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May 2020 Income Report
An audio version of this income report is available to Patreon backers of certain levels »
May’s revenues were $6,754, up from April’s $5,283. Profits were $5,351, up from April’s $4,003.
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I followed up a solid month with an even better month. However, June’s numbers aren’t likely to look so bright.
This report is coming later than usual, as I had to attend to a last-minute opportunity. I normally don’t like to change direction at the drop of a hat, but sometimes in the “Extremistan” world of creative work, you can’t help it.
The Heart to Start was chosen for a BookBub Featured Deal!
The last-minute thing that took up most of my energy for the first two weeks of June was that The Heart to Start was chosen for a BookBub Featured Deal.
BookBub’s Featured Deal is the “big break” that many self-published authors aspire to. You’re not looking for a book deal – you’re just looking for a BookBub Featured Deal.
In fact, The Heart to Start was rejected fourteen times over the past two years for a BookBub Featured Deal. On the fifteenth try, I finally got it.
Why was it accepted? I don’t know. I do know that I had made some key choices about the book based upon trying to get a BookBub Featured Deal.
The main and most costly choice was publishing HTS “wide” rather than having it exclusive to KU. BookBub tends to choose books that are wide, as they have subscribers who read on a variety of platforms, not just Kindle.
Being wide has meant that I have forgone any privileges I would get by making HTS exclusive to Amazon, including ranking boosts from KU borrows, eligibility for Kindle Countdown Deals, and 70% royalty rate eligibility in some international markets.
Being wide has also meant that I’ve had to manage HTS not just on Amazon, but also on other platforms. So, if I fix a typo, I have to upload it to multiple places. If I run a pricing promotion, I have to keep an eye on my pricing on all platforms, so that Amazon’s price-matching doesn’t screw up my plans. Finally, when I report sales in these income reports, I have to collect numbers across different platforms, despite the fact that only three percent – wow, three percent – of my HTS sales come from ebooks on non-Amazon platforms.
(I’ll add that BookBub is not the only reason I’m wide. I also like to give Amazon just slightly less power, any chance I get. In this case about three percent less power. Even though it makes no sense, financially.)
I don’t know exactly what tipped the scales on the fifteenth try, but I do suspect that some of it has to do with the pandemic. I noticed an uptick in self-published authors reporting being accepted for BookBub deals in self-publishing Facebook groups. Perhaps traditional publishers have scaled back on marketing expenses, opening the door for self-published authors? Don’t know for sure.
In any case, when I got word that HTS had been approved for BookBub to send a discount promotion to more than one million – yes, one million – subscribers, I dropped everything, and spent the next two weeks preparing for and running the promotion. And so, this income report is later than usual.
BookBub results overview: More to come
Part of the appeal of a BookBub promotion isn’t so much what happens the day or even the week of the promotion.
Much of the sales boost comes in the weeks and even months after the promotion. For example, a bunch of 18¢-per-click Lockscreen ads that were lying dormant are now running, thanks to the sales boost. 18¢ a click is a pretty good price.
So, I’ll hold off on going too in-depth about the promotion right now.
But, here’s the basic numbers, as I reported in a post on the /r/selfpublish community:
- Amazon: 2,123
- B&N: 51 (countries unknown)
- Apple: 185
- Kobo: 7
- Google: 29
- Total: 2,395 books sold
- $1,187 Facebook
- $1,910 BookBub
- $1,768 Amazon
- $185 IG sponsors
- $1,008 Featured Deal
- $6,058 total ad spend
- -$4,008 loss
As you can see, I ended up more than $4,000 in the hole by the end of the week. What’s so great about this promotion if you actually lose money on it?
Part of it is the near-term sales uptick you expect from a BookBub Featured Deal. But part of it is also that I was attempting to sell enough copies to make the Wall Street Journal bestseller list.
I’m told you have to sell about 3,000 ebooks to have a shot at this list, and I was short of that. I’m also told you need to sell at least 500 copies on a single non-Amazon channel, to trigger reporting, and have a chance at the list. I was short of that, too.
There are many things I would do differently if I have a “next time.” Even if sales do get a boost, it will take several months to recoup a $4,000 expense.
