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GOLD! [PROGRESS THREAD] ChickenHawk's Self-Published Fiction EBooks

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TheVoyager

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Thanks for asking! Alas, I've got nothing terribly interesting to report except that I'm soooooo burned out on writing romance, and it's starting to show word-count wise.

If I didn't have a backlist of like 20 romance novels, I'd almost certainly switch genres to something totally different, like zombie apocalypse books. I might be kidding, but I'm not even sure.

A big challenge (other than being burned out) continues to be that advertising has gotten so darn expensive, and Amazon is almost all pay-to-play these days. Even as a reader, I find it incredibly frustrating that their recommendation system is all based on sponsored ads rather than organic "also boughts."

As far as advertising is concerned, I've offset some of the costs by going to a rapid release production schedule, where I write books and bank them to be released in quickish succession, but with my word count bordering on the pathetic, this might be an even bigger challenge if I don't find a way to get my writing mojo back.

In a way, I'm feeling a little trapped. If I had no backlist, I'd almost certainly switch to a less crowded genre. But if I did, sales of my previously published romance titles would drop to nearly nothing. And, in a new genre, I'd have no backlist to boost my earnings. All this to say, I'd have to take a few steps backward in hopes of moving forward in a different genre. I'm not sure it would be worth it, so it's a real catch-22.

You have to be very careful concerning that burn out. Amazons system is urging you to an awful release schedule to stay visible or to give them a lot of money to stay in the game. It won't get better as there are still new authors coming to that overcrowded market, eager to spend advertizing buck$ to push their careers. And I'm sure amazon is looking for new ways to milk our purses.
What once was a promising opportunity for a new business has been changed by that company and the huge amount of competition to a new form of slavery. Better start thinking about some kind of exit strategy as it really will not get better. As scaling has it's limits (you can't raise the max numbers of books you are writing) and the entry barriers are low, this amazon-only novel writing business is no fastlane anymore but just self employment with dwindling salary.
 
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Note: in this post, I will contradict what I wrote a few months ago and what I used to complain about a lot. I changed my opinion on this.

A big challenge (other than being burned out) continues to be that advertising has gotten so darn expensive, and Amazon is almost all pay-to-play these days. Even as a reader, I find it incredibly frustrating that their recommendation system is all based on sponsored ads rather than organic "also boughts."

As a reader, I never buy books from sponsored ads. I never even use Amazon's search engine for books because it usually produces some keyword-optimized crap and not the quality I'm looking for.

I find new books to read by:
  • Buying whatever my favorite authors publish. Loyalty is incredibly powerful in this industry but particularly in a smaller niche where there are fewer releases. For example, compare small town romance with epic dark fantasy. The readers of the latter tend to be more loyal because there are much fewer good epic dark fantasy books to read than there is small town romance.
  • Browsing bestseller lists/also boughts/sometimes Goodreads. This is sort of a hobby of mine to understand the current state of the market but it also helps me discover new authors.
  • Googling what interests me. Usually it's checking on Reddit threads like "If I like Brandon Sanderson's books, what else will I enjoy?" I think it can be very helpful to position yourself as someone just like that big author BUT with something different/better. For example, Joe Abercrombie is sort of like George R. R. Martin but he's much darker, more cynical, and also more humorous.
  • Word of mouth, the holy grail of marketing and the thing that makes authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz keep killing it for decades.
Do some people buy through ads? Of course they do. Can you no longer find a book on Amazon through any other way than an ad? Of course you still can. While it's true that Amazon now pushes authors to use their advertising platform, it doesn't mean that you can't sell books without it.

As for advertising in general, I'd say that the main focus should be on building a list and not on making a profit on any single book. Ultimately, it's better to get a new super loyal fan who will buy all your future books and tell everyone else about them than merely get a book sale.

In a way, I'm feeling a little trapped. If I had no backlist, I'd almost certainly switch to a less crowded genre. But if I did, sales of my previously published romance titles would drop to nearly nothing. And, in a new genre, I'd have no backlist to boost my earnings. All this to say, I'd have to take a few steps backward in hopes of moving forward in a different genre. I'm not sure it would be worth it, so it's a real catch-22.

We're in a similar boat. Not the same one because non-fiction keeps selling even if you don't publish new books but it's similar nonetheless in that we've both reached a ceiling in our niches and need to adapt. It's not a ceiling of income but it's a ceiling of our potential in a given niche. There are authors who make millions in romance and there are authors who make millions in my non-fiction niche. But for me, and I assume for you as well, I've hit my limit. I can't sufficiently stand out in my crowded niche and while it sucks to not be able to continue using my assets (list, brand, backlist), it's time to switch to a different niche. I was also burned out in my niche anyway.

I'd encourage you to explore other opportunities, even if not for the business but just for yourself. You've written a lot and I guess you still love writing. I think it would be theraupetic for you to write in a genre you'd love to write and see what happens. Perhaps don't try with something that takes tons of time like epic fantasy. The aforementioned post-apocalyptic zombie genre could work. Give yourself a few weeks to write something, publish it, promote it as best as you could and compare it to the performance of your main pen name.

One thing I continue to eye is foreign translations. As part of this, I'm working on a trilogy of shorter books for release around Christmas. Instead of 90K novels, they'll be 35-50K novellas, which means that if they succeed in the USA, they'll be decent contenders for foreign translations (because they'll be shorter and thus, cheaper to have this done). But even this is iffy at the moment.

It's an interesting experiment. Another option you could consider is to look for an agent who will sell the rights to your translations. If this person could reach publishers in big, hard to DIY markets like China or Japan, it could be very helpful.

You have to be very careful concerning that burn out. Amazons system is urging you to an awful release schedule to stay visible or to give them a lot of money to stay in the game. It won't get better as there are still new authors coming to that overcrowded market, eager to spend advertizing buck$ to push their careers. And I'm sure amazon is looking for new ways to milk our purses.
What once was a promising opportunity for a new business has been changed by that company and the huge amount of competition to a new form of slavery. Better start thinking about some kind of exit strategy as it really will not get better. As scaling has it's limits (you can't raise the max numbers of books you are writing) and the entry barriers are low, this amazon-only novel writing business is no fastlane anymore but just self employment with dwindling salary.

I used to believe that as well but I've changed my mind. Maybe getting away from the industry for a few months only to realize how much harder other businesses are does that to you lol.

There are more authors than ever, that's for sure. But are there that many more good authors?

Of course there are overcrowded niches full of skillful players where you chances of success are close to zero. I'd never try writing a thriller because I wouldn't be able to compete with all the big names. Same for romance and historical fiction (which is, to make things worse, extremely difficult to write).

There is more competition. But there are also WAY more TV shows and movies being created based on books. There are other opportunities to explore, too: video games, board games, translations, comics, NFTs, etc. Scaling yourself does have its limits but scaling your assets and your marketing doesn't.

Also, if Amazon ever makes the market so difficult or unprofitable for authors that they won't be able to prosper in it, a new competitor will emerge. Remember that it's not just self-published authors, it's also huge traditional publishers who will oppose any changes on Amazon that harm them (as they've already done in the past). And since there's so much money in this industry, there's always a chance that one of the new shiny startups will decide to face Amazon and, for example, create a much better alternative to Kindle.

Those with a nice backlist, who kept going when others assumed it was the end of book publishing (a very old industry unlikely to die anytime soon) will benefit when a new player lets them sell their work to a new audience, in a new format, or on better terms than Amazon.

By the way, that's also one of the reasons why I'm wide. I want the freedom to work with other platforms and also to support them as they're competing with Amazon.

@ChickenHawk have you tried to go wide with your books? Or at least with paperback, if you are in KU (Sorry if I missed this in your thread). If not, why not?

