2016 in Review: How I 8xed My Sales Income

Another year has come and gone. Can you believe it? One of my favorite things to do is set goals and make plans for the next year.

I just decided on Monday that I’m officially taking the next week or so off so I can focus only on where I’m going on 2017.

The truth is I had to make myself take some time off during the holidays…

I’d originally meant to do this since the beginning of the year, but it’s been REALLY hard to hit the pause button and step back from it all.

I have all these things on my to do list, and it feels like I have to get it all done, done, done by the end of 2016.

Well, I finally realized, it’s okay for it not to get done.

That’s what 2017 is for 😃

Right now, I really need time to rest, reflect, and recharge.

In August, I had a baby AND the 4 year old (almost 5!) started preschool, and while I don’t have a day job anymore (my biggest goal for 2016 accomplished!), I’m still learning to balance everything.

Because if I could, I would just work all the time (easy when this doesn’t feel like work).

Anyway, that’s what I’m up to the next few days. Resting, setting 2017 goals as I reflect on 2016, lots of reading, and family time.

Tip: Go back to your previous goals & progress updates and celebrate how far you’ve come! Here are mine:

These were my 2016 goals (and how I did).

Be warned: there’s a lot here, but I think you’ll find it helpful. Also, I’ll be back next week with a post on 2017 goals.

2016 YEARLY GOALS

WRITING/PUBLISHING

GOALS

PROGRESS

I’m really happy with how much I wrote this year!

I only published two books, but I wrote over 150,000 new words this year, not to mention outlining and revising. I really wanted to publish one more book before the end of the year but I focused on writing the final books of my two current series instead.

I finished the novella and got about 25K into the other 50K book. I was hoping to finish it, but I wrote 50,000 words in November in 14 days with the chaos of the election and being sick most of that month.

So I’m still really happy with this progress! I’ll have two books in my pocket for 2017, not to mention I can box up each of those series too. My inventory will definitely be growing next year.

MARKETING

GOALS

  • promote perma-free book every 3-6 months and buy ads (DONE; promoted book 1 of new series too)
  • put other books in series on sale every 3-6 months (price pulsing) and buy ads (NOT DONE; decided only book 1s will go on sale, not subsequent books)
  • keep in touch with readers primarily via email list once a month and 1-2 social media sites (looking into Instagram and Snapchat as #1 choices) (MAKING PROGRESS; focused on this more in the latter half of 2016 and still setting up systems)
  • keep up reader giveaways, ARCs, sales for email list, etc with new releases (DONE)
  • keep growing email list with permafree book and front/back matter (DONE; about 2600 subscribers, up from about 600 subscribers in fall 2015)
  • work on accumulating more honest reviews using email list (DONE; all books have double-digit reviews and Without You, previously perma-free now has over 100 reviews)
  • add 2 new products to my inventory and grow sales to consistent $500 sales a month (DONE, MOSTLY; I published 2 ebooks, plus the paperbacks, and also an audiobook; sales are still very up and down)
  • promote series boxed set (add to autoresponders, buy ads, email readers list, etc) (NOT DONE; didn’t publish boxed set)

PROGRESS

I think the more that I’m in this business, the more time I spend marketing. Which is fine. I enjoy it, although writing new words is also important.

Anyway, Without You is no longer perma-free. More on that below. I ran two free promotions for Without You, one in April and one in November.

I also ran a free promotion for When You Came Back in October. I got good results each time, reaching a best overall ranking of about #130.

The November promotion was just after the election, though, and I didn’t see the usual jump in sales and revenue for the series. It was disappointing but what can you do? Keep writing and marketing, that’s what.

One huge thing that I’m really happy with is the number of reviews my books have right now.

At the time of last year’s progress/goals post, Without You had just 15 reviews. It now has 111 reviews. Letting Go, book 3 of the Changing Hearts series, has 10 reviews. When You Came Back, book 1 of the new series, has 40.

Offering free review copies to my mailing list has been a success. But the free promotions have also brought in tons of reviews as well. The biggest driving factor, though, has been giveaways for my email list.

Now to be clear, readers DO NOT have to leave an honest review to enter. They just need to click the link which takes them to the Submit a Review page on Amazon. And it’s clear from the click stats that not all readers leave a review, but these giveaways (usually a gift card and signed paperback) have really made a difference in my number of reviews. And offering free review copies in my autoresponder keeps a trickle of reviews coming in.

The one big marketing thing I’d like to try still is BookBub, but my books have been rejected a handful of times now. I’m gonna keep trying, but more than ever, I think it’s important to create your own email list and not rely on third parties.

Writing tons of new books (to market but that I love) and growing my email list are my two top priorities. Another big one is keeping existing sales steady or growing with ads.

