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July 2023 Income Report
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July’s income was $4,230, down from June’s $6,714. Profits were $2,515, down from June’s $4,441.
Low revenue, low book sales
Revenue continues to be lower, and now you can even see it in the 6-month moving average trend line on the graph. It certainly makes me miss the days when I was breaking a record every month for a year.
Book sales are the biggest portion of my income, and book sales are indeed down, relative to recent numbers. July’s self-published book income was $2,759, which is the lowest since April 2021, when sales were $2,602.
But, book profits have made a slight recovery. July’s $2,022 book profits are the highest since April, when they were $3,115.
Book profits have rebounded as I now spend little of my book income on ads. Amazon ad prices had gotten out of control, so much that I shut off all my Amazon ads midway through July. It doesn’t seem to have adversely affected my sales by much, and I’m not spending all that money!
The $737 I spent on ads in July is the lowest since I spent $692 in October 2021. I aim to spend $0 in August.
Naturally, some portion of my sales are probably coming from people who saw an ad a long time ago, and downloaded a Kindle sample. But I’ve seen a resurgence of book sales in the beginning of August. Here comes one of my theories why.
Going hard on TikTok
Now that I’ve quit podcasting, I’ve been exploring how best to use the time and energy it once claimed. Going into August, it turns out that’s TikTok.
I’ve dabbled with TikTok over past months, trying to publish about a video a week. But as I reflected on my creator career, I realized I had my best growth when I was committed to writing a 500-word Medium article every morning.
So, I’ve been publishing at least one video a day on TikTok, every day in August. I had homed in on non-fiction book recommendations, as I’ve read tons of somewhat obscure non-fiction, and there’s overlap with that audience and people who might buy my books.
I started experimenting with creative systems for reliably producing high-quality videos. I was recording my sloppy operating procedures, but then something unexpected happened.
Instead of a polished video with my nice camera, I decided I’d try a video using my phone, the TikTok app, and their native “green screen” effect. I made a condensed version of my Leonardo/Raphael article/podcast episode, using photos I took on my recent research trip.
Very soon after publishing, it was clear this video was going to take off. I was seeing a higher than 20% like rate. Right now, about three days after publishing it, it has over 550,000 views!
For comparison, when I got my book deal to write Design for Hackers, it was pretty remarkable that I had blog posts that got 30,000 views in a couple days. My most popular Medium posts have about 115,000 lifetime views. On the surface, this looks like a whole other level.
Of course, TikTok is notorious for low engagement. Most viewers had dropped off in 12 seconds, but about 9% have watched the full, 5-minute video – which is a very long TikTok. That amounts to more than 8,000 hours of watch time – nearly a year.
I followed up that video with another “green screen” video that moved at a similar velocity. Amassing nearly 200,000 views in 24 hours.
A couple weeks ago, I was on the cusp of 500 TikTok followers. Right now, I have nearly 10,000. I blew through my 50/50 prediction I’d have 1,000 by the end of 2023.
Is TikTok engagement worth anything?
Two potential flies in the ointment: One, Is this engagement worth anything? and Two, this is “rented land” anyway.
First, is this engagement worth anything? I don’t mention my book at all in the first viral video. I mention it in passing in the second, by way of explaining pseudo-events. I’ve learned that, in general, overt marketing of anything on TikTok is a recipe for low views. If TikTok’s algorithm isn’t explicitly detecting and suppressing videos that ask a viewer to leave TikTok, viewers don’t want to leave TikTok and are allergic to marketing.
So my strategy is to just create the most interesting content I can think of and see what happens. But as of the day I published the first viral video, I now have a link to my website in the bio.
Maybe some book sales and website traffic?
Possibly by coincidence, early in August I saw a spike in book sales, and sustained higher sales since. During that time, I had some videos that were doing okay – like low five-figure views.
Probably not by coincidence, I’ve seen a slight uptick in home page visits and email subscribers.
