Friday, February 22, 2013

Little Milestones

A Writer’s Chronicles hit a little milestone two weeks ago when it passed 5,000 views. To put that in perspective, it took about 15 months for my blog to gather that many visits. Some blogs get that count in less than five minutes. It does make one wonder, why bother?
I touched on this before, when I began the whole process. It serves as a mental warmup for writing. It also serves as a place to dump out any extraneous thoughts may be percolating in my mind. I don’t blog as frequently as I should, and sometimes not as much as I want to. In a way, that is a good thing, because I turn to write in the blog when I need a break from creative writing. So, when I am not blogging, it means I am cranking away at writing the story.
A more personal reason for blogging is it gives people a window into my mind. Many times over the years, I’ve read a book and wondered what kind of person was the author. More often than not, the image I had in my mind of one author or another was off the mark. Way off the mark. It is always fun being able to meet the author and see what they are like compared to the characters they create. How much of the writer do you actually see in a given author’s writing?
Just looking at the list of posts in my blog will make it pretty obvious to everyone that the primary focus in my mind for the past year—outside of actually writing the story—has been learning how to self-publish. Looking a little deeper, people will realize that I like to teach people how to do things. Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.
My web site has had only 832 visits since I put a counter on it—set in place before I started my blog. That says a great deal about just how important the blog has become as a vehicle of promotion for my writing. It also points out that I need to put some serious work into my web site, which has suffered for want of attention while my focus has been on writing and blogging. It is looking a little thin.
I have tried allowing advertisements on both my blog and web site. I wanted to see if the ads would bring in enough money to offset the hosting costs. After 15 months, only $8 was earned. To be fair, over 60% of that was earned in the past three months, since Nobody (The Pirate Arc) went live.
The way the ads work is you get a small credit whenever someone visits the page the ads are on. If they actually click on an ad, then you receive a significantly larger credit.
I decided to pull advertisements from my main web site. I’m still allowing them on my blog, for now. It was a worthy experiment, but fell short of the desired results. Also, I felt it “diluted the brand” of my writing. Basically, things were being advertised that had nothing to do with me or my stories. Let’s face it, a web site is essentially an infomercial for your product. That product could be an actual item for sale, or just be an idea that you want to push. The ads were placing promotions for someone else’s products, and I was not benefitting from this. I spend all the money on registering my domains and hosting the sites, spend time and effort in building the various web pages and content, and I was not getting a good return on investment of my time and effort.
The blog is hosted for free by Google via their Blogger service. So, with the idea of fair exchange, the ads will remain there for now.
Why all this focus on the numbers?
When I started this blog, one of the titles I considered giving it was The Business of Writing. I decided against it, because it placed too much focus on one subject and more importantly, I am not exactly a wizened expert on the writing business. There are writers out there who have far more experience and better, clearer advice to give. I decided on A Writer’s Chronicles, because the title far better suited my purpose behind the blog, and that was to give the stories behind the stories. What I was doing, what I was learning, what I was experiencing at any given time that lent itself to my writing.
If and when you decide you are going to self-publish your stories, you are accepting the responsibility of assuming the business functions of selling your stories. In light of that, you have to look at the numbers.
Many times in the movies, I’ve seen them portray a successful writer as being obnoxiously obsessed with the sales numbers of his latest titles, brushing off fans and other people as annoyances. I hate the cliché obnoxiousness. But, I have to say that paying attention to the sales numbers, visits to web sites, where are people coming from to see your book, are all very important.
If you want to succeed as a professional writer, you have to pay attention to your audience and where they are coming from.
What do all these numbers mean? What do they represent?
The numbers tell you first how many copies you have sold of a given book. On that, you know how much you will eventually make in income when the royalty checks come in.
If you look a little harder, and a little closer, you can see something else. Maybe something more important. You begin to see just who your audience is.
Where are they coming from? Where did they hear about your book?
A lot of traffic to my blog comes from Facebook connections. To my surprise, a fairly strong percentage comes from Twitter. I didn’t expect that at all.
Another surprise was that one-third of the people who have come to my web site are in Europe. The vast majority are in the United States. But China?! Hits to my blog from China ranked third on the list! Looking through the web logs, it appears that most of the traffic is due to bots and spiders crawling through my web pages gleaning search information.
It’s important to know these things about the people who are reading your book. Do you want to reach more readers? Then you have to find out where people are learning about your book!
If you write a story that you have targeted to young women, does it make sense to spend almost $300,000 to advertise your book in a major men’s magazine? (Yes, people, it really does cost that much for a ⅓-page, four-color ad in a national magazine for three months!) And the opposite can be true. If you find that most of the people reading your story are men, would you advertise in a women’s magazine?
Actually, the answer to that second question can be rather tricky. It could be argued that if your story has appeal to both sexes, it might be worth publishing in media that cater to the smaller demographic of your readers to bring your story to their attention. It’s a tough call, and requires deeper studying on your part to determine if the return on investment would be worth the expense. Is there really an untapped market on that side? Or would you be throwing good money after bad to chase after that demographic?
And then there is the most important milestone of all: the number of copies sold. To date, the total has reached 997 copies of Nobody (The Pirate Arc). Just shy of 1,000. Just 9.9% of the total number of copies I need to sell of Nobody when it is released to declare this a success. I view that as pretty damned good! It was significantly more copies than I expected to sell over this time period.
It suggests, that there are nearly 1,000 people out there that are looking forward to buying the complete book when it is released next month.
This is the kind of ugly stuff that most writers don’t want to dirty their hands with. We all hate the attitude where someone views everyone as a number. Many will complain, there is more to writing than numbers.
The answer is, yes, writing is about writing a story and connecting that story to other people. Connecting the imagination in your mind with that of another person through simple leaves of paper. This connection can span across all time and space. It simply takes that one other person to pick up your book and begin reading it.
But to get your book into the hands of that other person goes beyond the art of writing. It requires printing it and delivering it to the place where that other person will pick it up and read it.
That takes money. And to make money, you have to sell your book. And to sell your book as effectively as possible, you have to find your audience. If you don’t do this, then you probably won’t be making your living as an author for very long.
Do not forget the business side of writing. Writing a story is art. Selling that story is business. To make the business a success, you have to pay attention to how, where, and to whom your book is selling. That means watching the numbers. It is very easy for a writer to get lost in the effort of writing and ignore all else. Even a business with an excellent product can fail if it is not managed well.