Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Crazy Writing Life - Day 2: My Current Predicament

Traffic was nonexistent this morning due to the good fortune of having New Year’s Day occur in the middle of the week. When I'm not writing, I work a full time job at a nonprofit organization near Washington, D.C.

For those who know me, I'm sure you're wondering, "Wait a minute. I thought you quit your job to become a full time author. What's going on here?"

Back in April of 2012 I did just that, but due to changes in Amazon's algorithms (which kicked in about two months later) and the marginalization of KDP Select, I saw my sales drop by 75% from June to December. Meanwhile, I doubled my catalog of products, was more active than ever in my promotional efforts, and started several new series, but it did little to stop the bleeding. My sales crashed no matter what I did.

The first thing I realized is that I had built my empire wrong. Since everything was enrolled in Amazon's KDP Select program, I was completely at their mercy. If they wanted to hide me from their customers they could do so, and there was little that I could do about it. Ultimately, when the free giveaways failed to spark anything close to the sales that I had seen just a few months before, I knew I was in big trouble and started looking for a job.

Of course, it wasn't easy finding a job this time around, even though I lived in a decent job market. The economy sucked, and although I got close on a number of occasions, I always fell short. It also didn't help that I now had a large hole in my work history and had just turned 40. Eventually I landed a job, at first for part time work and largely devoid of benefits.

There have also been some lifestyle changes as well. First, I moved out of my expensive apartment (to which I am grateful), and cut my spending significantly. I also had to get rid of a few things that I owned (again, probably a good thing), and cut down on going to many of the places that I frequented.

Still, I am grateful.

Although I feel shafted by Amazon, it's nice to get my rights back, and I've promptly put my titles in as many venues as possible. Currently I have most of my titles in Kobo and about half in most other venues. Distributing my catalog of 117 products takes time, but slowly I’m getting there.

Of all of the vendors that I'm now using, Kobo is where I've experienced the most growth. In December 2012, I went from selling 5-10 books per month to over 100, and that was without most of my most popular titles. This past Christmas was a notable improvement over the previous, but I’m still not where I want to be. Even though it takes awhile, I’ll continue publishing on as many platforms as possible until I get this thing turned around.

As I've learned the hard way, having multiple sources of income can insulate and/or curb the impact of changes that the vendors make to their websites. Having a wide range of distribution channels can also open up new possibilities and help you break out when other stores are languishing.

Take my cute little children's book Aveline, for instance. Despite being in KDP Select (a program where you pledge exclusivity for ninety days in exchange for promotional tools and the ability to earn money if your book is “borrowed”), and having the exposure of Amazon, Aveline failed miserably. During its free run, I gave away a mere 300 copies, and subsequent sales were abysmal. In my best month on Amazon, I sold a total of three copies. Although I did go back and extend the book slightly (from 3,000 to 3,500 words), the changes didn't result in a drastically different book that would have ignited sales.

But a funny thing happened when I finally put it up on Kobo. Suddenly it started selling; not much at first, but right in line with whatever Amazon was doing and perhaps a little more. Once Christmas arrived, sales exploded, outselling Amazon 35-to-1 (granted I only had thirty-five sales in Kobo that month). Although I sold in small quantities, the title benefited from a wider release, and wouldn’t have done anything if it had stayed in Amazon's dreaded KDP Select program, which now provides a fraction of the promotion that it once did.

To me this is ridiculous. Amazon had a good product on its hands, and then they abruptly killed it, most likely due to pressure from the traditional publishing industry. But it’s their product. Let them create their own competition if they like.

Starting in December 2012, Amazon added a "bonus" to the KDP Select Fund (a pot of money which is divided by the total number of borrows for the month) due to its international expansion, but it really feels like a slap in the face. Keep the money and give me back the promotion that I once had—thus the 75% of my sales—and I'd be happy to make every word I write Amazon-exclusive!

Obviously that's not going to happen, and I've been deeply affected as a result. Ultimately, my current predicament is no one else’s fault but my own. I was foolish enough to trust Amazon and put all my eggs in one basket, and did not have a well-thought-out backup plan beyond “go back to work.” I will not let this happen again, and can now see the flaws in my plan with excruciating detail.

At the end of the day, Amazon is just another vendor, just like Kobo and Barnes & Noble. Ultimately, the goal is to sell directly to the customer where I can retain 100% of the profits. (I have made inroads at this, but am still working out the kinks). That does not mean that I won't put my works on Amazon, which still accounts for a significant chunk of my sales; it just means that I won't be foolish enough to give them leverage over the other competitors. If I want to publish something exclusive, it will be on my site.

And that’s the way it should be.

Day 1: 1,035 words
Day 2: 1,045 words
Total: 2,080 words

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