Writing Income, Beyond Bookselling

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Surveys and data collection sources in the UK, Canada, and the US, have shown that writers’ incomes have decreased significantly over the past decade. 2020 made things worse for many, so I thought I’d share ways that authors can potentially earn some extra cash through their writing. The list below represents things I’ve done over the years to supplement my income.

  1. Submit, articles, personal essays, and short stories to magazines and periodicals
  2. Enter contests
  3. Guest speaking
  4. Workshop presentations
  5. Facilitate creative writing sessions for my local community center
  6. Joining PLRC and Access Copyright (available in Canada)

I haven’t submitted shorter pieces or entered competitions for years, so maybe it’s time to reconsider. Most magazines don’t pay well but every bit helps and it’s a great way to build your CV if you’re just starting out. Competition prize money averaged around $200 for me, which was a great sum when I was starting out. Still is, actually.

I know writers who also offer professional editing and publishing services. Others conduct virtual courses for reasonable prices. Of course, grant money can be available, and many cities have writer-in-residence programs for authors. There’s also mentoring and coaching for beginning writers, plus tutoring for people who have difficulty with English or writing in general.

Until November’s shut down, I was facilitating creative writing sessions through my local parks and recreation community, which is work I really enjoy. It also pays better than my day job did, although facilitating is only 2.5 hours a week. Happily, that might be starting up again in April.

For those of you unfamiliar with Access Copyright and PLRC, here’s a little info.

The Access Copyright Foundation is a Canadian non-profit national organization that compensates authors whose work is being photocopied at educational and other institutions. Those of us whose work is not directly copied still receive a small share of the collective pool every November. It’s available to any Canadian who registers with the program and has published work (but not self-published, as far as I know) in a variety of categories. To learn more, check out the link HERE.

The Public Lending Right Program compensates authors whose books are available for free use in Canada’s library systems. According to their website, over 30 countries offer similar programs, so it’s worth checking out to see if this is available to you. I joined many years ago when I published my first book in 1995 and still receive money for it. Seven more titles have been added over the years, so the check I receive every February is now in the modest four-figure range. To learn more about how the program works, see the link HERE.

I’m sure more opportunities are out there. It’s just a matter of doing a little digging. So, do you find other ways to earn writing-related income or plan to near in the near future? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Making the Most of Freebies in 2021

Free ebooks and workshops have been fairly common for some time, but over recent months the popularity of free anything appears to have exploded.

I used to resist offering one of my books for free, mainly because my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark was traditionally published a decade ago, at a time when advanced review copies were the only freebies my publisher offered and self-publishing was just starting to ramp up. Things have changed a great deal, including my mindset, and I now offer the book free for anyone who signs up to my newsletter.

I also offered the book free during a BookBub promo event in late 2019, which garnered enough sales of the other books to make this event profitable. Based on a recent blog post from author and marketing guru David Gaughran, 2021 is the year for free, and he recommends offering at least one of your books for free more than ever before. You can read more HERE.

I was recently told that there are now over 2 million books published worldwide, and over one million in the U.S. alone, each year. A staggering number when you think about it. With the collapse of in-person book selling opportunities in 2020, more authors turned to online selling through book promo sites, for example. To compete with all the others, many of them have offered at least one book, if not a whole boxset, for free.

I’ve taken part in a number of cool free workshops lately, one on marketing and others related to fantasy writing. The information’s good and the presenters knowledgeable, but there’s a lot of upsell with links to purchasing software, courses, and other things, which seems fair enough, as long as they’re not bombarding me everyday. But it really does feel like free is king these days, which is okay is you have a series, but not so much if you only have one published title.

Self-isolation and uncertainty is tough for many of us, but I’ve found that taking workshops is a good use of time. Once things go back to normal (whatever that might look like) I doubt I’ll be inclined to spend as much time at home in front of the computer. Who knows, maybe all the free courses will disappear too. It’ll be interesting to see what bookselling looks like a year from now, and if David will still recommend free for 2022.

Finally, a Newsletter

Those who’ve followed my blog for a while know that I was resistant to starting a newsletter. After all, I keep a blog, shouldn’t that be enough? Well, based on what I’ve now learned, the answer is no, for a couple of reasons.

