‘Tis the Season… for Short Reads

old fashioned clockIt’s that time of year!

No, not just back-to-school. I’m talking about the upcoming holidays.

In the past week (third week of August 2017), I’ve seen a surprising increase in the sale of my Christmas-themed books.

In other words: holiday-related books can start selling now. It’s not too early (or too late) to write some good, useful books that focus on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and New Year’s resolutions (diet and fitness).

Keep your readers in mind. They’re as rushed as you are during the hectic holiday season. So, they’re attracted to short how-to guides to holiday projects and celebrations.

As the saying goes, the best books for these readers are “one problem, one answer” books.

Some topics that come to mind are:

  • Where and when to see autumn foliage (and how to preserve the pretty leaves for Thanksgiving wreaths). A short book could talk about local sights, travel tips, regional hikes, or how to dress for the weather. (Those are just a few ideas.) Here’s one resource: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/news/a45738/fall-foliage-map-2017/
  • How to carve a pumpkin and light it from within. Maybe include recipes, how to dry & grow pumpkin seeds for next year, etc. (Get inspiration at Google Images for “how to carve a pumpkin design. Pick a theme and run with it!)
  • Make quick Halloween costumes with household items. (Again, pick a theme or a kind of supply, like old bedsheets — ghosts, togas, etc. — or thrift-shop item makeovers. <– Tip: Old prom gowns can make the best “princess dresses.”)
  • How to make pretty, fire-safe, luminary candle bags/displays. (In addition, maybe offer free downloads of patterns to cut themed designs?)
  • How to deep-fry a turkey… without an explosion. (Deep-frying can actually be healthier than the traditional roasted turkey.)
  • Thanksgiving on the barbecue. (The Weber blog has some interesting side dish ideas. Not sure which wine or dessert would go best with each, but these recipes are great starting points.)
  • Thanksgiving entrees for vegetarian and vegan guests. Or people on specialized diets, like the ketogenic diet, and any other new-and-trendy diets, this year.
  • Holiday lights (and holiday displays) on a budget. Or ideas for a particular holiday decorating theme, like Game of Thrones, Superheroes, etc. (Expand it into recipes, gift ideas (bought or homemade), and a themed Santa to deliver them to the party… your book and presentation could go viral with very little effort.)
  • Hanukkah traditions made simple (or embellished with rich history). (Many related sites are already updated for 2017.)
  • Decorate an educational, multi-cultural Christmas tree.
  • A list of all the holidays (even ancient ones) around December, and ways to celebrate them with your children. (Educational sites can be a gold mine. Here’s one: http://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/lesson/lesson246.shtml )
  • How to cope with the holidays when you celebrate something different… or none at all. (The answer is not “just stay at home.” The Richard Dawkins Foundation offers an atheist’s personal insights.)
  • How to have an all-day New Year’s celebration. (Start with a schedule of the days/times when 2018 begins, worldwide. Select a few and suggest activities & foods for your family & guests, changing the themes as the day/evening progresses.)

Of course, seasonal fiction — especially short reads — are a great idea.

(Earlier this year, I used Britt Malka’s Sandkorn plotting method to come up with over 30 seasonal book ideas in a single sitting. Right now, I’m using her Partridge Method for some short Christmas books.)

Keep nonfiction in mind as well. Establish yourself as an authority in one holiday niche — or expand your existing expertise to include holiday-related topics — and you might save someone’s Halloween. Or Thanksgiving. Or other holiday with an “oops” moment.

(I’m reminded of the movie, A Christmas Story, where the neighbor’s dogs almost ruined Ralphie’s family’s Christmas dinner.)

It’s not too early or too late to publish some holiday-related books. Think about trends and your personal interests, and you may uncover some great, seasonal “one problem, one answer” topics for successful Kindle books.

Income: Best Nonfiction Tactics

At this moment, I’m knee-deep in fun: writing and illustrating holiday books.

But, last week, a friend and I discussed some of our best nonfiction tactics. Some are definitely worth sharing immediately.

In nonfiction, there are at least three main ways to earn a steady income. (Some of these tactics apply to fiction, as well.)

1a) Lots of focused books

Write lots & lots of books. Preferably about a single, focused topic, if you’re using the “1,000 True Fans” business model. (And yes, that works.)

If you like that idea, this video explains the concept in detail.

1000 true fans from Anna Do on Vimeo.

PROS

  • You can write shorter, highly focused books, and price them low. (In Kindle, they’re sometimes categorized as “short reads.”)
  • Then, you can also “bundle” a bunch of those shorter books into one larger book, and charge a higher price (earning a far bigger royalty, per book sold), and still give your fans & readers a bargain.
  • Those larger books can also be published in print, via CreateSpace, Nook Press, etc. Your individual, per-book profits can be higher than with Kindle books, and libraries may buy your printed books, in bulk, one or two for every library in their networks.
  • The exposure you get from lots of good books is a great way to be noticed, quickly.  That moves you towards the tipping point of (theoretically) 1,000 true fans.

CONS

  • Your books must be very good (or at least very original) and stand out in the crowd. You must have a pretty good understanding of the field, too. (You can acquire this as you research.) Choose your niche wisely.
  • Unless you’re absolutely fascinated by the topic, by the time you get to the third or fourth book, you may be bored out of your mind. Worse, if you’re bored when you’re writing, your readers are likely to recognize that… and stop buying. So, the time and effort you invested up to that point…? Poof. Gone.
  • If you’re planning to outsource each of your books for $200 or less, or if you expect to use software (and a bunch of high-quality articles you’ve copied, online) to “spin” and turn out books… forget it. You must write your books with a compelling “voice” and viewpoint that’s unique to you.

1b) Lots of topical books

This is the model I describe in “How to Write Fast Books about Hot Topics in 10 Days or Less.”

