Friday, September 14, 2018

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like, er, Autumn

Which means, gulp, Christmas and the winter holidays are right around the corner.

Time to start thinking of Ye Olde Advent Calendar.

I know! But yes. Really. It's that time again.

I want to extend an invitation to all and sundry (okay, maybe not -- rather to all fans of my work and this blog) to contribute to this year's calendar. Stories, art, games, contests (giveaways), essays... Basically anything that relates to my characters and worlds and/or the winter holidays would be most welcome.

I'm aiming to do six codas this year. I haven't settled on the character pairings yet, but that's the goal.

Which leaves a LOT of room for reader/fan contributions as well as giveaways and all the usual holly-jolliness.

If you're interested in participating, drop me a line through my website OR through Facebook or Goodreads or Twitter or any of the usual places. The more the merrier, IMHO. 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Just Another Morning in September

I love mornings like this.

I woke up around 5:30--even too early for Marlowe the Mutt!--and went outside to water and just breathe in the quiet cool fall morning. So quiet. All around me house lights are coming on, people waking for school and work, but the buzz has not yet begun, is not yet audible. This is my favorite time of day. When there are still infinite possibilities for the day ahead.

What does my typical Friday morning look like?

The dark and cool garden smelling of earth and damp flowers

Email & coffee & thinky-thoughts (So many thinky thoughts!)
1 - Am I making a mistake not letting Amazon control my print backlist?
2 - Can I talk about this new series without getting reamed for daring to think of new books before I have delivered old?
3 - Could an art gallery be used as a front for the mob?
4 - Is audio still viable in the age of subscription services?
5 - Why do people with two stunningly mediocre books under their belt feel comfortable giving writing advice to other newbies?
6 - Will the plane crash on the way to GRL?
7 - Could a publishing house be used as a front for the mob?
(You see how it is...)

Maybe a little bit of social media (So. Much. Talking.)

The SO wakes and the TV goes on (BOO! I knew I should have remained single!!!!) :-/

The SO brings me another cup of coffee and asks what I want for dinner (YAY! I KNEW getting married was a good idea!!!) :-D

Massage and more thinky-thoughts
1 - I will resume yoga
2 - I will eat more veggies
3 - Could a film company be used as a front for the mob?

The day begins for real...

What is your Friday morning like?

Friday, August 17, 2018

Nothing Gold Can Stay

I dread the end of summer.

Which is strange because I actually love the fall--and then winter brings the holidays, which I also love.

But somehow I feel melancholy as summer begins to wind down. Not that there isn't plenty of bounce left in summer because although the nieces and nephews are headed back to school (college for three of them and the final year of high school for the youngest) we've still got many, many days of scorching temperatures ahead.

Many long, lingering twilights and moonlight swims. Fresh picked fruit and grilled salmon suppers and homemade ice cream experiments (the red chili coffee ice cream was an interesting one). Listening to the chimes through the open windows at night--and songbirds at the crack of dawn.

Anyway, it's been a busy and eventful couple of months--I feel like I'm finally FINALLY beginning to catch up a little. Maybe. 

I'm hoping to finish up Seance on a Summer's Night by the end of the month. It will be available for sale in print only--well, and eventually audio. It's going to be our first experiment with Ingramspark and the beginning of maneuvering my print backlist away from Createspace/Amazon.

After Seance I get back to work on The Ghost Had an Early Check-Out. That's slated for a fall release. (It will be available in print and audio as well, yes!)

Speaking of audio, Kevin R. Free is back to narrate In Other Words...Murder (that's likely an October release) and I've been talking to Joel Froomkin about narrating Green Glass Beads (that would be more like a November release--although I'm hoping to have it to my patrons for Halloween). ;-)

That's probably going to be it for the year. I'm attending GRL in October--my first time!--and then we'll be into the holidays and the annual Advent Calendar and THEN before I know it, the next Sam and Jason will be due... Yikes!

Hope you're making the most of these final golden days of summer...

Friday, July 27, 2018

On Your Mark, Get Ready... Wait. What Time is It?!

How the heck can we be more than halfway through the year!?

A lot of what I'd planned to accomplish this year is complete or in the process of completion. Like my new website, for example! But some of what I'd hoped to do, even with tempered expectations (or so I imagined) was simply too much. That's the problem with being an optimist. We tend to overestimate our own resources--as well as everyone else's.

Anyway, I can't do more than four novels within a year. There was a time I could--and did. That time seems to be gone. But it's been a really productive year so far (from my perspective) and there is nearly half the year left!

(There's that optimism showing again!) :-D

But it seems like I can squeeze out a bit more if some of the things I'm doing are serialized and I'm writing them at a snail's pace. That does seem to be doable, as proven by my experience at Patreon. But generally speaking, three to four novels a year is all I can manage.