First, any mail list I create is mine. As was pointed out to me by others, Facebook, Twitter, BookBub, WordPress, and LinkedIn etc. could disappear overnight for various reasons and I’d lose all of my contacts and followers. I’ve seen authors be banned on FB and Twitter, lose their ads, or have other things diminish their presence. Whatever happens to social platforms over time, I’ll still have my email list of subscribers.

Secondly, I’ve learned that I am not my readers. The newsletter will therefore be written for people who are interested in my mysteries or who are curious about me as an author. I’ll be focusing on insights about other authors’ mysteries, the writing process, and also sharing excerpts, and book cover reveals.

To that end, if you wish to join my mail list, I’m giving away a free ebook of my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, for the next couple of months in order to help build my list. You can click on the link HERE, which should take you to my original landing page inviting you to subscribe.

I’ve chosen SendFox as my provider because it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles and the current price is just a one-time offer of $49.00. In other words, no monthly fee!. SendFox is fairly new and there might be glitches to sort out, so hopefully it’ll work for you.

What you should see is my original landing page. Once you subscribe, you should receive a welcome page with the link to the free ebook. This will take you to BookFunnel, which is a great service for readers and authors to giveaway their stories, send Advance Review Copies, and do joint promotions with other authors. If you want to learn more, you can find the link HERE.

BookFunnel will then ask you which email address you’d like your book sent to and voila it should work. A couple days after that you’ll receive a follow-up email from me asking if you received your book. If you do sign up, let me know how it goes, so I can work out any glitches.

I plan to send a newsletter at the beginning of each month, so my first one will be in March. If you’re thinking about starting your own newsletter, but aren’t sure where to start, I recommend reading Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque, which I’ve recommended before. It really helped change my thinking. Now I just have to change my mindset about ads.

Winding Up 2020

Pexel photo by Karolina Grabowska

If you’re not an accountant and would much rather write or clean out your closets than tackle recordkeeping for your writing biz, I understand. Having been raised by a bookkeeper whose father was an accountant, and with three CPAs in my immediate family, numbers are definitely a thing in our household, though. Oddly, I’m the one who balances the checkbook in our house, but I don’t mind.

I keep records for my writing business without using any particular program, although I will if the business grows. Right now, income and expenses are few enough to simply record on an Excel spreadsheet. My family takes care of the tax filing and calculating the deductions I’m allowed from working out of my home office. My part is to simply enter expenses and income as they appear.

It isn’t always that straightforward, given that bookstores and some of Draft2Digital’s vendors have a lag time between making a sale and reporting it to the author, as do publishers. In the old days, I used to wrap my bookkeeping up on December 31st, but it now occurs the last week of January.

Crunching the numbers is the best way to take stock and compare net profit with the previous year’s income, and to make budgetary decisions for the year ahead. I wasn’t expecting much for 2020 because my usual craft fair events were cancelled. The book promotion sites, especially BookBub boosted ebook sales to the point where I sold more books than last year than ever before, although 90% of them were ebooks and therefore a fraction of the price of my print books. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that my net profit for 2020 was up a little bit compared to 2019. The reason is that my expenses were cut in half because I didn’t have to spend big bucks on craft fair fees and the insurance coverage that some fair organizers require.

Hopefully, the craft fairs will be back this year. I’ve already received one application from a fair planning to return in November. I can’t wait to see how this year unfolds. How about you? Was your 2020 better, worse, or the same as the previous year? Do you plan to try something new to sell books this year?

Where to Spend, or Not Spend, on Your Author Biz

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At this time of year, I always calculate how much money I’ll need to maintain and expand my writing business. Having grown up relatively poor, budgeting has been a way of life since childhood. The accountants in my family keep me on track, so financial accountability is part of normal life.

I record writing income and expenses on an Excel sheet pretty much once a week, but I don’t create a new spreadsheet of anticipated expenses for the upcoming year, though I probably should. When it comes to annual fees for professional memberships, websites, promotion services, etc. I simply refer to previous years to know what I’ll need.

They say you have to spend money to make money. When it comes to book production, this is quite true unless you’re traditionally published. So, it’s always a challenge to see if anticipated income will be enough to hire the editor and jacket designer I’ll need. As many of you know, production costs can add up, especially if you intend to sell print copies at various events. The question is, how likely will it be to make that money back in a relatively short timeframe, and what is a short timeframe anyway?