Basically, you find a trending (or soon-to-trend) topic in the news (or in pop culture).

At the very least, I look at:

  • News headlines.
  • Words and phrases trending at Google and Twitter.
  • Upcoming movies, books in pre-order at Amazon, and trending TV series (and topics related to shows that Amazon Prime TV is testing).
  • Anything I see, online or off-, that makes me want to learn more.

And then I choose a topic (or question) that “glitters” for me. That is, I have a gut feeling that the topic is going to trend in the near future, and it seems like fun to research.

After that, you work crazy-as-a-loon long hours, researching & writing the book.

Then, you publish it via Kindle. (I recommend KDP Select, at least for the first 90 days. Then, people can “borrow” your Kindle book and you get paid for however many pages they read.)

After the first 90 days, if the “pages read” income isn’t significant, take your book out of KDP Select (but leave it in Kindle), and then publish it in a variety of markets via Draft2Digital.

And, you (hopefully) ride the exhilarating wave of popularity (and book sales) for a month or two, or longer.

Then… you do it again. New topic. New books/s.

I describe this in more detail in my article, Several Questions – Answered.

PROS

  • If you’re already interested in the topic, this can be so much fun, you don’t notice that you’re working 12- and 14-hour days. (If you have a day job, you can do most of the work over a single weekend.)
  • Your research can produce multiple books. They might be tightly focused niche topics. Or, you might write one book from one viewpoint (say, “true believer”) and a second one from the opposite angle (“rabid, frothing-at-the-mouth skeptic”). Tip: In New Age niches, skeptical books rarely sell as well as the “true believer” variety.
  • The money can be kind of amazing. Four figures per month, when it goes well. Even higher if you’re living a charmed life and you hit all the “hot spots” for eager readers: Brilliant topic, perfect editorial angle, superb research, eye-catching cover, and a title that grabs attention. Not necessarily in that order.
  • Some of these books remain popular for years. In one case, I’ve earned a high five figures from a book that took me less than a week to throw together.

CONS

  • Three or four long days into the topic, you may realize you’re just not that interested in it. The remaining long days can be excruciating.
  • Since the book is rushed, it will contain errors, not just typos. Some critics will rip you shreds over that. (My advice: Don’t read your reviews. If you absolutely must know what critics are saying, in case it’s valid: hire someone at Fiverr.com to skim the reviews and summarize them for you.)
  • Also, all the same warnings, listed above, related to writing lots of focused books.
  • The topic may flat-line so fast, your book never stands a chance. Only about 20% of my books have met that fate. But, I don’t flinch at working long hours for disappointing results. Not as long as 80% of the results are worth the time, effort, and exhaustion.

2) … Plus peripheral products and services

If you’re a pro (or can become one) in an area where people seek experts, coaches, courses, or peripheral products (worksheets, or related products you can make, outsource, or drop-ship), a few books can earn you a pretty good living.

The money won’t be so much from the books, as from everything else you’re selling.

Choose any somewhat popular niche.

I recommend anything related to a hobby or subject that’s interested you for years, preferably since childhood. Ideally, you already know a lot about the topic, and relish any excuse to delve more deeply into it.

Of course, make sure the niche isn’t saturated. However, I’ve yet to see any popular (or evergreen) niche with zero opportunities for specialization. (See the “long tail” discussed in the “1,000 True Fans” video, linked above.)

PROS

  • It’s easy to remain focused. You’re only interested (researching & writing) about one topic. You may need to cast a wider net, to include fresh insights — from other fields — in your work, but that’s what will help you stand out in the crowd. 90% of your work will be about one thing, and only that one thing.
  • There’s no limit to what you can add to your income streams, especially if you attract enthusiastic fans who buy all of your books. Sure, they’ll want your niche-related products… they may also want the baseball cap, the mouse pad, the coffee mug, the calendar, the coloring book, the blank journal, etc.
  • Adding a blog (perhaps with curated content and guest bloggers), plus some social media marketing, can be free, easy, fast marketing. Some authors compile and expand a collection of their own blog posts, and turn them into best-selling books.  (Using articles about being a successful author, Chuck Wendig — whose language will curl your hair — has done this, successfully.  Dean Wesley Smith has done this, as well.)

CONS

  • This isn’t as passive as a business model that’s wholly focused on book royalties.
  • You may be dependent on others. Whether you hire staff, use outsourcing or drop-shipping, someone needs to keep an eye on quality control. That part of this model can spread you fairly thin. Be prepared. Hire reliable staff, early.
  • If the bottom falls out of your specialty, you may need to start all over again, from scratch. Be very watchful of trends, especially if your focus is something that’s emerged in the past few years. But hey, that’s true of almost any niche (in nonfiction and everyday life), or even genre (in fiction).

3) …Or, become a celebrity

This is a business model I’ve stumbled onto, repeatedly. I seem to have a knack for it. (I’m not kidding, and that’s not self-aggrandizement. If you know me in real life, you know what I’m talking about.)

If I were to choose this deliberately, here’s what I’d do.

First, I’d look at my own interests. Specifically, anything I’m already enthusiastic about, that’s also related to a pop culture trend. (Preferably one that’s still in its early days, and gaining popularity steadily.)

Then, I’d look at existing books, TV shows, successful podcasts, and topics of panels/talks at related conventions and conferences. (For the broadest possible range of pop culture trends, start with past program lists from Comic-Con and Dragon Con.)

Then, I’d choose a slightly under-served niche, create a hybrid niche, or focus on one where I know I’m already an expert.

And then, I’d choose a pen name (for privacy), set up a blog with news related to the topic, as well as my own work (for fans to enjoy, when they discover me), and write lots of short, focused, fun books on my topic.

After that, I’d start applying to small, local conventions that are related to that general (or specific) area of fandom/enthusiasm.

And then, I’d build from there.

