Sep 012016

TrackIn a recent podcast Joanna Penn looked back on her indie career in steps of four years, like Olympic athletes do. This because moving forward with self-publishing often doesn’t happen in a year, but lots of things can change in four years.

Inspired by this I thought it would be fun to see how my own ‘Olympic’ career as an indie author has changed over the years and look forward to the future.

2008 (Bejing Olympics)

In 2008 I lived in York, England and worked part-time at a local delicatessen shop. I had self-published my first book, Romans, Vikings, Churches and Chocolate in 2007. Ebooks didn’t exist yet in those days, except in PDF-form, and I had done a short paperback print-run of 3000 copies. Consequently in 2008 my house was still full of boxes! I had managed however to get my book into all the local bookshops, including Barnes & Knoble and Waterstones and, it being interesting for tourists, in all the museum shops as well. In 2008 I sold my 1000th copy, so at least some of the stockpile was going down.
Early 2008 I wrote my second book, From Dissenters to Fire Engines and did a short print-run of 1000 copies. This added to the pile of boxes in my attic again, but later in that year, I moved back to the Netherlands and all the boxes moved to my distributor’s house. She took over the distribution of my books, sending me my royalties every so often.

2012 (London Olympics)
In 2012 I was back in the Netherlands and worked part-time as a receptionist at the town hall. In 2010 I had written my third book, Time Zones, Container and Three Square Meals a Day. This book was published as ebook and also available as paperback in Print on Demand, saving me from having a house full of boxes again. By now my distributor in York let me know that Romans, Vikings, my first book, was sold out.
I had written and published a sequel to Time Zones in 2011 by the name of More Stories of Time Zones and Containers. This book was available in the same way as Time Zones, as ebook and Paperback.
In 2012 I translated Time Zones into Dutch and next to having it published as ebook, I did a short print-run of 250 copies.
Although I didn’t make millions with selling my books in 2012, I was able to pay some monthly bills and even give myself a tiny ‘salary’ as well.

2016 (Rio Olympics)
In 2016 I still live in the same town as in 2012 and still work part-time as a receptionist. By now my second book in York is sold out, while the three books I had in 2012 still sell as ebooks and paperback. In 2014 I decided to try my hand at fiction and via a certain set of circumstances, I reconnected with my friend Eva, who became my developmental editor. She helped me develop my fiction into a cosy mystery series, of which the first book, Don’t Feed the Rat! is now finished and in the editing stages.
In the summer of 2016, I decided to properly set myself up as an author/entrepreneur, a process which is in its early stages, but moving along by leaps and bounces.
During our ruminations over my fiction, Eva and I developed a new writing technique, which we decided was special enough to share with the world. So currently we are co-writing a How To book, which will be published in June next year. Just before that Don’t Feed the Rat! will also be published.
The rest of 2016 I will be busy setting up my writing business, and plotting Book 2 of my cosy mystery series, currently going by the working title Sewer Mayhem.

2020 (Tokyo Olympics)
By 2020 I have implemented my author/entrepreneur plans and am quite far along in being able to earn my keep with writing and publshing. I am nearly finsihed with writing the nine-book cosy mystery series and perhaps am contemplating a new series.
Of course the How To book I wrote with Eva will have done really well and we both will have become experts, having co-written a sequel. We are both blogging about our writing technique and perhaps even have set up an online course for people to buy.
I hope that by 2020 the Dutch self-publishing world has matured and is now taken serious by Dutch athors, who flock to my website for advice on self-pubbing and marketing. This has therefore become a third stream of income for me, revolving around a number of How To books that I wrote about the subject and perhaps some more online courses.

So far my Olympic career. What suprises me most looking back is how much the self-publishing world has changed in a relatively short period of time. Hard to believe that Amazon launched KDP as a self-publishing platform in 2009, which is only seven years ago!
This gives me hope for the future as a lot can change in four years time, so my predictions for 2020 don’t sound that farfetched at all!

To hear Joanna Penn about her own Olympic career, listen to her podcast of 29th of August 2016.

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Aug 242016

000014-0020-000001Five weeks ago, I wrote about my plans to become an author/entrepreneur and a lot has happened since then. It’s quite amazing how fast things can move, once you set your mind to something.

To get a better grip on how to turn myself into an author/entrepreneur, I am now following the steps in Joanna Penn’s book Business For Authors. How To Be An Author Entrepreneur.
I have set up a business plan, in which I have broadly sketched what my plans are for the next five years. Time for a little update.

Plans for 2017
In 2017 I want to publish Book 1 and Book 2 in my cosy mystery series, start podcasting about self-publishing for the Dutch writing market and publish a ‘How to self-publish’ book for that same Dutch market.
Unfortunately the Dutch market is stubborn, so after talking to my developmental editor Eva (who happens to know a lot about the Dutch writing market as well), I set myself a maximum of two years to make some inroads there. After those two years, I will review if it is still feasible to continue my efforts to penetrate that market, or if it’s better to focus on other things.

Co-writing new How To book
In the meantime, Eva an I have embarked on an exciting new project, which will give both of us some scalable income (read: a book to sell)!
During the last two years that Eva has been my developmental editor, we have created a new fiction writing technique together. We both have tried and tested our method for our respective writings and feel that the technique could help other writers plot and write their books easier and faster. It’s not a technique we have come across in the hundreds of books and blog there are on writing, so we truly feel we have developed something unique.
We are currently working on writing this book together and plan to have it published in June 2017.
This is a new venture, which I now have realised also fits perfectly into my author/entrepreneur route.

Online courses
Besides all this, I have started doing two online courses.
First a course to learn how to use the writing software Scrivener. I bought Scrivener about four weeks ago, as one of its features is that it can be used to compile ebooks in different formats, like e-pub and mobi. I have always found it quite a drag to create ebooks and in Scrivener it’s supposed to be a breeze, thereby making my life as an entrepreneur easier.
The second course is about online marketing and how to build a mailing list even before you have any books published. This is an in depth course and I am expecting to learn a lot.

Both courses cost money, but I am willing to pay and invest in myself. In my current day job, I also at times have to follow courses, which in those cases are paid for by my employer. In the case of my author/entrepreneurship I am my own employer, and spending money on becoming an expert is a must.

For the rest of 2016 I have the challenge to find a new balance between my writing on one side and the courses, blogging etc. on the other side. I have a good feeling about it all. As long as I still have time go to the gym and watch the odd sit com on TV for leisure, it will be okay.
Busy, but exciting times ahead! :)

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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. 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 I could go direct on, 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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