Thursday, June 25, 2015

An author, re-assessing his business plan

Warning: Long post. For the TL,DR crowd: Author talks about changing his business plan, along with some insight on his sales figures.

Call me a real-life Sheldon Cooper. Go on. I don't mind.

Much like Jim Parsons' beloved character, I love Star Wars and Doctor Who. Trains? Eh, I could take them or leave them, but I could ride the T all day. Science? To a point. Having a special spot? Well, let's not go too far there, Charlie. The same goes for comic books.

But for the most part, I don't like change much. I like things the way they are; you can call me a champion for the status quo, if you so desire. Change doesn't send me into a tither like it does to Sheldon; my face doesn't jerk about.

However, changes to certain places in the social media landscape--which is quite possibly the poor author's best friend when it comes to promoting their books and letting potential readers know about books--has kept me up nights, has killed my organic reach, and has sent my sales spiraling into the abyss.

*Re-reads that last graph*

Huh. Not bad. Maybe I should be an author when I grow up. Moving on.

All kidding aside, it's pretty true. The number of books I've sold in recent months--shit, in just the past year--has plummeted dramatically (yes, I keep a spreadsheet). Where once I was good for triple-digit sales months, my newer books with better writing (in my humble opinion, of course) barely scrape enough together to pay the cable bill; I'm at 41 sales for June with less than a week left in the month, and a new book coming out Monday. In May, I sold 39 books, thanks in part to a website glitch that I didn't notice until it was too late. I had a fantastic, triple-digit April thanks to the Double Agent audiobook coming out (and I didn't even promote it). Before that, my last triple-digit month was August 2014.

Suffice it to say, the last ten months have not been kind to this author.

The twelve months before that, it was like a teeter-totter: there were a few months where the sales came in droves. Sure, I had a couple of zero days, but nothing like in recent months. I had triple-digit sales months dotted in with a couple of double-digit sales months. I thought everything was fine, and that there wouldn't be any changes--or that I would have to make any changes--to my business model. Then the last 13 months happen, with two triple-digit sales months. Yikes.

It has led me to believe what I initially thought was false is now indeed true: what had worked for me, and many other authors like me, back in 2011 and 2012 (two of my best years writing and selling my own books, 2,319 and 4,001 sales, respectively), doesn't work any longer. For the record, in 2013, I sold 1,545 books, and 1,037 in 2014. So far in 2015, I'm at 404... and we're barely halfway through the year. Honestly, it feels like 2010 again. The simple posting of links on your personal Facebook page may work, but some people are going to get pissed, and others that used to buy your books are at a different stage in their lives and don't have the time to read at the present. I posted the link to The Long Crimson Line the other day, and it got five shares, but nothing in the way of sales came out of those shares. You can post links to your professional "like" page, but the reach has shrunk to miniscule figures (read: Facebook wants you to buy sponsorships, and up until now, I've been rather hesitant to do that): on my Sean Sweeney, Author page, where I have 569 fans, I only reached 11 people with my most recent posting. The posting before that, 27. The one before that, 34. Before that, 16. The one before that, 97. I won't even tell you the fan total/reach on my Jaclyn Johnson page.

In addition, Facebook groups, in my recent experience, are no longer working; there are certain groups where you can promote your wares, but there are very few actual readers/non-authors there. If I'm being honest, I don't want to pitch my book(s) to just authors who are trying to scream over me and trying to plug their books to readers that aren't even there. And as for the "you buy mine, I'll buy yours" type of authors who I don't know.... sorry, guys. I know you're not going to read my book, and I'm not going to read yours. One sale isn't going to placate us; we should be honestly looking to build relationships with readers for long-term benefit. In other words, let's stop with the authorly hand jobs, OK?

And Twitter? OK.... I will admit, Twitter is successful. No one in my circle has Kobo, so those Kobo sales have to come from somewhere. I know many authors who are successful with Twitter. There are days I wonder, though, if anyone is truly paying attention to me there. Google Plus? People read my blogs there, but I'm not posting book links there. The old Kindleboards? I don't believe I've received a sale through my dealings there in many months.

Now it's time to re-assess how we're moving forward. Call it eBook Publishing 2.0, if you will. Over the past few weeks, I've given things serious consideration. No, I'm not quitting; I could never truly quit. But if I want to remain in the game... I have to ch-ch-ch-change.

Like I said, I thought the old ways would still work. I had considered starting a mailing list as early as February 2014, but at the time, I thought it too complicated (I have since learned otherwise) and never followed through. Now that I have some time, I'm concentrating on building the mailing list on various fronts: I've placed code here in the blog and on my website to take names and email addresses (which I won't sell, not even for Monopoly money). Yeah, it's generic. I have a newsletter that is coming out Monday. If you want on, by all means, register. The newsletter will have updates on drafts, as well as links for books. It'll be like my blog, but mailed to those who want it.


As I wrote earlier this week, I'm closing in on 10,000 sales (I'm actually at 9,986 right now). In addition, I've given out more than 102,500 copies of Model Agent for free. Not all of those 9,986 sales are Jaclyn books (it's actually 6,945 not including this month's sales, but that's neither here nor there).

But here's what I find interesting:

874 paid Model Agent
2,803 Rogue Agent
2,120 Double Agent

Those were the first three books, all published in 2011. All three did very well, and all three, it should be noted, were featured sponsors on Ereader News Today between March 2011 and April 2012. Altogether, those three books have accrued over 5,800 readers, and I presume a lot of those are repeat readers.

However, moving forward:

674 Federal Agent
235 Literary Agent
177 Promises Given, Promises Kept (the novella)
77 Travel Agent

Ouch. What happened? I don't have a real answer. Federal came out in 2012, the novella in 2013, Literary in 2014, and Travel in 2015. I didn't get ENT sponsorships for them. Maybe I had hoped that the readers would continue after Double. Did they find someone new? Did they think I suck? I know some do think that, and I know I'm not going to please everyone.... were the other 90,000 who downloaded Model just hoarding it and haven't read it?

So, how do I get those readers back?

Easy: Hopefully a paid Facebook ad pointing out that I'm still here, still writing a pretty darn good character? That may be what I do, along with getting names for the newsletter. You can't spend what you don't have, so the hope is that I can devote a few dollars to winning the readers back.

And if that doesn't work... then I'll have to think of something else. I can't be afraid of changing any longer.