From fly fishing to the original Battlestar Gallactica, there are conventions related to any topic. Some are small, at public libraries. Others occupy multiple hotels in major cities, for three-day weekends.

The money in this business model can come from books. The more books you write & publish, the better.

However, far bigger income may result from personal appearances (and perhaps book signings) at conventions.

Even at the “C list” celebrity level, I could earn four figures per weekend, and all of my travel expenses were included. Often, I was given a really luxurious hotel suite, not just a Motel 6 room that was kinda-sorta near the event site. (The more popular you are, the better your accommodations will be.)

In most cases, all I had to do was speak (or be part of a panel) for a couple of hours during the weekend. And, there may have been a meet-and-greet or autograph session (or both), usually with yummy snacks and great conversations.

To be honest, I’d have gone to many of these events, free of charge, just to have time in the “green room.” That’s where the speakers & celebrities spend their free time, relaxing, and sometimes talking about everything except whatever they’re famous for.

The conversations are rich, delightful, and sometimes hilarious. I’ve treasured every one of them.

Tip: At first, you’ll market yourself and get your own gigs, sell your own books and merchandise, etc. Then, you’ll hire a manager (make sure your contract is great… ask a contract lawyer to review it). And, you’ll probably hire staff to man your event booth/table.

PROS

  • If you’re already enthusiastic about this topic, you won’t be “working.” You’ll enjoy every minute of it. Whether it’s scribbling blog posts, writing books, interacting with fans & fellow enthusiasts via social media and forums, or speaking at events… this can be non-stop fun. It won’t seem like work.
  • The money. I know people who appear at two fan-related events every weekend, every month. Just for showing up, they’re earning five figures per month… and that’s just on weekends. (Some of them have “day jobs,” as well.)
  • Every time you write a book, or create a related product, your “1,000 true fans” will buy it. For as long as you have loyal and enthusiastic fans, your income is guaranteed.

CONS

  • Events can be exhausting. And they take time away from your social life and personal relationships. Most celebrities I know limit themselves to one event per month, at the most. Fewer events = less income.
  • Some enthusiastic fans know no boundaries. If you’re a relatively private person, your privacy diminishes the more popular (and visible) you are. A few people (Tasha Tudor, J. D. Salinger, and others) have managed to achieve wild popularity while living somewhat reclusive lives. Whether you’re shopping for groceries or taking your kids to soccer practice, the fans will still stop you and ask for autographs. And they’ll want to talk. And talk. Some celebrities love that. Some don’t, and — as soon as it’s viable — they hire staff to minimize their exposure.
  • The more popular you are, the less privacy you have, in media, too. Critics will start making personal insults. Expect that. (See my advice above, about not reading your book reviews.) Anne Rice has been a high-profile example. Personally responding to her books’ snarky reviews may not have been a smart choice.
  • When the popularity of the topic collapses, your audience can diminish in a blink. The handwriting may have been on the wall for some time (I’m thinking of the recent cancellation of Ghost Hunters on SyFy. The phrase “docusoap” suggests the market had been declining for some time.) But, if you retain your 1,000 true fans… even a near-total collapse of the general fan base can be okay. Also, it might be an opportunity, because you’ll have far less competition for book buyers and fans.

Nonfiction can earn as well as — or better than — fiction

Fiction writing can be an easier choice for some writers.

Your books never have to be updated. New fans will continue to discover you… forever.

Many fiction authors — especially indie authors — can earn a comfortable, full-time living from their book royalties, and nothing else. No book signings, no personal appearances at events, etc. That can be appealing.

However, for those who can look “outside the box” (or perhaps “outside the books”), nonfiction can provide a stronger income and a more interesting, diversified lifestyle.

Fiction and nonfiction share a lot in common. But, looking at them as business models, you’ll see some sharp contrasts.

Choose the one with the most appeal, for now. You can always shift gears (and pen names) if you change your mind.

Nonfiction Book Series – Britt’s Ideas

I bought Britt Malka’s “Divide and Conquer” report out of curiosity. I’ve been writing nonfiction — mostly for traditional publishers — since the 1980s. I still write a lot of nonfiction, especially shorter books that I publish myself.

Britt Malka - Divide and ConquerSo, in Britt’s report, I didn’t expect to learn much. Not much that’s new to me, anyway.

Her report was a surprise. (That’s an understatement.) It’s not the same old “how to get 5 articles/books/videos out of one idea.” Far from it.

My experience

I spent about an hour going through this report. Using Britt’s suggestions, I produced a list of 28 short, nonfiction books (in one sub-niche) that I can write with little or no research.

Many of them can be written in a single day. The others will take me three days at the very most.

Since Britt’s report is $9, the 28 book ideas works out to about thirty* cents per idea. Even better, these are GOOD book ideas… not just “sure, why not?” ideas. I won’t be writing fluff, and I won’t be repeating myself.

Readers will like these books.

My first book from Britt’s report

This past week, I wrote one in two half-days. (I worked on other projects for half of each day, and then dictated — to Dragon Naturally Speaking — for a couple of hours.)

I edited that book the next day, and created its cover. (I continued working on my other projects, as well.)

On the third day, after one final pass, I published the book. With no marketing — not even mentioning the book on social media — copies were already selling.

I won’t claim that starting with an Amazon rank of #150,000 is great, but this is a niche where I’m competing with TV stars who write their own books.

So, I was pretty happy with that rank on the first day.

Today (four days later), my book is on page one at Amazon Kindle, for its top keyword phrase. And, my book outranks the current best-sellers of two TV stars in that same niche.

I’m pleased. And, I’ll write another book from my new list, later this week.

Yes, I recommend Britt’s report.

Once again, I’m impressed by how well Britt writes reports to spark fresh book ideas and insights.

This report can pay for itself (in book profits) in less than a week… maybe much less. (In my case, it’s already a winner.)

