Monday, January 4, 2016

My 2015 Writing in Review

For the past several years now, I've been writing a year-end post about how my various books have performed, and although I haven't published anything in 2015 (more on that later), I wanted to give a rundown of the year's sales, as much for my own analysis as anything else. As always with such things, I provide these numbers not to boast, or to whine, but merely to inform. Some folks out there are doing much worse than I am, while others are doing much better. This is just the way it is, so take the following as provided for information purposes only.

In 2015, I sold roughly 5600 books, about 90% of those in ebook form. This is down about 2,000 sales from last year. A portion of that loss is, without a doubt, due to the new Kindle Unlimited payment method of calculating royalties based on pages read, not on 10%+ "borrows" as before, and in the past, I have been factoring any "borrow" as a sale to keep the bookkeeping simple. Since July of this year, when KU 2.0 went into effect, I've had about 170,000 pages read, which if divided by an average of 200 pages (the shortest of my Commando books, just for the sake of rough calculation), gives me another 835 sales, bringing me to around 6400 books sold. Of course, not everyone who started one of my books finished it, and it is impossible now to track such things.

In terms of what percentage of my sales went to each book, the total is overwhelmingly my Commando series. While last year I sold some 700+ copies of my western, Renegade's Revenge, This year I sold less than a hundred copies, with some modest few hundred pages borrowed. I was actually rather amazed at how RR sold very strongly for months, and then sales dried up almost overnight. While there were months where I'd sell over a hundred copies, now I am shocked if the title sells more than 4-6 copies in a month. Since RR was about 9% of my sales last year, losing it as a sales stream had a significant impact on my numbers this year as compared to last.

As for all my other titles, the numbers are minimal, at best. Killer Instincts sold about 300 copies and had a couple thousand KU pages read, but the bulk of that was due to a very successful promotion in March. San Francisco Slaughter didn't hit a hundred sales, and all of my short stories totaled together don't even break 100 sales for the year. That means the Commando series accounted for more than 90% of all my books sold in 2015.

The good news is, in terms of royalties, I ended the year only about $1,000 under what I made in 2014. Again, I think some of this discrepancy is due to difficulties in calculating sales vs. royalties because of KU 2.0, combined with much softer sales of my shorter works like RR, which paid out less than the longer works. In addition, more of the sales in 2014 were from countdown deals and other discounted sales, while most of the 2015 sales - especially the Commando titles - were at full price, making my average royalty per sale much higher overall.

And now we come to the fact that in 2015, I didn't publish anything. The year in general was frustrating for me, both in terms of my day job (I am firmly burned out there) and in terms of getting past my writer's block and completing Operation Archery, the fifth Commando novel. Archery deals with the Vaagso Raid of December 1941, and there is a lot of very detailed information out there about the events of that raid. I found myself frustrated at many points, often trying to figure out how to weave my fictional characters into the historical timeline in a way that gave them something to do, while not stealing the thunder from historical characters. It was a really good learning experience for me, because it taught me that, while I enjoy writing historical fiction, I am not great at writing about specific historical events. Thankfully, at the end of the year I was able to press on and finish the manuscript, and Archery is now in the editing stage, with a hopeful release in the next week or so for the ebook version.

So, what does 2016 look like? At this point, I dare not speculate, because I had extraordinarily high hopes for 2015, none of which came to fruition. Archery will be published this month, and I am already working on Operation Elysium, the sixth book in the Commando series. Beyond that, I really don't want to make any promises, although I have some ideas for what I want to accomplish. As with 2014, the vast bulk of my success as an author last year was tied to the Commando books, so that is where I need to focus my energy, but as we also saw, that comes with the risk of hitting a wall, and not being able or willing to step around it and carry on with something else. At what point does exploiting success at the expense of diversification mean you burn out on what you love? Let's hope we don't find out any time soon.

As always, please share your thoughts and questions in the comments section.

19 comments:

Charles Gramlich said...

You certainly blew my sales out of the water.

M Harold Page said...

Your remarks about writing around historical events are in interesting. Cornwell happily stole other men's heroics for Sharpe. However I too always try to add my characters to a story rather than swap them in. Perhaps it's easier writing about things Medieval? Even so, I had to make a decision about how deep to go. For example, in my "War of the Roses"[sic] books, I could have reconstructed the Stafford retinue from the available sources. However, I decided to stop at the level of the main players and simply model the lower layers realistically.

Jack Badelaire said...

I've very much admired how Cornwell addresses this topic, especially in his Sharpe books, where there's a pretty coherent historical record for most of the Napoleonic actions. I'll get into it more once the book is live, but I have borrowed a few things here and there. Part of it is trying to respect the heroics of the people who performed the deeds, most of whom no doubt still have children and grandchildren whom I don't want beating on my door in anger. And, of course, the "Buffs" of WW2 history can be, ah, a bit particular regarding historical details. In all the previous books, history served as the backdrop to the adventure, but the story itself was entirely made up, so having an almost minute-by-minute timeline of what has to happen when caused me no small degree of frustration, especially since not all sources agreed with each other...

