This blog increasingly documents my experiments in creative living and curiosity about living a longer, more active life. If that's the kind of thing you're interested in, I'd be delighted if you'd join us. Mayo - my better half - and I live on an island in the St. Lawrence River 1000 Islands chain and are currently experimenting with warmer winter locations - mostly Savannah, GA. So, yeah, my accent is half-Canadian, half upper New York and another half undetermined Southern drawl. You
There’s a well-known post from Kevin Kelly about how every creative needs 1000 true fans I think it’s required reading for any creative person.
The quick and dirty explanation is that a “true fan” will purchase anything you produce.
In My Gardening World
When I total the members of the Premium website and ebook sales, I’m able to roughly calculate how many “true fans” I have after 30 years as a full-time garden writer.
And that number my friends is not 1000. (As an aside, this isn’t a call for support, after all, I do have supporters. Instead, this is a simple recognition of the existing facts.)
“1,000 true fans is an alternative path to success other than stardom. Instead of trying to reach the narrow and unlikely peaks of platinum bestseller hits, blockbusters, and celebrity status, you can aim for direct connection with a thousand true fans. On your way, no matter how many fans you actually gain, you’ll be surrounded not by faddish infatuation, but by genuine and true appreciation. It’s a much saner destiny to hope for. And you are much more likely to actually arrive there.”
That’s been an interesting pill to swallow but if you doubt why I’ve moved away from the gardening world to other writing worlds, the reasons should be clear after you read Kelly’s seminal article in the link above.
For the record, I’m not depressed by this analysis. Rather, I’m disappointed with myself that I’m not able to produce material that is good enough that more readers want to fully support the work I do. But…
But I also understand – more than you might think from this note – how most people see online gardening.
Most see no reason to pay for anything garden-related they find online. If I had a buck for every reader who told me they never buy gardening books or anything else because if it’s online, it should be free, I’d be able to retire tomorrow.
It’s why 1000’s of people will download a free ebook last weekend but only a handful will spend $2.99 – less than a cup of coffee – on an ebook.
I Won’t Likely Get Them
Kelly’s concept is just a measurement albeit a useful one. And (quite frankly) understanding if I don’t have those 1000 true fans by now, after almost 30 years of garden writing, I won’t likely have them.
But The Good News Is…
Understanding the real number of true fans frees up my creative spirit to explore other horizons without guilt.
What a blessing that is!
My Last Thought (For Now)
I will continue to do my best to help those who do trust me for good gardening information because I enjoy doing this. But those other horizons beckon stronger now.
I’d be really interested in your thoughts about this. Tell me in the comments section below.
As many of you know, I’ve had an ongoing issue with the creative life and how it interacts with social media. For example, here’s a link to my first experiment in withdrawing from Facebook for 99 days. And here’s the link to the result of that 99 day withdrawal.
It turns out that I’m not alone in this, and there is a surprising amount of information emerging about the effects of not only social media, but also email, apps, and a variety of other attention – grabbing online activities.
In the book, “Deep Work”, the author Cal Newport writes about all the ways a person is distracted from work by the temptations of “just let me check my email” or “what are they saying on social media?” It turns out that productivity drops after these brief interludes of attention switching behavior. And while you may think, and I include myself in this, that it’s only for a second or two it turns out that it’s not the activity or the length of the activity or the activity itself that has the impact.
It’s the act of switching attention that has a negative impact on the work you’re doing.
The key to ongoing creativity then appears to be a concentration of time and energy on the task at hand rather than a bouncing in and out of that task.
And yes, while we all understand that’s probably true, the siren song of social media and email lures us into the false belief that we can switch our attention spans and not pay a price for that.
I am as guilty of this as any of you are. Up until I heard the NPR Hidden Brain Podcast and browsed the book, I believed that it was just a few seconds to pop in and out and I freely admit my addiction to email. I am less addicted to social media than email, but I still managed to drop in once or twice a day. And the truth be told, this is normally during what I would consider my work or writing hours rather than the time after I shut the computer down and leave the office.
So what’s this mean?
I think it means two things:
- the first is that I have to set a schedule for when I check email and social media.
- the second is that I have to learn how to stick to that schedule and forget the “it will only take a second” mentality.
- and finally, I have to get this habit and some new work techniques ingrained so deeply into my work day I regain my focus on writing and creating new work.
I hope you appreciate that this is all brand-new, and I have no idea how this will work in practice. I suspect cutting back on social media will be easier than cutting back on my email addiction.
I’ll have get back to you about this for me.
But do you folks find yourselves popping in an out of social media or email and does it reduce the amount of real work you get done?
It seems that an author report for the last few months would be in order as many things have changed both in the publishing world and in my world.
To begin, I have moved my three major websites (including this one) away from self-hosting to the Studiopress hosting system. This means I don’t have to worry about uptime or downtime, and I have a full support team to deal with any issues. Just as I moved the main gardening site at Doug Green’s garden.com to their premium hosting Rainmaker, the rest of the sites are now living on their little brother of hosting.
Naturally, this took time and sorting out as both the content and all the backend servers etc. had to be re-pointed and organized. I’m elated to say this is now a done deal and there are only one or two websites – family sites – that I’m hosting. These will be moved as well but there’s no crazy you-have-to-do-this timeline.
This is all because I’m intent on creating a personal workspace that allows me to write and not have to deal with the technical issues of supporting a publishing system.