I think going wide is a good strategy long-term but it's unlikely to make a huge difference to @ChickenHawk's earnings. Roughly 10% of my revenue comes from other book retailers. I don't think it would be that different for her. The benefit is increased peace of mind, though, because even if your Amazon sales drop, they don't necessarily have to drop on other platforms. And it's always better to get your income from 5 different companies than just from one.
 

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Thanks for asking! Alas, I've got nothing terribly interesting to report except that I'm soooooo burned out on writing romance, and it's starting to show word-count wise.

If I didn't have a backlist of like 20 romance novels, I'd almost certainly switch genres to something totally different, like zombie apocalypse books. I might be kidding, but I'm not even sure.

A big challenge (other than being burned out) continues to be that advertising has gotten so darn expensive, and Amazon is almost all pay-to-play these days. Even as a reader, I find it incredibly frustrating that their recommendation system is all based on sponsored ads rather than organic "also boughts."

As far as advertising is concerned, I've offset some of the costs by going to a rapid release production schedule, where I write books and bank them to be released in quickish succession, but with my word count bordering on the pathetic, this might be an even bigger challenge if I don't find a way to get my writing mojo back.

In a way, I'm feeling a little trapped. If I had no backlist, I'd almost certainly switch to a less crowded genre. But if I did, sales of my previously published romance titles would drop to nearly nothing. And, in a new genre, I'd have no backlist to boost my earnings. All this to say, I'd have to take a few steps backward in hopes of moving forward in a different genre. I'm not sure it would be worth it, so it's a real catch-22.

One thing I continue to eye is foreign translations. As part of this, I'm working on a trilogy of shorter books for release around Christmas. Instead of 90K novels, they'll be 35-50K novellas, which means that if they succeed in the USA, they'll be decent contenders for foreign translations (because they'll be shorter and thus, cheaper to have this done). But even this is iffy at the moment.

If it sounds like I'm floundering, it's probably because I am. It will be interesting to see what this year brings, that's for sure!
I personally LOVE shorter romance novels. I'm in a few author groups where readers have mentioned that they too love the shorter ones.
So, perhaps your novellas will do exceedingly well!
 

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You have to be very careful concerning that burn out. .. What once was a promising opportunity for a new business has been changed by that company and the huge amount of competition to a new form of slavery. Better start thinking about some kind of exit strategy as it really will not get better. As scaling has it's limits (you can't raise the max numbers of books you are writing) and the entry barriers are low, this amazon-only novel writing business is no fastlane anymore but just self employment with dwindling salary.
It certainly feels like this on some days, and this may be true. To combat this dynamic, it seems that more and more romance authors are going the ghost-writing route or teaming up with other writers so they can release rapidly without burning themselves completely out. Stubbornly or not, I'll probably never pursue this, just because I'm determined that anything with my pen name on it will be written by me.

But I do see what you mean. I think it's part of the reason I'm in a writing slump. It's hard to be motivated sometimes when my share of the profits keeps getting smaller (due to the high cost of visibility). This feeling appears to be getting more widespread, which may lead to a consolidation of sorts. As more writers enter the field, others may drop off. Will more enter? Or more drop out? It will be interesting to see what trend wins over time.

Those with a nice backlist, who kept going when others assumed it was the end of book publishing (a very old industry unlikely to die anytime soon) will benefit when a new player lets them sell their work to a new audience, in a new format, or on better terms than Amazon.
Man, that would be nice. Amazon has gotten so huge that they're practically a monopoly. It's a shame, too, because if only Barnes & Noble (or Apple or GooglePlay) had upped their game five years ago, readers and authors would have a lot more choices today.

@ChickenHawk have you tried to go wide with your books? Or at least with paperback, if you are in KU (Sorry if I missed this in your thread). If not, why not?
Thanks for the question! Yup, I've tried going wide and had reasonable success with it, but not enough to offset the other benefits and earnings from Kindle Unlimited. I do have paperbacks and audiobooks on other sites here and there, but paperback sales have dropped down to almost zero. Thanks to so many readers going digital, I don't make much money off paperbacks at all, and I'd probably eliminate them entirely if it wouldn't look bad to not have them.

I think going wide is a good strategy long-term but it's unlikely to make a huge difference to @ChickenHawk's earnings. Roughly 10% of my revenue comes from other book retailers. I don't think it would be that different for her. The benefit is increased peace of mind, though, because even if your Amazon sales drop, they don't necessarily have to drop on other platforms. And it's always better to get your income from 5 different companies than just from one.
Yup! All of this is very true.

As a reader, I never buy books from sponsored ads. I never even use Amazon's search engine for books because it usually produces some keyword-optimized crap and not the quality I'm looking for.
We think alike in this regard. I still use Amazon's search engine, but if the search brings up something interesting in a sponsored ad, I never click the ad. Instead, I'll open a new tab and key in the exact book or product name and then click on the non-sponsored listing so the author/seller doesn't have to pay for my click.

Regardless, there's always a lot of clutter to wade through. It's made the whole buying experience a lot less pleasant. But I'm guessing that Amazon makes so much money off the ads that they don't much care at this point. It would be nice if something (such as a new competitor) made them care.

I personally LOVE shorter romance novels. I'm in a few author groups where readers have mentioned that they too love the shorter ones. So, perhaps your novellas will do exceedingly well!
I like the way you think, and that's good to hear, so thanks for that!
 

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Hey ChickenHawk!

I don't have any publishing experience (although I have a publisher as a client but it's a different game, and also worked with a prolific author in the romance space), so excuse me if some of these ideas seem stupid. But I've loved your thread and I want to try to help.

Alas, I've got nothing terribly interesting to report except that I'm soooooo burned out on writing romance, and it's starting to show word-count wise.

If I didn't have a backlist of like 20 romance novels, I'd almost certainly switch genres to something totally different, like zombie apocalypse books. I might be kidding, but I'm not even sure.
Have you explored any other formats? I think MTF is suggesting industries that are feed by books (try to license for that), but I mean directly publishing on those formats.

For example, a friend of mine is writing narrated series for Storytel (not sure if it's available in the US). It's not the same as audiobooks, since the format is different (not sure if my translation of the concept is correct).

The consumption of audio format is growing every year. It's a convenient way to consume media on your commute, or on a walk. Plain audiobooks could work too (like authors-direct).

Could you sell other than books to your audience without alienating them?

I know that the help to the authors' industry is also crowded, but there's an inexhaustible source of wanna-be authors out there (my client is a self-publishing company and I help them get leads, i.e. authors, and they keep growing). I don't know if you like that route, but maybe there's something in your process that could help others.

Are there other sources of traffic that could work for you and your audience? (Twitter, Instagram, Idk if it's a total waste of time or could help)

Is there any radical idea that could work to do things differently? How could you zig when everyone else is zagging?

I like your idea of switching genres just to avoid burnout. You can reframe it like a small holiday. Maybe you can even explore a genre where you think a romance twist could work with that audience (to leverage your experience) and it's not overdone yet (the novelty twist could work).

Also, if Amazon ever makes the market so difficult or unprofitable for authors that they won't be able to prosper in it, a new competitor will emerge. Remember that it's not just self-published authors, it's also huge traditional publishers who will oppose any changes on Amazon that harm them (as they've already done in the past). And since there's so much money in this industry, there's always a chance that one of the new shiny startups will decide to face Amazon and, for example, create a much better alternative to Kindle.

That is what is happening with Nebula(dot)app. Some YouTube creators are transitioning over there. If so many people are discontent in this big industry, I'm sure that there are a lot of opportunities out there.
 

