How Much Money I Made Self-Publishing in 2011

Happy Monday! As part of the changes this year at Routines for Writers, I am now starting your week with news and information about my self-publishing journey. Since it’s tax time and time to finish planning out the new year, I thought I’d compile my revenue and expenses and share them with you.

In the following list, I did not include any revenue or expenses for 2011 that were not directly related to self-publishing. All the things I bought or paid for that I would have spent money on anyway – books, DVDs, conferences/speaking events, online classes, web site, software, etc. – are in addition to these numbers.

EXPENSES

In April I started thinking I would probably self-publish if I didn’t hear good news about my genre at the Romance Writers of America national conference, so I started buying books and ebooks on how to publish ebooks. I spent $12.74 on five ebooks between April and August. I self-published Little Miss Lovesick in September. Then I spent $67.59 on three trade paperback books and three ebooks between September and December. I also bought a copy of my book for $0.99 at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble so I could double-check the formatting.

My husband is a former graphic designer so I paid $9.99 for the photo we used to create the cover, and my husband gained a lot of points to leverage against chores in the future. 🙂  I spent $15 on an online class where I learned how to format my book for Kindle, then I did all the formatting myself.

I decided that I wanted to own my ISBNs, and I wanted enough of them to continue publishing years into the future with consecutive numbers assigned to my “publishing company.” So I paid $575 for 100 ISBN numbers. I also paid $57 to file a DBA (Doing Business As) form with the State of California to use Daydreamer Entertainment as my company name. (It’s not a corporation or an LLC, it’s just permission to use a name that is not my own.)

PUBLISHING THE BOOK

I uploaded the book to Amazon on September 17. But I was pretty sure I had a formatting problem, so I asked all of my friends not to buy a copy until I fixed it on September 22. I decided I wanted to price books the way I like to buy DVDs at Best Buy and Target: on sale when they first come out, and then full price after that with occasional sales. So I set the price at $0.99 for 30 days…which really means 5-6 weeks by the time you wait for your changes to take effect across all venues.

The book went up on Barnes & Noble on September 22 and Smashwords on September 21. If you aren’t familiar with Smashwords, they distribute my book to the iTunes store, Kobo, Diesel and more. There are a couple other venues I want to use, but with the move and the holidays, I haven’t been able to complete the work yet.

SALES AND REVENUE

I think the minimum that you have to earn before getting paid (on all three sites – Amazon, B&N and Smashwords) is $10. You can download a spreadsheet showing your sales and revenue from Amazon and B&N, which I have done every month. I’m not sure about Smashwords; I have a spreadsheet with all of my sales across all their distribution channels, but I’m still reading it over and figuring it out. It looks like their spreadsheet is only available by quarter, but it includes what countries you’ve sold to. Cool.

For September through December, 2011, I’ve earned $5.39 on 17 sales from B&N, and $8.11 on 8 sales from Smashwords (for sales to Smashwords and Apple customers only, so far). Again, I won’t get paid by either of them until they owe me at least $10. As seems to be so often the case, the biggest sales are from Amazon. I’ll break it down by month.

September – $13.65 in earnings on 39 sales, paid on November 29th; $0.26 on 1 sale in the Amazon UK store, unpaid until I reach $10.

October – $12.15 on 33 sales, paid on December 23rd; no non-U.S. sales.

November – $22.05 on 9 sales, not yet paid; no non-U.S. sales. (At the end of October, the price changed from $0.99 to $3.99. You can see what a huge difference it makes!)

December – Reports are generated on the 15th of the month (next week), but it looks like Dec numbers are approximately $9.65 on 4 sales. That means I won’t get a check in February.

THE BOTTOM LINE

My total earnings for 2011 is $71.26 on 111 sales. (Of course, that’s not what I’ll report to the IRS. That number would be $25.80, the amount I actually got paid in 2011.) Total expenses for 2011 per the above is $739.30. (That is the number I’ll report to the IRS, in addition to other expenses, because I really did spend it in 2011.) That gives me a net loss of $668.04 for the year. (Again, not the number that will appear on my tax form because I had other writing-related income from teaching online classes. I just want you to understand the difference between the numbers as I’ll be presenting them to you throughout the year, and the way you report a cash-basis business on your taxes.)

You can look at these results from a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty perspective. People who have been doing this longer than me seem to agree that it takes about a year for you to really see progress, and it’s quicker if you have multiple books out. I’ve heard that nonfiction sells better than fiction; I’ll let you know if that’s true for me when I put out my nonfiction ebooks. In the “corporate” small business world, common wisdom is that it can take up to five years to start seeing profits and have a business that supports you financially. I expect I’ll be closer to the one-year mark than the five-year mark, but only time will tell.