After that, I’m confident these books will continue selling for years.

But here’s my usual advice: This only way this report is worth buying is if you actually write more books. (And, if you’re already writing and this would be a distraction, skip it… for now. Don’t get sidetracked. Finish your current books!)

Britt offers solid, evergreen book ideas. They’re different. If you’re like me, you’ll see fresh topics many authors will never think of.

When I checked my sub-niche, only three (of the 28 ideas) had any competition at all.

And, checking the competition, I thought of four more book ideas for that audience.

If you’re writing nonfiction (or have ever thought about it), you probably need this report. Here’s the link (not an affiliate link): Britt Malka’s E-Book Series Ideas (aka “Divide and Conquer”)

scripty-divider

*When I first rushed through this article, I said three cents. That was, obviously, a typo. It should have said thirty (30) cents. Either way, this report still delivers remarkable value.

Nonfiction: My One-Day Book, and How I Wrote It

Yesterday, I woke up with an idea for a new, nonfiction book.

Since I’ve spent the last couple of months refining my fiction-writing process — and feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels — I desperately needed to publish something. Anything, really.

So yesterday, when I sat down at my cluttered desk, I gathered up all the papers, reference books, and stray Pringles potato chips (guilty pleasure), and put them on top of the nearest bookcase.

I decided to write and publish a book in one day, even if it meant going without sleep to complete it.

The process took 14 hours. That includes two walks — for exercise and to clear my head — time spent browsing the Internet for references for a totally different book, and several breaks in front of the TV.

alarm clockHere’s what I did, hour-by-hour.

4 AM – 5 AM

  • A brief breakfast.
  • Jotted notes and a mini-mindmap of the book idea.
  • Checked my email and Facebook to see if anything needed urgent attention. (Only a couple of things needed my attention.)
  • Researched the book topic and printed a few references to look at, later, as I was writing.

5 AM – 6:30 AM

  • Created my book cover. I always start with the cover. When I don’t, my books don’t seem to have enough focus. For me, the cover is what the book is about.

Supplies & tools I used:

  • A cover illustration from GraphicStock.com. I have an annual subscription. I think this is my second year with them, but it might be my third. They’re good, not great, but certainly useful enough for my purposes.
  • Fonts from FontSquirrel.com. They’re free and safe for use in commercial projects.
  • Photoshop. I’m using Photoshop CS3, bought from eBay. (Yes, I know the risks of that. My original, legal copy of Photoshop didn’t transfer well to my new computer, and my original CDs are in storage in NH.) This copy isn’t perfect, but it’s more than enough for my needs. Support from the seller (an authorized Adobe seller) was excellent, the one time I had a question.

6:30 AM – 9 AM

  • Gathered my notes. Set up my computer for writing.
  • Started dictating my book, and completed the first 1,692 words of it. That’s about 800 words/hour. Not bad, for first thing in the morning.

Tools I used:

  • Dragon Naturally Speaking (Version 11, already on installed my computer). When I upgrade, I’ll get the Premium edition, so I can dictate books into a voice recorder when I’m on the road or taking a walk.
  • My microphone, an old Samson Q1U mic that seems to work better than my Blue Snowball, for dictating to Dragon. (I also have a standard foam cover for the mic, which helps filter any pops or sputters.)
  • The hands-free hardware that holds it so I can lean back in my chair and look out the window, and talk.
  • I dictate into Notepad. It uses the fewest computer resources, and seems to play nicely with Dragon. Better than OpenOffice does, or Scrivener.
  • All of those tricks (and more) came from reading The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon.

9 AM – 10 AM

  • Took my morning walk to clear my thoughts, and to come up with fresh ideas to include in the book, or at least improve it. (And, oh yes, the exercise is good for me.)
  • Had an opportunity to promote my coloring books to friends-of-a-friend that I saw during my walk.

10 AM – 11:30 AM

  • Tweaked the book cover. (During my walk, I’d come up with a better title.)
  • Talked with my husband.
  • Corrected and lightly edited what I’d already written.
  • Did more research online. Well… to be honest, I got sidetracked. I probably spent an hour reading news stories, catching up on friends’ blogs, and watching ridiculously cute animal videos.

11:30 AM – 4:30 PM

  • Wrote, and wrote some more. (All of it via Dragon.)
  • Went through the usual phase of “I hate this book, it’s awful, no one will ever read it, and I’m a terrible writer.”
  • And then I got past that.
  • Kept writing, taking 5 or 10 minute breaks every 45 minutes or so. (That’s not enough. I should be taking more frequent breaks, and a longer one every hour or so.)

4:30 PM – 5:30 PM

  • Went for another walk. Had another “ah-HA!” idea to improve it.
  • Took a break for dinner, and to catch up on what’s new at Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon. Added far too many things to my queues.

5:30 PM – 7 PM

  • Completed my book. Before edits, it was around 7k words. Maybe a little less.
  • Edited the book with the desktop version of the Hemingway Editor, formerly called the Hemingway App. I edit inside the editor, and then cut-and-paste the results into Scrivener. (I could not use that software until I took David Lee Martin’s course, Scrivener Unleashed. He was the first person to explain Scrivener in a way that made sense to me.)

7 PM – 8:30-ish

  • Re-read the book and edited it again. Fixed typos that Scrivener pointed out to me. The final version was around 5,000 words. That’s a “short read,” exactly as I’d intended.
  • Formatted the book in Scrivener. (It took me about four tries to remember which settings do what. I need to jot them down, so I don’t do this with, oh, every single book.)
  • Published the book in KDP.
  • Sat back, then went to the kitchen to make dinner, and spent the rest of the evening flipping through our Roku channels, deciding what to watch.

Around 9:30 PM, I realized how exhausted I was, and my husband convinced me that I needed sleep. (He was right.)

