Looking Back at 2018

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This past year was a productive one for me. I released a poly novella, took three short stories I’d previously released as a novella and turned them into an mm novella. I released an mm novel and a short paranormal mm story with K. Evan Coles. Released an mm solo novel, took two novels and turned them into a single very long mm novel, re-released a mm holiday short story, and wrote an mm YA holiday short story.

Am I tired? Well, yeah. My brain is pretty full these days and the hours I put in are long.

But it’s been an interesting year. Since I began the writing full-time journey in mid-2015, my sales have steadily declined. Some of it was because the market had changed and my divorce took me away from that at a critical time. I needed time to recover emotionally and then I took some more time to take care of myself better physically. But even once I got back to writing, it wasn’t working anymore. I had missed so much and I felt like I could never get back on track.

Book releases were flat and disappointing. Nowhere near where they’d been before and not even close to allowing me enough to move out of my parents’ house. I’ve been here for three years now, far longer than I thought I’d be. Several times I’ve reached a point where I seriously considered throwing in the towel and finding a new career. Nothing I tried was working.

I got progressively more and more frustrated until about August. I knew I wasn’t as organized and focused as I needed to be. I complained to someone I was dating at the time and he said, “I can help.” His career requires him to manage a ton of projects with shifting deadlines and multiple stages of work–pretty applicable to being an author.

So we sat down and he helped me create a paper calendar with color-coded sticky notes that’s infinitely flexible. I organized current projects and also laid out a plan for which books to tackle next. It’s glorious. And as I moved forward with that, I stopped feeling like I was flailing around with no focus. I had a plan and a way to achieve it.

I decided that this was it. My final shot to see if I could make a living at writing.

I wasn’t thrilled about putting books in Kindle Unlimited. I’ve never loved the idea of being exclusive to Amazon, even if it’s only a 90 day period, but I had to decide which I felt more strongly about. I could live with putting books in KU. I couldn’t live with giving up on my career.

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So I did a shitload of research and threw everything at the wall to figure out what worked. Since September, I’ve put five books in Kindle Unlimited, organized two PW giveaways to build up the following for my newsletter with K. Evan Coles, started experimenting with BookBub and Amazon ads, ran a Kindle Countdown Deal promo, took part in a ridiculous amount of Facebook events and group takeovers, and generally pushed myself as hard as I possibly could without burning out.

Some of it fizzled, but you know what? Overall, it worked. Sales have dramatically increased since September.

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Now, it’s all relative. It’s still a fraction of what I made working for a hospital in a relatively low paying job. I’m still wildly below the poverty line. But it gives me hope.

I finally, finally–for the first time since I quit that hospital job–feel like I’m on the right track again. It gives me hope that as long as I keep writing and releasing books on a regular basis (I have a plan for that!) and trying new things, I have a chance of getting there.

Being a full-time author is a fucking hard job. I’m not going to sugarcoat it in any way. The hours are long, the amount of time I spend working and thinking about what I need to be working on are ridiculous.

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That meme is painfully accurate.

But I love what I do and I’m going to fight to keep doing it. I love creating characters and stories and making them come alive. I love the feedback from readers and the connections I make with them through my books. I love that I have the opportunity to keep trying to support myself. It’s an amazing feeling to check my dashboard and see that I am reaching more readers. My books are finding their way to more people. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished.

So I want to thank all of you who helped me get there. K. Evan Coles, my co-author, has done so much to help me. Enough I could write an entire post about, but there isn’t time for that. So I’ll just say I’m deeply grateful for her. I’m thankful for my parents allowing me to live with them rent-free while I struggle at this. I’m thankful for all my friends who let me vent. For the bloggers and reviewers and organizers and every single person who shared my book releases and helped me do this. I appreciate my beta readers and my editors. And I appreciate you readers. Because your joy in my stories is what keeps me going.

I’m ending a very tough year on a high note and a lot of hope.

I don’t know what next year is going to bring and I know I have a shitload of work ahead of me. But I have a plan and a renewed sense of determination that 2019 will be better than 2018.

And I can work with that.

 

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How To Support An Author

Let me be very blunt; I’m going to talk about sales and money.  Some authors do, some don’t.

May was my best month so far.  I sold 223 copies of my short stories, as of this morning.  I have the rest of the day today and tomorrow still, but it probably won’t be more than another 10-15 sales.  Depending on which site the sales are from, I make anywhere from about $2.21 on Smashwords to $1.50 per book on iTunes for a short story listed at $2.99.  Averaging it out between the sites, it’s roughly $2/sale.   $446 a month.  And that doesn’t include what I have to withhold for taxes or pay for stock photos to make cover art.  I make my own book covers and  I’m lucky enough to have incredible betas and a stellar editor who work for free.  Or for a copy of the story/my eternal gratitude.

So, when I say that every sale counts, I mean that.  Every sale matters to an author.  Every review, every tweet, share, like, and recommendation.  And every one of those things has a cumulative effect.  Take a look at May.