Even though I failed to make the list, I was looking at the promotion as a learning experience for marketing my upcoming book, Mind Management, Not Time Management.
I won’t go into too much detail in this report. Look out for next month’s report for more explanation (or read my live updates on Reddit).
How’s Twitter going?
The BookBub promo was a big interruption. It took me awhile to regain my footing in other parts of my business. The first couple of days of writing again were rough!
Maybe it’s a good thing that the promo helped interrupt my Twitter obsession. As I mentioned in previous reports, I was going deep on trying to get good at Twitter, but I hoped to pull back on it and gain a more sustainable relationship with the platform.
I’m not spending as much time or attention on Twitter as I was for a few months there. But, I’m still able to publish successful tweets more reliably than before. And those successful tweets are serving as tests for ideas I expand upon in my Love Mondays newsletter, and in podcast episodes.
However, I’m still experimenting with profiles, comparing number of new followers with reported profile views.
In my latest experiment, my bio is completely blank. The only distinguishing features of my profile are my headshot, a custom font for my name, a “books” emoji, and my verified blue check mark. There’s no website links, no banner image, no bio.
Surprisingly, my “conversion rate” is so far higher with a blank profile than when I had a targeted profile: 9.33%, instead of 6.73%. That might not look like much, but that’s a 39% increase! According to a Bayesian calculator, the blank profile has a 100% chance of winning.
However, I’ll still keep an eye on things for a bit longer. I had a really popular tweet, retweeted by Mark Manson, which is skewing my results for the blank profile. I’ve only had the blank profile for ten days. I had the targeted profile for a month.
At the very least, having a blank profile doesn’t condemn you to getting no followers. It could come up with reasons why the blank profile might perform better: The user has to look at your timeline, instead of your profile. This potentially sucks them into your content, and they’re looking at what they’ll actually get by following you, rather than some irrelevant explanation of yourself.
Additionally, I already have a decent number of followers at a little over 20,000. That along with the blue “verified” checkmark is probably enough to pique a potential follower’s curiosity.
Now, just because a profile converts followers doesn’t necessarily make it better. If you have a really-well-defined target user, you might rather convert those kinds of users. Then again, if your profile converts to followers better overall, I would imagine that makes Twitter’s algorithms happier.
The end of June is the halfway point of the year. I always notice that I am more organized and focused at the beginning of the year. Heck, everyone is, as they focus on resolutions.
Then, entropy sets in. Our systems start to break down. We start to get tired, because we’re overcommitted, and that causes us to overcommit even more.
The downward spiral begins. If we aren’t careful, by the end of the year we’ve completely lost our way.
Closing a chaotic “year”
This is why I’m consciously trying to think about systems as we hit the halfway point in the year. Actually, it’s also almost exactly one year since the most tragic experience of my life: Suddenly being summoned to rush across the world to my mother’s bedside, only to watch her still-unconscious body take its last breaths a week later.
Since then, there have been ongoing struggles in keeping my father afloat. Thanks to massive help from my brother, we moved him out of the house and into an assisted living facility. Along with that came the heart-wrenching experience of clearing everything out of my parents’ house.
Then, just as 2020 was beginning, I was forced to move out of my apartment. I spent most of February walking around Medellin, looking for apartments, and navigating the frustrating experience of even being allowed to rent an apartment as a foreigner.
As soon as that was over, the pandemic began. Then civil unrest unfolded in the U.S. The past year has been chaotic for me, to say the least. The past six months have been chaotic for everybody.
Why my systems are broken
Of course, the only thing constant in life is change. You can’t blame chaos for throwing you off-balance. You need reliable systems.
I recently realized that lots of my systems were breaking down. I was keeping too much stuff “in my head.” I wasn’t following the GTD principles of capturing everything in inboxes, and reviewing those inboxes regularly.
The death of my mother and the ongoing care of my father have contributed to this, as have the psychological effects of the pandemic and resultant quarantine.
But the straw breaking the camel’s back has been moving into an unfurnished apartment, while not owning any furniture! I was able to get some basics before the lockdowns began, but the apartment is still mostly bare.
This was what I loved about living in a furnished place. Now that I live in an unfurnished place, literally everywhere I look, there’s something that needs to be done. In a furnished place, almost everything I looked at, I had no responsibility over.