READING

GOALS

  • read 26 books again, more if possible (DONE; read 33 books)
  • go back to reading daily (been in a rut) and make it a priority (DONE)

PROGRESS

I spent the first few months of 2016 in a reading rut, but I still managed to meet my reading goal for the year.

I have such a huge list of books to read, though, that I’m ready to up this next year.

Part of this will be consuming more audiobooks. I never thought I’d get into audiobooks because I get lost in my own head so easily, but I’ve really come to enjoy them, especially while cooking dinner or cleaning.

I admit at first it was weird hearing a woman narrate a male character or vice versa, but I’ve really come to enjoy this new medium of storytelling, especially when reading becomes a matter of listening while getting other things done.

The first audiobook I listened to was The Girl on the Train (pretty good), and now I’m listening to ‪The Martian (my favorite so far!). I’ve also downloaded some non-fiction, which I’m excited to get to, although I’ll probably stick to reading ebooks for books I want to highlight for reference later.

EDITING BUSINESS

GOALS

  • set up autoresponders for writers list (IN PROGRESS)
  • sale/giveaways every 3-6 months (NOT DONE)
  • grow editing business for additional income starting this summer when I give up the day job
  • aim for consistent $500 a month in editing income (my website and Upwork) (NOT DONE)

PROGRESS

One of the biggest changes that happened this year was deciding to not pursue freelance editing any longer. I still proofread for a few loyal clients, but I’m not actively looking for new clients or growing this. It brought in some income to help defer publishing costs, but now I’m working part-time as part of another writer’s team. More on that below.

The autoresponders I’m working on now is for Savvy Authorpreneur.

DAILY HABITS/WEEKLY GOALS/QUARTERLY PROGRESS CHECKS

GOALS

  • schedule downtime every so often plus holidays (DONE; made myself do this…)
  • keep up quarterly progress checks (complete on time) (MOSTLY DONE; missed third quarterly check)
  • record daily and weekly goals/progress (on calendar then record in Evernote) (DONE, not in calendar, though)
  • weekly goal:
    • if I’m crazy busy: 1000 words a week
    • if I’m busy but it’s manageable: 2500 words a week
    • if I’m off from day job/on fire: 5000 words a week

PROGRESS

This year, I’m proud of the fact that I’ve really made daily goal journaling a habit. I usually take weekends off, but I think writing down my goals most days has made a huge difference in my mindset. I’m more focused than ever on what I want for this business, and I’m super excited.

Each week, I also wrote down goals, jotted down progress, and journaled on how things were going. This is something I’ll definitely keep doing in 2017.

HEALTH

GOALS

  • exercise 3 times a week minimum
  • keep up portion control and continue eating healthy
  • Drink lots of water and avoid juices and soda as much as possible

PROGRESS

I was pregnant from January through all of July, so it definitely wasn’t my goal to lose weight this year. In fact, I expected to have some baby weight left in August after giving birth.

Just like with my first baby, though, my body is weird, and I was all baby during the pregnancy and was actually 2-3 lbs below my pre-pregnancy weight right after giving birth.

I struggle more with keeping weight off after the 6-8 week mark. I nurse so I’m pretty ravenous all the time. Now with the holidays, I’ve gained about 3-5 lbs extra. I’m short so it’s easier to tell when I’ve gained weight, and I stopped working out about a month or so ago. I do not do well with the cold weather. I prefer to stay on the couch under a blanket.

I’m not worried, though. It’s been a couple of years now that I’ve done really well with making almost daily exercise a habit. As soon as the new year is in, I’ll get back to my usual exercise routine (and cutting out all the baked goods, soda, heavier portions…)

2016 HIGHLIGHTS

STARTED WRITING FULL-TIME (PART ONE OF THE DREAM)

It’s still kind of crazy that I’m doing this writing thing full-time now, but here I am 😃

I was a part-time teacher for three years, and while I loved it, it was really hard. I worked full-time hours a lot of the time, got paid for part-time hours, and as you can guess, the pay was not that great to begin with.

Plus, I was stressed beyond belief a lot of the time, I gained a lot of weight, and I came home exhausted.

A few years ago, in mid-2012, my husband took a chance on me when I started my freelance editing business and I took three hundred dollars from our bank account to get started.

Thankfully, he leaped with me again this year by agreeing that I could stay home with our new baby while running my own business.

I realized that I could only do maybe two jobs well, and I would have to pick between being a good teacher, being a good parent, or being a successful authorpreneur.

I was not willing to do all three and risk doing a mediocre job in one (or more) of those three areas.

I decided that teaching had to go. And while I still miss it, I’m happier than ever.

At the same time, I don’t regret going to college for four years at all or teaching for three.

