Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Your Book Marketing Plan Won't Work

So you wrote a book.

Hooray.

Now you should celebrate. Enjoy the moment. I suggest craft beer. My go-to is barrel aged stouts, invented and perfected by Goose Island. But Prairie Artisan, The Bruery, Alesmith, Founders, Stone, Central Waters, Epic, Boulevard, Oskar Blues, and Avery also work well. More suggestions welcome in the comments.

Now, after celebrating, you are creating a marketing plan.

You're nervous, but you've been an avid student, devouring everything you can on how to sell books. And you've discovered a lot of chatter about a lot of things, including:

SOCIAL MEDIA

The catchall go-to for all authors. You have two Facebook pages, a personal one and a public one. You're on Twitter. You're on Instagram and Tumblr and Pinterest and Flickr and Reddit and 4chan and 8chan and Kboards and Goodreads and Blogger and you are constantly posting new and interesting content because you're smart enough to know that yelling "BUY MY BOOK!" doesn't sell anything.

Guess what? Posting new and interesting content doesn't sell anything either.

When was the last time you actually bought anything because someone liked it on Facebook? Or retweeted a product link?

Your social media isn't going to sell much for you. This blog gets millions of hits a year. You're one of them.

How many books of mine have you bought? Can you name any? What's the latest one?

Sure, maybe some of you have, and you'll comment that you have. But for every comment I get, there are thousands of hits from those who don't comment, and don't buy shit. I track my sales when I do a new blog post. The needle doesn't move.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA

You're not going to sell a lot of books on social media. While social media does help inform fans that you have a new book out, or something priced cheap, it won't amount to many sales.

That's not to say you should ignore social media. But it isn't going to cover your car payment. Stop thinking it will.

HOW-TO BOOKS

There are a shitload of How To Become An Amazon Bestseller books for you to spend your time and money on, and you may think that reading them will give you some secret insider knowledge of how to sell a million ebooks.

Those books are full of shit.

First of all, check the book's Amazon ranking. Then check the other books that author wrote, and their rankings.

If they aren't in the Top 1000, their advice isn't working.

Second, if you know how to write a bestseller, why aren't you writing bestseller after bestseller? Why are you writing How-To books?

Makes no sense.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT HOW-TO BOOKS

There is no book you can read that will help you improve your sales to a degree that was worth the time and money you wasted on it.

Feel free not to believe me. Feel free to tell me about the book that helped you sell a zillion copies. But beware: I'm gonna check your rank and post it and make you feel stupid.

ADVERTISING

Throw money at the problem, right? Nevermind that all advertisers acknowledge that success is sporadic, efforts require constant tweaking and diligence that could be better spent writing, and the only difference between advertising and gambling is that gambling has a better return on investment.

I mean ALL advertising. Can it work sometimes? Sure. Is it worth the risk, the time, the money, the emotional investment?

I say no.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT ADVERTISING

You're doing well if you break even. And while you can crow about the intangibles of "finding a new fan who buys your whole backlist" the fact is that any serious attempt to explode your sales using ads will require you spending a LOT of time tweaking them, and a LOT of money buying them.

I've spent tens of thousands on advertising over the years. NOTHING is guaranteed. They all require a lot of thought and effort. And all the effort you spend on ads is less time you spend writing.

MARKETING SCIENCE

Why are books special snowflakes? Why not treat your book like any other commodity and sell it using a good old business plan? Do a SWOT analysis. Use Strategic Thinking. Identify your target audience and reach them using a combination of advertising, give-aways, contests, publicity, and identifying influencers that you can partner with.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT MARKETING SCIENCE

You are someone's target audience. You are actively marketed to every day of your life; online, on TV, while you commute, listening to the radio, shopping, dining out, travelling, pretty much every waking hour.

How many books do you buy based on any of the above?

Answer: few to none. Which brings us to...

PUBLICITY

If you can get on NPR and get your book reviewed in People Magazine and get Jay-Z to retweet you and get a guest spot on Johnny Carson you can sell a lot of books.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT PUBLICITY

If you manage to do any of the above--and you probably can't--but if you can, you WILL sell some books... in the short term. Once the publicity ends, your sales will go back down. Look at any viral sensation for confirmation. When was the last time you bought a PSY album?

Smaller publicity like local radio or podcasts or blog interviews really don't move the needle much, and they aren't worth pursuing. You don't need a publicist. You don't need a press release.

SO WTF? HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO SELL BOOKS!?!

Luck.

THE HARD TRUTH ABOUT LUCK

No one can predict what will sell. If they could, every book would be a hit.

