Friday, January 13, 2012

Reality Check

My story about making $100,000 in three weeks on Kindle is getting widely passed around, and I've noticed that folks are reacting in a few specific ways.

1. Some are happy for me, and for the possibilities this opens up for them. They know the work and struggle that went into getting here. (Bert Carson has a very nice post about this.)

2. Some keep perpetuating that false meme that it was my legacy books responsible for my success. I'm tired of debunking that one. It is 100% false.

3. Some think I'm telling the whole world that becoming successful is easy and that anyone can get rich by self-pubbing ebooks.

4. Some keep insisting that I must be some sort of marketing genius and they want to know what I've done to get here.

Allow me to address all of these reactions.

I wrote 9 novels and collected over 500 rejections during a 10 year period before I made a dime in this business. I sold my tenth novel in a three book deal for $110,000 back in 2002.

My publisher refused to tour me for my first book. They also refused to let me do any official book signings because they would have had to pay coop. So I began doing bookstore drop-ins and handselling my books. I'd stay anywhere from four to eight hours in bookstores. Have you ever sold one hundred $25 hardcovers in one place? I have. It's hell.

For the next book, my publisher toured me. In between official signings, I dropped in another 100 bookstores.

The next year, I spent the summer on the road and signed at more than 500 bookstores. It almost broke me.

I also visited dozens and dozens conferences, book fairs, and libraries. I've been to 42 states, doing this promo thing.

I sent out 7000 letters to libraries and bookstores, each with a signed drink coaster in them, to promote my books.

I edited an anthology, and wrote dozens of short stories that sold (for pennies) to top markets.

My publisher dropped their mystery line, me included, and my second three books with them ($125,000 advance for the trio) were given very little attention. I didn't tour for these. Couldn't afford it.

Then I wrote a horror novel. Got a $20k advance, and a two book deal. The first book quickly earned out, but they didn't like the second one. I rewrote it and they still refused it. I wrote a third for them and they wanted changes. I said no. I'd had enough.

I was never a successful legacy author. I was midlist, eking out a living, struggling from check to check, never making more than $50k in a year and spending a lot of that on travel.

I kept at it. I got 10,000 people on my mailing list. I was one of the first to realize the importance of MySpace (remember MySpace?), Facebook, and Twitter. I did one of the first successful author blog tours, visiting 100 blogs in a month.

But I still wasn't successful.

Then Kindle came along. Those rejected novels were on my website as freebies. I got emails from fans who wanted to read them on their Kindles, but the Kindle 1 couldn't read pdf files. After some investigation, I learned Amazon had a program for self-publishers.

I listed some of my old books and short stories, for cheap. And I started making money. I started making more money than I ever had as a legacy author.

My legacy books didn't lead people to my self-pubbed novels. It's the opposite. My self-pubbed books continue to outsell my legacy books at up to 10 to 1. People aren't buying me because I visited 1200 bookstores in my career. They aren't buying me because I have a popular blog about publishing. They aren't buying me because they love my old books.

I made $100,000 in three weeks from people who have no idea who I am. If they knew who I was, they would have bought those titles years ago. Because they've been available for years.

Don't get me wrong. I know I have fans. I know I have some name recognition. But the sales they bring are paltry next to the marketing machine which is Amazon.

How do I know this for sure?

Because all of my other books were (until recently) on other platforms, where they did mediocre compared to bestselling authors.

James Patterson is selling well on Kindle, but he's also selling well on Sony and Kobo and Apple and B&N. On Kindle, I'm outselling many Patterson titles. That isn't the case anywhere else.

So it isn't my name or my past that is responsible for this success. Nor is it any marketing efforts I'm doing now, because I'm not doing any. I haven't visited my Facebook page in six months. I have a fan page but don't know how to use it. I've never bought an online ad. I've got Twitter followers, but they're writers, not fans.

Right now I'm making a lot of money because I'm paying close attention to what Amazon is doing, experimenting a lot, and getting lucky.

Yes, I've worked hard. I still do. But no one deserves success. I have NEVER said that everyone can get rich with ebooks.

But I have said, repeatedly, that there are things writers can do to improve their luck. And that the self-pubbed route is vastly superior to the legacy route I trudged through for years.

In the long run, except in the case of bestsellers and huge advances, a writer WILL make more money self-publishing.

If you really want to see how I became successful, go back to the beginning of my blog and start reading. Follow my journey, month by month, year by year, to get to this point.

Here's the thing, though. All of our journeys are unique. Some writers get luckier sooner. Some haven't gotten lucky yet.

But if you keep writing good books with good covers and good descriptions and good formatting, and you keep experimenting and trying new things, it improves your odds.

Can you be a successful self-pubbed author?

It depends. How hard are you willing to work, and how long are you willing to wait, before success happens?

I got my first rejection letter in 1988. I've worked hard for 24 years, waiting for this kind of success.

If you've got that same ambition, I'm sure I'll see you on the bestseller lists someday.

Hopefully it won't take you that long.

Much success to everyone in 2012. There's more than enough to go around.