Juggling Act: Writer, Lawyer, Authorpreneur

Lawyerpreneur Podcast InterviewAuthorpreneur is how some writers who independently publish their own work describe themselves.

It pulls in the combined creative and business efforts involved in writing and publishing.

While I don't think we said that specific word, this week I had the chance to be a guest on Jeremy Richter's Lawyerpreneur podcast to talk about exactly that mix of creative pursuits.

Like me, Jeremy is a lawyer, podcaster, and writer. He devotes his podcast to the many things attorneys do both inside and outside their law practices.

We talked about my gradual shift from law to writing, the idea for my podcast Buffy and the Art of Story, productivity, and creativity.

Whether or not you consider yourself an authorpreneur, some things you might find helpful in the interview:

  • prioritizing a personal life when work is all around you
  • balancing career responsibilities with fiction writing
  • how time management and productivity change when you look at projects rather than hours
  • the pros and cons of engaging in more than one profession

You can check it out here:

Slaying Briefs, Books, and Vampires with Lisa Lilly

P.S. For more on staying centered while juggling more than one career you may want to check out Happiness, Anxiety, and Writing: Using Your Creativity To Live A Calmer, Happier Life.

Out Of One Novel – Many Products

For a lot of writers, it takes a year or more to finish one novel.

That’s especially true if you're working full time at another career or have other significant responsibilities.

That time frame can feel a bit discouraging even when you’re happy about finishing your book. Because you spent all that time, and now you have only one book to market.

But there is good news.

One novel — or one more novel if you’ve already published some — is really multiple products. Seeing it as if it were just one means leaving royalties on the table.

And failing to reach a lot of readers who might love your work.

The product list below assumes you're in control of and publishing your own work. If you’re looking for a traditional publishing contract instead, however, it's still key to understand what you or your publisher can do with your work. If nothing else, it might help you decide what rights you're willing to offer.

E-Book Editions (5+ Products)

Many readers these days read only e-books.

Some prefer e-books over paper to save shelf space. Others like the pricing, which is usually cheaper than trade paperback or hardback books. I personally like e-books because I can adjust the type size for my eyes (which like big print these days).

Because there are multiple platforms where you can publish an e-book, that means one e-book is really multiple products you can market to completely different sets of readers.

My fiction and nonfiction books are available in Kindle, Kobo, Nook, AppleBook, and GooglePlay editions. You can also make your e-books available to libraries through Kobo or through other distributors like Draft2Digital.

Print Books (4+ Products)

Despite what I said above, and many predictions over the years that e-books would make paper books disappear, it hasn’t happened.

For all the readers that love only e-books, others read in both formats, and some prefer print alone. For that reason, I always publish at least one paperback edition of each of my novels.

  • Trade Paperback For Online Sales

The easiest way I’ve found to publish a trade paperback is through Amazon’s KDP Dashboard. The books are then available on Amazon and appear on the same sales page as your Kindle editions.

But that’s not the only way to sell paper books.

  • Trade Paperback For Bookstore Sales

Pretty much all authors would like to see their books on bookstore shelves. And many readers, including me, like visiting bookstores and supporting them.

Every bookstore owner I've talked to, though, will not stock a book published through KDP. (Bookstores generally are not big fans of Amazon.) So if you want your book to be available through bookstores, you almost always need to publish another edition.

I use IngramSpark to publish trade paperbacks that bookstores can order or stock.

  • Large Print

Another product you can create from your one novel is a large print edition. I just published one for the third book in my Q.C. Davis mystery series.

My Kindle editions from that series tend to get lost because there are so many hugely popular mystery authors. Readers are far more apt to find my large print editions and give them a try because there simply aren’t as many large print mysteries available.

  • Hardback

Some authors also publish hardback editions of their novels. Right now, I don’t know of any way to do that through KDP, but it is possible through IngramSpark. I haven't done that yet, but I'm considering it, as I recently had a reader ask me through Twitter if I had hardbacks available.

  • Autographed Books

Finally, you can offer autographed copies of your paperback or hardback book. So far I've only sold autographed copies at book fairs.

But more than once in the last year readers have reached out to me asking if they could buy autographed copies from me by mail. So I’m thinking I am going to set up direct sales from my website and offer autographed copies for a premium price.

Audio (2+ Products)

Audio has been growing in popularity.

