Posted in Tips and Tricks | Posted on 05-01-2016|
If you visit the Writers’ Cafe on Kboards in any given week, you can find authors plotting ways to engineer a bestseller or asking if there’s a way to work the system in order to “stick” on Amazon. Everybody wants success — of course! So, what’s the real secret to getting it?
Well, not surprisingly I’m going to tell you that for the vast majority of us, it involves thinking of this as a career, writing a lot of books, and accumulating more and more readers along the way.
The good news is that you don’t need to be anywhere within sniffing distance of the Top 100 on Amazon to make good money. Really good money.
If you find an indie author who has several full-priced ebooks (not 99 cents) in a series under a 10,000 sales ranking on Amazon, and they’re there consistently from month to month, that author is probably going to clear six figures this year. The more books you have out (that are selling at least moderately well), the easier it is to make that kind of money.
So what are my tips for making things sell moderately well?
I’m going to assume you’ve already read blogs and forums or have listened to podcasts and know the basics: write in a series, have awesome cover art, have a blurb that appeals to the target audience, have entertaining and well-edited stories, and pay attention to what’s working right now in the marketing world (we talk a lot about this on our Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast, and most of the stuff applies to all genre fiction).
Beyond that? Here are my three suggestions:
Develop your own unique voice
I don’t think this gets emphasized enough in self-publishing circles. It’s what turns your books from a commodity into something that readers must have because no other author can deliver the same experience. It’s what gets people to not only read the book they chanced across on Amazon but to continue on and read your other books and your other series, as well. If you’ve had one series that sold well but then launched a second one to the sound of crickets, not having a compelling voice may be part of the problem (especially if those series are in the same genre).
So, how do you develop a unique and compelling voice?
Honestly, this mostly comes from writing a lot and from not being afraid to put your personality above the prettiness of the words. When you get started, your voice will often sound a lot like the voices of whoever your favorite authors are. That’s okay. It’s probably somewhere after your first 500,000 or million words that you stop emulating others and find your own style. Eventually, you internalize all of the writing rules and learn to stop worrying so much about whether your sentences have too many “to be” verbs. You just write, with the story flowing straight from the creative part of your brain to the keyboard, and it comes out in your voice.
Your voice has your sense of humor, it has your prejudices and passions, and it has your unique way of looking at the world. Essentially, it’s you on the page.
Will everybody love your voice? Of course not. But for those who have similar tastes, it will be an amazing match. Some of those readers will become lifelong true fans. You get enough true fans, and you won’t need to worry about paying the bills again (so long as you keep writing).
I don’t think this gets emphasized enough either. For the most part, your six-figure (and more) indie authors of today are people who have been publishing the kinds of books their readers want regularly for years.
Not everybody can publish 10 books a year (few can!), but if you can publish one or two or three a year, and keep doing it regularly, you’ve got a much better shot at lasting success than someone who goes on a tear and publishes six books in six months and then disappears for three years.
With every new book that you put out, it’s like a doorway, a chance that someone can find a way into your world. And readers who have already found you will get used to thinking, ah, it’s November… I wonder if so-and-so has a new book out, since she usually publishes something in the fall. You’ll become a part of their regular schedule, something they look for at certain times of the year.
Time is on your side, too. Fans are accumulated over months and years. You’ll promote your books again and again, each time finding a few more readers. Even people who didn’t grab your stuff instantly will see your name again and again in the genre lists that they browse, and maybe it’ll be Series #3 that finally draws them in.
Also, the more books you publish, the more likely it is you’ll have something hit. Yes, you can write to genre tropes and try to engineer a bestseller, but that’s more likely to fail than succeed, unless you already have a big audience built up. The truth is that even the big publishers, corporations that have piles of money to throw behind advertising, don’t know ahead of time what’s going to hit.
In my own experience, it’s usually the book you don’t expect to be a hit that ends up sticking at the top of your category on Amazon for months. And the book you thought would push all the right buttons and become a big seller just does okay. Fortunately, for indie authors making 70% on each ebook we sell, steady earners are just fine. You can quit your day job once you have a stable of steady earners.
Consistently market your books
There’s that word consistency again. People really do underestimate the power of sticking around after so many others have dropped to the wayside.
I’m not one of those people who says you have to spend %X of your time marketing or that you have to do something every day, but I do try to do something every month that will result in a few hundred more readers trying one of my Book 1s. If I’m lucky and score a Bookbub ad, maybe that will be a few thousand. But that doesn’t always happen.
What are the things you can reliably do each month?
- Play around with running sales on your Book 1 and buying a few ads.
- Join (or create) a multi-author boxed set with your series starter in it, or do an anthology with all-new fiction that leads into your series.
- Join (or start) a mailing list campaign with other authors in your genre, where you put together a list of everyone’s free or 99-cent books and then each agree to share the list with your subscribers.
- If you’re in KDP Select, try rolling Countdown Deals where each month (or even week), you have something that’s on sale for 99 cents.
I’m a big fan of doing things that have lasting impact when it comes to marketing. Back in 2011, I had audiobooks made of the first three books in my Emperor’s Edge series, and I put them out there for free via Podiobooks. I still have people emailing me to tell me that they first found my books that way. Ditto for Wattpad. I don’t do anything to promote stuff there, but I have the first three books in that series up there, too, and people still find the posts and read the books that way, some going on to buy the rest of the series.
Try different things. Keep track of what moves the needle. Avoid wasting time and money on the things that don’t. Month after month, if you keep getting new people to try your work, you should be able to increase the number of fans you have, and you’ll get to the point where you always have people moving through your various series and buying your books. Income becomes steady and reliable. And voila: you become a successful author.