If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our October Author Interviews--10/4 Wendy Tyson, 10/11 Marilyn Levinson, 10/18 Earl Javorski, 10/25 Linda Lovely. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


October Saturday Guest Bloggers: 10/7 Mark Bacon, 10/14 Elaine Orr, 10/21 WWK's Margaret S. Hamilton, 10/28 Kait Carson, and E. B. Davis 10/31 to fill out our fifth Tuesday.


WWK’s Carla Damron was one of three finalist for her novel, The Stone Necklace. Go to Carladamron.com for more information. Congratulations, Carla! Look for Carla's blog this month to find out the winner.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Sight Unseen" in Fish Out of Water, Guppie (SinC) anthology, just released, and "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Confessions of a “Gentleman” Author Turning Into a Businessman

by James M. Jackson

A “Gentleman” Farmer is someone who has a country estate, part of which he farms more for pleasure than for profit. He often loses money on the proposition, but the pleasure outweighs the costs. Well, you’re all smart people, you can extrapolate to what I mean by “Gentleman” Author. And I have to admit, I was one.

The Seamus McCree series first appeared in print in 2013 when Barking Rain Press published Bad Policy. As a new book-parent, I was thrilled to see my words available for people to buy. I wanted them to like it, sure, but I also wanted people to buy it to show their approval of my work.

To that end, I had a release party (Jan paid for the cake shown as an illustration), I contacted bookstores to do signings, I wrote a whole bunch of blogs for people talking about this, that, and the other to bring attention to the book. I shared the expense of an ad in the Malice Domestic bulletin with two other Barking Rain Press (BRP) authors (BRP also chipped in). I spent time looking for people to review the book. I attended numerous conferences, participating and moderating panels.

When Barking Rain Press published Cabin Fever in 2014, I now had a series! I hired a publicist to arrange bookstore signings (I hadn’t had a lot of success with Bad Policy) and to run a social media campaign. I did a ton of blogs, and I gave away 100 copies of Bad Policy at that year’s Left Coast Crime. I continued to attend conferences and participate in panels. I handed out bookmarks, and I schmoozed with well-known authors, and I met lots and lots of people who enjoyed my love of a good mystery.


And with all that effort, I really didn’t sell a lot of books. Meaning, at the end of those years, I had substantial tax write-offs. Now, I’m a finance guy, and so at my core, I know this kind of tax write-off is not a good thing; it only means my fellow taxpayers are subsidizing my “enterprise.” Given current tax laws, better I should pay more taxes because that would mean I was actually earning money.

But hey, I’m in this for the long term, right? Amazon lost money for years building its customer base. Consider it: author James M. Jackson – a micro Amazon. Attractive, don’t you think?

So, I made a calculated decision that instead of bringing out the next in the Seamus McCree series using a small publisher, I would pay for the things Barking Rain Press had done for me (mainly cover design and editing) and earn 100% of the royalties instead of sharing them with the publisher. Then just before I had Ant Farm ready to publish, Amazon came out with the Kindle Scout competition, and I thought: who can market my novel better, Amazon or me? I entered the Kindle Scout competition with Ant Farm and won.

Kindle Press published the ebook in 2015. I created the Wolf’s Echo Press imprint to handle print copies of that book. Although published third, chronologically, it appears first in the series, so a prequel. And I sat back and waited for Amazon to do its magic—but that’s a story or two or three for another blog. Let’s just say it didn’t turn out to be everything I hoped it would be.

Maybe after three years of being a fiction author, I’d had my quota of authorial fun, or maybe it was the dawning recognition that I had a good product (average Seamus McCree book ratings at Goodreads is 4.4 and at Amazon is 4.7), with very limited visibility. People can’t buy it if they don’t know about it, and the fun things I had done to market the books were not getting the job done.

As I started mentally moving from Gentleman Author to Businessman Author, I had the opportunity to regain my rights to Bad Policy, which I did in the first half of 2016. It had been three years, and the ego massaging high of having a book published by a traditional publisher was long gone. I thought I could make more money from the book if I took over marketing it myself. That decision has proved correct, as my earnings for Bad Policy in the first year of regained rights exceeded my net earnings from the three years the publisher controlled everything.

Later in 2016, I went full indie publisher with the fourth Seamus McCree, Doubtful Relations, and had Wolf’s Echo Press publish both the print and electronic versions.

