But I Thought The Income Was Only Supposed to Go Up

Over and over I keep hearing people say, “As you continue publishing more and more books, your income only goes up.”  I don’t know where this assumption comes from, but in any business, you can increase productivity and see a loss.  So why can’t the same be true for books?  Why must we assume that income never drops if you publish books?  Maybe it’s because no one seems to be talking bringing it up.  Maybe they are in forums, but I can’t remember seeing a blog post that addresses the issue of a dropping income.

So I thought I’d write it.

I’m lucky.  This is the first year I’ve seen a drop in income since starting out with ebooks on Amazon and Smashwords in 2009.  I know I’m not the first author to see a drop in income because I’ve talked to some who have.  My income went up from 2009 to 2014.  In 2015, it stayed the same.  This year, it dropped by half.  In the previous years, I averaged six novels a year.  As of August 1 of this year, I have published six novels.  I have two more done and up on pre-order.  I plan to publish at least two more before December 31.  So even though I’ll be publishing ten novels instead of six, I am still on my way to only making half of what I did this year.

falling income
ID 7932311 © Sofiya Yermakova | Dreamstime.com

 

Why am I telling you this?

Because the idea that you can write more books and expect an increase in income is a myth.  It’s not fair to tell writers that their income will always go up.  I know we’re in an expanding global ebook market, but that doesn’t mean we’re all going to see a boom internationally.   In some countries, my income is actually down.  In others, it’s gone up, but we’re talking $10.  Not enough to pay any bills with.

So now that we addressed the problem, what do are we supposed to do about it.

1. Realize there is no “sure” thing.

Change seems to be the only constant in life.  The one thing we can depend on is the fact that nothing stays the same.  The sooner we take this to hear, the easier it’ll be to adapt.

2. Try something different.

Sometimes we can get stuck in our ways.  What we did in the past might have worked great.  For example, the $0.99 price point was big back in 2009-2013, and if you had a book set to free, you could pretty much guarantee a lot of downloads.  But then things shifted.  With the increase of books into the market, those two tactics weren’t as effective as they used to be.

I don’t know what you’ll want to try that’s different.  Maybe it’s running a Facebook ad.  Maybe it’s revamping the old covers.  Maybe it’s audiobooks.  Maybe it’s hiring someone to handle the marketing side for you.  Maybe it’s offering online courses in an area you’re an expert at.

I chose to focus on writing one book after another in the series.  I used to take my time in finishing a series, but this time around, I wrote one book right after the other.  I make sure to advertise the pre-order in the back matter so people know what the next book is and where to get it.  The technique has worked well.  It might not have brought my income back to what it was last year, but it’s kept my head above water.

3. Say no to the things that aren’t helping you reach your income goal.

This can be hard to do, especially if we enjoy those things.  But it’s necessary if you’re going to have the time you need to do the things that will help earn you more money.

Take a look at how you spend your time.  What can be cut out?  What can you put in that will help you reach your goal?  I’m not saying what you put in will work, but it’s worth a try because if you don’t try, you won’t know.  And guess what?  You might stumble on something that does work.

I cut back on my blogging.  I enjoy blogging, but it’s not how I make money.  I say no a lot to TV/movies.  I’ve cut back to the time I’ll watch anything to 1-2 hours before bed, and that is to wind down.  More often than note, I’ll fall asleep while watching something.  I said no to spending time browsing forums online.  I used to go to Kindleboards a lot to see what was going on in the publishing world.  These days, I just don’t have the time.  If something newsworthy pops up, usually it’ll be on The Creative Penn or Sell More Books Show podcasts, which I listen to while cooking.

So figure out what areas you can trim out.  This is not as easy as it sounds, but it’s worth doing.

4. Treat this like a job.

If you don’t take this seriously, the people in your life will take advantage of your time.  You need to set boundaries with them.  If you have to leave the house, then leave the house.  Set up specific hours and days you’ll work.  Decide how much time will be devoted to writing and how much time will be devoted to non-writing business tasks.  Then make those the priority.  If you were working for someone else and had to be at the office from 8am to 5pm, would you skip a couple hours to do something else?  Of course not.  So you need to take your business as seriously as you would if you were working for someone else.

I stopped writing at home.  My husband and kids kept bugging me while I was working, and no matter how much I told them to leave me alone, they won’t.  I decided to go to my local Barnes & Noble bookstore and treat that as my office.  My writing output went from 1500-2000 words in a day to 3000-4000 on average.  So I easily doubled my word count in the same amount of time simply by making myself leave the house in order to write.   I still do my non-writing related business tasks like emails, blogging, and social media at home.  But when I’m at Barnes & Noble, I keep the Internet off and only write.  I leave my husband with the kids and just deal with the fact that the house isn’t going to be as clean as I’d like when I get home.