On days when I feel despondent about the numbers, my awesome husband reminds me that a few months ago I’d sold zero books and earned zero money from my fiction. This, from a self-proclaimed pessimist, so you can see why it cheers me up so much.

Today’s a new day, it’s a new week, a new year, and I’m feeling optimistic. I have a lot to do and most days I don’t know how I can possibly do it all. But every journey is one foot in front of the other, one mile after another, so I have to focus on what to do NOW and what to do NEXT and leave the rest of it on my To Do List.

Again, ask any questions you want and I’ll try to answer. And if you’re interested in planning out your 2012 writing year with me, sign up for my online class. We start next Monday.

Until next week, Happy Writing!  🙂

Self-Publishing Changes in 2012

In September, I self-published my first novel, Little Miss Lovesick. If you’ve been reading Routines for Writers, you know that I got tired of waiting for traditional publishers to pick up my book. I liked the idea of trying something new, so I learned how to format my book for ebook readers and put it out there. It’s available on Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc.

The whole process has been exciting and interesting, appealing to the business-focused part of my personality as well as my creative side. I’ve decided to continue on this path in 2012. My current plan is to self-publish two more novels this year and two nonfiction ebooks for writers. I say “current plan” because we still don’t know where John’s next job will be and, depending on how long it takes to move, I may have to reduce the number of books I write this year.

But there’s one thing that bothers me. Self-publishing in ebook format and print-on-demand (POD) format is new enough that there isn’t an acknowledged step-by-step plan for success. There are a lot of people out there for me to follow, but it’s mostly the blind leading the blind. What works for one person often doesn’t work for another. The only light I know how to follow on a dark path is Jesus. So I decided that in 2012 I am going to ask God every single day to help me on my career path. I’ve always looked to God for guidance, but I’ve been frustrated by my slow progress lately. I want to push harder on the spiritual side and see if I can find more peace and joy and fulfillment in trying to fuse my writing life to my spiritual life.

I’m going to share my journey with you every Wednesday this year because if anyone is going to understand, it’s my friends here at Routines for Writers. I may or may not suggest writing routines for you to try (which has always been the focus of this blog), but I’ll tell you what writing routines as working for me. I’ll share what exactly I’m doing as a self-published writer, what’s working, and what isn’t. I’ll tell you what my sales numbers are, how much money I’m making and, perhaps more importantly, how much money I’m spending along the way.

Please feel free to ask my any questions as we go along. Helping each other is one of the bonuses of the writing life – it feels good to help and it’s a relief to get help.

Also, remember that on January 16th, I’ll be running a 4-week online class called Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for the Writer. We’ll be looking at various methods so you can choose what works best for you, and we’ll make a written plan for the year. I have to say, I’m looking forward to getting organized. I hope to see you there!

Low Level Fear Can Undermine Your Progress

We’re back in Los Angeles now, but there is almost nothing about our future that is known. I can deal with that lots of times, but I don’t deal well with stressful situations when I’m not sleeping well. Saturday it seemed like I could only think of the downsides and the negatives in our situation. Half of everything I felt I needed to get my To Do list done is on a ship in Sydney Harbour. John talked me through my fears trying to help me pinpoint the problem so we could find some solutions. Then the next day we went to our old church, Bel Air Presbyterian, and the sermon was about anxiety and getting around it.

Wow.

I am always amazed when God steps in and shakes my shoulder to get my attention. Because we have friends who go to both the 9am and 11am services at church and we haven’t seen them for a couple years, we stayed for both services…so I got a double dose of the message. Probably a good thing.  🙂

So Monday I started my week with some time away with John in Palm Springs. My goal was to spend the week working on the print version of Little Miss Lovesick, getting some writing done on my next book and a short story coming out in an anthology, and resting. I would love to end the week with the feeling that I’d caught up on my sleep! By the end of the day yesterday, I already felt better and had made a dent in my To Do list. Now all I can think about is how to make this letting-go-of-anxiety twist an intentional part of my career in 2012.

Next year is leap year – we have a February 29th in 2012. I’ve been thinking about making it my leap of faith year. How can I put that into concrete terms? What can I intentionally do differently next year? And how will that affect my readership? Am I willing to risk losing some blog readers and potential book readers by not only being myself in an even more transparent way, but focusing on taking faith-based risks in my career? For a whole year?

The thought is both scary and exciting. Which feeling will win?  🙂

If you’re also thinking about next year and what goals you want to make for 2012, you might want to consider joining me in my online class. I’m again leading “Going the Distance: Goal Setting and Time Management for the Writer” for the Orange County Chapter of RWA. You can read about the class and sign up for it on that page. I’d love to work together to make our 2012 goals purposeful and doable.

