Blip or New Reality?

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

A lot of times on this blog, I deal with the problems in publishing. Bad problems, like agents embezzling, traditional publishers not paying royalties, income going down, or sales not up to expectations.

In the early days of indie publishing, I would also blog about the problems of success. In our workshops and classes, we call them problems you trade up for.

Just because a person is successful—in any business—doesn’t mean that the problems in their life have gone away. In fact, success brings its own share of problems.

And like all of you, whenever I look at the next rung on the success ladder, I don’t want to hear about the potential problems. I say, Bring ’em on! And I mean it.

But when those problems arrive hand in glove with success, you need to deal with the problems properly to make the success last.

In the past year, a number of writers have had the marvelous difficulty of “sudden” success. And they’ve contacted me about how to handle it.

As many of you know, I’ve been dealing with a lot of change in my life, and it wasn’t until things have settled down these past few weeks that I realized just how many times people have asked about a certain problem in indie publishing that doesn’t appear (in the same obvious way) in traditional publishing.

I got another such inquiry this week, put quite succinctly and clearly, and I realized that the problem the writer was dealing with wasn’t unique to that writer. It happens to a lot of indie writers, and they’ve been talking to me, and I just hadn’t put it together because my focus has been elsewhere.

A little background: the writers who’ve been contacting me listened to me and the other writers who’ve been around a while. These newer writers wrote and wrote and wrote. They wrote in series as well as standalones. They set up their websites and their newsletters, but didn’t do a lot of promotion until they’d had at least ten books published.

Then, something hit. For one person it was a Book Bub that goosed the sales in the entire series. Another writer experienced exponential growth from month to month to month, as more and more readers discovered the series. A third writer saw a huge bump in sales every time a new product (be it short story or novel) in one series got published.

There are a bunch of other variations on this, but you get the idea. These writers have a lot of product, and they’ve been watching sales increase. Then, something—and it varies—hits, and the writers see their sales increase massively.

In one writer’s case, the book sales went from pay-the-electric bill money to three-times-the-paycheck money. In another writer’s case, the book sales went from 10 per day to 100 in every book in the series.

In every single case, the change caused a life-changing increase in income—or it would, if the sales continued.

So after a month or two of these increased sales, the writers contacted me and asked:

Is this a blip or will the sales fall off a cliff?

. . . .

Well, essentially, all huge book sales are a blip. Stephen King’s books don’t sell on release what they did in the 1980s; J.K. Rowling’s non-Harry Potter book sales are lower on release than her Potter books which are, by the way, selling steadily, but not at the stratospheric numbers they sold at in the early part of this century.

That stupid old adage what comes up will come down applies here.

But if you think about sales bundled together as a ball tossed into the air, then extend the metaphor. Sometimes that ball catches the wind and goes at the high level for a long long time, only to land somewhere unexpected.

Sometimes the ball lands on a roof, and it takes forever for the ball to fall down (if it ever does).

Sometimes the ball goes straight up, and comes down into the thrower’s hands.

And on and on and on.

. . . .

  1. Realize that it will take months to know what kind of pattern your sales have hit.

Blip? Maybe. Your sales might plateau. Or grow. Or the increase might only last a few weeks. Or it might last a few months. There is no way to know in the moment.

  1. Plan as if this increase is a blip.

Bank the money. Spend only what you would have spent if this increase had not happened. Keep the money separate if you possibly can, so you know how much you’ve earned that’s additional.

I would bank the money for three months before spending any of it. That way, you’ll know a few more things than you knew when the blip started. You’ll know if the sales are increasing or decreasing or staying the same.

If the sales continue to increase, cautiously figure out what you want to do with the added money. Three months is not enough time to decide if you should quit your day job (unless the money is 3 times your annual salary), but it is enough time to cautiously invest the money in some things for your business—a new computer, say, or something that will make the day-to-day easier.

Or just keep banking the money, saving up for whatever is next on your writing bucket list (like quitting the day job).

If the sales have plateaued, then keep banking the money. You don’t know if this is the new normal yet or a long blip. Give it another three months.

And if the sales fell off that cliff, then you can be happy that you did not make any major life changes in response—and you now have some extra cash in the bank. Yay, you!

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

In ancient days when PG handled some consumer bankruptcies, more than one financial collapse happened in the aftermath of a client receiving a significant amount of unexpected money. It’s far more difficult to scale back financially after you’ve increased your spending than it would have been to continue to spend at the level that was sustaining you before.

The Mercedes people still want their monthly lease payment even if you’re back to Fiat income.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, The Business of Writing

8 Comments to “Blip or New Reality?”

  1. “My blip is due to a promotion I scheduled!”

    *schedules more promotions*

    This is, so far, how I’m handling it. >.>

  2. Richard Hershberger

    The added point to consider is that for the self-published author, your livelihood is inextricably tied to Amazon. Amazon in turn has a history of tweaking its business model. Your income might be gutted in the next tweak, with Amazon neither noticing nor caring.

    This isn’t to say that you should necessarily keep your day job, but that you should be prepared to adapt should the Amazon train run over you. Is your job just a job, or is it a career that you are building. If it is job a job, you can find another just a job in the future, should you need to. If it is a career you are building, the opportunity cost of quitting is much higher.

    At the least, don’t quite the day job until you have enough money in the bank to live, say, a year. And don’t incur new ongoing expenses, making that year in the bank into six months or less.

    On the other hand, do go out to dinner with your loved ones at a really nice restaurant. Or whatever you consider the equivalent. Even a mere blip merits some celebration. Just don’t make this the new normal.

    • Exactly. I’ve seen it myself, on a tiny scale. I was slowly building up my sales on some niche short stories, and feeling pretty good about it. Success! Then Amazon tweaked something, and I lost 80% of my monthly income. Never got it back to that level, and have accepted that hope is gone. Despite the hardships, I believe I’m better off writing other things and going wide.

  3. Paying down a fixed cost is always a good idea (car loan, etc.), if it doesn’t lead you to buy something more expensive as a result.

    If you don’t need the blip for immediate survival, one good option is to invest in an area of your business experimentally which you’ve been avoiding because of cost.

    It should be something that can be a one-time experiment: an audiobook, say, or a translation — something that’s useful even if you don’t follow up with more of the same. Something that will get your feet wet in a new area of your potential business without necessarily distracting you from what you’ve been doing all along.

    The main thing is to avoid doing anything that ratchets up your overall costs or distracts you from your regular business.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      But before investing, make sure you know what the IRS might demand, and be sure you are able to cover it.

  4. There’s also, “Oh, people really like the book. Can I ever write anything like that again?” I’m struggling with that at the moment – how to match the “feel” readers say that they so liked with the first book, but in a different setting and different main character. Especially with a book so different from my usual style.

    I’m betting on blip and hoping for trend.

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