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August 2019 Income Report

September 16 2019 – 06:09pm

An audio version of this income report is available to Patreon backers of certain levels »

August’s revenues were $10,406.47, up from July’s $6,481.57. Profits were $3,442.10, up from July’s $1,609.65.

High revenue, mediocre profit

This was the highest revenue month since I started reporting income almost two years ago. It was also the highest-income month ever, in terms of book sales. By a lot. The previous high was $4,097.76, last August, compared to this month’s $7,015.36. (It’s interesting that both of these highs were in August. Not sure there’s a pattern there.)

As you can see, my self-published book income had a hockey-stick growth trajectory the past two months.

However, even with this sharp increase in revenue, it was merely a slightly higher-than-average-profit month.

How much margin do you want? vs. How many sales do you want?

These numbers make me ask the question: How much profit margin do I want? Even though most self-published authors, say on /r/selfpublish, are aghast at the idea of spending $6,000 on ads to make less than $1,000, I still feel okay about it.

Which would you rather have?

Let’s pretend for a moment that this month’s profit was the exact same as February’s. Which would be better? Would I rather make $900 profit on $1,500 ad spend, or $900 profit on $6,000 ad spend?

Now consider that:

Now which one is better?

More ad spend = more book sales

I’d still rather have the second month. The one with more revenue, more ad spend, and equal profit.

Why? Because, in the second month, I’ve sold more books. This would be a no-brainer if I had a more solid back-end business. That is, if my book helped sell some kind of high-dollar course or consulting.

But it’s still better to sell more books, in my mind. More books sold means more influence. I think a lot of the extra returns will be delayed, too.

Lower price, or more ad spend?

Now, it does make me wonder: Couldn’t I have just priced my book at 99 cents, and sold just as many – if not more – books, with way less ad spend?

But again, that would be different. I posit that a 99 cent book attracts a different kind of person than a $9.99 book. Even if the same person buys the book at 99 cents, in some alternate universe, I bet that person takes the purchase less seriously. On average, they don’t make it a priority to read, and they don’t take action.

Judging by the experiences people are sharing in the reviews on Amazon, the book is worth at least $9.99. It doesn’t feel fair to only get 99 cents, even if it takes some ad spend to make a sale.

Publishing is as “pay to play” as ever

I have to admit, though. It does feel a bit wrong that Amazon gets that extra money, and that that money comes out of the pocket of the customer. But, as Seth Godin told me about Amazon being “pay for play”: “Publishing has always been really expensive, it’s just the authors didn’t know that.”

More ad spend = free travel

One final reason I prefer the high-revenue, high-spend month is that it means more credit card points. And with the recent death of my mother, I need those airline miles for more frequent trips back and forth between Medellín and Phoenix.

Remember, I earn 3x points per dollar I spend on advertising. So August’s advertising alone earned me more than 18,000 points. I already transferred those points to United, and booked a flight to Phoenix for only 20,000 points. So I basically got a free flight out of the month – retail value around $700.

More ad spend = more cash flow issues

This level of ad spend is not for the faint of heart. It causes some cash flow issues. I pay for the ads up-front, and Amazon doesn’t pay me until roughly 90 days after the sale. So I’m sure to have some cash as financial padding as I ramp up ad spend.

More ad spend = more influence

Interestingly, this ballooning ad spend seems to be correlating with increased attention through various channels. I’m noticing an uptick in people inviting me to be on their podcast or as a part of their online summit. The uptick in sales isn’t isolated only to Amazon, either. There are more people checking out my book on Scribd, or at their library, through OverDrive.

It’s little surprise that awareness of HTS and my work is growing. At this level of ad spend, HTS is getting more than 9 million more impressions in a month than it does otherwise. I’ve had many friends and readers report seeing the book advertised on their Kindles.

Even if I make very little profit on this ad spend, it’s interesting to see the effect it has.

Amazon HTS paperback subtitle updated

I started changing the subtitle of The Heart to Start back in January, and now the process is complete. As I reported before, Amazon doesn’t allow authors to change the subtitles on their paperbacks without starting over with a new ISBN. This despite the fact that Bowker, the authority who distributes ISBNs has no such restriction.

After talking it over with Amazon, I did discover that they have good reasons for this. For example, someone could change their book subtitle from SAT Preparation 2018 to SAT Preparation 2019, and everyone who bought used copies in circulation would end up getting the old version of the book.

I then set out to distribute on Amazon through IngramSpark, instead of KDP Print. But in talking to IngramSpark, they said that Amazon got their data about the subtitle from Ingram’s data feed. Well, I had already changed the subtitle on IngramSpark, so they looked into whether they could update Amazon.

In the meantime, I simply changed the subtitle on my print files for the cover and interior. So even if it had the old subtitle on the Amazon page, the new subtitle would be on the actual book that people would receive. After more than two months, the subtitle finally did change on the Amazon page.

