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November 2018 Income Report
November’s revenues were $5,155.55, down from October‘s $6,679.25. Profits were $2,854.07, up from October’s $2,046.34.
If I had to give November 2018 a name, I would call it “the lost month.” I spent almost the entire month running from one place to another, trying to avoid violating Colombia’s immigration laws – despite being (unintentionally) misled by officials over and over.
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I try to avoid characterizing days, months, or years as “bad” – unless it involves a health catastrophe, someone dying, or your house burning down. So November wasn’t bad in that sense, but aside from that, it was terrible.
The lost month
It started in late October, when I had to leave Colombia with forty-eight-hours notice. I opted to go to Jeff Goin’s Tribe conference in the Nashville area.
Then I returned to find out I had fewer days than I had originally been told (a previous immigration officer had made an error). So I had to leave again with twenty-four-hours notice. This time I spent nine long days in Panama City, Panama.
I then went to Bogotá to apply for my visa. Then the response to my visa application was delayed, so that I didn’t have enough legal days in the country to find out whether my visa was approved. Then I found out my visa application was rejected again, before my legal time was up, and I had to leave again with twenty-four-hours notice.
To top it all off, shortly after arriving at my AirBNB in Chicago, I discovered that it had a bedbug infestation. I had to cancel a meetup I had planned for Love Your Work listeners, and spend the next twenty-four hours disinfecting all of my possessions.
I’ve spent the past three weeks at my parents’ house in the Phoenix area, while the apartment for which I’m paying rent sits empty. Oh, and earlier this week I was called a “horrible person” for leaving a sensitive, honest, and factual review about my AirBNB experience.
Trying to stay productive and sane when everything is f*cked
As you can imagine, having to leave the country on such short notice so many times is stressful and expensive. It also makes it extremely difficult to get a solid amount of work done.
Aside from the mental and emotional load of being forced to leave the place and partner you call home, you have to deal with logistical details such as where you’re going to sleep, what you’re going to eat (extra tricky with the restrictive diet I need to follow to maintain my health), and where you’re going to work. You’re trying to do all of this without digging yourself into a bigger financial hole than you already have.
You’re also trying not to let your distressed emotional and mental state cause you to make unwise choices that would steepen your downward spiral. I nearly canceled a podcast interview with a guest that it took me years to book, all because the apartment I had in Panama had a jackhammer pounding next to it all day. I was composing my regretful email as I stopped myself. I then scouted out a conference room in a coworking space, which I rented for the interview: $40 for two hours.
Live a dynamic life
Chaos like this definitely makes you question your life choices. I have chosen a lifestyle where I live in a foreign country, and when you make a choice like that, you’re at the whims of that country’s bureaucracy. We rarely admit mistakes to ourselves, but I still want to live this lifestyle. I would perhaps choose full-on nomadicism if I weren’t in a relationship with someone for whom it’s not so easy to just up and leave the country.
It was perfect timing to release my Tyler Cowen podcast interview. Tyler is an economist whose work advocates for the economic benefits of people getting outside of their comfort zones, avoiding complacency, preventing stagnation, and being “dynamic.” The loss aversion bias prevents us from taking risks that are good for us in the long run.
What the hell happened!?
As for What Happened, I don’t know, and I never will. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs won’t tell me or my lawyer why I was rejected either time. My lawyer – a different one from last time – claims this is the only rejection he’s had in his career. The company with whom I invested claims they’ve never had an investor whose visa was rejected (I estimate they’ve had hundreds of investors apply for visas).
As for What’s Next, I’m eligible to return to Colombia, once again as a tourist, on January 1st. I already have my flight booked. I can spend up to 180 days in the country in 2019 as a tourist. That’s only six months. I’m eligible to apply for a visa again on May 14th, so I’ll pass my May 4th fortieth birthday in limbo.