I’m a member of the Dark Side Down Under blog, Australian and New Zealand writers who write speculative fiction of various kinds. Last week I wrote post titled, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Getting Published about how I started writing romantic comedies and how I ended up self-publishing one. You might find it fun to see how things worked for me. It was fun to get it all down on paper, so I decided to re-post it this Friday on the OCC RWA blog, too.

Well, I’m feeling much better than on Saturday. I’m sure letting go of the fear of the unknown future went a long way toward getting a lot done already this week. I’m learning a lot about my new career path (self-publishing) from Aaron Shepard with his books, Aiming at Amazon, POD for Profit and Perfect Pages. Those books – and some research trips to bookstores – are helping me figure out how to make the best choices in getting Little Miss Lovesick into print. It’s been tough to focus on doing the best job no matter how long it takes rather than making sure the book is available for sale in time for Christmas orders. But maybe if I don’t let fear influence my decisions, I’ll reap greater rewards in the end.

Little Miss Lovesick Has Arrived!

At long last, I have reached the next stage of my journey – I have a book for sale! Woo-hooo!!

Little Miss Lovesick took a long twisty road to get here. A very long time ago – 1997 or so – it was a proposal for an anthology Tyndale House Publishers was putting together. The editor passed, but asked to see more work from me.

I met a Silhouette editor at a Romance Writers of America conference a couple years later and pitched her the idea. She wanted to see it, but by the time I had the proposal polished and ready to send, she wasn’t with Silhouette anymore.

I decided that pursuing Harlequin/Silhouette was still a good idea and did some more work on the story, trying to figure out what line it most closely matched. I read a bit of it to my friends Lauraine Snelling and Kathleen Wright when we were off on a writing week together. They were polite but not overwhelmed. That said to me that it wasn’t a very interesting story. Maybe I should just forget it.

Then Lauraine asked me if I had heard of chick lit. I hadn’t, so the three of us did some online and bookstore research. I was gobsmacked! This was exactly the kind of voice I’d write in if I didn’t have to write towards the expectations of one publisher or another. The next day I rewrote the first chapter into more or less what you see here in Little Miss Lovesick and read it for Lauraine and Kathleen. They laughed so much! I was thrilled!

Then Lauraine picked up her cell phone and called her agent. “I’d like you to read something,” she said. I didn’t know if I was going to throw up or pass out! But chick lit was reaching its zenith and passing away. Though the agent received two “we almost bought it” replies from editors, all the publishing houses we sent it to passed.

And for the last seven years, the book has languished on my computer.

Then I heard about digital self-publishing. Other authors were giving it a try without a publisher behind them, and they were succeeding in varying degrees. I figured, what’s the worst that can happen? The book isn’t doing me any good on my computer. So when I finished my master’s degree in June of this year, I dusted off the book and did a little more editing based on the comments of the editors who had passed on it years before.

I put my entrepreneurial hat back on and filed a DBA (“doing business as”) to work as Daydreamer Entertainment, the publisher of Little Miss Lovesick. And voila! A lot of hours later, I had a book! Out in the marketplace! Yay! As a co-owner of our little business, John did the cover design. Lovely, isn’t it?

Right now the ebook is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. Smashwords will help me get it into the Apple iBookstore, Kobo, and Sony. I’m working on getting it into All Romance eBooks and XinXii this week. Then I’ll start working on the print version, which I hope will be available by December 1.

If you don’t have an ereader, you can download an ereader app to your smart phone, your iPad or your PC or Mac computer. Or you can check back here or at my web site or on my Facebook page to find out when it is available in print.  🙂

So that’s the story. My career has taken a new direction and I’m loving it! I’m exhausted, but I’m happier than I’ve been in years! (Thank you, God!) Whatever you’re doing, and however hard it’s been, don’t give up. Anything could happen at any time to change your life for the better. I’m proof of that.

A New Routine – Schedules and Budgets

Since I’m going to self-publish my novel Little Miss Lovesick next month, I’m doing a lot of reading and research on all the things that need to be done. In Zoe Winters’ book, Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author, she suggests that authors remember they are running a business.

My little business school heart sang when I read that. She’s so right, but often creative people ignore the business side of things. What we all need to remember is that it doesn’t need to be difficult. A little bit of planning and organization is better than none at all.

For instance, the first quick budget only took me about half an hour (after I did the research, maybe two to three hours altogether). Looks like I’ll be able to publish the ebook version of my book for under $600. I’ll create a 2012 budget that will include the costs of contacting an attorney to decide about the form of business I want to use, forming an LLC, buying ISBNS, and the expenses involved in self-publishing two or more additional books.