Everyone can tell you why a book sold well after it has already sold well, pointing to various things that were done that they claim led to the book's success. They are full of shit.

NOTHING guarantees success.

Not quality.

Not past success.

Not a big advertising budget.

Not a big marketing budget.

Not publicity.

Not social media.

Not any sort of plan that you read anywhere.

You can write the Best Book Ever, do Everything right, spend a Fortune, and not even come close to making any sort of money.

SO HOW DO I IMPROVE MY LUCK?

That's the question, isn't it?

I've driven myself half-insane trying to figure out how to sell ebooks. And I've sold a lot. But, like many, my sales have slowed down over the years. I used to make $800k a year. Now I make less than half of that.

Why?

Well, the reason I broke out and made major money was due to pure luck. Amazon created the Kindle and allowed authors to self-pub with DTP (now KDP). I was uniquely suited to exploit this new type of media because I had ten shelf novels that publishers had rejected, and I now had the opportunity to self-publish them while undercutting traditional publishers on price. Then, as ebooks grew in popularity, I got my backlist back and was able to leverage a whole lot of cheap books into a whole lot of money.

I still make a lot of money. But when Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, my income cut in half, and has never recovered.

Luck again. Amazon giveth and Amazon taketh away.

I have gotten some decent publicity in my time. It never moved the needle on sales.

I've had a very popular blog. It never moved the needle on sales.

I've experimented. A lot. I've done interactive ebooks (Banana Hammock and Stop A Murder), I tried Kindle Worlds (now defunct), I've had three pen names, I've combined some of those pen names so I had a consistent brand, I tried starting two ebook businesses, I've done book tours, I've done blog tours, I've traveled to 42 states, I've collaborated with over a dozen authors, I've tried many different genres (thriller, sci-fi, erotica, mystery, horror), I've done short stories and novellas, I've edited an anthology, I've done audiobooks, I've advertised, I've had some big publishers, and I've won a few awards. Plus, I think I write pretty good books.

And all that really counted was Amazon inventing the Kindle, and me luckily being perfectly suited to exploit that new opportunity.

Luck.

It came down to luck.

And now I have a giant backlist, and Amazon is so well run it continues to recommend my books to readers, and I still make a great living.

More luck.

But...

It is possible to improve your luck and sell a bit more than random chance.

While I've poo-pooed all of the above strategies, they aren't all entirely bad. None are a magic bullet. None will guarantee sales. But if used cautiously, in moderation, you can give your sales an occasional boost.

Here are the things you need to do, in order of importance.

WRITE A LOT OF BOOKS

The bigger your backlist, the better. And if the books are quality (great writing, great covers, great descriptions) then that will help. Pricing also helps. I have found that I make more money going exclusive with Kindle Unlimited than I do going with with other publishers. I've found that the best price point is between $2.99 and $5.99, depending on length and age (newer is more expensive).

HAVE A NEWSLETTER

You may no longer need a webpage as an author. More important is having a Facebook page and a Wikipedia page. But you should be allowing people to sign up for your newsletter. And you should be sending out one newsletter a month.

What should you put in your newsletter?

ANNOUNCE SALES, NEW RELEASES, and PRE-ORDERS

You should have a social media presence, at the very least Facebook and Twitter. And you should engage people with enlightened conversation and content on these platforms. But every once and a while, mention when you have a book that is on sale, free, available for pre-order, or recently published.

The people who follow you want to know that. So tell them on social media, and with your newsletter.

ADVERTISING IN MODERATION

Why is it the authors who claim to make a killing by advertising their books are the ones selling books about how to advertise?

You should certainly experiment with AMS, boosting Facebook posts and Tweets, Google Adwords, Ebook Booster, BookBub, and any others that are out there. But here's the caveat; before you use any ads, look at other writer's ads and then check the sales rank of their books using those ads that you want to try. If GuaranteedEbookBestseller.com offers you a one-time only deal of advertising on their site for $99, check to see what books they are promoting, and check their ranks. That'll tell you how well that service works.

BE CONSISTENT

My career has been all over the place, and I've tried so many new and different things. I've learned from my many failures, and if I had to do it all over, I'd tell my younger self:

"One brand, one genre, stop experimenting, stop being a perfectionist, and just write five good books a year in the same series. Make sure they are professionally edited and formatted, have great covers and descriptions, keep length under 75k words, and make sure they have updated, clickable bibliographies in the back matter, pre-order pages for the next release, and newsletter sign-up forms."

That's it. That's the sum total of my years of knowledge and experience.

Doing that, along with a minimal social media presence and some moderate advertising, and maybe you can attain a following and make six figures a year.