As I’m writing this, many parts of the United States are still under lockdown due to Covid-19. That means that not as many people are listening to audiobooks or podcasts as they commute. But many listeners, including me, listen while doing household tasks like cleaning or laundry or while exercising. Others sit down and simply listen.

Some of those listeners never otherwise have time to read. So if your book is not available in audio they may never find it.

  • Audiobooks

The main audio product obviously is the audiobook. I’ve created and sold them so far through Amazon’s ACX platform and through Findaway Voices. I also licensed audiobook rights to my first Q.C. Davis Mystery to BlunderWoman Productions, an audiobook publisher.

A caveat for audiobooks: The production costs can be high, so unless you want to seek out a production company deal, you may want to wait until the book earns royalties in other formats before you invest in an audiobook.

  • Podcasts

Another potential product is a podcast. While most podcasts are informational and so fall in the nonfiction category, some authors do podcast their own fiction.

While for the most part you won’t make money directly from podcasting, you might make money through Patreon, podcast sponsorship, or advertising. I personally think it’s a little bit harder to do this for fiction if you are an unknown author. But it is still a fairly new field, so it’s worth thinking about it.

Publishing each of the above types of products takes some time, effort, and expense. But each one can reach a different type of reader and expand your chances of earning income from your books.

A mini-course I took online from Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn on developing multiple streams of income is what prompted me to start looking more closely at what else I could be doing with each of my books. You may find the courses helpful as well.

That’s all for today. Until next time —

L. M. Lilly

P.S. I am an affiliate and get a small fee if you opt to take a course through my link, but that doesn't change the price to you. Or change how inspiring, informative, and immediately helpful I've found each of Joanna's courses that I've taken.

Should You Enter A Book Award Contest?

Is it worth it to enter a book award contest? That's a question many authors ask themselves. Like so many aspects of publishing, there's no yes or no answer.

But here are some additional questions, the answers to which may help you decide:

  • Why do you want to win this award?
  • Do the benefits (including advertising and marketing) match your goals?
  • Will the entry fee strain your budget?
  • How much time will it take to prepare and enter the book award contest?

Why Enter A Book Award Contest?

If you want to win a book award contest, ask yourself why.

  • Prestige

Some writers long for prestige and validation. Winning a respected award can help you feel prouder of your writing career or your book.

  • Increased Sales

It also might increase sales. It puts a seal of approval (sometimes literally) on your book. This approval can help reassure a reader who doesn't know you already that it's worth investing money and time into reading your book.

  • Marketing

Winning or placing in a book award contest also may provide advertising and marketing opportunities. If you have an email list, you can tell them you're entering the award, email again if you are a finalist, and share your excitement when you win or even disappointment if you don't.

Why is that a plus? It's a reason to email that reminds them your book is out there but that doesn't just say, “Hey, buy my book.” It also helps people empathize with you and care about your career. People will be excited for you!

For the same reasons, you can share the stages of the contest on social media and with friends, family, and colleagues.

  • Prizes

Some awards come with prize money, others with certificates or seals, others with award ceremonies.

Wishing Shelf Finalist Book Award Medal Red
The Wishing Shelf provides 3 different medals for finalists – this is red with red background. The silver is on my website.
  • Advertising

As the president of Readers' Favorite said in this article on book awards, “Entering a book contest is like paying to run an ad about your book.”

Your book might be listed on an award website if you are a finalist or a winner. Also, you can add a book award win to your book descriptions. Recently, I added my finalist designation in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards to my descriptions of the second book in my Q.C. Davis mystery series.

  • Critiques or Advice

Some book award contests offer advice, reviews, or critiques to all entrants, or to entrants who reach a certain level.

Do The Benefits Match Your Goals?

Whether a particular book award contest is worth entering depends on what you hope to achieve.

If you're looking for prestige, research the award's history. Ask people who love to read if they've heard of the award and what it means to them. Check reputable authors' associations to see what they think of the award. If it's well-respected and sought after and readers feel winning means a book is a great book, you may want to enter.

On the other hand, if no one's heard of the award or it's brand new, winning it may not give you the prestige you're hoping for.

Advertising, Marketing, and Sales

On the other hand, if advertising, marketing, or sales are your goal, a lesser-known award may provide that.

Research what happens to books that win or place.

If that research shows the award organization displays the books in an attractive way on an award website, publicizes them on social media, hosts award ceremonies with photo ops, or provides seals or medals that can benefit your marketing strategy, you may want to enter.

