Jul 172016

InputSometimes several things happen at once, making you see things in a different light and reconsider where you are. This happened to me in the past week.
I started reading How to Make a Living with Your Writing: Books, Blogging and More by Joanna Penn, while at the same time hearing that my current day job will quite likely end on 1st January 2019.

I have been an indie author since 2007, but so far I never really envisioned that I could truly support myself with my writing. Of course I have dreams of becoming a millionaire once my cosy mystery series comes out, but I know that this is unlikely to happen.
Yet I have always taken my journey as an indie very serious. I see it as a business. I’m registered at the Chamber of Commerce, have a business bank account, pay taxes over my income from book sales and invest money. Even so I assumed that I would always be reliant on a day job for income as well.
I love my day job, so that’s not really an issue, but now that it is likely that I will lose it, things have changed.

While reading Joanna Penn’s book, I started wondering if I could manage making a full-time living with my writing. What if I could? Wouldn’t that be great?
According to Joanna a few things are needed to make it happen.

  • I need to think as an entrepreneur. This I already do, so no worries.
  • I need a scalable income. This is an income where you have once spend the time creating something, which then keeps selling. Like an ebook. Joanna calls it ‘intellectual property assets’. The more of these assets you have (read: the more books you have for sale), the more you earn, with a chance that one day will be enough to support you. I have written five books, three of which are still for sale. Furthermore I am creating new books, so I am already growing my intellectual property assets.
  • I need multiple streams of income. Not just income from book sales, but also from my blogs. This is a little trickier, as Joanna is not just talking about a blog, but also of things that evolve from that. Speaking opportunities, sale of courses, freelance writing etc. What knowledge do I have that is interesting and inspiring enough for people to pay money for?
  • I need to think globally, digital and mobile. Meaning writing in English and taking advantage of everything that the digital age has to offer. I do write in English, but I could do more to embrace new things.
  • I need to find out what my definition of success is. At the moment I must say that this is that I want as many people as possible reading and enjoying my books, particularly the new series that is still in the making. Not just for the money, but also to entertain people and bring a bit of humour and diversion in this otherwise rather bleak world we live in. I know I can do that by writing so-called genre fiction. Mysteries in my case. I don’t need to win literary prices or receive critical acclaim from people who decide what is good and what is not. I just want to entertain people and make some money while I’m at it.

Much of the above I am already doing, though perhaps not as fervent as I should. But then again, I never really thought about living of my writing full-time, so there was no point in being fervent.

But now I think I can do it! Why wouldn’t I? I have nine years of experience as an indie, why not build on that? Create more assets, think digitally and look at other streams of income than just selling books. It’s possible!
It’s not something that will happen overnight, I am well aware of that. It will take a lot of hard work and perseverance. It very likely will not happen before I lose my day job in two-and-a-half years’ time, but if I start today I will be further along in the process, have more experience and therefore more chance of making it work.

interviewFinding other streams of income is the biggest challenge of what I need to do, but I have some ideas. The English indie world is full of blogs and websites about how to self-publish, but the Dutch world is not. It’s as if the Dutch writers are stuck in medieval times.
For the last year I have started to put myself forward as an expert about self-publishing via my Dutch language blog where I give tips & tricks and answer the odd question. I also hang around on a Dutch writers’ forum, where I answer questions about self-publishing.
It’s not easy to convince the Dutchies to publish ebooks as well as paperbacks. They are suspicious and sceptical about ebooks, but I am sure that even they will have to relent to the ongoing digital age someday.
And that day they need an expert who has been blogging about self-publishing for ages and that will be me!

Joanna Penn does podcasts. I like listening to her and learn a lot. It’s also a way to keep up to date with the industry. Perhaps I should start doing podcasts about self-publishing on my Dutch blog? Build up my expertise and show future Dutch indie wannabees that I am the person to turn to. Then they will ask me to speak at a book club or conference, which is the ultimate goal, as I can ask money for that.

