a book by letting existing fans (note the word “existing”) know that it exists. But mostly, promotion does nothing. If it did anything, then traditional publishing would promote everything and it would all sell equally. After 30 years of watching book sales, and realizing that stuff happens–like what happened to Gerald (elsewhere in the comments)–then you understand that no matter how much you want to control the sales part, you can’t. All you can do is get your stuff to market and hope it sells.

          The other thing about promoters who do sell well is that they blame the promotion for the sales, not their excellent writing, which keeps the customers coming back. It’s not this sale that matters. It’s the next one on the next book–which will happen (or not) with or without promotion.

          Reply
    • Well, if you’re the Steven Mohan I’m thinking of, I and a few others want to see more of your writing…<em ;)).

      I think the idea of instant feedback is seductive — being about to look at if anyone bought your novel today. The Big (Whatever number) publishers don't email the author each day and tell them how many books they sold. Best way to avoid being seduced by the feedback is to not be drawn into it.

      Triditional publinshing is a sprint — six months to a year. Self-publishing is a manathon — a long run that could last years, even decades if the writing is strong enough.

      Reply
  14. You mentioned Smashwords in an above comment. Argh. I made a few comments on The Passive Voice and the Smashwords Blog about what the announcement DOES NOT mean. As in, the new Epub uploads does not mean an end to the Doc files. Well, it does for me. I’m going direct to almost everyone now. I’ve made the decision to go Epub only to Smashwords, even if it means no more samples on their site, as those rely on the Doc file. Taking out the .doc part of the equation cuts the publishing time by 1/4 to 1/3, and that’s time I could spend writing.

    And you know what? The moment I made the decisions I had a huge sense of relief. That told me that I was making the right decision, not only for numbers, but also for myself. I have only so much energy, time, and money, and Smashwords Doc files are no longer worth the expenditure.

    2013 is all about lean and mean. It means cutting out the stuff that is taking too much away from other things. Sorry Smashwords and Mark. You weren’t listening to use when we flat out begged you to get rid of the Doc file format.

    As for the subject of your post, my sales numbers are down for the last 5 months of 2012, but I know exactly why. Liferoll, and it meant that I could finish and publish only a handful of small things in that time. I know from 2011 that having a sequel in one of my big series released in October/November went a long way towards making that holiday season such a success. That couldn’t happen in 2012.

    For 2013, my plan is to get back in the saddle, with the publishing schedule including a release in that particular time period. I should also be able to release new work consistently. As for new words, I managed 500k in 2012 and I plan on it again in 2013, which gives me a bit of a buffer in case part of the liferoll comes back. The books written in 2012 that I didn’t get released because there was no time to even look at them after the first draft was completed will also get released (I’m one who makes notes of things to go back to fix, but keep plowing forward until I reach the end. Revision consists of fixing those things, checking spelling, then off to the first reader).

    Provided, of course, that there are no more life disasters.

    I still managed to release 15 items in 2012. What didn’t help sales much was that a lot of them were short stories. Longer works sell better for me. In 2013, the hope is to increase the longer works in the backlist. That should help a lot.

    Meanwhile, the sales plod along, even if slowly, on the backlist already out there. It’s nice that they do that when we aren’t paying attention. :P

    Reply
    • Sounds like good decisions, all, JA. And yeah, you have to make the choices according to time, as you well know. Sounds like, even with the life roll, you made the right choice. Great job getting so many words done in a tough year. Thanks for the post. I hope that between yours and Steve’s, folks see that stuff happens and we have to survive the stuff and then return to work somehow, and forgive ourselves for what we didn’t do. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
      • Thanks for the post. I hope that between yours and Steve’s, folks see that stuff happens and we have to survive the stuff and then return to work somehow, and forgive ourselves for what we didn’t do. Thanks for sharing.

        This is one of the reasons why I took the time out to write this out. It doesn’t matter how many times you fall to the ground. What matters is how many times you get up.

        The part you mention about forgiving yourself is huge. It does nothing but tear yourself down to look back and think, “If I had been able to stay the course, I would be THERE by now. I want to be THERE, not HERE.” Very dangerous thinking, and one I’ve sometimes fallen into when at my lowest.

        Sometimes getting up is hard. Developing a simple plan to do it makes it seem possible, so that’s what I did. Broke it down into little steps that are possible without overwhelming me. If it starts to get overwhelming, then the plan changes. After all, it’s a tool to help me succeed, not to control me or cause me to fail.