Learning how to become a teacher and being in the classroom has become a huge and important part of who I am. My skills as a teacher have been crucial to me as a parent, aunt, and even as a writer. And will only continue to serve me.

To get ready for me to transition to full-time writing, we started eating out a lot less and paying off our debt. Paying off all our debt is something we've wanted to do for the past few years anyway.

However, some unexpected and expensive dental work came up, not to mention we had a baby, so we still have a ways to go here. But we're smarter with our money than ever before so transitioning to full-time writing has been fine financially.

JOINED THE ACCELERATED ARTIST MASTERMIND

In January, I joined Monica Leonelle’s mastermind of growing authors. I first discovered her book, Writer Better Faster, from the SPP guys. I picked up the book when it came out and they shared it. I’ve been a huge follower ever since.

I’ve also met an amazing group of writers along the way. We’ve been there to support each other and share resources.

I also meet with a small group of them every Thursday night to vent, share progress, and brainstorm whatever we’re struggling with.

I definitely recommend joining a group like this if you can. They’re the main reason I got back into gear and finished writing When You Came Back in early 2016. They also helped me get unstuck and figure out the ending!

More recently, they’ve helped me figure out where I’m going in 2017. More on that in my next post!

NO LONGER FREELANCE EDITING (FOR THE MOST PART)

In the spring, a great opportunity came up to join Monica Leonelle's team. Not only would this bring in more consistent income to help with business costs, but I could learn directly from one of my favorite mentors. I knew it would mean sacrificing a good chunk of my time to work on growing someone else’s business, but I’m so glad I decided to join her team. And I’m excited to meet her in person next year at the Smarter Artist Summit!

LAUNCHED A NEW YA ROMANCE SERIES

When You Came Back and I’ll Be Here were the two books I launched this past summer. I wrote about 30K of When You Came Back for NaNoWriMo 2015 but it was a hard story to write. I finally finished in 2016 and wrote book 2 not long after. I launched both books a few weeks apart.

While pregnant.

I think book 2 came soon after my baby was born, actually…

Nothing like a due date to spur you to the finish line! Needless to say, I took some time off after that.

These are books 5 and 6 for me, and while they didn’t shoot to the top of the charts, they did make Hot New Releases for both of their categories and they’ve helped increase my monthly income.

JUMPED INTO KU

After hearing Rachel Aaron and Susan Kaye Quinn speak in several podcast interviews about how awesome KU is, I decided maybe I should give it a try myself.

Susan, especially, shared some neat strategies I wanted to try, but I just couldn’t decide if I should go all into KU. My book, Without You, was perma-free and doing pretty well on its own, even when I wasn’t promoting it. It was often in the top 500-100 free overall on Amazon. I was seeing sell-through with book 2, but I was only making $300-$600 total each month.

The vast majority of that was from Amazon. It was frustrating to see virtually no sales on Kobo or Nook. I kept hearing so many great things about Kobo from so many authors, but I just could not gain traction there, even after doing a promotion with them.

And the place on their dashboard that was supposed to tell me how many free downloads my book perma-free book was getting was broken so I didn’t even know that.

I did okay on Apple, but it was very up and down and $50 or so at most most months. They had seemed very promising in the fall of 2015 when I relaunched the series, and I had sold more books there than on Amazon, but as soon as my book fell off the overall YA free chart, sales there had tanked too.

This was something I discussed with my mastermind group. I was torn about the idea of removing my books from the other retailers and no longer having thousands of free downloads a month. Plus it kept my newsletter growing at a great pace.

But the fact is, most of those downloads were by readers who were probably not even opening the book and the quality of my email subscribers was probably not as good as it could be as if they were paying customers.

So I went all into KU and made the perma-free book perma-99 cents instead. I immediately saw a projected income of $1000-$1500 thanks to page reads. I thought I had definitely made the right choice!

But then the page flip thing came about a month or two into going into KU and page reads went down noticeably. I think the books overall have less visibility now, but I’m still making a bit more than when I was wide.

I’ll be reformatting my books as soon as possible to disable page flip to see if I can reclaim some page reads. Another big part of that decision was the fact that most top authors in the YA romance category are in KU.

So while I’m not happy about page flip, I think I’ll be staying in KU for now but reevaluating each 3 months.

GOT INTO AUDIOBOOKS

This year, I published my first audiobook. It was for Without You, and it was approved for a stipend, which was great for bringing in auditions.

Working with the narrator has been great, and while I love her work and her voice, I’m not sure that she was the best fit for the main character of this book. But I chose to work with her because she’s super professional and nice. I haven’t had one issue with her. I’m working with her on the prequel, which will be out in early 2017.

