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?

Friday, July 13, 2018


Either late today or sometime tomorrow** (SEE BELOW!)  In Other Words... Murder goes live.

Just finishing up the bits and bobs of edits and all the front and back matter -- and then formatting. This has been quite the month. But anyway, the book is pretty much done and now it's just a matter of getting it up.

It's available for preorders through Amazon, iBooks, and maybe Smashwords? (I don't think Smashwords actually does preorders--they just act as a funnel for preorders at other sites?)


Mystery author and sometimes amateur sleuth Christopher Holmes is now happily (all things being relative) engaged to be married and toying with starting a new career as a true-crime writer when he learns a body has been discovered in the backyard of his former home.

Then, to complicate matters, Christopher’s ex turns up out of the blue, suggesting the body may belong to Christopher’s former personal assistant.

It’s life as usual at Chez Holmes. In other words… Murder.


Oddly enough—or maybe not so oddly, because I did have that third drink and then a fourth—it was easier from that moment on. David and I were able to talk about Dicky and even our own past almost like old friends. It probably helped that he was so complimentary. No, not that he was complimentary, because I didn’t trust his compliments, but that he was genuinely bowled over by the change in me. It was funny really. What a difference a good haircut and a few pounds made. Not just to David. To me. Because I was confident in a way I hadn’t been for years.

But then that wasn’t really about new clothes and fancy-schmancy moisturizer. It was about J.X. About the way he made me feel. Valued. Cherished. Loved.

I resolved to call him as soon as I got back to my room. To hell with who was right and who was wrong. I missed him like crazy. And I wanted him to know that.

“I know you don’t want to hear this,” David said suddenly, “but you’re the perfect person to find out what happened to Dicky. You’ve already solved four murders that I know of. And this happened in your own backyard.”

“First of all, I didn’t solve four murders.” It was more like six if you counted secondary and appended victims. “And definitely not on my own. Anyway, are you so sure he’s dead?”

“Yes.” David’s eyes were dark and sad. “I think I knew something was wrong almost from that first day when he never came home. I tried to talk myself out of it. Tried to convince myself he changed his mind, but I knew.”

“Okay, maybe you’re right. It’s alarming that he’s never turned up in all these months. But neither of us has any useful information as to where to even start looking for what could have happened to him.”

“You must have his old résumé and his job application somewhere.”

“Maybe in a box. I might have dumped it all, though.”

“Exactly.” David leaned back in his chair, smiling. “And if something brilliant should occur to you while sorting through those papers, well, it can’t hurt to make a couple of phone calls. Right?”

“Hm. I suppose not.”

He grinned. “Elementary, my dear Holmes!”

I felt a twinge as he said it because that was J.X.’s little joke with me. Then, with an uncomfortable flash, I remembered it had been David’s joke first.

Funny I’d forgotten that.

I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see it was nearly ten. We’d been drinking and talking in the dining room for over four hours. The dinner crowd had come and gone, and it was back to just the two of us.

I said, “Wow. Look at the time. I should say good night. I’ve got a long drive home tomorrow.”

David looked surprised and disappointed. “Are you sure?”

“Yep. But thanks for dinner.” I rose, and he rose too.

He said, “My pleasure—and I do mean that.”

“Yeah, it was…good.” Good to confront old ghosts, good to let go of the old anger, the old bitterness anyway. Not an event I was in a hurry to repeat, however. More like a rite of passage.

I started to turn away, and David said quickly, urgently, “Christopher.”

I looked my inquiry.

“I owe you an apology. Not just for Dicky, though for Dicky, yes. That was the worst one, I know. But for…all of it. All the times I hurt you. Whatever I felt, whatever you did, you didn’t deserve that.”

I hadn’t expected an apology—or rather, I’d figured this dinner was his apology—so I didn’t know what to say. Especially since I didn’t miss the whatever-you-did comment. 

I finally came up with what I thought was a gracious, “It takes two people to ruin a relationship.” 
Which actually isn’t true. One determined and resourceful person can do it all by himself.

David offered another of his stock smiles. “True. Well, then…” He came around the table to hug me. I think I stood there about as responsive as one of those blank-faced department-store mannequins they prefer these days.

