Unlike fiction, numbers don’t lie

For a “word guy,” I sure geek out on numbers.

This left-brained gravitation came in handy when putting together my 2016 business plan. And now, more than a full year later, I’m in a position to evaluate how close reality aligned to the strategy.

Because when it comes to collecting data, I err on the side of ridiculous.

Maybe it’s because the craft—the art of writing—is largely subjective. Sure, there are rules for composition and standards for publication, but (ahem) renegade books still may rise to the top. Other than word counts and number of pages, there just isn’t much room for figures.

But other aspects of my writing—the business of writing—are easy to quantify. For example:

Number of Books Published in 2016

  • Projected: 4-5
  • Actual: 5

Going into 2016, I knew I would publish all three novels of The Renegade Chronicles in both paperback and e-book versions as well as a digital-only complete collection. Back in late 2015, I had included publishing Magic’s Daughter, a standalone fantasy novel set in the same world as the trilogy (Altaerra), as a stretch goal.

While that didn’t happen, I did produce a free e-book companion to The Renegade Chronicles, Capricon and Beyond, bringing my total to five.

As a goal, this turned out to be a pretty straightforward success. But sales are another story.

Sales of Individual Books

Rebels and Fools (paperback)

  • Projected: 60
  • Actual: 47

Rebels and Fools (e-book)

  • Projected: 110
  • Actual: 14

Heroes and Liars (paperback)

  • Projected: 45
  • Actual: 35

Heroes and Liars (e-book)

  • Projected: 85
  • Actual: 13

Martyrs and Monsters (paperback)

  • Projected: 30
  • Actual: 36

Martyrs and Monsters (e-book)

  • Projected: 60
  • Actual: 7

The Renegade Chronicles (Collection)

  • Projected: 80
  • Actual: 15

Clearly, I fell short of my goals here. The only milestone I met—and surpassed—was the sale of Martyrs and Monsters in paperback. Not so surprisingly, the deficit in sales directly impacted income.

Total income

  • Projected: $1,355.40
  • Actual: $786.45

Ouch. And the shortfall in paperbacks wasn’t nearly as bad as the disappointing number of e-book sales because I earn far more royalties for an e-book than I do for a printed version. (No printing costs mean more money in my pocket.)

And then there’s the money coming out of my pocket…

Total expenditures

  • Projected: $1,225.01
  • Actual: $1,857.73

Double ouch. For the record, many of these expenses were a result of setting up my business (One Million Words LLC), not necessarily the publishing of my novels, though there were costs associated with that as well.

Moreover, I ended up ordering more copies of the book to sell at events than I had thought I would. Some of that I recouped, but I have a couple hundred dollars in inventory on hand at the moment, thanks to a certain snowstorm that won’t be named. (OK, it was Bailey.)

You don’t have to be a mathematician to calculate how the above numbers affect profit.

Total profit

  • Projected: $130.39
  • Actual: -$1,142.25

Fact: most new businesses don’t make a profit their first year, so maybe breaking even (or coming out just above that) was too optimistic. Yet I ended up much farther afield than I would have liked.

So what went wrong? Perhaps I just didn’t work hard enough?

Total hours worked

  • Projected: 12.00 hours/week for a total of 624 hours
  • Actual: 13.29 hours/week for a total of 691 hours

Nope, I wasn’t slacking. Maybe I didn’t put enough time into what matters, such as marketing.

Total hours spent on marketing

  • Projected: 1.00 hour/week for a total of 52 hours
  • Actual: 3.56 hours/week for a total of 185 hours

It became obvious early on that a single hour of marketing per week wasn’t going to accomplish much. And even a novice entrepreneur understands that marketing directly impacts sales. Yet after investing more than three times what I had originally allocated to marketing, why weren’t readers finding—and buying—my book?

What did I miss?

Breakdown of total marketing hours

  • Blog: 32.25
  • Events: 34.25
  • Media relations: 13.75
  • Newsletter: 7.50
  • Seeking reviews: 20.00
  • Social media: 18.25
  • Website updates: 8.50
  • Phase 2: 20.75
  • Everything else: 29.75

You may be wondering, “What’s Phase 2?” Well, when I saw that sales were sluggish, I did a bunch of research and came up with a plan to boost them. That’s when I decided to put out the free compendium e-book.

