Blog Archives

UPDATED: Schedule – Writing and Publishing Template

Yet another spreadsheet update for 2015!

The “Schedule – Writing and Publishing Template” is not contingent on a year. I use my copy for multiple years. However, when planning for 2015 I realized that the spreadsheet was missing a crucial element: estimated word count. By adding this column I realized I had accidentally planned on writing over 800k in 2015.

Oops! No way was that going to happen!

I posted an updated version on the Writing Freebies page.




Free 2014 Word and Revision Tracking Spreadsheet

OpenIcons / Pixabay

Along with writing, I am very much a numbers geek. Goals, keeping track, statistics…

Oh yeah, I love ’em!

One of the many ways I do that is by keeping track of my writing and revising process. However, I had a problem when looking for a good way to keep track of it, and that is that I don’t like the daily tracking spreadsheets. I wanted something more flexible.

So, I came up with my own. One that tracks daily, weekly, and month. Depending on my mood and the events in (annoying) real-life, it is flexible enough to keep track. Plus, thanks to the “Totals” tab, I can see in an instant what projects I’ve written on in the year.

There is a tab with instructions, but here are the basics to get started:

1. Decide on the yearly goal and type into the box on the upper left corner in both the “Revision Count” and “New Word Count” tabs (Yellow cell ONLY). Stats and weekly/monthly goals will automatically adjust.

2. Update how many days of the week you have available to write (1-7). The “Writing Days” column will automatically adjust to show how many writing days you will have as each week progresses. You will also see in the last week how many writing days you’ve allotted yourself for the year.

NOTE: The first tab is information collected from the entire spreadsheet and displayed for convenience. Do not manipulate anything in this tab.

You can play with how big or small a yearly goal you want, as well as adjust to how many days a week you have available and see how the numbers change. This will help you come up with something realistic for your situation.

Stats included: Average Per Day Needed (Adjusted for how many days a week available to write), Average Per Week Needed, Average Per Month Needed, Ahead or Behind (Week), Goal for Tomorrow (Daily), Average Per Week, Average Per Day, Percent Complete, Year Total, Month Totals, Monthly Average

Down below you will find both Excel .exl and Open Office .ods formats. Have fun with 2014!

Excel File Format: 2014 WordCount Tracker TEMPLATE
Open Office File Format: 2014 WordCount Tracker TEMPLATE

____________________

J.A. MarlowThe String Weavers 350H

The String Weavers

(The String Weavers – Book 1)

Disappearing food. Music no one else hears. An alien dropped off by a giant flaming bird…

Abducted from Earth, Kelsey Hale finds herself in the middle of a deadly conflict among alien worlds and parallel universes. She must not only survive, but also rescue her father from a dangerous group of unknown intent. In the process discovering a family secret that will change her life forever.

With the mysterious Weavers connecting it all.

** Book One in “The String Weavers” series **

Amazon | Apple | Barnes and Noble | Kobo | Smashwords




Publishing 2012 – A Year in Review

I debated posting this. Strange as it seems, I’ve had pushback from sharing some of the details of my publishing journey. The reasons are many, and I won’t bore you with them. And yet, when I first started out, I really appreciated other writers sharing information. It helped me make informed decisions. To see what was happening out there. It took the fear of the unknown away.

So, in the end, I decided to share. Sorry, new readers of my fiction, but you may want to skip this one. For all you fellow writers, by all means read on.

I now have full tracking spreadsheets of 2011 and 2012. These spreadsheets bring together reports from all the retailers, organize that information, reference it to my own database of my work, and allow me to create many informative pivot tables to view the information in different ways. Each of those pivot tables allow me to see different types of trends.

As the information began piling up, I started noticing several interesting things, which ultimately resulted in this post.

First, I am not a writer who has hit it lucky with a bestseller. I think I’m one of those silent-majority average selling writers (As Hugh Howey says, “The outliers are not the self-publishing story. It’s the midlisters.”). We always hear about those who strike it rich or emerge as outliers. This is a post by someone who is a slow-build so-called ‘mid-lister’, and who is happy about that. I’m considered a prolific writer. I have a lot of books on the way, and many already out there, that might get lucky. The more published, the more chance I have of having a book hit it big.

