Tag Archives: business

Some bad news about my brand

What is the digital equivalent of schizophrenia?

Whatever it is, my website has it. More specifically, my brand suffers from it. That’s right, I have a brand. Every author does. Except I ended up with two brands because I bandied about the phrase “One Million Words” for years and then finally formed One Million Words LLC in 2016.

On paper it seems so easy: David Michael Williams is an author, and One Million Words is a publisher. But at this point, OMW publishes only the works of DMW, so the two identifiers are irrevocably interwoven.

Should one-million-words.com redirect to david-michael-williams.com or the other way around? One could argue they should be two separate websites, but it would be ridiculous to maintain two websites with near-identical content.

The professional marketer in me bemoans the fact that OMW has taken a backseat to DMW. After all, a legitimate company should have its own logo, website, LinkedIn profile, and so forth. But if I’m being honest, One Million Words LLC is nothing more than a string of words created expressly for the spine of my self-published novels.

Until the company produces works by other authors, it really doesn’t need to be more than that.

Don’t worry. Even if the One Million Words brand disappears someday, I’d never make my name into a logotype.

I have a bigger problem on my hands, however: David Michael Williams, as a brand, is broken.

Nota bene: Marketing is my day job. I’ve worked with countless companies and organizations on branding exercises, so I’m no stranger to concepts like positioning statements, brand platforms, target audiences, as well as the formal guidelines that govern all marketing communications. And while a solitary novelist differs from corporation in many key aspects, the same fundamentals apply to any entity that sells a product.

The root of my dilemma—my identity crisis, as it were—is that David Michael Williams, the human being, is inconsistent.

If I penned only sword-and-sorcery fantasy books, it’d be much easier to market myself, my novels, and my company. But I also write sci-fi and other subgenres of speculative fiction. You might be thinking, “No matter. Many authors publish fantasy and science fiction. They’re close cousins.”

OK, but I co-wrote a children’s chapter book too. There was also a certain stillborn pun-a-day calendar. And I can’t promise I won’t attempt an interactive storytelling experiment at some point in the future. (Anyone wanna play a grammar video game?)

Some may argue that an author should use a different pen name for each genre he tackles. There’s wisdom in that, but at the same time, I can’t get enthusiastic about juggling additional aliases. I’m one guy with a lot of different ideas who doesn’t want to limit his possibilities; is that a crime?

No, but it can be confusing to consumers, which negatively impact profits.

Or perhaps I’m oversimplifying things. There are plenty of professionals who straddle genres and/or media. Some of my favorites include Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame (though I like Invincible much more and am excited about the recently announced movie); the Decemberists, whose talented fingers touch projects ranging from music and visual art to children’s novels and board games; and the insanely brilliant Neil Gaiman, whose entire career I’d love to clone.

Given those folks’ success, it would seem that a diversity of creativity can be something of a brand in itself. That does give me hope, though in the short term, it won’t make building a fan base any easier. Because as much as it would streamline things, I can’t focus on just one aspect of storytelling.

I won’t.

Which means regardless of whether my website banner says “David Michael Williams” or “One Million Words,” visitors are going to get a messy, mixed bag of imagination.

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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.

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It’s a…business!

On Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016, author David Michael Williams brought a new publishing company into the world.

By Claude Covo-Farchi from Paris, France via Wikimedia Commons

  • Name: One Million Words LLC
  • Lengths: great
  • Weight: pretty darn heavy

I’m delighted to report the delivery was quick and painless—less than an hour in an attorney’s office. And yet a lot of labor went into the small business since its conception. From entertaining the idea of entrepreneurship to determining which projects to tackle first to drafting an official business plan, there’s been no shortage of Ts to cross or Is to dot.

Truth be told, the One Million Words “brand” predates any of the aforementioned planning. I’ve been using that name in conjunction with my marketing communications since 2010 and bestowed it upon this very blog in 2012.

Going forward, One Million Words LLC will publish the novels of mine that aren’t picked up by the traditional market, including The Renegade Chronicles, my forthcoming fantasy trilogy.

Sorry to say, I don’t have any “baby pics” to share. However, a logo or wordmark might be appropriate farther down the road.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue working toward my late-March milestone of making Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, and Martyrs and Monsters available in paperback and digital formats.

Stay tuned for the next big announcement!

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One Million Words…and more

I’ve written some pretty strange things over the years.

Just last week, I wrote the text for a sell sheet that compares website services to automobile maintenance—despite knowing next to nothing about cars. Years ago, I scripted a mock press conference starring the chancellor of a public university and the ice-cream-cone mascot of a local burger franchise. Once I even dedicated a newspaper column to the topic of dust.

Subject matter aside, I’ve had the privilege of producing a wide array of written works throughout my professional life, including journalistic articles, press releases, text for various marketing brochures and websites, ad copy, scripts for television and radio commercials, and a job posting modeled after the inscription on Tolkien’s One Ring of Power.

But few things pushed me farther outside my comfort zone than the business plan I recently put together.

That’s right, soon One Million Words will be more than just an informal brand for my fiction. In the next few months, I plan to start my own business to better coordinate my writing and publishing efforts.

Last month, I struggled with the question “What now?” I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to jump into the next book of my current series, revisit some of my older works, or explore something completely new. Before I could determine my next steps, I needed to map out my goals. And if I were really going to treat my writing like a business, the numbers had to have a say in the solution.

In other words, if I wanted to survive, I needed a source of income.

While I remained (and still remain!) hopeful my agent will be able to sell the first two books of The Soul Sleep Cycle, I couldn’t bank on that—given how slowly the traditional publishing industry moves.

Which meant I needed to find another revenue stream in the meantime.

The Renegade Chronicles—a sword-and-sorcery series I wrote years ago—was the obvious low-hanging fruit. My goal is to self-publish those books in paperback and as e-books in the first quarter next year to maximize my sales window in 2016.

As much as I’d love to plow forward into Book 3 of The Soul Sleep Cycle, I now find myself contending against an admittedly aggressive deadline. There’s a chance that in between editing and proofing The Renegade Chronicles, commissioning cover art, refining my marketing plan, and publishing that trilogy, I’ll be able to crank out a character profile or two as well as a chapter outline for If Dreams Can Die, but if not, it will have to wait until April.

These past few days, I’ve been spending as much time staring at spreadsheets as Word documents. As much as I crave the chance to sink my teeth into something more creative than business planning and editing, the left side of my brain thrives on organizing tasks and timelines.

It’s a lot of work—and a far cry from my carefree approach to fiction back when I first penned The Renegade Chronicles—but no one ever said living the dream would be easy.

Truth be told, I’m quite pleased with how the business plan turned out (and sincere thanks to Denise Grover Swank, whose business plan at The Writer’s Guide to E-Publishing served as my model). While it’s intimidated to see a list of 50-plus to-dos staring back at me when I open my spreadsheet, it feels damn good to have a destination.

And now I must return to a task that’s at least as daunting as writing a business plan: coming up with better titles for the three Renegade Chronicles books.

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