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Thanks for asking! Alas, I've got nothing terribly interesting to report except that I'm soooooo burned out on writing romance, and it's starting to show word-count wise.

If I didn't have a backlist of like 20 romance novels, I'd almost certainly switch genres to something totally different, like zombie apocalypse books. I might be kidding, but I'm not even sure.

A big challenge (other than being burned out) continues to be that advertising has gotten so darn expensive, and Amazon is almost all pay-to-play these days. Even as a reader, I find it incredibly frustrating that their recommendation system is all based on sponsored ads rather than organic "also boughts."

As far as advertising is concerned, I've offset some of the costs by going to a rapid release production schedule, where I write books and bank them to be released in quickish succession, but with my word count bordering on the pathetic, this might be an even bigger challenge if I don't find a way to get my writing mojo back.

In a way, I'm feeling a little trapped. If I had no backlist, I'd almost certainly switch to a less crowded genre. But if I did, sales of my previously published romance titles would drop to nearly nothing. And, in a new genre, I'd have no backlist to boost my earnings. All this to say, I'd have to take a few steps backward in hopes of moving forward in a different genre. I'm not sure it would be worth it, so it's a real catch-22.

One thing I continue to eye is foreign translations. As part of this, I'm working on a trilogy of shorter books for release around Christmas. Instead of 90K novels, they'll be 35-50K novellas, which means that if they succeed in the USA, they'll be decent contenders for foreign translations (because they'll be shorter and thus, cheaper to have this done). But even this is iffy at the moment.

If it sounds like I'm floundering, it's probably because I am. It will be interesting to see what this year brings, that's for sure!
So sorry to hear this!
 

ChickenHawk

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I don't have any publishing experience (although I have a publisher as a client but it's a different game, and also worked with a prolific author in the romance space), so excuse me if some of these ideas seem stupid. But I've loved your thread and I want to try to help.
Thanks so much for all of the input and ideas! None of them seem the least bit stupid, and I really appreciate you taking the time to list and explain them.

With some of them, such as selling other products, I've heard of other authors making some money that way, but I'm sorry to say that I don't think it would earn enough money to justify the time and effort, which would pull me away from writing (which alas I'm doing a terrible job of right now anyway, heh!). It's the same with adding more social media activity/outlets. I'm not sure the "juice would justify the squeeze" right now, but it IS always good to keep an eye out. When Facebook advertising became a thing, those who jumped in early did really well, me included, so this is a good reminder.

About audiobooks, I've recently started having them produced again. I went a while without producing audiobooks because Amazon had this all-inclusive romance package that made it hard to earn back production costs. But that godawful program has since gone away, which has me back in the audiobook game again, so that's good.

Is there any radical idea that could work to do things differently? How could you zig when everyone else is zagging?
I've definitely wondered this. A funny thing, stepbrother romances became really HUUUUGE a few years ago. The first author who did this made out like a bandit. And those who followed on the bandwagon quickly did really well too, and then the concept flamed out like so many other things. But it is really interesting to try to think what might be the next big thing, whether it's a new type of story or a totally new way of getting stories to readers. This is much food for thought!

Maybe you can even explore a genre where you think a romance twist could work with that audience (to leverage your experience) and it's not overdone yet (the novelty twist could work).
This is very thought provoking. I've jokingly said I could do a zombie book with a romance (not zombie lovin' though because a girl's gotta draw the line somewhere, LOL). But I do wonder if a "novelty twist" might strike me sometime that will just beg to be written. It will be interesting to see!

Thanks again for such a thought-provoking post. I really appreciate it!

So sorry to hear this!
Awww!!! Thanks!!! Even though a good chunk of my burnout is because the whole Amazon/advertising thing has gotten so out-of-hand, I think a lot of my problems could be solved if I'd just beat myself harder with a stick. This lack of motivation is pretty foreign to me, to be honest. I'm usually a bit of a workaholic, so this is a pretty big departure. But it does have an upside because I'm spending more time with friends and family, so that's good!
 

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It's the same with adding more social media activity/outlets. I'm not sure the "juice would justify the squeeze" right now, but it IS always good to keep an eye out. When Facebook advertising became a thing, those who jumped in early did really well, me included, so this is a good reminder.
@Andy Black is figuring out Twitter ads, Idk if that's a thing that could work with authors (or if anyone is doing them)

I think a lot of my problems could be solved if I'd just beat myself harder with a stick
50 Shades of the Romance Writer? XD

If you are having a hard time sticking to write, you can work on reframing your relationship with the work. Steve Pavlina has some good content about it:


This is very thought provoking. I've jokingly said I could do a zombie book with a romance (not zombie lovin' though because a girl's gotta draw the line somewhere, LOL). But I do wonder if a "novelty twist" might strike me sometime that will just beg to be written. It will be interesting to see!

Thanks again for such a thought-provoking post. I really appreciate it!
LOL. That zombie loving made me remember the end of Shaun of the Dead (it seems like it works with male friends haha)

Why not play a bit to find that twist instead of waiting for it? Idk, maybe making different lists of topics, tropes, subgenres, and play to combine them. Or some of those beginner's exercises for generating ideas (sometimes going back to the basics helps a lot.)

I've definitely wondered this. A funny thing, stepbrother romances became really HUUUUGE a few years ago. The first author who did this made out like a bandit. And those who followed on the bandwagon quickly did really well too, and then the concept flamed out like so many other things. But it is really interesting to try to think what might be the next big thing, whether it's a new type of story or a totally new way of getting stories to readers. This is much food for thought!
Funny that the stepbrother/stepsister trend is also been present in the porn industry in the last few years, along with the "Tinder date" (not that I know first hand, a friend told me XD).
 

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@Andy Black is figuring out Twitter ads, Idk if that's a thing that could work with authors (or if anyone is doing them)
I’m helping a friend who has a sales book. I suggested he tweet quoteables from the book, and somehow link to the book in his Twitter bio. Put ad spend behind those tweets and see how it goes.

Seems to me that authors could do well on Twitter as they’ve so much material.

Not sure how that translates to fiction books. I’ve not thought about it.
 

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I think a lot of my problems could be solved if I'd just beat myself harder with a stick. This lack of motivation is pretty foreign to me, to be honest. I'm usually a bit of a workaholic, so this is a pretty big departure.

I hate to straight-up contradict you, but this is almost never the answer. How would you treat a friend going through this? You would probably advise them that their burnout is trying to tell them something & if it's as uncharacteristic as you say (and I 100% believe you) then you also might suggest that they take a look at their health markers -things like thyroid health, hormone health, etc. There is most likely an underlying impetus here.

If you feel like crap, berating yourself & bashing yourself in order to spurn a zest for performing will 100% not work. I can tell you this from personal experience. Try to find out what might be the root cause of your professional lethargy might be & listen to it. The body is wise.
 

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Awww!!! Thanks!!! Even though a good chunk of my burnout is because the whole Amazon/advertising thing has gotten so out-of-hand, I think a lot of my problems could be solved if I'd just beat myself harder with a stick. This lack of motivation is pretty foreign to me, to be honest. I'm usually a bit of a workaholic, so this is a pretty big departure. But it does have an upside because I'm spending more time with friends and family, so that's good!
I personally don't think beating yourself up or working harder is the way to go. Please tell me you have pursued and grown your email list. I don't like PPC advertising for books, precisely for the reason you mention. Or for putting all your eggs in one basket.

If you do have a bunch of raving fans' emails, why not poll them and ask if they'd like to see a new direction? Maybe it's just me, but I get bored reading the same genre or subgenre all the time. Come up with some ideas including zombie (that could actually be romcom if you worked it right) and offer the ideas to your fans. Let them tell you what to write next.

Also, have you looked into Vella?
 

