Planning For the Event Sales Fall Off Into Oblivion

I want to add a quick disclaimer that this might be one of the last posts I write for this blog.  It boils down to the struggle I’ve been having writing posts for the past six months.  I start a post, draw a blank, trash it, try to think of another way to say it, wait for inspiration to strike, and try again.  I think this might be a sign for me to move on.  Stephannie Beman (the other administrator of this blog) and I are currently discussing the possibility of handing over the blog to the other two contributors of this blog.  I’ll let you know more when we know where we’re going.

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For today, though, I wanted to post on a topic that I’ve been seeing a lot on other blogs and in forums.  Basically, the sales that authors were once making seem to be falling.  I’m not going to discuss why sales are falling.  I want to discuss a strategy to place yourself in the best financial place you can be.

1. Get out of debt.

Yeah, I know.  Basic stuff.  But sales are so volatile that you can’t depend on a certain income on a monthly basis.  My sales are erratic.  Huge ups and downs.  You need to be able to cover your living expenses when you’re at your lowest point or have a spouse who makes the living in the family or have a job outside the home.  Relying on your sales to always go up is a bad idea.

2. Never pay for something you can’t afford.

Avoid vanity presses at all costs.  I can’t stress that one enough.  They price books so high, it’s nearly impossible to make anything.  And they make money from their authors, not from selling books.  That, in itself, is a red flag.

If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.  But don’t publish the book until it’s ready.  Better to hold off and pay for the stuff you need to get your book together and polished up.  Don’t rush into publishing just to get the book out there.  So be patient (and yes, I know patience is hard).

3.  Learn how to do your own covers and formatting.

Yes, this takes time and commitment, but it’s worth it.  The more things you can do yourself, the less you’ll have to spend…unless you trade services.  For example, if someone makes your cover and you edit for them, then that’s a good trade.  The idea is that you do this without paying anything.  Just be aware that if you need a modification to your cover or interior file of your book, you’re in a better position if you can do it yourself than if you have to ask someone to modify it for you.

4.  Get creative on working with someone to edit and proofread your book.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to find an editing service to edit your book.  There are English students in colleges, other authors, readers with background in editing, critique groups, and other people who are skilled in editing.  Once again, think trade here.  Offer something they need in return for the edit and/or proofread.

5.  Then take the time to go over your book yourself.

As good as it is to have someone else look over your book, you need to do the final read through.  I like to do the first round of edits myself while reading the book on my laptop.  I used to do the first read through with a paperback copy (via CreateSpace) then on the Kindle (by downloading it on there through Calibre).  Now I use the laptop to go through it once.  Then I send it out to a couple of people.  After they are done, I fix the story based on what they said.  Then I use my text to speech feature on my Kindle to listen to the book.  I go through it slowly, a little at a time so my mind won’t wander.  I don’t think this should be rushed.  I like to pace myself at two chapters a day, but your mileage will vary depending on the length of your book and chapters.

6.  Upload the book yourself to the places you want your book sold at.

Don’t pay someone else to do this.  This part of the process is easy enough where you shouldn’t even have to trade services for it.  If you need another author to walk you through the process, fine.  Then do that.  But do it yourself.

7.  Don’t pay for advertising unless you can afford it.

Ads aren’t worth buying if you need to buy food instead.  While I’ve heard of some ads going well, most of them don’t bring enough benefit to make paying for them worth it.  I’d err on the side of doing whatever I can for free.  Food, lodging, clothes, utilities come first.  If you are strapped for a promotional tool, I’d suggest making a book free and hoping enough people will like it to buy your other books.  (And yes, I mean permanently put it at free.)  There’s no better way of promoting your stories than to let someone read a complete sample of your work.

8.  Don’t rely on one place to make your sales.

Where most of your books are sold might vary.  They might not.  But every little bit counts.  They say not to invest your money in one place but to diversify, and the same is true for books.  I’ve had months were I sold best at Amazon.  Then I’ve had months where I sold best at B&N.  Smashwords and its channels make up a nice percentage of total sales, too.  Just like sales go up and down, they can go up and down in different places.

9.  Write more books.

Some books will sell and some won’t.  Some will sell right away and others take longer to gain momentum.  There’s no rhyme or reason to this.  That’s why having more out there helps.  Just as you don’t want to rely on one place for all your income, you don’t want to rely one book to make all your income.