The book still has the old subtitle in my KDP dashboard, but as far as customers are concerned – they only see the new subtitle.

It was a long process, but the new subtitle feels much better. I still can’t say for sure that it’s improving my sales. I mean, I’m able to sell more books by buying more ads, but I’m still turning about the same profit. Hard to know if that’s because my ads strategy has changed, the market has changed, or the book is simply gaining legs. 216 reviews with a five-star graphic must be worth something.

I’m glad to finally have the subtitle changed across all versions. It’s been an interesting learning experience. It’s one of those wacky adventures that you come across navigating the self-publishing jungle.

Papyrus book/article finally released

After more than a year of off-and-on work, I finally debuted the silly Papyrus article I had been working on. In Defense of Papyrus: Why Avatar Uses the World’s Second-Most-Hated Font to Signal the Downfall of Civilization is almost 6,000 words long.

It’s totally ridiculous, but I do think it’s some of my best writing to date. The unique voice I found in breaking down design concepts merged with the better writing chops I’ve developed in the nine years since writing Design for Hackers. Some of the practice I’ve had in making wider social commentary got wrapped into this article, too.

The result is lots of fun. The article has done well on Reddit, but it seems that design commentary doesn’t have the wide appeal that it did when I wrote the first posts that got me the Design for Hackers book deal. The article fell flat on Hacker News and Designer News, for example.

Other than those two channels, and sharing it to the D4H email list, I didn’t do a ton to promote it. It’s been fun to watch how it has organically gotten attention, such as the Reddit posting and its submission on Web Designer News, both with which I had nothing to do.

After working out some of the kinks in the article, I also published my Papyrus article as an ebook. This time, I went wide from the start, publishing on all outlets through PublishDrive – though I’ll probably pull the Amazon portion of that so I can go direct and buy ads for the book. I’m still waiting for the book to go live in stores.

HTS Kobo ratings transferred from Draft2Digital version

I’m now publishing The Heart to Start directly to Kobo, and the ratings I accrued while publishing through Draft2Digital are now transferred. The whole process took more than a month, so if you plan on pulling a book from a distributor to publish direct with Kobo, plan accordingly.

How to Write a Book is published direct to Kobo, and I’ve experimented with pricing promotions. Now HTS is eligible for such promotions, so I’m looking forward to trying it out.

WAB Kobo promotion results

In the midst of all of the chaos, I forgot to report the results of my first Kobo promotion. In July, I did a free promotion of How to Write a Book, which cost me $5. I ended up giving away around 180 books, and made $3.49 in revenue. So, the promotion appears to have been a loss. We’ll see what happens if I get an HTS promotion accepted. Kobo has already rejected a 50% off offer.

Considering reclaiming audiobook rights.

I’m considering reclaiming audiobook rights to HTS. To get a 40% royalty through ACX, you have to have to agree to a seven-year exclusivity agreement. However, I’ve heard you can get your rights back if you did all of the production yourself, and thus aren’t beholden to deliver royalties to a third party.

I could put my audiobook on Findaway Voices, which would distribute to Audible and Apple, as well as many other places. I would have some control over pricing for once – outside of Audible AFAIK. And I could submit deals to BookBub’s Chirp. I would only earn a 25% royalty, instead of 40%, and I would miss out on the Audible bounties to the tune of $50 apiece.

It’s a lot more work to be wide, but it just feels right. I love Amazon and the opportunities they provide to authors, but I’ll promote other channels whenever I get a chance, especially if they’re good. Kobo, for example, provides a great reading experience.

Still thinking this one over. It doesn’t make much rational sense, but it’s the direction I want to go.

New vanity URL:

Losing a parent is a strange experience. It causes you to do strange things. One of the strange things I did was give up not one, but two three-letter .co domains.

I have written in previous income reports about letting go of a lot of loose ends in my business. Sometimes that’s killing a micro-site even though it earns a small amount of income passively. Other times, it’s getting rid of domains that you never did anything with. Even if you could get money for it, it’s a distraction from your core functions.

I got a notice from Namecheap that one of my three-letter .co domains had renewed: I had planned to make a URL shortener out of it, but never did. I decided that if I hadn’t done it already, I probably never would. I wrote Namecheap and asked for a refund. They warned me that if I changed my mind, I’d have to pay about $90 to get it back during the grace period. I went through with cancelling it and getting the refund.

I also gave away, which I had also planned on using to make a URL shortener. I had an acquaintance who once told me he would really like it for his business. So, I simply gave it to him.

Now here’s the next strange part. One morning, I woke up and decided that I really badly wanted I figured I could use it for links that people have to type in, such as links I announce on the podcast, or links I put in Instagram posts or on Instagram stories. How badly did I want it? Badly enough that I spent an extra $90 to get it back.

