Indie Authors – Selling Books Is All About This

indie author handbook

Indie Author Handbook

Okay, this post is admittedly a bit of a rant :).  I recently read a post about free books and Amazon.  Yeah, it’s the big issue right now.  But what struck me was one of the comments.  It said something like most books take about six months to gain traction and sell well.  Really?  Most books will sell well after a certain time?  Most books?  I have some thoughts on this…and more.

Indie Authors – How Many Really Sell Well

I get really irritated when I see books, downloads and other training guides that tout that one thing that will make your book sales take off (and thus make you a bestseller, a huge moneymaker, and so on).  First it was blog tours, then Twitter (ugh, the number of books I see that say Twitter’s the main thing you need to sell books), or giving away books for free on your blog, or fill-in-the-blank.  Now it’s KDP Select.  Just do this the way I show you, and you’ll be selling so many books, you won’t know what to do.  Sound familiar?  And you hear the success stories.  But let’s have a little reality check.  What you didn’t hear was the hundreds, if not thousands, who tried the same method and got little or no results.  More on this below…

Indie Authors - First Adopters Do Much Better

First, before someone chews me out in the comments :), I’m not saying that any of the advice, in and of itself, is bad, or that it won’t work for you.  But you have to remember that first adopters of almost any of these ways to sell are the most successful.  And then what happens?  Social media kicks in, we bloggers write about the next big thing, people tweet about it, and post it all over the place, then thousands upon thousands of indie authors utilize it (and probably a few astute mainstream-published authors, too), and suddenly our market (readers) are inundated.  And it’s much harder to get sales.  Not saying it can’t happen, but temper your expectations.

Amanda Hocking, John Locke, JA Konrath are old news (no offense to any of them…well, except maybe John Locke because his How I Sold Books book omitted how he really got sales).  How they did it is not going to be the way it’s going to be done now.  And in my opinion, once you read how someone else is doing it, if it’s the next fad, it’ll be hard for you to do duplicate the success…

Indie Authors – Time For A Reality Check

indie author - reality checkBack to the person who said it takes time to get most books to sell well.  What I find troublesome is that I think there are many, many indie authors who think they can just write a book, they’ll think it’s written well without any real barometer to know this (more on this in a future post), they throw it up on Amazon, very likely with little or no editing, and then they start marketing based on the advice they get all over the Internet (including mine).  But there’s no reality check.  Heaven forbid if an indie author like myself says hey, take the time to do this right, or guess what? most of us won’t make it.  That’s just the reality.  The ones that do make it work very hard at what they do.  And they have a lot of luck.

Luck.  Yes, it takes a lot of luck to make it.  Many of us indie authors tout that the first thing you must do to make it is write a good book.  Then get that book professionally edited.  Then get a great cover.  Once you publish it, get great reviews.  And guess what?  For many of us, it won’t make a difference.  Your book still won’t sell.  It’s just the way it is.

Indie Authors – How Many Of You Have Heard Of These Authors?

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at this.  Have you heard of Mary Willis Walker?  She wrote a few astoundingly great books.  Under The Beetle’s Cellar is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  The only reason it didn’t win the Edgar (Mystery Writers of America’s award) for Best Mystery was that Walker had won the previous year for The Red Scream, and you can’t win back-to-back Edgars (at least at that time).  Her other books are great, too.  Have you heard of her?

How about Richard Barre?  He wrote the Shamus-winning (Private Eye Writers of America’s award) The Innocents.  Or Michael C. White, author of A Brother’s Blood, a New York Times Notable Book.  J.D. Knight (Zero Tolerance), Jameson Cole (A Killing In Quail County), and Steven Womack, an Edgar-winning author (he’s one who has talked about how he thought it was great to win awards and his career would take off…and then it didn’t).  These award-nominated or winning books are just a select few on my bookshelves, but there are many more.  And I’m sure you all can list a bunch, too.  I’ve met all but two of these authors, and they all said to me how hard it was to sell enough books to get noticed, even though their novels are critically acclaimed.

It’s tough to sell books.

Indie Authors – And What About These Authors?

Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island) wrote a great mystery series (The Kenzie-Gennaro mysteries) and was selling modestly, but his big break came when Stephen King mentioned Lehane as an author he was reading (I’ve met Lehane on a couple of occasions, too – a very nice guy, talked to me for a bit about writing).  Ian Fleming (James Bond) was selling okay until President Kennedy mentioned that he liked the series.  Then Fleming’s books skyrocketed.  The same happened to Walter Mosley.  The Easy Rawlins mystery series shot to fame when President Clinton mentioned Mosley as a favorite author.  Again, I’m sure you can think of others.  Can you tell I like to read mysteries :)?

And what about the authors who many would say didn’t write a good book?  And yet they have great sales.  The point is that numerous factors affect your book sales…

Indie Authors – Hard Work And Luck

Now, this post seems very negative, and maybe it is.  But if you’ve read to this point, then indie authors and luckhear me say this.  If you really love writing, really love it, and you’re not just trying to make a quick buck, then you know that it’s a crap shoot.  And, if you recognize that writing, just like any other j-o-b is hard work, then you’re ahead of the game, too.  And you’ll know that selling books is an ever-changing landscape, and that you’ll need to be educated on marketing as well as writing.

You’ll also recognize that you need some luck.  Sometimes we create our luck through what we do and where we put ourselves.  We create the circumstances in which luck occurs (studies have shown this).  So, if you think you have it, then know that you’re in for some hard work.  But the rewards can be awesome!

There are many ways, beyond Amazon and social media, to promote your books (create luck :)).  Here are a few tips I use that can create word-of-mouth (what really gets a book to take off):

  • carry print books with you at all times – you never know who might buy your book on the spur of the moment, and then tell others about you (it happens for me a lot)
  • get business cards made with your book information so people can look up your book(s)
  • create postcards that promote your book(s) and leave them at coffee shops, cafes, etc.
  • find book clubs and go talk at them (yes, this can be done – I’ve done it, it’s a kick!)
  • when you talk about what you do, include that you are an author
  • use an email signature that includes links to your website, blog, books, etc.

I plan to expand on these tips more, but they can be great ways to get your book(s) noticed.  You never know who might end up buying your book(s) – a television or radio personality, someone well-connected with book clubs…who knows?  And then you get discovered.

I hope this post hasn’t been too negative.  It is possible to succeed at this, just know what you’re getting into :).

About Renée Pawlish

Award-winning author Renée Pawlish writes the bestselling horror book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, short stories and non-fiction ghost stories.
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8 Responses to Indie Authors – Selling Books Is All About This

  1. Toby Neal says:

    Yes, and to all that, yes.
    And I’m one of the “success stories.” :)
    Its a fragile bubble at the best of times, and still so worth every wandering under the moon in search of that four-leafed clover.

  2. Marina Sofia says:

    Welcome dose of realism! So the conclusion is: work hard on your writing, educate yourself about publicizing your work, and have a good direct connection to the four-leaved clover elves.

  3. Spot on! It’s hard work, tenacity luck and timing. I have to write because I love it and then I’m going to do a deal with some leprechauns ☺

  4. I’m one of the thousands of (as of yet) undiscovered writers, except to my small inner circle of readers. But I will write, regardless of the sales (or lack thereof) because I LOVE it. I waited 25 years to pursue my dream of becoming an author and it took five years to create my first novel. I may never make it big, except to my kids who’ve watched me pursue my goals. And that is priceless.

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