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These are really amazing updates.- thanks esp. to ChickenHawk. I have been off the writing grind for a while since my books were not making enough to pay the rent (fiction and nonfiction - nonfiction was much longer lasting). When I went back to work, it was okay for a couple of years, but then the hours kept increasing up to 80+ hours a week. I was reminded how much I hate working for employers, and then mandatory vaccinations were announced. So it will be back to venturing off on my own. I was thinking about going back to writing, but it sounds like things are still tough and getting worse. I will need to figure out what to pursue in the coming weeks.
 

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These are really amazing updates.- thanks esp. to ChickenHawk. I have been off the writing grind for a while since my books were not making enough to pay the rent (fiction and nonfiction - nonfiction was much longer lasting). When I went back to work, it was okay for a couple of years, but then the hours kept increasing up to 80+ hours a week. I was reminded how much I hate working for employers, and then mandatory vaccinations were announced. So it will be back to venturing off on my own. I was thinking about going back to writing, but it sounds like things are still tough and getting worse. I will need to figure out what to pursue in the coming weeks.
You monetize the non-fiction with back-end sales, if you're writing the right kind of non-fiction. It's about courses, coaching, speaking, etc., not royalties. Why not dust off the backlist and see what you can make of it now?
 

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Well, as usual, I've gone way too long between updates. But here's a biggie. After giving it much thought, I've decided to take a serious break from self-publishing -- a break that may become permanent.

There are lots of reasons for this, including massive burnout, but the primary thing fueling this decision is the high cost of advertising both in terms of time and money. This has transformed a great source of passive income into a never-ending hamster wheel of shoveling time and money at Amazon and Facebook to get visibility in addition to the time/energy/effort to actually write the book(s). On many days, the tech giants make more money off my books than I do, and my share of the pie has decreased to the levels comparable to what I made at the dreaded day job. This wouldn't be so bad if I were only working 40 hours per week, but sadly, the writing/advertising hamster wheel is all-consuming and requires much more than 40-hours to be competitive.

It may be that my genre (romance) remains over saturated, or it might simply be too many writers are chasing too few readers and advertising slots. Either way, "The juice is no longer worth the squeeze" in spite of my nice backlist and established fanbase.

It's been a tough decision, but one I feel better about after looking up several well-known authors in my genre and seeing that many of them haven't published anything for a couple of years now. And these were serious "rock stars" in the publishing world. Crazy, huh?

In short, I'm not the only one.

The real problem, I think, is that Amazon has become a virtual monopoly and is now nearly all pay-for-play in terms of visibility. At 42-cents per click on a $3.99 product, it's easy to see how the profits can be gobbled up rather quickly, especially when the product pages for individual books are filled with ads for competing books. As an Amazon customer, I find it incredibly frustrating. But as an author, it's become a show-stopper. And don't get me started on the commandment of control.

My current plan is to take a long hiatus, focus on some other things, and see how things look in a six months to a year. I've got one new book written and another 75% written, but I don't anticipate releasing either one in the near future, if ever.

But there's a method to this madness. During this journey, there were a couple of bad years where scammers were dominating the Amazon charts, making it nearly impossible for honest authors to compete. If I'd been smart, I would've dropped out during this timeframe and waited for the dust to clear before publishing anything new -- because if the game is rigged, it's smarter not to play. Happily, I've learned from this mistake.

Now, by taking a break (whether permanent or temporary), I'll be able to see how things shake out before shoveling more time or money into this venture. Who knows? I might jump back in. Or I might not.

Only time will tell.

Regardless, thanks for all of the support and on this venture! Even though I haven't updated this thread as often as I should've, you guys have been amazing, and I feel so lucky to have had all the great insight and encouragement on this crazy journey. Seriously, thanks a million!!!
 

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@ChickenHawk what do you plan to do on your hiatus? Just kick back and relax or work on something else?

Have you considered selling your pen name? You might be able to do that with EmpireFlippers. If your income is going to drop a lot (you mentioned that fiction drops much faster than non-fiction), it might be better to sell it now.

As for your general observations of the industry, I have a feeling that with more self-published authors entering the market, earnings expectations need to go down.

Previously, great authors could make solid six figures a year. Right now, it seems like the cake is the same but there are more mouths to feed so instead of great authors making, say, $300,000 a year they now have to be happy splitting it three ways.

I'm still on the fence about my own involvement in the industry. I'm learning how to write fiction but it doesn't go as well for me as non-fiction.

Ultimately, while I love writing, the primary reason why I do it is money. If it isn't going to make me any sensible amount of money, it might be better to find a better use of my writing skills or reinvent myself completely. I assume that based on your decision, the same applies to you.
 

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Well, as usual, I've gone way too long between updates. But here's a biggie. After giving it much thought, I've decided to take a serious break from self-publishing -- a break that may become permanent.

There are lots of reasons for this, including massive burnout, but the primary thing fueling this decision is the high cost of advertising both in terms of time and money. This has transformed a great source of passive income into a never-ending hamster wheel of shoveling time and money at Amazon and Facebook to get visibility in addition to the time/energy/effort to actually write the book(s). On many days, the tech giants make more money off my books than I do, and my share of the pie has decreased to the levels comparable to what I made at the dreaded day job. This wouldn't be so bad if I were only working 40 hours per week, but sadly, the writing/advertising hamster wheel is all-consuming and requires much more than 40-hours to be competitive.

It may be that my genre (romance) remains over saturated, or it might simply be too many writers are chasing too few readers and advertising slots. Either way, "The juice is no longer worth the squeeze" in spite of my nice backlist and established fanbase.

It's been a tough decision, but one I feel better about after looking up several well-known authors in my genre and seeing that many of them haven't published anything for a couple of years now. And these were serious "rock stars" in the publishing world. Crazy, huh?

In short, I'm not the only one.

The real problem, I think, is that Amazon has become a virtual monopoly and is now nearly all pay-for-play in terms of visibility. At 42-cents per click on a $3.99 product, it's easy to see how the profits can be gobbled up rather quickly, especially when the product pages for individual books are filled with ads for competing books. As an Amazon customer, I find it incredibly frustrating. But as an author, it's become a show-stopper. And don't get me started on the commandment of control.

My current plan is to take a long hiatus, focus on some other things, and see how things look in a six months to a year. I've got one new book written and another 75% written, but I don't anticipate releasing either one in the near future, if ever.

But there's a method to this madness. During this journey, there were a couple of bad years where scammers were dominating the Amazon charts, making it nearly impossible for honest authors to compete. If I'd been smart, I would've dropped out during this timeframe and waited for the dust to clear before publishing anything new -- because if the game is rigged, it's smarter not to play. Happily, I've learned from this mistake.

Now, by taking a break (whether permanent or temporary), I'll be able to see how things shake out before shoveling more time or money into this venture. Who knows? I might jump back in. Or I might not.

Only time will tell.

Regardless, thanks for all of the support and on this venture! Even though I haven't updated this thread as often as I should've, you guys have been amazing, and I feel so lucky to have had all the great insight and encouragement on this crazy journey. Seriously, thanks a million!!!
This is why while reading M.J's book I figured out to switch from romance to a different genre, when he mentioned 50 Shades of Grey and hair and eyes. As one of the writing books mentioned that I just bought, what generation are you writing for?

I can understand what your saying, a lot of work. Although, I can't see myself ever stop writing, since it's my nature, although it is finding new avenues to use it in a different way.

This might be re-inventing yourself as a writer and trying a different avenue if you enjoy writing.
 

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Well, as usual, I've gone way too long between updates. But here's a biggie. After giving it much thought, I've decided to take a serious break from self-publishing -- a break that may become permanent.

