Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My 2014 Writing in Review

Two years ago, I wrote a piece called "In 2013, Always be Closing". The year after that, I laid down a 2014 Short Story Challenge. This year, I want to take a look at the past twelve months, where it has brought me, and where I'm going from here.

In 2014, I sold a little over 7,600 copies of my various works, roughly half of everything I've ever sold in the past 3 1/2 years, and 800 more than in 2013. That figure averages out to a little under 21 sales a day over the course of the year. Granted, in the third quarter of the year my daily averages dropped to significantly less than that, but I had a strong opening to the year with the release of Operation Cannibal around Thanksgiving of 2013, as well as a couple of really strong Kindle Countdown Sales during the first quarter. In addition, I'm finishing off the year with a very strong past six weeks, thanks to the release of Operation Dervish, which has sold over 460 copies so far.

I lay out all of the above so that people can decide for themselves how successful I am, and do some comparative analysis with their own and others' sales figures. I was glad to see overall sales increase substantially, and royalties increase as well (I made about a thousand dollars more this year than last year), but it certainly wasn't a bowl-me-over sales year. Let's break it down...

The COMMANDO series made up about 81 percent of my total sales this year, utterly dominating all my other titles. With four novels and a short story, that's certainly understandable, but it is important to point out how much my sales figures depend on this series. Without it, I wouldn't be breaking a hundred sales a month on average. In addition, while I used to sell at least twice as many copies in the UK as in the US every month, the ratio is now mostly even, and with my new title in the series so far, I'm selling far more US copies. There are probably a variety of factors at play here, from the much larger Amazon customer base in the US, to what might be a more saturated genre market in the UK (there are several UK-based WW2 series that aren't available as ebooks in the US), the dominance of the UK sales region is now firmly over.

RENEGADE'S REVENGE was a surprise hit for me this year. I sold a little over 700 copies of this title in eight months, accounting for roughly nine percent of my total sales this year. Since a significant number of these were Kindle Unlimited borrows, I actually made pretty good money off of this title, especially given that it was originally written as a project that failed to launch. For many years, publishers and critics considered the Western genre one of the worst-selling, but there seems to be a resurgence in the last few years, both in re-releasing old titles as ebooks, as well as original content. I fully intend to write a sequel to RR at some point in the next year, and maybe a few other standalone Westerns as time goes on - it is certainly a fun genre to write in, with a great blend of action, adventure, and history.

SPIDERS & FLIES was released at the beginning of the year, and has gone nowhere since. It sold 28 copies in 12 months, 18 of those in the first month of its release. The few reviews it received were positive, and people seemed to like the cover art, but the title simply doesn't sell, even when I have tried free giveaways. Considering its poor performance, and that of NANOK, while I'm glad I finally got around to finishing and publishing this piece, I think even if I can write decent fantasy stories, it isn't worth my time or energy. I doubt I'd even write a sequel to this title, but while I do have several NANOK stories in mind, that's where they're going to stay for the foreseeable future, until I have enough "legroom" to take a chance on writing them.

HANGMAN #1: SAN FRANCISCO SLAUGHTER was also well received by both beta readers and those who've written reviews. However, it did not take off like I'd hoped it would. I sold about 130 copies in the six months it's been out, better than S&F but terrible even compared to RR. I have a number of sequels in mind for this series, and perhaps with an additional couple of titles it'll have more appeal, but so far, I'm not that hopeful. Still, I really enjoyed writing the book, especially since it allowed me to ramp up the "mature content" compared to the COMMANDO titles. SFS contains a lot of swearing, a little sex, and some very cruel violence. It is definitely a darker work, and getting out of my morally-cleaner mindspace was definitely interesting.

KILLER INSTINCTS continues to perform terribly. More than a few people still feel my first novel is the best thing I've written, and I certainly believe it is a good, solid story. I did a cover change for the ebook mid-year, and a couple of promotions helped bring in more sales, but of the roughly 350 copies sold in 2014 (~4.5% of my total sales), at least half were during promotions, meaning I made nowhere near the money I could have with those numbers. Next year I would like to get the title into a BookBub promotion, which would be amazing, but I don't have high hopes. In a market choked with thrillers of all stripes, KI goes largely unnoticed. I would still love to write a sequel to this book, but at this point in time, I feel it would fail to thrive just as KI did, a pointless gesture.

