The Changing Landscape of Publishing: How To Cope

Intro

While Scribd and Oyster have been offering subscription-based services to readers for a while now, Amazon has just come out with their version under Kindle Unlimited.  Upon reading some discussions on all of this, I came to the conclusion that there is nothing set in stone in the publishing world.  It is always evolving, always changing.  And no one can tell with 100% certainty where it’s all headed.

For example, back in 2009 when I started publishing ebooks, I never imagined I would earn more than $30 a year (if I was lucky) with my work.  And today when new authors publish, they are disappointed if $30 is all they get in one month.  Then in 2010, the big thing was $0.99.  It was easy to gain a new readership at this price point.  Today?  Not so much.  Though, pricing the first book in a series at free seems to still work.  But with big name authors lowering their price points, it’s not wise to price too high either for your non-free titles.  With subscription services taking off, I’m sure it’ll have some impact on how book prices go.  But it’s too soon to tell just how things will shake out.

The point to all of this is that nothing stays the same in this crazy up-and-down roller coaster world of publishing.  I’m not going to say what will or won’t happen.

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But what I can offer are some ways to cope in this volatile market we’re in, so hopefully, we can all stay sane.  🙂

1.  Keep writing.

Blank notebook and pen.

 

Why?  Because this is what we love to do.  It is our passion.  This is why we get up in the morning.  Writing is our escape from the outside world when it presses in on us.  Sometimes you have to turn off the TV, get off the Internet, and shut the door on people who are trying to distract you.  If you’re like me, you feel anxious when you don’t write.  I can go for a week without writing and be fine, but after that, I get irritable and stressed out.  I need to write to stay level.  It’s how I relax.  If writing doesn’t relax you, then I suggest finding something else that does, like going for a walk or seeing a movie.   You need a way to step away from stressful situations.  And, if you’re relaxed, you’ll write better.

2.  Keep publishing.

publish

There are certain times of the year I find it better to publish than others, but I don’t limit myself to only those times.  I publish even on months that historically have sucked for me.  Publishing on a regular basis helps to steady out the money you bring in.  The more books you publish a year, the better your chances are of making money and staying “new enough” so people don’t forget you.  I realize everyone’s life differs.  Some people can write fast; others can’t.  But if you can get something new out on a predictable basis or when you promise readers you will, it’ll help.

Keep in mind that not all books will sell well, and there is no way to predict which will do better than others.  But when you keep getting books out there, you increase your chances of being noticed and staying relevant.  And you never know.  Some day your work might take off.  If you took the time to lay the groundwork and acquire a nice backlist, that could work in your favor.

But most of all, one more book finished and published, is a satisfying feeling all on its own.  I’m working my way to the goal of 50 romance books. (I just published my 42nd one.)   The best rewards are those where we set a goal for ourselves that we can control.

3.  Be aware of sales but don’t obsess over them.

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I do think it’s important to know how your books are doing, but try to limit how often you go to check your dashboard or sales rankings.  Some people can check their sales once a day and not agonize if they are losing momentum.  Some people can only check their stats once a month.  It depends on your comfort level.  If you’re obsessing over them, then it’s time to back off.  I realize it can be hard to do that, but it’ll help you keep sane if you do.

The picture above with the up and down chart is very much like my own dashboard.  From month to month, it can be an extreme up or down, and this occurs even in months when I publish a new book.  What I usually do is track my sales for the first two months on any book I publish.  What I’m doing is gauging which type of romance I’m writing that resonates best with my readers.  I write Regencies, historical westerns, and contemporaries.  I usually write them around the same time so I can publish them around the same time.  Why do I do this?  To get a better idea of what I should write more of in the future.

My overall sales seem to be better in the first part of the year.  October through December are awful for me.  January through March are best.  April through September are pretty stable with a regular up and down flow.  By publishing in all these time frames, I am able to get a better idea of whether my reader base prefers Regencies, historical westerns, or contemporaries that I write.  I know there’s good money in contemporaries, but these are not my best selling books.  I do best with Regencies and historical westerns because that is my particular reader base.  I write contemporaries to get a break and do something different.  If you can write fast, you do have the luxury of writing a couple books that you think won’t do well with sales.  But overall, you want to try to aim your books for your readers, if your goal is to make some money off your work.  If your goal is to write solely for enjoyment (and that is perfectly acceptable), then you don’t have to take sales into account.

