Writing as a Business

How I Could’ve Done A Better Sale

Back in September I wrote an article about when was the best time to publish a book. That article also mentioned some opportune times to host some sales. Going off the advice of that article and my previous sale experience, I decided to host a sale around New Year’s, which is apparently a very good time to hold such a sale.

To my surprise and slight consternation, I did not sell as many books–digital or paperback–as I thought I would. I did get some good sales, including from friends and colleagues, but it was far lower than I expected, to the point that I put more money into the sale than I got back.

I’ve been spending the time since trying to figure out where I went wrong and what I could do to improve my next sale and ad campaign (probably when I publish a novel later this year). Below are the conclusions that I’ve come to, which I hope will give you some help if you hold a sale in the future.

I used only Facebook ads. In another previous post, I showed that Facebook ads could be extremely helpful in spreading the word about sales. This time though, they didn’t prove as helpful. While the likes on my Facebook page did increase from 383 to over twelve-hundred, not many of those people did buy a book. That’s because Facebook is already a free service, we get so much content from it for free. Sure, you may see ads for products on it, and you may like the pages of those products, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to buy it. You’re more likely to ignore an ad from a free service anyway, even when you’re confronted with it over and over (which is probably why I’ve never bought something advertised before my YouTube video).

So next time, I should try formats other than or in addition to Facebook. Yes, it’s a useful site to advertise and attract a fan base, but to rely solely on it wasn’t one of my better moves. Next time, I’ll look into using other platforms, including Twitter and KDP Amazon (yeah, KDP Amazon allows you to advertise through it. I heard the costs were huge, but maybe if they are, it might be worth it to advertise through a site where people are already there presumably to buy products).

I cast too wide a net. When you set up an ad campaign, you can decide who the ad is targeted towards based on criteria like age, interests and hobbies, sex, and several others. One of the main criteria though is country or countries. I wanted to get as many people to see the ad as possible, so I tried targeting as many countries as I could where Amazon operated in (most of my sales come through Amazon). Problem is, while Amazon does operate in those countries, it may not be as big as other retailers there. So when I cast a wide net, I cast a net where people would see the ad but may not buy. Meanwhile, there may have been people in more Amazon-strong countries that would’ve bought my books if they saw the ads, but didn’t because of the wide focus.

Plus some of the countries I targeted don’t have English as a first language. Yes, English is spoken there by a wide swath of the population, but it’s not a dominant language by any means. And most of my sales are from English speaking countries anyway, probably since my books are in English.

So in the future, I will try to focus on countries where most people do buy from Amazon, but English is a spoken by a majority of the population.

Include links. This should’ve been pretty obvious to me. I didn’t include links on two out of three of my ads though, expecting the readers to head over there out of curiosity and look themselves. I don’t think that’s what actually happened in real life. So if you’re going to do an ad, make sure a link or two is already present.


If this helped you at all, my job here is done. Sales and ad campaigns are never easy and don’t always yield the results you want, but if you learn from others and go through trial and error, they can on occasion bring in a very nice pay day.

What tips do you have for a successful sale/ad campaign?

Categories: Business Plan, Marketing & Promoting, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Finding a Narrator on ACX

Many of you may remember the article I wrote on using Audiobook Creation Exchange, or ACX, which helps authors who want to put their books into audio form meet narrators and then get them onto Amazon. Well, about four months ago, after a lot of thought and getting feedback from some of my friends, family members and readers, I decided to get one of my own novels turned into an audio book. This past Saturday I finally found a narrator and finalized a deal with him.

Based on my experiences over the past four months, I thought I’d write another article for anyone thinking about using ACX to produce an audio book. This time, I’ve got tips on how to find your narrator.

First, don’t expect narrators to come looking for you. We like to imagine that the clamor to be the narrator of our audio book is like a bunch of knights taking on quests of courage and valor in order to win the hand of a princess, but in reality it’s more like you’re the princess’s father or mother and you’re writing various knights and princes to get them interested in your darling daughter. Believe me, even if narrators are proactive about finding projects to work on—and many of them are—there are new books being uploaded onto ACX every day, and yours can become quickly lost among the others.