Considering what I just said, it’s interesting to see the slow upward trend in sales. I attribute this to continuing to write and release new work. At this point in my career, I view that as the best marketing and promotion I can do. I’m doing all I can to increase backlist. (Great article by Kris Rusch: “The Business Rusch: Writing Like It’s 2009”)

But, let’s get to a few numbers.

Unit sales for 2011 (with 10 1/2 months of publishing): 718
Unit sales for 2012: 1359

Oh yeah. I like that upward trend. 89% increase in 2012. Imagine what I could have done if I could have kept the momentum going in the last half of 2012! (More on that later)

In April and May of 2012 I moved to a different pricing structure. I moved almost all of my work to $2.99 and up, as well as raising the longest novels up to $7.99. Aw, heck. Here are the current pricing tiers in case they help anyone else:

Fiction (10,000-15,000 words) & eDoubles $2.99
Fiction (15,000 to 25,000 words) $3.49
Fiction (25,000 to 40,000 words) $3.99
Fiction (40,000 to 55,000 words) $4.99
Fiction (55,000 to 70,000 words) $5.99
Fiction (70,000 to 85,000 words) $6.99
Fiction (85,000 words and up) $7.99

(Other ideas here at Dean Wesley Smith’s blog (read the comments!). The above numbers were decided on for multiple reasons, including the pricing survey I did here)

A lot of writers would scream doing such a thing would kill sales. Raise prices? Was I nuts?

But, did it kill sales?

Before this raise, the longest book was priced at a maximum of $4.99 (and that was from before when the novels were at $2.99. And sitting there barely selling. Raising them to $4.99 increased both unit sales and net revenue). Raising them to price points of the tier above increased the net revenue again, with unit sales staying the same, increasing, and once in a while dropping a little.

To be more specific: from March to April, overall units sold dropped 21.2%. However, income increased by 8.6%. So, yes, fewer unit sales, but my income went up.

And in May it went up even further, achieving my best month of that year. Not in units. January has the distinction of the most units moved in 2012. In fact, units dropped 7.9% from January’s total compared to May’s total. No, I’m talking about increasing in revenue. And how much did income increase compared to January?

A whopping 21%.

Think about that. Units went down 7.9%, but take-home pay went up 21 PERCENT compared to my highest-unit month. That’s huge!

Writing is my job. Units pushed is not everything, not by a long shot. Revenue taken home is a big factor. That’s what makes the difference between eating or not.

Some people have had success with cheaper prices. I tried that for well over a year, which was ironically during the time when this strategy was supposed to work better than it does in today’s publishing environment. Well, it didn’t help me.

What did help me? Raising the prices, and then leaving them there. Not panicking when the fall slump hit (I’ve known of the phenomena for some times, so why panic if this is a normal thing?). Not panicking when a month came out a little slow. (Kris Rusch has an excellent post on this here. Basic advice: stop obsessing.) There are so many things that can cause sales fluctuations, and 2012 had a lot of them (hint: don’t think of only the book industry. What other big things happened in 2012?).

In June and through the summer of 2012 I took classes and redid almost all the book descriptions and covers. Those upgrades plus the new pricing tiers resulted in 2012 whomping 2011 out of the park.

Then came the fall and winter. I won’t go into details, but lets just say that life hit from multiple directions at once . The plans I had in place of what works I would release in each month disappeared in a poof of dust. I hardly had any new releases in the last six months of 2012. If I hadn’t had such a productive first 6 months, I would have never reached my yearly writing goal. Writing for almost 6 months was minimal.

Because the new releases are my main form of promotion, I expected a hit (and not in a good way). Did I get one?

Yes.

And yet the titles still out there continued to sell. With the higher retail prices, it meant each month of the fall of 2012 still beat anything in 2011. By a wide margin.

Now we are moving into 2013. I’m still building up speed after getting back on the writing-train. Life is still hitting, but I’m starting to polish up new work and getting it released (Salmon Run book 6 is finally out!). The sales of the first two months of 2013 are reflecting this. I’m still climbing out from the maintenance level of sales from the fall and winter of 2012, but both units and revenue are trending upwards.