Am I dreaming when I say all this? No, I don’t think so. If I keep writing books, fiction and non-fiction (the Dutch indie wannabees need books about self-publishing…), and keep profiling myself as a Dutch indie expert, I might very well be able to generate enough income to live on.

In any case, I’m doing this. I’m not trying it. I am doing it! I live by Yoda’s words ‘There is no try, only do’. I am very excited that as a nearly 47 year-old, I am doing something new. Something that might change my life.
My journey might be an interesting one, you can bet I’m going to blog about it!

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Jun 052016

Accountant2Recently the people from Author Earnings have come with their fascinating May 2016 report in which they went further than ever to uncover author earnings and in particular the earnings of Indie authors.

Their extensive research let them to conclude that Indies don’t have to be bestsellers to make a living and that quite a few Indie authors make a decent living without ever having been on a bestseller list.
This is good news for all Indies, as this means that even with less sales, they still should be able to make some money.

In response to the Author Earnings report, Joanna Penn (self-publishing guru) wrote a candid and revealing blogpost about her own earnings over the last year. She’s not one of the bestselling authors, but has some series of fiction books going, in addition to a number of books about self-publishing.
She did very well last year and recognised that this came about because she has consistently worked very hard in the last six years, which shows that self-publishing really is a marathon and not a sprint!

When I read Joanna’s post, I became curious about how the numbers would add up for myself. I have written five non-fiction books so far, three of them which are still regular sellers. Nothing shocking. I sell just over one book a day, but still.
And in the light that I am working hard on a new fiction cosy mystery series, which will be published in December, I thought it would be interesting to have some sort of benchmark, to see if having fiction as well as non-fiction books out there helps sales.

It didn’t take me very long to tally up the numbers. Luckily I do keep some sort of administration.
In the Netherlands the financial year is also the calendar year, so these are my sales figures over the year 2015, from January – December 2015.

My total book sales income was €849 (about £665 and $584). This is before tax, so I have had to hand over 40% of that to the Dutch Tax Office.

My total book sales volume was 456 (418 ebooks, 38 paperbacks).

My ebooks range in price from $0.99 – $3.99, my paperbacks are between $7.99 and $14.99.

Breakdown by vendor
I am not a fan of Amazon’s exclusivity (as in KDP Select) and therefore sell my books on a number of different websites. Nonetheless, most of my sales still come via Amazon. Most of the Createspace paperback sales also run via Amazon.
Bol.com is a popular Dutch webshop where my Dutch translation is for sale.

pie-chart percantage by vendor

Breakdown by format
It is a well-known fact that in de self-publishing world most of the sales are for ebooks. Joanna’s figures show this, as do mine.
It is also a well-known fact that traditional publishers claim that ‘ebooks are on their return’, which is simply not true if you take the sales of Indies into account (which they don’t). This has been clear from the Author Earnings reports since they started putting them out and in particular in their latest May Report (btw, recommended reading for every Indie!).
I also sell far more ebooks than paperbacks, as the pie chart shows.

pi-chart percentage by format

Breakdown by country
Four of my books are written in English, and one is a Dutch translation. It’s therefore interesting to find out where my books are sold.
I have looked through my sales figures for the above vendors and came to the following numbers. The sales in the Netherlands all were for my Dutch books and in no other country was my Dutch book sold.
The Other heading comprises a number of European countries, like France, Spain and Italy, where a few of my books were sold. Others also comprises of the ‘expanded distribution’ sales via Createspace, which could be sales in the UK, but perhaps also sales in Europe. There’s no way of knowing.
I find it interesting that most of my books are sold in the United States. I wonder what my cosy mystery series is going to do, as that plays in England.

pie-chart books by country

As I said, I’m not a fan of Select. I publish directly via Amazon KDP (not Select!) and Createspace. I’m distributed to the other vendors via Smashwords, and this includes the Dutch Bol.com. I could go direct on Bol.com, but then I would end up with only 10% of the royalties, whereas Smashwords gives my 60%.

