Without borrowing too many of the themes expertly highlighted by my esteemed colleague, Russell Blake, in his recent flurry of end of the year, must-read posts (The New Landscape and 2015 Predictions), I want to take a few moments to explore a critical strategy for navigating the new Indie publishing landscape. Diversification.
There’s little doubt that the e-book landscape has changed. From the weakening impact of popular promotional services (if you can even get selected for one of the major services) to a softening of the traditional Indie pricing advantage, most Indies (big and small) have reported a decline in e-book sales and revenue. The launch of Kindle Unlimited remains a key suspect in 2nd half 2014 declines, ironically affecting authors that had taken steps to shield their book portfolios from Amazon by taking their books out of Kindle Select. This is the kind of irony that leaves nobody laughing.
For ebooks, 2014 yielded a seismic shift in the Indie landscape, with after shocks that will be felt long into 2015.
What can an Indie author do to prepare for 2015? As I sit down to create my 2015 business goals, I look back at 2014, and wonder how I can replicate the year’s sales numbers? Financially, 2014 represented my best year as a writer, and it had little to do with ebooks. That’s not exactly true. It had less to do with ebooks, and more to do with treating the novels as fully exploitable property. It also had to do with seeking completely different opportunities, some of which represented a bit of a risk.
Before I talk strategies, here’s a brief recap of the basic numbers, which you might find surprising. I certainly did:
Ebook unit sales were down 28.7% in 2014, over 2013—With the addition of 4 relatively successful titles!
Overall income was up 51% in 2014 from 2013.
This may have you squinting, because it came as a surprise to me. I knew e-book sales were down, but I hadn’t assembled the full financial picture. This is clearly a business performance I would like to repeat. What did I do differently in 2014, and how will I proceed in 2015?
– I raised the prices of all of my titles, and saw an immediate impact on revenue without a drop in units. I had always hovered in the $3.99 range, with $4.99 the going price for a new release. I bumped that up a dollar in each category. Nothing earth shattering, but it made a difference. I don’t know if these prices will be sustainable in 2015, with the advent of subscription reader services and lower priced “big name” offerings. See Russell Blake’s New Landscape post for an in-depth look. I’ll be watching this aspect closely.
– I started a real mailing list. Prior to going full-time as a writer in the fall of 2013, I handled this task miserably, collecting emails myself. I had “calls to action” at the end of my novels, but they were about as compelling as a cold hamburger. I signed up for MailChimp and tripled my mailing list using basic strategies found in various Indie help guides. This allowed me to sell a lot of books surrounding each new release, at a good price. When you see over a thousand people on your mailing list click your pre-order link, that’s a good feeling. I sorely wish I had taken this more seriously from the beginning. I’m constantly looking for ways to improve sign-ups. In 2015, I will be giving away free books for readers that sign up.
– Switched Genres. Actually, I went back to my original genre—post apocalyptic. My first novel, The Jakarta Pandemic, launched my early writing career. I wrote four books after Jakarta, all in the covert operations thriller genre. The books fared extremely well from 2012-2013, allowing me to quit my day job, but 2013 marked the beginning of huge resurgence in post-apocalyptic books, particularly prepper-themed books like The Jakarta Pandemic. I started writing The Perseid Collapse Series in late 2013, publishing 3 books in the series in 2014. Trust me when I say, GENRE MATTERS. As a small example, my paper sales are up 210%—all in the post-apocalyptic realm—and the numbers are nothing to sneeze at, representing 6% of my overall sales. As you can probably guess, I will not stray far from the post-apocalyptic genre in 2015.
– Audiobooks saved 2014. I sold nearly 9,000 audiobooks in 2014, most of them in the post-apocalyptic genre, and most of them through pay-per-production deals through ACX. I can’t understate the importance of analyzing your genre and seeing if audiobooks are profitable. My thriller audiobooks (Black Flagged Series) are on a 14 month investment recuperation schedule. I can live with that. My goal is to create viable, long-term income streams. However, my post-apocalyptic (PA) audiobooks earn out within a month, sometimes less than that. Another strong argument for sticking with the post-apocalyptic genre. I won’t hesitate to produce all of my books in 2015.