5.  Piggybacking off of #4, make sure to take days off.

Otherwise, you’re going to burn out.  I work Monday through Friday.  I don’t write on weekends, though I might send out a new release email when a book is published on Saturday or Sunday.  I make up these emails and blog posts in advance so all I have to do is click a button.  But otherwise, this is the day to spend with family and friends and to have a life outside of the business.

I know it can be hard to take days off to relax.  I’m a workaholic.  I hate sitting around and doing nothing.  I like to be on the move.  So if you’re balking at the idea of taking two days a week off from your writing and non-writing business-related tasks, I understand why.  It took me until this year to finally do this.  But it has been the reason why I’ve been able to publish more books this year without sacrificing the quality in my writing.  I’m not working harder.  I’m working smarter.  I’ve learned a couple days off every week helps to buffer me from stressing out.  You might have to find another routine that works better for you.  This is just the way that works for me.

6. Quitting is a valid option.

I’m not going to criticize anyone who decides writing is not for them.  You only fail if you don’t try.  Writing is harder than it looks.  Not everyone is meant to be a writer, just as not everyone is meant to be a singer or football player or an engineer.  I don’t adhere to this notion that everyone should write a book.  I also don’t believe that quitting is for wimps.  I think if you try something and find out it’s not a good fit for you, then you should move on to something you can be more passionate about.  You can take whatever lessons you learned along the way and become a better person for it.

For example, I was in a high school play, and I learned that acting is a lot harder than it looks.  I was bad at it.  Another example, I thought I might want to go into public speaking at conferences.  After doing a couple, I realized I’m not good at it.  Also, after trying a podcast for a very brief time, I learned it was a lot more work than I cared to do with it.  So there are things I tried but found out weren’t a good fit for me.

Now, do you quit because you can’t make money but love writing?  That’s a tough one, and it’s a question only you can answer.  Not making the money is a valid reason to quit.  You need food.  You need shelter.  You need clothes.  You have to make sure you’re able to obtain those things before you can worry about writing.  You can have a job and write in your spare time.  But the fact of the matter is, you only have so many hours in a day, and you can only do so much with that time.  How you spend it is up to you, and some of you might decide you don’t want to spend your spare time working on a book.  You might want to be doing something else instead.  There’s nothing wrong with that.   Or maybe you’ll want to take a break from it for now and come back to it later.  That’s an option worth noting, too.

*****

So those are my ideas on coping when the income drops.  Does anyone have any they’d like to offer?

30 Comments

  1. Ron Fritsch says:

    Ruth, I’m sorry to learn your income has dropped.

    I guess we must live in different worlds as writers. I just published my fifth novel in six years. I’ll spend more money, time and effort marketing it than I did the other four. I hope it attracts attention. I hope it becomes a film or a television series someday. I don’t really care, though, if I show a profit on it by the end of the year — or ever, for that matter. And now it’s time to get to work on my next adventure in writing.

    But I’ll never quit.

    1. I’ve been lucky, and believe me, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to even make money at something I love. So I’m not complaining. I’m just hoping that if someone else is going through something similar to me that they’ll take comfort in knowing they aren’t alone. It seems that so few people ever discuss this particular topic. Usually, people will talk about how they’re making more money. There’s nothing wrong with that. They can pass along ideas that can benefit others, but once in a while, it’s nice to see something that shows the other side of the equation.

      I don’t think I ever could stop writing. Like you, it’s in my blood. If I had to work outside the home, there’s no way I could write as much as I do.

      It would be awesome if your books did lead to a film or a TV series. I hope you’ll tell me if it does. That would be exciting news!

      1. Ron Fritsch says:

        I fully agree. If writers do well, they should feel free to let other writers know about it. But it’s also darned good to see “the other side of the equation” from time to time.

        1. Back in February 2009, I was shocked when I realized people could be rude in the reviews they wrote. I assumed that if someone didn’t like a book, they would state so pleasantly. Later, I learned this was happening to other authors. It would have been nice to know that at the time because then I would have been prepared for it.

  2. M T McGuire says:

    I, too, am very sorry to hear about your drop in income. You are not alone.

    I have a fair few demands on my time so I will never be able to treat my writing as anything but a part time job until … Well … To put it starkly, until my parents have snuffed it and my lad is older. Indeed I would make life a lot easier if I could walk away from writing for a bit but it seems I can’t (which is why I call myself an authorholic). The fact is, I am always looking for alternative ways to market because my books are long and my writing process is slow. Since I’m stuck with my addiction, I am determined to succeed to prove all those folks who say ‘proper’ authors bang out a book every month wrong.

