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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Oct 122015

ADuelgainst better judgement, I decided on having two heroes in my new series.
Now you might be wondering why that is wrong. Two heroes, more heroics, right?

Well, in general having two heroes is seen as a bad choice.
For instance, if only one of the main characters has a clear journey throughout the story, the other might feel like an annoying hanger-on. Or, if the goals and roles of the two main characters are too similar, why just not have one hero?

Despite these concerns, I decided on having two main characters. Perhaps I am too stubborn to listen to sound advice from people who have been writing fiction for years. Or perhaps I am making the rookie mistake of counting on beginners luck.
In any case, Jacob and Paddy are here to stay.

Let me explain why.
My series actually takes place in two worlds. A human world and a rat world. The rats live in the human world, but they have their own concerns and storyline.
But wouldn’t it then be better to write two stories? Each in their separate worlds? Well, no, as the two worlds do collide and influence each other.

I am writing a cosy mystery series, which means there are murders to be solved. Jacob is my (human) amateur sleuth, who unwillingly gets dragged into this and after a while starts to enjoy playing detective.
Paddy the Rat doesn’t actually help him solve the crimes. I don’t want anthropomorphic, Sherlockian rats in my series. However, unwittingly, Paddy might be of help every now and then, unknown to Jacob, of course.

Although my two worlds are very different, there are similarities as well. This is because a story can have two heroes, as long as their storylines are running parallel and are connected at the same time.
Jacob and Paddy each have their own lives to live and problems to solve. And although one is a human and one a rat, their problems are similar.

I am aware that I have bitten of a whole lot and might not be able to chew it all. It has, however, been great fun creating these two worlds and finding ways to connect them and have them influence each other.
I don’t think having two heroes is going to be a problem.

The journey of both my heroes is now well thought out and planned. This is not going to be an average cosy mystery series. Instead they are Cosy Mysteries with a Twist, two heroes and all!

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