This year's novels were:
The Magician Murders (The Art of Murder 3)
Murder Takes the High Road
In Other Words... Murder (Holmes & Moriarity 4)

Still to come in 2018:
Seance on a Summer's Night (Patreon exclusive)
The Ghost Had an Early Check-out

That's it. I might manage another short story and at least a chunk of the next serialized story for Patreon, but realistically, that's my limit for 2018.

Now there's other stuff coming. There are audio books, print books, digital boxsets. I'm starting to build a PAYHIP store so that when a book doesn't go live as scheduled, it can be purchased through my website. Not that I want to keep having issues with preorder dates, but that'a another area where optimism gets me into trouble.

I'm still working on a lot of things I talked about earlier in the year--moving my print catalog from Createspace to Ingram Spark, for example. But one thing at a time.

There are four projects slated for 2019 
Blind Side (Dangerous Ground 6)
The Monuments Men Murders (The Art of Murder 4)
Haunted Heart: Spring
Something serialized for Patreon

There's also Mr. & Mrs. Murder, but that's non-fiction and, while it does take time to write, doesn't drain me creatively the way fiction does. So that leaves room for one additional large project next year, but I'm not going to jinx it by promising anything in the here and now.

So that's pretty much where we are at this point in the year. A lot of the remaining year will go to figuring out more audio and rethinking how best to repackage and market my oldest titles. But I'm quickly running out of road. October is jammed with stuff -- everything from visiting family to GRL and then we've got the holidays. So essentially...I've got two months of creative production time left.

On the bright side, compared to last year this has been an enormously productive year. Last year I did a novel and two short stories! So I'm happy with what what I did manage to achieve--and I didn't burn myself out doing it. Progress!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Results of my KU Experiment Take 2

This has nothing to do with anything except I need a drink after so much math
Last September I announced I was going to experiment with Kindle Unlimited again--and that I would publish the results once I had them.

If you missed that post, here's my reasoning. I still think the reasons were valid--and I am still against pinning your entire writing career on Kindle Unlimited for several reasons:

1 - Amazon is already way too powerful and we are all way too dependent on them--even those of us who continue to resist the lure of Kindle Unlimited.

2 - I believe the only way to guarantee a healthy market is competition--and Amazon's competition cannot survive if we all give in and go exclusive. Without a healthy thriving marketplace, Amazon only becomes more powerful and more autocratic. If you're angry at the way they deal with reviewers and royalties and all the rest of it now, just wait for the day when Amazon is the only game in town.

3 - Amazon is changing both the way people read and the way books are written--and not for the better. In order to thrive in the Amazon food chain, a steady supply of books must be cranked out which results in burnout and breakdown--and encourages writers to take short cuts that absolutely affect the quality of books. Some of those shortcuts including hiring ghostwriters--which is good for the ghostwriters, I admit--but it's also a disingenuous way to do business. You can see the effect of KU in how people read too. There's a lot of skimming and scanning by what are now referred to as "whale readers." Readers who consume vast amounts of product without really absorbing much of it--not least because a lot of it is just sand and water.

Anyway, those are my main reasons. I admit that Kindle Unlimited can be a great tool when used in conjunction with exercise and diet--wait. Wrong lecture. When used with a game plan that includes also going wide at intervals, but putting all your eggs in one basket is never a good idea. And that's actually also my advice for traditional authors as well. Diversify, diversify, diversify.

Anyway, it took me a while to get around to figuring out the data on my experiment. For one thing I wasn't in any hurry because I believed I already knew the answer to my question.

But it turns out I was partly wrong. And, hey, I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong.

There's a handy dandy relatively inexpensive tool called Book Report. It allows you to get insights from your Amazon sales dashboard that would otherwise require ninja math skilz I don't have the patience for. Like your lifetimes sales. Or your lifetime sales on a particular book. Or your lifetime sales on a particular book versus your page reads on that book.

By using Book Report I was able to see at a glance that I earned way WAY more in sales than kindle page reads during the six months I had Murder Between the Pages available in Kindle Unlimited.

That one's not even close. I suspect that choosing a historical--and a quirky, satirical historical novella at that--was not a good choice for Kindle Unlimited. Probably a more realistic experiment would have been something more typical: a novel length standalone FBI thriller, for example. That might have offered a more fair comparison.

But anyway, that was the original book I chose to experiment with and those were the results.

With my second KU experiment I decided to create a couple of box sets and see how those did. One of the box sets I was experimenting with was an existing set Male/Male Mystery & Suspense Box Set: 6 Novellas which is usually priced at $9.99 but was priced at $3.99 for the 90 days it was listed in KU.