Also, any award helps signal people that your work has merit or that you've achieved success.

It's part of social proof. Strangers feel better checking out your work now that you've won an award. Friends are more apt to recommend your book now that you're an award-winning author, not “just” someone they know who also happens to write.

If you're looking for prize money, how does it compare to the entry fee (if there is one)? And how does it compare to other ways you could earn the same amount of money?

Finally, you may hope to learn or gain something even if you don't win or earn finalist or runner-up status.

Part of the draw when I entered The Wishing Shelf Book Awards was that I entered a recently-published book that hadn't yet gotten many editorial or other reviews. The contest promised each entrant feedback on the book, an honest Amazon or Goodreads review based on readers' comments, and a “catchy quote” for the book description (or back cover blurb on reprint).

If I didn't win or place, I figured I'd at least benefit from reader feedback and additional marketing copy.

The Costs of Entering A Contest

Some book award contests are free to enter. Those awards usually are funded by some type of grant or organization. Others charge a fee to cover the costs of running the contest. Still others seek to earn a profit from running the award.

Whether a fee is worth it depends both on the benefits above and your budget.

I'll consider a contest if the fee is below $100. But before entering, I look not only at whether the fee fits in my budget but what else I could buy with that money. As a result, I've only entered one contest in the last 3-4 years.

If, for example, I can buy advertising for the same price that I think will be more effective, I'll do that rather than enter a contest. Ditto for critiques and marketing copy.

And cost is about more than money. Your time is valuable.

So be sure to consider how involved the entry process is and how much time it will take you to complete it. Are there long forms to fill out? Do you need to put your book into a particular format you don't already have? Must you submit a hard copy and mail it?

As with money, consider whether there is a better use of your time.

If you decide to enter an award, good luck!

Until next time–

L.M. Lilly

Your Author Photos

When marketing a book, most authors include an author photo. If you have a website, you've probably got an author photo there, and one on the back of your book.

But other less formal photos of you also should be part of your marketing.

The Back Of The Book Photo

If you're like me, your official author photo is a head shot. Below is the one I use on my author website. (I use a different one on the About page of this site, but it's also from a professional studio.)

Lisa M. Lilly Author

Your photo might be retouched a bit if you went to a professional studio or, these days, if you've figured out how to do that on your phone.

Odds are, it's also one of your favorite photos of yourself.

All of that is great.

In fact, I feel like it's key to use an author photo that conveys that you're someone with a writing career, who takes care with your appearance.

That suggests you also take care with your writing and makes strangers feel more comfortable buying your work.

What's Stopping You?

Many writers, though, hesitate to post other photos of themselves with their books on social media or on their sites.

It can feel a lot like bragging. And, if you were raised like I was, that's something you might feel strange about.

Or you might be self-conscious about not looking your best in a candid shot or one that you take yourself. It's not as easy to get the best angle.

Getting an ideal background can also be tricky.

Other Author Photos

But your photos don't need to be perfect. The photo below is not.

The background strikes me as kind of blah. You can't see my whole book cover. The light catches flyaway hair near my part.

Lisa Holding The Fractured Man

And yet when I posted this photo with a note about “Look what came in the mail!” I sold a dozen paperback copies of The Fractured Man that same afternoon.

That may not seem like a lot, but most of my sales are ebook or audiobook editions. Typically I release the paperback for price comparison purposes and so I have something to sell at live events.

Otherwise, I sell one or two every month or so. I've never had a dozen ordered at once.

In fact, when I specifically created a post with the professional 3-D book cover for the second book in the same series and a note about the paperback being available, I sold just one paperback that day compared to dozens of ebook editions.

The Charmng Man 3D cover

What this shows is (1) people respond not just to your book but to you and (2) a more candid shot is a lot more fun and engaging.

It shows who you are.

So use your professional author photo and professional book covers on your sales pages.

But on social media, let go of your concerns about the perfect shot and post as you would about anything else in your life that excites you.

That's all for now. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

 

 

Check Your Book Marketing Assumptions (And Figures)

Understanding your long-term sales figures can significantly improve your book marketing. I say this from experience.

I spent a lot of time yesterday and today running figures. It undermined a lot of assumptions I hadn't even realized I'd made.

What might you discover by checking your sales data?