But, I woke up this morning with another book selling at Amazon. That’s a victory. I feel UNstuck as a writer/publisher.

Okay… it’s a kind of embarrassing book (but not porn), with a throwaway pen name I’ll never admit to, but it’s a book. And, for the intended audience, it’s a pretty good book.

I set it to sell for 99-cents (US), and it’s in Kindle Unlimited. I know that the intended audience tends to borrow books (via Kindle Unlimited) rather than buy them, so that’s where I expect to see the most income from it.

So… that was my day. I’m pleased with the results. And, I hope those insights and tips are helpful to you and your writing.

Puzzle Books – Fun or Folly?

crossword puzzlePuzzle book courses seem to be trending, for good reason. The market isn’t the “hot, new thing,” but if you publish lots of puzzle books, the income can be steady.

And by “lots,” I don’t mean five or six… I mean dozens. Perhaps hundreds, if you expect a living wage from these books.

If you’ve always dreamed of building a puzzle book empire, that may sound okay. Maybe even fun.

However, solving puzzles is one thing; designing them — by the hundreds (for just one book) — and then preparing the pages for publishing… that’s something else.

Even after the book looks ready to publish, your work is far from over. You’ll still need to complete every single puzzle yourself (or hire people to test-drive them) to be absolutely, positively certain every puzzle can be solved.

The good news is: Once you create systems — and make use of available software (and perhaps some outsourced help) — puzzle books aren’t quite as arduous as they may seem, at first.

But… is this the best use of your time & resources?

Sure, puzzle books can provide steady income — a little here, a little there — IF you publish enough really good puzzle books.

To earn enough to quit your day job… that’s another matter.

How much can you earn?

When I look at a new publishing niche, I study the numbers.

I focus on two things:

  1. Can I break into the top 20 for that category? That is, can I get my book on the first page buyers see at Amazon when they search for a book like mine.
  2. If I manage to reach #20 on that page, are the earnings worthwhile?

You can read the details of my analysis, at the foot of this article (below the horizontal pencil graphic).

Here are the cut-to-the-chase insights:

First of all, I would not try to compete at the top-level category, Books > Humor & Entertainment > Puzzles & Games. I’d be competing with 54,544 other books.

I’d aim for something like the Sudoku sub-category. There, I’m competing with closer to 11,000 books.

If I publish a 140-page Sudoku puzzle book (around 125 puzzle pages) and price it at $5 to compete with the best-sellers, and I achieve a spot on the first page of Sudoku puzzle books, I’ll earn between $3.76 and $31.96 per day.

That’s between $112.80 and $958.80 per month, before taxes, for a book that’s outselling the other 10,530 (or so) in this category.

If my only reason to create puzzle books was to earn money, this would not be a field I’d get into.

For me, writing fiction and nonfiction is a far safer bet.

Still interested?

But… let’s say you don’t care about the money. And, perhaps your brain is already wired for puzzles, so you’re eager to leap into puzzle book publishing.

If so, create a few puzzles to see if you enjoy this.

Search for “free [kind of puzzle] creation software” at Google or any search engine.

Here are some links to get you started. Frankly, I just did a quick Google search, and haven’t tried any of these.

(Of course, free software rarely performs as well as programs that, you know, cost money. If you decide to publish puzzle books, you’ll probably want to invest in really good software that produces reliable puzzles.)

Do you need a course?

For most people, some training is necessary before you even try to get into the puzzle book field.

Really, there are nuances involved… things that never even crossed my mind. You’ll also want the latest software advice. Personally, I wouldn’t even try to publish a puzzle book without a great mentor, how-to guide, or course.

I haven’t seen the September 2016 course that’s offered by Shawn Hansen. In the past, she’s been a star when it comes to delivering insightful, geeky goodness in her courses & reports. http://5minutecovers.com/go/qepbb/*

Also, her course is about tactics to succeed in the puzzle book market. She doesn’t teach how to create the puzzles. That’s a different topic.

I’ve heard that Shawn’s course will start at $67 when it launches. After that, it will go up in price, at least twice… dramatically.

So, I recommend buying that course early if this looks like a match for your interests. (And, my usual advice: Be sure any course, report, or product comes with a money-back guarantee, unless you read a very positive review by someone you trust.)

If you’ve read this far, here’s what I suggest.

  1. Test-drive free puzzle-making software, first.
  2. Create at least two dozen puzzles.(I suggest creating 50. Then, if you go ahead with this project, you have at least half the puzzles you’ll need to publish your first book.)
  3. Print those puzzles, take out your pencil & eraser, and solve them.
  4. Decide if this is fun or merely mind-numbing work.

Then, if publishing puzzle books seems to be one of the coolest things in the world, take a good course. Otherwise, it’s like jumping in at the deep end of the pool. You’ll spend far too much time & money, trying to publish that first book.

Courses I’ve tried

As I said, Shawn’s course is one of the latest in this field. I haven’t seen it, so I can’t say whether it’s a “must buy” for serious puzzle book publishers. (At this point, I’m unlikely to buy it.)

UPDATE: I watched her free webinar, and she mentioned something important — a tip I’d picked up, years ago, from a no-longer-available course called “Kindle Rockstar.”

That tip was kind of important. Not necessarily for puzzle books (which I still think are a ho-hum way to make money), but for my other book research.

In addition, Shawn reminded viewers that her branding is kind of brilliant. She gets branding for these kinds of books (including coloring books).

To be frank, I don’t. My coloring books sell pretty well, but I need her insights. She said she talks about branding in the first lesson of the puzzle book course, and — at the moment — that’s far less expensive than her coloring book course.

So, though I’m still skeptical of the viability of puzzle books, I did buy her course, about an hour before she raised the price higher than $67.

I haven’t watched the lessons yet, so I can’t say whether this was a great purchase or a waste of $67. However, I’m fairly confident I’ll get enough from her advice, to tweak my coloring books and earn back what I spent on the puzzle book course.

