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September 2020 Income Report
An audio version of this income report is available to Patreon backers of certain levels »
September’s revenues were $5,093, up from August’s $4,519. Profits were $3,242, up from $2,024.
An average-ish month, historically speaking. Since Mind Management, Not Time Management debuts October 27th, I’m expecting the next couple months to be higher.
And who knows – with the launch of a book I’ve been working on for a decade – this could be the end of a flatline era.
Mind Management, Not Time Management launches next week!
Mind Management, Not Time Management launches next Tuesday. Shhh! The paperback edition is actually available on Amazon right now. Why? A couple reasons.
One: With the paperback version available, you can now review Mind Management, Not Time Management. Since Preview Edition customers have already read the book, I’m asking them to rate and review, so when the official launch comes next week and the Kindle version goes live, the book will already have some reviews.
So if you’re a Preview Edition customer and have already read the book, please click on a star rating. It really helps!
Two: KDP paperbacks are the cheapest and fastest way to send out review copies. You may recall that I struggled with printing delays from IngramSpark, and Barnes & Noble Press is really just marked up IngramSpark printing. However, ordering advance copies is a pain on KDP, and they come with a big ugly “proof” graphic on them anyway.
Since I finished the paperback layout with time to spare, I went ahead and made it live. I can now send out review copies for about $7.86 instead of $11.10 with IngramSpark, or $12.61 with Barnes & Noble Press.
Prediction: How many copies of my new book will I sell?
I want to make some predictions for the sales of Mind Management, Not Time Management, to practice my forecasting skills. Book sales are notoriously hard to predict – otherwise publishers would only publish the hits.
Upper and lower limits
I’ll start with information about book sales, in general. The upper limit for a self-help book is somewhere in the multiple millions of copies. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck has sold about 8 million copies. Atomic Habits has sold about 2 million. Last I saw Getting Things Done had sold around 3 million.
The lower limit is in the hundreds of copies. This is probably the amount that most books sell – maybe even the average. Of course, the average is pretty useless in “Extremistan,” where a tiny share of books make up the majority of all book sales.
I feel safe raising that lower limit a bit. With Preview Edition sales and pre-orders, I’ve already sold about 250 copies of Mind Management, Not Time Management. Additionally, the “average” book is released by someone with a smaller platform than I have. I’ll be promoting the book via email to about 20,000 people. If 0.5% of those people buy, that will be another 100 books. So the lower limit is about 350 books.
Okay, so I’ll sell anywhere between 350 books and 8 million books. There’s my prediction. Just kidding. I’m 99.99% confident that Mind Management, Not Time Management will sell between 350 books and 8 million books. To sell only 350 books, something would have to go crazy wrong. To sell 8 million books, something would have to go crazy right. Let’s see if we can get more specific.
We can narrow the prediction by genre. Subtle Art has wider appeal since it’s about life philosophy in general. Atomic Habits is also more-widely applicable. Getting Things Done is more specific because it’s a productivity book, but it’s widely applicable.
I think the ceiling for Mind Management, Not Time Management is lower. It’s a creativity-focused productivity book (though there’s some chance addressing “time management” will widen that audience). I’ll put the ceiling at 1 million copies.
Sales of previous releases
Publishers tend to predict how many books you’ll sell with a new release by how many books you sold with your previous releases. This is an argument some people have against self-publishing: that if a publisher sees your self-published book sold 300 copies, they won’t touch you. (I think that’s a mostly dumb argument, by the way. As long as you’re willing to put in the work to learn to market your books, you might as well learn by doing.)
Design for Hackers has sold somewhere around 16,000 copies. The Heart to Start has sold around 20,000 copies. There’s an upward trend there: My books have addessed progressively wider audiences, and hopefully I’ve learned some things over the past decade about writing better books and marketing them, too.
I could predict by extending that trend: 20,000 copies is 25% more than 16,000 copies. 25% more than 20,000 would be 25,000 copies.
But does a straight trend line make sense? Remember, this is Extremistan. If Mind Management, Not Time Management is 25% better than The Heart to Start, that shouldn’t mean it sells 25% more copies. Books are a winner-take-all market. If a book becomes the book for its topic, it gets orders of magnitude more sales. 25% or even 1% can be the difference in passing that tipping point. Being the book for a topic is a big “if”, though. That’s what controls our ceiling, but it doesn’t do a lot to identify our target.
However, my previous sales can raise our floor with some confidence. How high is that floor and how confident can we be? We’ll get to that later.