The production schedule seemed more difficult for me. (Isn’t figuring out how long it will take us to write the next book difficult for lots of writers?) So I broke it down into parts. The first part includes just getting Little Miss Lovesick up for sale. I broke that down into a list of what all needs to get done for the book to be ready to publish. I figured out when I’ll need to decide for certain on the cover art, when I’ll need the completed cover, when I’ll need the final polish and copy edits done, etc. My production schedule will be tweaked as I use it, which will make the schedule for the next book more accurate.

For the second section of the production schedule, I have a rough idea of what needs to be done when for the next book to be completed. I have an idea for the covers in a series of related books, and I’ve planned a photo shoot with some friends to create the photo art for all the books over a weekend. I’ll revise this schedule based on how I do with Little Miss Lovesick, see if I have a good idea of how long things will take.

And of course, since John is almost done with Happy Feet 2, I have to plan the time it takes to pack and move into that schedule. We don’t know yet if John’s next job will be in Australia, New Zealand or back in America, but I know how long it’s taken in the past to make an intercontinental move so I’ll use that for now.

Why a production schedule when I don’t have a contract from an outside company forcing me to complete my work on time? Because it’s part of creating a successful business. And that’s what I want. It’s not necessary for every writer; we all have different goals for our writing. But if you’re serious about turning your writing into your paying day job, it’s something you need.

Publishing Industry Growing, Write Faster, and More

Some weeks I get so many great links to interesting articles that I feel it’s a real shame if I don’t share them. I think one of our writing routines needs to be to putting writing first, ahead of reading about the industry or Tweeting or keeping up with Facebook. But it’s good to do a little of those things, too. Here are some of the interesting articles I’ve read recently.

Speaking of Twitter and Facebook, if you (like me) think that social media is not necessarily the gateway to greater sales, read this article by Kristen Lamb about Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books. I found it really interesting, but we’ll have to read the second half next week. (Or we can go buy her book, We Are Not Alone – The Writer’s Guide to Social Media. I downloaded the sample to my Kindle for Mac to take a look at when I have time.)

Wondering about the state of the publishing industry? Here is an article from the New York Times. Let me caution you about statistics though. The industry as a whole has had an increase in revenues as well as number of books sold (in 2010 from 2008). But in the third to last paragraph, the author says that mass market paperback sales (the kind of book I’d be selling, that some of you might be selling) has decreased 16% since 2008.

I think the brain is fascinating and it doesn’t seem to take much nudging for me to read an article on some kind of neurological study or discovery. This article on how to write faster is both humorous and informative. And it makes me feel better about myself!  🙂

I’m reading some ebooks on how to self-publish ebooks and reviewing them (here, here, and tomorrow) on my Kitty Bucholtz site. But if you only need to know how to re-format your manuscript with no other superfluous information, you can download the Smashwords Style Guide for free. So far all of the ebooks I’ve read suggest using the Smashwords guide because your manuscript should be almost error-free when you’re done (the human element notwithstanding).

Trying to keep up with what authors (who don’t already have a following) are really earning from their self-published books? My friend Debra Holland has updated her sales numbers for July in a blog post. In the comments of that post, there are also links to a few other blogs dealing with sales for self-published books. If you want to read some other great posts from her on her self-publishing journey, Debra’s got some other posts on the topic there as well.

I hope you find some of these articles interesting, informative and helpful. Now get back to writing!

Alternatives to Traditional Publishing

          As I read the comments to my blog last week, I realized the topic of self-publishing is bigger than I thought for our readers. I decided to spend another week on the topic, with this post being somewhat more instructional. Please know that I am by no means an expert. I am at the beginning of my journey toward self-publishing. I’m still finding my own way. I have been reading about it, considering it and discussing it for years. I have definite opinions, but very little experience. As I said before, I feel like a childless couple dispensing childcare advice. Even so, in the spirit of this blog, I offer what I know for those coming along behind me. And I encourage those further along the road to add their comments. (Please! 🙂 )

          I think the best way to get started is to define the terms used. There is a difference between POD (print on demand) and self-publishing and vanity publishing. Sometimes those differences are not immediately obvious. Often the lines get blurred, either by the publisher or the author. Other times the similarities or lack of them are obvious to insiders, while escaping the understanding of outsiders. Perhaps my perspective, and that of the few sites I’ve visited, will bring some clarity to the issue.

