Browsing Tag

care and feeding of authors

Arbitrary Numbers…

Authors tend to put a lot of emphasis on numbers, and I’m no different. I see milestones where none actually exist.

My first novel, The Golden City, is slowly creeping up to its 1000th rating on Goodreads.

The 1000 number is arbitrary, but the interesting thing about it is that there are lists on GR that specify ‘at least 1000 ratings’ for books to be included. Not that getting on these lists is a major life goal for me…but instead, it’s nice to know I’m eligible.

(There’s varying schools of logic out there for how many people will rate a book. I’ve seen people claim anywhere from 1-10% of books sold are rated, but according to the numbers from my publisher, my last two books are closer to 20-25%, so I have no idea how to judge the relationship between how many ratings I have and how many books were actually sold.)

It’s not a big deal, but you can bet your buttons I’ll be checking GR every day until I cross that threshold ;o)

Care and Feeding of Authors: Freebies

As authors, we’re constantly scrambling to find what works (promotion-wise), and one of the unfortunate truths is that the thing that worked 5 months ago might be dead by the time that we find out about it. It’s very hard to know.

One of the things in our arsenal is the ability to give away books. Over the last year, I’ve tried a lot of giveaways, searching for the right balance of free and paid…since I’m also here to make money (someday.)  Some giveaways had very specific requests attached to them, some did not. Some were successful, and some were massive failures.

So here are some of the things I’ve tried. (Remember, your mileage may vary.) 

 

Freebies for reviews:

About a year ago, I signed up for a service called Instafreebie via which readers could pick up my books and…well, do something. One of the options is a Review Request, so I tried that out first.

People downloaded over 700 copies of my book Iron Shoes for free.  A year later, I’ve only had one review pop up on Amazon. I did have 11 ratings (not reviews) show up on Goodreads. In that same time, I sold almost 100 copies of the book.  So out of 800 or so books that went out, I got a total of 12 ratings/reviews over the year. Hmmm.

Now, from an author’s standpoint, that offer of ‘free for a review’ didn’t pan out.

 

Freebies for signups:

Now this one, for me actually worked well…sort of. It’s not unusual for writers to give away a book if you join their mailing group. And following switching over to an email signup (rather than a review request), my mailing list grew substantially. In other words, giving away books for a review massively flopped, BUT giving away a book to get a new newsletter person seems to be a pretty good match….except…

There is some question as to the involvement of those new catches with the newsletter AFTER they have their free book.

Back when I had an ‘organic’ mailing list (that means only people who went to my website to sign up), I had about 30-40% of respondents open and click on a link with every newsletter. Now, a year later, it’s about 2-3%.  For example, last September, my newsletter had 22/93 people click on something (perhaps to purchase). This year? 36 out of 1515 recipients clicked.

Essentially, I’d picked up 1400 new subscribers by giving them a free book, BUT only 1 percent of those new people (14/1400) actually opened and clicked on my newsletter.

Well that ‘s rather disheartening. 🙁

 

Freebies as enticement for new readers: 

Authors want to attract new readers by giving away bits of their work as samples. Or we give things away as gifts to readers who’ve historically supported us. Or we give books away hoping for reviews (particularly when a book is new.) But we have to be judicious about this.

Most recently when I set two ebooks to free for two months–hoping to gain new readers–my overall sales dropped by half, so the quick lesson for me was that free books translated to less income.

I have been told by other authors that the free/low price book enticement works best when it’s the first book in a series. So from this point forward, I’ll probably offer lower prices only to spur a series sale…once I get this series finished!

 

Freebies to superfans:

Now this has been the most consistent thing of value to me. I have people I consider my superfans (although they probably would -never- call themselves that because it sounds silly). These are the people I interact with regularly, the patrons on my Patreon, the reviewers I know from my past work. These are the people I can count on to support me by doing amazing things like reviewing, purchasing, and talking about my books.

This, I think, is definitely the most worthwhile, so I’m going to keep giving free books to these people.

