Wow. I’ve now been a published author for three years. Let’s just let that soak in. Three years. I realize that’s not a huge mount of time in the grand scheme of things, but considering there are days that feel as long as years, this is a milestone. In three years, my youngest daughter has gone off to school full time, my brother has moved to Florida, and we finally renovated our kitchen. Lots can happen in three years!
Here are my anniversary posts from Year One and Year Two, if you want to see the evolution of my career. As usual, I will strive to be as transparent as possible in this post, despite how rough this year was. It’s better for me to tell it like it is, instead of sugar coating, but I will focus on both positives and negatives. Hopefully other people can learn from my mistakes!
• • • •
I heard in a podcast recently that by now I'm close to being a pro.
In the first year of publishing, authors are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to jump out and do anything, and SUPER EXCITED about publishing! :) They want to go in full force on everything, but then freak out when things don't work RIGHT NOW. They emote over every milestone, every review, every little thing in their journey. It's a year of radical ups and downs. A doozy of a year.
Year Two brings a lot of trials. They realize this is an actual job that requires so much more than just writing. Authors falter and stumble, and sometimes they don't make any money at all (unless they're one of the lucky ones). A vast majority of people quit in Year Two because the author career is so much different than they were anticipating.
Year Three sees authors getting the hang of things. They have more books out and more experience but bad decisions from Year Two tend to strike back in Year Three. Authors feel more confident about their situation and where they're going, but the decisions to make it to those destinations are usually plagued with busy work. Even if things are rough, though, they can see that this is a long career and they're just at the beginning. This is often one of the worst years because authors feel they're SO CLOSE to making it, yet so far away.
Years Four and Five are where things really start happening. An author gets an audience and even more books out. People start to take notice, and if they don't quit and keep pushing, a long-standing career is not far away!
I'm in Year Three and I saw a lot this year, though Year Two Worries seemed to have carried over into the early part of my Year Three. So don't be too surprised with everything I write about here!
Let’s begin with all the positive things…
I ventured into a new genre
By writing and publishing THE DAYDREAMER DETECTIVE and THE DAYDREAMER DETECTIVE BRAVES THE WINTER, I proved that I’m flexible enough to take my ideas into an entirely new genre, mysteries. I wrote the books back to back and then launched them in the spring and summer. By the time the second book came out, the first was doing well (especially after a very successful free run) and now has over 60 reviews on Amazon. I sold a very decent number of the second book, 180+ copies, and it became my highest earning book for the year.
I had all the Nogiku book redesigned
I hired Najla Qamber to redesign all the Nogiku books and the redesign was a huge success. Everyone seems to love the covers and they better reflect the genre and feel of the series. When I had them redesigned, I did a cover reveal for the series and put the books on sale, which brought me one of my highest months of income ever (paired with the launch of THE DAYDREAMER DETECTIVE BRAVES THE WINTER).
I worked hard on building my mailing list
I increased my mailing list from 400 subscribers to almost 2000 using Instafreebie, a partner of mine for almost 2 years now. I made sure to set up a welcoming automation sequence to engage new subscribers and keep them in the know about my books and where I can be found online. I’m currently in the process of switching from MailChimp to Mailerlite which will save me money every month. My new newsletter subscribers have been very responsive! Many of them have even written to me to tell me they love my books, which is always awesome.
I developed a FB ad strategy that’s working for me
I initially struggled with Facebook ads, but after learning more about advertising (like REAL advertising, not the stuff that authors think is advertising), I finally got the hang of advertising my books on Facebook and seeing real progress with them. This required me tripling my ad budget for one month, but now I can advertise by spending only $3-$5 per day.
I’m finally to the point where I don’t obsessively check sales or reviews
This is a real positive to me. This summer I blocked Goodreads.com access on my computer and I stopped checking Amazon to see if there are new reviews of my books. This may sound bad (I swear it’s good), but I just don’t care what other people think of me or my books anymore. And let’s face it, when reviewers address reviews directly to me and then tear ME apart, yeah, that’s something I don’t need anymore. I’m writing because I want to write. There are stories I want to tell. I put them out there for other people to read if they want. Buy them or not, review them or not, it’s not my business anymore. Though I run this like a business, it’s not my main income so I’m taking a step back from pushing. I feel a huge weight lifted from my shoulders because of this!
For the first time ever, other vendors than Amazon are making up half my monthly income
In August, I made more with iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo combined than I did with Amazon. That’s huge. That’s never happened to me before, and I’m super pleased with my progress. I've worked hard to make these books visible to readers on those platforms by running promotions and making contacts there that can help me.
Now let’s move onto some of the negative things…
I almost quit completely
Remember in my anniversary post last year how I was going to move to Amazon exclusively for at least a year? That ended up being a HUGE mistake. I covered it in this post, but I didn’t go into major details. Here are my numbers for November, December, January, February, and March.
I figured, I started strong in November and with ads it could only get better! But…
I was absolutely gutted by these numbers. I blamed myself. I should have published something new (despite having published REVEALED the previous month)…
January didn't get much better. But I was actively writing so I tried not to let it bother me…
February looked better with SUMMER HAIKUS on sale, but still I spent $95 on promotion so this was a wash…
And March looked a little better because I was on my way out of Kindle Select and I had just published THE DAYDREAMER DETECTIVE. Still, most people will cringe at these numbers. Making $30-$100 per month is nothing. It doesn't even cover basic expenses!