10. Set aside money for taxes.

Estimate higher than you believe you’ll have to pay.  I was told by my tax representative that I only had to worry about a certain tax bracket when I filed my taxes last year.  Well, this year came and my tax bracket changed, and with that change came a huge bill I have to pay the government before April 15.  If you don’t set aside money for such an event, you’re going to have to find a way to scramble fast to come up with the amount you have to pay.  (In my case, our truck is going.  Thank God that truck is paid for.)  Tax representatives can give you wrong information that you end up paying for later, so err on the side of caution and pretend you’ll owe a heck of a lot more than you were told you were.

11.  In addition to saving aside money for taxes, have a huge emergency fund.

I recommend six months of living expenses, especially when you’re an author and looking at an income that is like a wild roller coaster.  When things fluctuate, it helps to have that emergency fund to buffer you.  At any time, you might have the safety net pulled out from under you.  Your spouse might lose their job.  Medical expenses might pop up.  Having too much money in the emergency fund is way better than not having enough.

12. Plan on the event that you will have to get another job.

This is for those writers who are making a living at writing.  While it’s great to make money doing what you love, this might not last.  I realize there is no secure job out there, so this is a good rule of thumb for anyone.  If you end up having to get another job, I think the transition will be easier if you mentally prepare for the possibility.  You need to be flexible and willing to adapt to whatever changes happen.

***

If you have a nice emergency fund and no debt, you’ll be in a much better position, which is why I recommend getting out of debt and building up that emergency fund as fast as possible.  I still have a mortgage to pay off.  I’d recommend getting a small emergency fund to start, paying off the credit card bills, car loans, and other debt first.  Also, put aside that tax money in an account that is for nothing but paying taxes.  Then build up the emergency fund to six months of expenses.  Then I’d focus on paying off the mortgage.  I’d like to say I have all these steps taken care of, but I don’t.  This post is primarily directed at me.

You can’t control book sales.  But you can control what you do with the money you get and place yourself in the best financial position possible.

30 Comments

  1. These are all things I’m doing now, but I’m glad that you reminded me that I’m doing the right things. Thanks.

    1. It’s funny that all the years I heard financial advice, I didn’t think to connect it up with writing. 😀

      1. I thought the same thing too. And then I read a fantasy novel where the main conflict stemmed from business transactions. I never looked at finances the same way again.

        1. Sounds like an awesome novel. Mind if I ask what it is?

          1. It’s called “Spice & Wolf”, a series of short novels by a Japanese writer named Isuna Hasekura. In the series, a traveling merchant meets a wolf in human form named Holo. Holo promises the merchant that if he takes her back to her home far up north, she’ll help him in his business transactions in any way she can.
            The financial stuff confuses me most of the time, but it’s still interesting, especially when you read the parts where Holo and the merchant tease each other.

            1. Thanks for letting me know. I’m going to check it out.

              1. You’re welcome, and I hope you like it.

  2. robertyel says:

    Hi Ruth. I am an avid reader of your posts in the blog. I really do enjoy reading what you and the others do blog about. I have been a member for quite awhile and rarely comment on anything. But I do read it in the email notifications I get. I would understand if you do give it up because it IS hard to come up with things to say on a constant basis. But if you do leave then I for one will miss your blog postings.

    1. I think part of the problem is that there are a lot more blogs out there that are geared for the same purpose: to help authors market their books, improve their writing, and how to publish their books. I read those posts and think, “What else is there that hasn’t been posted yet?” And they are so good at saying it, too. I just don’t know what I can offer that’s different. 😀

  3. M T McGuire says:

    I’ll be very sorry if you do move on, because I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts on this blog. I don’t write romance but I love coming here for commonsense advice. Good luck in whatever you decide to do, congratulations on another excellent post with this one, and thank you for all that advice.

    Cheers

    MTM

    1. Thanks. 😀 What I liked about this blog was that I could have a blog dedicated for writers. I didn’t want to put my writing posts on the blogs I set up for my readers. It used to be easy coming up with ideas to blog about. Now my mind goes blank. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to post here. I just don’t know what to write that hasn’t been mentioned before.

  4. Well said, Ruth, and very timely.

    I really hope you don’t give this up. I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts and have learned a lot. But you have to do what’s right for you. Sometimes we all just try to do too much.

    1. In light of some of the stuff I see going on with other authors, I’m very concerned about the future of ebook sales for self-published authors. I don’t know if I’m overreacting. Maybe I am, but if I’ve learned nothing else from the tax representative and the unpleasant amount I owe to the government, it’s that it doesn’t hurt to be overly prepared.