  • Sales venues that didn't work for one genre might for another
  • A book's launch doesn't dictate whether it will succeed long-term
  • Your audience is growing in unexpected places
  • You may have a surprise bestseller

Where Are You Selling?

You may think you know where your books are selling.

And you might–in a big picture sense.

I figured my sales (excluding audiobooks) for this year to date would break down around  70% Amazon/30% all other sales venues combined (Kobo, Nook, GooglePlay, Apple, Ingram). And when I checked the numbers, that's about right.

But when I looked by genre, I discovered a more nuanced picture.

My non-fiction books are 95% Amazon/5% Other, mainly because I only recently made them available on other platforms. Without a past sales history, I figured Amazon would dominate, and it does.

My 4-book supernatural thriller series, which I began in 2011 and completed in 2017, is a 60/40 split Amazon/Other.

My new mystery series is a 57/43 split Amazon/Other.

While a 3% difference for the fiction series doesn't seem like much, I find it striking because I've been running Amazon ads regularly to the mystery series and only now and again advertising by targeting other platforms.

That suggests to me that at least for now, I ought to spend more on the other platforms where the books seem to be gaining traction.

At the same time, I'll probably hold off on more Amazon ads until I figure out what targets work best. Or perhaps until I have more books out in the series.

Launch Marketing Isn't All There Is

I've been feeling a little discouraged about my new Q.C. Davis mystery series. It's had a slow start. In fact, until I looked at numbers, I thought it started much slower start than my previous series, which falls within the supernatural thriller genre.

Here's what I learned for Amazon and Kobo for the first series (Kobo is my second-best sales platform for it):

Awakening Book 1 (released in 2011, but oldest data is from 2013):

  • Best early month (November 2013): 130 sales
  • Best month (November 2014): 1176 sales

Book 2

  • Release month (October 2014): 84 sales
  • Best month (October 2015): 530 sales

Book 3

  • Release month (May 2016): 50 sales
  • Best month (May 2017): 451 sales

Book 4

  • Release month (May 2017):  506 sales
  • Best month: same

Box Set (all 4 books in one)

  • Release month (Sept. 2017): 5 sales
  • Best month (June 2019): 1916 sales

As you can see, the only book that did its best during the release month was the fourth and final book in the series.

And the Box Set was dismal on release.

This year, though, despite putting it an 99 cents for a special in June, it earned me over $1800 this year to date. This data tells me it's well worth marketing the box set on an on-going basis. And perhaps the individual books in the series, too.

Stealthy Sales

Because Amazon sales overall are generally higher and spike more with promotions, it's easy to overlook the total sales on lower volume platforms. I look at the sales dashboard on Apple and see many days with zero sales. A good day is 5. Also, I assumed Kobo would be my second-best sales platform for my mystery series because it is for my supernatural thriller series.

That's why it's important to look at actual figures and total sales over time.

For example, before I added the total sales for the 2 books in my new Q.C. Davis mystery series, I thought I was selling almost zero on Apple. I figured it broke out like this:

  1. Amazon: $300
  2. Kobo: $100
  3. Nook: $15
  4. Apple: $10
  5. GooglePlay: $5

When I added the figures, here's what I learned:

  1. Amazon: $589
  2. Apple: $169
  3. Kobo: $86
  4. Nook: $86
  5. GooglePlay: $26

As you can see, Apple was strikingly different than I expected. And Nook sales equal Kobo sales. I'd felt frustrated at getting “nowhere” on Apple because it seemed I'd only see 1 sales here and there. But those 1s were adding up.

Because of this, I will now look more closely at marketing to Apple readers.

You May Have A Surprise Bestseller

Sometimes a particular book's marketing is paying off better than you thought. Or the book simply speaks to people more than you expect.

For me, that book is The One-Year Novelist: A Week-By-Week Guide To Writing Your Novel In One Year. I felt sure this book was only doing so-so.

Why?

Because there's so much emphasis in the indie author community on rapid release. That is, writing and releasing a book every month or at least every 3 months.

I've never done that.

When I first started publishing I was working 55 or more hours a week running my own law firm. I released books when I could, which wasn't very often.

Now I still do things other than writing, including teaching and handling law projects. I discovered I'm happier that way. So while I release a couple books a year, usually only one is a novel.

In short, I wrote the How-To book I would have liked to have when I was writing my first few novels. I wasn't sure how many other people it would speak to.