          Vanity publishing is the ‘black sheep’ of publishing, the option that engenders, rightly or wrongly, the upturned nose and sneer by those of “the establishment”. It’s been around as long as books have been published. With this option, the author takes all the risks, bears all the cost. Before the advent of POD (print on demand) publishing, this meant having to order hundreds or thousands of copies for each printing in order to get a decent price. That isn’t always the case now, but the author still must do all the work and bear all the cost. While this may be the best option for an author, this is an area of the publishing world that is rife with “sharks” and it takes a business-savvy person to negotiate these waters. (Although, as self-publishing becomes more and more viable, those predators have to work harder to find unsuspecting prey.)

          Self-publishing is often seen by those outside the field as the same as vanity publishing. In fact, to the casual observer, there is little difference. The author owns the copyright, handles, or pays others to handle, all the tasks necessary to see the book to print and takes on all the risks and benefits of publishing a book. (U-Publish, a self-publishing company (which I have NOT vetted, so visit at your own risk) has a good explanation of the difference between vanity and self-publishing.) The difference is often in the mind and business activity of the author. Another site, The Straight Dope says it best, “Understandably some writers think, ‘if I’m going to do all the work, I’m going to keep all the cash.’”

          Print on Demand (POD) publishing technology changed the face of publishing, made self-publishing a viable option for many entrepreneurial authors. Now it is possible to inexpensively print a small (as low as 1copy) run of paperback books of the same high quality as the traditional publishing run of thousands. Now any author or publisher, no matter how little known or under-capitalized, can make a book available to the public for a reasonable cost. (According to Booklocker, most of the major POD publishers use the same printer.) The downside to POD is that most bookstores do not stock these books, usually because they cannot get a refund if they don’t sell. (With persistence, though, an author can change this. Janet Elaine Smith has self-published multiple books, has convinced many bookstores across the country to carry them, shares her ideas and experiences with other authors and even publishes a marketing ebook.)

          Online publishing is often equated with self-publishing, but can be very different. Some ebooks are self-published, many are not. Traditional publishers are increasingly offering books in eformat in addition to or instead of the regular printing run. Producing a book in an electronic format sometimes makes the most sense, especially with the rise of eReaders. When an author is considering self-publishing, depending on the audience, offering an ebook option to the public might be a viable option, particularly for many niche markets.

          These are very basic explanations and, as I said, I might not have all the facts, not having a lot of experience in this yet. Obviously, each author must assess their book, their desires for that book and their intended audience in order to make the wisest choice. As I progress further along this road, I’ll share my experiences. And I’d love to hear your more of our reader’s thoughts on the subject.

Self-Publishing: The Wave of the Future?

          As I said in last week’s blog, I’m considering a venture into self-publishing. It makes sense. At least to me. I’ve been reading and studying the options off and on for more than a decade. Currently I feel like the childless couple dispensing childcare advice or the bachelor voicing opinions on marriage. I know what I read and observe and I can speculate what would be good choices, but I haven’t experienced any of it. It is time for some experiential learning.

          Self-publishing has a bad rep. Is it deserved? Is it an admission of failure when an author decides to self-publish? Are those authors really the ones who couldn’t make it, or didn’t even try to make it, in traditional publishing? Or are they entrepreneurs who are swimming out to catch that great oncoming technology wave that they will then ride in to a lucrative beach? Depending on who you listen to, you’ll get either side of that debate. (Guess where I fall?) If you do decide to self-publish, how do you avoid being bitten by the sharks? How do you know which “wave” to pick up and ride?

          The negatives of self-publishing are real. Most self-publishers do not edit or vet in any way the books they publish. As long as the author will pay for it, they will print it. There are atrocious self-published books out there. Books with horrendous grammar, books with no plot or cohesive theme, books with very little of value under verbal tons of muck.

          There is at least one (maybe only one) self-publisher out there with a different business model. At the moment, I am on the outside looking in. My perception may be incomplete or even erroneous, but I am seriously considering Booklocker if/when I have my cookbook, or anything else, ready to publish.

          From what I can gather after 10+ years of receiving their newsletters,Booklocker is not in business to make money selling the author anything. (At least that is what they say.) They, like their traditional publisher counterparts, are in business to sell books. They only accept books they think will sell. They work with the author to edit and polish the book into something of quality. They provide an online “store front” through which to sell the books. In these ways, they are similar to and build on the positives of traditional publishers.

          They use the positives of self-publishing by charging the costs of publication to the author. They avoid the negatives of self-publishing by keeping those costs minimal. They avoid the negatives of both traditional and self-publishing by not confiscating the copyrights from the author. I could continue to elaborate, but they explain it much better than I in an article from a few years back.

          The water looks great. The surf is up. Watch me as I ride this wave!