    So after scratching my head a bit I did two courses, Nick Stephenson’s and Mark Dawson’s and I decided that my marketing budget is best spent on a tool I can control. My mailing list. I make Facebook ads – very badly I might add, despite the excellence of the course I did on the subject – and I use those to bring readers to a page about my free book. They give me an email address and it is delivered straight to their inbox. I also explain they are signing up to my mailing list. About 50% go through with it. Once they sign up they go through a 10 email hello protocol which introduces them to my other books. More often than not they buy one. Enough do so, at the moment, to cover the cost of the list. Having pursued this policy for about a year (with an ads budget of $1 per day, on and off) i now have a list with about 1000 subscribers on it.

    I send them a monthly e with links to giveaways, freebies by other authors that I’ve read and enjoyed and a bit of chat. Some of them email me back which is great as it’s lovely to talk to them.

    In the last couple of months my income has risen. What has boosted it is that the email list has grown to the point where I now can do promo mailings with other authors – they tell their mailing list folks about my free book, I tell mine about theirs. I usually give a brief half outline/half review of the book I’m recommending. I never recommend books I haven’t read although if I take part in multi-author promo mailings I haven’t usually read all the books so I make sure I say so. I get a fair few new sign ups from these, one sci fi mailing I take part in regularly yields similar sign up and sell through rates to the only bookbub I ever scored (UK and Canada). The readers are in my genre and they want to be there which is ace.

    So in June and July, after a long dip, my monthly income is up again. Which is very nice! The cost of running a mailing list looks daunting but is actually more cost effective than advertising in the long term. I hardly buy any ads now and if it weren’t for the fact I’m getting a good download rate on Google play I’d probably bin the perma free and just have it available as a mailing list incentive.

    I hope this helps.

    Cheers

    MTM

    1. I love the term “authorholic”! 😀

      Honestly, I don’t think you’re being stark. I think you’re being realistic. I never could have done this much writing when my kids were younger and needed so much of my attention. We’re all in different places in our lives, and some can write more often than others. I don’t think it’s necessary to write a book a month. I know why that’s suggested. The more books, the better your chances of making money. But, if the book is rushed and loses its quality, then it’s not going to please the people who read it. I do believe a quality book trumps how often an author publishes it.

      Wow! I love what you did with your mailing list. It sounds like that is the key to having a long-term advantage. I haven’t run a Facebook ad with the intent of getting people to sign up for my email list. All I’ve done is mention my list at the end of my books. I appreciate you sharing your tips. I need to look into doing that.

      Do you use MailChimp? That’s the one I currently have. I’m wondering if setting up the free ebook like you did is easy to do over there. I think Aweber (sorry if that’s misspelled) is really good, but I’ve never tried it.

      That’s awesome about your income! I hope it keeps going up for you! 😀

      1. M T McGuire says:

        Thanks 😉 I do use mailchimp, and even though I’m under 2000 subs I pay because that way I can do the hello protocol, which is seriously ace. It gives the people a chance to get to know me, as well as my stuff. Some unsubscribe and that’s fine by me. I’d much rather than than pay for folks who aren’t interested.

        I have been looking into Mailerlite, I have my new releases only list on there and I will probably use it for lists I get to approach after bigger public giveaways, where I send them a free book and explain where I got their addresses offer them a free book and direct them to a mailchimp sign up. As well as aweber there’s also sendy and a whole host of others. Altough, I may well move onto convert kit when my requirements start to get more sophisticated – it’s a bit more expensive but cheaper than infusionsoft or aweber.

        Ah decisions decisions, feel free to email me with any questions if you want a go at the mailing list thing and would like to ask me any questions!

        Cheers

        MTM

        1. Thanks, MTM. I’m sure it’s not as intimidating as it sounds. Right now my mailing list is overly simple. I have a form on my WordPress blog that I use to get people to sign up for my email list and manually put them into Mailchimp. I heard there’s a way to get people directly to Mailchimp to sign up there. I’ve never been tech savvy at getting something like that up on WordPress. I use WordPress.com (not the .org).

      2. Ruth Ann, Mail Chimp is easy as far as setting up the free book give away for signing up for the mailing list. I give away a novella that is only available to those who sign up for my mailing list. I also took Mark Dawson’s Facebook class and highly recommend it. Following his recommendations increased my income as well as adding to my subscribers.