In the past, I liked Andy’s guide* to creating Sudoku books, and gave it a rave review (mine is the fourth comment on that page). I received it as a review copy, but I would have liked it anyway.

Andy’s course provided a wealth of information. If you’re a Sudoku enthusiast and would love to start creating puzzles for others, that’s a solid starting point.

Important: That course is only about Sudoku puzzle books, not other kinds of puzzles. However, many of the concepts can apply to crossword puzzle books, word search puzzle books, and so on.

I’ve also seen another, more recent “puzzle publishing profits” course by someone else. The basic $17 report tried to cover far more puzzle book options than Andy’s course. Perhaps too many. In addition, you’d need the $37 upsell to learn about the best resources.

For a truly dedicated puzzle book publisher, that cost might be worthwhile. I wasn’t comfortable recommending it, so I didn’t review it, and won’t link to it, here.

So, those are my thoughts on this field. Whether you see it as fun or folly will depend upon your reasons for publishing puzzle books.

*The only affiliate links at this website are Amazon links. I don’t earn a cent if you buy a report, course, or other product that I recommend.

In other writing news (FICTION)…

In the past week or so, I’ve created some new writing systems to streamline my time at the keyboard.

Yes, I’ve been working on templates and systems, for months. Now, after lots of trial-and-error — and progressively simplifying my templates — I think I’ve found what works for me.

The ingredients:

  1. An expanded GMC (goal, motivation, conflict) grid. (Actually, at least two per story: One grid for the person’s life goals at that point in time. Then, a second grid for the person’s goal/s after the “inciting incident” changes everything. That is: the person’s goal within that story or series.) If you’re a fiction writer and haven’t read Debra Dixon’s “Goal, Motivation & Conflict” book, ask for it at your public library. If they don’t have a copy, order directly from the author. (Amazon stocks only used copies, and they’re ridiculously overpriced.)
  2. A story template based (mostly) on Try-Fail cycles (and one Try-Succeed). The template is loosely structured on Dan Wells’ story outline, or — if you can deal with really NSFW language — Chuck Wendig’s What Exactly Makes A Damn Good Story?
  3. Dragon NaturallySpeaking (I’m using version 11), following the exact directions I learned in Scott Baker’s “The Writers Guide to Training Your Dragon…” (I’ve been using speech recognition software since the 1990s, and tried Dragon about a year ago. It was okay, but not great. Now, using the advice in Baker’s book, my writing speed doubled the first day, and doubled again the next day. Go ahead. Spend the $2.99 for his advice. You’ll thank me, later.)

Yesterday, I completed the first draft of a book I’d been wrestling with for weeks. And, I easily met my word count. All of this is equals a major breakthrough for me.

I’m taking today off, and will start editing the book tomorrow.

If this system continues to work well, I’ll happily share my methods with you. For now, those starting points — GMC, Try-Fail cycles, and the book about speech recognition software — may be all you need to increase your productivity.

pencil

Just for geeks: Here’s how I evaluated the puzzle books marketplace at Amazon

To decide whether an Amazon category is worth my time, I use KD Spy to see Kindle numbers, even if I plan to publish a printed book, not an ebook.

(Most puzzle books are printed. Amazon frowns on publishing a Kindle book that requires a later download — even if it’s free — from your website.)

This morning’s KD Spy summary for “puzzle books” isn’t encouraging. In the lower right corner, their analysis suggests only so-so popularity (yellow), with not-great (red) potential, and lots of competition (also red).
However, as I said: KD Spy is designed to evaluate Kindle books, not printed books.

puzzle books - summary of oppty

warning!So, my next step is to check printed puzzle books, manually.

Once again, I’m looking at the top 20 books that Amazon displays when I search for “puzzle books.”

The top-level category, Books > Humor & Entertainment > Puzzles & Games, has 54,544 books competing for the first page. I wouldn’t aim for that level. Not at first, anyway.

Instead, I’m looking at Sudoku puzzle books. In that niche, I’m competing with 10,479 books.

Since I’m a Sudoku fan, I already know that a lot of those books were published using really bad software that turns out as many as 50 puzzles with one click.

So, if I publish a genuinely good book, I might be competing with 5,000 other good books. Maybe fewer. For me, those numbers are okay.

The current #1 book in Amazon’s Sudoku category is ranked #1,903 in Books.

That translates to 68 copies/day, earning 47 cents per copy in royalties, or about $31.96/day income. In a 30-day month, that’s less than $1,000 (US) income, even before I subtract expenses and what I’ll set aside for taxes.

Can I actually break into that category? Maybe. That #1 book is indie published via CreateSpace, so the category isn’t tyrannized by the big publishers.

Getting back to Amazon’s first page for Sudoku books, I want to see how well I could do if I clawed my way up to the lowest-ranked position.

The #20 book in that category is ranked #61,157 at Amazon.

Err… that’s about three books sold, per day. Worse, it’s from a mainstream publisher, who can afford to sell the 320-page book for $7.73. (If you tried to do the same thing as an indie through CreateSpace, you’d lose money on every copy sold.)

But let’s say I publish a book with about 125 puzzles (140 pages) and it reaches the midpoint on Amazon’s first page of Sudoku puzzle books.

The #10 book is currently ranked #26,430, so it’s selling about eight copies/day. If my profit is the same as I calculated for the #1 book (47 cents/copy), I’ll earn $3.76 (US) per day, or $112.80/month, before expenses & taxes.

I can earn far more money from fiction and nonfiction, especially if I publish printed books (via CreateSpace) and in Kindle (and allow my books to be borrowed).

The bottom line: Unless you’re rabidly enthusiastic about creating and publishing puzzle books, this niche is strictly for fun & to cover your Starbucks tab, or something like that.