There are lots of reasons for this, including massive burnout, but the primary thing fueling this decision is the high cost of advertising both in terms of time and money. This has transformed a great source of passive income into a never-ending hamster wheel of shoveling time and money at Amazon and Facebook to get visibility in addition to the time/energy/effort to actually write the book(s). On many days, the tech giants make more money off my books than I do, and my share of the pie has decreased to the levels comparable to what I made at the dreaded day job. This wouldn't be so bad if I were only working 40 hours per week, but sadly, the writing/advertising hamster wheel is all-consuming and requires much more than 40-hours to be competitive.

It may be that my genre (romance) remains over saturated, or it might simply be too many writers are chasing too few readers and advertising slots. Either way, "The juice is no longer worth the squeeze" in spite of my nice backlist and established fanbase.

It's been a tough decision, but one I feel better about after looking up several well-known authors in my genre and seeing that many of them haven't published anything for a couple of years now. And these were serious "rock stars" in the publishing world. Crazy, huh?

In short, I'm not the only one.

The real problem, I think, is that Amazon has become a virtual monopoly and is now nearly all pay-for-play in terms of visibility. At 42-cents per click on a $3.99 product, it's easy to see how the profits can be gobbled up rather quickly, especially when the product pages for individual books are filled with ads for competing books. As an Amazon customer, I find it incredibly frustrating. But as an author, it's become a show-stopper. And don't get me started on the commandment of control.

My current plan is to take a long hiatus, focus on some other things, and see how things look in a six months to a year. I've got one new book written and another 75% written, but I don't anticipate releasing either one in the near future, if ever.

But there's a method to this madness. During this journey, there were a couple of bad years where scammers were dominating the Amazon charts, making it nearly impossible for honest authors to compete. If I'd been smart, I would've dropped out during this timeframe and waited for the dust to clear before publishing anything new -- because if the game is rigged, it's smarter not to play. Happily, I've learned from this mistake.

Now, by taking a break (whether permanent or temporary), I'll be able to see how things shake out before shoveling more time or money into this venture. Who knows? I might jump back in. Or I might not.

Only time will tell.

Regardless, thanks for all of the support and on this venture! Even though I haven't updated this thread as often as I should've, you guys have been amazing, and I feel so lucky to have had all the great insight and encouragement on this crazy journey. Seriously, thanks a million!!!
Sorry to read this in some ways, but also relieved and pleased you’re drawing a line in the sand. I’m sure you’ll figure something out.

Oh, and do you have any Irish in your background? “Thanks a million” is a very Irish way of saying thanks.
 

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@ChickenHawk what do you plan to do on your hiatus? Just kick back and relax or work on something else?
For starters, I'm going to work on the many household related things I've been neglecting for the past few years -- clearing clutter, getting back in shape, etc. I also may work on a couple of minor inventions that I've been considering for a while now -- nothing earth-shattering, just household type things to make people's lives easier. Also, by picking up more of the slack around the house, this will free up more time for my husband to focus on his business. He's a self-employed tradesman who's in very high demand. And even though he's not the Fastlane type (which he freely admits), he makes good money every time he goes out. That's one of the things that's played a role in my decision. With the high cost of advertising, it's now possible for me to lose money on a book. In contrast, my husband's work is guaranteed to be profitable. Even so, I'm not in a position to retire or give up work entirely, so for now, I'm going to take some time to answer the question, "What's next?" During this process, I may finish the latest trilogy I was working on. But I will only release it if the market seems more friendly. Will that day come? Hard to say.

Have you considered selling your pen name? You might be able to do that with EmpireFlippers. If your income is going to drop a lot (you mentioned that fiction drops much faster than non-fiction), it might be better to sell it now.
I did briefly consider it but immediately decided against it. Even though the romance fiction market is pretty sucky at the moment, that may change some day. If I keep my pen name and associated works, I will have the opportunity to jump back in if the market changes. Plus, I don't want to see someone else peddling my stories. For better or worse, I'm keeping them.

As for your general observations of the industry, I have a feeling that with more self-published authors entering the market, earnings expectations need to go down.

Previously, great authors could make solid six figures a year. Right now, it seems like the cake is the same but there are more mouths to feed so instead of great authors making, say, $300,000 a year they now have to be happy splitting it three ways.
While I agree with the second half this observation, I don't quite agree with the first. Rather than seeing more self-published authors entering the field, I'm seeing signs of fewer authors joining the fray and established authors giving it up. Even this forum is a good example. Back in the goldrush days, there were many entrepreneurs pursuing it. But now, not so much. With fiction, in particular, it seems that those making decent money fall into one of three general categories: (1) Very prolific, quick writers who can churn and churn and churn without burning out, (2) Team efforts, where multiple authors share the writing load under a single pen name, and (3) Those who make heavy use of ghostwriters. This consolidation enables them to spend more on advertising while tapping into the very limited free visibility that Amazon offers. But from what I've heard through the grapevine, even these writers are finding it increasingly difficult to generate good profits. The Writer's Cafe on the Kboards (where writers brainstorm together, etc.) is a ghost town these days. To me, this is just another sign of authors dropping out or pulling back. But if you see evidence to the contrary, I'd love to see it. It would definitely be food for thought!

I'm still on the fence about my own involvement in the industry. I'm learning how to write fiction but it doesn't go as well for me as non-fiction.
Fiction is a funny thing. It can be lots of fun, but it the shelf life of any given book is getting shorter by the minute. Books peak and drop out so quickly that without a deep backlist, it's hard to make a profit unless you can release on a very condensed timetable -- releasing something new every six weeks, for example. But for the last couple of years, I've made ever-decreasing profits off new releases. Just to clarify, I've sold a lot, but the high cost of advertising has meant that the real "gravy" in this situation has come from my backlist. This happens when I spend the big bucks to promote new releases, readers buy/borrow them, and go on to read something else I've written, no advertising needed.

A very perverse and disappointing part of this situation is that my backlist keeps growing and growing, so my income should be growing accordingly. Unfortunately, these gains are quickly outpaced by the ever-increasing promotional costs. I believe (I could be wrong) that Amazon's bookstore now makes more money off advertising than actual book sales. There was a time when this would've been considered unethical, similar to the way that vanity presses took advantage of prospective writers in the past. ("Pay $5,000 to publish with us, and we'll get your book out to lots of readers." But this scammy publishing company doesn't make money from selling books so much as suckering in new starry-eyed saps.) But Amazon's near-monopoly status enables them to do all kinds of things that would've been considered unethical in the past. I'm still very thankful for the past opportunities, but can't help but feel that they're really pushing the envelope in the ethics department.

But as a disclaimer, I should also add that the romance genre might not be typical. Smaller niches, for example, might offer better profit opportunities these days. Hopefully you'd be in one of those. :)

Ultimately, while I love writing, the primary reason why I do it is money. If it isn't going to make me any sensible amount of money, it might be better to find a better use of my writing skills or reinvent myself completely. I assume that based on your decision, the same applies to you.
Exactly! And now, after churning for a few years now, I no longer love writing fiction. Plus, when I used to finish a book, I was euphoric, knowing that profits would soon be rolling in. Now, when I finish a book, I feel a creeping sense of dread, knowing that I'm facing a giant sucking sound of time and money to promote it.

Before posting my latest update, I looked for your progress thread, but I fear I've lost Insider Access, which is totally understandable because I haven't been terribly active here lately. But from what I recall, you've faced similar challenges and are also taking a hard look at where to go from here. The game has changed a lot, that's for sure!
 

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This is why while reading M.J's book I figured out to switch from romance to a different genre...what generation are you writing for?