It turns out that of the revenue from my 4 non-fiction books on writing, 57% comes from The One=Year Novelist (ebook and workbook editions) and 43% from the other 3 books combined.

Sometimes it really is good to write the book you want to read.

That's all for today. Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

 

Create A Fiction Mission Statement

Lately I've been thinking about creating a fiction mission statement for my most recent series.

A mission statement can help you figure out how to brand and market your writing. It can also motivate you to start or finish a novel. And help you generate or refine ideas.

But first, what is a mission statement?

And why should you create one for your fiction?

Fiction Mission Statement Defined

A mission statement is a summary, or sometimes a tag line, about the purpose and values of an organization or person. Corporations and non-profits often use mission statements to guide their growth or focus the people who work for them.

The idea of creating one for fiction isn't original to me.

I began thinking about it while reading Kristine Kathryn Rusch's blog posts and her book Creating Your Author Brand. Rusch talks about her overall author mission statement: All genres all the time. It makes clear that she likes to write in multiple genres.

But she also has one for each of her pen names.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases made through this site, but that doesn’t change the purchase price to you as the buyer.

For Kristine Grayson, the statement is It’s Not Easy To Have A Fairy Tale Ending. In Rusch's words, that tells readers that “Grayson will always be goofy paranormal with a touch of romance, usually focusing on myths or fairy tales or both.”

Marketing And Mission

As the above examples show, once you know your mission statement, it's a lot easier to describe your work to potential readers.

That's something many novelists, including me, struggle with.

I like to write long. My emails are long. My first drafts of blog posts are long. Most of my short story attempts turn into novels.

So whether I'm at a party or creating an ad, telling someone in a few seconds what my books are about poses a real challenge.

Once I create a fiction mission statement, though, I know how to convey both what I'm writing and why.

Motivation, Ideas, And Mission

The why helps me sit down to write (or stand and dictate) whether I feel like it or not at any particular moment. Because now writing is about more than simply my personal love of writing and desire to publish books.

It's about making a difference to readers.

For example, I'm writing a suspense/mystery series now because that's what I've most enjoyed reading over the last 5-10 years.

But I chose the specific main character, setting, and types of crimes for a few reasons:

  • I wanted to write about amazing and wonderful places in Chicago.

So many people hear only about the bad aspects of Chicago, and some of those appear in my books. But readers also get to visit great restaurants, outdoor paintings and sculptures, the expanding river walk, Lake Michigan, and all sorts of other beautiful places.

  • I'm tired of mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels that show women being tortured or victimized. 

In real life, the biggest dangers to women are the people (usually the men) they know. Fiction is not real life, and I haven't stopped reading books where women are victims. Also, there are sometimes women victims in my books.

But I write about crimes that are committed by someone who knows the victim, and victim more often is male.

Also, the Q.C. Davis books are first person, and the protagonist is a smart, creative female lawyer.

The reader sees the story through her eyes as she tries to unravel the mystery. Not through the eyes of a victim or a perpetrator. So the emphasis is on solving the crime and seeking justice, not on committing crime.

  • Showing many sides to issues and people matters to me.

While in a murder mystery the villain generally is, well, a villain, I mostly try to avoid black-and-white answers and characters who are all good or all bad.

The same goes for the issues that form the backdrop for the crimes.

Book 2 in the Q.C. Davis series touches on immigration because a missing college girl may have let her student visa lapse, which makes her sister afraid to contact the police. That sets up a reason to come to my protagonist for help.

The few characters who talk about immigration (where the plot requires it) hold different views from one another.

My main goal is to entertain.

But after that I hope that readers on any side of the issue will gain a little better understanding of a perspective unlike their own.

Writing out the above aims gave me a way to sort through potential plots for Book 4 (Book 3 comes out November 4). It's also giving me ideas for publicity and marketing, which I'm focusing on more now that the series is well underway.

For instance, I'm kicking around a theme about how the protagonist is a sort of ambassador for Chicago. And thinking about putting together “Quille C. Davis' Guide to Chicago” as a giveaway for mailing list sign ups.

An event or book bundle with other mystery authors who address social issues in their books also might work.

What's Your Mission?

What matters most to you when you write a novel? Do you see themes that appear again and again in your fiction?

If so, try using them to formulate your mission statement.

Good luck! Until next Friday–

L.M. Lilly

Creating A Series Bible

Today I'm working on something I should have done, or at least started, a year and a half ago: a series bible.

