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July 2018 Income Report
July’s revenues were $6,873.42, up from June’s $4,282.10. Profits were $3,458.77, up from June’s $3,030.73.
Looking at July’s numbers, it’s hard to believe that I was celebrating back in March for making more than $1,000 in revenue for my self-published books. I nearly quadrupled that threshold in July, netting $3,908.03 in self-published book sales.
So what the hell happened?!
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99-cent promotion after-effects
You may remember from June’s report that I was just finishing up a 99-cent promotion for The Heart to Start, which had gone better than I had expected. HTS ranked as high as #521 in the Kindle store.
When I set the price to $2.99, HTS continued to rank well in the Kindle store. Because of the KDP royalty structure, merely tripling the price sextupled my royalty earnings per book sale.
This spike in sales also brought a spike in sales in my other books. Such as Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain.
And How to Write a Book.
Seth Godin endorsed The Heart to Start!
June’s 99-cent promo of HTS helped sales all around. But none of that compares to having Seth Godin endorse your book. Right before the end of July, Seth included The Heart to Start in his “Books worth reading” blog post, alongside Steven Pressfield’s latest book, The Artist’s Journey.
As you can imagine, that sold a lot of books. This time, at a still-discounted $2.99.
To be completely accurate, I believe Amazon had priced HTS at $2.51 during most of this time, but they were still paying me a royalty as if the book were priced at $2.99. It was a win for me, and a win for my new readers.
The timing of the Godin endorsement was perfect, because I recently read that part of Amazon’s algorithm is a 30-day-average ranking. Godin’s endorsement came almost exactly 30 days after the 99-cent promotion. You may recall from June’s report that I discovered that my ranking climb during the 99-cent pricing spike was dampened a bit – Amazon now updates rankings based upon sales over the course of at least multiple days. This is much more nuanced than the days when I launched Design for Hackers at #18. Amazon appeared to be basing their rankings on hourly sales at that time.
This was one of those “Black Swan” marketing events that’s impossible to predict. It’s not that I did nothing to try to get my book into Seth’s hands. I did, in fact, send it to him. It’s just that it was a small bet which I had no way of knowing would pay off. I make plenty of other bets that nothing ever comes of.
Lots of sales means lots of ad spend
One surprise after selling so many books was that I also spent way more on ads. I was already running some experiments with BookBub ads, and I was still tweaking my AMS ads as I always did.
But when the book started selling, my ads also started running more. I have very high budgets set for all of my campaigns, so there was plenty of room for my ad spend to grow.
So while I made $3,908.03 in book royalties, I also spent more than $2,500 driving many of those sales with ads! Ending up with about $1,400 in profits may not sound like a lot, but that’s a 56% ROI, which most businesses would kill for.
The downside is that most of those earnings, I won’t receive for 60 days, while I’m paying for the ads on a company credit card, which will need to be paid off sooner. I currently have the cash to cover until then, but this would cause cash flow problems were there significantly more spend.
What’s the logic behind spending so much on ads? It’s the easiest way I know of to get books in front of people. Thanks to the promotional efforts, and also thanks to the ads, HTS is starting to show up in the “also-boughts” on Amazon for books such as Pressfield’s new The Artist’s Journey. I’m sure Godin’s endorsement played a bigger part in that than anything else, but I’m currently running an experiment to see if I can get HTS to show up in the also-boughts of other appropriate books.
I plan to continue spending quite a bit on ads. For this reason, I just signed up for the Chase Ink Preferred credit card. I’ll be earning 3x credit card points on Amazon AMS ad spend with this advertising credit card, so hello free travel! Maybe I can use some of that free travel to appear on some podcasts, or do in-person interviews.
Doubling down on The Heart to Start
Having The Heart to Start break out like this is a huge weight off my shoulders, and it calls for some recalibration.
HTS is one of many irons I have on the fire. I’ve been taking a “Black Swan” approach – making small bets, and seeing what happens with each one. For example, self-publishing three books in only six months.
Now I’m getting clear signals that there is potential for HTS to go further. I’m making enough money from it – and can make even more – that it frees me up from some other concerns.
Suddenly, the potential earnings from each action I take promoting HTS are higher. Suddenly, the opportunity costs of each thought-unit spent working on something else are also higher. If the payoff is more clear, I also find it easier to focus mentally.
So, I plan to focus more of my efforts on taking HTS to the next level. I don’t yet know precisely what that means, but I’m doing a few things.