I don’t expect watching one five-minute video where I don’t mention my book to motivate someone to buy. What I hope for is to gain followers who like my ideas and seek me out in other mediums – such as my books. (I’m also getting much more feedback than I did on Twitter on the ideas I’m working through for my next book.)
So, Is this engagement worth anything? is a valid question. In the short-term, it seems, not much. And if I’m building on “rented land,” what’s the point?
Paying the rent every day on creator success
A video by Christopher Claflin – one of my favorite TikTok creators – pointed out something that has stuck with me. He says that as a creator, “every single day, the rent is due. Because success is only leased – you never really own it.”
Ideally you’d only create on land you own. You have an email list, website, and podcast feed nobody can take away from you. And if you’re going to build an audience on another platform, get them onto that land you own as fast as possible.
Something about this mentality, for me, leads to a sense of loss aversion: Why focus on another platform when I have the most followers on Twitter? Wasn’t that period of time when I wrote on Medium a waste? (I have nearly 40k followers there and if I post an article I might not get 100 views.)
Playing along with the land-grab industrial complex
I’ve learned to accept that the land-grab industrial complex may never stop. There will always be some new platform where people are spending time. They’ll always be trying to convince you, the creator, that there’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hit it big on their platform. And once they’ve thrown the spaghetti that is the work of creators on said platform, and seen what stuck, they will use that information to try to make their businesses profitable, which is going to mean no more free views.
I don’t think the proper response to this is to check out completely and only focus on land you “own.” Maybe it’s to willingly go into a hot new platform once in a while, put concerted effort toward figuring it out, sharpen and spread your message, and hope you gain some lifetime followers along the way.
Because even if you don’t “own” whatever number of followers you have on a platform, not only do you “own” the mental real-estate of those who seek you on other platforms, you own everything you learned figuring out that platform, and sharpening your message to suit that platform.
As long as you’re making for what making makes you, that’s okay. A platform can disappear or cut off communication with your followers overnight. But it can’t take away the connections with those with whom your message resonated. And it definitely can’t take away the skills you’ve built adapting your message.
Lucky for now
I can’t pretend that my current success on TikTok doesn’t involve some luck. I know that part of the land-grab industrial complex is doling out variable rewards not just to consumers but also creators. It could be that publishing every day triggered something in the algorithm to say, “Okay, let’s throw this guy a bone.”
I’m sure at some point in the near future I’ll be scratching my head, wondering, What happened to my views? For now, I’m enjoying the ride. For the first time since my Medium heyday, circa 2016, I have a channel where my message is working.
Follow me on TikTok
Never thought I’d say it this emphatically: Follow me on TikTok! As a consumer, if you are vigilant about training the algorithm, you really do get great content. As a creator, it’s an overall positive environment where your message can get a chance.
|Mind Management, Not Time Management Kindle||$398|
|Mind Management, Not Time Management Paperback (Amazon)||$428|
|Mind Management, Not Time Management (non-Amazon)||$280|
|Mind Management, Not Time Management Audiobook||$396|
|100-Word Writing Habit||$22|
|Digital Zettelkasten Kindle||$531|
|Digital Zettelkasten Wide (non-Kindle)||$243|
|Digital Zettelkasten Audiobook||$42|
|The Heart to Start Kindle||$171|
|The Heart to Start Paperback (Amazon)||$110|
|The Heart to Start “Wide” (non-Amazon)||$12|
|The Heart to Start Audiobook||$40|
|How to Write a Book Kindle||$31|
|How to Write a Book Paperback||$25|
|How to Write a Book “Wide” (non-Amazon)||$18|
|How to Write a Book Audiobook||$9|
|How to Write a Book Spanish (all)||$0|
|Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain (all)||$0|
|Ten Passive Income Ideas||$2|
|Total Book Sales||$2,759|
|Summer of Design||$0|
|Total Digital Products||$0|
Affiliates / Advertising
Love Your Work Podcast
|Total LYW Podcast||$196|
|Podcast Editing / Publishing||$123|
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