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.
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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?