A series bible is what it sounds like. One place where you keep everything you'll need to remember from one book to the next in your series.

But what should it include and what's the best way to create it?

What Should Be In Your Series Bible?

What to include varies with the genre of your series, but most topics fall into three general categories:

  • Characters
  • Settings
  • Styles

Characters

The character section or sections of the Bible usually includes multiple sub-categories. Below are few ideas. You may add more or drop some that for you feel unnecessary:

  • Appearance
  • Health
  • Family
  • Other Key Relationships
  • Habitual ways the character speaks (style or subject matter or both)
  • Work
  • Education
  • Key character traits
  • Backstory
  • Religion
  • Greatest Fears, Desires, Regrets
  • Current and past residences

Here's part of mine for Quille C. Davis, the protagonist in my Q.C. Davis series:

Chart of Recurring Characters for Q.C. Davis Mystery/Suspense Series

One tip I picked up from Author Lorna Faith in her article on the topic is to split out lists of characters. For example, you could have one for main characters and one for secondary characters.

I've started splitting mine by recurring characters, characters that appear in each specific book only, and characters that the short stories features. (I write short stories that fit between the novels to explore side character and side plots. Those stories are available to newsletter subscribers as a bonus.)

Setting Subcategories

Settings also may include sub-categories and may need to be quite extensive depending on what type of book you're writing. Here are a few:

  • Settings for specific scenes (such as a coffee shop, your character's home, a cave)
  • Locations (such as a particular city, country, planet)
  • Timeframe (especially key with historical fiction)
  • World-building  (special powers and other special rules of the world, history, culture)

At first I thought I'd just remember settings because my Q.C. Davis series is set for the most part in present-day Chicago where I live.

But now that I am on my third novel and am about to write the third short story, I've discovered details aren't so easy to recall.

Does Quille's favorite cafe have a fireplace? Is her friend Joe's condo in Chicago's West Loop or River North neighborhood? Did I talk about how Chicago streets are laid out on a grid before?

Style And Consistency

Tracking your styles to ensure you are consistent can help both your writing and your marketing.

Style includes how you name, format, and spell certain key things. Within your stories, you'll want to be consistent in things like whether you italicize names of books or movies characters mention. Also, how you spell a character's name. (I kept forgetting if a character names Carole Ports uses the “e” at the end or not.)

Style matters for marketing, too.

As I'm setting up the preorder for The Fractured Man, Book 3 in my series, I realized Book 1 on Kobo had the series name as “Q.C. Davis” and Book 2 as “Q.C. Davis Mystery”.  On another platform one of the books was missing a sub-title.

Nothing like making it harder for your readers to find the books!

Creating And Formatting Your Bible

I'm using tables in Word to save my information, but there are lots of options.

You might prefer other programs like Srivener, which has many options for creating bulletin boards and categories, or spreadsheets on a program like Excel. You could also hand write pages and put them in a binder, use index cards, or create a chart on posterboard on your wall.

The key is what will make it easiest for you to find the information you want quickly.

I suspect I'll eventually print the separate Word tables and put them into a tabbed binder. The Word doc will be good for searching for particular terms. The paper binder will be good for paging through for ideas or reminders.

One last tip: Color coding by book or story is a great way to remember when you introduced a particular character, setting, or fact.

That's all for today. Until next Friday, when I'll talk about when (and when not) to use adverbs

L.M. Lilly

P.S. If you're struggling with fleshing our your characters, you might find my book Creating Characters From The Inside Out helpful. It comes in workbook and ebook editions.

Extreme Productivity (Part 2 – Motivation)

Today's post is about motivation. Last week I wrote about a simple step I learned from Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen that made my life as an author so much easier. That step is to write in your calendar next to each task what you aim to accomplish by doing it.

Not only can doing so help you stop putting things off, as I wrote about last week, it can increase your energy and motivation.

When Short Stories Are Like Vegetables

Knowing exactly what I want to accomplish with each task gets me a lot more excited about it.

For example, while I love to write novels, I tend to put off short story writing. I just don’t enjoy it the way I do writing novels, and I don’t read as many short stories as I do books.

For me, writing a short story has always been like eating vegetables. I do it because I know it's good for me, not because I like it. (Sorry to all who love veggies, I am just not a fan.)

Reasons Are Not The Same As Purpose

Following Pozen's approach of figuring out and listing my purpose for a goal or task, I thought about why I want to write short stories.

