Self-Publishing: 2015 Year in Review

I've been making very slow progress working my way through Dragonver Origins. I have not yet reached the point of adding additional material because I've been doing some major rewriting of what I wrote before I started on my project to professionalize all of my books. It took several months to finish reworking the Galactic Alliance series and while Origins sat idle I was thinking about what I had written. Changes were needed and I decided to start from the beginning and edit what I had written. This is not how a book is supposed to be written but there are times when the rules need to be broken. I've added at least 3,000 words so far and some of the rewrites have taken a considerable amount of patience. Finding the right way to word something to get across a concept is not always an easy thing to do.

I will be out of town for a few days living in a hotel and that will give me plenty of time to write. I hope to make significant progress on Dragonverse Origins in the next few days. While the book is being looked at by my content editor, I will be starting work on a new Peacekeeper novel. I've never done two projects at once but that's the plan. While Origins is being reviewed by my content editor, gone over by my wife to fix my dumb mistakes, and then looked at by another fan in Germany, I will be working on a new Peacekeeper. It's going to be a busy year.

I'm following up on a promise I made over a year ago to continue to post my writing income on this blog. Writers don't know if they are doing well or doing poorly unless they share their writing income with each other. This time, I will also share with you the number of books that have been sold.

Year     Income          Books sold
====     =====          ========
2009          $66                     58           This is the year I published my first book
2010        $302                   342
2011      $2,929               3,577
2012    $92,772             46,379
2013      $9,753               3,879
2014      $8,528               1,360
2015      $3,804                  457

Looking at the above information, you should be wondering what the heck happened in 2012? The answer is -- Amazon. One of my books was featured in an Amazon daily deal or recommendation or something (which one I'm unaware of) and sales took off. I could literally sit at my computer and watch the book move up in the ranks. This is the power of advertising. The question is, can it be duplicated? Advertising is expensive and unless it reaches a wide audience with the right interest it's not going to give you a good return on your investment. The advertising I received in 2012 was free and it targeted the perfect audience. I doubt I could have done better with any type of paid advertising campaign.

Ignoring 2012, do I think I'm doing good? I would consider 2013 and 2014 to be good years for a self-published author. 2015 was a not so good year. I've heard it said that the best way to boost sales is to write the next book. I did not release a new book in 2015. I also raised my prices (based on feedback from a number of people). That is a deadly combination! Late in 2015, I lowered my prices and sales seem to have picked up again. I'll let you know how that works out as more data comes in. I'm also pushing to release at least one and maybe two books this year. Sales should increase.

I've also moved my books out of Smashwords and made them exclusively Amazon products allowing me to join the KDP movement. This, I believe has also increased sales. But, with all these changes, how is someone to know if a price change or a book release has an affect on sales? The answer lies in analytics. I'm a computer programmer and I will be going to school next week to learn how to build complex analytics using a product called QlikView. Our company uses it. QlikView has a free version you can play around with at home. I plan on trying to use it to analyze my Amazon sales. If that product does not work, I will write my own program.

Amazon does a great job of providing you with a ton of information in the form of a detailed spreadsheet. All you need is the right software to analyze the data. One of my goes for 2016 is to develop a useful writer's tool that incorporates everything a writer needs to manage their business. That includes performing analytics on Amazon's data. Good data analysis is a must when you're trying to make a business decision.

2015 in review
Last year was both good and not so good to me as far as being a self-published author. On March 31, I received an email stating I had been accepted into SFWA. This was a big milestone for me. I attended Launch Pad in the first week of June. As usual, I had a wonderful time and met another fine group of people. In mid-July, my wife and I took a trip to South Caroline to visit my dad. Two weeks after getting back from that trip, I drove to Washington D.C. to attend the week-long Schrodinger Sessions.

On August 18th, I left to attend my first ever World Science Fiction Convention (Sasquan) in Spokane Washington. It was also my first experience of sitting on a panel. I was very nervous! I'm not a well-known writer, I'm self-published, and I was sitting on panels with traditionally published authors who are well-known. All-in-all, I believe I did well. One panel in particular, however, bothered me for a long time afterwards because I was definitely out of my league. But, I came away from that conference with a very different view of who I should be as a writer.

A few days after returning from WorldCon, I started on my re-editing and reformatting project (professionalization). I realized this was going to delay the release of Dragonverse Origins and would most likely hurt my sales this year. But, in the long run, it will be worth it. The Galactic Alliance series has been professionalized and the results are easy to see. The books look great on the shelf providing a consistent look for the entire series. If you open them up, they look professional on the inside, formatted properly and all of them presenting a consistent look. The Kindle versions are also newly formatted and edited and look just as good.

I also changed how I blog. Instead of rambling on and writing about writing in general, I focused my posts on self-publishing issues. Readership has slowly gone up. A friend of mine recently posted that it took him many years of focused blogging to achieve a high readership. This is my goal and I don't expect it to happen over night.

From a business perspective, I will end the year with a loss. The cost of the WorldCon trip as well as my continuing support of Launch Pad, exceeded my writing income last year. I took a hit in sales because I raised my prices and I did not release a new book. My new dedication to producing a professional product, a heightened involvement in SFWA, and the release of one and perhaps two new books this year will help improve the business side of my writing. I'm also not going to any conferences (including this year's WorldCon in Kansas City) unless sales are high enough to support it. That's sound business.

All-in-all, I would say 2015 was a year of learning for me. I hope to share this information with other writers who are just entering the self-publishing field so they do not make the same mistakes. If you're reading this and you know of anyone who is thinking of self-publishing, please have them read my past blog posts (especially the recent ones) and if they have any questions, ask them to write me.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write to me. I will always get back to you. I do stay busy and if I tell you in an email that I'm going to do something and I fail to do it, please remind me! I don't mind being reminded. If there's a topic you want me to write about, I want to hear about it. If there's a storyline you want to see in one of my books, please make the suggestion. The next Peacekeeper will incorporate at least 2 suggestions from my readers. I appreciate hearing from you. If you just want to say hi - well, that's okay too.

Have a great 2016!