I published my first novel, Balance, to Amazon on January 27, 20013. I was really nervous at the time, in fact my wife took a video of me making an apprehensive face and hitting the 'publish' button in fear. It can be a little nerve-wracking to put yourself out into the public eye, and to open up your hard work and nearly lifelong dream to the scrutiny of total strangers. As a software developer, I'm used to having my work out where people see it, touch it, and interact with it every day... they just don't know that my hand was one of the hands that made their experience possible.
I sold 3 books in the month of January. I don't know who the first 3 people to buy the book were, but I'll always remember the first time I looked at my Amazon sales report, and there was a number > 0 in the sales column. Wow!
I told myself when I published Balance, that if I made enough money to pay for my lunch, I'd be really happy. You can imagine how I might be feeling today, 6 months later, when I'm making enough money to pay for my rent. And for my car. And for my water, trash, electric, and student loan bills.
As of July 1, which is very close to 6 months from the day I hit the 'publish' button for the first time, I've made over $25,000, on 2 titles (with two more coming in the next two months).
If you're a self-published author, or hope to be. Let the above inspire you. The money is there for people who write compelling stories.
So, how did I do it?
Here's my take.
- TAKE THE PLUNGE Really, none of the other tidbits of advice mean anything, if you don't hit the 'publish' button. Other than having to grow a thick skin, and running the risk of not finding incredible success immediately (it may take you two or three, or thirty titles)... you have nothing to lose. Hugh Howey self-published a bunch of books before Wool.
- Make it look professional: A book cover that stands out is a must. People do judge most books by their cover, and if there is nothing interesting about yours... you're taking away one of the best marketing tools you have.Need an example? Take a look at these screenshots, of covers for novels by J.A. Konrath and Michael Sullivan. Both are very popular and successful indie authors .What do you notice about them? That you notice them. Huge fonts, strong use of color. They attract the reader's eye, and help them zero in on their row on the web page.
- A good description: Descriptions are hard. My opinion on them - don't give the whole story away. Keep it short and simple. Use it to lead the reader to the 'look inside the book' sample. Tell the reader what it is that makes your book about post-apocalyptic earth different from everyone else's, and therefor compelling.
- A good opening: Make sure when the reader opens your sample, what they read sets the tone for the rest of the story. If you've ever written short stories.. the first sentence of a short story is vital, because you only have a sentence or a paragraph to capture your audience. The same thing goes for the first chapter of a book. I tend to wonder if Balance might have done better, if my opening had been stronger. I have a lot of reviews that say 'I wasn't sure about this book based on the sample'. I don't consider that a good thing.
- A good story: Even if your prose isn't top notch, the story is what gets people to tell their friends about it, and keep them coming back for more of your writing. If your story makes the reader feel something, you're doing it right.
- Be available This is especially important if you are writing a series. Make it easy for your readers to reach out to you, so they know when your next book is coming out. Social media can be rough to manage, because it moves fast, but most users are on Facebook and Twitter, not Facebook or Twitter. I recommend picking one, and focusing efforts there. I use Facebook, because the pace of Twitter was just too fast for me to keep up. I also have a mailing list, with a direct link to it at the end of my books. One click, type in your e-mail address, and that's it. Keep it simple.
- Bookbub/ BookBlast/ BookGorilla I was going to call this 'marketing', but to be honest, the only real win I've had with marketing has been through Bookbub. You can read my post on that here. The other two are similar, though not as large and as popular. I haven't tried them, but Joe Konrath was happy with BookBlast.
- Read Lindsey Buroker and Joe Konrath's blogs.. they're linked in the right column.
Some other things I've learned (IMO, YMMV):
- $2.99 is costing you money (unless you like that price for reasons beyond a hope for increased sales). I've shifted my books between $2.99 and $3.99. I never saw anything that suggested I moved any more books at the lower price. In fact, a couple of times sales went DOWN. I don't attribute that to price, I attribute that to regular fluctuation, but the point is , it didn't go UP. I think $3.99 is the sweet spot for most titles. If you are established, you can go higher, if you want. It's tempting for sure, but I always paid ~$5 for paperbacks when I was a kid, so $3.99-$4.99 just feels right to me. (I spent a lot of paperboy money on books... remember paperboys? Do they still have those? )
- Spamming stuff about your books is not helpful Having a huge promotion and want to tweet about it? Great! Want to tweet about it every 10 minutes? Eh... If you want to be thought of in the same category as penis enlargement e-mails, go for it. Otherwise, you're just like the boy who cried wolf.
- Category hopping is not helpful I've seen a lot of people mention moving their books to different categories on Amazon to hang in on the top 100... I haven't seen any proof this does anything for sales. Have you? Tell me about it in the comments.
- Posting stuff about your books on message boards: not helpful It takes more time, and rarely leads to many views or sales
- Marketing: Book deal email lists are good. Everything else, not so much You can spend a lot of money on banner ads, social media blasts, etc... Take that money and invest it in a nice cover, or a new laptop, or something else that will actually help you write more. Otherwise, you're mostly just throwing it away. Why do e-mail lists work? Because they're opt-in, and they're targeted. Those readers have shown an active interest in seeing your title in their inbox.
- Spend your time Writing When you aren't actively writing a story, think of yourself as a business. Don't make any decision that doesn't add words to your novel without considering the return on the investment. How much time will it take, and how many sales do you think it will add. You'll find that you end up doing a lot less than you originally thought you would, because the only thing that is guaranteed to increase sales is to put out more titles. If you love writing, that should be easy.
Do you have any other tips, questions, or thoughts on the above? Want to know more about actual numbers? Let me know in the comments.