M Harold Page said...

Hah yes. The nice thing about pre-Modern stuff is that the sources often disagree. :)

FreeLiverFree said...

You know, I am probably one of the few of your readers that has not read any of your commando books. I've read Killer Instincts and San Francisco Slaughter (which seems to be your lease series.) I'll probably get around to reading one of your Commando books sometime.

I think that not publishing might have hurt your sales in a way other than simply having a new book to be bought. No one decided to buy a copy of your other books, because they had not read the new ones. That's just a guess, though.

As for burn-out, Arthur Conan Doyle got so tired of Sherlock Holmes he threw the detective down a waterfall. This was as much because he thought his historical novels were his real work. (Kind of the reverse of your situation with your historical novels being your best sellers.) To be fair, while never as popular as his Sherlock Holmes novels, his historical novels were very good and sadly overlooked.

Jack Badelaire said...

Yeah, I have "plans" for sequels to both KI and SFS, I just feel that working on them will have to be my "reward" for lack of a better term, for getting my bread-and-butter series moving again. And I do feel that, if I had sequels for both of those books, it would do a lot to increase their visibility and sales. Right now, though, I'm following the money until I feel the pressure (as much personal as any other source) to keep writing Commando novels has lessened.

Richard Tongue said...

Speaking as someone working on the seventeenth book in his series, I’ll say that series sell. The stand-alones I’ve done (never intentional, to be fair) haven’t done anything at all by comparison. A series with frequent releases builds a fanbase like nothing else. I must admit to curiosity about the approach to historical fiction, as well; right now I’m writing in science-fiction and occasionally fantasy, but moving into histfic as a second string is at the top of my priority for 2016. I had an abortive attempt at a Crusader novelette last year, but I always worried about interleaving fiction with history - though I suppose finding a period with little established is one option! Speaking as a fan of ‘Scholar Knight’ and ‘Commando’, I’d have to say they feel just about right.

Jack Badelaire said...

Richard, it is definitely worthwhile if you haven't already to pick up a couple of Bernard Cornwell's SHARPE series of Napoleonic War adventures. They are *awesome* reads, and Cornwell does an "author's note" (the inspiration for my own) at the end, where he often points out where he deviated from history and why. He provides, I think, a great template for those who are interested in getting into the genre.

M Harold Page said...

@Richard Have you tried my Shieldwall book?

Richard Tongue said...

Shieldwall is on my Kindle, but I haven't got around to it yet. One of my New Year's Resolutions was to try to catch up a bit with the book backlog. When it's into three figures, you know you have a problem! I've read up to Book Six of Cornwell's Saxon Series, not Sharpe, though.

M Harold Page said...

I have a similar problem! Reading versus actual writing.

Richard Tongue said...

It is something that I've noticed - my reading really took a hit when I stopped commuting, and it's yet to recover. I'm trying to build more time in this year to work down the pile...but the list keeps on growing...

Jack Badelaire said...

This is all made twice as bad when I get multiple bargain ebook emails a day, giving me an opportunity to pick up books for free or at a heavy discount. I try to resist the urge, but for every book I read, I've bought two more. What's worse, about half of my reading now is research-related, which while fun, cuts into leisure reading even more.

FreeLiverFree said...

On the other side of burnout, Walter Gibson wrote two hundred something featuring the Shadow and said that he never really got tired of that. In regards to money, this was during the Depression so a lot of it was he was glad to have a job.

I definitely want to read the sequel to Killer Instinct and SFS whenever you eventually get around to it.

I too make it a point to vary my reading otherwise I might get burned out on certain author or genre.

Richard Tongue said...

Don't forget old Doc Savage, as well! Lester Dent did well over a hundred of those as I recall. It's all about making the core concept work for multiple stories, from my personal experience. (Sixteen in a series, working on seventeen...) If there is versatility, you don't get bored. There's always more you can work into a universe, a new character, a new concept.

Definitely important! There are some quite random books on my shelves that I've picked up on a whim, and a lot more on the Kindle. If for no other reason than you never know what will trigger an idea for a story or a character, and they can come from the oddest of places...

FreeLiverFree said...

Dent had formula for the Doc Savage novels that while it made for a lot of similarity but there is enough variation. Gibson's Shadow novels had a lot of similarities but they could be radically different. Some were murder mysteries, some are gangster stories, some are proto-superhero stories.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

A good year..well done and keep it up throughout 2016

Tim Mayer said...

I ghostwrite for a living and a lot of my clients have taken a hit from Kindle 2.0. Some have given up publishing entirely. I have a good core group of them, so I never lack for work. What bothers me about the entire "pages read" system is that Amazon admits to tracking what you read. This bothers me a lot.
I do understand their reasons as they want to promote titles with more substance. Too many people were tossing public domain titles up there under new ones and pissing off customers. Not to mention the phantom reviewers who were bought from 5iver. Amazon has declared a scorched earth policy on fake reviews to the point where its hard to get a legitimate review published.
At least I no longer read these "Oh my gosh this book is fantastic" reviews.

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