I can understand what your saying, a lot of work. Although, I can't see myself ever stop writing, since it's my nature, although it is finding new avenues to use it in a different way. This might be re-inventing yourself as a writer and trying a different avenue if you enjoy writing.
My books generally star women in their early twenties, but oddly enough, my readership tends to swing a little older. From what I can tell, there's a lot of Gen-x, along with some Boomers and Millennials.

If you enjoy writing, you're so smart to keep on doing it. There's almost no downside -- the sense of accomplishment, fine-tuning your skills, etc. Someday, I hope to enjoy it again. But for now, I'm too burned out. It's nice to know that other people still enjoy it though!

I like your suggestion of trying a new avenue. Maybe I'm just burned out on writing romance, particularly intimate scenes. LOL. But who knows, I might find myself jumping back in sooner than I think. Maybe officially quitting for a while might give me a boost to give it another go. I'd never say never, that's for sure!

Sorry to read this in some ways, but also relieved and pleased you’re drawing a like in the sand. I’m sure you’ll figure something out. Oh, and do you have any Irish in your background? “Thanks a million” is a very Irish way of saying thanks.
Thanks so much for all your support and encouragement!!! I'm not Irish, but my husband has a good bit of Irish in him. Maybe it rubbed off. :)
 
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My books generally star women in their early twenties, but oddly enough, my readership tends to swing a little older. From what I can tell, there's a lot of Gen-x, along with some Boomers and Millennials.

If you enjoy writing, you're so smart to keep on doing it. There's almost no downside -- the sense of accomplishment, fine-tuning your skills, etc. Someday, I hope to enjoy it again. But for now, I'm too burned out. It's nice to know that other people still enjoy it though!

I like your suggestion of trying a new avenue. Maybe I'm just burned out on writing romance, particularly intimate scenes. LOL. But who knows, I might find myself jumping back in sooner than I think. Maybe officially quitting for a while might give me a boost to give it another go. I'd never say never, that's for sure!


Thanks so much for all your support and encouragement!!! I'm not Irish, but my husband has a good bit of Irish in him. Maybe it rubbed off. :)
Nothing wrong with taking a break.
 

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Not happy to hear about this ... but thank you for the update.

It may be that my genre (romance) remains over saturated, or it might simply be too many writers are chasing too few readers and advertising slots. Either way, "The juice is no longer worth the squeeze" in spite of my nice backlist and established fanbase.

Is your list terribly small? Or small enough that your loyal readers can't compensate you for new work?

If you have 20,000 loyal fans, a new book should generate $100,000, assuming all mediums (audio/paperback/ebook) are in play. I would figure after X books, you should have a pretty big following.
 

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MJ DeMarco" data-source="post: 966082" class="bbCodeBlock bbCodeBlock--expandable bbCodeBlock--quote js-expandWatch">
Is your list terribly small? Or small enough that your loyal readers can't compensate you for new work?

If you have 20,000 loyal fans, a new book should generate $100,000, assuming all mediums (audio/paperback/ebook) are in play. I would figure after X books, you should have a pretty big following.

From my experience and observations, it doesn't work like that unless you mean 20,000 REAL, super loyal fans (so realistically she'd need to have a list of at least 200,000, if not 2,000,000 people, to have that really loyal 1-10% of fans).

@ChickenHawk probably makes most off KDP Select where she gets paid for pages read and is unlikely to make $5 from every reader (since probably not even 50% read the entire book).

Paperback is pretty much irrelevant in romance so revenue is most likely close to zero.

Audio, for a long romance novel, costs at least $10k to produce.

I'm not sure about ChickenHawk's productions costs but I assume they reach at least $15-20k per book and that's without any marketing. Add marketing and your costs go way, way up. Considering that not every book takes off, $100k per book is an unrealistic goal. I'd assume it's closer to $50k, if you're lucky, so you make maybe $20k off a book that required several months of work...
 

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Now, by taking a break (whether permanent or temporary), I'll be able to see how things shake out before shoveling more time or money into this venture. Who knows? I might jump back in. Or I might not.
I'm new to the Fast Lane Forum and British, so I might not be understanding everything in this thread correctly. But I do understand Amazon Publishing.

DON'T GIVE UP.

I've been publishing on Amazon since 2012. In 2017 I closed down my other business (very profitable but a big demand on my time) to focus on my publishing business; it's supported me since that day. My example is probably different from you because I'm a non-fiction author, but it's in a relatively small niche of photo editing.

When I started out, there wasn't much competition but then within 12 months my niche became flooded with rubbish and people trying to make an instant profit for no work. I managed to survive and ultimately prosper as I'll explain.

At one time I became fixated on writing more books because of the boost when one launches. Then I realised that's the road to being like the competitors trying to make a fast buck. Instead, I doubled down on quality to produce the best books I could and raised the price (but still within the 70% commission rate).

Next, I focused on building what I call a business ecosystem.

To give an example, when you buy one of my books it contains examples for you to follow. It directs you to my website where you can download the sample images to follow the examples. Whilst you're there I encourage you to join my monthly newsletter as everyone does. But this isn't your standard newsletter, I share more valuable tutorials and interesting things I've found on the internet each month that relate to my niche. As well as tutorials I publish YouTube videos which I embed in my tutorials. Best of all, I can include links to the videos in my books to better illustrate examples. On my website, you can either buy my books directly or you buy from Amazon. I earn affiliate commission from the Amazon links and some other affiliate schemes (but only for products I buy and use myself).

I won't bore you with more details of my "ecosystem" other than to say I'm always looking for ways for each element to feed the other elements. When I launch a book it goes in the newsletter and I have a single email announcement. I do Amazon advertising as well but only to maintain sales and all ads are profitable. I honestly believe the ecosystem idea and focusing on quality has made a big difference.

Reading through the thread (as much as I could because it's very long) there are lots of great promotional ideas but I don't think these sparks will ignite your business. What you need is more fuel before putting a spark to it. Your books aren't the fuel though, your customers are. Spend your time off thinking about how you could build a business ecosystem. How can you use this to give your customers more? How can you make contact with them and stay in contact? What are their expectations when they buy one of your books and how can you blow those expectations out of the water?

I could be very wrong but reading this thread it feels like you are focused on production (writing) and marketing the product. Sorry for the tough love and may not make me any friends but I can feel your pain and I don't want you to give up. Take time out yes but use it to think about how to come back stronger.

Good luck (unless you decide to give up).
 

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MJ DeMarco" data-source="post: 966082" class="bbCodeBlock bbCodeBlock--expandable bbCodeBlock--quote js-expandWatch">
Is your list terribly small? Or small enough that your loyal readers can't compensate you for new work?

If you have 20,000 loyal fans, a new book should generate $100,000, assuming all mediums (audio/paperback/ebook) are in play. I would figure after X books, you should have a pretty big following.

You'd think so, wouldn't you? Looking at it from the outside, it seems pretty incredible that I've come to this decision, but here are are some details that might shed light on it.

My mailing list has gotten smaller because I did some significant culling of non-responders/non-openers. About 6,000 people remain. According to Mailchimp:
6% engage "often."
24% engage "sometimes."
63% engage "rarely."

And the analysis by @MTF is pretty much spot-on. My books are priced at $3.99. The 70% commission of 3.99 is about $2.79. Even if all 6,000 people on my mailing list opened the email and purchased my book, I'd make about 17K per book from my list alone. However, as MTF said, most of my income comes from Kindle Unlimited, which means I make less than $2.79 per "purchase", even if the person reads the whole book, which many probably don't. Plus, only about 30% of my list are reasonably active, which further reduces the income.