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Whenever I release a new short story there’s a spike in sales.  For example, I sold 34 copies of my stories on May 19, after “Sunburns and Sunsets” was released.  The chart above is my sales from Amazon and doesn’t include the other sites.   Sales tapered off slowly over the next few weeks while I continued to pin inspiration pics, blog about it, Tweet, post on Facebook, etc.  And then it settled down to maybe 2-3/day.  For May, I’ll probably average just over 7 sales/day.  That’s nearly double what I sold in April, but equal to what I sold in March.  According to other authors I spoke to, April tends to be a slow month.

I’ve been tracking sales since February, trying to put together the pieces of what makes the biggest difference in sales.  This is what I’ve found applies to me.  It may not be the same for other authors, but I guarantee, it won’t hurt.

So what can you do to help your favorite authors?

Review

Hands down, reviews make some of the biggest differences in sales.  Review on the site where you bought the story, review on Goodreads.  Review on both if you can.  Review on your blog or your FB page or in FB groups.  Every single review counts.

Even if you feel like you’re saying the exact thing someone else did, that’s fine.  It doesn’t matter if it’s two lines or twenty, it helps.  It doesn’t matter if it’s stilted and awkward sounding or clumsy.  It’s another person chiming in to say how they felt about it.

If I had to choose between all of the places a reader could leave feedback, I’d probably pick Amazon.   More than half my sales come from there and while they aren’t the highest royalty (about $2.09) they are number two and every review translates into more sales.  The more sales, the higher the story is ranked, the more exposure it gets, and the more people are likely to buy it.

If you can do more than one site, you’re a rock star and I’ll probably love you forever.

Word of Mouth

Spread the word!  Every new release from me is posted on FB, tweeted about, blogged about, etc.   Share those.  Whether it’s a re-tweet or a share on FB, it counts.  It’s one more chance for someone to see the story and think, “Hmm, that sounds interesting, I should buy it!”  If you love a story, tell people about it.  If you’re excited about it, they will be too.

Comment on the author’s blog, share their posts, engage with the author.  Sometimes it feels like we’re writing in a vacuum and a quick message from someone can make a huge difference.  Knowing readers are out there and enjoying what I do is an incredible boost and makes the words flow faster.

Understand Royalties

I’ll be honest, I had no idea whatsoever that there was such a huge difference in what an author is paid depending on where you buy your books.  If they’re going through a publishing company, they’ll earn more if you buy directly through the site than on Amazon (although, there’s a flip side and the more sales on Amazon, the better the exposure and the more books are sold).  It’s complicated.

For self-published authors, there’s a huge range in royalty rates.  For my $2.99 short stories, this is how it breaks down.

Smashwords – $2.21

Amazon – $2.09

Kobo – $2.09

Barnes & Noble – $1.94

All Romance – $1.79

iTunes – $1.50

Obviously, I’m just thrilled if you buy one of my books, wherever you buy from.  I appreciate the support and interest in my work.  I would imagine most authors feel the same way.  That being said, I know a lot of people had no idea that there was such a huge difference.  If you’re so inclined, buy from places like the publisher’s site and Smashwords.  But if it’s easier to One-Click on Amazon and it means you’ll buy more, by all means, go there.  Just keep buying books!

Pay for What You Read

This may seem silly, but pay for the books you read.  I just recently discovered that my books are available on a pirating site.  If I found out about one, that probably means they’re on a dozen more.  I have to wonder how many sales I’ve lost because of this.

Loan judiciously.  I’m not against the idea of you loaning a book of mine to a friend.  Occasionally.  I can only speak for myself– many authors feel differently–loaning a copy of an eBook to a friend every now and again is no different than loaning a hard copy.  I’ll be honest, I’ve loaned eBooks before and had them loaned to me.  But often, after reading that story I’ve  gone on to buy every single other book in that author’s catalog.  Plus the one that was originally loaned.   A single, judicious loan led to many, many sales.  It can be done fairly.  But it can also get out of control, so be mindful.  Realize that it directly impacts an author’s life.

Don’t return books on Amazon.  I know many authors who are livid about Amazon’s return policy.  I’m learning to suck it up and deal with it, but it rankles.  On average, I lose 10% of my sales from people returning books.  I suspect most of them don’t have cats who accidentally One-Click on my book or anything else of the sort.   Probably, the vast majority are people who read the book and then “return” it because they don’t want to pay.  For an author like me, that can add up to hundreds of dollars a year in lost sales.  For bigger authors, even more, although most I’ve talked to say it hovers in the 10% range for them as well.

Don’t Feel Guilty

If you’re as busy as I am (or busier) doing all of these things can be time-consuming.  Believe me, I understand.  Compared to the number of books I read, I am only able to review a limited number.  I share the ones that excite me.  We all have busy lives and just finding time to read those books is a challenge.  So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t write an in-depth eloquent review for every story you read.  I am a writer and I feel like I write the lamest reviews ever.  So, do what you can.  If you have the time to review, do it, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t.  Like and tweet and reblog when you’re able and know that every single thing you do is appreciated.

Like

This is the easiest one of all.  Go to my Amazon Author Page and click the Like button (on the upper right side of the page).  It will only take a few moments and will help boost my author ranking.  Can’t hurt, right?

Oh, and on that same page you can sign up for an email alert notifying you when an author has a new book available.  How handy is that?

 

Finally, please, please know how much I deeply appreciate those of you who have gone out of your way to do all of these things.  There is no way I’d be able to do this without you.  ❤