One, I put that Seth Godin quote smack-dab on the cover of the Kindle version. (I still have yet to apply it to the ebook on other platforms, and to the paperback).
Another thing I’m doing is refining my marketing messages for HTS. I didn’t know exactly what I was creating when I put this book into the world. Since I’m embracing an experimental approach to my work, I’m letting my work tell me what it is while it’s out there.
Nobody knows what’s great (or not great) about your product better than your customers do. Fortunately, lots of HTS customers have reviewed the book on Amazon. 140 of them, in fact!
Yesterday, I printed out and read ALL of those reviews. I’m going through and highlighting and underlining phrases that describe why people bought the book, and what it did for them. I’m now categorizing those phrases by: disease, symptom, cause, treatment, cure, and doubts.
It will take some time, but I’m going to digest all of this and internalize that language that reviewers use to describe the book. I hope it will come out as I revise the description for the Amazon page, or even as I hone how I talk about the book when I’m interviewed on podcasts.
Shotgun vs. rifle approach
Another way of thinking of my experimental approach of trying many small projects, and allowing those projects to evolve once they’re out into the world, is a shotgun. The opposite of that is a rifle.
Meaning that with a shotgun, you cover a wide range with smaller bits of force. With a rifle, you focus all of your force into one point. You have to have perfect aim, but a hit is more effective.
Now that HTS is validated, I hope to spend the next month or few months taking rifle shots for marketing HTS. While the Godin endorsement was a Black Swan event, it was also a rifle shot (I know, lots of metaphors here). I took somewhat-strategic action over the course of years to create the conditions for that lucky break.
The main rifle shots I hope to take are shooting for appearances on bigger podcasts. The past several months, I have been working on my chops as a podcast guest. I was so used to being on the other side of the mic, I took it for granted. One big podcast that I was interviewed for never even ran my interview – it was that bad!
I put a lot of effort into preparing for my episodes on Joanna Penn‘s The Creative Penn and on Jeff Goins‘s The Portfolio Life. It was hard to gauge the impact of the appearance on Jeff’s podcast, because it came not too far after the endorsement from Seth Godin, but the appearance on The Creative Penn clearly drove sales for my Steemit book.
I also got a ton of practice on other podcasts.
With all of that practice, and with the help of the Amazon reviews, I now feel confident enough to make some highly-prepared pitches to some very big podcasts. I have already spent several weeks researching and preparing to make one pitch. It’s important to find the right “angle” for the content, and I want the host to feel confident that it will be a great show – which basically means “producing” the show for them, or outlining the potential flow of the conversation.
I feel fortunate to have had so much practice producing podcast episodes for my own show, and 99% of the guest pitches I get are a valuable lesson in how not to pitch. With any luck, some of these pitches will result in some big podcast appearances – I’ll sell more books, and attract more listeners to my own podcast. Two birds with one stone!
The Heart to Start in a library near you
I always love when readers share HTS on their social feeds. But one post in particular stood out for me.
Notice those stickers on the spine of the book. Looks like it’s from a library, right? It is! Turns out Sarah checked out HTS at her local library.
That’s so cool! How do you get a self-published book into a local library? I asked Sarah which library she got it at and tracked down the librarian to ask her if she knew how it got stocked. To my surprise, the librarian new exactly how. It was from the Publisher’s Weekly review of HTS.
I submitted HTS for a free review on Publisher’s Weekly‘s BookLife back when it was first published, in December. It was one of those book-marketing tactics that I tried on a whim. (I have a huge list of other tactics I still haven’t tried. It can be overwhelming at times.)
Publisher’s Weekly published their review in April. I use it on the Amazon page. Aside from a few spam emails I got from people wanting to sell me services for authors, I didn’t think anything came of it. The librarian I contacted said:
Getting a review in one of the major review publications, such as PW [Publisher’s Weekly], Library Journal, or Kirkus, will always guarantee librarians’ eyeballs!
I submitted HTS to Library Journal‘s SELF-e back in June. As with PW, there are no guarantees it will be reviewed. They say you usually hear something within 4–6 weeks, so that time has passed. I’ve since updated the description of the book with the Seth Godin endorsement, so perhaps that will help it catch someone’s eye.
I’ve also submitted HTS for review with the American Library Association.
Perhaps the Publisher’s Weekly review explains the small spike I had in orders from Ingram Spark in May. The librarian did tell me that her library’s main vendor is Ingram.
I have wondered before if Kirkus reviews were worth it. You can purchase a review of your indie book for $425 for a traditional review, and $575 for an expanded review, each of which take 7–9 weeks to process. They don’t guarantee a positive review. I’m curious about this route – would it result in 100+ sales and thus at least break even as an investment? Perhaps I’ll try it if I gain more sales.
