Tag Archives: Thoughts on Writing

The One Year Published Author Introspective

If you’ll recall, when I was starting out I published my One Month and Three Month published author introspectives, to give other budding authors an idea of the highs and lows of being an author and perhaps what to expect. I thought about writing one at six months, but instead I waited and decided to do one on the eve (more or less) of my one year anniversary.

Things have changed a lot in a year. At the end of my first month, I was cautiously optimistic. At the end of my third month, I was ecstatic. At a year, I’m more grounded in reality, and while still optimistic, I’m better aware of the challenges of the industry.

With that said, here’s what I’ve learned:

1) eBooks are forever. Sales are not.

At the three month mark, sales were going great, and I was understandably going nuts. Why wouldn’t I? So I tried to project sales going forward. I made what I considered to be a reasonable projection, an optimistic one, and a conservative one. There was just one problem: I was working on three months of data, during a time period in which I released four novels (I’d had a backlog of stuff to publish when I got started). I was riding a massive growth swell. So my projections were understandably off.

Here’s what actually happens when you release a book, though. There’s an initial growth period, where people are hearing about your book through different channels and giving it a try. This growth can be linear or exponential, depending on how lucky you are. Eventually, however, growth turns negative as you reach a greater and greater portion of your target audience through your sales channels. Sales drop, and drop, and drop, unless you do something to change it.

Don’t believe me? Here is the unit sales chart for Red Hot Steele, the first in my Daggers & Steele series and my best-selling novel overall:RHS Year 1 Sales

What you see is that sales grew organically for three months, then started to taper off at a regular pace. The massive spike in sales in May is due to a Bookbub promo. I’ll get to that later. You should note, however, that the sales decline trend from January to the present was unaffected by the May promotion.

In indie publishing, there are some who espouse an idea that books are like cash steams. Individually, they don’t make you much money, but put together, a bunch of streams add up into a sizable river of cash.

I don’t think this is a very good metaphor—or at least, it’s not the whole metaphor. The fact of the matter is, when it rains, streams swell into huge torrents, and when it doesn’t, those streams dry up into nothing at all.

Book sales are the same way. Sales can swell quickly. They dry less quickly, but they do dry. And they can dry to almost nothing. If you have dozens of dry streams, they still won’t add up to a river.

With that said, my next bullet point will probably catch you off guard.

2) It’s to your benefit to publish as many books as possible.

Wait, you say. Didn’t you just mention that your book revenue will dry up over time? Why publish lots of books only to create lots of small streams that generate almost no cash flow?

Because you’re not after the tail. I mean, you’ll take it. Any cash from your backlist is nice. But you’re after the cash from the initial growth stage.

The growth period is where you’ll make most of your money from a novel, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Movies, video games, traditionally published books, and other media all make most of their money shortly after the initial release, and if they don’t recoup their initial investment quickly, they’re seen as a loss.

I’m not sure if you should be quite so harsh on your own projects (there are ways to revive dead novels and series), but you’ll probably only get a few solid months of earnings from any given release, unless you do something drastic. Speaking of which…

3) The right promotion can make all the difference.

Remember that huge surge in sales in May? That was from a Bookbub promo. If you’re an indie author and you don’t know what Bookbub is, I’ll pause while you go figure it out. Suffice it to say, they’re the most important company out there to help you sell books and make money.

Thanks to the Bookbub promo, I sold over 3500 copies of Red Hot Steele in May, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Red Hot Steele was priced at a paltry 99¢ for that promotion, but the sales of Cold Hard Steele and the recently released Time to Steele also shot up, and those were listed at full price. That helped me make a lot of money in May.

So while the Bookbub promo couldn’t stop Red Hot Steele’s sales slide, it did earn me a nice chunk of change and earn me a lot of new readers. And Bookbub isn’t the only way to promote your novels. There are many other ways. Bookbub is just one of the best

I don’t want this to turn into a huge ‘How to Promote your Novel’ post, but my point is simply that promoting your novel, if done effectively, will gain you more readers and earn you more money. If making money from your work is your goal (or at least, one of your goals), then you really do need to spend time thinking about promotion.

And last but not least…

4) You’d better be in it for the long haul.

This one doesn’t really fit in with the rest of my tale, but I think it needs to be mentioned. Being an author isn’t easy. It’s full of highs and lows, periods of bounty and periods of drought. You’re constantly learning and trying new things, and if you’re smart, adapting to the marketplace. If you do the same thing for too long, you’ll be left in the dust.

You have to be smart, hard-working, and lucky, and even if you’re all three that doesn’t guarantee success. But it gives you a better shot. So you’d better be committed, otherwise you’ll either never crest the peak in front of you, or you’ll go tumbling down the other side once you get there.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00033]As for me? I’ve got my crampons on, and I’m climbing this mountain like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m not going to say it doesn’t get a little hairy every now than then.

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Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the newly available fourth Daggers & Steele installment: Fine Blue Steele. It’s only been out for one day (one day!) and already it’s reached the number one spot in Amazon’s psychic suspense category. So thank you, readers!

Buy it at: Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

The Power of Irrational Self-Confidence

I’ve always been a big basketball fan, ever since I was a little kid. The reasons for my love of the game are pretty much the same reasons that most people love sport. I love competition. I love to see jaw-dropping displays of athleticism. Most importantly however, I live for those moments when I get to see athletes overcoming overwhelming odds to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

The come-from-behind victory is one of the most exhilarating experiences in all of sport. It’s made even more exciting when the team coming from behind is an underdog. And the most exciting experience of all is when an underdog performs an unbelievable feat of athleticism, one previously thought impossible, to win at the buzzer.