 

And that’s my summary of my freebie efforts for the last year. Not as profitable as I would like, but…that’s cool. It’s all a learning curve at this point!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Care and Feeding of Authors: Diminishing Returns

A few years back, I was at the Romantic Times convention in DFW, and a writer friend (I’ll call her CK) was complaining to us about her sales. “I used to earn $30,000 the first month a book came out,” she told us, “but now it’s $7000 at most.”

After my other friend and I managed to close our gaping mouths, we got more into the nuts and bolts of this situation.

You see, indie authors have one big problem…fluctuating income that’s totally at the mercy of an outside vendor.

Now, this is not a post about the evils of Amazon. After all, most of us make the bulk of our indie money via Amazon, and it’s one of the vendors that you can actually be certain will still exist this time next year. However, because they have the control over our fates, we end up losing our shirts periodically.

 

My friend who is suddenly making $23,000 less on her book debuts? Well, she’s being killed by Amazon KU. KU, while it makes some people lots of money, it makes others lose money. This is a basic feature of any innovation.

And while $7K is NOT small potatoes for one month (it’s more than I made off my novels with Penguin), for someone who was making $30K, it’s a pretty stark difference. It’s painful to see what was a lucrative business slashed down to a percentage of its former glory.

But this is the problem that all indie authors have to deal with.  The algorithms change.

Yes, for some reason, the rules from various publishers (not just Amazon) keep changing. It’s written into the contract that you have with the vendor, for the  most part.

Here’s an example, from way back in 2012: I went on vacation and, for no reason that I knew, downloads of Iron Shoes via Amazon suddenly exploded. I looked at my numbers, and saw that Amazon had set it to FREE. Without warning me.

It’s in the contract that they can do things like that.

Over the next two days, about 15,000 copies of my novella were downloaded, and then a bunch more after it went back to .99 cents. I MADE MONEY! More than I ever had before….but…

It’s important to keep in mind that Amazon made twice as much as I did then due to the royalty structure.  Hmm.

And I had no control over that incident. I was away from home and really couldn’t promote it, either. I just had to sit and watch it happen. 

In the same way, authors have little control over who sees their book on Amazon. We don’t control the “Also Bought”s, we don’t control the “Sponsored Products” (we can buy ads, but I don’t have the resources to track things), we don’t control the order things come up on searches.  These things all control whether people see our books…but there’s little (other than pay for ads) that we can do about it.

The pay part is important, because I’ve paid for ads in the past on Amazon, and spent more on those than I had in resultant sales.

I will pay for an ad when Overseer is about to come out, too. And probably lose money. 🙁

(This is, by the way, true across most advertising platforms for me. I honestly don’t think that any ebook ad I’ve tried has really been profitable.)

My point is that with…

a) traditional publishers becoming more conservative, and

b) ebook publishers regularly changing the rules,

…it’s very hard for authors to make real money. I’ve seen the statistic that only 40 indie authors are ‘profitable’, but that’s for a very high standard of ‘profitable’.  On the other hand, the AVERAGE statistic is that authors who indie-publish a book, only ever make $200-300 off it. So the vast majority of us just aren’t making money, a rather depressing note when most of us have put months’ or years’ worth or work into those books.

The average reader can help with that, but it’s by doing the same things we always ask: Pay for the book, recommend it to friends, and leave a nice review.

And thanks if you do! (I will now go post a review myself.)

 

 

 

Care and Feeding of Authors: The Waterbed is Leaking…

Okay, not a literal waterbed, but the cushion that suppors authors is bleeding out.

I’m actually taking about piracy. In the book world, piracy doesn’t look like Captain Jack Sparrow, it looks more like this:

(photo via Pixabay) 

With the advent of digital books came a huge upswing in book piracy…because it’s now much easier to get hold of the books in the first place.

It’s a fairly prevalent problem, though. I’ve stood there while someone offered my husband a file with 900 books in it...they’re free! I’ve talked with young people who think all digital tech should be free. There are reddits that specialize in piracy links. I’ve seen my own books pop up on one pirate website after another. In fact, it happens SO often that I no longer bother with reporting it.

