Alive and Writing

With 2015 nearly half over, it seems an update is well overdue. The lack of updates this year isn’t so much about nothing happening, but more about there not really being any real milestones reached (or none that I thought to be worthy of a post).  I think I’m far enough along on things to talk about them now, so here we go…

Badlands Book Three

The good news is that the manuscript for third book in my Badlands trilogy–Out of the Badlands–is halfway to completion. I hit 50k words this week and I expect the manuscript to clock in around 100k words. So far I’m on track to deliver the book by end of year. I’m really, really working hard to make that happen because I don’t want to delay its release again (it’s already going to be published a year later than I originally planned).

Another Badlands Novel

Around the beginning of last year I nearly finished the manuscript for another Badlands novel called Vengeance In the Badlands. The novel follows one of the main characters after the events that took place in book #2, but the story goes on its own tangent and thusly falls outside the trilogy. The good news is that because its already so far along I think I’ll be able to release it later this year, directly on the heels of book #3. Keep your eyes peeled for that or make it easy on yourself and sign up for my newsletter so that I can let you know about all my new releases (you’ll also receive a free ebook for signing up).

Other Works

I have a couple of other projects in the pipeline. These won’t be released until next year, but I’ve done some work on them already. I’m planning a novella crime series about a damaged guy who hunts down serial killers and I’ll be concurrently working on a new novel. I have a few ideas in the works for said novel, but it’s too early to say which one will grab my attention. It’ll be a surprise for both of us, I suppose. 🙂

Sales & Marketing

Sales continue to be mediocre, even on Amazon. I’ve seen sales really climb on Kobo and Barnes & Noble is holding a steady third place. After my experience in Select at the end of last year, I won’t be heading down that path again anytime soon. Right now I only have two short stories in Select; for me it just doesn’t work for my novels.

I did, however, temporarily reduce the price of my first Badlands book to $.99 for a few months on all platforms. It really helped to move some additional copies, anywhere between two to three times more. But like any sale, the price has to go back up again or it’s not really a sale. Still, book one is a dollar cheaper than the rest of the books to make it just a little easier to pull the trigger and give the series a try. When book #3 and the standalone novel are released, I’ll probably run another sale on book #1, dropping it to $.99 again. I might even try to get a Bookbub ad to see if I can move some copies.

That’s about all for now. Remember, if you enjoy my work the best thing you can do to help is tell your friends. And if you really want to be super helpful, leave a review. It really does make a difference.

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Badlands #3 Update

Revenge In the Badlands Cover 300x400 So you might be wondering, Where’s the next Badlands book? You’re working on this sci-fi thriller while we’re stuck waiting and wondering what’s going to happen with Dave and Johnny. Come on, already!

Never fear, the update is here. Badlands #3 — titled Revenge In the Badlands — sits at roughly 30k words right now. That’s about 1/3 of the way there.

Why the wait? Well, the short answer is that I just needed some time away from the Badlands universe. I get burned out working on the same project without some kind of a break in between. My enthusiasm wanes. When that happens the story suffers. It’ll also end up taking forever to write, because I just don’t want to sit down and work on it.

I got stuck around the 30k mark because the story just wasn’t revealing itself to me. I don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do agree that you have to be in the right frame of mind when you work on a book. Rather than spin my wheels on a book I wasn’t ready to write, I decided to finish The Crossover Gene instead. That allowed me to at least continue working and creating new words, while I waited for Badlands #3 to finish taking shape.

The good news is that I’m in the final stages of The Crossover Gene and after taking a few months off from Badlands #3, the gates have finally opened. The story I really wanted to tell in Revenge In the Badlands has finally revealed itself to me. I can’t say exactly how that “eureka” moment happens, but I know it just feels right. Like I can just tell that all the planets have aligned and things are where they’re supposed to be. That this book is actually worth writing and that I truly have something to say. That gets me excited about writing.

Sorry for the delay, but the process is what it is. Sometimes it takes a while to play out. I’m still shooting for a Badlands release before Christmas, if possible. I won’t rush it and sacrifice quality just to make a date, but I will try to hit that date.

In the meantime, if you find yourself in the market for a different type of read, you might like The Crossover Gene. I’m really psyched about it. It’s like nothing I’ve ever written before. That said, it’s still a fast-paced thriller, but with a fantastical sci-fi backdrop. Hopefully that’ll see publication by the end of summer.

Stay tuned for more updates. Until then, take care.

Brian

Heading Into 2014

After finishing the second book in my Badlands series, I was finally able to take some time in December and revamp my sales reporting. My existing sales spreadsheet was clunky and difficult to maintain, and it didn’t allow for the depth of analysis I really needed. I design and build data warehouses in my day job, so it seemed only natural that Elegy Publishing should also have a data warehouse for its sales reporting.

That work is now complete and I’ve been running the new reports for a couple of weeks now. Analyzing this data, I’ve discovered some interesting things. I thought I’d take some time to share those with you. If you’re a reader, you probably don’t care about this. But if you’re another indie writer/publisher, you might find these numbers interesting. You might even be able to apply some of these insights to your own business.

Sales Have Fallen

It seems that the ebook market has cooled. Kindles are no longer new, nor are ebooks. Publishers have dropped their prices now that agency pricing is dead and output of new ebooks has finally started to catch up to demand. Readers now have plenty of books for their e-readers and big-name authors have lower-priced backlists available. Indies aren’t dominating the low-cost market any more; we’re sharing the space and sharing the sales.

Personally I had a killer Christmas season in 2012. December, January and February were $2,000 months. Things started to drop a little in March and April. Even May was decent, earning around $1,000 in royalties.