He whispered into my ear, “What about one last time? For old times’ sake.”

I drew back. “What about—huh?”

His smile grew rueful. “You know. We never got to say goodbye.”

“Yeah, we did. I gave you Dicky as a going-away present.”

He leaned in, still smiling, charming and purposeful. His breath was warm against my face. “No, I mean really say goodbye.”

“I think get-the-hell-out-of-my-life is really saying goodbye.”

I’m not sure he even heard me. “You have to admit, the sex was always good between us. Really good.”

Yeeeeaah. About that. 

And even if sex with J.X. had been the worst ever, I still loved him too much to ever think of hurting him the way I’d been hurt. Not in a million years.

I laughed, but not unkindly, not mockingly. “Man, you really are incorrigible,” I said.

David heard me that time. His shoulders slumped, and he sighed. “Yeah. I am. But I mean, we were married.”

“It was a commitment ceremony.”

“Same thing. To me, anyway.”

Did he really not see the irony? I said, “Uh…yeah. Okay. Your point is?”

“We’re allowed to have goodbye-forever sex.”

“I’m sure we had it, we just didn’t notice it at the time.”

He scrutinized my face. “I can’t tell when you’re laughing. Was that your final no or—?”
I was still laughing. “That was final.”

“Maybe one more drink would help?”

“One more drink and I’ll pass out. Besides, these people want to go home.” I nodded at the waitress and bartender, who were watching us with weary wariness.

David gave another of those heavy sighs. “All right. Have it your way.”

We bade farewell to the relieved-looking staff and walked out to the lobby.

At the elevators, I turned to him and said, “Good night, David. Thanks again for dinner.”

“You’re sure you don’t want to—?”

“I’m sure.”

“Absolutely, positively—?”

I said firmly, “’Night, David.”

I stepped into the elevator, punched the button for the third floor. I nodded cordially as the doors closed on David’s glum expression.

I chuckled quietly to myself as I strolled down the brightly lit hall and let myself into my room. I flipped on the lights and moved to pull the drapes across the windows.

I was buzzed but not drunk, and I felt pleasantly…pleasant. I’d have a leisurely hot shower, get in bed, and phone J.X. If all went well, we could maybe even manage a little phone sex. Phone sex with J.X. was still better than live and in-person sex with anybody else.

These agreeable plans evaporated at the tentative knock on my door.

I stopped smiling.

I admit being propositioned by David—urgently propositioned at that—had been good for my ego, but this was not flattering or amusing. Jesus Christ. He couldn’t be that desperate to get laid.

I yanked open the door, prepared to tell him that very thing.

But it was not David standing in the garishly bright hallway. 

Or maybe it wasn’t the hall that was garishly bright. Maybe it was the green-haired guy wearing whiteface and a blue polka-dot clown suit.

 The clown said nothing.

He gazed at me with his sad clown face, complete with painted downturned mouth and eye drips. His costume was one of those ruffled, old-fashioned things—I forget what they call them—and he was holding a single red heart-shaped balloon.

I stared silently back at him. I was thinking—and at this time the defense wishes to call upon the four G&Ts, two of which had occurred on an empty stomach—that maybe J.X. had sent some kind of weird floral-delivery apology. Except I did not see any flowers and J.X. did not like clowns.

I transferred my gaze from the clown’s black eyes to his red balloon. I said, “Where are the other ninety-eight?”

The clown’s blue-gloved hand released the string of the balloon, which went sailing to the ceiling, bouncing against it with an eerie whispering sound.

**It's so long since I've done preorders at Amazon I didn't realize I couldn't release immediately. SO the book goes live Tuesday July 17 at Amazon. It's already live at Kobo and B&N. Smashwords actually pushed the book back three days because it turns out their deadline also includes their own approval time, which pushed it back to July 23 there and iBooks

Friday, July 6, 2018

Two Years Before the Mast

AKA Six Months on Patreon.

Happy Six Month Birthday to me and my Patrons!

Yes, I too was surprised to realize that I've now been on Patreon for six months.  (Which means, holy moly, we're halfway through the year!)

It seems like only a month or so ago that I came up with the idea. But no. Six months! So it seems like perhaps it's time for a progress report.

