If you’ll recall, when I was starting out I published my One Month and Three Month published author introspectives, to give other budding authors an idea of the highs and lows of being an author and perhaps what to expect. I thought about writing one at six months, but instead I waited and decided to do one on the eve (more or less) of my one year anniversary.
Things have changed a lot in a year. At the end of my first month, I was cautiously optimistic. At the end of my third month, I was ecstatic. At a year, I’m more grounded in reality, and while still optimistic, I’m better aware of the challenges of the industry.
With that said, here’s what I’ve learned:
1) eBooks are forever. Sales are not.
At the three month mark, sales were going great, and I was understandably going nuts. Why wouldn’t I? So I tried to project sales going forward. I made what I considered to be a reasonable projection, an optimistic one, and a conservative one. There was just one problem: I was working on three months of data, during a time period in which I released four novels (I’d had a backlog of stuff to publish when I got started). I was riding a massive growth swell. So my projections were understandably off.
Here’s what actually happens when you release a book, though. There’s an initial growth period, where people are hearing about your book through different channels and giving it a try. This growth can be linear or exponential, depending on how lucky you are. Eventually, however, growth turns negative as you reach a greater and greater portion of your target audience through your sales channels. Sales drop, and drop, and drop, unless you do something to change it.
Don’t believe me? Here is the unit sales chart for Red Hot Steele, the first in my Daggers & Steele series and my best-selling novel overall:
What you see is that sales grew organically for three months, then started to taper off at a regular pace. The massive spike in sales in May is due to a Bookbub promo. I’ll get to that later. You should note, however, that the sales decline trend from January to the present was unaffected by the May promotion.
In indie publishing, there are some who espouse an idea that books are like cash steams. Individually, they don’t make you much money, but put together, a bunch of streams add up into a sizable river of cash.
I don’t think this is a very good metaphor—or at least, it’s not the whole metaphor. The fact of the matter is, when it rains, streams swell into huge torrents, and when it doesn’t, those streams dry up into nothing at all.
Book sales are the same way. Sales can swell quickly. They dry less quickly, but they do dry. And they can dry to almost nothing. If you have dozens of dry streams, they still won’t add up to a river.
With that said, my next bullet point will probably catch you off guard.
2) It’s to your benefit to publish as many books as possible.
Wait, you say. Didn’t you just mention that your book revenue will dry up over time? Why publish lots of books only to create lots of small streams that generate almost no cash flow?
Because you’re not after the tail. I mean, you’ll take it. Any cash from your backlist is nice. But you’re after the cash from the initial growth stage.
The growth period is where you’ll make most of your money from a novel, and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Movies, video games, traditionally published books, and other media all make most of their money shortly after the initial release, and if they don’t recoup their initial investment quickly, they’re seen as a loss.
I’m not sure if you should be quite so harsh on your own projects (there are ways to revive dead novels and series), but you’ll probably only get a few solid months of earnings from any given release, unless you do something drastic. Speaking of which…
3) The right promotion can make all the difference.
Remember that huge surge in sales in May? That was from a Bookbub promo. If you’re an indie author and you don’t know what Bookbub is, I’ll pause while you go figure it out. Suffice it to say, they’re the most important company out there to help you sell books and make money.
Thanks to the Bookbub promo, I sold over 3500 copies of Red Hot Steele in May, but that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story. Red Hot Steele was priced at a paltry 99¢ for that promotion, but the sales of Cold Hard Steele and the recently released Time to Steele also shot up, and those were listed at full price. That helped me make a lot of money in May.
So while the Bookbub promo couldn’t stop Red Hot Steele’s sales slide, it did earn me a nice chunk of change and earn me a lot of new readers. And Bookbub isn’t the only way to promote your novels. There are many other ways. Bookbub is just one of the best
I don’t want this to turn into a huge ‘How to Promote your Novel’ post, but my point is simply that promoting your novel, if done effectively, will gain you more readers and earn you more money. If making money from your work is your goal (or at least, one of your goals), then you really do need to spend time thinking about promotion.
And last but not least…
4) You’d better be in it for the long haul.
This one doesn’t really fit in with the rest of my tale, but I think it needs to be mentioned. Being an author isn’t easy. It’s full of highs and lows, periods of bounty and periods of drought. You’re constantly learning and trying new things, and if you’re smart, adapting to the marketplace. If you do the same thing for too long, you’ll be left in the dust.
You have to be smart, hard-working, and lucky, and even if you’re all three that doesn’t guarantee success. But it gives you a better shot. So you’d better be committed, otherwise you’ll either never crest the peak in front of you, or you’ll go tumbling down the other side once you get there.
As for me? I’ve got my crampons on, and I’m climbing this mountain like there’s no tomorrow. But I’m not going to say it doesn’t get a little hairy every now than then.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the newly available fourth Daggers & Steele installment: Fine Blue Steele. It’s only been out for one day (one day!) and already it’s reached the number one spot in Amazon’s psychic suspense category. So thank you, readers!