4.  Most of all, remember to enjoy what you’re doing.

think forward

I do believe it’s okay to step away from writing if you have lost the joy in it.  Maybe you need a break.  Maybe you need to evaluate whether or not this is what you really want to do.  It’s hard to be a writer when people are highly critical of books.  Some people will email you, leave comments on your blog, or write reviews about your book, and they will be rude.  It happens to all writers sooner or later.  We can’t please everyone.  It’s impossible.  The work we do is not for the faint of heart.  It takes a lot of thick skin to be in the public eye, and that thick skin takes time to develop.

There were a couple of times when I wanted to give up.  I stepped back and took a month off to figure out if I wanted to keep writing books for the public.  (I don’t think I can ever get away from writing.  It’s who I am.  But I don’t have to publish what I write.)   There were times when I stood in the shower for a long time and cried or needed to talk to other writers because I was down in the dumps. (Believe me, non-writers have no idea what it feels like to get hateful messages telling them how much their books suck.)  Two times, I almost unpublished everything I’d ever written.

Only you can decide if you want to stick with it.  Don’t let someone else tell you if you should or not.  This is your decision.  And if you want to quit for a while, there’s no reason why you can’t come back later and start again.  I don’t know what the answer is for you if you feel like taking a break or quitting.  But I can tell you that you can get thick skin.  Hurtful comments will always hurt.  They might not hurt as much.  But the pain does go away.  You do get stronger.  You will get over it faster.  The positive will come in.  Life is a cycle of ups and downs.  Nothing stays constant.

Conclusion

Being an author in an ever-changing publishing world can be rough, but if you focus on things you can control, then the path gets a lot smoother.  You can’t change what the trends are.  All you can do is keep writing, publishing, take everything in stride, and, if necessary, take a break to get your mind back into the game.

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photo credits:

image 1 (pen and paper): ID 2947054 © Richard Thomas | Dreamstime.com

image 2 (publish): ID 39234114 © Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Dreamstime.com

image 3 (stats): ID 18004323 © Daniel Draghici | Dreamstime.com

image 4 (think forward): ID 39709981 © Libux77 | Dreamstime.com

These pictures were purchased by Ruth Ann Nordin, one of the administrators of this blog.

25 Comments

  1. Yeah, I definitely need to stop obsessing over sales. I should focus instead on writing more and finding new ways to get people interested in my work in general. Thanks, Ruth.

    1. It’s hard not to obsess over sales. I try not to check my dashboard more than once a month when I’m planning out my budget. I’m one of those people who can’t handle checking it often. Most of the time when I publish a book, I ask my husband to check things for me so I can figure out how the book is doing.

      1. I wish I had someone who could do that for me!

        1. I don’t know if you have a friend who’d be willing to do it. Once in a while, I’ll ask an author friend to check and see how things are going if my husband is too busy.

          1. I’ll have to think about it. Thanks Ruth.

  2. ronfritsch says:

    Once again, Ruth, I agree with all your points. You can go much longer than I can, though, without writing. If a day goes by without at least two hours of writing or revising, it feels as if my world is in a state of collapse. Thanks for writing this post. The constantly changing landscape we face brings uncertainty and anxiety. Some of us can only write our way through it.

    1. I know the feeling you’re talking about. 🙂 I try to explain to non-writers that when I’m stressed, the worst thing I can do is take a break from writing. Writing is one of the few things that help.

      I can’t spend much time reading about what’s happening in the publishing world without feeling overwhelmed by how fast things are changing. And the marketing articles are nice in small bits, but even then, I feel overwhelmed and need to step back. It’s a lot of information to take in.

      I think the reason I can go as long as a week is because I take that time to focus on my kids and husband. I usually do this right after finishing a book. But on a daily basis, I typically write whenever I can. But I do prefer to do something writing related every day. I’m much happier (and better company) that way.