(Read an article that talks about this at The Creative Penn: “Why Authors Shouldn’t Worry About Piracy”)

The article above basically says that people who steal books wouldn’t have bought your book anyway. I actually think this is mostly true.

People who pirate books don’t usually think of this as theft. They think they’re just working around the system, like someone who gets an on-line coupon before buying something.

I used to be in retail, and one problem we had was the occasional smash and grab. Someone would bash through a store window, grab all the clothing they could (in our store it was usually Tommy Hilfiger), and then run. Later, that stuff would show up at a nearby flea market…which was essentially fencing stolen goods.

Most people can recognize that I’m talking about stolen goods, there.

Most people realize that if someone is making knock off copies of those Tommy Hilfiger shirts and selling those, it’s illegal. (We call that the black market goods, fakes, forgeries.)

We see both of those in the book world. Not just books handed out free, but also copies–some of which are really suspect–being sold. Yesterday I ran across a site that is SELLING a bundle of 11 of my books for under $10.

Most people who buy like that know that they’re getting a rip off. They know it’s a cheat, and they don’t really care, just like that fake Louis Vuitton bag or that ‘Romex’ watch.

Again, they may never have willingly purchased that book through normal channels.

So writers are just supposed to be happy that people are reading their stuff, right?

It’s amazing, though, how much money the author sees slipping away. Especially for big name authors…I’ve seen calculations of how many thousands of dollars Author X has lost in royalties because Book Y was pirated.

(This is especially bad when an author has a book pirated -before- it comes out. People who’ve been waiting anxiously will pick up the pirated copy instead of waiting two more weeks. There’s a really weird idea floating around out there that the readers make the author and therefore, the author ‘owes’ that book to the readers. Uh…no.)

But that’s not the biggest problem that we have with piracy.

My biggest problem with piracy is that it’s disheartening. It’s growing, and authors wonder if there’s a day coming where no one will pay for anything they write.

Every time we see a pirate site, we’re told to go report it to our publishers. We do that, a take down is sent, and the site drops our books. And then, a week later, another site pops up, which is likely just the same people using a different name.

People playing whack-a-mole game at carnival–Deposit Photos

 

Basically, it’s like that. We can spend all our time whacking moles as they pop up, likely get infected my malware along the way, and endure an annoying amount of stress…and THAT KEEPS US FROM WRITING.

But if we don’t do so, then we’re not protecting ourselves, right? And we therefore have no right to complain about piracy, right?

(This is victim-blaming, if you don’t recognize it.)

The real problem for the writer–the thing that may make them want to quit writing–is constantly seeing this over and over and over until it wears them down. Until they begin to believe that No one is willing to PAY for my writing. 

So they quit.

It happens. Writers are sometimes fragile creatures, barely managing to get stuff out there as it is. And knowing that for your year’s (or longer) worth of work, you’re losing a good portion of your likely income because people who claim they love your work won’t pay for it…that stings.

(See earlier post about how little authors are paid in the first place.)

So if you can, support your author. If you can’t afford the book, ask your public library to carry it, and they’ll support your author. If you want to get that book a week before the publication date…wait.

Be polite, not a pirate.

Addendum: Most writers give away tons of their stuff free already. We send it to people for reviews, for promotions, newsletters, etc.  I am mailing out 5 copies of The Golden City today (prizes on Goodreads). We do that in the hope that those readers will spread goodwill.  Generally, since we control that, we don’t mind it.

Care and Feeding of Authors: Why Do They DO This?

Yesterday one of my author friends was lamenting the fact that another friend had decided to quit publishing.

We’re hearing that more and more these days…authors giving up because the current publishing paradigm makes it difficult to make a living.  Now note that above, the author in question didn’t say she’d give up writing. She just wanted to get out of publishing.

Publishing can be a brutal business, and it’s generally not a lucrative one.

Let’s be clear. There are a lot of authors out there making good money. The vast majority, however, are not.

I can’t give you exact stats on that, but…I can give you my numbers.  These are the numbers for an author who had 4 books published by an imprint of one of the world’s largest publishing houses (in USD).

