Friday, May 09, 2014

Tend Your Garden

Your ebooks function much like a garden. 

One rare occassions, a plant will thrive with little help from you.

Others may whither and die no matter how much help you give them.

But the majority need to be constantly tended. Planted, watered, fertilized, weeded, pruned, mulched, replanted, harvested. In other words, lots of work.

Ebooks aren't a Mr. Popeill invention where you can set it and forget it. Quite the opposite. You need to pay attention, and keep active, or your garden won't thrive.

Everyone experiences slow downs in sales. It's inevitable, and it seems to be cyclical, but not in any sort of way I've been able to prodect. Sales seem to rise and fall for reasons unknown.

But if you're doing what you can to make your books discoverable, you have a better shot at sales than those authors who self-publish then self-ignore. 

Here are some tricks to tend to your garden.

1. Change prices. As an indie, this is one of the biggest advantages you have over the legacy industry. You decide what the customer pays, and this is powerful. Don't be afraid to weild that power by experimenting with prices, both lower and higher.

2. Newsletter. There is no excuse why you don't have a newsletter. People who sign up are actively looking for your titles. Make them aware a new title exists.

3. Sales. Unlike a change in price, a sale only lasts for a short time. KDP Countdown is what I'm currently using, because it offers 70% royalties when I drop the price. I've been pleased with my results.

4. Advertising. Bookbub and Booksends are the ones I use regularly. If you've had success with another company, list it in the comments.

5. Change cover art. The original cover you loved might not be that good. When all else fails, can't hurt to try something new. You can also try tweaking/adding to your description. 

6. Web presence. You should have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a website, and keep them updated. Don't spam people. Do what I do on this blog--I offer information and entertainment. You aren't trying to find people to sell books to. You're trying to reach people who are looking for books, and you do this by giving them information and entertainment, not a sales pitch. 

7. Multiple platforms. There is more out there than just Amazon. It can't hurt to see what's happening on Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, and B&N.

8. Stop worrying about how other authors are doing. Their failure or success has no bearing on you, even if you are intentionally trying to ride coattails. You need to be concerned about your writing and your sales, not anyone else's. 

9. Experiment. Try things that seems silly or counter-productive. Take risks. Look at your own buying habits, and try to figure out what makes you spend your money. 

10. Share. Tell each other what's working and what isn't. The Internet is a hive mind, and we can all benefit from each other.

Ebooks are forever. What you write today can potentially earn money for your heirs in 2095. But only if readers know those books exist. This involves never-ending vigilance. 

Ultimately, you can't make readers find your books, or buy them. But you can make it as easy as possible for readers to discover them, and once they're seen you can make it easier for them feel strongly enough to make a purchase.

Which brings us to the last tip:

11. Stop complaining. Writing and self-publishing is your choice. No one is forcing you to do this. If you went into this business thinking it would be easy, you were wrong. It would be awesome if every ebook written became a huge bestseller, but only a small fraction will. You should be thinking about the long game--amassing a backlist ten years from now, and cultivating that backlist so it constantly has new eyeballs discovering it.

No one said it would be fair. Or easy. Or fun. No one owes you a living. No one cares about your art. If you want to be a writer in 2014, you have to learn a lot more skills than just how to write, and there are no guarantees. 

Keep your expectations low. Celebrate successes and learn from failures. Keep writing. Keep trying. 

If your writing good books, there is an audience out there, looking for you. Your next job is to help them find you.