For the record, here is how the rest of my time shook out:

Non-marketing hours

  • Planning/writing the first draft of If Dreams Can Die: 190.00
  • Publishing The Renegade Chronicles: 183.00*
  • Donated hours: 35.00**
  • Business planning: 28.25
  • Creating/publishing the free e-book compendium: 27.00
  • Random tasks: 20.25
  • Business administration: 13.25
  • Miscellaneous research: 5.25
  • Trying to publish short stories: 4.00

* Additional hours for this project were expended in 2015.

** I donated some of my One Million Words time helping a friend publish his memoirs. More on that in the days ahead…

Pie chart showing how I spent 2016

Analysis

I spent more than a quarter of my time (26.77%) on marketing communications, including a gamut of channels to try to connect to my target demographic. That’s only slightly less time than I spent on actual writing! Only publishing (The Renegade Chronicles novels and the compendium) consumed more hours in 2016.

Which means I must be one lousy book marketer, huh?

Maybe. But in my defense, I also took a grassroots (read: cheap) approach to marketing. Sure, a business needs to spend money to make money, but there are entirely too many ways for an author to flush away what little startup capital he has. If I’m going to invest a penny in a service, I demand demonstrated ROI.

To date, I have yet to find a surefire method for rising above the noise—er, competition—to reach with the right readers. And yet if I don’t do something to draw attention to my books, they’ll remained buried beneath Amazon’s algorithm along with hundreds, if not thousands, of similar products.

But wait, sales don’t reflect the total number of people who have read my book…

Free downloads

Rebels and Fools (e-book)

  • Projected: 0
  • Actual: 508

Capricon and Beyond (e-book)

  • Projected: 0
  • Actual: 84

The idea was this: If I made Book 1 free to download, folks who enjoyed it would pay actual money to read the rest of the series. One can come to a number of conclusions as to why this didn’t happen. Maybe they didn’t like Rebels and Fools very much.

Or maybe people who like free books like them because they don’t have to pay for them…and with so many complimentary promos going on any given time, they’ll be elbow deep in free reads for eternity.

What’s next?

Examining the time and money I put into marketing and then making informed decisions based on the data is my priority. But I started One Million Words not only to sell books, but also to write new ones.

Learning that I could crank out a book in 190 hours was very eye-opening. Granted, it’s the third book in a series (The Soul Sleep Cycle), so some of the heavy lifting had already been done prior to plotting out If Dreams Can Die. But it does raise a series of interesting questions:

  1. Am I better off focusing my energy on finishing and publishing The Soul Sleep Cycle through One Million Words in hopes that sales from that series will drive The Renegade Chronicles’ sales?
  2. Or am I just going to face the same obstacle as before—struggling to be heard in an oversaturated market?
  3. Or am I better off being more proactive in finding a different publisher for The Soul Sleep Cycle, such as a mid-sized or small press, so that I’ll have a partner in marketing that series?
  4. And what about other revenue streams? (Would anyone really pay for a pun-a-day calendar?)

One thing is for certain. I have plenty to ponder as I close the books, so to speak, on 2016.

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Writing

5 responses to “Unlike fiction, numbers don’t lie

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this entire breakdown, but I definitely shook my head when I read #4 on what’s next my friend…

  2. thomas ramirez

    Davido, Very disheartening. Had thought those SF freaks would really jump on this  wagon. Discouraging personally, as I wonder if the  “Mexican Band” project will have any success. Also alarmed abbot how much money/time you have expended on this project. Hugs to the family. TOM

    • Yes, well, of course I hoped for better numbers, but all is not lost. Live and learn, and all that.

      You already have a lot of built-in fans. Add to that the locals who read excerpts of your memoirs in your column, and I think you’ll sell more than a few copies of Mexican Band. Anyway, we won’t know until it’s out, right?

  3. Pingback: Countdown for my Pun-a-Day Calendar | David Michael Williams

I'd love to hear from you. Please leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s