I’m still exploring my options for the best route to take to get my visa. If I were to attempt again with this same investment, or with a different investment, I would risk another rejection in May. I would then have to leave the country for six months. Since my relationship would be the major factor that would make it royally suck to have to leave for six months, perhaps my next attempt will be related to that. My girlfriend and I are figuring it out.
I was excited to be invested in a Colombian company, but if that doesn’t make me eligible for a visa, I’m much less interested. I’m trying to see how much money I can recoup from my investment. They can’t simply give me the money back, as that would be in breach of terms with other investors – and I believe much of the money has already been spent in getting the business up and running (you know, creating jobs for Colombians, the types of things for which one typically gets a visa). So, I’m in the process of selling my shares.
Chasing the butterfly effect to Black Swans
I’m trying my best to find the opportunities presented by this calamity. When things are thrown into disarray, that is a time when “Black Swans” might happen. I’ve been searching for crazy ideas to follow, as per my Tynan podcast interview.
No floats for you!
I got really excited about the idea of doing a 30-day float experiment – in which I would go to a sensory deprivation tank every day for thirty days, and write about it. But after I finished my first float, I was presented with a surprise: The only employee there insisted that there was a two-month minimum on the float place’s monthly unlimited package – contrary to what I had been told over the phone by another employee.
It was one of those situations where an employee is following protocol, even when the protocol makes no sense, and you know any person with agency would figure it out. Very frustrating. Not the kind of discussion you want to have as you’ve just gotten out of a float tank. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth, and I didn’t follow up on it.
I’ve also done some preliminary research on a potential “golf experiment.” Few people know that I was once an avid golfer. I played for my high school team, and chose my college based on the fact that I thought I could make the golf team. I practiced a ton, but I never got very good. Since I moved to California in 2005, I’ve played only about once a year.
Since it’s been proven that I have no talent for golf, I’ve long thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if I were to apply everything I’ve learned about learning, and give it another shot.
What if it were my full-time job to get good at golf? How would I prioritize and organize my practice schedule? How would I make my practice in golf “deliberate,” in the sense of Anders Ericsson’s concept of “deliberate practice?” What mental and emotional tools would I employ to master my mental game? What statistical methods could I use to improve my risk management strategies on the course?
I don’t have enough time to truly up my game, but my parents do live near a golf course with good practice facilities. I’ve spent some time practicing, and brainstorming about what a larger experiment would look like. How long would it take, what would it cost, and do I even enjoy golf enough to take on a larger experiment?
The chances of it becoming a larger experiment seem slim. It takes awhile to get back into condition, I don’t know if my body could take that much practice, it would be damn expensive, and I’m quite busy just running my business. But at least I have some idea of how practical it would be to follow this fantasy. Maybe I’ll make a run for the Senior PGA Tour in ten years.
It’s interesting to follow the butterfly effect. Every little thing that happens in these days would not have happened if it weren’t for my visa getting rejected. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, like being exposed to bedbugs. Sometimes that’s a good thing, like seeing Macchu Picchu, or spending time with my parents. I’m still hoping for some explosively-good thing to affect my business as a product of this unfortunate experience.
The Heart to Start break-even for November
After a few good months in revenues for The Heart to Start, November was a low-profit month. Revenues were $1,649.77 for HTS, and HTS-focused advertising spend came in at $1,611.57, for a profit of $38.09.
When you consider that the majority of the ads being managed by the $80-a-month Prestozon subscription are for promoting HTS, then The Heart to Start was about break-even for November. In fact, it probably lost a little money.
The cause of this poor performance is multi-factorial. It’s hard to know what caused what, but I have my theories.
Theory #1: experimenting with Amazon AMS Product Display ads
The first cause is that I’m still doing some experimentation to find the right strategy with Amazon AMS ads. AMS reporting is notoriously inaccurate. Some people, such as Mastering Amazon Ads author Brian Meeks, say that “a click is a click is a click”: That you should just try to get cheap clicks, and focus on the conversion rate of your product page. Ignore Average Cost of Sale (ACoS) on both Sponsored Product (keyword) ads, and Product Display ads (ads that show up on people’s Kindles).