      I don’t know what I want to do with this blog. I just wish I could come up with some fresh new material. I feel like everything has already been done.

  5. Sorry I previously commented but I didn’t know if it went through…lol those !!!!!!! were suppose to be ?????

    1. That’s fine. Did you have a question with something in the post?

      1. So I wanted to ask you a few questions since you seem well versed on the world of self-publishing. I wrote my first book when I was in high school (I’m in college now) and many more since. I recently wrote a middle-grade book about mental illness for the sole purpose of self-publishing it.

  6. So I wanted to ask you a few questions since you seem well versed on the world of self-publishing. I wrote my first book when I was in high school (I’m in college now) and many more since. I recently wrote a middle-grade book about mental illness for the sole purpose of self-publishing it. I heard a lot about Createspace but after reading your post about Jamie McGuire, I’m kind of iffy on whether or not I should use it. Also, I have a hard time staying consistent with my verb tenses so I wanted to send my manuscript to an online editor? Know of any (that are affordable for a college student?) Firstediting.com sounds promising…thoughts on that?

  7. I heard a lot about Createspace but after reading your post about Jamie McGuire,I’m kind of iffy on whether or not I should use it.

    1. Jamie McGuire started out self-publishing then got picked up by a publisher. It was her Kindle books that were getting the refund. I don’t know if she went through CreateSpace for her paperback version or not when she self-published, but the issue was with the Kindle edition of her self-published book. I don’t know the specifics of the situation, but what I do know is that she said Amazon was refunding her previous buyers and asking her to pay for the refunds on the original self-published version of her Kindle book, Beautiful Disaster. So this was not a CreateSpace issue.

      What we don’t know is if in the event a publisher picks you up, will you be liable (in the future when the new version is published by the publisher) for any returns your previous customers request when they become aware of the new version (by the publisher). You’ll want to go through the contract carefully before signing it. Though Jaime made it clear this was nothing on the publisher’s end, it doesn’t hurt to make sure the contract does not require you to provide refunds in the event customers return the self-published edition of the book. Even if there are authors out there decrying the fact that we even talked about what happened to Jaime, the truth stands that we are better off prepared in the event something similar happens to us. Is it likely to happen? I don’t think so, but could it? Well, anything is possible.

  8. Also, I have a hard time staying consistent with my verb tenses…know of any services (that are affordable for a college student?) Thoughts on firstediting (dot) com?

    1. I suggest an online critique group or local writing group. They are free (which is easy on your wallet). The only problem will be that you have to grow thick skin. Most of the people aren’t mean, but they have been in the business of critiquing for a while and are likely to be blunt. Some people have a hard time with it, but in the end, they are trying to help.

      An exercise that might help is writing short stories and going through them afterwards yourself to pick out when you switched tenses. Tenses are tricky, and I think they’re the easiest of all mistakes to make. I know I had to struggle with them. 😀

      1. We actually have a writing center at my college but i I’ve heard a lot of not so good things about their writing skills and training and I’m pretty sure it’s for help with school work. Anyhow it won’t hurry to check it out! Thanks for the feedback!!

        1. The writing center might not be bad in getting familiar with the use of verb tenses. When I was in college, we had to a writing center to do some assignments for English II. In my case, they knew what they were doing. But if in your case, you find out they don’t, then I’d go online and see if http://www.critiquecircle.com looks good. I haven’t gone to this site, but a writer in my writers group swears by it. You’ll have to do some critiquing to get critiqued. Sometimes you learn a lot from critiquing someone else’s work.

  9. dm yates says:

    I am so surprised at the amount of money a self-pubbed author is willing to pay to one place to promote his/her book. Invariably down the road, they end up posting how it didn’t bring the sales expected. Great post.

    1. I’ve heard the same reports from authors who paid handsomely for ads. It’s convinced me to not waste my time on them. I did a couple of Facebook ads in the past and some small ads on a romance site, and from what I’ve seen, those weren’t effective either. I’d much rather blog and write my next book. At least I enjoy doing those things.

  10. My writing money is just extra – not part of my budget – because it comes and goes, LOL! But then I never make very much, anyway, I can admit it 🙂

    1. I want to get to the point where my writing income is extra, too. I just need to pay off the mortgage to make that happen since then we can live off my husband’s retirement income. Having the money as extra is a great place to be. 😀

  11. K. A. Jordan says:

    I made enough money to publish a couple more books – I’m glad I can afford a good copy editor.

    1. A good copy editor is golden. I can’t believe how hard it is to find one. 😀

      Glad you made money to help publish more books!

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