Maybe. It still comes down to luck.

Stop worrying. This is all out of your control.

Stop trying to find the answer. There is no answer. No answer, no logic, no reason, not even any scientific cause and effect.

It's all luck.

So focus on the writing. It's the only thing you have true control over.

Keep writing good books until you get lucky.

That's your marketing plan.

59 comments:

William Ockham said...

Karbach Brewing's Bourbon Barrel Hellfighter series is awesome. Technically, they're Imperial porters, but still awesome.

Rob Cornell said...

I'm an IPA man myself, though I do enjoy a good stout now and then. Best IPA I think I've ever had (so far) is Chillwave Double IPA from Great Lakes Brewing.

As far as all this marketing crap...your message here is both depressing and heartening. I have read many of the books on marketing and advertising, and I royally suck at it. I just don't get it. And whenever I've tried "The Surefire System," it never works for me like it (seems) to work for everybody else.

Luck has never been much of a friend to me. I write pretty good books, though, so I guess I'll just keeping trying that and hope the luck changes.

Cheers!

Daniel Barnett said...

Dismaying and reassuring in equal measure. Thank you, as always, for dishing things out straight. I started reading your blog years ago, before publishing my first book, and it’s been an enormously helpful guide to me.

I’ve got four novels out now (I’m not quick at this game, but I’m proud of what I’ve put out there), and while they’re not quite paying for coffee yet, my KDP page is finally starting to look like something other than a flatlining heart monitor. So there’s hope.

Unknown said...

Excellent post, Joe. I'm always interested to hear your perspective/rants on these things.

It makes me curious to know what you think of the continuing work on Amazon's part to sell more, more, more advertising to its authors. I've been noticing this increase over the years, but lately, it seems to have hit quite a crescendo. I was looking at one of my book pages and did a count. While there little "What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?" list is still at the top (thankfully) the long bar with large covers visible has been moved on my page from the top all the way to the bottom. (It's the same on GRRM's pages.)

I had to scroll past TWELVE paid book advertisements (all from what looked to be indy authors) before finding the scroll bar with "customers also bought" and and the "Customers also viewed" one. I swear these used to be right near the top. In the middle of all of this was also a Geico ad and an ad at the top banner for whatever Amazon itself wanted to sell at the moment.

It has been a slow descent to this, and I certainly don't begrudge Indy authors getting a chance to promote, but it also makes me worry that Amazon is starting to go further into a "Make money from the authors, not the books" mode. And I wonder if the company is going to end up shooting itself, and all of us in the process. Once, Amazon had an okay algorithm for suggesting books to people based on what they liked--and that kept people reading, I would hope. Now, it seems like it's just going to train everyone to zone out, and not take Amazon's suggestions seriously, because so much on the page is a paid advertisement.

This means that an indy author who writes a great epic fantasy that my fans might like is never going to appear on my page, even if a lot of my fans like it--because the spots where Amazon might once have suggested their book to people is now buried beneath fourteen advertisements. I had to go to the very bottom of my page, scroll to the right on the "people also viewed" tab three times before finding a book that wasn't one of mine or a paid advertisement.

It might mean that books like yours are not getting suggested as much on popular writer's pages as they once were. And it might mean that newer Indy authors are going to have an even harder time breaking in, unless they agree to pay increasing amounts to Amazon to do it--but then again, I have a different perspective on all this, and might be missing something. (Hence my curiosity if you have an opinion.)

Brandon Sanderson

forestsprite said...

Why under 75k? Does that still depend on genre? I had thought the longer the book, the more you make, so long as you're in KU. The story has to justify the length, obviously, or you'll lose readers, but what's your rationale for under 75k?

Crystal Tedder said...

Joe, you said “...I make more money going exclusive with Kindle Unlimited than I do going with with other publishers.”

Because before that, you also said that “...when Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, my income cut in half, and has never recovered.”

I always suspected KU wasn’t a big moneymaker to authors. The payout may be large, but are too many authors in it, creating a smaller payout to each?

Could you please elaborate on the two, opposing views? (Or maybe that’s another column itself!) Thanks.

Anonymous said...

This might be grist for a future post, but can you elaborate on the process of putting out 5 books a year? For me, even coming up with a good idea that will carry one full-length novel takes some time. Plus there's the planning and research involved. Where does all that fit in? Do you have a process that helps with that consistency?

JA Konrath said...

Karbach Brewing's Bourbon Barrel Hellfighter series is awesome.

Those aren't available in Illinois. Lemme know if you want to do a beer trade.

Best IPA I think I've ever had (so far) is Chillwave Double IPA from Great Lakes Brewing.