The best thing an author on ACX can do—especially if your name isn’t JK Rowling, George RR Martin, or Harper Lee—is actively seek their own narrator. ACX has several thousand narrators, many with multiple audio samples for you to listen to and decide if someone is right for you. And you can narrow down your choices based on specific factors you’re looking for: age, gender, language, accent, and even what sort of payment they’re willing to take. When you find one you like, you can message them and invite them to submit an audition for your book if they’re interested.

Just keep in mind, really good narrators or ones who can do difficult accents can be hard to get sometimes. For my own novel, I needed someone who can do an American Urban accent, and when I first started searching the number of samples for that sort of accent was over three-hundred. Sounds like I could have my pick of the lot, right? Wrong! After eliminating narrators I didn’t like or I felt didn’t fit what I was looking for, I found that a lot of narrators who could do an American Urban accent were either busy or they charged for their services. In fact, one narrator told me after I told her I couldn’t afford to pay her that a lot of the best narrators or those who can do particular accents often charged for up-front payments and royalty shares.

That’s not to say you can’t find a great narrator who can do a difficult accent or voice who fits your budget or needs. I found one who is good at what he does and was willing to meet my needs. It just took a lot of work to find the guy.

You also have to sometimes deal with the fact that sometimes particular vocal styles, languages, or accents may not have a lot of people who can read them. I played around with the search tools a bit, and found that only twenty-two samples came up when I looked for samples of Japanese accents read by women or men attempting to sound like women. I wonder how much they charge.

Another thing to be aware of while searching for a narrator is that some books get stipends. This was something I learned while searching for my narrator. Twice in the first two weeks a book is available for auditions on ACX, it is evaluated to see if it is eligible for a stipend based on factors such as reviews, past print and e-book sales, and length. Especially length. The longer the better. If your book receives a stipend, then even if you can only afford to do the royalty share option, your narrator will receive some money after the completion of the project from Audible, ACX’s parent company. How much depends on how long the book is, usually $100 for every completed hour of audio and up to $2500. Books that are stipend eligible are marked by a green banner on the book’s profile page.

Now my book wasn’t marked stipend eligible, but it’s something to keep in mind. ACX actually recommends waiting during the first two weeks to see if your book is eligible for stipend. Though perhaps that may only be feasible for that five-hundred plus page novel that’s been selling like hotcakes you published a while back.

I have two final points to make. One, is to be aware that ACX sometimes loses messages sent through its system. This is something I learned ACX has a problem with. Messages sent to me or that I sent would sometimes disappear into the ether and I wouldn’t know if I wasn’t hearing back because the other person’s life has gotten crazy busy, or because once again the system gobbled the message up. Just a heads-up so you know when you wonder why the enthusiastic narrator you came across hasn’t gotten back to you after a week even though previous messages have always been returned in two or three days.

And finally, don’t stress out if you don’t have immediate success finding someone. It took me from early August to late November to find my narrator, and I spent quite a lot of lunch breaks looking through ACX’s databases. It can be grating if you don’t hear back from someone, or if someone you thought was a good match doesn’t pan out, or nobody you come across you like. That’s just sometimes how things work out. If you need to, take a break and worry about other stuff. When you come back, you may find things will go quite well for you.

What tips do you have for finding a narrator on ACX? How did you find yours?

Categories: Audio Books, Book Promotion, Business Plan, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So You Want to Publish a Book (Post 2): Realistic Expectations With Money


I wasn’t going to make this the second post in this series, but since someone mentioned the subject of money in the last post, I thought it might be a good idea to write this now.  The basic argument, of course, is that producing a good quality book (attractive cover, good editing, compelling story) mixed with good promotional techniques should equate to money.

realistic expectations for blog post on writing and finances

Most authors I talk to want to make writing their career.  There’s nothing wrong from wanting this as a goal, but statistically speaking, most authors don’t achieve this.  Yes, there are authors making good money.  I won’t lie.  But from the studies I’ve seen, those making an actual living off their books is way less than those who aren’t.   Most authors won’t do it.

