Self-Publishing Income Tracking Spreadsheet

Don’t look now, it’s time for another round of… LOOK, LOOK!

Glittery pink text with SPARKLES that reads: A SPREADSHEET!

(What, I made that glittery pink sparkle image, and I’m going to get some use out of it. Never waste glitter text, guys. It’s like, the first rule of the internet.)

Last time I uploaded my Self-Pub MTD Income Estimate spreadsheet, which is how I keep a rough running estimate of my monthly sales.

This spreadsheet is a lot more straightforward, because all I track with it are deposits.  I update this at the end of the month (*coughcough* or the end of the year) with all of the deposits that hit my bank account. There’s no conversion here, just straight up dollars.  The big things I keep track of with this sheet are my monthly and quarterly totals, my totals by vendor and my breakdown of self-pub vs publisher money.

Year to Date Spreadsheet

This one has fake numbers in January. The breakdown of the fake numbers probably tells you a lot about my idea of what % of income comes from which vendors, even though I tried not to be too obvious.

There’s really not a lot to it, but I’ll break down the three parts just in case.

The top of the spreadsheet with running totals and YTD total.The top of the spreadsheet is all automatic. Everything in here should update as you put your numbers in the bottom two sections. It tracks your total monthly payment, and also breaks it down by traditionally/epublished vs self-published. On top of that, it keeps a running total of each quarter, and at the end of each line it breaks down what % of your income came from publishers and what % came from self-publishing vendors.

 The middle of the spreadsheet, where you can add each self-pub vendor payment as you recieve it.
The self-publishing section is also pretty straight-forward. The vendors are pretty easy to tweak and update as needed. That holds my current list, including revealing my current laziness in tracking down which country $1.47 payments from Amazon came from. (Bad, Bree, bad.)

Some vendors pay quarterly. I tend to black out the months I don’t anticipate payments so I won’t be dumb and wonder why they aren’t there, because almost everything I do with spreadsheets is pre-planning for the days where I’m really dumb and wonder very silly things.

As you add payments, the monthly totals will update at the top in the green boxes. The year-to-date total by vendor will update in the 2nd column in teal. The year-to-date grand total for self-publishing shows up in the YTD Selfpub box. At the end of each line is the % breakdown by vendor. Finally, quarterly self-pub totals show up above the months.

And finally…

Spreadsheet where you input money from your publisher.

The publisher section is basically exactly the same as the self-publisher, except you have to fill in your own publishers.  I’ll be honest, this section is pretty basic and doesn’t handle a ton of excitement or variation…but I only have a few epublishers, one who pays monthly and one quarterly, so I don’t have a lot of excitement here.  But if you’re just tracking deposits, this should do it.

And that is the spreadsheet in all its glory! There’s a download link below, and I have it on good authority that it works just fine on google docs. Feel free to take and adapt and have fun.  And if you have any questions, feel free to ask! (And just for fun, I threw the link to my Running Totals spreadsheet in the bottom here, too.)

Year to Date Totals

A file for tracking your Year-to-Date payments from vendors and publishers. Includes monthly and yearly totals and percentages, broken down by vendor, publisher and self-pub vs publisher, and quarterly income totals.

Running Totals Spreadsheet

An excel spreadsheet that tracks MTD sales for self-pubbers. Vendors included: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Draft2Digital, Apple, and Google. Also provides a way to estimate money from Amazon borrows.

A post everyone should read.

Sometimes I reread this post by Courtney Milan because I think it says so many smart things, they get lost under their own radiance. But in particular, this one is something I’m thinking a lot about right now:

Some people call it “self” publishing. Some people call it “independent” publishing. I don’t think either of those terms describe what is happening. The other day, I described self-publishers as more like bacteria: most will never register above a blip, but because we’re capable of swapping ideas with each other and evolving at a high rate, the ones that do well can do really well.

It’s why the point that Mike Shatzkin expresses in the commentson this post here—that “it is hugely counterintuitive to me that a single actor whose main capability MUST BE writing could be a more effective marketer than a publisher who would have good reason to develop capabilities at scale across a list”—is both completely right and totally wrong. He’s totally right in that one individual, standing on his or her own, is always going to lose versus publishers. I suspect that is true, on average, by a margin larger than the 4x royalty difference.

But he’s not taking into account the intelligence of the self-publishing collective. The fact that writers have been so poorly paid for years is actually a huge bonus. Most authors by necessity have more skills than just writing. Do the math: There are more self-publishers with marketing backgrounds than there are marketers working in New York publishing. There are more self-publishers with backgrounds in statistics and data collection than New York has on their payroll. There are more computer experts, more graphics designers, more photographers. There are just so darned many of us, and so darned few (relatively speaking) of New York.