Overall, I think it’s worth it. I finally have a home office, which I’m setting up exactly for how I work. But it’s an organizational challenge.
Because of the pandemic, much of the things that need to be done are either impossible to do, or very hard to do with lockdown restrictions – not to mention maybe not a good idea to do, lest I increase my exposure.
Additionally, with the upcoming new book, I’ve changed a few systems, such as my podcasting schedule. Those changes are of course temporary, which makes redefining those systems feel oh-so “not worth it.”
As you can see: downward spiral. Broken systems causing broken behavior causing broken systems. Not good.
Revisiting Getting Things Done
I’ve begun fixing this by starting to re-read my productivity bible: Getting Things Done (read my Getting Things Done book summary). The first step has been to purge everything that needs to be done, and capture it – mostly in “Someday Maybe” files. Things related to the apartment go in a “Someday Maybe Apartment” file, for example.
One of the inboxes I’m reviving is my Moleskine Volant notebook. It was easy to keep this up when I was leaving the house regularly. It was always in my pocket. Since I don’t tend to keep things in my pockets while in the house, I end up not writing things down.
Or, if I do write things down, they go on the couple of 9” x 12” whiteboards that I keep lying around the house. I don’t tend to triage items on these and put them in their proper place. I either do the thing, or I figure I won’t get around to it, and I simply erase it from the board.
Now, I’m trying to still keep the Volant in my pocket or nearby at all times. I still have other inboxes, such as the whiteboards. I also ordered some whiteboard sticky notes, and have yet to see exactly how I’ll use them.
I’m being patient with myself in reviving these systems. I’m simply trying to get back in the habit of writing it down whenever I think of something I might want to/need to do. I’m carving out time to slowly re-read GTD, and to write free-form in my journal about the challenges I run into in getting organized again. It takes a lot of time, and it’s a daily practice, but I think it pays off in better work, and retained sanity.
An added challenge in reviving these systems is I’m living with a partner for the first time. She’s not natively as much as a systems geek as I am, but she is very receptive to them, and helps improve them with suggestions.
But, I have to get used to the fact that sometimes an item in my head needs input from someone else, that one person may expect another person to do a thing, without that expectation being captured and recorded – and I’m sure there are other factors I’m not thinking of right now. So, I’m regularly trying to capture these sticking points, and reflect on them later, to think of sustainable solutions.
Mitigating over-optimization & complexity creep
While it’s wonderful to have control over my space, and the items in my space, I’m also wary of how this can be a bad thing. I want to do what I can to retain the sense of freedom I had while in a furnished apartment, while also enjoying the control of having a permanent place.
I think there is one main thing that can lead to problems with a permanent home: Over-optimization. Over-optimization can lead to materialism, and it can lead to complexity creep.
The first thing that happens is that as you get more organized, things go more smoothly. As things go more smoothly, there are endless things you can do to optimize your space. Those things end up making things go less smoothly.
For example, I have a high-quality air filter. Really important in a place like Medellin, where pollution is a problem. I also just got an air conditioner. But I realized that the air conditioner I bought has an air filter, too. However, it’s a low-quality air filter.
Now should I take the air conditioner back and get a bigger, more-expensive air conditioner, which also has a high-quality air filter? Or, should I use the air filter I already have, in addition to this air conditioner?
The more optimal thing to do would be to get the bigger, more expensive air conditioner, which has an air filter. I wouldn’t have to lug the air filter into the bedroom from the office every night. Iterated over hundreds of nights a year, that would save me like an hour, by itself.
But does this optimization ever end? I find sometimes the more optimal thing is to actually have something less convenient. For example, I have a plant in my office. Wouldn’t I save time by not having a plant at all? At the very least, I could get a fake plant. Instead, I choose to take care of this plant. I believe it’s good for my well-being.
Of course, this depends what values you’re using to make decisions. It’s good to shave time and energy costs out of things you do every day, but eventually, you’re just inflaming your own neuroses. If you’re already prone to optimize, sometimes you’re better off nipping that in the bud.
Of course, I asked myself the questions of whether I need the air filter or the air conditioner at all. I lived without either for the past four years.