Viral Nonfiction, Revisited

Write Successful Viral Nonfiction BooksIt’s been over a year since I published Write Successful Viral Nonfiction Books in 10 Days or Less, so — before I’m up to my eyebrows in holiday busyness — I checked my Kindle book sales to see whether that business model is still working for me.

To my absolute astonishment, I discovered that 30% of my Kindle income (dollars, not number of copies sold) is from one of those “flash in the pan” (aka viral nonfiction) books I wrote early in 2013.

Really. More than two years after the related news story was over and had started collecting dust, people are still buying a book about it.

It wasn’t a book that history students would buy. Or political science students.

  • I didn’t write about Obama starting his second term of office. (To me, his first term was news, but his second was kind of assumed.)
  • I didn’t write about the skeleton of King Richard III that was found beneath a car park in Leicester, England. (If I had, and I’d included lurid trivia about his ascent to the throne and his demise, I might understand the book continuing to sell, years later.)
  • I didn’t write about Oscar Pistorius’s life and his murder charge. (The crime turned my stomach. However, if I had written about it, that book might be selling now due to headlines about Pistorius’s jail sentence.)

Instead, it put a New Age spin on a quirky 2013 event that was in the news for about six weeks. It wasn’t huge news. It was just something that interested me.

I haven’t a clue why that book is still selling. Generally, those kinds of books earn me about four figures within 60 days, while the topic is in the news. After that, they stop selling.

(As long as I earn four figures for about 10 days’ work, I’m happy. That’s all I expect from these kinds of books.)

When I see sales fade and stay there, I usually increase the cover price. I figure that anyone still interested in the topic is just a teensy bit obsessed with it, and willing to pay more.

However, if the book stalls suddenly and completely, I drop the price to 99 cents for any history students who’d buy it as research for an essay or report.

The news-related book that’s kept selling long after its “best by” date…? After the headlines faded, I marked that book up to nearly double its original price. I figured I had nothing to lose.

And then, as usual with these books, I forgot about it. No marketing. No continuing updates at its related website. Nothing.

However, looking back through my sales reports, this book has — weirdly — had steadily increasing sales over the past year. Now, I’m making plans for a second, 2016 edition, in case interest continues.

There’s nothing special about this book.

It took me two to three weeks to research, but that’s because it was one of three related books I published, based on that same research. (Since I was publishing three books, I figured the extra research time was worthwhile. I do that if I see multiple angles related to one news headline, and enough time to get all of them into Kindle before the topic is “old news.”)

I think I wrote it in three days. Certainly no more than five days. I invest most of my time in research, since that’s where my books shine.

I’m not sure this book has earned me five figures, yet. It’s probably in the very high four figures, at this point.

I have no idea when sales picked up again. Honestly, I focus on my newer books and those that I know will be evergreen.

If I hadn’t hauled out my sales spreadsheets and analyzed them, I’d still be clueless about this particular book.  (And yes, I will be reading my reviews to see what people are saying about the book, now.)

Really, my business model is: Research and write a book. Publish it. Move on to the next book. Don’t look back.

The two related books have not maintained the same sales level in the past 2 1/2 years. In the past 30 days, I’ve sold one copy of each. (I’d marked both of those down to 99 cents and $1.99, respectively, once the topic faded from public interest.)

  • The book that’s still selling well was an in-depth look at New Age lore and legends connected to a fairly minor event… an event that was over by mid-2013.
  • The second book on the topic was a “dummies” kind of book — and a very short one — that I priced low from the start, hoping to attract readers who wanted fast information at a low cost. It earned its four figures by the end of May 2013, when the event had passed without additional disasters predicted by some New Agers.
  • The third book failed from the beginning. It was a rather scathing, skeptical review of the New Age “wisdom” related to the topic, written under a different pen name. (I tried a few other skeptical, fact-based books related to New Age topics and I can say with confidence: Don’t bother. The skeptical audience seems to get its news from magazines like Skeptical Inquirer, and from related, trusted websites.)

What’s different about the book that’s still selling? It’s longer and costs more. Other than that, I have no idea.

  • None of the the three were better (or worse) written than the others. All were written following the exact method I described in my viral nonfiction how-to guide.
  • The best-selling one has an especially bland cover I threw together in haste, when my Fiverr cover designer “accidentally” used a Getty image without their permission. (Fortunately, looking for images for the other two books, I spotted the Getty photo and immediately halted Kindle sales while I changed the cover.) So, it’s not as if this book has an impressive cover. It doesn’t.
  • The best-selling book has slightly more keywords in the title than the other two. It wasn’t enough to look like “keyword stuffing,” but it used the same words I saw in news headlines. (I’m happy to let news editors research the attention-getting keywords, and re-use what’s working for them. It costs me nothing and — so far — it’s working for me, too.)

So, if you’re wondering if these “viral nonfiction” books can still succeed, even when they’re written in haste… the answer is yes.

If you’re going to write these kinds of books, expect to get a couple of months’ income from each of them. If you focus on the right kinds of news headlines, and you’re a fast researcher & writer, you can earn four figures from each book. (Of course, your results may vary.)

And, in rare cases, one of your books might do what my early 2013 book did: Keep selling & selling like the Energizer rabbit, producing more income than you ever expected.

What I might write about now — if I weren’t knee-deep in other projects — loosely related to current news headlines:

  • The popularity of polarizing political views, from the US’s Donald Trump to China’s Ren Zhiqiang. (I’d talk about them and their relevant histories, but also about historical successes and spectacular failures of politicians who went out on a limb with extreme views… the more surprising — making people say, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” — the better.)
  • Something similar to “Who said it, Donald or Hillary?” — but this book would require really fast research and writing, and probably need to be clearly marketed as a parody-type book.
  • A fact-or-fiction book about past and present inventions (such as the invisibility cloak) that were predicted or inspired by fiction. (If you research & write it fast enough, you could probably get some easy publicity through HARO interviews.)
  • A book about the fascination with “lost” graves, including the 2013 discovery of King Richard III’s grave, the recent speculation about the Mona Lisa model’s grave, and the possibility that Nefertiti’s grave might have been within reach, all along. Who else is missing? Some missing monarchs, and several other missing tombs of historical figures. Or, you could take it in a weird graves and eerie plots direction… just in time for Halloween?