As an added bonus, we don’t have to pass ideas by a committee before we try them, so collectively, we have more information on crazy-ass shit that some person tried just because, hell, why not see what happens?

None of that would matter one damned bit—one person who has data expertise still might not understand what makes a good cover–except we talk to each other all the time. Participating in that conversation to some degree, staying nimble, seeing results, listening, learning as a constant matter—is where 70% of the value-added of being a self-publisher lies. The royalty rate is good, but it’s not the winner. The best self-publishers are doing things much, much better than the best publishers do. That may be hard to imagine, but it’s because taken as a whole, we have more data (most publishers don’t get the regular fine-grained data that self-publishers do, and don’t pore over it as we do) and more expertise than publishers do.

You really should read the entire post. Even if you’ve read it before. Courtney Milan is one of the smartest people I have ever met, and I am deeply grateful that she is endlessly generous with all of her wisdom.

What’s the plan, man?

On any given day, I see these three questions repeated in (at least) 15 places on the internet:

  • Should I use permafree?
  • Should I price at 99 cents?
  • Should I put my books in KU?

Plenty of people have answers, and offer them, and many of the answers are smart and some of them are nuanced and smart and some of the very smartest ones are brilliant but dangerous. Not because they’re not useful, but because people can leap on them and use them without understanding what parts are working and why, which will give them a false sense of confidence that is going to sting later on when the market shifts. (Believe me. I’ve felt the sting.)

I have one answer, and it’s a question:

Why do you want to?

That’s not meant to be a judgement. It’s also not meant to imply why on earth would you do that because I do all three, in certain circumstances, for different reasons, under multiple pennames, with varying results.

But you need to be able to answer. You need to know exactly why you want to, and what you hope to accomplish, and how you’re planning to make that happen. If you don’t, you might still get lucky. Plenty of people do. But waaaaaaaay more people don’t.

Here is a (very incomplete) list of questions I ask people who come to me:

Permafree

Sure, loss-leaders don’t have the OOMPH they carried even a few years ago. I remember having a free read back in the days before KDP, when there were almost no free books on Amazon. There was little competition. A free book was novel. It made my career for about 16 months. (Not even kidding. That was one beautiful promotion.) But even then, it was a concern–it happened the week after Amazon split the bestseller lists into Paid and Free. Before that, I would have been #1 in the Kindle store. Did we have the same visibility as #1 in the free store? Probably not.

Everything changes.

So freebies lack a little oomph today, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still work. But you need to know the answers to questions:

  1. How are you going to get visibility? (Promotions? Ads? Help from friends?)
  2. Are you putting your best foot forward? (What good will any of this do if they DNF on page 2 because it’s an unedited trunk book?)
  3. Are you doing this for exposure? What is your plan to keep these people. Have you got your backmatter optimized for newsletter conversions?
  4. Are you doing this for money? What is your plan to funnel people into your other works? (It’s 10000x easier if it’s book #1 in a series.)

99 cents

So, 99 cent reads are just math to me. Personally, they’re not my favorite math–I don’t sell well enough to make up for the royalty hit, most of the time, though the 99 cent price point can be super useful for price pulsing or for loss leaders.  Of course, KU has changed that dynamic a great deal, but not everyone wants to go exclusive on Amazon. So I’ll deal with the non-KU example first.

Questions I ask myself when I have a book at 99 cents:

  1. How many copies would I need to sell at $2.99 to match this income.  (You can safely assume 1:5 as a ratio…if you’re selling 500 copies a day at 99 cents, you’d need to sell 100 at $2.99. If you’re selling 50, you’d need to sell 10 at $2.99.  It’s actually close to 1:6, but delivery fees vary, etc.)
  2. Are you using this for a sale/loss leader/funnel? Is everything set up to send people where you want them to go next?
  3. Should you put this in KU?

Kindle Unlimited

KU is kind of evil. And brilliant. Right now, it’s a lightning rod for Think Pieces ™ on the downfall of publishing, writers, and everything else in the world.

The morality of KU is something you’ll have to grapple with on your own. The math is a bit simpler.

Rank: Amazon counts every borrow through KU toward a book’s rank, whether the book is ever opened or not. This results in a great deal of invisible movement on your rank, which has resulted in a lot of people thinking that KU books are given preferential treatment.

Which they’re not…technically. But they are getting the benefit of a lot of consequence-free one-clicking (because it doesn’t cost a KU subscriber anything to click, and they can always return the book) and that is an advantage in visibility.