  3. Excellent tips, Ruth.

  4. Great advice. When ARE the best times of year to publish?

    1. It might depend on your genre. I write romance, and I’ve noticed January and February are peak times. March is still good. April through early summer is still good for rankings. Then things slowly take a downturn from there. October through December are the worst for me (though another romance author said October is great for her). I average six to seven books a year, so I’ll still publish in the October through December time frame. But I will publish the book I don’t think will appeal to the widest audience. For example, I might publish a historical western that takes place in the early 1900s. The last book I wrote in the early 1900s totally bombed. But I wrote a lead-in to this current book and promised my readers I’d do it. But since I expect this to not do so well, I’m going to have it out in October. For books that I believe will do the best, I wait for January through March to publish those.

      Books in other genres might have different trends. These are the trends that I’ve noticed in romance over the past five years I’ve been doing this. If you can get a couple books out a year and publish at different times over the course of 2-3 years, you might pick up a trend that is different from mine or the same. It’s hard to say how the genres would compare. (I should add that I don’t know what genre you write. I’m assuming it’s not romance, though it very well could be. If it is, other romance writers have told me January through March is their peak time with November and December being the worst.)

      1. Thank you, that does help. I write fantasy, so I’m not sure when is the best time. I have a book that is almost ready to go, but I might hold off for the best time.

        1. If your fantasy is part of a series, you might be better off having the entire series finished (or almost finished) before publishing the first book. Usually fantasies are trilogies. I don’t know if you are doing a trilogy. If so, I would publish each book a month apart and let people know in the description the next book is due out in a month so they know they won’t be left hanging. I think with series, readers worry the author won’t finish it, so they hold off on buying the books until they’re done or unless they know the author has a proven track record. Romance series are usually standalone novels that don’t need book 2 or 3 in order to get the full story in book 1. Fantasy has traditionally been set up differently where you need to read all books in order to get the complete story. I don’t know if you are writing that type of fantasy or not. If your fantasy is a standalone, then you can publish whenever you want without worrying about the other books.

          Romance writers who write serials where there’s a cliffhanger at the end of each book to lead into the next tend to get burned if they don’t have the next book’s release close to the first.

          I hope that made sense.

          1. That is very helpful. The one I am writing now is a standalone. I thought I’d get my feet wet with it. Then, I’d like to publish a separate series. Three books plus two companion novels. I didn’t know if I should avoid x-mas time or summer vacay. Not sure when readers usually . . . read. haha or if it really matters.

            1. I this Christmas is hard time to sell books because so many people publish around that time, thinking that everyone will want to gift ebooks to friends for the big day. Because of the increased flood of ebooks, it makes it harder to get noticed and obtain favorable rankings.

              I’d rather go with summer vacation than Christmas when publishing a book. Summer vacation sales aren’t ideal, but they tend to be better (in my experience).

              Now, if you were publishing at Christmas to get ready for the January and February spike, then that would be even better.

              1. So the Jan-March timeframe is better? BTW thank you so much for talking with me about this. I am a first time publishing author so I’m still a little confused how this all works. Just want to make sure I give my debut novel the best shot it can get.

              2. I would aim for very late December to early January to maximize the possible exposure you can get. If I was new and starting out, that is what I would do. From talking to authors and watching my sales trends, the best sales seem to take place very early in the year. I know some books can break out at other times in the year, but the break out books are not the norm for authors. There’s no way of telling how a book will do until you publish. But I think the odds are best in that time frame.

  5. Safe to say – no expectations – might be the best way to go. I just keep writing, as you say, and hope someday I might hit that critical mass of reader awareness to raise myself above the ocean waves of Amazon books – my little author arm waving madly. Good post.

    1. I agree. No expectations is much better. I think it helps us concentrate better on writing the story we most love when we aren’t worried about the external factors. And you just never know when a book might take off. I had books out for almost two years before sales took off. I published ebooks back in 2009 and suddenly sales came in at December 2010. (That was when I finally made $100 in one month. Up to then I was bringing in $5 or so a month. No one knew who I was or cared.) It helped that I had a backlist established by that time.

  6. Katie Cross says:

    A great article. Thank you!

    1. I’m glad you liked it! 😀

  7. Great article! I admit, I struggle with #3. 🙂

    1. I agree. #3 is my weak area, too. It’s hard not keep checking the numbers. 🙂

  8. Joan Reeves says:

    Great post, Ruth.

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