As writers, we understand the appeal of come-from-behind victories. They are so compelling, we tend to write them into most of our stories, whether they involve something epic like a hero turning the tide of battle at the last second or something as simple as a dopey guy finally getting the girl. In fact, we go out of our way to heap misery on our characters just so that they can achieve that come-from-behind victory in the end.

We also know that the come-from-behind victory is more exciting when it comes from an unexpected source. If an all-powerful wizard turns the tide of battle, it’s not as exciting or as satisfying as if a simple everyman is able to do it. The same is true in sports. If a superstar like Kobe Bryant gets hot and carries a team to victory, that’s exciting. If an unknown benchwarmer does the same, it can be even more compelling.

While the level of talent between the superstar and the benchwarmer who both pull off the same comeback is worlds apart, they do have something in common, the same trait that the all-powerful wizard and the simple everyman have in common:

Confidence.

This is not a coincidence but a requirement for their success.

Take the basketball scenario, for example. Clearly, the superstar believes that he can lead the team to victory. He’s the best of the best, a physical specimen. He’s done it before, he can do it again. He has justifiable confidence in himself. The benchwarmer, on the other hand, is smaller than the superstar, slower, not as experienced. His only advantage is that he believes, against all rational arguments to the contrary, that he has a shot. And sometimes, that’s all that he needs.

The rational benchwarmer that does not believe in himself, however, fails before he even tries. He knows he’s screwed, as so he is.

Even though we see sports stories like this all the time, and even though we writers put underdogs into our stories with extreme regularity, we often seem to lose focus of the moral of our own stories:

Without confidence, you will not succeed.

Writing is difficult, not so much because the act itself is so challenging but because of the overwhelming odds against success. Writers stare into a seemingly endless sea of competition, full of superstars and benchwarmers alike. They face constant rejection and disbelief, not just from agents and editors but from friends and family as well. Depression is a constant lurking threat to productivity.

This is why irrational self-confidence is so important. If you consider the real odds of success, you will give up before you ever start, like a benchwarmer who never even steps foot on the court.

So don’t be afraid to be your own biggest fan. Love your own work. Sing its praises. And above all, always believe in yourself. Exude self-confidence, even if it’s irrational. It just might be the one character trait that sets you apart from the pack.

Image credit: Featured image by Bill Selak (CC BY-NC 2.0), via Flickr.

What’s in a Pen Name?

One of the most important issues a new author must consider is whether or not to adopt the use of a pen name.

There’s many reasons an author might want to consider a pen name, but the most important is only applicable to people who publish via traditional means. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has a great blog post about this. If you publish using traditional print publishers, there is one big reason to have (at least) one pen name, and it has to do with genre expectations.

Basically, traditional publishers have always been very hesitant to publish works in different genres under a single author’s name, but for good reason. Different genres sell at different rates, and if an author were to first publish a book in one successful genre (say, romance) and then publish in another less successful genre (say, literary fiction), chances are the author would sell far more romance books than literary fiction novels. That’s fine from an objective standpoint, but a bookstore stocking that author’s novels would look at the romance book sales, order lots of novels of the literary fiction novel, and then be very disappointed when very few of those sold. That would then cause the bookstore to return lots of those literary fiction novels to the publisher, and the publisher would be very unhappy.

In a world that is increasingly dominated by indie publishing, however, that isn’t a concern anymore, but there are still good reasons to consider a pen name.

I recently realized that I needed one, even though I plan to pursue indie publishing first and foremost. Here are my reasons for making my choice:

1) My name is impossible to spell.

I know this from a lifetime of personal experience. People can’t even pronounce it, much less spell it.

Now, in this internet age, unique names are good, and the reason has to do with SEO, or search engine optimization. If I Google my name, the first two pages of search results (at least) all have to do with me: social media sites, college research groups, work info, etc. This is a good thing. You want people on the internet to be able to find you.

But, as I found out, if you misspell my name in Google, I don’t show up in the search results at all. This is a bad thing when you know that people will misspell your name.

2) My name is hyphenated.

I checked Amazon.com and looked at their top 100 bestseller lists in all different categories of fantasy and mystery, the two genres I like to write, and I didn’t encounter a single author with a hyphenated last name.

Now, I don’t think there’s any real prejudice by readers or publishers against hyphenated last names, but when it comes to selling books, if  quite literally nobody else is doing things a certain way, take note.

3) My name is long.

The reason long names are bad for publishing is that they have to be printed in smaller type on book covers. Nowadays, in a world where we tend to browse for books online and only see small thumbnails of books at a time, it’s important for your name to be easily legible even on a small book cover image. It’s for this same reason that short titles are better for books.

So there you go, those are the reasons I decided I needed a pen name. But if you are in the situation of needing a pen name, how do you choose one. The reasoning is fairly simple:

1) Pick something you can remember.

Remember that in public, people will talk to you and refer to you by your pen name, so picking something that mimics your real name is a good idea. In particular, if you can keep your real first name, that will be a big help.

2) Pick something that is unique.

You don’t want other authors already writing under your pen name. Similarly, you don’t want to pick a pen name that is the same as someone who is famous for any other reason.

3) Pick a name based off of web and social media availability.

As an author, you want to run a website from a domain name of www.yourauthorname.com. When picking a pen name, make sure that domain is available first. Also, make sure that you can set up Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ accounts with that name too.

And so, with all that in mind, Alex P. Berg was born. I like it. Hopefully you do too.

Image credit: Featured image by jack dorsey (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.