For the sake of the amount of food in the pantry, this is a good thing. 😛

Observations

Value yourself. Get good first readers. If they are liking your stories, then it’s time to start valuing yourself. Price accordingly. Big publishers don’t bring out a new writer automatically at a lower price point just because they are new. They price them the same as their big sellers. Get your self-esteem issues out of this basic business decision. If you price lower (as I am now with one of my books) have a backlist in place first, (which I do, with 35+ works), and have it for a specific marketing reason. Such as the lead-in of a series.

When you make a big change such as details like pricing, cover, and/or book description, leave it! (Unless there is a very obvious problem) Don’t panic the moment sales drop for a week or a month or even two months. You may be reacting to the wrong thing. I know I would have been. This last year had many circumstances impacting sales, things out of control of any publisher, but a writer may not know or be aware of all of them. Give the changes a minimum of 6 months. Longer would be better, as it gives you a good baseline without all the short-period spikes and valleys distracting you. Then you can judge if the changes are working, or if you need to tweak things again.

Yes, sales slowly ramp up by themselves if you have a good book, without you going nuts with promotion. I talked about the last six months of 2012. Yes, sales dropped when I couldn’t get more work out. But, something very very interesting happened. The first month sales dropped drastically… and then for Each. And. Every. Single. Month after that sales in units increased. Out of those 6 months, only one month did not increase in revenue, but even then the shortage was not much. I figure that one month happened just because of the mix of books bought. Read what I just said before. To me, this was a huge deal. Everything left alone, and not only did books continue to sell, but they slowly started increasing again! Lord, I love this new publishing world.

The mix of books that sell month to month changes. Once I did a pivot table of titles by month, this really jumped out. One month one title will be your best seller. Another month, a different one. Having a backlist helps balance out the overall sales and revenue.

Diversify sales channels. Yes, I know. That sets the people who are doing well in KDP Select foaming at the mouth. The thing is, not everyone does well with it. Looking at my spreadsheets, I’m seeing Amazon accounting for 66-87%. Which means the other sales channels are ranging between 13-33% of my income. I need that income, and I welcome the readers who bring it in. In total, Amazon was 70% for the year, and other income streams settling in at 30%. (One of these days I’ll figure out the percentage of US buyers compared to other countries. Sorry, I don’t have the time right now, but it is increasing. Especially through Kobo and Apple. Not so much with Amazon.)

Increase control by going direct. When Kobo’s Writing Life opened in the summer of 2012, I jumped at the chance to go direct despite their high payment threshold. The ability to format a book description was huge. Before, by going through Smashwords, the descriptions came out in one big ugly lump. I don’t blame readers for passing right by. Also, by going direct, I could custom set prices according to currency. Did going direct help? My sales at Kobo increased 95% compared to the 6 months before. Suddenly I had sales! So, yes, it did help.

Plans for 2013

Release more in the ongoing series. Series are where I make a majority of my sales. Heck, I may even start writing new series! (Oh, and for you String Weaver fans, yes the next books are coming!)

Do my best to release regularly. Almost every month I release something new, even if it’s a short story or a novelette, sales push upwards. One strange observation is that the increase in sales does not always come from the new release. Instead, it comes from the other backlist. Readers seeing the new release on the “New Releases” lists and then clicking through backlist and buying those instead? In any case, I need to keep the new release momentum going if at all possible.

I wanted to go direct with Apple, but they also have a high payment threshold and right now, looking at the numbers, it doesn’t make sense. So, I’m reluctantly staying with Smashwords for that distribution as right now description formatting is making it over to Apple. Also, I figured out how to use Scrivener to create Smashwords-compatible .doc files (no more extra hours-plus formatting time!). Good thing, as Word does not inhabit my current computer and never will. I will review this decision as the backlist and sales increase.

Apply what I learned from Dean Wesley Smith’s “Pitches and Blurbs” online workshop. I can now see why some of my books were selling more. I had fumbled around and accidentally found a few good working description without realizing it. Now that I consciously know the elements that go into a good sales-pitch, it’s time to get the other books up to snuff!

Have lots of fun writing new work!

That last one is important. I want to have fun writing this year, and learning more about the craft. Give the readers fun stories, with each of them improving on the last. Write, learn, write more, release. Rinse. Repeat.