If these kinds of books are news to you, my how-to guide to research & writing them is: Write Successful Viral Nonfiction Books in 10 Days or Less. I published it under my real name, Eibhlin MacIntosh.

Quick Workbook Creating (Nonfiction)

Need a workbook to go along with your nonfiction book? Want to make it a bonus for your readers?

Here’s how to create one.

drawing pad and pencil1. Open your book text — the book you’ve written — in Scrivener, or your word processing program.

2. Go through it, using the “find” function for all action verbs, especially “do,” “write,” and so on.

3. Each time you find one that’s a step you’ve recommended, make a note of it in a separate document.

4. Then, make each of those a workbook step. It could be part of a checklist, or something with fill-in-the-blank lines, or an area to sketch in, a basic mindmap to complete, or even a small graph paper area. Keep the directions for each step very simple. (I’ll get back to that in a minute.)

5, Create the workbook as a PDF and make it a hidden file (include the bonus URL in your book) at your website. (I use Amazon S3 — plus the free CloudBerry Explorer — to upload and store files like those.)

Your readers will like this. You may also get more book buyers if a reader shares the URL with others.

So, avoid explaining too much in the workbook. If someone downloads the free workbook, they’ll want to buy your actual book to fully understand each step, and see how the steps fit together to accomplish whatever-it-is.

So, in the workbook, be sure to link to your Amazon, B&N, Kobo, or other sales pages, so they find your book and buy it.

It’s a nice bonus for your readers, and it can be a good marketing tool for you, as well.

Building a Q&A Book

I’ve almost completed my newest just-for-fun nonfiction book.

This one has taken me close to two weeks. It was a “101 Answers to Questions about…” book.

The current book is about 50 words short of 20k words, and I still need to write the introduction, the closing, and fill in the bibliography. (Btw, I use Noodletools.com for the latter; it’s free.)

Building blocks - a step-by-step approach to a finished book.Here’s what I did:

1. I selected a topic that would be interesting. It’s one I’ve written about before, and I have an eager audience that will buy more of my books in that niche.
2. I chose a couple of very simple keyword phrases related to that topic.
3. Using scraper software (that visits sites like Kindle Answers or Jack Duncan’s system), I collected lots & lots of questions.
4. I copied those to a Notepad file and printed them.
5. I went through the list, crossing out the useless questions and highlighting the best of the rest.
6. Using cut-and-paste, I reorganized the good questions so they are grouped together, logically. (That is, if I were writing a travel book, I’d put all the questions about travel with pets in one section, and all the questions about tours in another, etc.) I deleted the rest.
7. Then, I turned on my voice recognition software and started dictating the book, using the sheets of questions.
8. About ten days later, I had my first draft completed and edited.

Now, I’m filling in the rest of the book, designing the cover, etc.

Also, I’m writing this book under a pen name; one of my related websites gets about 80k unique visitors/month, and I have tremendously loyal fans. So, anything I write for that audience… it has to be very good. I can’t just throw together an easy “tips” book and figure it’s good enough. If I did, they’d be outside my door with pitchforks or at least rotten tomatoes.

My next fun book will probably be either a UFO book (under another pen name) or a cookbook. I’ll want a break from the Q&A format. (I have a low boredom threshold, so I like to mix things up regularly.)

However, I think this is a good model for a fairly easy book. I’ve already researched the questions I’ll need for three more Q&A books.

A few tips if you try this idea, yourself:

1. Don’t number the questions until the book is finished. If you get halfway through and realize there are better ways to organize the questions, renumbering is a royal pain. Trust me on that.

2. When you’re getting ready to edit, do that the old-fashioned way… away from the computer. Before printing your draft, number your pages. Then, if they get mixed up because you dropped them, you’re not staring at a sheaf of disorganized papers with no idea how to reassemble them. Ahem. (If you skip the numbering step and the worst happens, here’s what to do: Go back to the file on your computer. Use what’s on your screen to help you see which page goes where. If you’d manage to drop, oh, about 30 pages, I recommend copious amounts of chocolate to keep your sense of humor afloat.)

3. Print your manuscript, double-spaced, and use a red pen. That combination make the editing easy, and — when you’re typing your corrections into the final manuscript — the red-ink corrections are easy to spot. (You could use blue, green, or purple ink, but those colors are not as easy to notice.)

4. Take at least two days off between dictating and editing. Then, pretend you didn’t write the book. Be ruthless with the red pen. Tighten everything, journalistically.

(Tip: Dramatic music can help keep you in the mood, and provide the gusto to boldly wield that red pen.)

5. After you’ve edited your book so it’s as concise as possible, go back and add the colorful phrases and anecdotes that will charm your readers.

6. Save the scribbled-on draft pages. Consider having them bound at Kinko’s or something, and then offer this (at a suitably high price) as an autographed, one-of-a-kind insight into the creative process of a best-selling author.

My most successful work schedule seems to be:

1. Write (dictate) 3k – 5k words per day, for two days. I usually start out writing about 1,000 – 1,500 words/hour, but things can go downhill pretty rapidly after the first two or three hours. (When you know you’re babbling, or you’re convinced your voice recognition software is misunderstanding you on purpose, it’s time to call it a day.  *grin* )
2. Do something else (research, cover design, or a completely different project) for a couple of days.
3. Edit what you’ve already written.
4. Write for two more days.
5. Rinse, lather, repeat until the first draft is completed.