Borrows: Borrows are a mystery. You could make $2 for them. (Probably not likely anymore.) You could make $1 for them. (Let’s hope that’s not the case this month.)  It’s a gamble, the biggest gamble yet for gamble-prone self-pubbers.

The math: right now, a borrow on a 99 cent book is much higher than the 35 cent royalty. If you’re someone who writes short, or prices at 99 cents for a variety of other reasons, KU could really work for you. You get the rank boost of borrows, plus the read-to-10% borrow rate.  If you’re in a genre that likes serials, you can write them now and make decent money. The reader gets a good deal. You get a good deal.

Amazon…doesn’t get a good deal. Which is why I wouldn’t be putting all my eggs in that basket any time soon. But no one said you have to pursue long-term tactics all the time. Jump on the waves and ride them, as long as you’re keeping your long-term strategy in mind.

The bottom line:

Do whatever works for you. What worked for me today, as Moira Rogers, might not work for me today as Kit Rocha. Or tomorrow as Moira Rogers. Don’t stress out trying to figure out which plan Works the Best. Because the answer is: none of them for everyone all the time.

Do what works for you. Today. And for the love of God, try to figure out why it’s working. And when it stops working (and it will stop working) try to figure out why that happened, too. And each time you have to adapt, you’ll do it with less hesitation and more confidence, because you’re not just seeking out someone who can tell you The Plan. You’re building your own, customized to your goals and needs, and believe me. That will work better than anything you take from someone else’s career.

 

 

Since this is a thing I’m doing now…

If there is something about our process or our website or our formatting or basically anything related to being a self-published author team that you’d like me to talk about, let me know.  I can’t promise to be timely or wise, because books writing zomg. Also my biggest belief about self-publishing is that there are about a hundred ways to do anything, and the only right one is the one that results in a good product and works for you.

But I probably know more weird tricks than I realize I know, so if there’s a particular topic you’d like me to write about, ask here. I will try to answer. 🙂

(Right now, the only posts I’m working on are directly related to ebook formatting.)

Smart People Say Smart Things

Why Would I Write Posts About Self-Publishing When Other People Are Being Smart All The Time: A Curated List of Brilliance.

So, there is so much information out there about self-publishing, and I’m often asked for advice and my thoughts on things. I wrote one post about the math of quiet success, but there are so many other people writing smart things, sometimes I wish I’d thought to make a list of them so I could just say, Here. Here is your Brilliant People Primer. They are Smarter Than I Am.

 

This is that list. It is very much a work in progress.



Traditional versus self publishing: official death match 2014

Author: Courtney Milan
Topics:
General Advice, Skills Required, Personal Experience
Target Audience:
Traditionally Published Authors

I love a lot of things about this post. This line in particular: I’ll talk about the skills that you need to have later, but the most important skill that every successful self-publisher needs is this: good judgment. That, I think, sums up so much of what is necessary to succeed in self-publishing. You can hire out almost anything else, but if you don’t know who to hire, and why, and what they should do for you…

While Courtney makes it clear that she’s talking to traditionally published authors because that’s the place of experience she came from, I think it’s worth reading no matter where your path has taken you. Because it’s smart, just like she is.

How To Make A Living As An Indie Author

Author: Robert J. Crane
Topics: General Advice, Marketing Strategies, Personal Experience
Target Audience: General

No, I’m not just including this because I want to be famous for my quote about pirate treasure. (Though I do.) This post is very long, very thorough, and very frank about how to take a smart, dedicated approach to the long game. Robert isn’t telling you how to use tricks to break into the top 100 on amazon every time. He’s telling you how to plan for the worst case scenario and build a backlist that might enable you to make a living without becoming The Next Big Thing.

In fact, he just today tweeted a bit of wisdom that I think sums up his post:

Backmatter: Are You Making the Most of Your Digital Shelf Space?

Author: Courtney Milan (Again, Already!)
Topic: Ebook Production, Marketing
Target Audience: General

This information is so important, I considered moving it to the top. From the post:

The moment after someone finishes your book is the point when they are most favorably inclined to you as an author. Okay, some people will have hated your book—and that’s okay—but this isn’t about them. This is about the people who read the last word of your book and sigh and hug their ereader close and think, “What a lovely book! I’m so glad I read this.”

It’s the perfect moment in a symbiotic author-reader relationship: She wants to read more of my books, and I want her to do the same thing.

Changing the backmatter in our books has increased our sales of related books, increased website traffic and exploded our newsletter, and all with so little effort. All it takes is really thinking about how to give the reader exactly what they want, as painlessly as possible.


So many more posts coming soon…