Not quite three months ago, I regained the rights to Cabin Fever. In one $0.99 promotion in June, I sold more ebooks than I had in the previous three years. That’s not the same as making more money—to obtain those sales I paid for a variety of ads, and the sales were at a discounted price. However, Business Author is evaluating the ROI (return on investment) of the ad buys (over 200%), monitoring the effect on other series books (more sales for all the books), analyzing Kindle Unlimited pages read (a substantial kick to pages read).

Here’s an example of Gentleman Author compared to Businessman Author thinking. Gentleman Author is invited to a book-signing opportunity in a community 5+ hours away. Some interesting things are happening in the city; I’d get to see some author friends; I’d meet readers and sell a few books. Jan would come along to see the sights. Let’s sign up!

Businessman Author does the math: Cost of gas alone $50 (ignores wear and tear on auto). Overnight at a hotel (say $150). Meals out – no biggie, I’ll treat that as a date with Jan anyway if she’s going to go along. Will I make over $200 profit on books sold? Using a 70/30 split with the venue, I’d need to sell more than fifty books to break even—which has never happened for me at this type of event. Before I became the publisher of all the print versions of my books, it would have required me to sell more than 150 books to break even. Those calculations ignore what I would spend for the opportunity: eleven hours driving, six hours at event. That’s seventeen total hours that could be spent writing or editing the next book (or even relaxing).

That is not to say I won’t spend time doing unprofitable things. I will—IF they are how I want to enjoy life, or if it’s how I choose to give back to individuals or the writing community in general that has been so supportive of me. Those exceptions I will make consciously. {The opportunity above did not make the cut.}

My transition isn’t complete – nor do I want it to be complete. I write for enjoyment and will stop writing if I stop enjoying everything it entails. However, as I choose how to spend time and money, Businessman Author will be sitting on my left shoulder, whispering into my ear.

15 comments:

Warren Bull said...

I think at some point writers have to decide what their ultimate goals are. There are profound differences between a job and a hobby. Your writing here illustrates the differences very well.

E. B. Davis said...

That was my first thought, too, Warren, but the difference in this situation is that Jim has achieved what many writers haven't. He's been traditionally published, written four books in his series, and evaluated that his financial goals weren't met by traditional publishing--his intention was to further his chances of becoming a profitable writer. Further, his efforts may payoff in time--building momentum and readership. Intention, persistence, and dedication--I think those characteristics make him a professional--not a someone that just has a hobby.

Most writers no matter how accomplished would be categorized as having a hobby if you only looked at writing from financial data. Intuitively, I knew what Jim's analyst revealed--one of the reasons I don't go to many conferences. I put a lot of time (which is money) into writing, but then to go to a conference and spend more money doesn't make sense until I have a viable manuscript to peddle. Even then it could be a money loser, but you don't know until you try, and in time, it may payoff--if that is the only criteria that separates the professional from the nonprofessional.

Jim, do you think that is the only criteria?

Jim Jackson said...

Warren -- I suppose there is a continuum between job and hobby and my arc has been moving from hobby toward job, but I prefer to think of them more as a Venn diagram with two overlapping circles. In that analysis, I'd like to be at the intersection where what I do makes financial sense (a job aspect) but my enthusiasm and interests are continually renewed (a hobby aspect) -- if that makes sense.

~ Jim

Jim Jackson said...

EB -- Only when I am joking do I equate being a professional to being paid. I've joked that I've been a professional musician because I used to play sax in a fireman's band and was paid to perform -- or that I am a professional artist because someone bought the one painting I created. (The truth is, they probably bought it for the frame!)

The more traditional definition of a professional is someone engaged in a specific activity as their primary gainful employment. I think of it more from its roots in the word "profession," as in a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive preparation.

To be a professional author in today's marketplace (unless one wins the publishing equivalent of a lottery) means to not only to work on craft, to produced publishable products, but also to understand and implement sound business practices.

I allowed (and I don't have a problem with me or anyone doing this) the hobby aspect of writing to overwhelm the business aspect during my earlier years. Now I am (hopefully) developing a more balanced approach.

~ Jim

Kait said...

Very insightful post, Jim. I'm in the same space to a lesser extent.

Writing has always been a second job for me. One I love, but yes, a second job. Not a hobby. The writing part is the easy part, the marketing part (and thus the sales which publishers and the IRS relate to) makes me feel as if I am throwing darts at a motorized marshmallow with a Teflon coating. I've learned a lot from your posts over time. I'm getting there, said the little engine - thanks for the education!