– Loans through KU/KOLL up 107% over 2013. Not just from Kindle Unlimited. Loans early in the year were strong, though the total numbers were clearly bumped by KU. To date this year, I’ve seen more than 10,000 loans, 60% under KU. Kindle Select has been a benefit for 2014, however, I’m constantly analyzing the landscape, and here’s what I’ve seen and done.
Loans for my Black Flagged series have always lagged behind my PA work, and after a brief Kindle Unlimited boost, they dropped significantly with overall e-book sales in October. My PA work held steady. That gave me enough of a push to take the series out of Select and widen distribution. I’ve heard nothing but good things about iBooks and Kobo, and these rumors proved true. The numbers haven’t reached the break-even point compared to Select, but the trends are positive, and I don’t think this will be a decision I regret. With that said, my post-apocalyptic books will stay in Select for now.
– Kindle Worlds. This has been the biggest surprise of the year in many ways. I started out writing one novella for Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines world. Blake reached out to me in February 2104, asking if I’d be interested in writing in his world—how do you refuse one of your favorite authors? You don’t, especially if you love the Wayward series as much as I do, and found yourself in between projects. I took two weeks to write a 23K world novella, discovering a story arc for a three novella series. I wrote the next two installments in August, once again taking a break between novels. In October, I was contacted by Kindle Worlds and asked to combine the three into an omnibus, which they’ve featured prominently on the Kindle Worlds page.
Shortly after that, I was asked to write a novella for A.G. Riddle’s Atlantis World, which I published in early December. To date, I’ve sold close to 5,000 novellas through Kindle Worlds, establishing a new, unexpected income stream. Sales have been steady, tied to the success of the original series. Not a bad deal at all when your novella shows up on the first or second page of “also boughts” of books consistently ranked in the top hundred paid Kindle titles.
This is my ultimate diversification story. Not only do I receive numerous emails from Blake Crouch’s fans, who have found my work through the novellas, but I’ve managed to strike an incredible deal. Through working extensively with the excellent folks at KW (one gentlemen in particular), I successfully pitched my series as one of their worlds.
On February 3, 2015, The Perseid Collapse Series launches as one of their Kindle Worlds. This would never have happened if I hadn’t decided to take a chance on Kindle Worlds. I’m not telling everyone to run out and write in Kindle Worlds, but I took a chance on this, and it paid off in a way I never expected when the journey began. It’s hard to beat that, but I’ll offer a few more areas to explore.
– Foreign Translations. I’ve dabbled unsuccessfully in this for a few years, but finally managed to attract the attention of Amazon’s foreign translation unit, Amazon Crossing. My first novel will launch in Germany on January 6, 2015, and I hope this represents a new frontier for my books. I’m waiting to see how this novel fares in the German market, and will evaluate the possibility of paying for the translation of follow-on novels. It’s an expensive venture, one I’d prefer to leave in Amazon Crossing’s hands, so I hope Die Jakarta Pandemie does well enough to attract another offer in 2015.
– Live Connections. I attended two conferences this year. BEA in New York City and Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach. At BEA, I met several fantastically helpful authors—all several stratospheres more successful than Steven Konkoly. They’ve all helped me in 2014, one of them in particular. I don’t want to name names, but TR gave me the idea to pitch my series as a Kindle World, and she’s been instrumental in pursuing the foreign translation market. Not only did I meet authors, I had the pleasure of hanging out with the talented crew behind the scenes at KDP, Createspace, Audible, Kindle Worlds and Amazon publishing imprints. I fully intend to repeat this circuit.
– New Series in 2015. Can you guess which genre? I plan to write a three book series in 2015, leaving room for other projects. I don’t know what these projects might be, but that’s half the fun. I’m good for about 450K words in a year, so that leaves me some wiggle room, if not an entire fourth novel.
WHAT AM I MISSING? What are you planning to do differently in 2015, or the same?