Is ACoS useless for Product Display ads?
I am nearly certain that ACoS is not useless in keyword ads. Keywords that you would expect to perform well – such as “the heart to start” – are the lowest ACoS, meaning that a high percentage of shoppers clicking on ads displayed for those keywords result in sales. They’re profitable.
I have a theory that ACoS is not totally useless in Product Display ads either. I have seen certain creatives and product categories consistently yield excellent or poor ACoS.
Then again, I have also seen a lot of inconsistency. An ad that yields an excellent ACoS one time might yield a poor one another time. Or the ad won’t yield impressions at all. Or the ad will yield clicks, but no sales recorded.
Now that I’m writing it out, it could be that the consistency I see is illusory. I still don’t know.
Testing whether ACoS is useful
I’ve been trying to test my theory that ACoS is not totally useless in Product Display ads by trying to develop and follow “rules” for managing ads. For example, for a period of time, I’ll have a “130%” rule: That any Product Display ad with an ACoS under 130% should remain active, and anything above that level should be paused. I’ll then try 150%, then 200%. So far, I haven’t seen a convincing pattern.
However, the way I measure impact for this is a bit blunt: I measure ROI on all Amazon ads, relative to all Amazon sales. I could get more precise by isolating how much I’ve spent on Product Display ads, and comparing that somehow to sales. Yet there’s still no way to know which sales are attributable to Product Display ads, when Sponsored Product ads are still running.
I could measure based upon percentage of ad spend on Product Display ads, and see if a rising or falling percentage tracks with rising or falling sales. I could try turning off all Sponsored Product ads for awhile, and run only Product Display ads. Still, I would have to assume that all sales were coming from ads, and not organic sources.
When you consider that there’s a big delay on AMS reporting – that it may take up to two weeks for sales to be reflected in your reports – and that the KDP dashboard showing book sales isn’t necessarily reliable either, then it hardly seems worth it to go to such lengths.
Add in the fact that ACoS only measures revenue generated, and not royalties earned. The total sales generated may consist of paperback, Kindle, and Audible purchases, each with a different price and a different percentage of royalty. Now you are just reading tea leaves to try to figure out what works on Product Display ads.
I don’t care about Kindle Unlimited page reads
I tried to get experiences from members of Brian Meeks’s Facebook group. At first I got a lot of defensiveness and indignation for questioning the could-be-dogma that “a click is a click is a click.” But eventually some did share one important point: They’re counting on KDP select page reads, and the fact that Kindle Unlimited borrows are not reflected in AMS sales reporting.
I don’t care about KU borrows and page reads – aside from what they contribute to improving your Amazon ranking. HTS is still “wide,” and none of my books that are in KU earn a significant amount off of page reads anyway.
I keep seeing this over and over. That most information out there about self-published book marketing is focused at fiction authors. What you can find that is relevant to non-fiction authors is always polluted with information that is helpful for fiction authors, and not necessarily for non-fiction authors.
Is this because there’s not a big enough market of non-fiction authors to support getting that information out there? I’m not sure if I believe that. Maybe I can contribute.
All of that to say that I’m still trying to crack the formula for Product Display ads. I’m fairly confident that ACoS is inaccurate for them – it’s rare to get an ACoS below 100%, even when I’m turning a profit – I’m just trying to figure out how inaccurate.
I’m beginning to test the theory that “a click is a click is a click,” by experimenting with different target costs per click for Product Display ads. I’ll report back when I learn something – or learn that I didn’t learn something, which I guess is learning something.
Theory #2: Experimenting with automating AMS Sponsored Product ads with Prestozon
Another theory about why I didn’t turn a profit on HTS in November is that I’m doing some experimentation of using Prestozon to automate bids and keyword selection for Sponsored Product ads.