As a writer, and a reader, I can’t think of anything better!

____________________

J.A. Marlow

Aurora Equinox (Salmon Run – Book 6)

Welcome to Salmon Run, Alaska! A place of wild animals, wild land, and wild inhabitants…oh, and native legends come alive and an inter-planetary alien conflict at their backdoor.

With the equinox come the aurora and the itch of spring…

Good moods are scarce in Salmon Run these days. Zach Callahan’s lingering foul mood even manages to drive off Sasha. His concerned father insist on a check-up visit to the local spaceship just as Zach discovers a threat worthy of true worry:

The return of a threat from the south.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords




Amazon 47North – Pricing Analysis

“For our customers who are avid readers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, we’re happy to introduce 47North, the latest imprint from Amazon Publishing. 47North offers a wide array of new novels and cult favorites, from urban fantasies to space operas, alternate histories to gothic and supernatural horror.”

As I write science fiction, this is the area of the 47North catalogue I will focus in on. They are still rolling out the pre-orders, so the science fiction portion is a small percentage of the overall count. (8 books out of 35)

Even if we have only 8 books, here is the breakdown in book pricing:

$9.99 List discounted to $7.99
6

$9.99 List discounted to $3.99
1

$9.99 List discounted to $2.99
1

Yes, all of the above are ebooks with a list price of $9.99. All of them are discounted, with some more than others. 47North is one of Amazon’s newer imprints, and this shows in the pricing and discounts. Amazon is using pricing to help get a foothold. All but 2 of the books are pre-order and not yet shipping.

Interesting numbers on the science fiction side, but what about if we include all of the 47North genres, bringing in science fiction, fantasy, and horror? Here are the ebook numbers:

34 books total (One .99 ebook tossed out of the analysis as it appears to be the Indie novella version)

$9.99 List discounted to $7.99
14

$9.99 List discounted to $6.88
1

$9.99 List discounted to $6.39
1

$9.99 List discounted to $4.99 (One $5 ebook is included in this)
3

$9.99 List discounted to $3.99
1

$9.99 List discounted to $2.99
1

$2.99 List with no discount
11

$1.99 List with no discount
1

Again, the list price on 21 ebooks out of 34 as $9.99 is striking. All of these are novels, and all of them have the $9.99 list price, even if they are all discounted at the present time to $7.99-2.99.

Looking at the above, it appears as if the $2.99 price is edging in on the $7.99 price, doesn’t it? Only, on closer inspection it does not.

See, all the ebooks priced strictly $2.99 without discounting are novellas between 63 and 125 pages. The only novel among the $2.99 ebooks is the one with a list price of $9.99 and discounted to $2.99. The latter is mostly likely because of what I mentioned before: Amazon is positioning the line to gain readers.

Looking closer revealed a few other key things.

The novellas are not in print. Only 3 novellas together in a collection are in print, and the collections range from a list price of $9.99 and $7.99, discounted to $6.88 to $5. Meanwhile, all the novels are slated for both ebook and print, with the books having an across-the-board list price of $14.95, which, of course, are deeply discounted (but with print, Amazon is known for this).

As Amazon starts to sell the imprint catalogue and more books are put out, the pricing structure could change. The above is only what Amazon is starting out with, but considering the information they have on the back-end, it does provide a solid basis of where they believe the best pricing points are for all three of these genres.

(One caveat on the above findings is that 47North is a new imprint. It is still finding its legs. I’ll do another analysis in about 6 months to see how it is shaping up. I’m sure Amazon will be looking at its price structure a lot more often than that. Heh.)

In fact, studying the page breakdown of those books that listed page numbers (17 ebooks with listed page numbers), here are the findings:

Novels of 275 pages or more
7

Novellas of 63-125 pages
10

Looking at list prices, here is what Amazon is doing for list price in these genres for specific lengths:

Novels
$9.99

Novellas
$2.99

Interesting list prices, aren’t they? Yes, they are all discounted to $7.99 and below, but I do find it interesting. It tells me Amazon has found in its database that these are the target prices it believes these books should sell at. I, as an Indie and small press, am paying attention.