Mailing lists in general have gotten tougher. I've heard rumblings from other authors that they're seeing the same thing -- low opens, low response rates, etc. It started maybe a couple of years ago, where mailing list responses dropped way off. Part of this might've stemmed from the fact that when the Amazon store was overrun with scammers, these "authors" were majorly spamming their lists, which included tons of romance readers. Also, I believe spam filters and other mechanisms that classify an email as "from a mailing list" are reducing the odds of readers seeing/opening the email. Some of this might also stem from the fact that romance readers have so many other ways to hear about new books -- Facebook ads, BookBub ads, Amazon ads, etc. This made mailing lists less important to readers, if not authors.

About audiobooks, etc., MTF is right in that it's hard to justify the cost up-front when the book may not be a hit, and I have zero control on pricing. There was a period when Amazon was giving away my audiobooks for something ridiculous, like 1.99 cents with the Kindle Purchase. I begged them to stop. They refused even though I own the copyright and paid for all of the production costs. But I had zero control, and saw my audiobook income fall accordingly.

This aside, audiobook sales have gotten to be a tougher nut to crack. Amazon drastically changed the bounty system and introduced some subscription plans which also cut author income. Back in the day, my first audiobook made back its production costs in one month. These days, the production costs might take years to recoup. I have at least two audiobooks that will probably never earn out.

When it comes to romance books (whether kindle or audiobook), the shelf life has gotten incredibly short. There's a constant firehose of new releases always pushing, pushing, pushing down the previous releases -- and advertising heavily. If an author releases six or eight books a year, this will probably pay off bigtime because Amazon gives more visibility to new releases and advertising multiple new releases at once is a great way to fuel sales. But if you're a single author putting out three novels a year, it's going to be a challenge, especially if you're not a fast writer. For me, writing three full-length novels a year is a full-time job by itself. When I added so much advertising into the mix, it felt like two full-time jobs -- not in the beginning, but more and more as time went on.

Plus, Amazon is almost all pay-to-play for visibility. In the beginning, I got a ton of sales through Amazon's recommendation systems (such as "also-boughts", not only on my own books, but on similar books.) Now, I have to pay 42-cents (or more, sometimes as high as 75 cents) for every click, and free exposure is almost non-existent -- all for a product that costs $3.99 or zero dollars, if the reader is using Kindle Unlimited.

And then there's Facebook. I have a decent amount of fans, but if I want to announce a new release, very few of my fans will see the announcement unless I pay for it. All of this adds up.

With both Amazon and Facebook, advertising costs have skyrocketed, costing triple or quadruple what they cost even three or four years ago. Meanwhile, book prices have remained fairly constant, and the Kindle Unlimited pay structure has gotten lower, which means that authors are squeezed on both ends.

One thing that's pretty interesting in all of this is that my gross revenue is still decent, much more than I ever made at my day job. It's just that the advertising/promotion costs are taking too much from the bottom line. And I don't just mean in terms of money. I mean in terms of time. In the beginning, there were no ways to advertise, and perversely things were much better for authors back then. Not only did they keep more of their money, they also didn't have an extra time-sink on top of writing.

One thing I should clarify: I may return to this. I'd give it a 50/50 chance that I'll release a trilogy sometime in late 2022, partly because so much of it is already written. The books are shorter, which means I might even take a chance and do audiobooks up front (because they would be more affordable due to their shorter length.) But I think the current market is unfavorable for romance authors. I would rather save my work for a future use than send it out under the current conditions. Things may change, and if/when this happens, I'll still have the skills to pursue this. And I'll still have a decent backlist. But for now, I'm jumping off the hamster wheel to regroup and focus on other things.

What cinched my decision was a question my best friend asked when I was debating this. She said, "If you had 70K to spend for any business, is self-publishing what you'd spend it on?" It didn't take long for me to conclude that my time and money was better spent elsewhere, even if it was only to regain some sanity.

I'm still incredibly grateful for the opportunities self-publishing gave me. I quit my dreaded day job, gave my husband the chance to build his business while self-publishing paid the bulk of our bills, and made some amazing memories. But every year, the deal has gotten just a little bit worse for writers, and I think that unless we see some reversal, more authors will be stepping aside to pursue other things.
 
Last edited:

Matt33

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My books generally star women in their early twenties, but oddly enough, my readership tends to swing a little older. From what I can tell, there's a lot of Gen-x, along with some Boomers and Millennials.

If you enjoy writing, you're so smart to keep on doing it. There's almost no downside -- the sense of accomplishment, fine-tuning your skills, etc. Someday, I hope to enjoy it again. But for now, I'm too burned out. It's nice to know that other people still enjoy it though!

I like your suggestion of trying a new avenue. Maybe I'm just burned out on writing romance, particularly intimate scenes. LOL. But who knows, I might find myself jumping back in sooner than I think. Maybe officially quitting for a while might give me a boost to give it another go. I'd never say never, that's for sure!


Thanks so much for all your support and encouragement!!! I'm not Irish, but my husband has a good bit of Irish in him. Maybe it rubbed off. :)
As a consumer of books myself, from the perspective of me being the buyer, the perceived value of eBooks has become diminished. I've seen a lot of crap out there and my brain doesn't get as excited when browsing eBooks to purchase. Meanwhile physical books with great reviews still pique my interest. I buy new paperbacks often. Perhaps you could try shifting your business to the authoring of physical books, with excellent marketing in the form of attention grabbing/interesting book titles, and interesting cover artwork.
 

Cameraman

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You'd think so, wouldn't you? Looking at it from the outside, it seems pretty incredible that I've come to this decision, but here are are some details that might shed light on it.

My mailing list has gotten smaller because I did some significant culling of non-responders/non-openers. About 6,000 people remain. According to Mailchimp:
6% engage "often."
24% engage "sometimes."
63% engage "rarely."

And the analysis by @MTF is pretty much spot-on. My books are priced at $3.99. The 70% commission of 3.99 is about $2.79. Even if all 6,000 people on my mailing list opened the email and purchased my book, I'd make about 17K per book from my list alone. However, as MTF said, most of my income comes from Kindle Unlimited, which means I make less than $2.79 per "purchase", even if the person reads the whole book, which many probably don't. Plus, only about 30% of my list are reasonably active, which further reduces the income.

Mailing lists in general have gotten tougher. I've heard rumblings from other authors that they're seeing the same thing -- low opens, low response rates, etc. It started maybe a couple of years ago, where mailing list responses dropped way off. Part of this might've stemmed from the fact that when the Amazon store was overrun with scammers, these "authors" were majorly spamming their lists, which included tons of romance readers. Also, I believe spam filters and other mechanisms that classify an email as "from a mailing list" are reducing the odds of readers seeing/opening the email. Some of this might also stem from the fact that romance readers have so many other ways to hear about new books -- Facebook ads, BookBub ads, Amazon ads, etc. This made mailing lists less important to readers, if not authors.

About audiobooks, etc., MTF is right in that it's hard to justify the cost up-front when the book may not be a hit, and I have zero control on pricing. There was a period when Amazon was giving away my audiobooks for something ridiculous, like 1.99 cents with the Kindle Purchase. I begged them to stop. They refused even though I own the copyright and paid for all of the production costs. But I had zero control, and saw my audiobook income fall accordingly.

This aside, audiobook sales have gotten to be a tougher nut to crack. Amazon drastically changed the bounty system and introduced some subscription plans which also cut author income. Back in the day, my first audiobook made back its production costs in one month. These days, the production costs might take years to recoup. I have at least two audiobooks that will probably never earn out.