In October, I shared that I’m trying out this method – suggested by Prestozon – for bidding on keywords.
Essentially, it’s taking any keyword that resulted in a sale, and putting it into a “performance” campaign as an exact match. You then adjust your bid on that exact match keyword to find the optimal bid.
I managed this process manually throughout much of November. In late November, I started using Prestozon’s Rules to automate the process.
This Rule completely automates the above process, creating the exact match keyword, as well as creating negative keywords in other campaigns to avoid bidding against yourself.
Additionally, Prestozon has automation for adjusting bids, which they only strongly recommend for performance campaigns. It automatically adjusts the bids based upon your target ACoS. Again, I’m confident that ACoS is not totally useless in Sponsored Product campaigns.
This process requires a lot of experimentation to arrive at the right bids – on the automation side of things – and to find the right ACoS level to target manually. So, I’m likely overspending on ads because of this experimentation.
I’m hopeful that going through this process will result in more sales, with a higher ROI on ad spend, with little manual maintenance.
Theory #3: Extra expense of Goodreads giveaway
$119 of my ad spend for marketing HTS in November came from running a giveaway on Goodreads. You put up a book – or many – for a giveaway, and Goodreads markets it to their users. I’ve long been curious about the effectiveness.
I listened to a podcast about running such giveaways – can’t seem to find it now. The advice was that there’s no point in giving away more than one book at a time, that you give away a signed copy, and to run your giveaway for one month.
Since I was back in the states, I thought it would be a good opportunity to do a giveaway – much easier and cheaper to mail than from Colombia.
Unfortunately, I mistakenly only made my giveaway run for two weeks, which is the default. By the time it was published, Goodreads refused to allow me to extend it. So if you’re running one with them, double check your giveaway length.
The giveaway certainly led to more people adding HTS to their “to-read” shelves.
Before starting the giveaway, HTS was on 300 people’s to-read shelves, and now that the giveaway is over, it’s on 941 shelves.
But, I didn’t see a rise in sales during the giveaway. I did see a spike in sales a couple days after the giveaway ended. Perhaps they send out an email telling people they didn’t win, and then they go buy the book? (Something to check on.) But I also had a number of AMS Product Display ads kick into overdrive at that time (you can never predict when they’ll do that).
Running the giveaway for a month would have been ideal, because it would have given more time to get the giveaway listed on the “most popular” section of Goodreads’s giveaways, in which case it could really take off. If I were to run the giveaway again, Goodreads would notify via email everyone with HTS on their to-read shelves, so that would get me off to a good start.
I’m tempted to try another giveaway with a longer timeframe. But with the extra money I’ve spent on travel during this visa snafu, and the unconvincing results from the first giveaway, I’m also hesitant. Perhaps another time.
In conclusion, I’m not sure that $119 I spent contributed to any sales at all. If it didn’t, that makes November look slightly better in terms of HTS profits.
Theory #4: Miscellaneous
There could be some other factors contributing to why HTS broke even in November. Maybe the lift from the Seth Godin endorsement is settling down. Maybe it’s not the right season for the book. Maybe the coming holidays made ads more competitive (this will definitely be the case in December).
Trying again for a BookBub featured deal
After months of holding off, I’ve submitted HTS again for consideration for a BookBub featured deal. If accepted, HTS would be promoted, at a discount, to somewhere near a million people. It would cost me as much as $1,300. Getting a featured deal is very competitive, and it supposedly can boost an author’s career.
Going for a featured deal has been the main motivation behind making HTS “wide” almost a year ago. It seems rare that BookBub features an Advice & How-To book that is only available on Amazon.
This motivation has also influenced the pricing of HTS for the entire second half of 2018. HTS was rejected back in May. It was rejected again in June, but this time on the grounds that a submission had to be the best price available in the previous 90 days. I had just run a failure of a 99-cent promotion on BookSends, to that made me ineligible.