Previous releases and genre
Now we can consider the performance of my previous releases and the limits of the genre combined. I think Mind Management, Not Time Management has a wider market than The Heart to Start. More people will be attracted to the promise of an alternative to time management than the promise of getting started creating.
If I compound the wider genre with an upward trend in book sales, maybe we get to 30,000 copies.
Better book factors
I do think Mind Management, Not Time Management is my best book ever. I feel really good about the content, and also the title. The title is getting good responses, and the writing I’ve published on the topic has gotten decent traffic on Medium. That must be worth something.
If we assume it will sell more copies just because it’s a better book with a better title, maybe that gets us to a target of 35,000 copies.
My prices are all over the board, and may affect all my sales numbers. Design for Hackers is over $20 on Kindle and about $30 on paperback.
The Heart to Start is now $9.99 on Kindle and $12.95 on paperback. I’ve run many pricing promotions, selling it for as low as 99¢, but have ramped up pricing as the book has gained Amazon reviews. Thanks to that lower price, I sold more than 8,000 copies in the first year alone.
I’m launching Mind Management, Not Time Management at $9.99 on Kindle, and $19.95 on paperback, so that higher price may suppress sales numbers. It may also make it more difficult to get reviews, which could further suppress sales numbers. If Amazon adds MMT to their “Great on Kindle” program, that will make it eligible for 50% royalties above the $9.99 price point, so I may then raise the price to $14.99, which again could suppress sales numbers.
Why would I do that? The idea is to have more profit. Despite selling 20,000 copies of HTS, I’ve made about $13,000 profit. That’s less than 70¢ a book for a book on which I earn $7 royalty per copy.
Will I ever run a pricing promotion for Mind Management, Not Time Management? Yes, probably. But I won’t be selling it for 99¢.
Even though Mind Management, Not Time Management will launch with the same Kindle price as The Heart to Start, and even though HTS has nearly 400 ratings with a 4.8-star average, MMT may be perceived as more valuable, and thus be an easier sell.
First of all, it’s twice as long. People say they love HTS because it’s a quick read, but psychologically a 250+ page book may seem more valuable.
Additionally, it’s more-obviously a productivity book. If a book makes you more productive, that makes good case for it as an investment.
Cocktail party test
I think Mind Management, Not Time Management passes what I believe to be the most-important test for a book title: the cocktail party test.
Basically, imagine you’re at a cocktail party, and you’re recommending the book to someone. How does it feel? Do you feel cool and accomplished, or do you feel embarrassed?
I don’t feel like recommending The Heart to Start feels as cool as, say The War of Art. Mind Management, Not Time Management also feels better than The Heart to Start. There’s some tinge of admitting weakness by recommending to someone a book that helps you do something as simple as starting.
Actually, even people who tell me they loved The Heart to Start butcher the name. They say something like “The Art of the Start” (which is a book by Guy Kawasaki). Which brings me to what I call “meme-ability.” How easy is it to remember and spread the name?
I think Mind Management, Not Time Management is easier to remember. It taps into an existing concept (time management). It also takes a clear stance on something. You don’t even have to read the book for the title alone to help you (something I call a turnkey title).
Plus, the ideas in the book are applicable to everyday life. I could see people talking with their friends and colleagues about the dangers of “time worship,” and how they can work with one another to better manage their minds instead of their time.
This is my third major book, and each new book introduces some network effects. Readers of the old books want to read the new book. Readers of the new book want to read the old book. You start to take up more space in the minds of your readers, which may motivate them to recommend your books more often.
I have spent a ton on ads in promoting The Heart to Start. More than $50,000, in fact! Much of that was spent just getting familiar with Amazon Ads. I don’t plan to spend as much on ads for Mind Management, Not Time Management. Not unless my ads run more profitably, that is!
Despite doing pretty well, I’m surprised HTS hasn’t landed any foreign-rights deals. I did have some agents approach me, and even signed a contract with an agent in China. But they said it would be hard to sell rights for a 140-page book.
At more than 250 pages, maybe MMT will have more prospects in the foreign-rights market.
If a self-published book does really well, it’s not out of the question for it to get picked up by a traditional publisher, too – which would add a lot of firepower.
These are a couple binary events – which either happen or don’t and which have their own tipping points – but which can have exponential effects on sales numbers.
I can make predictions with base rates, but I can’t predict Black Swan events that could either kill sales or send them through the roof.