Spending that money wasn’t all bad. It at least motivated me to actually do something with it. Using WP Engine’s super-easy hosting technology, I made a WordPress install, and installed a redirect plugin. Within minutes, I had myself a little URL shortener.

I’ve been experimenting with it, creating links that I’m sharing on Instagram. I’ll hold off a bit before using it in audio, since that’s much harder to change, should I decide to drop the URL in the future.

The more I look at it, the more I like it. It’s so crisp. KDV. If you say it fast enough, it doesn’t sound so different from my last name. Plus, that .co extension is perfect, because it’s Colombia’s domain extension.

The only things I’m not sure of is if it will be easy to understand in audio. D and V sound very similar, and in terms of syllables spoken, is actually one syllable longer than saying But in terms of typing it out, it’s much easier. If it really sticks, maybe someday I’ll change all of to

The weird world of grief

What does that have to do with losing a parent? I’m in transition. I’m still grasping to find out exactly what kind of person I am now that my mother is no longer alive. In a way, that sounds silly – what difference does it make? But it simply does make a difference, and I’m still figuring out what difference that is.

If nothing else, it can be an excuse to make some much-needed evaluations about what is important to me, what I stand for, and what I want to accomplish before I, too, leave this world. I guess that’s one thing you realize when you lose a parent: You’re next.

I’ve also noticed that my mind doesn’t function as well in some ways. I think this is part of the grieving process. Most moments I feel fine, if not great, but every once in awhile, it hits me. I find myself in disbelief that I experienced something so horrible.

It feels unfair, and reality feels like more of a joke than it does normally. I find myself increasingly attracted to absurdism and satire, and have even drawn a couple of cartoons. Maybe that’s what motivated me to finally finish the Papyrus article. It will be interesting to see how I and my work change over the next year or so.

Putting more effort into Instagram

A major factor in deciding to reclaim the domain, no doubt, is my newfound interest in Instagram. I’ve come to realize that I need to revisit my presence online. I built my first online presence more than twenty years ago, in 1996. I had my big breakthrough in building an audience from 2010–2013. The internet has changed so much, and I’m still doing things the old way.

If I had a gigantic audience already, it wouldn’t be a big problem. But I don’t. And the channels I relied upon in the past – such as Twitter, email, and this blog – aren’t growing. Additionally, my podcast downloads remain stagnant.

One place where I continue to gain a modest amount of followers is on Instagram. It’s simply a growing channel. But I haven’t put a lot of thought into it lately. So, I’m trying to take on a beginner’s mindset. I’ve read a couple of books on Instagram marketing, and they’ve given me a fresh perspective on my own Instagram strategy.

Balancing growth with distraction

However, I don’t want Instagram to become a distraction. I don’t have enough of a profit machine going on in my back-end business to justify spending a lot of time on Instagram. If I gain Instagram followers or engagement, I can’t easily transform that into money. But that’s not an excuse to not learn.

I’m trying to budget a small amount of time to really thinking about Instagram. This may have something to do with my scatterbrained mental state as of late, as well. I’m not immune to variable rewards. I easily can fall into scrolling through the feed, examining what I see, beyond the point of diminishing returns. And it hasn’t been uplifting to see how much fun everyone is having traveling the world, while I’m trying to climb out of the crater of my mother’s sudden death.

One recent experiment is a carousel post on “How to Write a Book.” There’s a giveaway attached to it. The length of that giveaway depends upon the number of likes the post gets. Here it is:

Eventually, it would be nice to have Instagram as a part of my creative systems. That the content I create on the podcast would be chopped up in some compelling way for Instagram, without too much extra work.

Next, I’d like to have more content on YouTube, but I’m taking it one step at a time. Again, I’m careful to spend too much time on a growth channel before that growth has any hope of paying off.

Speaking to 8th graders

While I was in Scottsdale, I paid a visit to Copper Ridge Elementary School. A family member teaches an eighth-grade honors’ English composition class there. The students were on the cusp of beginning a daunting writing assignment: writing stories according to a hero arch.

The teacher shared a sample chapter of The Heart to Start with the class – Permission to Suck (the teacher had to white-out a couple of “shits” in the chapter).

It was really cool to see how that chapter resonated with the students, and to talk with them about the challenges of writing, especially when your writing doesn’t meet up to your own standards.

I was never good enough at English class to be in the honors’ class, but I know I could have used my own advice when I was in school!

New iPad/keyboard setup (again)

Last month, I talked about my quest to find the right portable keyboard to go along with my iPad. I wanted something small enough to be portable, but that had an option to plug in, instead of being Bluetooth only.

In my last report, I had settled on a dual-version keyboard from Jelly Comb. I lamented that it had a trackpad that I would never use, and that the keyboard layout made it hard to avoid errors.