        1. I keep hearing people mention Mark Dawson. I’ll have to check him out once the kids are back in school.

  3. Perhaps I should cut back on the amount of blogging I do. God knows I need more time to write these days.

    1. Not only did I cut back on blogging, but I also haven’t been reading many blog posts either. 😦 It’s hard to cut back on things we enjoy.

      By the way, I’m reading Reborn City and am really enjoying it. The main character, Zahara, comes across as the so real that I forget she’s fiction. You have a way of drawing people into your books. 🙂

      1. You and Joleene are both reading it, apparently, and I’m so glad to hear you’re both enjoying it. I can’t wait to hear your final thoughts when you finish the book…and if you’ll read the sequel.
        By the way, I may also start cutting back on YouTube. God knows I spend too much time on that site.

        1. I already bought the sequel, so I’ll be reading it when I’m done with this one. You know me. I’m a slow reader, but I want am devoting weekends and vacations to your books, so I plan to finish before my kids start school. I’ll let you know what I think when I’m done. 🙂

          I cut out You Tube a couple months ago. I could spend hours over there!

          1. I know, right! And thanks, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the books.

  4. lccooper says:

    Thank you, Ruth, for your practical, realistic post. I appreciate your sharing your personal impacts and decisions.

    In 2014, after experiencing the market absolutely bottom out, I decided to take some time off to improve and advance my writing skills. I also hired a publicist (CJD.sign@yahoo.com) to manage my book covers and marketing. Although I maintain Facebook and Twitter accounts, I cut back on relying upon them as valid marketing mediums. I also cut back on my writing output.

    Inessence, I redefined myself as a writing hobbyist–publishing for my own satisfaction rather than getting knotted up rushing to meet self-imposed deadlines that cranked out stories, but left me stressed believing the next big sell was just around the corner. I sounded like a gambler, not a writing enthusiast.

    I will always enjoy–love–writing and self-publishing, but driving a career that,after 6 years of dedicated determination, left me feeling unfulfilled,I am redefining how I choose to play out the rest of my life.

    I love, love story-telling, and so I will always write. I hope fans and others will continue to read and enjoyy my stories, but I choose to not let myself worry so much about becoming yet another “brick in the wall” of content, or fighting to become that blob of mortar that pokes out a little further than the bricks, only to become wiped back down to the level of the rest of the wall.

    I’ll admit, Amazon, in its supposed efforts to improve customer experience, has diluted the fun of career writing for me. To change things up, I threw my 8 short stories together into a collection and published it into KDP Select *shiver* to see what the hype was about.

    Sidebar: Folks, if you even consider participating in Kindle Worlds (writing stories built upon another writer’s characters and/or settings), please, please read the terms & conditions first! Kindle Worlds turns storytelling into a commodity where authors get paid AT MOST 35% in exchange for all YOUR rights to your story. How dehumanizing. Amazon gets ALL of your rights for your participating stories. I envision that, based upon the explicit terms, if you were to publish a CreateSpace paperback within Kindle Worlds, you might not make enough to pay off the VAT for the sale; or even worse, because the royalty of sucha book is only 8%, the author could end up paying Amazon for the difference between VAT and and your royalty. Well, I also tried publishing into India via Smashwords, but there was Amazon, picking the bones clean of authors. Amazon seems determined to take all the fun out of writing.

    Anyway, some things are worth fighting for, and so I keep trying other ways into India, other genres, and the like, but I now realize that writing hasn’t paid the bills. Ruth, I agree, too, that increased output doesn’t guarantee income improvements. It’s all a gamble, and you gotta know when to hold them and know when to fold them (thanks Kenny Rogers).

    Thank you for your realistic post. I wish you only success with all the world has to offer. God bless.

    LC

    1. I still haven’t recouped all of the money I spent marketing and self-publishing my first book.

      1. I’m sorry to hear that. 😦

    2. I do think it’s important that we have passion for what we’re doing. If we aren’t enjoying the process of writing, then I think it’ll show up in our work and hurt us in real life. How are you feeling these days after taking a break and re-evaluating your writing life?

      My goal is to pay off the mortgage. Once I do that, I want to take time off to just mellow out. I don’t know if that will happen, but we’ll see. I may be stuck with my stupid mortgage forever.

      I don’t blame you for going to KDP Select. As much as I loathe exclusivity, I do understand why people do it. Even after all this time, Amazon is still the one that earns me the most money, and I have tried to promote the other sites. So I will support anyone who decides to go in Select.

      I had no idea Kindle Worlds did that! Thanks for the warning.