So far, so good. 

When I first posted about starting a Patreon, I got a lot of helpful feedback--and some of the things mentioned have proved true, and some have not. Or if they have, I've hopefully found a fix.

Providing exclusive and original content in addition to my books and stories is definitely time-consuming. Some of the content is readily provided: excerpts from works-in-progress, story notes, character notes, etc. Some of it requires more effort: character interviews, "missing" scenes, an exclusive-to-Patreon novel, exclusive audio, etc.

But what I've found is taking the time to do character interviews, for example, is really helpful as well as entertaining, so it's a good trade-off--versus simply writing a couple extra short stories a year (which I can still always do if I have to). Also it's hard not to be energized by a group that is so unfailingly supportive and enthusiastic. That's kind of priceless.

Unsurprisingly, it's been tougher during months when I'm already stressed. Like the last two months. But given the nature of Patreon--the purpose of such a community--I'm getting comfortable with letting patrons know this might be a skimpy month, but I'll make it up to them the next month.

As I was warned, there have been a couple of instances of people who pledge, enjoy the rewards at their tier, and then quit before their pledge is processed--only to rejoin the following month. That's been really rare, and as of this month I've changed my account so that people are charged when they join. That should take care of that--and it was, luckily, not a serious issue to begin with (although, it is a serious issue for a lot of creators, as I've learned hanging around the creator forum).

The question I'm always asked is are you actually earning anything? And it's a good question because apparently a lot of creators do not earn much at all. There are loads of really interesting articles on whether it's possible to earn a living on Patreon. Like here and here and here.  Basically that comes down to where you live and how many people you're supporting and in what style.

For the record, I can't earn a living on Patreon, but the monthly payouts act as a much needed safety cushion. If I  have to postpone a book--and (*&+!&^^%%$$$###@!) I have needed to do that with every single deadline this year--I can go ahead and know we're not going under because I need another month to make my book better. So right now my earnings go right back into my business, but I do earn enough to pay the mortgage if it came down to that.

That's huge. That is worth the price of admission right there.

On the maybe-not-so-great side, I spend less time interacting elsewhere on line. This was something people were concerned with, and it has unfortunately proven true. I'm less active on Goodreads, Facebook and this blog. (I was always terrible with my newsletter, so we can't blame that on Patreon.)

Now partly I think my lack of energy for social media is because this year has been a tricky year. A lot has gone on in my personal life and, maybe more to the point, I'm still struggling to catch up on all that over-committing I did last year. In Other Words... Murder is the final book with any deadline attached. After this, THANK GOD, I have no other deadlines.

(Well, that's not true. ARGH. I still have the deadline for Mr. and Mrs. Murder, but that isn't until mid-next year, so I think I'm fine. )

Also, though, I think every social venue has a life cycle and I've been on some of these places for nearly a decade, and it's reasonable that interaction might begin to wind down in certain places as it revs up in others. As much as I loved LiveJournal in its heyday, by the time I bowed out, it was no longer the same experience. Things change. We change. And that's actually great.

Other things: Amazon has not done anything in the past six months that affects me directly, but they've done plenty to affect Kindle Unlimited authors. And they're as autocratic and ruthless about is as ever.

Some of the problems Amazon is now trying to fix are of their own creation. Things like fake reviews...Amazon brought that on by making reviews part of their arcane algorithm and by making it so difficult for ordinary people to review: you can't "know" the author, for example, which includes having friended them on social media. Say what?!

It's like enriched white bread. Had you not taken everything nutritious out of the food to begin with, you wouldn't have to artificially inject it back in. 

Anyway. My dire predictions have not yet come to pass, but that doesn't change my feeling that I'm still too dependent on Amazon. Kindle Unlimited is making it harder and harder for the rest of us to have any visibility. Visibility is everything in this game.

(Okay, not everything. Writing still counts. Readership still counts. But it's a lot.)

Regardless of what happens with Amazon, my Patreon account is a big step away from feeling so entirely vulnerable to their every whim. Over these past six months I feel like I've begun to lay a foundation for a publishing future that doesn't involve me lying awake worrying about what Amazon might do next.