In conclusion, I face some tough choices. It is clear that my niche genre titles (WW2 and Westerns) sell much more than my more mainstream genre works (thrillers, crime, fantasy). COMMANDO titles and RENEGADE'S REVENGE make up ninety percent of my sales this year. Clearly, this is where my focus should lie, but on the other hand, I don't want to limit myself in terms of what to write. Writing is not my full-time job, nor will it be for the foreseeable future, meaning I am not as much a slave to the market as I could be were it my only income. And, in addition, I might stumble upon another genre with a title that's more popular than I'd imagined. Certainly, when I wrote both the first COMMANDO title, as well as RR, I never anticipated their degree of success.

In a few days, I hope to follow this column with one discussing my hopes for 2015. Until then, Happy New Year!


BISH said...

Nice breakdown and thought process. Thx for posting this and best for 2015 ...

J.M. Aucoin said...

Still doing better than me. You had a great year, dude. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

thanks for the info. This helps me do some thinking about my own stuff.

Jack Badelaire said...

Thanks for the comments guys. I share my info in order to give people a bit of a peek as to how the sausage is made, so to speak,

FreeLiverFree said...

It's interesting that your two least selling books are the one I've read. Probably says something about the oddity of my taste.

Personally, I wish you would write more in that line, but I understand you have to consider the economics of the situation. That said with the Executioner line being discontinued, I'm not sure how much more of these types of books are going to be published.

Jack Badelaire said...

My goal is to build up enough of a base of books that sell that I've got the breathing room to work on other projects.

As to the Gold Eagle crashing and burning, I can't say I'm surprised. They seemed to treat their titles and their writers quite poorly, and they did a terrible job leveraging 21st century social media outlets. Hell, they didn't really even have a website until just a few years ago!

I am incredibly stoked that Linda Pendleton has been able to work with Open Road Media to get the Executioner titles - the ORIGINAL books - out as ebooks. That should bring in a nice chunk of change for her, which is great news. Mack Maloney's WINGMAN series was put out by the same company, and seems to be doing quite well.

Men's Adventure was always a niche market - I just think it had a very loyal and consistent customer base. But times have changed, and I think if the genre continues to see new material, it'll be written more as nostalgia fodder than anything else.

FreeLiverFree said...

Yeah, I've heard about how poorly they treated their writers. I don't think I've heard of any kind of marketing they did for their books. Also, the Executioner and related books were supposed to conform to rigid formulas (much like the romance novels it's parent company Harlequin put out.) An ideal outcome of this would someone else picks up the rights and they do it better.

Yeah, at least, Linda Pendleton retain the rights to her books

Sean McLachlan said...

Interesting post, Jack. How does the country breakdown look for all titles? For me it's 85% USA, 10% UK, and 5% the rest of the world combined. I just had my first sale to Brazil this week! The exception to this is my Trench Raiders series, which sells about evenly in the US and UK (with one sale in Brazil, lol).
Your Commando series is my favorite, but it is a bit troubling that it makes up so much of your sales. That's a dicey position. Have you considered starting a second war series, perhaps Vietnam?

Stan R. Mitchell said...

Keep the faith, brother. You've got the skills.

Jack Badelaire said...

Sean: My US sales account for 60%, UK the remainder except for less than one percent in other countries (69 total). In the first quarter, as Operation Cannibal was flying off the digital shelves, the UK sales were winning out, but by the second quarter, the balance began to shift to the US, and has remained there ever since.

I have considered three other WW2 series, and I hope to talk about each in brief later this week. I haven't considered Vietnam, mostly because, frankly, it is still such a politically charged topic. The closest I'm considering is the HANGMAN series, taking place in the '70s.

Stan: Excuse me, while I spit out the dust in my mouth from you racing way out ahead of me! Cheers to you and your MUCH deserved success with the Nick Woods novels!

Stan R. Mitchell said...

Thanks, Jack, but we both know the hot streaks usually don't last.

I'm just trying to keep writing and mentally preparing myself for when the sales drop, because we both know good sales can be like a drug: Just something you grow to depend on.

Hang in there. Your time is coming. You're too good for it not to.