 

2011:  226

2012:  5,445

2013:  6,240

2014:  6,233

2015:  8,503

2016:  4,888

 

Those numbers represent ALL my writing income, from the monies coming in from my publisher, to short story sales, my indie published books, books that I’ve hand-sold at conventions…and in the last two years, money coming in from donors to my Patreon.

What don’t those numbers reflect? Expenses. 

Monies coming in to my publisher would then have a percentage going out to pay my agent. (I have no issue with that…she earned it.) Those books that I hand-sold? I had to purchase them first. Going to the convention? I had to pay for travel and a hotel room and often a convention membership. Indie-pubbed books? Well, I have to purchase covers and pay my copy-editor (again, they earn it), so in actuality, only ONE of my indie published books has made a profit so far. All the others are still a loss.

And then there are promotional expenses: the expenses for my website, for any bookmarks or swag I put out (I love to give away pens). The expenses for mailing out books to first readers and GR winners (in the hundreds of dollars most years.)  Promotion? Most of that costs money of some sort. I pay for BookFunnel and Instafreebie and every little ad I’ve tried…most of which lost money.

En balance, even with a big publishing house behind me, for thousands of hours of work most years I’ve operated at a loss.

The question comes back to, why do we do this?

There are two different issues here: Why do we write? and Why do we publish?

 

Why do we write?

Most writers I know have written their entire life. It’s their passion. Some people sew, some people tailgate at football games, some people form bands….we write.

I still have this: A novel I started in 6th grade.  

I wrote stuff before that. My second-grade teacher wanted to send one of my stories to Highlights magazine (a story for another day). But this is the earliest writing I still have in my possession.

The point being that I’ve always written. If I were to quit publishing, I would still write. For myself. It’s what I do. It’s what most of us do, like breathing. 

So the follow-up question is:

Why do we publish? 

Well, I have to say that for most of us, it’s external validation. We know we write well, now we want others to believe that.

I know very few people who said, “Hey, I’ll get my stuff published because that’s a way to make lots of money!”

Now, there are people who make lots of money. I am not going to deny that.  LOTS of money. Generally, though, if a writer thinks they’ll make lots of money in publishing, they were duped by someone with something to sell. They didn’t do their homework and learn that the vast majority of authors lose money on this gamble.

But why go into this game if you’re not assured you’ll make money?

The primary answer is surely the external validation of having other people enjoy your work.  (There are other reasons, BTW. It could be a control issue, or a desire to gamble years’ work for that possible big payout, or just stubbornness. Motivation often has many factors, some of which we can’t even identify ourselves.)

 

So given that, why would someone just stop?  

I can think of a few reasons:

  1. Personal issues (health, family, dog vet bills) force the writer to invest their time/money elsewhere.
  2. Financial analysis makes the writer decide that the time invested in publishing is simply not paying off.
  3. Writer decides that they’re worn out by engaging with the public. (This can be utterly horrific in some cases.)

There are, without doubt, other reasons to step away.  An author might have a specific goal and find themselves frustrated when not meeting that goal. They may have a falling out with someone specific that sours the whole field for them. They may run into issues of an artificial ceiling that keeps them from success…but the three above catch most of it.

 

What can a reader do?  

Be supportive. Say good things about the writer and to the writer. Leave reviews or ratings. Buy their books if you can, ask your library to carry them if you can’t. Recommend the book to friends. Don’t pick up pirated books (please!)

Readers are not required to do any of this. It’s not their responsibility. They don’t OWE the author that. It’s a gift given to the author. It’s a kindness.

But if you want an author to keep publishing, they need those nudges.  My friend’s friend who’s dropping out? She just didn’t get enough of…something. Not enough author food to keep her going. And that’s kinda sad. 🙁

 

I’ll be breaking down what authors do over the next several weeks, talking about some of the obstacles to publication we’re facing, and some of the traps that might knock us out of the game. So stay tuned, and hopefully I’ll say something that will be helpful….to someone!

And this is, of course, just one author’s view. There are a lot of voices out there talking about these issues. I can’t speak for them all. I can’t speak for the ones who don’t talk about it. All you get from me is my take on the situation…but thanks for reading anyway!