Writing & Publishing Roundup 2014

So, it was another crazy year in publishing.Trade book prices came down, overall book quality (Indie and trade) went up in my opinion due to increased competition, and the number of books on the market skyrocketed. Of course, that’s been a trend over the last few years. Kindle Unlimited rolled out in the US and then in countries all over the world, drastically cutting book sales for many authors. I think a few have profited, but I’ve seen a majority of authors saying their sales (including borrows) and income doing a nosedive.Yeah, publishing continues to change, and the playing field has leveled out once again, where Indies no longer have an advantage with lower prices and faster releases.

All of the above is good for readers. I’ll admit I’m happy I can get books from my favorite authors for lower prices. And, the truth is, being an author isn’t like other jobs. You don’t put in the time and schooling and then know you have a career path with steadily increasing pay. Being an artist of any kind has challenges. Authors are creatives and business people, and our books have to compete with Facebook, TV, free content, and all the other books out there. In essence, if you’re going to be an author, you have to do it because you love it.

What about me? I’ve been writing away as usual. I released three full novels in 2014:

Costa Rica,  In A Field of Oranges, and  It’s All In My Head 

Links to different retailers on my homepage. There’s also my Amazon book page.

And I recently released the first novella in a new romantic thriller series, Stranger in my Bed. This first novella doesn’t have so much of the romantic element in it–I’d even call it a psychological thriller.

2014 was a really great writing year for me. I pushed myself to offer something really different with each book. I took It’s All In My Head to a week long, intensive writing workshop, and it eventually became my longest work to date, and my first novel in 1st person. I just LOVE that story and the characters. Some books are harder to write, and that one had challenges, but I still smile when I think about the writing process, and remember it like a life-changing vacation.

I took the lessons learned while writing that novel and started my new series. There’s a lot of mystery in Stranger in my Bed. It’s great fun to write! I also wanted to try a different format, so I’m using a TV episode format, where I’m going to release novellas hopefully once every month. The entire story is much bigger than my usual novel length, too, so this format works well. I really like having smaller conflicts in each novella that will also build the overall problem. In the end, I’ll probably release a box set of the entire story.

I’m also finishing a noBlockbuster Books, Broken Down - so you can write your wonnfiction project–my first book about novel writing. I’ve held off on offering writing advice because there’s an abundance of that there. But I haven’t seen one that covered my content. I took my notes on bestsellers and looked at lists of books that were turned into movies, and something jumped out at me. It was one of those amazing moments when a light bulb turned on and I literally stood up in amazement. This happens when I see something about my writing or writing in general, but I’ve never felt my new insight was a really new insight for writers in general. This time I thought, wow, I need to share this! So I am.

The guide is actually about plotting, creating a blockbuster plot, and making any story bigger. I break down the plot of mega bestsellers to form a simple novel map that anyone can use to plan their novel with critical points that set stories apart.

Blockbuster Books, Broken Down is up for pre-order in Kindle and will release on January 30, 2015. There’s a workbook for the print version, and I hope to release that in January.

Well, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and New Year– I’m celebrating Christmas vacation with two weeks of sleeping in!

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2.5 Years, 20 books, and 100k sales later–What I’ve learned

I had some thoughts this month stemming from my writing journey and what is happening in publishing, and I thought it might interest other writers. I often read the advice to stop checking sales, ranks, reviews, web hits, and focus on writing. It’s some of the best advice out there, and advice I try to follow. On the other hand, sometimes it’s  healthy to pause and evaluate how you’re doing. (Seems to be a trend at the end of the year!) It can also show you that you really have built something.

I have 10 novels, 7 novellas and 3 nonfiction books, and reached 1,000 reviews on Amazon this month. I don’t think it’s bad to check in on sales and reviews, if you keep it under control. I used to read reviews and see if I could learn anything from them–and reviews used to be longer and more detailed. I often get short reviews these days, especially for my novellas. Still, I like to glance through once in a while to see what readers are saying. Amazon Central puts them all in one place so it’s easy. It’s fine to have good and bad reviews; it shows that your book is selling.

On ranking: I used to check my book ranks, but now I mainly check the rank for my most recent book, or a book that I’m running a promotion on. I look at my author rank in Author Central to see the overall trend. (But in general, I’m trying to check less and write more.)