Your last sentence in the comment response above is perfect. If I can figure out a way to print and frame, it's going on my virtual quote board. Only in my case, it wasn't the hobby aspect, but the stars in the eyes aspect. Traditional publication was the goal - I come from a time when there was no indie publication except the much-scorned vanity press. I let ticking off a big bucket list goal put stars in my eyes and failed to see that while it was an accomplishment, times had changed and publishing with a traditional press did not mean what it had in the past. It was now the beginning of a different aspect of the same job.

Susan said...

Your blog post was really interesting to me, Jim, because I have been grappling with the same thoughts. I've done thirty book signings this year while trying to write a new book. I have found that having a traditional publisher, Five Star Publishing, got my book into a lot more hands than I ever could on my own because their business model was to sell to libraries. I've done everything that people have suggested: going to amazingly expensive conferences, using a lot of social media, writing and hosting guest blogs, doing book signings and talking to book clubs, and so many other things I can't remember them all. And still this does not seem to sell books. So I will probably be looking for a new traditional publisher with the new book. If you discover the magic key to get your book out there with less effort than I'm already giving it, please let me know.

Margaret Turkevich said...

I'll keep all the points raised in mind as I prep for the Midwest Writers Workshop in a few weeks.

Jim Jackson said...

Kait -- Yes, that stars aspect -- the winning the publishing lottery. And, it's hard to get past that when you know people who have captured the lightening in a bottle.

Susan -- Five Star did have a different model with its emphasis on libraries (and hardcover books, if I recall correctly). But even with that head start over many other authors, the question still remains how to develop that elusive reader base. From your experience, traditional signings don't work as they once did.

The business aspect demands we try to measure the results of our efforts and not be afraid to experiment.

Margaret -- I look forward to what you learn from the Midwest Writers Workshop. Although I didn't discuss it in this post, I think there is a big difference between attending workshops where the purpose is to learn new things and fan conferences.

~ Jim

Gloria Alden said...

Jim, I do very little promotion of my books. Occasionally, I'm contacted by someone who wants to promote my book, and did a video for a small TV station in the next county. I sell best at my church's Christmas Craft show. I do have a local following of readers who read my books and pass them on to friends which is okay with me. I'm more interested in writing than selling although I have sold books out of the back of my car and at a local book store.

KM Rockwood said...

Thank you, Jim, for such an insightful and accurate re-hash of the subject. You are very good at distilling nebulous concepts into a usable form, and I very much appreciate that you share it with us.

I guess I fall into the "Gentleman (Gentlelady?) Author" category. For one thing, I want to write the way I want to, and ignore the "How about having a ghost in your series?" suggestion unless I decide to write a book in which a ghost would be appropriate.

I enjoy my writing. I'm pleased with giving a voice to segments of the population that we don't often hear from. And I love sharing my work with other people, even if I don't get paid for it.

C. T. Collier said...

Excellent post. Jim! This resonates with my experience and gradual transition over the past few years as a published and self-published author. I especially identified with your observation, "I write for enjoyment and will stop writing if I stop enjoying everything it entails." I'm also it it to learn and grow into the best author I can be, and I'm very pleased with that learning curve. Still, it all has to have a purpose and it can't be fiscally irresponsible. Like you, my switch to self-publishing has been modestly more successful financially than traditional publishing.

It's so important to me to read the thoughts and experiences of you and other authors. We're in it together, and I want us all to be successful, each according to our own definitions. --kate/ c.t. collier

Rhonda Lane said...

Hi, Jim. Thank you for sharing your experience. I'd wondered about Kindle Scout.

Jim Jackson said...

Gloria & KM -- In case it isn't clear from my blog, I see no problem with Gentlemen/Gentlelady Authors. It's your time and your energy and I say go for it. I pay lots of money play bridge and where is the harm?

Some people have complained about authors who give their work away or sell it too cheaply. That horse has been in clover for years and the barn is falling down -- no way to recapture the old life for authors. My theory is that no one is forced to read my book. Either I have found ways to get my novel in front of an appreciative audiences or I haven't. Whether there are 20,000 other novels published this year of 120,000 doesn't really matter since there are already "too many" books for people to read.

Rhonda -- I'm planning a blog or two about Kindle Scout in the near future as I have been under contract with them for over two years and it's time to look at what I did right and what I could have done better.

~ Jim

Grace Topping said...

You've give us lots to think about, especially those of us who have struggled for so long to get published. I've come to realize that you have to write because you enjoy it and not because of what you will make from it. That's probably okay for someone like me who has a retirement income, but it has to be hard for people who want to make their living from their writing.

Jim Jackson said...

Grace -- You are correct that those of us who have a secondary income have an advantage. The arts do not reward most of its participants with living wages.

~ Jim