Happy 2024, everyone!
In lieu of my usual goodbye letter to the prior year, I wanted to recap 2023 and then, as quickly as possible, turn your attention to the coming year. Because 2023 was, from a professional standpoint, simply not as awesome as it could have been.
(From a personal standpoint? It was pretty dang awesome, especially the second half. Having an amazing wife tends to balance everything out.)
So, without further ado… let’s see what we see.[Fair warning, a lot of this will be business-related and therefore of limited interest to some of you. Skip down to the 2024 Goals section if you just want to read about what’s coming!]
The Year Behind Us: A Non-Exhaustive List of Accomplishments
- Released one (1) book: A Dead Man’s Favor, book five of The Many Travails of John Smith
- Released one (1) Christmas story: SANTA WILL BURN (aka book 5.25 of The Many Travails of John Smith)
- Wrote hundreds (!) of pages in my forthcoming LitRPG book
- Junked hundreds (!) of pages in my forthcoming LitRPG book
- Released print versions of all of my books on Ingram Spark so that they would be available for libraries and bookstores
- Released the audiobook of The Queen of Smiles, 2022’s entry in the post-Break world
- Released (through Tantor) the audiobooks for the first four books of The Many Travails of John Smith.
- Started (and stopped and then started again) Facebook ads to attract new readers to both primary series
Wait… Shouldn’t That List Have Been Longer?
As you may recall, I had big plans for 2023. Huge plans. Elephant-sized plans, if not blue-whale-sized plans. Three books, written from scratch! Two free Christmas stories! At least one post-Break novelette! Merch! Parades1!
And then January hit. I got sick, and, except for a few weeks here and there, stayed sick for literal months. Bronchitis then pneumonia then back to bronchitis. Writing is not a Herculean task as some people make it out to be, but it’s still hard to accomplish when simply breathing is an issue. So, I didn’t get anything done. For days. Then weeks. Then months.
By the time I was well again, my 3-book plan was already smoke on the wind, but part of me hoped I’d at least be able to manage two books.
Narrator: He did not, in fact, manage two books.
The LitRPG continued to prove a difficult nut for me to crack. I made it about 300 pages in and realized I needed to (once again) start over. The good news was that I finally had a solid grasp on the characters and the mechanics, to go along with the plot. The bad news was that I hadn’t released a single book in either of my existing series, and that’s a bad way to treat your fans. So, the LitRPG got shelved (once again), and I turned my attention to A Dead Man’s Favor, the fifth book in The Many Travails of John Smith.
And? Well, that, at least, went pretty well. Writing John and his friends is like putting on a comfortable pair of sweats2. It was a bit more slice-of-lifey than some readers were looking for, but I had a good time with it, and most of you did too.
In November, I attended the 20BooksTo50k writers conference in Vegas again, and met up with new and old author friends. In December, we took our bucket list trip to the Maldives, and then I buckled down and worked on the free story I’d promised, SANTA WILL BURN! That story has been downloaded several hundred times in the past week, but I’ve only heard gotten feedback from three of you. Did you like it? Hate it? Was it too silly? Not silly enough? Has your insatiable appetite for more Bill content finally been… uh… sated? Let me know!
So, on the Business Side…
To the surprise of precisely nobody, failing to hit my publishing goals had a direct impact on revenue. During the latter half of 2022, we had already seen royalties for my completed superhero trilogy, The Murder of Crows, start to decline, and that continued–precipitously–through 2023. The release of The Queen of Smiles did nothing to change that trend, as the initial book in The Storm Who Rides failed to catch on the way that See These Bones had. With zero new books in the post-Break world, 2023 saw sales of those books fall to the lowest point in over three years. It’s an understandable shift–the series is over, and there aren’t any new releases to capture the attention of new readers–but it also left The Many Travails of John Smith to carry the load largely on its own.
The good news is that this was the best year the John series has ever had. A BookBub Featured Deal for Investigation, Mediation, Vindication in late 2022 helped us find a lot of new readers, and the numbers for the subsequent books have slowly continued to grow. I ran a free promotion for IMV in the late summer (when sales are traditionally at their worst) to prep for the release of A Dead Man’s Favor, and it seemed to pay off, with the release generating my two strongest months of sales in the year.
That said, it’s clear that a single release, when coupled with my existing marketing and distribution strategies, will not get this business to where it needs to go.
2024 Goals (aka Let’s Learn Nothing From 2023!):
MORE BOOKS. MORRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRREE BOOKS.
The first thing that needs to change is blindingly obvious: I need to release more books. Each new release is not just its own money-making event, it also leverages my back catalogue, as new readers are lured in, hopefully enjoy the book, and then turn to see what else I’ve written. The more books I can release–while maintaining a certain level of quality–the better.
Once again, my goal for the new year is to release three books:
- Speaker of Tongues, my LitRPG, in the spring
- The Queen of the Road, book two in The Storm Who Rides, in the summer
- Godswar, book six in The Many Travails of John Smith, in the fall
I feel like I have a fairly solid grasp on all three books. Getting them out in 2024 should be doable, provided I don’t end up sick for months again, and a release every ~4 months will go a long way to injecting a shot of adrenaline into my writing business.