I must admit that I haven’t done much marketing for the three books that I still sell. The three books are for quite a specific audience (lovers of ships and lovers of travelling by cargo ship) and it is very difficult to reach them. I have tried this in the past, but in general it came to nothing. I only had a distinct spike in sales in 2012 when it was 100 years since the Titanic sank and there was a larger general interest in ships.
For this reason I also think the use of advertising is not very viable. The Return of Interest simply wouldn’t be there. I also wouldn’t know where to advertise to find my target audience for these three books.
My sales primarily come via the ‘also boughts’ ribbon on Amazon and readers who search for books about ships.

Conclusions and decisions for 2016
I have been selling my five books for a number of years now. I started in 2007 with one book and by 2012, I had five. The first two books I wrote were only published in paperback and are not suitable to be published as ebooks. Those two books are sold out.
My last three books have been selling together since 2012 (the Titanic year) and I know that ever since I am selling a little less each year.
I might not earn much on my book sales anymore, but there was a year that for six months I actually was able to give myself a little bit of a wage. Not anymore, but at least I am still able to pay two bills with my monthly income from books.

Of course I hope my sales numbers will go up after I publish Book 1 of my cosy mystery series in December. But I have been hanging about in the self-publishing world long enough to know that series usually don’t take off until there are four or five books published.
This is where the marathon comes in again. I simply have to keep writing. And as I am having a lot of fun writing my new fiction series, I will definitely continue to do that.
Perhaps in the future I will even write another non-fiction book. Who knows?

I am planning an active marketing campaign for my cosy mystery series, which has already started. Book 1 of the Jacob Hick Murder Mysteries, Don’t Feed the Rat!, is now available for preorder on Kobo, Barnes & Noble and iBooks.

I am looking forward to the coming few years. Even if the sales of my cosy mysteries don’t start off, I will still be happy that I wrote the series. As an Indie you never know what might happen and I will keep working hard and be as professional about writing and publishing as I can.


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Nov 022015

crest-05e1a637392425b4d5225780797e5a76The month of November usually gets writers in a bit of a tizzy as they have the chance to participate in the National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write a novel (at least 80000 words) in one month, a challenge that requires a lot of concentration, spare time and fast typing skills.

I tried NaNoWriMo two years ago, but got nowhere as I’m a plotter, who can’t just sit down and start writing. I soon realised that planning my novel in that month of November as well as writing it, would be impossible, so I abandoned the project about a week in.
I decided that if I ever would do another NaNoWriMo, I would plan the novel in advance, something that is allowed according to NaNo ‘rules’.

This year I am participating in a NaNoWriMo of sorts. As of tomorrow, I am ready to start scene-blocking Book 1 of my series. A big step that I have been working towards for the last ten months.
I have never scene-blocked a book before, so I have no idea how long it will take. However I have set myself the task to finish it by the end of November, giving me my own personalised NaNoWriMo.

Scene-blocking is an exciting thing for me, as it is the start of writing my book. While scene-blocking I decide on the order in which events happen in my book. Every scene is described in short, without dialogue. In this way it is easy to move scenes around and change them, finding plot holes etc., without having to re-write the whole book.
This method of working allows me to go from large to small, adding more and more detail the smaller things get. And of course the smallest ‘size’ will be the complete finished book.

I’m looking forward to my NaNoWriMo, even though it will mean I have to get up earlier for a while to get the extra hours in. The result will hopefully be a complete planned out book that is ready for the next fase, the writing itself!

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Oct 262015

bugsyEvery hero needs a bad guy, as without a worthy adversary the hero’s journey wouldn’t be interesting enough to read.

I have two heroes in my new series. One is a human and one is a rat. At first I thought it was a good idea to give them the same antagonist. After all, I want their stories to run parallel and intertwine, so it seemed like a good idea at the time. But when I started to work it all out, it somehow felt wrong.

