I don't think most people get how royalty statements work; I certainly didn't. I will say now that, in regards to Cleis Press, 4 times a year I get a check, and a wake up call. A very stark reminder of what works, what doesn't. It's like a roadmap: keep editing this, never edit that again. It's exciting, but can also be demoralizing to see books I poured as much energy, time, attention, heart and soul into as others sell just a few copies in three months. Was the book a mistake? Should it never have been created? Did I do a bad job of marketing it? Was it the cover?
And with the ones that did well, the best sellers of the bunch, what went right about those? It's so hard to know. As I move into 2011 and try to become a better businesswoman, one of my goals is to make all of my publicity and marketing efforts sync up. Like, there's zero reason to run around, take off days from my day job, and do events if nobody's gonna show up (cue Brookline, MA and that Book Passage writing workshop where one person attended). Literally no reason, and I cannot afford those kinds of events financially or psychologically. I just can't. Eventually I will probably phase out doing events, because they are not cost-efficient, but they are fun, bring in publicity, and allow me to meet actual real people who sell my books to other actual real people. Otherwise, it's all intermediaries.
But anyway, back to things I didn't know - I had this fantasy when I started that each royalty statement would get progressively bigger, that because I have more and more books out there, that the rate of purchase would just keep rising. I forgot that some of the people who are buying the new books already have the old ones, so even the ones that do sell well from the backlist, don't sell as well as they did out of the gate.
I also didn't realize that your losses are balanced out by your gains; the books that haven't earned out their advances make my checks smaller. The good thing in, the latest round of books seem to be doing very well; I so hope that the women's erotica books, like Fast Girls, Smooth, Passion and Orgasmic are ones that do well because I think they're all fabulous but also because out of all the books I've edited, the bestselling one is my book with Seal Press, Dirty Girls. So I want to try to recreate that success - if I could I'd be, well, not rich, but a little richer. I wish there were some magic way to know these things ahead of time, to figure out which are great ideas and which just sound like great ideas, but you really just never know.
My challenge now really is trying to edit erotica books that lots of people want to read. Obviously, something like bondage erotica or spanking erotica is a niche audience. I've tried lots of tactics - readings, book trailers, ads (I SO don't advise taking out ads for books - at least in my case, people just don't click). Part of me feels a little hopeless, or like maybe that's just how my books sell - very, very average. But part of me wants to try to find something new, some better way of working to make these books reach what in my heart I believe is a wider audience. How to do that? I'm not sure, but I'm talking to my third and most professional publicist who I hope can help me breathe new life into the business of selling books, especially with Gotta Have It, which I think is the most mainstream and welcoming of my books. I'm hoping the almost-bare butt on the cover will not be a problem for stores, and that my virtual street team of reviewers helps convince the unconvinced that these super short stories deserve a chance. This book went through a name change, and at first I was not happy at all about that, but now I'm extremely happy. We are also set to debut a book trailer, hopefully next week, that incorporates the images and voices of about 15-20 of the contributors. I love that technology has allowed me/them to do this (all were sent via email) and I am hoping this one makes it onto Amazon (ahem, where the Passion trailer is supposed to be right now!).
So those are some of my off-the-cuff, just-woke-up thoughts. You can find very successful writers' royalty statements, including a New York Times bestseller, online. I can't share my details except to say that apparently, the mile high club is not as popular to read about as I'd thought, but Please, Sir has done extremely well. That brings up another piece of advice (obviously take any book advice I give with a huge mouthful of salt, because who am I? if you want real advice, find someone who makes a living off of their books - I truly don't mean that to be facetious or self-deprecating, just true) is that you should be constantly monitoring your books on Amazon. Please, Sir was out of stock for a while because it was being reprinted. That was frustrating for me because I know it's a book readers like, and of course they have the option to buy it used or from someone else. Happily, it's now back in stock for real. And if you want to watch the banned-from-YouTube kinky book trailer or find other places to buy it, click here.
So it balances out; if you ever wonder, "Why does Rachel edit 6-8 anthologies per year?" Well, the answer is partly cause I'm a crazy workaholic, partly cause I feel guilty for wasting three years of my life in law school, and partly because it's such a crapshoot that I need to do everything I can to make sure I come out ahead. At least, that's how I see it. If 1-2 of those books don't do well, but it's balanced out buy 5-7 that do, then I'm a happy girl on royalty statement day. If it were the other way around, I would be very disappointed. As it is, I am constantly assessing how to work smarter, better, how to make the anthologies appealing to a wide range of people, how to capture as much diversity given the limited submissions I sometimes have to work with. My "market research" is in large part doing my giveaways, finding out how people have found out about my books, who they are, what they like.
Honestly, I'm just happy to now have the cash to pay for things like my student loan, my upcoming hotels, all those copies of Gotta Have It I ordered, and a bunch of other things. It's a relief, but it's also a sign that I need to kick things up a notch if I want to make those checks get bigger instead of staying the same. I think this is my year to take myself out of so many of the boxes, literal and figurative, I've placed myself in, to not accept the same old, same old, in my personal and professional life, and to really push myself. So far in 2011 I haven't pushed myself in the ways I aspire to, but there's a lot more year left!