After some experimentation, I decided that I liked the form factor enough that I wanted a keyboard I could write on reliably. I traded in the Jelly Comb for this keyboard from Plugable.

Trying one last wired keyboard for the iPad. This one by @plugable is standard size. A bit bigger and heavier than the @JellyComb_CORP, but I make fewer errors with it.

The Apple "Command" and "Alt" keys are strangely switched though.

— ? David Kadavy (@kadavy) August 18, 2019

It has a full-sized keyboard, and – as the brand-name would imply, but which doesn’t seem to be true for all models – it’s plug-able. I can plug it into my iPad or iPhone with the proper adapter.

This form factor is great for doing some distraction-free writing. If I take it to a cafe instead of my laptop, I’m guaranteed to get some good writing done.

PSA: Scrivener iOS syncing issues

Along with the new iPad setup, I bought Scrivener for iOS. I have long loved Scrivener for desktop, and was excited to use it on iOS.

Since I was new to syncing between devices on Scrivener, I was sure to make sure everything was synced before one cafe writing session. I went to the cafe, and had a great session. I then synced through Dropbox.

When I got back to my apartment, I carefully made sure that everything was synced between my laptop and my iPad. But, even though Scrivener claimed to be synced, I had different versions on each device. I tried syncing a couple of different times, then eventually, the new writing from my session on my iPad vanished!

I tried to go back through old Dropbox versions, and strangely none of the versions in the records contained my writing. The writing from my productive writing session at the cafe was gone forever!

How to sync properly on Scrivener iOS

I posted on Scrivener’s forums, and essentially was told that I wasn’t following the “rules” of syncing with Scrivener. You should never work on a document on one device while the same document is open on a different device. For this very reason, Scrivener for desktop has an “auto close” feature, which closes Scrivener after it’s been open for a specified period of time.

The best I can explain it is that Scrivener’s syncing is “dumb.” It doesn’t care what the contents of the file are. All that matters is whether the document on Dropbox is newer or older than the one on the device.

Now that I understand how it works, I get it. And these restrictions seem obvious given that Scrivener syncs through Dropbox. I guess I was spoiled from my days of writing code for the web, when you could “merge” versions of a file based upon the lines that were changed. I’m also spoiled by Evernote, which has native syncing.

I’ll miss keeping Scrivener open on my laptop all of the time, which is what I do with Evernote, without a problem. It was always nice to be able to quickly make a note in Scrivener whenever I thought of something. That was one of the use cases I was hoping to use the iOS version for, after all.

I wish Scrivener would make clearer to their users their departure from the state-of-the-art syncing behavior. Hopefully if you use Scrivener, I’ve saved you from a lost writing session!

WP Engine referral

One nice bonus I got was an $850 credit for a WP Engine referral. They share $200, or 100% of the first payment – whichever is higher – of any new customer with affiliates. Apparently someone signed up and made an $850 payment on their first payment. If you’re reading this, thank you!

This is a reminder that WP Engine does have a solid affiliate program. If you’re in a position where you recommend web hosts to people from time to time, sign up through my affiliate link at I’ll get $50 for each person you refer – and it won’t cut into your earnings one bit.


Book Sales

The Heart to Start Kindle $4,799.55
The Heart to Start Paperback (Amazon) $682.00
The Heart to Start “Wide” (non-Amazon) $75.41
The Heart to Start Audiobook $155.28
How to Write a Book Kindle $886.43
How to Write a Book Paperback $352.64
How to Write a Book “Wide” (non-Amazon) $0.00
How to Write a Book Audible $29.33
How to Write a Book Spanish Kindle $24.34
How to Write a Book Spanish Paperback $2.64
Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Kindle $6.92
Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Paperback $0.00
Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Audible $0.82
Total Book Sales $7,015.36

Digital Products

Blog 2 BLING! (Beta) $188.00
D4H Video $47.00
White Hot Course $39.00
Logo Mastery $49.00
Summer of Design $45.00
Total Digital Products $368.00

Affiliates / Advertising

Active Campaign $1,339.09
Amazon $94.29
ConvertKit $70.80
Google Adsense $180.47
Hostgator $200.00
SendOwl $3.00
WP Engine $850.00
Total Affiliates $2,737.65

Love Your Work Podcast

Patreon $254.31
PayPal Donations $10.00
Total LYW Podcast $264.31


Medium $21.15
Total Services $21.15
GROSS INCOME $10,406.47



Accounting $235.00
Outside Contractors $161.16
Podcast Editing / Publishing $240.00
Misc. Software $59.47
Total General $695.63


Amazon $6,039.31
BookBub $38.66
Facebook $20.00
Prestozon $80.00
Total Advertising $6,177.97


Genius Link $10.00
Libsyn $20.00
Namecheap $26.00
SendOwl $24.00
Twilio $10.77
Total Hosting $90.77
NET PROFIT $3,442.10

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This post is filed under Income Reports.