So, I made a plan. I decided I’d experiment with price over the summer. I then stabilized the price on September 1st, so I could be sure to offer the best price within 90 days when I applied again in early December. The goal is to have HTS as a featured deal for the New Year, as that’s clearly the perfect time for such a book. I hope the BookBub editors agree.
I am wondering if the sticker price of HTS will satisfy BookBub’s editors. It seems the majority of the books they feature in the Advice & How-To category have a sticker price of $9.99 or higher. HTS has been $3.99 on Amazon the past few months, and $4.99 on other outlets. (My main motivation for pricing higher on other outlets was to prevent Amazon from trying to beat the price, thus making a $1.99 deal below the required 50%-discount threshold for a BookBub featured deal.) I did bring the price back up to $4.99 for the sake of submitting.
I submitted a promotion price of $1.99, because that’s the price of the books they tend to include, but I made a note to the editors that I was also willing to try 99¢. If the book is rejected again, I can re-apply in 30 days, so there will be another chance to get in on the New Year’s season. In such a case, I would either try submitting as a 99¢ promotion, or boosting my sticker price up to $9.99, to see if that helps. I haven’t decided.
It doesn’t seem likely that BookBub would continue rejecting HTS forever. It has 178 Amazon reviews with a 4.8-star average, and an endorsement from Seth Godin on the cover, so that would be puzzling if they did. I’m not sure how many times I would try before giving up. Having HTS wide is a bit of extra distraction and complexity in reporting, for very little financial gain.
Even if I brought HTS back into KU, I could still sell paperbacks wide. However, I’m looking for every opportunity to avoid being exclusive to Amazon. They have enough power in the publishing industry, and we need the competition.
Is the Spanish How to Write a Book DOA?
Amidst my getting kicked out of and taking refuge in Spanish-speaking countries, the Spanish version of How to Write a Book went live. After years of people asking me when I’d have a book in Spanish, the day had finally come. I was so excited and proud!
Once I had the time, I ran a 99-cent promotion. I emailed it to my entire list. Wow, what a dud!
I netted EIGHT Kindle copies sold – after one copy was refunded – for a total of $30.15 earnings. The paperback sold ZERO copies.
If I could count on selling that much every month, I could break even on the $250 I spent on translation within about 9 months. At this point that looks like a big if.
As always, I’m still playing the long game. It doesn’t have any reviews yet, so maybe if I drop the price to be permanently 99 cents, I can get enough sales to get some reviews to come through. When my current KU term is over, perhaps I’ll run a free promotion. If I get some reviews, maybe that will make some organic sales come through.
One big surprise in this experiment in self publishing a translation is that I can’t run ads for the book. AMS rejected every submission, citing that it was in the wrong language. Apparently I could try opening an advertising account on Amazon.es, but that’s extra complexity I don’t want to introduce into my business yet.
I can’t say how relieved I am that I conducted this experiment on a short read, rather than going through all of the work and expense of translating and promoting a translation of The Heart to Start. Doing even the most basic promotion called for knowing a bit of Spanish. Fortunately, I could handle that and the stakes were low. I shudder to think of the consequences of taking this on in a completely unfamiliar language.
So for now, what I heard from Joanna Penn stands: It’s not worth it self-publish translations. Leave it up to local publishers who know how to market in their language and market. Though, I’m still curious how some other self-published authors manage to do it. And hey, maybe I’ll eventually change my tune.
The beauty of wasting your time and money on a small project like this is that it gives you freed-up mental space. It’s like doing a mini-life in NYC and confirming that you can stop fantasizing about living there. You aren’t left wondering “what if.” You can focus instead on what works.
I’m still happy to have one of my books in Spanish. When we’re allowed to be in the same country, my girlfriend and I read a page a day of WAB – I read in Spanish, then she reads in English. It’s a good way to practice each other’s languages.
Killing my passive revenue babies
My best creative projects, I owe to my passive revenue “muses.” But now I’m killing those babies.