Especially after the Romance Writers of America “Readership Stats” survey, which came up with the following little tidbits of pricing information. Please note that each genre has a different audience and reader expectations when it comes to pricing:

Romance E-book Pricing
From the data in the survey, PubTrack was able to use a methodology known as the van Westendorp pricing model to establish a bottom price (floor), a top price (ceiling), and a target price for the typical romance e-book. In the survey, they offered two scenarios: the first was assuming that a $9 mass-market paperback was available as well as the digital format; while the second scenario assumed that the e-book was the only available option. The results were as follows:

Too expensive
$10.90 (If a $9 paperback is available)
$11.73 (Only e-book is available)

High price, but still reasonable
$8.33 (If a $9 paperback is available)
$8.57 (Only e-book is available)

Fairest price
$5.90 (If a $9 paperback is available)
$6.13 (Only e-book is available)

Floor price (would question quality)
$2.55 (If a $9 paperback is available)
$2.66 (Only e-book is available)

Dean Wesley Smith also had a pricing blog post (The New World of Publishing: Pricing Indie Books…Some 2012 Thoughts) not long ago, detailing his new pricing tier. It makes for interesting reading, as do the comments section where there are other great observations and experience details on the subject.

Time to rethink the pricing, don’t you think? The discounted prices of Amazon’s 47North line come in rather close to the RWA survey.  Sure, bargain-basement pricing has worked for some, but for many others it is not working like it once did. We, as writers, think different than readers. Most who buy our work are not writers. It’s readers who are our ultimate customers and buyers.

Think long and hard over the $.99 and $2.99 price points unless it is a part of focused and well-planned promotion or marketing blitz. Notice Amazon still has a higher list price on the novels. There is a reason for that. They have a higher regular place and the deep discounts may not last long.

I know I’m going to get push-back on this post and the couple paragraphs above, along with several people talking about “but I have no name, I must price low.” Go hence forth to Kris Kathryn Rusch’s latest article “Audience” and see her thoughts about the matter. Oh, and also New York Times bestselling author Tracy Hickman.  Because you are ‘not known’ is not a valid argument. It is insecurities (Oh boy, watch the comment section now…).

The industry is in flux. There’s no doubt about that. It’s important to keep an eye on trends, to continually educate yourself, and try to do better not only in the business, but also with the craft. Complacency or gut feelings can be dangerous to longevity.

Write good books. Present them well with a good cover, title, and blurb. To add to the mix, we now have new information coming in concerning pricing points. Do your own research for your own genre or sub-genre. Pay attention to all of it.

And then, based on knowledge and not insecurities and emotion, make wise decisions.

____________________

J.A. Marlow


A planet-wide conspiracy is waiting at Grandmother’s house…

“Always wear the red hood and cape while you are in the forest,” Grandma admonished.

For a teen with purple and red hair, and an attitude to match, the small claustrophobic city of Oburos grows ever smaller with Uncle Travis’s attempts to take over her and her mother’s life.

An invitation to visit Grandmother’s house, nestled among the giant trees filling the planet, gives Kate a welcome respite. But, there is no time for rest. A conspiracy among the forest inhabitants, moving trees, and other mysteries await her at Grandmother’s house.

Kate learns just how little she knew of the forests, much less its animals. To survive she must learn fast, and that includes trust and teamwork.

And just where was Grandma, anyway?

A Science Fiction 83600, 335 page (approximate) word stand-alone novel retelling of the fairy tale “Little Red Riding Hood”.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords




2012 – A Year of Big Goals

2011 Business Plan in Review

Start up publishing company

Check! Doing it was easy. Finding a name for the publishing company was hard. It took almost two months of thinking, putting up ideas on a dry-erase board, and researching domain names before I settled on “Star Catcher Publishing.”

Set up Distribution and Retailer Accounts

Again, rather easy and straight-forward. This took maybe an hour.

Publishing Goals

Then came the plan of what projects to finish and publish. This was a short list of three novellas and one novel. Good news is that I achieved this goal.

The better news is that I also achieved the second-year goal, and most of the third and fourth. This was good for business, no question, but it made me thing about what the goals should be going into 2012.