        Now, just as soon as I shake this flu and find my brain again, I’ll be back writing. :)

        Reply
    • I write in Word, so the Smashwords doc takes no extra time for me. I write the story with the doc requirements in mind. When I’m done, I nuke it quick (copy/paste into Notepad) to get rid of any weird HTML, and then copy/paste it into my ebook doc template. Add metadata to properties and it’s ready to save as HTML, which is what I make my epub and Kindle files from. Slap “Smashwords Edition” in the copyright area of the doc file and that one’s set to go. The epub and Kindle files take me longer because I’ve started adding a frontispiece image file instead of the copyright text. (Keeps all the annoying copyright stuff on one “page,” plus lets me use the right font for the title and I can include my company logo.)

      Reply
      • For those who already use Word in their process, I can understand how using it for Smashwords may not be much of an issue. Especially if they type and prepare their stories with the Style Guide in mind from the start (and hope no Word formatting garbage gets inserted without their knowledge. This happens to me all the time. Another reason I detest Word, and another reason why so many people complain that Word is a horrible base for ebooks.).

        For those of us who do not use it in our process, then it is a time-suck. I format my ebooks with little flourishes, like a linked TOC. That takes time. Could I just upload a simple Word file that is basically a text file without any of the flourishes I do? Yes, I could, but they would not represent myself or my company well, and so I’m unwilling to do so.

        Now, for the other vendors? That all starts with a HTML file, which creates wonderful clean ebooks, and I have created templates that makes creating them extremely easy. As in under-an-hour easy. Not so with the Smashwords Doc file, which has to be done from the ground up, as any template system I’ve tried with those have been an utter failure.

        Then there is the Russian Roulette aspect of this. I did it the same as last time, but will it work this time? CLICK. Oops, it didn’t. Sorry, have to nuke it again, starting the process from STEP 1, and hope this time Smashwords will accept it. (headdesk)

        It’s not easy or simple or a small time-element if Word is not already a part of your process. Which, for me, it is not. And, I’m done with how much time they take and the extra processing step they need. I’m done with the inconsistency of will-it-be-accepted or will-it-NOT-be-accepted part of it.

        I know you are trying to be helpful, Mercy. I’ve been with Smashwords using their Doc files from the moment I started. I know how to do them. I’ve been doing them for 34 ebooks. I’ve written articles and blogs about how useful Smashwords is, and how it is wise to include them in the business plan for Indies.

        But times change. We are past the first adoption phase. We are past the first glorious years of this revolution. We are now moving into the long-term aspect of this business, and Smashwords needs to up their game.

        For me, it’s now direct to as many vendors as I can, and Epub at Smashwords even if it means my readers can’t have the additional file formats or sample. I’ll steer them to other vendors to get the formats my readers need. I’m working to get samples of all the ebooks up on my author and publisher websites.

        And it isn’t only me complaining. There are many others. Smashwords really needs to deal with this issue instead of trying to continually convince us how Word is the only way to go. I’m hoping as they work out the bugs for Epub acceptance that it will be the first of many steps in the direction of providing a long-term solution that is not a Word doc file, while still providing the multiple file formats and samples that Smashwords is famous for.

        Reply
  15. As a newbie, this article was helpful to me. I’m almost done with my very first novel. Kristine, you answered all the lingering questions around my head completely.Thanks a lot and I will follow your blogs from now on.

    Reply
  16. More good words to live by, Kris. I plan to spend 2013 focused on getting my production consistent and increased, and let the rest take care of itself (i.e. sales).

    It’s always nice to see how others are doing — some better, some worse, but all of us on the track to being working writers.

    Reply
  17. This reminded me of I was a teenager and worked in my dad’s delicatessen. One day he told me to fill out the order for the canned goods. I told him we didn’t need to order anything because we still had at least one can of everything. He told me that if you don’t keep the shelves fully stocked customers will think you’re going out of business.

    So we all need to stock those shelves with fresh words!

    Reply
  18. Great advice, as usual. But this blog is something that always gets me stoked, so it does me good to read it even if I haven’t written anything today. Some people’s words increase the odds of my producing some of my own.

    I’m on a bit of roll lately now that Lucky Bat is finally hitting its stride as a company. I got a collection out a few months ago and started a brand-new novel a few days ago. It was easy to let publishing take over my life for a few years, but I think I’ve moved back to some sort of balance now. I hadn’t anticipated how all-consuming a new business can be!

    Reply
    • Soooo nice to hear you’re working on a novel, Cindie. That makes my fangirl heart beat harder. :-) And yes, I’m dealing with new-business-itis as well. Fun, but time-consuming!