When I started Kadavy, Inc. ten years ago, I strove to bill as few hours as was necessary of freelance work, and to spend the rest of my time building up passive revenue streams.
Once I had passive revenue, I used that freedom to experiment. That led to my first book deal for Design for Hackers. Since then, I’ve kept my passive revenue muses running. They brought in supplemental income, and they didn’t require much upkeep.
But lately, I’ve been killing them off. I just killed my first passive revenue site, which sold music transfer software. It made me as much as $2,000 a month at one point, but I saw that it had brought in about $150 in the past year. I also killed off some other sites that had good information on them, but that weren’t bringing in much money. Finally, I turned off auto-renew for many domains that I had collected, which I never did anything with.
I’m even considering killing off my online dating advice blog, written under a pseudonym, which made somewhere around $150,000 in its lifetime. So far in 2018, it’s made about $500.
Why would you turn down passive revenue?
Why would you kill a “passive” site that is making money? It’s all about mental space.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how my personality is a “Perceiver” on Myers-Briggs, and what implications that has in my business style. Perceivers always want to keep doors open. They’re always thinking about possibilities.
So, we stack up a bunch of projects. Maybe we execute on some, but many languish. Like the morbidly obese hoarder with fad exercise equipment piled up in the attic, we want to keep it “just in case.” We’ll get to it someday.
I don’t expect to change my personality, but I can take actions to prevent the side effects of my personality type. I have managed to live a minimalist life – but I’ve been forced to because of my other lifestyle choices. It’s always hard to get rid of things, but I always feel freer once I do.
So, even though it hurts a little, I’ve been killing these babies. I recognize that one of the strongest biases we humans suffer from is that of loss aversion. We hate to lose a “passive” revenue stream that brings in $50 or $100 a month. What we don’t see is what we can gain from never having to think about that thing again.
Sure, I could try to simply ignore these things, but that never works for a Perceiver. One day, you notice some links are dead or there are spam comments, and you get sucked back in. You’re ignoring work that’s worth a lot more than $50 a month – even if it’s not worth that now, it’s worth that at some point in the future.
I considered selling these sites and domains, and I’ve even tried that before. But do I have any interest in learning how to sell sites and domains? No. It’s not worth what I would earn, and the things I would learn doing it don’t have a future in my vision for my business.
The mental space and energy I gain by killing these distractions is better spent on something closer to my core. Right now, that’s reading great books, to prepare to have great podcast conversations, to prepare to write great books.
Big end-of-year expenses coming
I’m calling it: December will be a very low-profit month. I might even lose money. That’s because I try to load as many of my expenses as possible at the end of the year.
It’s a technique of keeping the end of your year profit-light, so you can make the beginning of your year profit-heavy. That way, each dollar you earn throughout the year, you have all year to use that dollar to help grow your business.
One big expense will be my yearly subscription to ActiveCampaign. If you’re looking to invest in your business at this time of the year, you may want to check out my WP Engine Coupon, and ActiveCampaign free trial.
|The Heart to Start Kindle||$988.83|
|The Heart to Start Paperback (Amazon)||$384.79|
|The Heart to Start “Wide” (non-Amazon)||$51.19|
|The Heart to Start Audiobook||$224.96|
|How to Write a Book Kindle||$107.11|
|How to Write a Book Paperback||$218.35|
|How to Write a Book Audible||$44.91|
|How to Write a Book Spanish Kindle||$30.15|
|How to Write a Book Paperback||$0.00|
|Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Kindle||$18.43|
|Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Paperback||$11.12|
|Make Money Writing on the STEEM Blockchain Audible||$8.00|
|Total Book Sales||$2,087.84|
|Summer of Design||$30.20|
|White Hot Course||$99.00|
|Total Digital Products||$867.45|
Affiliates / Advertising
Love Your Work Podcast
|Total LYW Podcast||$809.45|
|Podcast Editing / Publishing||$240.00|