At the end of every year, it’s nice to take one giant step back and look at how things panned out. We often start the year with great ambition, then crawl over the finish line at the end, having accomplished only a bit of what we wanted.
I’m no exception to this, haha.
First, as much as I appreciate you reading this update, I want to make my intentions clear. This is—more or less—a journal entry made public. I’m going to dig into what went well and what didn’t, share lessons learned, and set goals for the new year. In twelve months, I’ll return to measure my 2024 progress.
Last year’s December Update has been edited to the extreme. I provided lots of specifics, then as those things didn’t come to pass, I went back and removed them from the article.
This update will be different. It’s a record. I won’t be changing it because it’s important to serve as a reminder of the “me” I was when looking back.
Table of Contents
- Brand Struggle
- No Deadlines
- Shorter Fiction
- Kindle Unlimited vs Wide
- Print Books
All my life, I’ve played video games and board games. At one point, I decided to be a game developer and published an Xbox 360 game (7Strains).
Honestly, after launching Dungeon Runner, I almost gave in to the temptation to pursue game development instead. Being a writer is hard. And I love creating fun interactive experiences.
GameLit/LitRPG has always been the magic middle point between my life passions. But fun game mechanics don’t always make for a fun story. I find myself growing weary of crunching fake numbers while trying to write.
As a writer, you should write what you enjoy reading. Sadly, most GameLit books don’t interest me. Many of the ones I try—even the most popular ones—just don’t engage me as a reader.
That’s not to say good LitRPG books don’t exist. I liked All the Skills, Eight, and Cinnamon Bun. AlterWorld and Awaken Online were my first LitRPGs, which I enjoyed to such an extent, I started playing an MMORPG (Albion Online).
But I’ve read far more other books and tend to enjoy them more.
An author’s brand can be many things. It doesn’t have to limit what you write, but I want readers who enjoy one of my books to enjoy all of my books. If I write in vastly different genres, that won’t be the case.
Humor is a big piece of my brand. As much as it limits what I can write, I love making people laugh. Going into 2024, I will continue sharpening my skills as a humorist but do so in more genres than GameLit.
That said. . . .
(I really like the idea of Fantasy + Romance + Cozy + Comedy. Grab yourself a steamy cup of FaRoCoCo! I also like the idea of building a large world of connected stories. This would help me brand all stories in this world to deliver a consistent experience.)
Everything we do tends to have a timer attached to it. No matter what we pursue, we can only do so much until our timer runs out (die; I’m talking about death). So, naturally, every project has a timer, a measure of its value against the cost of our time investment (our lives).
There are different types of deadlines: private, public, those we impose on ourselves, and those others impose on us.
For the last seven months, I’ve had very tight deadlines on Dungeon Runner, Arachnomancer, and an unnamed series (that I canceled).
Creatively, I’ve learned that I do not work well with deadlines. They impose too much of a restriction on what I am creating.
I first realized this when Dungeon Runner 3 ended up being 178k words. That’s nearly two 10-hour audiobooks. And yet my deadlines didn’t allow for flexibility to account for something that’s hard to account for: book length.
I’m a discovery writer. The story will be as long as it needs to be.
Or short (see next section).
My focus for 2024 is to simply write a lot of consumable words (published) in whatever format they come. Books will be done when they are done, and when they are done, they will be published.
Nathan Lowell once explained to me that writing is like water filling buckets. When the bucket is full, you move it to the side and start filling another. I will write words, and they will form stories, long and short.
A week ago, I released my first piece of short fiction (14k words) since the original short stories I published three years ago.
Elf Against the Machine was an absolute blast to write. Part of what made it so fun was its length. It’s a simple, hilarious story that didn’t take months or years to finish. There’s also no stress about how well it should perform because less time was invested.
As authors—especially authors in Kindle Unlimited—we’re brainwashed into thinking long is better. As such, if the story gets away from us and doubles in size, it’s no big deal. Long is good. The longer your book, the better!
But the longer the book, the longer it takes to write, the slower your release schedule becomes, the more expensive editing and narration become.
(I have been told by authors that they are not brainwashed about book length. All successful books they have, they wished were longer. But they also write 5x faster than most authors. The bigger the book, the bigger the impact it makes if it fails, especially if it took all year to write.)
Dungeon Runner 3 (178k words) can’t be made into a hardback using print-on-demand. It’s too long. The formatting would need to be changed. Smaller font. Shrink the margins. Decrease line-height. Etc. It wouldn’t match the first books.
The book has only been out for a few days, but it looks like it’ll be one of my worst-selling books. Yet, I think it’s a fantastic story. I hope to change its terrible trajectory with advertising (see section below).
My most successful book, on the other hand, happens to also be one of my shortest at 93k words. This tells me that as long as the length falls within a certain range, most people don’t care.
Story trumps length.
Personally, I love the idea of 50k-word books. This is about the length of a light novel (Japanese novel, written to be accessible). The standard length of a novel is anything above 40k words.
At around 50k words, I can target $2.99 or $3.99 and test lots of ideas. If one takes off, I can write more books in that series. This also drastically reduces time investment, risk, and reader friction (price and book-length; a long book has a high time cost to consume).