      Reply
  19. I really needed to read this. I was freaking out about my low sales in 2012, then realized I hadn’t published a single thing all year, aside from one novella. It’s no wonder nothing was going on, and I need to focus on writing more.

    Thanks for always having these amazing posts. Have a great, productive 2013!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Elisa. Glad it helped you diagnose what happened to your sales. More writing in 2013. We should make a banner or something. :-)

      Reply
  20. It is interesting how many people have commented that this post came at just the right time for them. Because last night, after I had been staring at a blank Word document for a couple of hours, I started surfing and ran across a blog post, a couple of years old, by a respected author. He said that a career as a full-time novelist has at best ten years left in it.
    I couldn’t get the absolute finality of that statement out of my head. Not just wannabes and midlist authors. Everyone. It wasn’t long before my wife was looking at me with one of those expressions that I have come to recognize over the last twelve years to mean, “I can’t tell you what to do. If you want to write, then write. If you don’t, don’t.”

    Just the day before, I had told a friend how optimistic I was for the future of writers. It wasn’t that long ago Kindle was the number one best-selling item of all time on Amazon. “I really believe we are entering a new Golden Age,” I told her.

    Well, apparently not.

    Another friend said, “Why do you have to be published? Why not just write for yourself?”

    Because it’s not enough. Writing to the abyss, where everything ends up in a filing cabinet, is the bleakest existence I can imagine. No matter how “fun” it is, writing is a lot of work, and why should I be wasting my spare time on the vestiges of my teenage dreams when I could be improving myself in my current 9-to-5? At least that puts bread on the table. Heh. If writing is merely something to do, I might as well just watch a movie. The benefits and the weight gain are the same.

    Today I saw your post. I like the idea of not blaming the world for your sales and of accepting total responsibility. I like the optimism that producing new words is more important than marketing the old ones. I’m going to be 42 in a month. I don’t know whether I am still going to be a writer when I grow up. But today, what you said came at just the right time.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Sam. Glad it helped.

      The ten-year thing is about as long as a writer, who has no business skills, can survive in traditional publishing without an implosion. Even some of the bestsellers implode. (I just read an interview with Big Name Romance Writer who talked about horrible, awful, terrible mistreatment from editors that made her want to give up writing, even though she had great sales. Until a good editor whom she’d worked with before came back into her life and asked her to write again, she was giving up. So it had nothing to do with money, everything to do with terrible treatment for her. It happens to a lot of us, in a variety of ways.)

      Anyway, with so many options now, I think that 10-year-thing will go away as a truism. Writers have other ways to succeed, not just in traditional publishing. So get that one out of your head.

      There’s usually a reason for these statements. Dean has made it a point to track them all down and find out what initiated the myth. I’m hoping he does a book on it at some point, because it’s really fascinating.

      In the end, though, your wife is right: Just write and get that finished product to market. Then let the sales worry about themselves. Good luck!

      Reply
      • You know, I wonder whether most of these myths get started because writers feel squeamish about not having control–that they clutch at whatever they can to give them the illusion of control, or at whatever explanation gives them that illusion.

        For example, most of the time we have no idea how readers find us, and that frightens a lot of newer writers because they worry that nobody will find them. So now we have all these promotion myths, which drive writers to waste so much time doing extraneous things, rather than focusing on writing.

        Another way to deal with the lack of control is to cling to someone who will save you. Hence all the agent myths. If you can’t control your own destiny, then find someone who can and hand over everything to them.

        What do you think?

        Reply
        • I think that’s exactly right, Joe. It also shows the power of a writer’s dream; they’ll do what they can to achieve it. The problem is that when you have that attitude, sometimes the wrong people can get their hooks into you. But on the plus side, that attitude makes writers work through all the hard times. So writers just need to be vigilant, and then vow to never make the same mistake twice. :-)

          Reply
          • As long as we put all that work and energy into improving our craft and writing more books, not on spinning wheels that ultimately will get us nowhere. Thanks.

      • I would really like to read that book, if Dean writes it.

        I’d also like him to write one on the history of genre. Please?

        Reply
          • I did on his blog some weeks past, but it never hurts to drop an occasional reminder ;)

  21. Your take on the situation is 100% accurate, Kris; I agree completely. Overall my 2012 sales were better than 2011. I published 6 new books and about 14 or so new stories under my own name, plus two more books under another name. In addition, I sold a few stories to print magazines.