When it comes to romance books (whether kindle or audiobook), the shelf life has gotten incredibly short. There's a constant firehose of new releases always pushing, pushing, pushing down the previous releases -- and advertising heavily. If an author releases six or eight books a year, this will probably pay off bigtime because Amazon gives more visibility to new releases and advertising multiple new releases at once is a great way to fuel sales. But if you're a single author putting out three novels a year, it's going to be a challenge, especially if you're not a fast writer. For me, writing three full-length novels a year is a full-time job by itself. When I added so much advertising into the mix, it felt like two full-time jobs -- not in the beginning, but more and more as time went on.

Plus, Amazon is almost all pay-to-play for visibility. In the beginning, I got a ton of sales through Amazon's recommendation systems (such as "also-boughts", not only on my own books, but on similar books.) Now, I have to pay 42-cents (or more, sometimes as high as 75 cents) for every click, and free exposure is almost non-existent -- all for a product that costs $3.99 or zero dollars, if the reader is using Kindle Unlimited.

And then there's Facebook. I have a decent amount of fans, but if I want to announce a new release, very few of my fans will see the announcement unless I pay for it. All of this adds up.

With both Amazon and Facebook, advertising costs have skyrocketed, costing triple or quadruple what they cost even three or four years ago. Meanwhile, book prices have remained fairly constant, and the Kindle Unlimited pay structure has gotten lower, which means that authors are squeezed on both ends.

One thing that's pretty interesting in all of this is that my gross revenue is still decent, much more than I ever made at my day job. It's just that the advertising/promotion costs are taking too much from the bottom line. And I don't just mean in terms of money. I mean in terms of time. In the beginning, there were no ways to advertise, and perversely things were much better for authors back then. Not only did they keep more of their money, they also didn't have an extra time-sink on top of writing.

One thing I should clarify: I may return to this. I'd give it a 50/50 chance that I'll release a trilogy sometime in late 2022, partly because so much of it is already written. The books are shorter, which means I might even take a chance and do audiobooks up front (because they would be more affordable due to their shorter length.) But I think the current market is unfavorable for romance authors. I would rather save my work for a future use than send it out under the current conditions. Things may change, and if/when this happens, I'll still have the skills to pursue this. And I'll still have a decent backlist. But for now, I'm jumping off the hamster wheel to regroup and focus on other things.

What cinched my decision was a question my best friend asked when I was debating this. She said, "If you had 70K to spend for any business, is self-publishing what you'd spend it on?" It didn't take long for me to conclude that my time and money was better spent elsewhere, even if it was only to regain some sanity.

I'm still incredibly grateful for the opportunities self-publishing gave me. I quit my dreaded day job, gave my husband the chance to build his business while self-publishing paid the bulk of our bills, and made some amazing memories. But every year, the deal has gotten just a little bit worse for writers, and I think that unless we see some reversal, more authors will be stepping aside to pursue other things.
I hear you and I do understand your position because I was once where you are. I know you can succeed if you are pulling a good Gross figure which it sounds like you are.

I'm sure you've heard the phrase the gold is in the list. It is because that's where your true fans are. You already have a healthy list but they aren't engaged. I say they are not engaged but your figures look like the average for a lot of industries. Those figures are actually coming down as well as lots of large companies are "spamming" people with offers. It's like large scale gold mining.

My list figures were like yours are now around 4 years ago. Then I read a book called Do Open explaining one man's experience of saving a Jeans manufacturer in Wales using a newsletter. Their jeans cost around £300 a pair and they have created a cult following of raving fans. I read the book three times and then went to work applying their lessons of creating value and interest with the newsletter. I now have 11k subscribers which doesn't sound like much after 4 years. BUT, I clean the list every month and I have a +45% open rate. Those are true fans that I'm grateful for and try to show that gratitude in the way I operate.

I don't know anything about your customers but I can imagine if they read one of your books and subscribed to your newsletter it's because they wanted to get more inside stories. No disrespect but they probably don't want to hear about you other than perhaps how you go about developing your book characters. Do you serialise a book in your newsletters (it worked for Charles Dicken's)? Do you have spinoff stories that they can only read in your newsletters? Do you have "True Fan" giveaway prizes that they can only win in your newsletter and that money couldn't buy?

Build that newsletter and fan base and stop paying amazon ridiculous sums to buy a click. Those PPC costs sound horrible.

By the way, have you been listening to some of the so-called Amazon advertising experts? I've seen some shockers recently including people saying that 100%-200% ACOS rate was good for an Ad. That's haemorrhaging money faster than a popped balloon loses air. If the ACOS for an Ad is more than 50% it's losing you money and should be paused whilst you work out what's causing it and how to fix the problem.

What I am pleased to hear is that you may carry on. You've had success in the past but the game has changed. It's changed gradually as well so you don't notice it. You need to figure out what's hurting you and how to fix that which isn't easy. If it were everyone would be rich from self-publishing rather than saying how difficult it is. Usually, there isn't one big thing that makes the difference, it's the sum of lots of small tweaks.

You can do this even though you may have lost heart and motivation at the moment.

I almost forgot, here's the mailing report for my last newsletter to back up my figures.
2021-10-01_09-19-44.jpg
 

Andy Black

Pick a direction. Get started. Keep going.
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I hear you and I do understand your position because I was once where you are. I know you can succeed if you are pulling a good Gross figure which it sounds like you are.

I'm sure you've heard the phrase the gold is in the list. It is because that's where your true fans are. You already have a healthy list but they aren't engaged. I say they are not engaged but your figures look like the average for a lot of industries. Those figures are actually coming down as well as lots of large companies are "spamming" people with offers. It's like large scale gold mining.

My list figures were like yours are now around 4 years ago. Then I read a book called Do Open explaining one man's experience of saving a Jeans manufacturer in Wales using a newsletter. Their jeans cost around £300 a pair and they have created a cult following of raving fans. I read the book three times and then went to work applying their lessons of creating value and interest with the newsletter. I now have 11k subscribers which doesn't sound like much after 4 years. BUT, I clean the list every month and I have a +45% open rate. Those are true fans that I'm grateful for and try to show that gratitude in the way I operate.

I don't know anything about your customers but I can imagine if they read one of your books and subscribed to your newsletter it's because they wanted to get more inside stories. No disrespect but they probably don't want to hear about you other than perhaps how you go about developing your book characters. Do you serialise a book in your newsletters (it worked for Charles Dicken's)? Do you have spinoff stories that they can only read in your newsletters? Do you have "True Fan" giveaway prizes that they can only win in your newsletter and that money couldn't buy?

Build that newsletter and fan base and stop paying amazon ridiculous sums to buy a click. Those PPC costs sound horrible.

By the way, have you been listening to some of the so-called Amazon advertising experts? I've seen some shockers recently including people saying that 100%-200% ACOS rate was good for an Ad. That's haemorrhaging money faster than a popped balloon loses air. If the ACOS for an Ad is more than 50% it's losing you money and should be paused whilst you work out what's causing it and how to fix the problem.

What I am pleased to hear is that you may carry on. You've had success in the past but the game has changed. It's changed gradually as well so you don't notice it. You need to figure out what's hurting you and how to fix that which isn't easy. If it were everyone would be rich from self-publishing rather than saying how difficult it is. Usually, there isn't one big thing that makes the difference, it's the sum of lots of small tweaks.

You can do this even though you may have lost heart and motivation at the moment.

I almost forgot, here's the mailing report for my last newsletter to back up my figures.
View attachment 40203
I’m just starting to take emailing seriously so ordered that book. Thanks for the tip @Cameraman.

I’ve a tiny email list of about 150, but a nice open rate of 52% so far. Granted, some are paid members so they’re more engaged anyway.

@ChickenHawk … I also think those CPCs are super high considering how little you get per sale.

Speaking of your prices… I find it fascinating that a $15 book seems expensive, but a $15 course seems cheap.
 

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