Many things led me to almost quit. I also had decided last October that since both my kids were finally in school all day, I would start to write more. I wanted to be like the people writing and publishing a book a month, but I would aim for a book every other month. I did NaNoWriMo in November and then continued to push until my birthday in January to complete the first two books in the Daydreamer series. THIS WAS A BIG, HUGE MISTAKE. I was writing 2500-4000 words per day, a whole lot less than other people I see writing 5000-10,000 words per day. I figured 3000 words per day would be a piece of cake. And I did enjoy writing those books. A LOT. But because I wasn’t doing anything to refill my “creative well” every day, I depleted it dry, parched, desiccated. I didn’t have another word left in me. I managed to edit both books and get them through the editing process with my team of people, but that was it.
I didn’t write anything FOR MONTHS. Since I couldn’t bring myself to write anything new, I did do a lot of work on my website, newsletter, etc, which was the only good thing to come from this dry period. I honestly wondered if I would ever write again.
So there I was, completely uninspired, my books were failing, I wasn’t making any money, and being only on Amazon was killing me and my career. I tried everything including doing free runs of my books, buying ads in newsletters, and advertising on Facebook to Kindle customers. Nothing. I had seven books out and I wasn’t making any progress. With the scammers taking over Amazon and the scandal in the news everywhere, I wrote a desperate letter to Amazon asking to be let out of the Select program. I didn’t think it would work. I was gracious and understanding, but I was also firm about what I wanted. Four weeks later, they released all my books from Amazon and I published them on other vendors.
Then we started on construction in our house, a brand new kitchen. People, as if things weren’t hard enough for me, I was also dealing with stressful money decisions, banging, sawing, and people everywhere in my space. My contractor was awesome and accommodating but there’s only so much you can do when you lose your kitchen. This was when I almost quit. I remember dropping the kids at school and then coming home and climbing back into bed, staring at the ceiling while listening to the construction noise and just crying. I was depressed. I had been depressed since the new year, and I didn’t know if I’d be able to kick it. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t enjoying TV or movies or books. I was going through the motions of getting the Daydreamer books ready, but I wasn’t super excited about them. I was sure they’d fail too. Sigh. The whole situation was compounded at the end of March when the kitchen was only a shell of studs and I launched the first Daydreamer book to a grand total of 24 sales. I had failed again.
Looking back on this time now, I’m super proud of myself for clawing out of this blackness. It could have sunk me completely. With a combination of freeing my books to be on other vendors, redesigning the Nogiku Series, construction ending, and summer approaching, I began to feel better about things. It was during this time that I wrote all the How Not To Give A Fuck posts because I NEEDED TO TELL MYSELF THOSE THINGS. I needed to not give a fuck about things I couldn’t control.
How I recovered
I took control of the things I could. I took control of my website. I took control of building my list. I took control of my education by learning about real advertising techniques I could apply to my business. I learned the basics about cold and warm audiences, sales funnels, how online ads are sold, how advertising giants like NY ad firms view ROI, etc. I took control of what I want to write too. I've decided not to chase trends but just be smart about my next books. I can write what I love but be responsible too. By the end of summer and my trip to Japan, I had a good idea of how I wanted to achieve my goals going forward.
Learning to accept
Along with taking control of my life, I'm also learning to accept my place in the grand scheme of the universe. When you enter into therapy, one of the things you learn is acceptance. Things happen, often for inexplainable reasons, and accepting that there’s not much you can do, once you’ve done all you can, is one of the hardest things anyone can do. Heck, I’ve been struggling with acceptance for my whole life. But I’m getting better! And the more that I accept, the more peaceful I am. I have learned to let go of some unattainable dreams and instead set reasonable goals. Like, let’s face it, I’m never going to be a best seller. I accept that my books just aren’t “best seller material” (whatever that means!)
So instead of that wild best selling dream, I have set an attainable goal! I will work towards writing 40 books by the time I’m 50 (originally it was 50 books by 50 but after my bout of depression, I made the goal smaller and less stressful). I’m writing my 10th novel now. That leaves 30 left over the span of the next 10 years. Three books per year is totally my pace! I’ve got this, and it’s something I’m super excited about. If I ever am lucky enough to become a best seller, well then that’ll just be icing on the cake, won’t it? But I will be pleased with just writing and publishing. 😃
I have a few things planned for this year but several of them will take top priority.
1) I will continue to read and listen to audiobooks. I’m going to make time to read every day even if it means I don’t write as much. It’s so important for me to read, as I have figured out. I’m not a whole person unless I’m also seeing the creativity from others.
2) I will continue to learn and support my education as a whole person. I’ve been learning about advertising this year and it’s been a fascinating subject for me. I have a stack of books about advertising to get through and that will be fun for me. Turning around and using that information for my career is important. I can write all the books I want, but if I don’t advertise them in some way, they won’t be bought or read. I’m also learning more about marketing and working with data.
3) I will write at my pace and write what I want to write. I know that writing for money and the market is the hot thing now. So many authors are doing it and enjoying it, and they’re also killing it when it comes to income. I just can’t be that. I tried to write fast and analyze the market to write something for a particular group of readers, and my heart wasn’t in it. I couldn’t even get past the planning stages. I think I’m better off just writing what I enjoy and at my own pace. And boy do I have books to write! Not only books in the Daydreamer series, but I also want to start a scifi series and a paranormal/urban fantasy series!
4) I will continue to not seek out validation for my work. I will not read reviews or go look at them. I will keep my sales checking to a bare minimum. I will take pleasure from writing and entertaining people as the only validation I need. This is the hardest one to achieve. When I was in the workplace, I worked on a team of people and we propped each other up. We celebrated together when we finished a big project. And every year, I heard from my boss what I did well and what I could work on. I have none of that now. I do get some props and congrats from fellow authors when I publish a new book, but the process and achievements are very solitary. It's a paradigm I'm not used to yet, even at the three-year mark. I need to work on this.
So, that's it! Thanks for reading and hopefully you'll learn something from this as I have!