As I said, an air filter is good to have in a place with dirty air. It reduces my risk of illness – which could be the difference between life and death. It certainly reduces the number of times I sneeze in a day. But is it worth it? I don’t really know.
Then, there’s the air conditioner. Medellin isn’t super hot. It’s just hot enough that it makes it very hard to sleep sometimes. You can keep things cooler by keeping the window open, but to keep the window open, the shade can’t be down. It also reduces the effectiveness of the air filter. Even though I sleep with a mask on, I still sleep better when the shade is down. You can’t keep things cooler with the shade down.
I’ve heard from sleep experts that sleep is higher-quality in a cold room. I personally sleep better in a cold room. High-quality sleep is incredibly important. I think having an air conditioner in the bedroom at night will improve my sleep. By how much? Is it worth it?
Complexity is creepy. One more thing is never just one more thing. It’s that one more thing, and how that one thing relates to every other thing.
Now we need to remember to close the doors to the closet and the bathroom to reduce the space the air conditioner needs to cool. But the bathroom is a high-humidity place where mold can form if the air doesn’t circulate.
Having an air conditioner also means an active electronic device plugged into a wall near the bed. I’ve noticed I have some EMF sensitivity, so that could adversely effect my sleep.
Now that I have an air filter and an air conditioner, I have to clean and maintain each of them once every two weeks. I have to buy replacement filters for the filter. And now that I have an air conditioner, I can’t so easily open the window and give the plant next to it some outside air.
Now that makes me think about getting an Oura ring to track my sleep and “prove” that my air conditioner is worth it. But then that’s one more thing that again affects habits and routines.
You can see how this can quickly lead to materialism – or having a lot of stuff. I’m always trying to be a practical minimalist.
Is everything I’m “spending” – in time, in money, in attention worth it? I tell myself I’d rather use that time to lie in my hammock and stare at the sky. But sometimes you can only do that so much, before you get an idea of some way you can make life better – usually by buying something. And when you buy something you end up having to do things other than lie in the hammock. Like clean air filters.
So while I’m glad to have control over a space again, I keep thinking about how to avoid weighing myself down with the steady accumulation of stuff, and with the mental energy spent fiddling with that stuff.
Cleaning house in the business
As I think about avoiding complexity creep at home, I also think about avoiding complexity creep in my business. Kadavy, Inc. has been around for more than a decade, so the business has accumulated a lot of stuff.
I already killed some passive income streams. I’ve been letting domains expire, too. But I’m still looking for more ways to cut dead weight.
Stopped marketing D4H Video for awhile
One thing I did recently was stop the evergreen webinar automation I was using to sell D4H video. There are some things I’d like to change about the product, so I don’t have to deal with it as much. I also want to avoid paying for EverWebinar again, and I’d like to wean the business off of SendOwl.
Honestly, I don’t have a great plan hatched out, which is why I simply cut off the email automation. There are several dependencies involved in making any change whatsoever – there’s that complexity again – but it will be easier to make changes willy-nilly if I’m not actively marketing the course. D4H Video has become a minor income stream, and working on it certainly doesn’t take me in the direction I’d like to go.
I’m still not totally sure of my next steps. I’m considering moving D4H Video over to Teachable, maybe along with White Hot Course. Of course, you have to be paying a considerable monthly fee to market courses on Teachable, so then that calls into question whether there would be any ongoing marketing efforts, or if I would periodically subscribe just to do marketing pushes.
One-off marketing efforts are always a big distraction from any ongoing activities, so that could be a problem. I don’t know. I’m not ready to kill my D4H products. If they are work to maintain, aren’t a big revenue source, and don’t take me the direction I want to go, then why?
People seem to like the courses. I think they’re pretty good. Plus, there’s promises all over the web of a “free email course” at designforhackers.com. That free email course costs money to maintain, thus having paid courses supports that.
But what would be the big deal with pulling the plug on it all? Things disappear from the web all of the time. Avoiding that is not good enough reason to keep something going if it’s weighing you down.
Maybe there’s a way to automatically market these courses (maybe with lower price points), and keep the free email course running on autopilot, in a way that brings in revenue, without serving as a distraction? Still thinking this through.
Killing Geni.us links
Another thing I realized was weighing me down was my efforts to get all of the Amazon Affiliate revenue I could, across the globe.