I'm still partial to the original citras; Zombie Dust, Heady Topper, Pliny the Younger. Though the juicy movement and the milkshake movement are fun.

Luck has never been much of a friend to me.

Luck, by definition, isn't friendly. It happens or it doesn't. When it does happen, it doesn't stay. Remember the Gambler's Fallacy; you're never "due" for luck. That slot machine isn't ready to spit just because you spent 97 straight hours losing on it.

But the only way to get lucky is to play the game. You don't have to like it. You just have to do it. Because the more you do it, the luckier you get.

JA Konrath said...

So there’s hope.

Hope is a four letter word. Fuck hope.

Substitute the word "goal".

Hope is beyond your control. I hope to sell a million books. I hope to get an agent. I hope to be a NYT besteller. I hope I sign a six figure deal.

Wrong wrong wrong. You have no power over any of that.

But goals offer you complete control/

My goal is to finish my WIP by August 10. My goal is to submit my proofed manuscripts to six agents by September 3. My goal is to hire two cover artists then do a survey of freinds and family which cover is better, than use that and self-publish on Kindle Unlimited by December 13, with a one chapter except from Book 2 in the back.

Forget hope. Focus on goals.

JA Konrath said...

it seems like it's just going to train everyone to zone out, and not take Amazon's suggestions seriously, because so much on the page is a paid advertisement.

Amazon knows how long you spend on its website, what you look at, what you click on. If ads were shortening the customer experience, or resulting in fewer sales, Amazon would tweak it. It evolves, and its evolution is tied to growth, not profit.

If ads don't help it grow, they'll start to fade away.

JA Konrath said...

Why under 75k? Does that still depend on genre? I had thought the longer the book, the more you make, so long as you're in KU.

It's a numbers game. YMMV.

I can write, without straining myself, about 370k words per year. About 1k a day that's worth keeping.

That could be one 370k word book, but the most I could sell that for on Zon to make 70% is $9.99, and the paperback would be cost prohibitive. Same for two 185k word books.

Five 75k books allows me to tell substantial stories, price them at $4.99-$5.99, and maximize sales revenue as well as real estate space.

KU revenue would be the same whether is is one 370k word book or five 75k word books, so this is based on sales. And what I mean by real estate is that five books take up more space on Amazon--as their own diedicated pages and as recommendations--than one book does.

Now I could do six books at 60k words each, and that may be even better. But I find the slightly longer books lead to more characterization and plot twists and a more satisfying conclusion. But 6 at 60k certainly isn't off the table.

But when a book goes over 80k, the returns are diminished. Yes, you can get the KU numbers. But are readers truly getting that much better of a reading experience at the lost of book or two that you could have written instead?

My feeling is no; keep them shorter and pump them out.

JA Konrath said...

Could you please elaborate on the two, opposing views? (Or maybe that’s another column itself!) Thanks.

Kindle Unlimited requires exclusivity. You cannot be in KU and also have your book on Nook, Kobo, Google Play, and iTunes.

But the money you earn on Kindle Unlimited is vastly more than you make on those other platforms combined, so usually you should go exclusive with Kindle Unlimited.

The thing is, when Amazon came up with Kindle Unlimited, it was targeting heavy users and giving them a HUGE price break. My wife would pay well over a hundred bucks a month buying ebooks. Now she pays $10 a month for Kindle Unlimited and reads as much as she wants.

Great for the reader. Bad for authors, because KU doesn't pay nearly what a sale pays.

It has nothing to do with too many authors--KU isn't zero sum. I wrote about that in detail. http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2015/07/fisking-john-scalzi.html

JA Konrath said...

Do you have a process that helps with that consistency?

I'm fast, I'm creative, I'm consistent, and I was born to do this job.

It is fun, and usually effortless, for me to write a novel. I write in the morning hours, and outline/research in afternoon/evening. When I'm cranking, 5k words a day is common. My record is 12k words in a day. But if I average just 1k words a day--four little pages--I can crank out 365k words per year, enough for five 75k word books.

Other writers struggle. That's their process. To each their own.

But behind their backs, I think it's hysterical. :)

Daniel Barnett said...

I probably should have said, “so things are looking up.” The growth may be small, but it’s still growth and I’m pleased with that.

A few things might have contributed to it, but I think the biggest thing was removing one of my books from its permafree status after it had collected over 60 reviews over the last two years. The amount of downloads it had (I think) increased its visibility on Amazon, and it’s had some sales as a result. My other books have also started selling more, too.

There might not be a direct cause-effect relationship here, but I found it interesting.