To boost sales income, I’ve tried half a dozen promotion (aka book deal) sites with mixed results. Last June was more profitable than the fall, although each event helped get the word out about my books. Still, I’ll be reflecting on how much to spend this coming year. I’ve also pondered Amazon, Facebook, BookBub ads, which can be highly profitable or extremely costly, depending on a number of factors. Based on what I’ve learned so far, you need to know what you’re doing.

A recent post from Writer Beware also got me thinking about money. The piece made it clear that the number of scammers is growing and they’re becoming more clever about targeting authors, both traditionally and self-published. I recommend reading their most recent blog and, as mentioned before, using their site as a resource when you’re approached by someone or a company you’re not sure about. You can find the blog HERE.

To me, financial health is as important as physical and mental health. This year, I’m excited to see if I can build my business while still spending prudently. It should be an interesting experiment.

January Exuberance, Who Knew?

Not quite that exuberant, but close…

A funny thing happened on Sunday night. I felt wildly happy, exuberant, in fact. The reason was simple. For the first time in years, I was ending the Christmas season without worrying about heading back to a day job. Fretting about the return to work, or in earlier days, getting the kids ready for school, or even my own return to school, always meant that the first weekend of a new year was a downer. Not this time, my friends. I tried real hard not to smirk over the fact that my hubby and son were returning to work on Monday. Of course, I failed miserably, but they understood.

I have no intention of shuffling my way into laziness this month, despite the dark rainy days. I’ve a fairly long to-do list in my planner this week, but it’s my choice as to how much time I’ll spend on each of these tasks. This year, I’m going to give myself more free time on the weekends to try new recipes, read more books, or go for longer walks.

I have two major writing projects underway, and a third, which I’ve put on the backburner but really need to finish. It’s a Casey Holland novella, which was written quite some time ago and has been edited at least ten times. I put it away last spring, but 2021 might be the time to get it publication ready. The first six books in the series had a serious tone, but the novella is a tongue-and-cheek look at the lighter side of Casey’s work as a transit security officer. Once I pull it out of its folder, I’ll tell you more.

It will be a work-filled year. My choice. Productive. Creative. Fun. Stepping outside into the real world might be a little more challenging until most of the population is vaccinated, but I’ll do my best to stay safe. But once they are, that’ll be a happy day!

A New Year Dawns

Pexels photo by Olya Kobruseva

Well, we’ve just about made it through 2020 and that’s a good thing, but we must not forget those who didn’t. I know some of you lost friends and family members this year, and words can’t adequately express my sadness for the many lives lost. Articles, blogs, books, and documentaries have and will be written about this year. These days, I choose to reflect on what I’ve learned and to think about new goals for 2021.

As far as writing goes, I intend to follow through with some of the goals I mentioned earlier this month. After researching the pros and cons, I’ve finally been persuaded that building an email list is a good marketing strategy. Now, I just need to decide which server best suits my needs.

As you might have noticed, I’ve been working on branding and came up with a logo, with my daughter’s help, and finally updated my blog sidebar. I’ve also given my website a new look. There’s always something to do isn’t there? With restrictions still in place in our area, I’ve had plenty of time to work on these tasks after a morning of editing.

About this time last year, I set a goal of sorting through bins of the kids’ old schoolwork and recycling as much as I could. I finally tackled the project this week, which has actually been fun. I’ve been their reading class journal entries from grades three and four. In one, my daughter wrote that she wanted to be a writer. I remember that. In university, she chose an accounting career because she’s incredibly bright and well aware that a writing income doesn’t pay off mortgages unless you’re one of those rare souls. She’s always had an artistic bent and drew beautiful pictures in her elementary school days. Since she’s been on maternity leave she’s started drawing again. In our family, one of the most interesting outcomes of COVID is that my son has also taken up drawing. My husband’s enjoyed this hobby on and off for years but he also developed a passion for photography this year. It’s amazing to see them nurture their artistic side.

2020 definitely had some awesome moments for me, like retiring from the day job and the birth of my granddaughter, but I’ll always look back on it with mixed emotions. Meanwhile, I’ll greet 2021 with the same optimism I usually have when a new year starts. I wish you all a happy, creative, and prosperous 2021!

Great Online Workshops For Authors

This week, I spent a few afternoons watching online workshops offered by the Creative Academy (CA), (the workshops are free by the way, although donations are appreciated), and I found some really helpful ones for authors.

