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.


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.

5 thoughts on “Puzzle Books – Fun or Folly?”

  1. Hurray!!!!!!! A half non-fiction post. Awesome Possum!

    I actually bought a sudoku course from the warrior forum, a while ago, but I never completed a book because I was worried about copyright issues. I had no idea if it was even legal to publish puzzles from someone else’s online generator.

    Who owns the copyright on something like that?

    1. First, my usual disclaimer: I’m not an attorney. I’m not qualified to give legal advice. The following is just my personal, non-legal, common sense (I think) opinion.

      That said, here are my thoughts about this:

      Unless the site makes it clear that they own content you generate using their software, I’m pretty sure the copyright won’t be an issue. You could check with a contract lawyer about this — someone who specializes in copyright law — but really, I doubt that anyone is buying up Sudoku books to see if matching puzzles were ever generated at his or her online Sudoku puzzle generator.

      The verification process would be kind of insane, and for the per-book profits that could be disputed… I just can’t imagine anyone bothering.

      Here’s what I’d do:
      1. Check the site for Terms of Use or anything that suggests the generated puzzles can’t be used for commercial purposes.
      2. Use puzzles from a variety of sites, so each of your books isn’t from just one site/generator.
      3. As soon as the profits justify it, buy software that’s clearly designed for people creating puzzle books.

      Meanwhile, from what I’ve seen, the shortest route to puzzle book profits is to have a great marketing “hook.” Create themed puzzle books, or add something different that will create buzz, and appeal to a particular audience.

      Good luck!

      1. Thanks for the advice. 🙂

        I tend to worry about everything unnecessarily!

        Plus, during pre-birth school, when they were giving out common sense, I was busy raiding the skittle machine, so I didn’t get any. “teehee”

    1. This website is simply advice to fellow indie authors.

      Some years ago, I did create a publishing house, but it’s under new management and not accepting submissions of any kind.

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