Then June hit and sales dropped off a cliff. Units dropped 35% compared to June of 2012. Revenue dropped 26%. July was worse, with revenue and units dropping 65%. It steadily plummeted, down 77%, 79%, even down 85% compared to the prior year. $800 monthly norms dropped to a couple hundred dollars.

With the release of Badlands #2, I’ve seen sales climb again (albeit slowly). Not to the levels seen in the heyday (2011 & 2012), but an uptick, nonetheless.

So what does this mean? Well, the gold rush is over. The fair-weather writers who aren’t selling now have likely moved on to other things, leaving behind the die-hards who know that success comes after lots and lots of hard work. The market has reached an equilibrium and writers who continuously improve and release consistently will be the ones who succeed.

KDP Select Probably Isn’t Worth It

At one point KDP Select delivered. Now, not so much. I spent most of 2012 in Select, opting out in 2013. I earned around $700 from Select borrows last year vs. $600 from non-Amazon channels this year.

The verdict? Stay out of Select. The post-free bump in paid sales is gone. And what I’m earning outside of Amazon is pretty damn close to what I *might* earn from Select borrows. But staying out of Select means I can branch out to other markets, namely Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo. While this doesn’t earn me quite as much as Amazon borrows, being on all devices (and in all markets) is worth it.

Amazon Continues to Dominate

Amazon drives more than 97% of my revenue. It’s pretty easy to see why they’re still so important:

amazon_non_amazon

Note: My "REU" term means a Revenue Earning Unit (a sell or a borrow)

Of the 3% of my non-Amazon sales, here’s how it all breaks out (by sales channel):

non-amazon_breakout

Of the little guys, Barnes & Noble continues to dominate. Apple outsells Kobo by units, but is a close third in revenue (I earn more by going to Kobo direct). Smashwords earns me a little here and there and Sony is laughably small.

Armed with this data going into 2014, I can be confident in my decision to stay out of Amazon exclusivity and in all other markets. I also know that going direct with Kobo is worth the effort. It really doesn’t require much of my time to distribute outside of Amazon, so the return on my time investment is worthwhile.

Performance by Title

Into the Badlands (my debut novel) is clearly my biggest earner over all time. It was published during the heyday and has been out the longest. The Desolate, my second novel, has been available since summer, 2012. Beyond the Badlands, my third novel (and #2 in my Badlands series) has only been available for a month. Here’s the breakdown between titles:

performance_by_title

It’s interesting to note that in one month Beyond the Badlands has earned 25% of what The Desolate has earned in a year and a half.

This information, combined with fans’ requests for the remaining books in the Badlands series, has prompted me to change direction. Instead of focusing on my sci-fi thriller in 2014, I’ll be directing efforts toward the final two books in the Badlands series. Fans want them and I want to write them. Not only will I make readers happy, I’ll earn more money. I’ll get to the sci-fi thriller, just not as quickly as I’d originally planned.

The other thing you’ll notice here is that my novella (Muster Drill), my short story (Wishes and Desires) and my short story collection (Walking At Night) sell much more slowly than even my worst-selling novel. Those experiments have proven that the money is in novels. While I enjoy writing shorter works, it doesn’t reward monetarily. That said, I’m sure I’ll return to these shorter forms of storytelling, but they’ll likely be side projects, taking a back seat to novels. Besides, I’m convinced people find me through my novels and then pick up my shorter works (not the other way around) and I prefer writing novels anyway.

Paperbacks

Paperbacks have never been a big seller for me. But my new sales reporting has revealed something I hadn’t noticed before: I’m losing money on non-novel paperbacks. My novella and short story collection still haven’t earned back my proof copy costs.

So going forward, only novels will likely see paperback. And even then, demand for paper is almost non-existent. I make them because it’s fairly easy to do now that I’ve figured out the process and I like seeing them on my bookshelf. And some readers do still want them. I can make a paperback for less than $10 now (and maybe four hours of my time), so it’s still worth the effort.

Other Book Stats

Some other stats I found interesting about my books…Beyond the Badlands cost nearly $500 to produce and earned its production costs back after 24 days. Knowing that, if I release the next two Badlands novels ASAP I can feel confident they’ll earn out quickly, providing me with enough money to subsidize my sci-fi thriller (it’ll likely take longer to earn out).

Since September, 2011 I’ve sold 14,256 books. I had 344 Amazon Prime borrows. I’ve spent roughly 1,000 hours writing these books, earning an estimated gross of nearly $27 per hour. Not huge money, but decent. Since September ’11 I’ve averaged around 17 books sold per day.

Assuming each novel I wrote *might* have earned a $5,000 advance from a traditional publisher, only Into the Badlands has surpassed that amount. The Desolate has earned a little over two grand. (Beyond the Badlands hasn’t been out long enough to consider).

If I’d taken an advance for Into the Badlands, I would’ve left money on the table. Publishing that book myself earned me more money than if I’d taken a publisher’s deal.

But if I’d taken an advance for The Desolate, I would’ve earned more money (so far, at least). Of course there’s no guarantee The Desolate would  have been picked up by a traditional publisher and I would have lost creative control if it had. And I still have the rest of my life for that book to earn money at a higher royalty rate.

Truth is, some books are going to earn more than others. But even my slowest-selling novels have earned back their production costs (and more). I’m not getting rich, but revenue is in the black. In the end, if I had it to do over again, I’d still choose to publish them myself.

All in all, business is still looking good. Things have normalized, but the recipe for success hasn’t really changed: hard work, continuous improvement and steady production. I’m looking forward to a very busy, but hopefully successful 2014 (and beyond)