For Jacob, the human in the story, it was no problem to find a suitable reason why his antagonist hates him so much. They have a mutual past and a lot has happened.
In fact, so much happened between them that it was easy to fill the nine books in the series with the reveal of their hatred and how Jacob deals with this. And this slow reveal is how it should be, as the antagonist is not just a villain. He is Jacob’s uber-villain, who deserves the respect of having their story worked out into detail. Only then would their villainy make sense and have the reader rooting for Jacob in his quest to bring his main antagonist down.

Of course all of the books in my series are standalones. As cosy mysteries, each have a murder that gets solved. The murderer also has villainous intentions. He directs them not only at his victims, but also at those who try to uncover him. So the murderer is also Jacob’s adversary, but only for one book. Then Jacob ‘conquers’ him by exposing him as the murderer.
On top of having to deal with murderers, Jacob also has to deal with the uber-villain who will challenge him to the max. At the end of the series, beating the murderers as well as the uber-villain will change Jacob’s life forever and to the better.

I don’t know why I thought that a rat could have a human as uber-villain, but I did. Paddy also needs something to sink his teeth in, otherwise their is no point in him being the hero. However, it’s not going to be a human. Paddy’s uber-villain is as worthy as Jacob’s, but more on a level with the rats. He also has a complex background story and it has been so much fun to conjure one up!
I am putting the finishing touches to Paddy’s uber-villain right now, coming ever closer to the point where I can actually start writing.

The ‘only’ thing I need to do now is to find a way to intertwine the storylines of the two heroes and the two bad guys. I already have some cool things in mind. Jacob and Paddy better beware!

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Oct 202015

ImpartialWhen I decided last year to change the direction of my series from not-having-a-distinct-genre to cosy mystery, I suddenly needed to find out how to write one.
I have read mysteries in all its forms for as long as I have been reading, including a large amount of cosies. But to go from loving to read a cosy to suddenly writing one, is a completely different story.

Here’s what I quickly found out about how to write a cosy mystery series.

  • The setting is a smallish local community. This can be a village, a hotel, a neighbourhood etc. There needs to be a good influx of ‘new blood’, otherwise it might become a bit unbelievable, with not many people left to ‘be murdered or be murderers’.
  • There is an amateur sleuth. There are exceptions, but in general the person who solves the crimes in a cosy is an amateur. They will however have contact with the local police, often in the form of a friend or family member. This gives the sleuth access to information about the murder, other people wouldn’t have. Often, but not necessarily, the sleuth is a woman.
  • The murder itself is not overly bloody or violent. Choking, smothering, poisoning etc. are accepted. Chainsaw hacking, not so much. On top of that the crime is not describes in too much detail. The ‘why’ the crime was perpetrated is far more important than ‘how’ it was done.
  • There are no overt sex scenes. Things like that happen behind closed doors.

Keeping these things in mind I realised that it is also important that the book is constructed in such a way that the reader is not already able to guess on page 2 who did it. This is easier said than done and requires careful planning.

A cosy mystery usually contains a so-called Web of Lies. This is a group of people who know each other well, but who keep secrets from each other. The victim is often an in general disliked person, sometimes part of the Web of Lies, on bad terms with a number of people, thus creating a list of suspects.
Even innocent people might become suspects, as, being part of the Web of Lies, they have secrets they like to keep under wraps. These secrets become the red herrings for the sleuth, covering up hopefully to the last page, who the real murderer is.

StringsI found that it is a lot of fun to create a Web of Lies. Maybe even the best part of writing a cosy. It doesn’t only contain ‘why’ the murder was done, but also a complex social structure between people, which the writer can make a deep as they like.
It took me three months to create my Web of Lies for Book 1, as new ideas and connections kept popping into my head, making the Web even more complicated.

Best thing of writing a series for me is that I get to create another Web of Lies for Book 2 and Book 3 and so on, all the way to Book 9. It’s great to be the devious mastermind that pulls the strings of imaginary characters, until they do just what you want!


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