On the negative side includes world events that make buying books not a priority, or personal events such as massive injury or illness. And since we’re talking about Black Swans, a million other things I couldn’t possibly predict.
On the positive side could be the book being endorsed by an influencer, riding a cultural wave, or a million other things I couldn’t possibly predict.
These Black Swans are what make the potential ranges so wide.
So far, I’ve been talking about total sales numbers, without mentioning time horizons. Design for Hackers has been out for nine years. The Heart to Start has been out for three years.
If I’m going to make a falsifiable prediction, I need to place a time horizon on that prediction. I think some good time horizons are: 1 month, 6 months, 1 year, and 3 years.
The Heart to Start sold about 8,000 books in the first year, and 15,000 within two years.
(launching with ~250 sales)
- 90% confidence range: 300–20,000
- 70% confidence range: 500–2,000
- 50% confidence range: 750–1,500
- 90% confidence range: 1,000–50,000
- 70% confidence range: 1,500–12,000
- 50% confidence range: 2,000–7,500
- 90% confidence range: 2,000–100,000
- 70% confidence range: 3,500–20,000
- 50% confidence range: 5,000–15,000
- 90% confidence range: 5,000–250,000
- 70% confidence range: 15,000–100,000
- 50% confidence range: 20,000–50,000
I’m largely guessing on these numbers, taking into account the factors I mentioned earlier. I could get more scientific by predicting what effect each factor might have on the base rate, as I’ve done before for a product launch, but that gets tedious.
Here’s what those predictions look like on a graph. Here’s my 50% confidence range:
Now let’s add the 70% confidence range:
As you can see, the high end at the end of 3 years at 70% confidence gets pretty high. There’s more uncertainty with that wider confidence range, and in 3 years there’s more opportunities for positive Black Swans that could boost sales.
Now let’s see what 90% confidence looks like:
Now we see a big gap on the high end at all stages. We’re talking single-digit chances of hitting any numbers on that top line.
There’s no telling if there will be a positive Black Swan in the beginning, and the effects of such events have more chances not only of happening over the course of 3 years, but also of compounding.
I’ll make it a point to revisit these predictions at the relevant time horizons. We can see just how good my predictions were.
Naval’s 60 minutes/60 days meditation challenge
I just passed my 30th day doing Naval Ravikant’s 60 minutes for 60 days meditation challenge.
My main motivation for trying the challenge is chronic muscle tension associated with health problems I’ve struggled with for years. I have noticed that meditation helps, so I thought I’d see if it could have a lasting effect.
Since I’m finishing a decade-long project with Mind Management, Not Time Management, it’s also a good time to step back and re-assess my direction.
About 9 years ago I made it a point to meditate for 20 minutes, twice a day, also motivated by my health. After 6 months, it helped a little with that, but the surprising thing was I stopped being anxious. I never experience a sense of panic with racing heartbeat like I used to.
I’ve been updating my progress on the challenge every 10 days in this twitter thread. The biggest impacts so far have been on my sense of time, and on my sleep.
It’s obviously not easy to find a solid 60-minute block of time in which to meditate each day (according to Naval’s recommendations, the 60 minutes should all be one session). Yet the day seems longer than it used to.
I don’t feel as strong a sense of desperation driving me to do things. Especially the first few weeks, I felt a lack of motivation. I felt sedated. I think I’ve calmed down some overactive circuits and am carving new neural pathways.
My sleep also seems more restful. My dreams are very intense and dig way back into my past. My policy is that I sleep as much as I possibly can, but I’m waking up after less time, already feeling rested. Oddly, I sometimes wake after only 5 hours. Not sure that’s a good thing!
If you want to know more, check in on my Twitter thread.
The Barbell Strategy
I’m thinking more about my content strategy. I recognize I’ve been ignoring my roots of writing SEO-friendly content, as I’ve opted instead to pay for book sales with Amazon Ads, and I’ve been improving my Twitter skills.
I was thinking about Nassim Taleb’s “Barbell Strategy,” from his book, The Black Swan. It’s an investment strategy of putting 85% of your money on “sure bets,” and 15% on “wildcards” (my terms).
In investing, that’s 85% of your money in secure investments (such as gold and treasury bills), and the remaining 15% in speculative investments with unlimited upside (such as highly-leveraged options). You then avoid the “middle” that everyone goes for – stuff like index funds and individual stocks.