    Sales did go down in the second half of the year, and I found that I had to cut back looking to avoid getting discouraged. I know that we should look at the big, long-term picture but it’s difficult in my situation. In June I moved back to the States after living abroad for thirty-five years (for the sake of some of my sons who needed a fresh start from the terrible economic situation in Greece), and apart from a few gigs writing blog articles I have found it notoriously difficult to find work. My sons found jobs but not me. Go figure. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I’m almost at retirement age. I am presently unemployed and so when I check my sales figures it’s because it really matters. If I know fifty bucks or so is coming from Amazon or Smashwords it means I can buy us a few more meals. That’s why it’s so damn tough not to look, for me at least. Most of the time, though, I am able to control the urge. I’ve limited myself to Sundays (my writing day off) only, and that helps me forge ahead and concentrate on production and not that nagging sense of failure that kicks in so easily whether it is justified or not. My goal for the new year? Persevere in writing and publishing new work. That’s all I have control over anyway, right? And staying positive. I’ve been down to lint in my pockets so many times in my long life I shouldn’t let it phase me.

    Reply
    • That is tough, John, and Sundays are a good day because the numbers for the week show up. If you can limit how often you look (monthly maybe? On the 30th?), you’ll be in a better position. I hope 2013 will be better for you!

      Reply
  22. I get inspired to write more when I look at the numbers, though — I look at the overall sales and go, “You know, if I had more books up, then it wouldn’t matter if I had Z sales or Z-3 on my best producer. They’d spread out more, and I’d be getting $X whether or not my best producer was the flavor of the month. Get writing, Beth, get writing!”

    I may, however, be a strange person — and I have deliberately cultivated this attitude, so that I wouldn’t become depressed.

    Reply
  23. This is good to keep in mind. I’d already sorta written off this year as non productive, sales wise. We had some major RL things happen (moving, job issues, kid issues etc) so I’m not even worried about my sales for last year(which are amusingly low), I made a few sales more than I thought I would considering my inactivity as a writer so I’m happy. :P

    This year, however….

    onward and upward!

    Reply
  24. Overall, I did better last year than I expected to this time last year (when my mother had just had a stroke, and I was looking at a year where I might not write anything at all). I wrote over 440,000 words, including 1 and a half novels. I got 30 short stories self published, 1 novel self published, and a few professionally published.

    I think I did as well as I could expect, although I was hoping to step it up before the events of last Christmas.
    Last year the big problem was in submitting work: my high point for the year was 30 short stories in submission, but most of the year I did a lot worse than that, often having less than 10 things in the mail. I have 19 stories in the mail at the moment.

    This year I have a production target of 600,000 words. I want to write a short story a week and submit it that week, and I want to finish multiple novels.

    My submission goals are to get 50 items into the mail by March, and keep them there. Considering I have the stories written, I should be able to do that.

    Reply
    • Sounds like excellent goals, Thomas. Plus it also sounds–and this is important–like you’re realistic about what happened last year. I hope 2013 is better for you.

      Reply
  25. Great post and excellent advice! I hadn’t realized I should look at my sales from a year’s end perspective. Now I’ve added up the units sold for the year and am pleasantly surprised. I had thought the total was less.

    I published a short story (first indie venture for me) mid-December 2011 and one novel 3 days before the year’s end. Sold a total of 8 units, all (I believe) to friends and family.

    This year, I wrote and published 1 novel, 1 novella, and 3 short stories. Sold a total of 49 units, many to family and friends, but not all. Two of the unknowns wrote very positive reviews, which was heartening.

    I like this way of doing things! Watching sales trickle in 1 and 2 units at a time across several weeks is underwhelming. Noting 49 units sold for the year is encouraging!

    Thank you!

    Reply
  26. Looks like my addendum got eaten by an online yeti. I’m going to try again. :D

    After an interval of reflection, I decided to share breakdowns of my 2012 figures by distribution channel. (I find actual numbers from other other indies helpful in adjusting my own perspective and expectations.) So, here they are:

    Amazon 35 (including 1 .de)

    Apple 1 (Australia)

    B&N 4

    Kobo 3 (including 1 Canada)

    Smashwords 6

    (There are likely a few sales not accounted for: one of the Smashwords distribution channels has figures only through August 31, others through October or November.)

    Reply
  27. Dear Kris,
    Thank you, thank you, and again, guilelessly, thank you.

    I’ve printed out the “RESOLVE” section in 24 pt., duly accredited, and taped it where I’ll see it every day.

    Reply

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