I showed up on Kboards almost exactly 12 months ago, the arrogant new kid spouting off wisdom even though my only book was still on the Hot New Releases list. Yeah, that definitely makes me cringe. Thankfully I’ve learned a lot since then, and I’d like to share some lessons for those who are sitting where I was last October.
Over the last year I’ve been extremely fortunate. I’ve sold just shy of 30,000 books (if you count the pre-orders for Vampires Don’t Sparkle). I realize that’s small potatoes compared to some here, but this post is aimed at the legion of lurkers. If you’re a person wanting to break four figures a month, then I hope this post will help you do that.
To begin with here are my sales numbers for the first 50 weeks. As you can see Amazon makes up just over 50%, but that number falls daily. I didn’t start selling at ACX until December, and didn’t start selling at Apple until May.
1- Production Trumps Everything.
This comes up often, and has created endless debates. All you have to do is look at my signature to see where I come down on the issue of writing fast =p
If you want to be successful you need to publish often. I published six books and an app this year. I also wrote another novel that I chose to hold back, all while having a 60 hour a week day job for a San Francisco startup.
I realize that sounds unattainable to many people reading this. Just finishing one book is a monumental undertaking. How the hell do you reach a book a month? That’s a different post, but l will say this on the topic. Writing fast and writing well go hand in hand, and the more you do the first, the more you’ll do the second.
If you want to be successful as an indie you need to write daily, and you need to finish what you write. Period. Maybe that’s one book every year right now. If you keep at it your pace will increase. Trust me on this. A year ago I didn’t believe I could do more than a book a year either.
In the next year I’ll be putting out 12. Writing is a skill, just like any other. Practice and you’ll reach levels that currently seem impossible.
Most people advocate writing in series, and that’s advice I follow. I think it gives you the best chance of success. Whether you choose to or not, getting books to market quickly is still the cornerstone of your author business.
2- Publishing Costs Money
If you want to start a business you need capital. I don’t care if you want to open a computer store, a bakery, or become a plumber. Every business requires up front costs to get rolling. Publishing is no different.
Success requires great covers. It requires great editing. Both cost money. My books did well, because the covers grabbed people’s attention. The blurbs hooked them. The first several chapters were engaging.
If you are unwilling to spend the money on editing and covers, it’s unlikely your book will do well. The sad reality is that people will scroll right by your wonderful novel. They’ll click on the best cover, never realizing that they may have missed a great book they would have enjoyed.
I see many indies put out the best book they can afford. Unfortunately, that often means poor editing, or a mediocre cover, simply because they lack the money to obtain better. They try tweaking keywords, or running Facebook ads, or whatever the tactic of the month is. All to no avail.
The sad reality is that nothing will work until the cover, title, blurb, and editing are addressed. What if you can’t afford those things? Find a way. Take a risk. Invest your tax return. Get a 2nd job. Do whatever it takes to make the best book you can. There is no other option if you want to be successful at this.
You’re competing against people who do all those things, who invest money for a top dollar product. If you want readers, you’ve got to be on the same level.
I ran all sorts of experiments this year. I participated in a multi-author box set, which flopped. I stayed in KU for six months, then chose to go wide. I tried all sorts of advertising, from Goodreads (terrible), to Facebook (awesome).
About 75% of the things I tried failed. Miserably. But you know what? The other 25% succeeded, which is why I sold so many books. More importantly, I learned a ton along the way. We tend to learn far more from our failures than we do successes, which is why you can’t be afraid to try new things.
When those new things fail don’t get discouraged. Try something else. Keep trying. Edison failed nearly a thousand times before he invented the light bulb.
Remember that you’re in this for the long haul. Also remember that what works for other people will not necessarily work for you. Many people say stay in KU. Others say go wide. Only you can determine which will work better for you, and the only way to do that is to try both.
In my case I spent my first six months in KU. It worked amazingly well, but then my book began to fall in the rankings. I decided to go wide, largely because Apple agreed to promote my books. That worked extremely well for another few months, but then I began losing ranking again.
So I decided to try permafree. It gave my sales a shot in the arm, but I expect that too will eventually see diminishing returns.
I diversified into non-fiction, which has done extremely well for me. I also decided to launch another series, which comes out in December. Per the advice of many veteran authors here I’ll be releasing three novels in three months, in a series of course.
Maybe that will work for me, maybe it won’t. Either way I’ll keep writing, and keep experimenting. The longer I do that the more of a backlist I build, which means I can devote more time to promotion and less to publishing.