Q: When is the Written Word Not the Written Word?
A: When It’s Read Aloud.
Every book I release this year will get an audiobook, but we’ll start with last year’s release of A Dead Man’s Favor. As soon as offices open back up after New Year’s, I’ll be emailing Tantor to get a final decision on whether or not they want to produce the audiobook for ADMF. If they do, awesome. If they don’t, we’ll be contacting Joel directly and seeing where we can fit into his (no doubt) busy schedule. I don’t have dates to provide because I don’t have enough information yet, but as soon as I know, you will too.
As for the other books… we’ll adopt our usual approach with them, with the goal being to have the audiobooks available as soon as possible after the release of the print and digital version. Sometimes, that’ll be a few months. Other times, it might be more, depending on the narrator’s schedule. Joe Vernon will continue to narrate all post-Break books, because I can’t imagine anyone else bringing his blend of gravitas and empathy to that bleak setting. Joel Richards will (hopefully) continue to narrate every book in The Many Travails of John Smith, whether contracted directly or through Tantor. And we’ll have a third narrator (one I know personally who does LitRPGs a lot) for the LitRPG series.
Sprechen Sie Deutsch?
Something we’ve wanted to do for quite a while is to translate our existing books for other markets. While many people speak English internationally, translations are pretty much a necessity if you want to have any measurable intrusion into foreign markets outside of Canada, the UK, and Australia. So, this year, we’re going to look into (and hopefully commission) German translations of See These Bones and Investigation, Mediation, Vindication. It’s a sizable (and extremely costly) undertaking, but Germany is a large market full of passionate readers, so it seems like a gamble worth taking. Wish us luck!
Alternate Revenue Streams
Just typing the phrase alternate revenue streams makes me feel professional. Next thing you know, I’m going to be talking about synergistic confluences. And fiduciary duties.
The watchword at the Vegas convention was Direct Sales. As companies continue to make it more difficult to earn a living through them3 by raising fees and reducing revenue, more authors are looking to control their own fates by cutting out those storefronts entirely. I’m… not quite there yet. The truth is, even with Kindle Unlimited’s payouts having dropped precipitously4, the vast majority of my audience is still there. So, I’ll continue to be providing all of my books on Kindle Unlimited for the time being.
However, there are some things I can do to lessen my dependency on Amazon. In 2023, I added all of my print books to Ingram Spark, which is the distributor of choice for most bookstores and libraries. That’s why those books are now available on Barnes & Nobles’ online site. My sales so far have been minimal, but not completely nonexistent, and more choice is almost always a good thing.
Additionally, I will continue to sell my paperbacks directly through my press site. As a reader mentioned recently, signed copies of my books are currently cheaper than the unsigned copies on Amazon. That’s a temporary thing–the existing inventory is from before Amazon raised their printing costs, and prices will change once that inventory is gone–but I’ll continue to sell directly through my press site’s store for any who want signed copies or simply don’t want to buy through Amazon.
Lastly, we’re once again looking into the possibility of merchandise… or rather, the custom original artwork we’ll need to be able to provide merchandise. It’s part of another initiative we’re investigating… running a Kickstarter for special edition hardcovers of The Murder of Crows. New covers, more art, fancy details… My angel-wife is taking the reins on that whole process, but when we have more to announce, we will. And any merch we add will both be mentioned here and be available via our store.
They’re your least favorite topic, and mine as well, but the truth is, ads are a vital tool for leveraging your back catalogue. And with nine books out there, not counting novelettes, I now kind of have a back catalogue worth leveraging. So, I’m going to continue to experiment with both standard ads (Facebook, Amazon, etc.), and promotional ads (BookBub, BargainBooksy, etc.) to reach all the many, many, many readers out there who have never even heard of me or my books.
Word of mouth is by far the best form of advertising there is, but that’s largely dependent on all of you5. On my end, I will focus on methods that can hopefully scale. And yeah, advertising is expensive, but we all know you sometimes have to spend money to make it.
So, that’s that! 2023 was far from a great year, from a business perspective, but I’m really proud of what I did put out–A Dead Man’s Favor, SANTA WILL BURN!, and audiobooks for The Queen of Smiles, Ghost of a Chance, and The Italian Screwjob. I’m also thrilled that those stories have landed so well with all of you, because the reader (or listener) is the reason I do any of this. And 2024 is poised to be the biggest year I’ve ever had, on a variety of fronts. It’s hard not to be excited about the possibilities I outlined above, and I can’t wait to share at least a few of the many, many stories I have bubbling away inside my brain.
The career path of an indie author is long and ever-winding, but I’ve been incredibly fortunate to meet so many great new people along the way. I hope you’ll come along for the ride as we enter 2024 and beyond.
Happy New Year! May the coming year bring nothing but joy and success to you and your loved ones. Until next time, stay safe and keep reading!
- Technically, there were no plans for parades, but if I’d managed all my goals…? At the very least, there’d have been a parade through my living room!
- Something we all got overly familiar with doing during the pandemic.
- *cough* Amazon
- Both the per-page-read payment and the number of page-reads.
- And I do see your recommendations online… Thank you!