The Barbell Strategy for content marketing
Following the thoughts I shared last month about how everyone is following the same metrics and so doing the same things, I wondered how the Barbell Strategy might apply to content marketing.
I made a quick DuckDuckGo search, and saw content marketer Alex Birkett has already done the thinking for me. He has a blog post on the Barbell Strategy for content marketing.
The “sure bets” side of the barbell is content around high-intent keywords you have a good chance of ranking for. The “wildcards” are things that have a chance of leading to Black Swans, such as going viral or reaching an influencer. In the middle, you avoid competing over high-volume keywords that you’re not sure you can rank for.
I mentioned the strategy I was thinking of in last month’s report, but Alex’s post got me thinking more formally about what strategy I’d like to use.
On the “sure bets” side of the barbell, I’m doing book summaries, and short posts about things I learn self-publishing. On the “wildcard” side, I’m trying to lean harder into weird ideas. These income reports are also a Black Swan play. I don’t have any numbers to support doing them, but I sense they could lead to something.
Raising Black Swans
I have some experience with positive Black Swans. Of the hundreds of posts on this blog, I can think of exactly two Black Swans. One, when I got a book deal for Design for Hackers, two, when a blog post connected me to Dan Ariely, which led to me working on Timeful, which sold to Google (this same blog post, Mind Management (Not Time Management) was also the genesis for my new book.)
That’s two blog posts out of hundreds, over the course of 16 years. It’s hard to know if you’re doing a good job of raising Black Swans, but that’s why you don’t put all of your swan eggs in one basket.
The meditation challenge seems to be helping with the “weird ideas” part of my strategy. Surrendering an hour a day to the randomness of my unconscious mind has two effects: It gives my ideas a chance to percolate, and it prevents me from getting sucked in by “sure bets.”
So the weird ideas that would have never been developed enough to get a chance take on more presence, and the busy work I get caught up in takes on less presence.
I’ve been thinking that since we know from “the planning fallacy” that we’re bad at consciously using our time, you might as well surrender some time to serendipity each day. It’s sort of like how Dan Ariely said he gambles with his time. Maybe some Black Swans will hatch.
Sure bet “synergy”
So far, I’ve already written a Getting Things Done summary. I didn’t instantly rank at the top for that, so maybe I have the wrong “sure bet” strategy. Obviously there’s a lot of competition for that keyphrase.
But I’m enjoying writing book summaries, because I’m only doing them for books I want to better understand and internalize myself – so that creates some synergy. I’m currently working on a Black Swan book summary.
One “sure bet” post I made was a summary of my Kindle Daily Deals experience. It already ranks pretty well for “Kindle Daily Deals,” however, I don’t think that’s the right intent. The traffic that indicates it’s an author doing the searching is so far low.
Still trying Fathom Analytics
I’ve paid for a month of Fathom Analytics, but still have not removed Google Analytics. Fathom gives me most of what interests me, though there are so far some relevant limitations.
For example, you can’t view the performance of one page over time. You can see how much traffic it got today, any individual day, or over a period of time, but you can’t isolate to see a daily breakdown.
As I’ve been summarizing The Black Swan, I’ve been thinking about “denarrating,” as Taleb calls it. In some cases, when we have more information, we may not be any better at predicting the future, yet – dangerously – we may be more confident about our predictions.
So, where are all of the places I’m collecting data where I could stop collecting data? What ideas might I have if I burned my data boats and was left with nothing but my own ingenuity?
Cancelled WebinarJam, saved $397
WebinarJam was up for renewal, so I cancelled it and avoided a $397 charge. If I had let the sunk-cost bias weigh me down, I would feel really bad about being all excited about systematizing my webinars, and then not doing them regularly as I had planned.
But over the past several months I couldn’t justify it. The extra revenue from pushing courses would have been nice, but I wanted to put all of my energy into the book. Fingers crossed that it becomes worth it.
After a several-month drought, I had a couple Clarity calls in September. Not sure what to attribute that to, as my self publishing post still hasn’t recovered the excellent SEO standing it once had. Perhaps it’s just randomness?
I’m seeing an uptick in invites to podcasts. I’m not sure what to attribute that to. Some hosts have mentioned Twitter, so maybe upping my Twitter skills has helped.
Thank you to The Reader’s Journey from Alex and Books, Debbie Jenkins’s Chaos to Creation Confessions, and Ravi Raman’s The Motivated Life.
If you’d like to have me on your podcast, I’d love to talk with your listeners about Mind Management, Not Time Management. please email me!
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