I’ve been focusing on audio books and Amazon Ads lately, which has made the process seem less daunting than I originally thought. All of CA’s workshops are archived (many come with handouts and useful links) to view anytime, so if you’re looking for something to do during your Christmas break, this is a perfect opportunity to sign up (again at no cost) and browse through their catalogue of workshops. You can find all the workshops past and future, under their Events tab, but I recommend taking their orientation video to fully learn about the many resources that are available.

Thanks to those videos, part of my marketing plan for 2021 is to create audio versions of my books. As was said in one of the videos, the audiobook world is still fairly new, the way ebooks were back in 2011. There are more opportunities to sell them than I imagined and production costs don’t need to be as expensive as you might think.

There are also a number of new workshop releases called Expertpalooza, where firefighters, police officers, a librarian, a small plane pilot, and Olympic athlete, to name a few, provide insights about their professions. Looks like I’ve got plenty to keep me busy between now and the new year.

Since it was recently announced that British Columbians will not be permitted to go visit one another on Christmas Day and throughout the holidays until Jan. 8th, it looks like I’ll have extra time on my hands.

I also plan to spend these last days of 2020 working on a new book and to continue editing my urban fantasy. I have to say COVID has allowed me to indulge in one of the most productive years I’ve had in a while, especially since retiring in June. Still, I’m looking forward to more get togethers in 2021, as long as I don’t over commit. With luck, things will feel much more normal for all of us by this time next year.

New Ideas, More Time, So Why Not?

I know that many writers have registered for November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and are diligently working on their stories, pushing themselves to achieve their 50,000 word goal by the end of the month. I’m always so impressed with those who take on this challenge.

I’ve never registered for this annual event, not only because of my day job but because I usually spend every weekend in November selling my books at Christmas craft fairs. But I’m retired now and this year the craft fairs have either been cancelled or moved online. I should have registered for NaNoWriMo but online courses and reading print books on writing and marketing have swallowed up most of my afternoons. I’ll be finishing up the last book in a few days and have nearly reached the point where I’ll be putting the focus back on writing new work.

I’m really excited about this. I’ve been making notes on two different projects since early summer and it’s time to get going. So, I might well be starting my own version of NaNoWriMo in early December and going straight through till the end of January or longer before I turn the focus back to marketing. That’s the plan anyway. We’ll see what happens, but it feels like a good way to spend these gloomy winter days where socializing is discouraged.

I still intend to take at least one day off a week to visit my granddaughter who’s about a 45-minute drive away, and sure, there’ll be a Christmas tree to put up and gifts to wrap, but all of this gives me something to look forward to these last few weeks of 2020.

How about you? Are you planning any creative, productive, feel-good activities for the rest of the year? Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo and, if so, how’s it going for you?

Two Great Books For Writers

Now that the rainy season is here in British Columbia, my afternoons of yard work are pretty much over, so I’ve rejigged my daily schedule to reserve more time for reading and online learning in the afternoons. Maybe I’ll do more editing as well. Heaven knows there are still plenty of changes to make in my urban fantasy.

Those who follow my blog know that I’ve reading a fair bit on self-publishing and marketing over the past month. I’m also investing my time on great books for writers. One of them is Writing Monsters by Philip Athans, which is a great guide for anyone who’s writing horror, science fiction, or fantasy. What I really like about this book is the way he makes the reader think about why a monster should appear in one’s story. What is its purpose? How and when it should appear? He even provides a checklist of questions as we come up with new and innovative scary creatures. There’s plenty in the world to frighten us these days, and tapping into what scares us most is a good start to creating fictional monsters.

Stephen King’s book On Writing, was published twenty years ago and has been recommended to me numerous times, so I finally bought a copy and am just over halfway through the book now. I’m really enjoying his unique and candid approach which, as the title reflects, is more of a memoir in the first half than a how-to book. The book is filled with anecdotes from his childhood, teen years, and early married life, when he first wrote Carrie, a character he’s never really liked, by the way. Out of those experiences, are terrific writing insights and tips, which I’m jotting down.

If you’re stuck indoors and looking to improve your writing, these books might help. I’ve also started reading The Occupation Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. The introductory pages have already given me ideas for a paranormal series I’ve been mulling over for several weeks. The ideas are coming along, faster than I can write and edit them, but that’s not a terrible place to be!