Thursday, February 03, 2011

Guest Post by B.V. Larson

Here's more fuel for the fire.

Last month, I thought I did pretty good by selling 22,000 ebooks.

Of course, we all know the reason I sold so many is because I was previously published and I have a platform and my traditional print books and fanbase all played a huge part.


Allow me to introduce you to B.V. Larson, who creamed my sales even though he had none of the above. I noticed him a year or so ago, with his ebook Mech.

But better to let him tell you in his own words. Here's Larson:

The Past:
My ebook odyssey began in April 2010, when I rediscovered Joe’s blog (thanks again, Joe) and read about how well he was doing on Amazon. I decided to give it a try after many years of firing blindly at New York.

I’d been successful in non-fiction (have a textbook series), but I’d never managed more than a few pro short story sales in fiction. I’ve actually had three agents and many “rewrite this” and “almosts” with editors.

When I started ebooking I’d never laid eyes on a Kindle, but by the end of May I had two books up and 7 big sales. Things grew rapidly from there, and over the last six months I've had over 100,000 PAID ebook sales, including 26,000 in December and 38,000 in January. Most of these sales were for $2.99.

I did it all without a fan-base or a web-presence. I had nothing going for me other than determination, a pile of unsold manuscripts and a willingness to adapt.

My point is: Indies can succeed.

The Present:
In January, Amazon made me their first "Featured Author" in the new DTP newsletter. I've had a few calls from publishers and the like, but I've stayed completely independent thus far. I’m not philosophically opposed to working with traditional publishing. I take a business-like view: if someone can convince me that signing a deal with them is worthwhile, I’ll sign it. This is best done mathematically, however, not with slogans and promises of glory.

On the personal side, no one is more stunned by my success than I am. In truth, I’m feeling my way through this new universe. I feel like it’s 1993 and I just figured out how to make a website. The world is wide open at this point.

The Future:
Things are very likely to become dramatic in this industry. I seriously see the current publishing structure as unsupportable. Tech has a way of doing that (look it up in an econ book, it’s called “creative destruction”). There is bound to be a period of turmoil when new business methods are applied. Hardest hit will be those who can’t adapt, like silent movie stars trying to find work in “talkies”. Or like radio stars trying to make the transition to TV. Writers and actors were once paid a salary by movie studios. Things change.

By 2020, I would be very surprised if printed materials weren’t the exception, rather than the rule. If you don’t believe me, take a look at that MP3 player in your pocket and ask yourself how many CDs, cassette tapes or 8-tracks you’ve bought lately.

Logically, the most indispensable individual is the creator of the content in any industry. Authors are the factories, and therefore we are the one thing that can’t be eliminated. Who was that publisher who famously said: “This would be a great business if it weren’t for the authors”? Such attitudes must be rethought.

The two things you have to have in this business are the author and the reader, so the real stress will fall on the packagers and distributors in between us. My goal is to stay calm and focus on my work. I’m only concerned about my readers. If I keep them happy, they will keep me happy.

There are a thousand useful pieces of advice right here on this website. I won’t repeat them. But I will tell you my guiding light: writing is all about the reader. I never sit down and start out thinking about “what I’d like to write.” I start out with what I’d like to read. I’m even more interested in what others would like to read. I think about the reader all the time—where they are in their minds, where they want to go next—then I write until they get there. Writing is not about me. It’s about my readers.

Joe sez: First of all, I'm staggered and thrilled Larson has sold so well. He's the perfect example of what I've been talking about. Write good books at fair prices and publish a bunch of them and you'll sell even if no one knows who you are.

I also say that the cover art must be good. While I like the cover art for Mech, I'm not too keen on some of Larson's other book covers. But then, I'm not hot for Amanda Hocking's covers either, and those haven't seemed to hurt her sales.

This leads to an interesting conclusion. Larson has sold 100,000 ebooks. But that doesn't mean he has 100,000 fans. He might only have 6000 fans. But these fans could have each bought his entire oeuvre, 18 ebooks.

If you're writing good books that fans enjoy, they'll seek out more of your work. The more of your work you have available, the more chances you'll have to discover new fans. It's like constantly making your fishing net bigger. The bigger the net, the more fish you'll snare.

For those writers who are wondering why they haven't had decent sales, my answer is: write more.

In fact, that's always been the answer for writers, no matter what their goals are.