HTS isn’t in ALL libraries by any stretch. I checked several, and it was hit and miss. But, if you ask your librarian, they can order it for you. The ebook should also be widely available, as Overdrive is one of the platforms on which HTS is published, through Draft2Digital.
Make Money Writing on STEEM free promotion
I ran a free promotion for several days on Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain. I gave away over 1,200 copies! Here’s what that looked like.
Here’s what that graph looks like with the free books removed.
It seems the promotion did very little for sales. As of yet, it has only brought in two new reviews.
Crypto is taking a hit right now in terms of value. I imagine this book will be very dependent upon hype cycles. I’ve dropped the price to 99¢ and $5.99 for the paperback and Kindle, respectively, to see if it helps sales. If anything, it can drive sales to other books, and get more people to follow me on Steemit.
Healthy Medium earnings, thanks to a front-page article
My earnings from Medium were very good, considering the amount of writing I did on Medium in July. I republished an article from a couple of years ago, this time in Medium’s Partner Program. The article got off to a good start, then Medium contacted me and asked if I was okay with some editorial intervention. They’d do some basic edits, supply an illustration, and feature the article.
Then, the article ended up on the front page.
I earned $574.04 on Medium in July. I’ve earned another $107.28 so far in August from the article.
Patreon froze my account
As I was tallying up the numbers for this month’s report, I thought it was odd that I had no income from Patreon. I thought maybe I got paid twice last month. So, I logged in to see what was up. And I saw this:
Patreon had frozen my account! The automatic transfer didn’t go through, and I was unable to withdraw my balance. According to this article, there was “suspicious activity” on my account.
I contacted Patreon’s Trust & Safety team, and within 24 hours, my account was unfrozen. They told me “a suspicious individual [made] a pledge” to me. I have no idea who they were talking about, but everything is straightened out now.
Surprisingly, I received no notification whatsoever from Patreon on this matter. I don’t know when it began, nor how long it would have taken to resolve had I not caught it.
So, that’s why you won’t see any Patreon income for July, as I count Patreon income on a cash basis for these reports. For fun, if I were to count that income, revenues would have been $7,417.22, which feels pretty solid.
Temporary exile in Cusco, Peru
When my Colombian visa application was rejected in May, I had to hastily leave the country, and return on a tourist stamp. With a tourist stamp, you only get 180 days per calendar year. Since I’m ineligible to apply for a visa again until six months after my rejection, I needed to buy some time.
So, I planned a two-week trip to Cusco, Peru, and the surrounding area. I didn’t want to go on the trip, but I really enjoyed myself. Cusco is full of fascinating history and stories, and beautiful architecture. I took some time off from working, and the timing was good since it was just after the Godin endorsement, and I could breathe a little easier – very important in a city 11,200 feet above sea level!
If you don’t follow me on Instagram, you missed most of the Instagram stories, but you’ll find a few memories in my feed.
I enjoyed the trip, but I’m glad to have it behind me. I worried that the circumstances of the trip would depress me, so I was sure to do a ton of research before the trip, to try to get interested in Machu Picchu, and Inca culture (which worked). If you’re considering visiting Cusco, I highly recommend Last Days of the Incas. I preferred it over Turn Right at Machu Picchu and Lost City of the Incas, both which I also read.
I also recommend warm pajamas. It’s extremely cold at night and indoor heating is rare.
I’m still working on getting the papers together to apply for my visa again on November 8th. In typical Latin American fashion, some things are taking a long time, but I’m hopeful I’ll be ready.
|The Heart to Start Kindle||$2,194.88|
|The Heart to Start Paperback (Amazon)||$451.41|
|The Heart to Start “Wide” (non-Amazon)||$249.50|
|The Heart to Start Audiobook||$163.31|
|How to Write a Book Kindle||$477.92|
|How to Write a Book Paperback||$95.14|
|How to Write a Book Audible||$24.78|
|Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Kindle||$228.39|
|Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Paperback||$8.76|
|Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Audible||$13.94|
|Total Book Sales||$3,908.03|
|Summer of Design||$21.00|
|Blog 2 BLING! (Beta)||$94.00|
|Total Digital Products||$343.00|
Affiliates / Advertising
Love Your Work Podcast
|Total LYW Podcast||$720.00|
|Podcast Editing / Publishing||$240.00|
|Virtual Post Mail||$20.00|
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