2016 – Looking Back and Looking Ahead

For me — like many writers — 2016 was a year of surprises and distractions. It was also a year of learning.

I’ll still be writing in 2017. And, I know I’ll explore new writing & publishing paths, and revisit old ones.

Nonfiction

My nonfiction books continue to sell.  Even topical (“fast”) books I’d thought had short-term value, seem to keep selling.

I expect to write more topical nonfiction in 2017, usually on impulse.

Many people have asked me to elaborate on what makes a good viral topic for fast nonfiction.

I considered writing a book about it, but then I stumbled onto Amy Harrop’s Pop Culture Publishing Profits.

(That’s not an affiliate link. Aside from my own book, no link in this article earns me a cent. That’s so you can trust my advice.)

Recently, I bought that report and I like it. Amy has done a great job explaining a wide range of options and resources, so I see no need to reinvent the wheel.

In my (admittedly biased) opinion, if you’re interested in writing topical, viral nonfiction — books you’ll write in days, not months — you’ll want both:

  • My book talks about the research & writing process, and the things that help the book sell well and earn great reviews.
  • Amy’s report explains how to find — and predict, early — the topics worth writing about.

Nonfiction Niche Selection: Useful Tools

For niche research — when I’m searching for unique ideas that fit my “fast books” writing style — I like KDP Rocket software.

Yes, I also use KD Spy and Ebook Niche Explorer, but KDP Rocket can show where the “hidden” topics are. And, KDP Rocket tells you exactly how much competition you’d be facing.

Of the three, KD Spy is the most simplistic if you need at-a-glance results for categories and keywords you already know. I can click it and see, instantly, whether I’m looking at a good niche… but only if I’ve already chosen the niche or keywords.

Ebook Niche Explorer can be confusing and I don’t rely on the red-yellow-green guide (or the text advice) to tell me if I should bother with that niche. However, as an adjunct to other tools — and strictly for experienced, data-minded writer/publishers — it can be very useful.

For the most in-depth and precise niche research, KDP Rocket may be the best, if you’re serious about nonfiction success. It’ll show you book ideas you may not have considered. And, KDP Rocket is from Dave Chesson. If you’re not reading his website, regularly… start now. It’s a gold mine. And he’s a good guy.

Also, if you’re new to nonfiction, Britt Malka has published a pretty good report that covers lots of basics, stylishly: Write, Publish, and Have Fun: 7-Day Blueprint. It’s best for absolute beginners, but may help others who’ve struggled to understand how nonfiction books can be built, quickly.

Coloring Books

I’m still creating and publishing coloring books. However, after some initial, impressive successes — which I’ve talked about, online — my average coloring book income has remained around $20/month, per title.

210 bold and easy christmas ornaments
This IS a book I co-authored.

The problem, according to fans: within a couple of weeks, competing books — with very similar titles and covers — appear at Amazon.

Some buyers have been confused.

And, unfortunately, the artwork in those other books has disappointed my fans. Then they realized the book was just a look-alike.

But, as long as competing publishers aren’t copying my books, line for line, there’s little I can do.

You can’t copyright an idea, and you can’t copyright a book title.

That’s okay. In 2017, I’ll keep publishing coloring books for loyal fans who’ve learned to shop carefully. The initial weeks — before the imitators show up — are usually very good.

And, frankly, I’m going to step up how bold and different my style can be. There’s no way other publishers can copy the extremely stylish designs I can create. So, that’s (literally) on the drawing board for 2017.

Sure, I’ll still publish very mainstream coloring books. They may bring in only $20/book/month, but it’s reliable income. And, for me, those books are pretty easy to build.

In general, I think the coloring book marketplace remains strong, but only if you’re publishing good books, in very high volume.

(If your plan is to fill coloring books with clipart — or mandalas you generated using a free resource, online — forget it. That may have been successful a year or two ago. Today…? Not the best idea.)

Otherwise, if you’re able to turn out high-quality, unique, very stylish coloring books, standing out in the crowd is key. And, to be honest, income is still a coin-flip.

If I didn’t love creating coloring books, I might not bother at all.

Genre Fiction

In 2016, I returned to my writing roots and worked on Regency romance stories. I also dabbled in other sub-genres that interest me.

I bought and read about 40 books about writing in general, or about sub-genres that I enjoy. And, I read ~2 books/week in those sub-genres.

In addition, I took courses about writing fiction. Lots & lots of courses.

So, 2016 was a very educational year.

