A couple months ago I wrote a One Month Published Author Introspective post, where I tried to share some of the insights I’d gathered in the brief month during which my first two self-published books had been available for purchase. I think it was a useful exercise, both for me and for others, so here I am with the three month update. I might also do the same thing at six months and a year, depending if I have worthwhile information to share. In the first installment, I used an unorthodox approach, describing things I was excited and disappointed about. Here, I’ll take a more traditional approach and discuss things I’ve learned along the way.
1) It can be done.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably an author, maybe an indie-published one, or you aspire to be, and you’re thinking, is self-publishing worth it? Can you really find success that way? Can you make it in the current environment?
Yes. You can.
I wondered the same thing when I started. I mean, there’s over 3.2 million books for sale in the Amazon Kindle store. How is someone going to find yours, and why would they buy it? But you’re not just selling a book. You’re selling your book, and your book is unique, isn’t it?
Take Red Hot Steele. It’s not just a book. It’s a mystery—a fantasy mystery, in an urban environment. That’s different. But there’s more. It’s not a typical urban fantasy, rather a mystery set in an urban setting with fantasy elements, if that makes sense. And it’s filled to the gills with humor. And elements of noir. And even some sexual tension. Now we’re talking. It’s not a book. It’s my book. And if it’s the sort of thing you’re looking for, you won’t find it anywhere else.
Why does that matter? Because most people who are searching to buy a piece of fiction are looking for an experience, and if you can offer them an experience they can’t get anywhere else, they’ll come back to you for more. And they’ll tell others about you, too.
I think word of mouth, to a large degree, has helped me achieve success so early on. And I’m not going to lie—it’s come very quickly. In the two weeks of October that my books were available, I sold 60 copies, which I didn’t think was particularly good, but other people might see it differently. Then my books sold quite a bit better in November. And they sold much, much better in December. And they’re doing even better so far in January. If things keep going the way they have been, I’ll make a living wage from my writing this year, maybe a really good living wage. But, I don’t want to count my eggs before they’ve hatched, which brings me to my next point…
2) Visibility is key.
There’s a lot of reasons I think my books have done well, first and foremost being that they’re really well written—by which I mean, in this case, funny, interesting, and exciting, right off the bat. Great characters, great plot. I also have a fantastic cover that makes people want to click on it when they see it, and I wrote, in my humble opinion, a really engaging sales blurb that makes people want to see what the fuss is about.
But I can’t stress enough the importance of visibility to readers in my success, and here I mean placement on Amazon lists. I put Red Hot Steele, and later Cold Hard Steele, on a fairly small Amazon list—Psychic Mysteries. That let Red Hot Steele get visibility right away, first on the Psychic Mysteries Hot New Releases list, and later at the tail end of the main list itself. People saw Red Hot Steele and started to buy, and bit by bit, it rose up the list, until, sure enough, it got to the number one spot. And the number one spot of an Amazon list, any list, no matter how small, means good sales. Really good. Honestly, anywhere in the top three means really good sales.
I realized this, and so I rejiggered my book’s categories so that it would show up on two lists—Psychic Mysteries and Psychic Suspense—and sales rose even further.
I’ll say it again: visibility is key. If you can, place your book in an Amazon list where it will get some.
Of course, the fact is, if you don’t have a great book with an awesome cover and an enticing blurb, your book won’t sell well enough to get visibility. So doing all that is a given. But on the bright side? If you do all that well, and your book sales slowly improve, it’s really hard to lose visibility. Amazon’s algorithms have a long tail, meaning they take into account past sales to a fairly large degree. If your book sales grow organically, you’ll be hard to displace by someone else who, say, has a 99¢ book promo and sells a tons of copies over a few days.
3) Don’t Sweat the 30 Day Sales Cliff
I mentioned this is my one month post, the idea that sales drop off a cliff after thirty days. I suppose it must be true for some authors otherwise the myth wouldn’t exist, but the only reason I can think of must be that for these folks, their only real visibility on Amazon comes from the Hot New Releases list, which lasts for thirty days. But if your only visibility comes from those lists, chances are you’re probably not selling particularly well anyway.
Once more, with feeling: visibility is key. Find a category, somewhere, where you’ll get some—just be sure that category really is a fit for your book, otherwise readers will be upset with you.
4) It’s True What They say About Book Two
There’s an adage that nothing sells book one like book two, and even with a book like Red Hot Steele that had quite a bit of success early on, this has been absolutely true. It took Red Hot Steele two months to reach the #1 spot on its first Amazon list. It took Cold Hard Steele a week to do the same. They were even both #1 on separate lists at the same time. Still are, in fact. And the release of Cold Hard Steele boosted Red Hot Steele, which had been flagging slightly, higher on the Amazon best-sellers lists than it had ever been.
The fact of the matter is, people love series, but many people aren’t willing to dive in until there are multiple books available. For one thing, you need to convince people that you’re not a one shot wonder—that you really will write a book two and a book three, and that they’ll hold up to the first. And people love to binge read. When was the last time you read a great book one and immediately bought the rest of that series?
So don’t worry if your book doesn’t take off right away. It might be frustrating, but there’s time. Each book you release will help the profile of the ones before it, which brings me to my last point.
5) The Launch Doesn’t Matter
It may be hard to convince yourself of this point if you release a book into the wild and it bombs, but it’s true. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s great if you can have a successful launch. You should try and drum up support for your book by any means possible: through social media, by sending an e-mail blast to your mailing list (you have one, right?), and by talking to people in person (a time forgotten art, I know).
But even if you don’t sell any books right away, remind yourself: it doesn’t matter. In this day and age, with e-books and print on demand, your book is eternal. There is no such thing as a new book—just a book that a reader hasn’t read yet. You have all the time in the world. So sit back, relax, work on your craft, write another book, one that’s better than your last, and hope that somewhere along the line, people start buying your stuff.
Well, that’s all I’ve got. Hope it was of use to you. If you have any questions for me, please feel free to start up a conversation in the comments.