The audiobook for When You Came Back is also in the works but behind schedule. I love the narrator’s voice for this book, but she also has a tough schedule. I’m hoping the audiobook will be out soon.

The Without You audiobook did pretty well the first month or two (Audible put it on sale for $1.99, which helped), but it’s obvious it’s going to another small steam of income for me.

I think the biggest lesson I learned here is that finding the right narrator (and voice) is key.

HIGHER WORD COUNTS THAN EVER THANKS TO DICTATION

I’ve been able to level up my word counts big time this year thanks to Dragon!

I’ve always been a pretty fast typer. I can usually write 1500-2500 words an hour while first drafting. I thought it would be weird to say my stories out loud, but I quickly put that issue aside when I saw how much faster I could write.

I’ve done over a thousand words in just fifteen minutes and three thousand words in less than an hour! I also had to learn how to outline (and spend more time in this phase of the writing process), though, but it’s been well worth it!

I still love to type my stories out, but there’s nothing like being done with your word count for the day in a matter of minutes!

I was able to write 50,000 words in November but in just 14 days thanks to dictation. And it’s mostly clean copy too.

SEPARATED MY FICTION FROM MY NON-FICTION (AND THE CREATION OF SAVVY AUTHORPRENEUR)

Another huge change in 2016 was separating my fiction from what is now Savvy Authorpreneur. Before, I thought that one website for everything I do was easiest and smartest, but I’ve changed my mind on this.

Now yeseniavargas.com is just for my fiction and YA readers. It’s become a pretty static site.

And Savvy Authorpreneur is for my stuff geared at writers. Now everything has its place and its specific brand, which is great because I have some cool stuff coming for this website.

STARTED RUNNING ADS

I’m really excited I finally dipped my toes into this with Amazon ads. And it hasn’t gone horribly at all. I’m seeing some extra sales and page reads at just $2 a day for each of my book ones. I’m still learning how these work, but I’m enjoying experimenting.

Next, I really want to try Facebook ads and make ads an important part of my overall marketing strategy.

NEWSLETTER/SOCIAL MEDIA GROWTH

In fall of 2015, after rebranding my then two books and publishing a third, I had about 600 email subscribers.

Thanks to having a permafree book for about 9 months and signing up for one of Ripley’s Giveaways as a featured author, my list is up to 2600 subscribers. My open rate is 35-45%, and I hear from my readers every week.

I also started a Facebook group just for my YA fiction readers. I created it last year but only started doing something with it a few months ago. It stands at a 197 members right now! Crazy.

I’ve been focusing on this group as my second biggest place (newsletter being my first) to engage my readers, and more importantly, so they can engage with each other. I’m doing surprise giveaways, sharing teasers, and doing other neat things there, and I’m excited to see it grow.

The biggest romance (and YA romance) authors are cultivating Facebook groups so I’m doing the same.

LEVELED UP MY BUSINESS AND MINDSET (AGAIN)

I started 2015 pretty burned out, both from the day job and from writing.

Not to mention I was in my first trimester of pregnancy and not feeling great. It took a couple of months to get in gear, but once I did, the rest of the year went pretty well.

I got back to writing and revising stories. I published two books over the summer and wrote even more in the fall. All while pregnant or with a newborn.

I also invested in my computer setup. I got a new MacBook Pro and really nice external monitor/keyboard. I feel more pro than ever.

I’m also more focused than ever.

Some days, life happens and it feels like I can’t even make it to my desk. But most days, I’m working on my fiction or marketing or Savvy Authorpreneur. Sometimes all three.

I have to say I’m pretty happy because none of this feels like work, and I’m convinced that it’s just a matter of time before I’m making a few thousand dollars a month at all of this.

I began writing for real in 2013, and I hit publish on New Year’s Eve that year. I officially became an indie writer and author with the start of 2014. I took a big step up.

(I made maybe $40 in sales in 2014 and the first half of 2015.)

In fall of 2015, I rebranded my series and went from literally a handful of sales total in 18 months to consistent income from my fiction for the first time ever. I leveled up, taking another giant step.

(I made just over $1,000 in sales in 2015, just about all of it after the rebrand.)

This year, I hit 2600 subscribers on my mailing list, I’m at 6 books published across two series, and I had my first $1000+ month (and a few more). I wrote over 150,000 new words this year and am in the middle of writing book 8 (book 8!).

(I made over $8,000 in book sales this year. Yes, less than a $1000/month on average but I also almost 10xed my income from last year. Imagine if I can do that again in 2017.)

I just took another big step in the right direction.

But more importantly, I know where I’m going in 2017 and exactly how to get there. I’m ready to level up again. This time, to full-time income (and not just from book sales). More on that in next week’s post.

HOW DID YOU DO IN 2016?