This post is inspired by Stephannie Beman’s post titled The Path to a Writer’s Life.
Checking through our goals as a writer every couple months is a great idea. I never thought of sitting down and doing that. I’ve been going through and writing books, planning when I can have a new book out, and trying to decide which book to write next. The problem was, I hadn’t carefully thought out a strategy on why I should write a certain book.
I think as we think of writing as a business, we need to carefully look at what we are writing and why. It’s one thing to say, “Write what we’re passionate about.” I agree that you should be interested in what you write. But there is a distinction between writing a book you love that will sell and writing a book you love that won’t sell. Sales have to be a determining factor as you decide which book to put your energy and time into.
I like to think of my sales sheet as a report card. This is why I’ve been studying my sales on Amazon and B&N. (I recently published two books on PubIt so now I can track what is happening over there.) After a careful study of how my books have been selling for the past year, I’ve come to the conclusion that some type of books have to go. When I say “has to go”, I mean that I have to discontinue some series I had planned in favor of the ones that are doing better. This isn’t something that makes all of my readers happy, but you can’t run a business if you’re not focusing on books that will yield enough profit to reach your goals.
So this is how I look at my sales sheet as a report card:
The highest selling type of book is an A.
The second to highest selling type of book is a B.
The book that sell in the middle (neither high nor low) is a C.
The book that rarely sells anything is a D or F.
By looking at my sales as a report card, I am getting rid of the inclination to be romantic about the business side of writing. Writing as a business requires the ability to make hard decisions, and a hard decision is telling your readers that a particular book won’t be written and published. But the reality is, you can’t pay bills or make a living writing C-F books. You might enjoy them, but they won’t reach your business goals.
Please note: if writing is done purely for enjoyment, then you have no need to think of making a profit. And I am all for writers writing as a hobby. I don’t believe every single book that is published must be written with the intention of selling it. I have some pleasure-only books out there that are for me only, so I understand why a writer would pursue that avenue.
But this post is for writers who want to write books they love and make a profit from it. If you want to make a profit, you need to be logical in your approach. I do think you need to write what you enjoy, but if you’re like me, you have several interests. I like thrillers, fantasies, science fiction, end-times Christian fiction, erotic romances, non-fiction (esp. when it comes to publishing and marketing). But I can’t write all of those and make a profit. I also like contemporary romances, but I’ve come to realize those are D-F books. Even a couple of my historical western romances are C books. Fortunately, my historical western romances featuring the Nebraska “collection” and my Regencies (which I just got started on) are A and B books. When I look at my sales, I see that two main genres (historical westerns and Regencies) do the best for me.
A and B books tell you where the demand is. It tells you what readers want and helps you fine-tune your author platform. It’s hard to get a handle on your author platform when you begin, but as you publish books, you start to notice which books are resonating with your readers, and from there, you begin to understand why readers keep buying your books. You want to focus on that audience.
I realize to some degree, it sounds cold to say focus on sales when figuring out what to write next, but it’s the truth if you want to be able to spend more time writing. I’m not saying that making a living at your writing and doing it all day is easy because it’s not. There’s a lot of stress involved, like there is with any job. But every business needs to look at a profit and see if they’re moving in the right direction. You also can’t write a book you enjoy as much as getting a root canal at the dentist’s. So passion needs to be in the mix. Just look at your report card to determine how you can blend the two. :D
(Plus, as an added bonus, when you write A and B books, you will be adding new books to the list you already have, and after studying marketing books since 2008, I’ve come to believe that nothing markets your books as well as a new book. So why not make the new marketing tool in your arsenal–a new book–have maximum impact by writing an A or B book?)