Along the way, I developed some great systems for plotting, like using movies for story beats. Also, I discovered superb resources for romance writing.

But… I kept writing flat, boring stories. The few times I actually finished books and published them, I removed them from Kindle within a day or two.

Why?  Well, they were awful books. My policy is: if I’d be embarrassed if my mom or grandmother bought one of them, that book shouldn’t be sold to anyone.

Despite that, I think 2016 was a good year. I started to understand what I’m truly terrible at, and where my weaknesses are.

It was a little humiliating, but I’m pretty sure I’ve passed the oh-dear-heaven-that’s-awful stage of fiction writing. (I hope so, anyway.)

In 2017, I’m ready to write better books. And then, with practice (and reader feedback), write better ones.

2017 is going to involve a lot of fiction. And — since it’s my bread-and-butter — more fiction and coloring books.

Private Groups – Worthwhile?

In late 2015 and throughout 2016, I joined several private groups, usually at Facebook. Most came as part of a membership offer, or they were for students in related (paid) writing courses.

Half of those groups never got off the ground, and went silent within a few months. That’s okay. I’d received good value from the related courses.

In addition, a couple of Facebook groups were tremendous to start with.

One still is. It’s related to coloring books, and organized by Bill Platt. I check-in about once a week for updates, and I learn more each time I scroll through the posts. (Bill and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many things, but when he’s brilliant, he’s brilliant. And I say so.)

Another Facebook group — fiction-related — had a confusing start and not much structure from the beginning. The phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.

Nevertheless, conversations were lively for months, mostly due to member participation. I met wonderful writers, and learned a lot about the sub-genre we discussed. Despite some awkward moments, it was time well-spent. Many group members seem to be moving on to other projects, now.

I have no complaints and feel as if I received good value from each course I signed up for. If the related FB group was helpful, too, I saw that as a bonus.

One Facebook group is still strong and so very good, I wish I could offer you a way to get into it. It’s the group related to Geoff Shaw’s Kindling training. I think it’s by invitation only, or through members authorized to share links to the sign-up page. (Tink Boord-Dill is one of them. Get on her mailing list. Her courses tend to be brilliant, as well.)

Another new-ish one is Paul Coleman’s “tiny books” Facebook group, related to his report/course on the same topic. (I think that was a short-term offer, so I don’t have a link to it.) So far, that’s been a great community.

In 2017, I’ll be selective about which other groups I sign up for, and how much time I’m at them.

Writing and publishing must be my priorities.

Udemy Courses I Recommend

Late in 2016, two Udemy courses helped me grasp what I was missing as a fiction writer.

I recommend both courses.

1) The first one is Jessica Brody’s Writing Mastery: How to Develop Blockbuster Ideas that Sell!

In it, Brody explains four points that are essential to a “high concept” story. They may not be new to experienced authors, but her approach is a little different. Then, she shares several fun ways to come up with unique story ideas.

I feel as if her four points plus the PDFs made the course worthwhile. (And really, anyone who’s written 15 books and at least two are being made into major films… that’s someone to learn from.)

[Still valid in Dec 2016 —> Look for discount coupons for Brody’s courses at her website.]

2) The other Udemy course is Clark Chamberlain’s Punch them in the Gut: How to Write Stories with Emotional Impact. (It’s a price-y course and worth it, but — if possible — look for it on sale or with a discount coupon.)

In Chamberlain’s course, I saw the massive element that was missing from my fiction. I’d thought my stories had emotional impact, but… no, I was clueless.

His course is vital if you’re not getting rave reviews for your fiction, and if readers aren’t telling friends to buy your books.

That course is rather intense, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it for beginning writers. Start with Jessica Brody’s course, instead.

Between those two courses, I have a path forward. I can see exactly what’s been missing, and how to fix it so my stories have the energy they need to sustain my interest — and readers’ — from start to finish.

The PDFs from both courses are pure gold, as well.

(Note: I still recommend every course Geoff Shaw teaches at Udemy. I sign up for them as fast as they’re available.)

Expectations for 2017

I’m far more confident about what I’ll be writing in 2017.

Sure, I’ll still make mistakes. Probably some stupid ones.

Speaking of mistakes, if you haven’t seen the J. K. Rowling clip that’s going around Facebook (from her 2008 address at Harvard University), watch it now. It’s inspiring: https://www.facebook.com/globalinformer/videos/1438123899536951/

In some ways, 2016 was a year of wheel-spinning. But, it was also a year of learning.