So when you go into this, keep in mind you might never make a living at writing.  Be prepared for this possibility.  Because if you aren’t prepared, you run the risk of becoming bitter or depressed.  There’s no faster way to kill your passion for writing than to stress over your lack of sales.

The key is to be content with where you’re at all the time.  This is easier said than done, but if you keep your focus in the right place, you can do it.  Sometimes I have to sit down and count your blessings.  No matter how bad things are, there is always something you can be grateful for.  Having a thankful heart goes a long way to weathering out the storms of the writing business (and in other areas of life).  Like I said, it’s not always easy to do this, but it’s important.

Yes, the genre you write in can impact how much you sell, but it won’t guarantee you can make a living at it.

Yes, engaging with others online helps for exposure, but it won’t guarantee you’ll sell books.

You can do all the things a successful author did and not see the same sales they do.

There are no guarantees in this thing.  Too many people go into writing with the idea it’s an easy way to make money.  This is not a get-rich-quick scheme.  Don’t go into this thinking as soon as you publish your first book, you’ll be a big seller.  Keep your expectations in check.  Be realistic about it.

There are things you can do to better your chances, but that’s all you can do: better your chances.  That part is in your control.  You can write a compelling story.  You can get a good cover and make sure it’s properly formatted and edited.  You can join social networks and engage with others.  (Make sure you do NOT spam.  Nothing turns people off faster than the car salesman approach to selling a book.)  You can create email lists, do giveaways, do sales, run ads, and even put a book at free to spur on sales of your backlist.

But none of these are the gold ticket to the easy life. Hard work and dedication does not equal earning a living.

So my advice (for what it’s worth) is to do the following:

Keep your day job (or have someone in your household who makes the money).

Get out of debt.  (I cannot emphasize this enough.)

Build up a savings account of about six months of expenses.  (Things break down at the worst possible times.)

Then, after doing this, if you start to gain momentum in sales and see a predictable income stream coming in, go ahead and quit the job.  Your lowest selling month has to be the one that will give you all month’s expenses, including tax payments.

You’ll be paying taxes on your income from book sales, and you’ll be taxed at the self-employment rate here in the US (meaning 40% for federal taxes and state taxes varying).  So you’ll need to live off of only 60% of that income from book sales, not the full 100%.  If you have state income tax, you might have to live off less than that 60%.  (If your state doesn’t have state income tax, count your blessings.)  The IRS doesn’t care if you had a bad sales month or not.  They want their piece of your pie.  If you don’t pay on time, you will get penalized for it.

I spent more time discussing taxes than the other tactics to protect yourself, but when I started out early on, my tax advisor told me I had to pay 15% in federal taxes.  Imagine my surprise at tax time when it was upped to 40%.  I’ll never forget having to sell the brand new truck to make that tax payment.  After that, I spent a year and a half behind on tax payments and paying penalties.  So this is why I want to shout out an extra warning to everyone who is thinking of doing this as a business.  Forewarned is forearmed.  I don’t want the same thing to happen to anyone else.

If you live in a state that allows you to create an LLC with an S-Corp election, you can get some buffer on the taxes.  It’s not a huge amount, but every little bit helps.  Not all states will let you do this, so check with a lawyer or accountant familiar with business law in your state.  An S-Corp does mean payroll, but you can hire out for that service.


So, in summary, before you quit your day job (if you have one), make sure you have buffers in place to protect you from the nature of sales.  Sales go up and down, and they can do it drastically.  You want to be smart about this.  But keep in mind, you might never make enough to sustain a livable wage off your books.  Yes, it possible, but statistically speaking, the odds aren’t in your favor.

Categories: Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Writing as a Business | Tags: ,

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