I was doing this with the help of a tool called geni.us. It’s handy. You plug in all of your affiliate tags, and it automatically makes affiliate links for you. Those links redirect based upon where the user is.
But I came to a realization as I was collecting income data.
Each month, I need to tell my accountant which payments from Amazon are for affiliate income, and which are from book royalties. To do that, I have to log into my Amazon affiliate accounts, one by one, for several countries. Additionally, for some reason, Amazon refuses to “remember this browser”, so it usually involves grabbing my phone for two-factor authentication.
I hesitated to delegate this task to an assistant, in part because the two-factor authentication makes supporting an assistant in this task more trouble than its worth. Plus there was the fact that only the U.S. account even makes enough to cash out a payment each month.
I began documenting the process and setting up a spreadsheet, when I realized something: It had been a few months since I got paid from the UK account, and a couple of months since I got paid from the Canada account. And those payments were tiny.
Why was I spending time trying to document a process to pay someone to count these small amounts of money?
One option is to simply not worry about categorizing these payments correctly. Aside from the U.S. payments, that’s probably what I’ll do moving forward.
But the other option is to stop trying to make money on these affiliate accounts at all. And geni.us was helping me do that. Not only that, I’ve been paying geni.us $10 a month to redirect these links.
This has to be the best example in my business right now of getting weighed down over complexity. On the surface, it looks like I’m earning extra money. But it’s hard to see the opportunity costs. What else could I do with that time and energy?
I feel kind of foolish, because I kind of knew this day would come. That I’d have all of these geni.us links out there on my blog, and they would either go out of business, or I’d no longer want to pay for the service.
I no longer hold illusions that I’ll make a significant portion of my income from Amazon Affiliates. And now that Amazon has even further reduced their affiliate earnings rates, that has become even less likely.
So, just as I suspected would eventually happen, I now have to sort through these geni.us links, and turn them back into Amazon.com links. I did a bit of it manually, and I’m guiding my assistant through the rest.
It feels dumb to have to do more work in order to make less money than I would by doing no work. But ultimately, it’s better than doing more and more work to make very little money. Hopefully this little project will be over soon, and I’ll go from doing more work managing Amazon Affiliate income to doing no work managing Amazon Affiliate income.
One more chapter of Mind Management, Not Time Management down, one more left
I delivered the second-to-last chapter of the Mind Management, Not Time Management Preview Edition, also known as the first chapter of the book – or chapter one.
I’m currently working on the second chapter of the book, which will also be the last chapter I deliver. (I like to start writing books in the middle, and end them in the beginning. I don’t fall for the Linear Work Distortion, and I Crack the Whip.)
On Friday, I also closed down sales of the Preview Edition. This turned out to be a great way to raise funds to survive finishing the book, and get early readers involved. I think it was a good decision to forego a Kickstarter campaign. Less work managing a campaign, fans got what they wanted, and the rest of the world will hear about the book in due time.
The final purchases are coming in as I type this. So far, I’ve made over $3,700 in revenue (watch out for next month’s report for the final number). I didn’t pay for a PayHip subscription, so I paid the full 5% processing fees – at least $185. In retrospect, I could have saved a little on processing fees by getting a subscription, but it’s fine. I didn’t have to fiddle with activating or de-activating an account on-schedule.
The revenue from MMT in May accounts for more than $700 in self-published book income. Income from this book has been a nice jump in income in this category over the past couple of months.
This final chapter I’m writing is proving difficult, but I hope to finish and deliver it within the next few weeks.
From there, I’ll collect feedback and revise, and aim for a Fall launch.
Unusually high ActiveCampaign Affiliate payment
Once again, the ActiveCampaign affiliate payment was weird. More than $2,800, when it should have been about $2,000.
As I mentioned, they changed their accounting cycle, which has made the payments inconsistent. I’ve already made a lot of guesses as to when those payments will level off, but I’ve always been wrong, so I’ll stop doing that.
|White Hot Course||$312|
|Summer of Design||$3|
|Total Digital Products||$344|
Affiliates / Advertising
Love Your Work Podcast
|Total LYW Podcast||$190|
|Podcast Editing / Publishing||$240|
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