One reason is that I know from experience that writing short stories helps hone my craft. It's easier to see what's working and isn't with the plot. I'm also more apt to focus on one character and make sure that person's motivations and growth are clear.

As important, because I don't release multiple novels a year (I'm still aiming to get to two per year), short stories can be a way to bridge the gap in between.

In that sense, short stories are a form of marketing.

Readers are reminded that the characters they remember and love from a series are out there.

Writing Short Stories
When writing feels like eating your vegetables

Also relating to readers, it's a chance to explore side stories that don't quite fit into the novels but that add depth to the characters. Because I release the stories initially exclusively to my email subscribers, it's a sort of inside scoop that they get about the world of my Q.C. Davis mystery/suspense series and the people who live there.

With all those reasons, you'd think I'd be diving into getting those stories written. And yet, until recently, I didn't.

Because reasons are not the same as purpose.

Purpose = Energy And Motivation

Because I had all those reasons to write short stories, I dutifully reserved time in my calendar this year to write the second short story, the one I wanted to release after Book 2 (The Charming Man), which came out in December, 2018. (I wrote the first short story last year after pushing myself to do it for about 6 months.)

That task appeared on my calendar at least 2 or 3 times a month this entire year.

Yet, almost every time it was the thing that got pushed to the end of the day, then the week, then the month.

As I read Extreme Productivity, I set aside all the reasons writing short stories was a good idea and asked myself what I truly wanted to accomplish by doing it.

I realized I wanted to do something nice for my subscribers. In other words, to improve my relationship with them.

When I thought of it that way instead of feeling I was working to check off a box, I felt excited about sending my readers a gift they’d enjoy. Not only did I finish a draft in a week, I added layers and further developed the characters in ways I hadn’t thought of before.

And it was fun.

Next week I'll be sending No New Beginnings to my subscribers.

That's all for today. Until next Friday, when we’ll talk about eliminating unnecessary tasks (that you previously felt sure you needed to do)–

L.M. Lilly

Extreme Productivity (Part 1 – How To Stop Putting Things Off)

While I was on a long vacation, I started reading the book Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen. (I know, I know, that doesn't sound very vacation-like. But I did spend most of my days having fun. See photos below.)

What I read led me to examine the way I schedule tasks and how much I focus on the amount of time to spend on each.

As a result, I discovered that while I no doubt got more done compared to simply winging it, I could increase my productivity and feel less stressed by adding one simple step Pozen suggested.

That step benefited my writing and my publishing business tremendously, including in these four ways:

I'll talk about the first one today and the rest over the coming weeks.

The added step is to identify the purpose of each task. Seems pretty basic, right? Well, it is and it's not.

Knowing What You Plan To Accomplish

Under Pozen's approach, when you schedule any task or event in your calendar you list next to it what you intend to accomplish by doing it.

At first that struck me as waste of time.

For most things, I thought my goal too obvious to bother thinking about. For instance, the purpose of advertising books on Amazon or BookBub is to increase sales.

Why spend time writing that down?

The other downside I saw is that my calendar has limited space. I use a paper appointment book because it helps limit my screen time and it's easier for me to get organized on paper than any other way. I don't have a lot of room on it to put in extra info.

To my surprise, though, forcing myself to define what I hoped to accomplish made my entire week more productive, and I felt full of energy, despite that I’m still struggling a bit with jet lag.

Beating Procrastination

Keeping my bookkeeping up to date for my author business, which includes balancing my accounts and paying bills, is a task I often put off. I do so despite that in my calendar I set aside one morning each month for it.

My purpose in scheduling the task seemed obvious.

Good bookkeeping is just good business so you pay bills on time, avoid overdrafts, and gain a good sense of your finances. So this task in particular seemed like a silly one for writing out what I hoped to accomplish.

But when I made myself think about exactly why I wanted to update my bookkeeping every month, immediately what came to mind was the end of last year. I hadn’t balanced my accounts in over 6 months. (Though I did pay my bills. I wasn't that much of a procrastinator).

Productivity And Time

Because I waited so long, the time it took for each bank statement tripled due to how much more difficult it was to track down missing entries. A month after an expense or of receiving income, I usually remember what a $35 payment was for.

Or I can easily find an email about it.

Finding the same charge or royalty payment 6 months later is much harder. Especially if, for example, the company to which I made the payment, or that paid me, has a different name from the brand names it uses on its products or platforms.