The second set was created specifically for my KU experiment: Partners in Crime: 3 Classic Gay Mystery Novels. This too was listed at $3.99 for the 90 days it was listed in Kindle Unlimited.

The third collection was Los misterios de Adrien English, the Spanish translations of the first three Adrien English novels. List price $3.99.

Now, again, the English titles are all older titles that earned out long ago. The Spanish translations do almost nothing, so I was curious as to whether KU could move the needle on them.

And the winnahs are...

The results were kind of all over the place. With the six-novella box set--which has been available forever--I made more money in outright sales than KU reads. I think this is because my existing readership saw a chance to pick up some completer titles and simply bought the box set outright.

With the three-novel box set, I made more in page reads. I'm going to guess that's because my existing readership has all my novels already and so the sale was not useful to them. The page reads probably came from new readers, but they were really pretty low, so going wide would easily made up the difference there.

As for the Spanish box set, I earned more in page reads, but still again, very minimal numbers.

My conclusion? Advertising probably would have made some difference, but old titles are probably not useful as far as any kind of serious experiment.

At this point in my calculations I realized I had left out a key comparison, which is what the single titles typically averaged in sales during a three month period.

However, because I'm a glutton for punishment, the first thing I checked right off the top was how much had the novella box set earned at its regular price. Never mind 90 day averages, the entire amount it earned for 2017 (not including the period of my KU experiment) was $557.55. So basically it earned more in three months of KU than the rest of the year. Ouch.

Okay, but that was just through Amazon. Including my other sales channels, the book did sell more at full price wide in nine months than in three months of KU. BUT the fact that the numbers are that close is...well, it can't be dismissed. What also can't be dismissed is I sold more copies at $3.99 in three months than I did at nine months of $9.99.

Fair enough, but it is a very old collection. And the stories in the collection were very old when I collected them.

On the other side of that, ideally I'd like every single title to continue to earn something forever. My challenge is to figure out the best way to do that.

Okay, so on to comparing sales of the single titles.

So basically in three months the box set earned more in page reads than any of those single titles did in a year AND it very nearly matched what they all did individually within the year. So yes, safe to say the KU earnings were more than the titles could have earned individually in the same three month period.

That said, again these are really, really old titles AND the single titles were available in the box set during that period, so some people would have opted to buy the box set... But really, I'm just going around in circles here. The books sold more in KU than they would have outside of KU. That's the bottom line. There is really no arguing with that, as much as I am inclined to try.

And what about the three novel box set? How did those single titles fare in comparison?

The first and obvious difference is, with the exception of Murder in Pastel, which has never been a big seller (perhaps partly due to its role in certain dramatic events) this time the KU numbers did not outstrip the books' annual earnings or even quarterly earnings.

Three months at the $3.99 sale price did not equal what Winter Kill typically earns in a regularly priced month and barely beat out Somebody Killed His Editor, so there's really no contest there.

And same with the page reads.  The 90-day KU earnings for those titles was $824.82 whereas in a three month period those three titles would typically average around $1938. And that's not including my wide sales, which of course are lost during the KU period.

Now the point of the experiment was to introduce my work to new readers so maybe there's some read-thru value there that I can't see, but numbers-to-numbers, the novels box set earned less in KU than the titles typically earn sold individually at full price. The novella box set earned considerably more.

Had I run a huge advertising campaign on the novels box set, that might have made a difference, but how much would I be willing to spend in order to earn what the novels are already earning? ;-)

There are always variables. These novels will continue to age and their earnings will continue to decline. And, in fact, out of curiosity I compared the earnings on these novels for the last three years both at Amazon and everywhere else. What I found was series remains strong everywhere. Standalone is dropping fast and faster. Well, hell.

In conclusion? I have a lot more information, but I'm still not completely sure what to make of it. There seem to be a lot of x-factors involved in calculating when or whether to put something into KU. The much vaunted formula for success is to produce something new every month or so, release in KU and price at .99. Repeat as necessary for success or until you drop dead. Whichever comes first. I mock, but it's a formula that certainly seems to work for a lot of authors.

Of course when I say "it certainly seems to work," I mean it works for a percentage of KU authors in the same way that the old formulas worked for a percentage of us, er, Old Guard.

Personally, I think the best way to build a large and loyal readership is to stay wide as much as possible. Staying wide is also the only chance of not becoming completely dependent on Amazon, and that should be a major concern for all of us.

But...I don't want to make bad business decisions based purely on emotion. Kindle Unlimited is not going anywhere anytime soon, and I have to factor it into my plans moving forward. I don't know what that means yet, I just know I have to looking at everything objectively.

Thoughts? What did I miss? What did I get wrong here?