On predicting: I’ve had some awesome months when I had a new release or a promotion went really well, but I’ve learned that I can’t take that and make a monthly prediction of steady growth. Sales go up and down. I put my sales into Excell and then create a month by month chart showing book sales and income. I have another chart that shows yearly book sales and income, so I can see the upward progress every year. It’s the big picture that matters.

On Changing Amazon: In 2011 and 12, it seemed most of my books would sell and have different seasons and spikes. Since this summer, however, it seems Amazon promotes new books, giving them a chance to succeed at first, but sales for my older books have slowed down. (That follows a more traditional model than what I’ve seen on Amazon since 2011, and it might change again in a few months.)

On crazy ebook growth in 2012–there were some blockbuster books the last couple of years that really drove sales. That can happen again. A book or series will come out that will be different, and it’ll see sales like 50 Shades, Twilight, Hunger Games, Wimpy Kid and Wool. There’s been huge bestsellers from both traditional and author published books.

That naturally leads into my next observation: things change constantly. In the last two years, we’ve had all kinds of storms. The huge ebook growth, then people crying that the sky was falling, then people saying Indie stores are making a comeback, and even times when people said books are on the way out. I know better than that one. But things do change, and they don’t follow our predictions. The steady reality is that we keep getting surprised. I just have to focus on improving my writing. (I’ve been working on bigger story lines and deeper themes.)

Another change: I had a sales curve every year that dipped in the summer, but this last summer was more like my typical Decembers. I released a book that I really believed in, but I was surprised at how well it did. Of course, releasing new books has always been the best promotion, and I regret that I didn’t have another one ready to release this fall or winter. Montlake Romance re-released Point Hope in late October, and I relied on that as my ‘new book.’ My next book is coming out in January, and I plan to write and publish 3-5 books this coming year.

With all the changes on Amazon, the US book market, and publishing in general, I’m going to expand into other retailers with some of my books. I’m very pro Amazon and feel extremely thankful to the company for opening the door to so many authors. I’ve built an audience and got a traditional publishing deal for one of my books that I published through Kindle. Because it’s about my readers and reaching more readers, so I’m going to experiment with other retailers.

My biggest lesson: many of the promotional activities we’re encouraged to do don’t get the results we want. I used to advise people to build their “snowball,” and I still believe in this idea, but there is also an 20/80 rule. 20% of what we do will get 80% of the results. In terms that I understand better, focus on the things that make big results. I experiment, and learn from other authors, and I focus on writing.  Maybe I’m stating the same lesson over and over! It’s about the writing. When I launch a book now, I basically publish it and post it here, on my FB page and Twitter. I also did a Goodreads giveaway with Point Hope and plan to do more of those.

Preview on Kindle (also available in print)
Newly updated for 2014 – insight and advice for all the phases of Indie Publishing

 

The big things I’ve learned pertain to writing and storytelling, which of course is the whole point of all of this. I write, read novels, read books on writing, learn from podcasts and videos, write some more, repeat… and it’s thrilling, challenging and fulfilling. I’m putting together a workbook on novel writing for a class I’m going to teach this coming year. I’m really excited about it. I keep files on everything I learn about writing, and now I get to put it all together with diagrams. 🙂  I had some huge breakthroughs in structure this year, especially about how to up the tension and drama in a novel’s middle, and I’m eager to share that. I’m going to publish the book so people who aren’t local to take the class can also buy it.

One thing I keep in mind is that learning is a continuous, life long process. I have a thick journal where I record notes on useful writing books, videos, etc, and new things I learn. I write life posts and encouraging quotes too. It’s a fantastic way to keep all my writing notes in one place, and I can look through it to refresh what I’ve learned. It’s been one of the best things I’ve done for my writing career. Well, time to wrap up this monster post. I hope you enjoyed it and found something useful. 🙂

~Best wishes to all the authors out there, and thank you for blogging, sharing and encouraging other writers!

P.S. I’m a member of The Alliance of Independent Authors, which runs a series called “How I Did It,” featuring posts from many successful Indie authors. Here’s my interview:  How I Do It: Kristen James Shares The Secrets of Her Self-Publishing Success.    This group is a great resource!