2024 is the year to play with different lengths to see what works well for my creative process and the market.
Kindle Unlimited vs Wide
I’m constantly teetering between going Wide (my eBooks in all stores) and being exclusive with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Last year, I made the bold claim that Bookworm to Badass would be my last Kindle Unlimited title.
I was going Wide!
That didn’t happen.
First, some context. Arachnomancer 1 (eBook) made $15k with no ad spend or ongoing social promo posts. It was my first book and a breakout success. I attributed this success to Kindle Unlimited.
Every book since has sold far fewer copies.
One-third as much. One-fifth as much. One . . . fiftieth as much.
I saw my desire to leave Kindle Unlimited as foolish until I could build up enough success to carry me forward. This is because only 35% of my income comes from people who bought my eBooks rather than read them via Kindle Unlimited.
Amazon is the largest US market, which makes up the largest percentage of my earnings. Were I to remove my books from Kindle Unlimited, they wouldn’t get borrows, thus lowering my sales rank and organic discoverability.
But, as you can see with my downward trend of earnings, I believe things have changed. I’ll explain further in the next section.
Amazon has changed a lot since I first started publishing. 41% of their search results are now ads. This reduces organic discoverability.
In the end, Amazon wants to make money. They do this by selling ads and products, taking their 30-65% cut, and charging a bandwidth fee 1,000x higher than standard rates. (I shall forever be bitter about this, haha.)
If your book does not sell, they don’t want to show it to readers.
With the underperforming launch of Dungeon Runner—and the inability to find the series using its main search terms—it seemed as if the books were being suppressed. In order to sell, then, I’d need to bring my own readers.
But in that case, why stay exclusive with Amazon?
What are they doing to earn their cut of each sale?
I believe there are two answers to that question, and I needed to take a step back to recognize where I was failing.
The first answer is a matter of friction. Amazon is where 83% of eBooks are sold, which includes Kindle Unlimited (about 16% of the ebook reading market in the US). It is easier to sell a book on Amazon than it is on my website.
The second answer returns to the fact that Amazon wants to make money. They promote books that are selling. If I don’t do anything to sell my books, neither will they. It’s as simple as that.
Going into 2024, I will be advertising my books a lot. If I still cannot succeed on Amazon, I will take my books Wide and sell direct.
This is a hard section to write about.
If you didn’t know, I love audiobooks. I don’t read fiction; I listen to it. To me, the purest form of storytelling is spoken. Narrators bring stories to life, elevating them to more than the black marks you find on a page.
While I write, I narrate. I know precisely how I want the story to sound. Humor requires the correct timing and voice acting to work. As such, I always intended to narrate my own audiobooks.
But it never happened.
I spread myself too thin and never got around to learning the skills required to narrate. I have the room, hardware, and software. I’ve studied extensively and practiced. But I’m not quite at the level to do my stories justice.
Since it was taking too long, I decided to license my audiobook rights to a company that published five of my titles this year. I can’t listen to them because there is no possible way for the narrators to narrate the way I believe the books should be narrated.
We’re different people.
That’s not to say they did a bad job.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe the company has done a good job.
There have been numerous problems: forgotten files, errors that got through mastering, failure to follow the terms of our contract, poor communications, terrible pricing practices, bad covers, refusal to update my titles to match the eBooks, linking audio to the wrong books, and overall poor sales.
Other authors I’ve talked to were also unhappy.
As such, I canceled my last contract (unpublished series) with the company and paid back their advance. If I could, I would buy back my rights.
All the problems aside, readers got audiobooks, and I made enough money to pay my bills throughout 2024. It’s hard, however, to feel like I didn’t sell out. But the money gives me time to keep trying to figure out this author thing.
2024 has at least one planned audiobook launch for Arachnomancer 3. I don’t think I will give up my audiobook rights to future series.
This year, I ventured into print books . . . shortly.
I really wanted to cradle one of my book-babies. And I did. It’s a neat experience to hold something that, for most, only exists digitally. Flipping through the pages, smelling the paper . . . Ahhh. Hey, this is perfectly normal behavior!
Given how Dungeon Runner 1’s launch went, I decided it wasn’t worth investing the time for books two and three. They needed wrap-around covers, ISBNs, and ordered samples for quality checking.
Further, since I changed the Dungeon Runner subtitles, I had to unpublish the first book and change its ISBN. But without books two and three, I didn’t want to re-publish the first book.
Sadly, two people ordered copies before it was unpublished. If you have the physical book, email me a picture, and I’ll send you a $15 gift card. :)
That said, I’m re-evaluating my thoughts on print. I felt pressured to make the print version special somehow. But now, I think I should just make physical versions that, more or less, match the eBooks. Special editions can come later.
2024 should see lots of print edition books from me.
I wanted to publish a lot more books this year than I did. But three novels, at around 400k words total, is more than I’ve ever published in a year. Oh, and a Christmas story. I’d love to write another next year. :)
In 2024, as impossible as it feels, I want to double my published words in a year.
Let’s make next year awesome. Thanks for being a reader! :)