Gardening ebook sales
I’ve been writing and selling gardening ebooks online for some time either on my own sites or through ebook retailing systems such as Amazon. I believe the first ebooks I put up on Amazon where in either 2011 or 2012. Now, I have 23 gardening ebooks on Amazon.
When I first published them, sales over the year averaged about $1000 a month. But with no work, to be honest I ignored them other than cashing the checks, the sales slowly and surely dropped. They dropped to the point – a few hundred dollars a month – where something had to be done. It was that, or I had to write new books to compete with the myriad of ebooks that are being pumped into the gardening space.
Two months ago, I took a serious look at these ebooks, evaluated the state-of-the-art, and made major decisions about my future with gardening publishing.
I attacked each of the following things I could do in a very systematic way.
Here’s a list of the things that an author can control in the ebook publishing world:
- contents of the book
- book description
Some of these things are easily changed and require a minimum of work. Others such as the formatting, require a significant effort.
I took the low hanging fruit with things such as categories, keywords, and book descriptions. I looked carefully at each of these things and made changes.
Let me say by looking at each of these three things, I almost doubled sales in June over the month of May. (July has already passed June) Given that May sales are the largest month of sales in the gardening year, I consider this a major step forward.
With 23 gardening ebooks on Amazon, this is a major project to rebuild and update every gardening ebook.
If you want a detailed description of how to do this on your own ebooks, there is a good ebook on this.
Low hanging fruit
When I evaluated my online work, I looked at the current sources of income and decided that I would focus on the things I could most easily change and could impact. Gardening ebooks stood out as something that could be both improved and maintained with the judicious use of Amazon advertising.
Kindle unlimited and gardening ebooks
For the last 3 to 4 months, I’ve been experimenting with Kindle unlimited and my gardening ebooks. I have also read data from other nonfiction writers about KU with similar results. (Your results may vary however.)
The bottom line is that all of my gardening ebooks have come – or are coming- off KU and I have no plans to put them back on. Income was not significantly improved and I suspect there was cannibalism of sales from those who might have purchased a book versus those who borrow books.
The few dollars I earned from the KU program did not justify restricting the retailers of these books.
Sales from other retailers
Having said that, I made a few of my books available through iBooks, Nook, etc. I use the publishing system Pronoun – which is an excellent system if you are thinking of using the other retailers. And you can publish on Amazon through them.
But again sales were very disappointing, indeed were almost nonexistent. This is my gardening author page on Pronoun Pronoun is an excellent publishing system with a developing system of author support I appreciate. They’re being let down by their other e-retailers who haven’t created worthwhile alternatives (from the author point of view) to Amazon.
I just started messing around with the ebook advertising system on Amazon. It’s far too early yet to report on the details of the sales or the efforts I’m making to learn about Amazon advertising, but let me say I believe this has a significant potential to drive sales of ebooks. Having said that, my guess is that it will take as much work to create and maintain an Amazon advertising system as it will to write the books.
While many of the online marketing gurus are saying this is a set-and-forget it system, I’m not convinced this is the best way to go.
The reason I say this is that with Amazon ads, you can test almost every facet of your ebook from an advertising perspective. For example, if you’re not getting clicks through to your ebook there are two main things you can work on. The first is the cover of the ebook as this is the main driver of advertising clicks. The second thing you can change is the ebook description – the sales description in the ad – and this is testable within the Amazon advertising system. It is more complicated than that but Amazon ads allow writers to test almost every one of the factors involved in selling ebooks.
One of the reference ebooks I purchased on Amazon advertising suggests you test up to 20 or more descriptions in individual ads to see which description pulls the most sales. Once you know which description works best, you could spend time modifying the cover. I note you can’t do an A/B test on covers as you can on descriptions. This ebook btw is excellent and if you have ebooks on Amazon, (and want more sales) this is the starting point with Mastering Amazon Ads by Brian Meeks (I bought his other ebooks btw – ignore them.)
New gardening ebook
Using the software KDP Rocket, (a must have bit of software for modern writers btw) I decided that I would write an ebook on raised bed gardening and probably make money doing so. There was enough demand for the book, at least in theory, so I’ve been putting together a series of questions and answers that readers have asked over the years. I’ve also used some of my writer’s archives to pull out an update the information.
I’ve also asked my readership to ask new questions and I’m running a contest around that. (link removed – contest over)
Some time ago, I put the gardening newsletter into a dormant state. I found that writing something every week, putting myself on a schedule, and then having to rush or adjust my working life to meet the demands of this was just not something I wanted to do. I was just burned out.
This month I rebooted the newsletter. The first few additions have gone out regularly, but I have warned subscribers it will be irregular, appearing whenever I decide I have something to say, or something that might help my readership.
The other factors in this are twofold. The first is that I started using an email provider called MailerLite. This is reasonably priced and very user – friendly. I have been moving some of my smaller lists to this away from MailChimp as I’m pleased with the service and the easy to use system.
The second factor, quite bluntly, is that a mailing list is a useful writer’s tool for helping readers find ebooks and other solutions to their gardening problems, and this should help with my personal income.
The bottom line in all of this is that it’s been a very, very busy month of backend work and of conceptualizing a variety of future self-publishing adventures.
My optimism speaks to me and says now that the website situation is taken care of, the newsletter is back into a very friendly system, and that I am working to restore and reinvigorate my gardening ebooks, some of the fun of gardening publishing has returned.
So where does this leave my nonfiction writing projects?
Well, it leaves them much where I left them last month. While I still collect data on subjects such as Alzheimer’s disease, longevity, witness, and aging, I haven’t taken any of those things past the research reading and collection phase with writing.