With the new information I’ve absorbed over the past several months, I’m sure 2017 will be a very productive year.

I’m not sure how many new courses or books I’ll buy. And, I’ll be so busy writing, I may eschew all but the most helpful Facebook groups.

But, if something is truly worthwhile, I’ll let you know.

My 2017 is going to be a write-write-publish-publish kind of year. I feel as if I (finally) have a good idea of what works (and what doesn’t), and it’s time to put all this information to work.

This is a very good feeling, and I hope you’re looking forward to 2017, as well.

4 thoughts on “2016 – Looking Back and Looking Ahead”

  1. Thanks, Eibhlin!

    Great post, informative and inspirational, at the same time. I needed a little boost, today! I always get excited when I get an email about a new post.

    By the by, I know, Tink! We were in a skype group together – The Writer’s Chat – she’s really nice!! And I was in Bill’s skype group, too, for a bit, before a bit of silly drama caused a kerfuffle. Bill had nothing to do with it though, but I haven’t seen him around anywhere for many years. I’m glad he’s still active and doing well. 🙂

  2. hi – so I found your ‘fast book’ on Kindle. Started reading and very interesting. enjoy what you’ve written on here.

    I’m interested that you seem to be someone who is a ‘real’ writer but is also quite positive about niche research software like K spy. A number of other people i’ve spoken to claim these are garbage- giving completely inaccurate figures, and are mostly used by the people following those ‘beega monay’ marketers telling people how to game the amazon review algorithm etc. And I mean i’ve heard this from people like Geoff Shaw.

    I guess you’ve had different experienced with them though…

    1. Hi, Simon!

      I’ve never heard Geoff say that KD Spy is “garbage.” But, I may need to read his Kindling notes more closely, as well as what he’s said in the Kindling FB group. (I don’t read it every day, and possibly need to find more time for it.)

      But, if you’re talking about a general attitude towards the (mistaken) “books are easy income” idea, I agree.

      Nevertheless, for my research, KD Spy, Ebook Niche Explorer, and KDP Rocket are useful tools. (There was another one with “Sumurai” in the title, but it broke too often, and their support was appalling. I stopped using it long ago.)

      At a glance, KD Spy helps me see what the competition looks like, in terms of pricing and page count. To understand the income figures, I think it’s vital to take a look at everything the author is doing, in addition to book pricing. Otherwise, the numbers can look better than they actually are, and it’s easy to get a skewed view.

      I trust KD Spy for relative income insights, not actual/precise numbers. It provides me the most information in the shortest time.

      Ebook Niche Explorer is more limited and a little clunky. However, it gives me some good “second opinion” insights… sometimes. It looks like it relies on a fairly small pool of information. I’m okay with that, as I don’t take it that seriously; it just highlights things I might not have noticed in KD Spy. (In general, I don’t recommend buying it. It’s not that useful. The only reason I have it — and use it — is because I bought it when it was new, and no one else offered insights like this, at all.)

      KDP Rocket helps me see where a niche or sub-genre may be under-served. I also check how he rates the competition, plus keywords that might improve my initial research or my book outline. But, again, this is a second opinion. The software developer, Dave Chesson, is promising some great new features in the program, too. I’m looking forward to them. And, in general, I like Dave, so I’m comfortable recommending KDP Rocket to anyone who wants to supplement what they learn from KD Spy. (When you’re starting out, I think KD Spy is worth purchasing if it’s comfortably in your budget. If it’s not, you can do this same research, manually. Geoff gives some good instructions in his Udemy course about selecting a book niche/category.)

      KD Spy remains my go-to software for the widest range of insights. As long as the figures are in the general ballpark, I’m happy. (And, it’s easy to check some KD Spy numbers by bringing up the same book in Yasiv. It’s a site I’ll check, anyway, to get a better grasp of the current marketplace. Doing a quick cross-check against KD Spy lets me know whether the latter’s figures are in a reliable range.)

      Amazon keeps changing its software, too. So, programs like these can falter at times, at least until they’re updated. KD Spy seems to be quick about fixing anything that’s broken.

      But, if you’re relying entirely on this kind of software (which may be what Geoff was suggesting), or if you’re only in publishing for the money… well, either of those seem like big mistakes.

      For me, KD Spy, et al, are time-savers. I’m pretty sure that’s all they’re intended to be. And, for that — especially for someone writing a lot of books — I think it’s essential.

      Cheerfully,
      Eibhlin

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