      1. lccooper says:

        Kindle Select is merely an experiment for me and doesn’t represent any financial investment from me. The book is just a collection of my 8 short stories smooshed into one title “LC’s Shorts, Vol. 1” I still unequivocally refuse to publish anything of merit via KDP Select. At the end of the 90 days, I plan to write my perspective of KDP Select in an article for SPAHA. Also, I’d like to contribute an article on version control *yawn* — yet, a necessity, sad to say.

        I am so proud of you, Ruth, that you’ve been able to work towrd satisfying your goal of paying off your mortgage via your writing.

        Your idea of getting away from the house and writing at B&N is great. I really appreciate how you share your prefessional and life experiences–adding a big dose of reality to the mystical voodoo of writing.

        Since 2014, I wrote 1 novel and 2 shorts, much less than usual, to take a couple of writing classes, study IMDB plot descriptions. And begin developing a movie script. As you say, just trying other things.

        God bless,
        LC

        1. I can’t bring myself to enter Select. I can understand why authors do it.

          Is it possible to post a link to the article on your perspective on KDP Select when it’s published with SPAHA, or should I go directly there to read it? I’d love to know your thoughts on it.

          Well, my husband’s pension does help. It’s not like I’m completely on my own with making income. I would panic if that was the case because sales are up and down so much. I’m hoping I can get it paid off in 2-3 years. I just keep throwing extra on principal every month, and I drive ten year old cars that are paid off, though I’d love to have a new one. 🙂 Also, our house is modest. My kids let me know how much better their friends’ houses are. It was important early on that I kept things within my means.

          Sometimes I get discouraged when I listen to authors talk about the system they did that yielded wildly successful results. They make it sound so easy, but I know it’s not. I’ve seen authors do all the right things and still not yield the benefits. I don’t mind tips and ideas to help, but the way some of the posts make it sound, you’d swear there’s a magic bullet to make everything fall into place.

          I think those are great things you’re doing! I recently started taking some online workshops and buying books on the storytelling craft to help learn how to write better.

          That’s fun about the movie script.

    3. If you are in a Kindle World, you can publish the book on Create Space, but NOT sell it online. You can order them to give away or sell at booksignings and other author events only. They make nice giveaway prizes for contests.
      Like you, I will not be involved in more Kindle Worlds. I’ve done two and am cured. 🙂

      1. I feel so behind on the latest things. 🙂 I know so little about Kindle World. All I heard was that it based off another author’s characters. Beyond that, my mind was blank. I’m glad you and LC Cooper took the time to explain it to me. I can see that the paperback would make a nice sale or gift to readers, but it does sound discouraging.

  5. Ruth Ann, I am in the same position as you described. When KU begam. my income tanked. Now I’ve published my 28th book without seeing a notable increase in income. Very disappointing. Still, I am making more than I made at my office job and I love writing.

    1. Hi Caroline! I love your books, so I was excited to see you over here. 🙂

      The same thing happened to me when KU began. My income went down by half. I don’t know what happened early this year (or late last year), but my income dropped by half again. It wouldn’t have been so scary either time if it wasn’t so sudden. Like you, I earn more writing than I would at another job, which is why I’m keeping my nose to the grindstone and plugging away. May we both get to keep doing what we love most!

  6. KU really hurt me, too. And I refuse to put my books there because it’s not fair to my readers to not use the other venues. Plus, I think it’s dangerous to put all your eggs in one basket.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly. I can understand authors doing it. Having lost a good amount of income from last year, I’ve felt tempted at times to put new releases in for the first three months and then pull them out. But every time I think of a few people who’ve been with me since 2010 and they still prefer B&N or iBooks, I remember it’s because of them I stuck it out through the rough patches. When I felt like quitting, they were the ones who gave me the strength to stick it out. It wouldn’t be fair to them to put my books in KU, even for a short time.

      But you’re right. Putting all your eggs in one basket can be way too tricky. Just the other day I got an email from Amazon threatening to pull one of my books down because it was cheaper at the Kobo Australian store than it was at the Amazon Australian store. This difference was by $0.23. I had to adjust my pricing on Smashwords because of it. I had no control over what was happening in Australia, and whenever I tried to find the Kobo Australian site, it would only bring me to the US one. So what’s an author to do except stay as diversified as possible?

  7. dm yates says:

    It’s a constant check and balance, isn’t it?

    1. It is. Sometimes I have to remove myself from all online activity so I can focus on writing. I find if I start to let the business side take over too much, I lose my enthusiasm for the stories I’m writing because I end up stressing over the drop in income. But at the same time, I need to know what’s going on so I can budget accordingly. As much as I hear that we need to be full business people in this thing, if I can’t enjoy what I’m writing, then there’s little point in doing it.

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