New Types of Goals

The one thing I’ve learned this past year is the need to be flexible in the writing business. Sometimes one or another project is working better. Sometimes another project needs to be brought forward because of increased interest in a sub-genre. Sometimes a cover is ready for one but not another.

I kept this in mind in deciding the goals for 2012.

2012 Writing Plan

2012 Business plan

Writing Goals:
500,000 new words
250,000 revision words

Publication Goals:
12 new releases in 2012.
Get out paperback versions of the novels.

Nice and simple. I did not define any of the goals down to the point of naming exact books or series. I did not decide it would be so many novels, novellas, novelettes, and short stories.

Nope. I kept it at overall word count for both new words and revision words. Doing it this way I can keep going without guilt. Work on the projects that need to be worked on. Bring projects forward in the queue if I think they need to be. Push back books that are having problems.

At the same time, I’m also stretching myself. I’ve never tried 500,000 new words in a year. For the second half of 2011 I was able to write 300,000 with the help of NaNoWriMo, so I have high hopes of achieving the goal. Even if I don’t make it, I’m sure to come out of 2012 with a heck of a lot of new words!

I’m not as fast at revision, so I’m working towards a lower goal on that with the hopes of building up so that the new words and revision words will eventually be the same each year. In 2011 I’ve taken great strides in it, which is what happens when you practice something a lot. Here’s to 2012 being even better! :clink:

2012 promises to be a year of stretching the writing wings, trying new things, continuing to learn to be flexible, and most of all, telling ever more stories. I can’t wait!

____________________

J.A. Marlow

Coffee Cup Dreams

She wasn’t supposed to wake up when dead…

During what should have been a simple operation, Tish Douglas died. And yet, she also awoke… in what the doctors called a ‘psi event.’

Despite having no memory of the incident, it means she’s required to go on a life-time course of debilitating drugs designed to reign in her supposedly new psi gifts. She’s left with the option of existing on Earth in a drug-haze, or leave the planet.

When an opportunity for a good paying job on a space station known as Redpoint One is offered, she jumps at the chance. Even though she doesn’t have any experience as a ‘maintenance engineer.’ Even though the station sits in the middle of nowhere, a still-operating construct of a long-gone alien species.

Between pirate attacks, intelligent repair robots, and maintenance emergencies, Tish must find a place for herself.

All complicated by a growing attraction to the one person on the station she can’t have: boss Arthur Getty.

A stand-alone 48400 word, 193 page (approximate), science fiction romance novel.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords




Newsletter Signup

Blog Subscription

Mom (A.K.A. Mother Hen) Cancer Fund

Yes, our very own beloved Mother Hen is now struggling with a GBM tumor. The family is struggling because of no insurance and we are desperate to get her the life-saving treatment she needs. If you have a little extra and would like to help out this very deserving person, please consider giving a little donation to help her along the way. Thank you!

GoFundMe Help For Mother Hen

Click Here to use Paypal

Writerly Progress

2015 Yearly New Words
47.15%  188600 of 400000
2015 Yearly Revision Words
9.53%  38100 of 400000

Archives

Free Serial: Zerralon

Wattpad

Available Ebook Formats

The works of J.A. Marlow are available in a wide number of formats including DRM-Free. Below is a list of a few of the retailers the various formats can be found at.

Mobi (Kindle compatible): Amazon, Drive Thru Scifi, Omnilit/All Romance Ebooks, Smashwords, Xinxii

Epub (Nook compatible): Barnes & Noble, Drive Thru Scifi, Google Play, Kobo, Omnilit/All Romance Ebooks, Smashwords, Xinxii, iBookstore

PDF: Omnilit/All Romance Ebooks, Smashwords, Xinxii

Palm DOC/iSolo (Palm compatible): Smashwords

RTF (Rich Text Format): Smashwords

LRF (Older Sony Reader format): Smashwords

Plain Text: Smashwords

Online Reading (HTML): Google Play, Smashwords

Dreamstime Images

J.A. Marlow and Star Catcher Publishing is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, iTunes PHG Affiliate Program, and affiliate programs with Kobo, Smashwords, DrivethruFiction, and All Romance Ebooks. These affiliate advertising programs are designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking.