Saturday, October 31, 2015

NaNoWriMo 2015

I have mixed feelings about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which starts tomorrow. I'm participating this year, as it coincides nicely with my goal to push past the middle of my sequel, and I'll be blogging about my experience a little more frequently during the month.

I participated in 2011, just a few months after my daughter was born. I did well the first two weeks, but trying to fit writing between working as a lawyer and taking care of my daughter meant losing too much sleep, so I dropped it. It wasn't very good, anyway.

I thought about participating in 2014 when I was in the middle of writing my first published novel, but it didn't make much sense. I had put myself on a generous writing schedule and was meeting my daily quotas with ease. It just didn't seem necessary to force myself to write 50k words in a month.

Then there's the quality issue. There are so many would-be novelists who participate in NaNoWriMo, come out with something tangible but ultimately lacking polish, then immediately publish it on Amazon. There's a lot of junk on Amazon, so between fake reviews on one side (Amazon is working on this) and unpolished amateur stuff on the other, it's hard for readers to find new authors like myself who actually take the time to rewrite and rework their manuscript into something readable.

But, I also appreciate NaNoWriMo for getting new authors started. I don't think anyone has a "special talent" for writing. It's not genetic, or a gift from God, or some crazy skill like figure skating which you have to learn from the age of 2 to be any good. Sure, innate talent, education and practice help, but anyone can produce a good novel if they simply sit down and work on it. The problem is, people think that after one month of working on it, it's good enough to publish. No, it's not. That's not true for Steven King, it's not true for J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins, and it's certainly not true for Susie/Johnny Amateur.

So, cheers to a solid month of writing goodness! (And also a 50% discount off Scrivener if I get through it, because Word sucks for writing a 90-100k novel).

Note: I am not affiliated with, nor have I received any compensation from, NaNoWriMo or Scrivener beyond typical consumer usage. Not that I'd complain if I was/did.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

This... is my job?

It's been a while since I last posted, and I'd like to say that's because I lost internet up here on my mountain. I did, but I'm not sure that's why I haven't blogged in a while. I think it's because I was mentally distancing myself from the idea of continuing as a full-time writer.

Why? Because of a job interview.

As I might have mentioned in my previous posts, this writing thing isn't a sure bet. For one, the money will probably never be as good as it could have been had I stayed on the lawyer path. Did I mention I am/was a lawyer? It's true. And a few weeks ago, just before I wrote my last blog post, I had a second interview for a job working in government relations. It was uncharacteristically short, but the questions seemed to suggest I had a good chance of getting that job. I fit the profile, or so I thought.

I haven't heard back.

I also did some political volunteer work. That was fun. I've worked in legislative politics a few times in various states and I've always enjoyed it. If I found myself with a job offer in that arena, I probably wouldn't turn it down.

After my last blog post, I started to envision my work life being primarily government/legal work and suddenly my dream of writing novels began to feel more like a hobby again.

But I still haven't heard back...

In the mean time, my sales and readership have continued climbing upward. I should have been excited about those things, because they suggested something amazing: I could actually pull off a career as a writer. I could eventually make ends meet with earnings from my novels alone!

During my last post, I promised to dive into how Amazon pays its writers. I don't see a better time than now to discuss that.

How does Amazon pay its authors?

First things first: I'm only going to discuss my own situation here. Amazon has a program with 50% royalty and a tiny advance plus contract conditions which I'm not interested in discussing today. I'm also not going to discuss traditional publishers and the various reasons why I chose not to even pursue that route. You have to save something for a future post, right?

Let's say you've published a book as I have. Great! Wasn't that fun? Now, it's time to get paid. First, choose a price for your book. I priced mine at $4.99. Now you have to get readers to notice your book... See my last post about getting readers to find your book.

Ok, so someone bought your book at $4.99. You're just one dollar away from that $6 burger you're going to eat for dinner tonight, right? Nope.

First, Amazon takes their percentage cut. You can choose from either a 70% or a 35% royalty rate, with 70% coming with a few caveats like minimum price, territory restrictions and, of course, having to pay electronic delivery costs.

After Amazon takes their cut, my $4.99 book nets me $3.44. That's actually really good compared to traditional publishing, but naturally you don't get the same advertisement resources, editing assistance and your book won't be on store shelves for people who don't read e-books. Oddly enough, traditional publishers have been less generous with these benefits in recent years, meaning they're more than willing to take a huge cut of your sales while providing less help polishing and advertising your work. Again, a topic for another day.

So, you get that $3.44 and that's your income, right? Well, no. You have to advertise, silly, otherwise that $3.44 will probably be the last $3.44 your book ever earns.

So you take out an ad on... Amazon. Sure, you could pay Facebook $5 to "promote" your Facebook post and get maybe ten people to view it. Or you could buy a billboard somewhere? (Not a joke, I'm actually considering doing this in my home town next summer to promote my series set in said hometown.)

Ads: Amazon's second cut of your delicious profits.

Amazon has a neat feature where you get the bombard people with ads for your book. You just write a header (50 characters), and a body (150), set a maximum bid price and a maximum campaign cost, plus a campaign duration, and off it goes.

Someone clicks on Amazon to buy toilet paper or a laser level, or maybe they turn on their Kindle, and then something magical happens in the background. Your ad bids for the spot against other ads, and the one with the higher bid wins. If you set your bid at $0.10, then your ad will be displayed fewer times than one with a $0.15 bid, though not 50% more often, actually more like 12% more often.

But, you don't pay every time someone sees your ad, that would be ridiculously expensive. You pay only when someone clicks on your ad. They do so knowing the price of your book, its Amazon rating, and the content of your ad. Then it's up to your book description, cover, ratings and the preview to convince them to buy it. The vast majority of people don't... at least, not on the first pass.

If you bid $0.10 per click, then you will have to make one sale per 34 clicks in order to avoid losing money on your $3.44 book. For me, I'm actually doing better than that. Yay! But it's not at all guaranteed.

Some people won't buy your book, but they might borrow it Netflix-style from Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program if you allow it. Amazon pays you based on how many pages those people read, an amount which changes every month based on the number of subscribers vs total pages read... and how much Amazon thinks they should keep that month. It's not the most transparent process, but it's hard to complain when you're just a little guy against a behemoth like Amazon (and, honestly, I find it fair enough). You can expect something north of half a penny per page read, which for my first novel yields about $1.70. It's half of what I get for a true purchaser (or close to the same as a $2.99 novel), but Kindle Unlimited users are an entirely separate market from à la carte readers. An Unlimited reader wouldn't have bought your book in the first place because they have their "Netflix of Books" and they're only going to get their books from there.

Kindle Unlimited users are voracious readers. For every sale, Kindle Unlimited users read 350 pages of my book (a ratio which has held constant over the last three months). At a minimum that adds $1.70 to each book sold, meaning my earnings from advertisements is actually $5.14 per book (a gross simplification, yes, but go with it).

So, my total advertising cost per sale is my average bid price times the number of clicks per sale. Subtract that from the $5.14 in earnings I receive, and you get your total earnings per book.

At $0.10: 5 clicks-$4.64, 10 clicks-$4.14... 20 clicks-$3.14... 50 clicks-$0.14
At $0.15: 5 clicks-$4.39, 10 clicks-$3.64... 20 clicks-$2.14... 50 clicks... you lose $2.36 per sale.

This... is why I'm thinking about driving Uber a few hours a week until my sales hit a few dozen a day, and why I'm still susceptible to job offers should they come my way. I know writing will probably never make me rich, but for what it's worth I'm enjoying every minute of it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

How to Get Strangers to Read Your Book

So, I had a job interview today... second one for an interesting position as a government contractor doing policy work.

Are my days as an author coming to an end? Not even close. I'll always find time to write. And I've promised to continue working on the Jessica Carter series until it is complete.

But when I introduce myself, will I resort back to calling myself a lawyer? Or will I continue with my self-deprecating smile and say I'm an independently published author? Only time will tell.

In the mean time, the interviewer today asked me about social media experience. I took from his tone that he felt obligated to ask, but saw little value in it. I told him that, while it had little value for the position for which I was applying, that I've used social media and blogging (yes, this jumbled scroll of unedited thought) to market my book. After all, every author from indies like me to those published by major corporations are expected to "build an audience" on their own. Authors are now expected to be their own PR firms, which makes the benefit of being published by one of the big guys that much less appealing (another post, another day). But that leads to an important question:

How does an author get strangers to read their book?

Short answer: I. Don't. Know. I mean, if I knew how to get thousands of readers I don't think I'd be interviewing for some of the jobs I've applied for (the one mentioned above notwithstanding, as it's something I'd be happy to do regardless of my success). But I've had some luck getting both stranger purchasers on Amazon as well as Kindle Unlimited users. And both pay real, actual money! Amazing! It's... not a lot. But the way I see it, every new reader is a chance for my brand to grow. Each and every one counts.

Let's start with the basics then: step 1) publish and tell your friends and family to buy your book. They will read it, tell you how amazing it is (even if it's not) or how you should change it (even if you shouldn't). Those reads will bolster your Amazon ranking. And then it will fall back into obscurity. Hopefully you got some reviews out of them, and hopefully Amazon let a few of them through. Family and friend readers are really only good for early reviews, though I have a hard time asking for them specifically. I'd rather have one legitimate review than someone accusing me of gaming the system. Your early reputation can't handle the backlash.

Between step 1 and 2, avoid posting your book on forums with other authors. I trust the majority of authors, but there's a few bad seeds who will shoot your book a bad review just because it makes them think it will improve the odds for their book. It's a scary world out there for reviews. Don't take chances by blasting your book outside safe circles.

Step 2) Push your book on Facebook, your blog, Twitter etc, but do it gently. Get those last few friends and family to read your book, but more importantly, start building a presence online. New readers will look you up, so have something for them to see. Preferably you would have started this a year ago, but it's never too late. Start a blog, even if it's just random stream of consciousness stuff. Above all else, be honest. Let people know who you are, how you write, what you're all about.

Then finally, Step 3) get some ads going. I'm using Amazon ads. They're pricey, which is a bummer when you're only selling a few copies a week. Then again, without those ads I would be selling... none a week. I'm tempted to look around for another ad program, but since my book is exclusive on Amazon at the moment it makes sense to use their ad platform.

And... that's it? For now, anyway. Next week I'll take you through the specifics of my Amazon ads, how they work, whether they are successful or not, etc. That is, if I remember. If you're the one person a day who visits this blog, maybe remind me or something? But you won't, will you? Just stalk my blog then move on, eh? Fair enough.

See you next week... Stalker.