Make friends in the author community, and for God’s sake remember that this community is small. Don’t be an ass. Don’t be mean spirited. People have long memories, and word travels quickly. Also remember that the people on these boards are authors, just like you. Some are further ahead, some are way behind.
We’re all in this together. If you treat these people like you want to be treated, then they’ll help you in ways you’d never expect. I learned about so many great opportunities because I’ve made friends and tried to help others. Give back, and people will reciprocate.
I’ve landed guest spots on large podcasts, met the wonderful folks at Apple, and befriended some of my childhood heroes all because of people I’ve met here.
More recently, I published 5,000 Words Per Hour and Lifelong Writing Habit (which launches today, yay!) at the urging of writers I met here on Kboards. 5K has sold thousands of copies, all because I listened to those friends.
Your peers will pick you up when you fall down. They’ll give you timely advice, and introduce you to editors and cover artists. You’re part of an amazing community. Never forget it =D
#5- The Little Stuff Doesn’t Matter
When I first published No Such Thing As Werewolves I refreshed my sales dashboard at least a hundred times a day. That’s natural, because my entire body of work was one book. Everything felt urgent, and I fretted endlessly about trends in sales, changes in KU, formatting issues, typos, and a hundred other meaningless things.
I know that many of you are in the same boat, but fast forward five years. You have ten books out. How much does anything that’s going on with your first book today matter? In short, it doesn’t. Keep producing. Keep learning. The urgency will fade, and as you gain experience you’ll write better books and make better money.
Letting go is hard, but soooooo worth it. Take a long view, and this whole publishing thing will be a lot more fun.
#6- Failure Isn’t Permanent
Maybe your first book bombed. Maybe your entire series is a flop. That sucks, but you can recover. It could mean writing a new series, or it could mean re-branding your existing one.
One of the lurkers on the board here is an awesome guy by the name of Todd Hodges. He wrote a wonderful book called The Never Hero. It didn’t sell many copies at launch. Then Todd rebranded, and his book soared into the top #1000 on Amazon.
His Audiobook moved thousands upon thousands of copies, and last I checked was rated at 4.3 stars with over 1,100 reviews. If Todd had given up after launch he’d never have discovered that success.
If you fall on your face, get back up and try something else. If it gets unbearable, then take a break. Writing will still be here when you get back.
#6- This Isn’t A Competition
Not everyone will sell like Amanda, Hugh, or A.G. Riddle. It can be tempting to compare yourself to others, but every author has their own set of circumstances. We write in different genres, with different levels of skill, and at varying lengths.
The only person you’re competing with is yourself. Get better at your craft. Produce more professional books. Learn more about marketing. As long as you’re improving, that’s all that matters.
#7- Build A Platform
I left this one for last, because it is the most important. By now most people here are familiar with Andy Weir. He’s told his story on many of the podcasts we listen to, and the lesson is painfully clear. It is echoed by everyone from Nick Stephenson to Mark Dawson.
You must build a platform if you wish to survive. What does that mean exactly?
In Andy’s case he had over 10,000 people reading his serialized fiction when he put The Martian on Amazon for 99 cents. He did it because people were demanding an ebook version, and he only charged for it because he couldn’t set the price to free.
Andy notified his 10,000 followers, and the book shot to the top of the charts when they all rushed out and bought it. The rest is history.
My own mailing list is much smaller, though it is in the four digits. I’m already seeing the power that holds. Each launch is larger than the last, and every book debuts higher in the charts.
Remember that your platform is more than a mailing list. It’s your website. It’s podcast appearances, or book store signings, or any other way you reach your fans. In Amanda’s case it’s dominating the HNR list every time she releases anything.
Regardless of your approach here, your long term survival is predicated on building a large, loyal audience. If you can do that, then everything you release will be successful.
That means that poor sales are okay on your first book, as long as the few people who DO read it become fans. For most of us building a platform is a long, slow process. That’s totally okay, because the longer you persevere, the stronger your brand becomes.
My first year was amazing. I made more money than I could have dreamed, and I learned an immense amount about this business. The most important thing I learned was how little I actually know.
Publishing will continue to evolve. It will continue to get more competitive. But if you stick with it, there’s a living to be made selling the stories you tell. Don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. You will make it, eventually.
As for me? Year two is going to be even stronger than year one. My Project Solaris series has the potential to explode, and if it doesn’t than either Relic Hunter or Shattered Gods will. I’m releasing twelve books in twelve months, and I plan to have a blast doing it.
Here’s to Kboards, which made that journey possible. Thanks to listening to me ramble =D