All that extra time spent on bookkeeping is time I can’t spend finishing a novel, creating a large print edition of a book, or practicing law and getting paid an hourly rate.

In short, spending more time on bookkeeping costs me money.

Time Off In Paris
I really did go on vacation.

Putting off bookkeeping tasks cost me money in another way, too.

Productivity And Money

My mental picture of what I'm earning in royalties versus my expenses is usually overoptimistic. (For more on that, see A Major Mistake Using Amazon Ads To Sell Paperbacks.)

Balancing my books makes me take a good look at the actual numbers. If it’s 6 months down the road, it’s too late to get back 6 months of spending on an ad that’s costing too much. It's also often too late to double down on an ad with great returns. Things change quickly, and reader interests may already have shifted.

In contrast, a monthly snapshot of spending and earning means I can quickly adjust.

The Purpose

So what purpose did I list in my calendar next to my bookkeeping task? Increase income.

Seeing that purpose this past Wednesday prompted me to pull out my bank account statements and balance my books first thing in the morning. And I felt great doing it.

That's all for today. Until next Friday when we'll talk about increasing motivation and energy

L.M. Lilly

A Major Mistake Using Amazon Ads To Sell Paperbacks

This year I've been experimenting with Amazon Ads for my books, both fiction and non-fiction. I've been trying to be as thoughtful and careful as I can.

Yet I still made a big mistake.

One I'm embarrassed to write about. But I will because maybe it'll prevent another author from doing the same.

Sales And Percentages For Amazon Ads

The Amazon Ads dashboard (for the U.S., where I'm based) shows your ad spend and your total sales. You can look at it for different periods of time, including the current day, week, month, or year-to-date.

It also calculates for you a percentage of what your ad costs compared to your sales. So if your total sales were $100 and you spent $30, your average cost of ad per sale was 30%.

The thing to remember is that this figure is a percentage of sales, not royalties. If most of your books are priced so that you earn 70% in royalties, a 30% cost of sales is pretty good.

I knew all of this.

Yet because I failed to take into account the difference between my ebook and paperback royalties, I didn't realize for weeks that I was running ads at a loss.

Selling And Losing

The first novels in my two series earn a 30% royalty and the rest earn 70%. My non-fiction ebooks are mostly at a 70% royalty. So I thought any total percentage below 50% would mean I was earning more than I was spending.

And that worked pretty well for January. As I wrote about in Advertising Books in 2019, I figured if I expanded my ads and gradually spent more I could raise my total sales and come out ahead.

I knew I'd likely lose some money as I tried different ads. That's why I checked every day to see how the ads were doing and what they were costing.

What I didn't factor in was that my paperback ads would trigger the most sales.

Because I initially published paperbacks mainly so readers would see the higher price, highlighting what a good deal the ebooks were, I hadn't been looking at the profit margin.

Which I found out the hard way when my writing workbooks started selling well.

Know Your Paperback Royalty

On a paperback, what you earn depends on a formula based in large part on the length of your book.

So it's not a flat percentage. One $6.99 paperback might earn me $2 and another only $0.50. I don't have any priced in a way that gets me a 70% royalty. If I did that, the prices would be far higher than those of similar books.

I didn't think about any of that when I expanded my Amazon Ads to my workbook editions and started to see my sales climb.

It wasn't until I neared the end of the month and compared royalties to sales that it hit me that on most paperbacks I earned less than a 20% royalty. As my cost of ad per sale was often around 45%, that was bad.

The more paperbacks I sold, the more money I lost.

Adjusting Up And Down

It turned out not only were the royalties low if I planned to keep advertising, publishers of similar books priced them higher than mine on Amazon. Once I saw that, I adjusted the paperback prices up by $1 each ($2 for the longest book).

Even at the new prices, though, my royalty is around 28%. So I also lowered my bid for each click.

It's been a bit hard watching slower sales. I really enjoyed seeing those spikes on the sales graph! But not enough to lose money on ads.

Since then I've watched the total royalties for each month (which you can find on your KDP Reports page) and it's staying above the cost of the ads. Which means it's time once again to try to increase ad spend.

I hope I won't make any more mistakes like that, but it is all part of learning.

That's all for this week.

I'm taking the next few weeks off (my longest vacation ever and the first one in quite a while). But I'll be back at the end of the month. Until Friday May 31–

L.M. Lilly