As far as goals go, I’ve got a serial on the way, and I’m working hard to make a real launch out of this one, as opposed to just throwing it out there, which hasn’t shown me any results in the past.

BRYAN HIGBY said...

I've written 35 novels 31 are available on-line. I've also diversified. I podcast, do movies write screenplays etc... I also live in upstate NY away from the film and publishing action but I still am able to reach out to producers and editors from afar. I followed all the rules in the book. Write a nice little cover letter, clean and neat and direct blah, blah, blah...It got me some opened doors but here's the kicker - PAYING ATTENTION opened more. What I mean by that is that if you keep your eyes open at the pattern of life you'll be amazed at house doors open quicker than the simple slush pile concept. This started with you Joe, your acceptance of my manuscripts into the Kindle Worlds program. This expanded. Now I have books on the shelves of bestselling authors, Joe R. Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, William Gatz HJORTSBERG, Barry Gifford, Vincent Zandri and the number one Stephen King. Mr. King's assistant Marsha was kind enough to accept three of my novels for Mr. King. Now maybe I'm one of a million others given this gift, but I followed that with getting permission from Mr. King to produce a short film based off his story Here There Be Tygers. A special story in King's life having written it when he was just 20. Marsha assures me that she will make a note to have Steve watch the film once she rec's my DVD copy. Going further I've also connected with other Stephen King Dollar Babies, many have gone on to successful jobs in Hollywood and independent films. I'm hosting Dollar Baby film festival in Lowville NY and Hudson Valley community college, where we shot the film has asked me to host the same festival on campus. They are also planning to book Stephen King's sons' Joe Hill and Owen King. I've also made a Hollywood connection through a family cousin who works for Richard Donner producing the X-Men films. The point is diversify and keep your eyes wide open for opportunities out there. Thanks Joe!

Mark Asher said...

"if you know how to write a bestseller, why aren't you writing bestseller after bestseller? Why are you writing How-To books?"

Thanks for writing that. These people who sell these books are selling picks and shovels to the gold miners. I guess it's smart to be opportunistic but it rubs me the wrong way when they dangle promises about how to write books that sell.

I will concede that they can have some good advice for tips to help write the book in the first place. Writing a book isn't writing a book that will sell, though.

But yeah, it's absurd when one of these writers promises the secrets to writing a best-seller and their own books have terrible sales rankings, like not even in the top 1,000,000 on Amazon.

JA Konrath said...

Thanks Joe!

Congrats on your success, Bryan. :)

These people who sell these books are selling picks and shovels to the gold miners.

Giving hope to the hopeless is big business. Ask anyone involved in religion or politics.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be so fast to write off advertising. I saw you say in another post that you won't do Facebook ads because you don't click on them. That's not a smart way to run a business if you only make decisions based on your personal preferences. Your customers might buy books on Facebook.

Amazon ads let you run ads to people who are shopping to buy books. It doesn't get much better than that.

Spending a little time experimenting with ads could make you a lot of money.

I finally figured out AMS ads--and it's paying off better than I could have imagined. I went from very low six figures to potentially seven figures if the current income stays steady. The good news.....advertising helps your income to stay steady longer.

JA Konrath said...

I went from very low six figures to potentially seven figures if the current income stays steady.

Congrats! Proof? Links to some of your books?

I spent a lot of time experimenting with ads, and it required a lot of time an energy just to break even on my ROI. Every so often something would spike, and then it would die out with no explanation.

Coming on here anonymously without any sort of data to back up your claims isn't going to convince me or anyone else. And if you don't want to convince anyone, why post at all?

BRYAN HIGBY said...

Joe,

Any luck in developing Jack Daniels as a series for film of streaming? I'd love to see the characters live.

Anonymous said...

I posted anonymously because I actually don't want the attention. I'm good flying under the radar. I posted because I really think advertising is so important--if you get it right, it's a huge factor. It also lets you publish less often. Advertising kept me in the top 100 for several weeks, something I didn't think was possible. Totally understand if you don't believe me, but I don't care enough to prove it to you. Advertise or not.....I doubt anything I or anyone else says will likely change your mind. I do wish you all the best though and am glad you're back to blogging. I may not always agree, but it's always an interesting discussion.

Amanda Lee said...

I'm a fast writer, so take this with a grain of salt, but I find longer books hold up in the rankings better than shorter books. I've settled in at about 90-95K a book for my main name and 60K for my pen name. Of course, I write 45-51K a week unless I'm traveling. The longer books definitely show more profit and hold up better over the long haul. As for social media, I think reader groups are great for keeping interest alive between books and they breed reader loyalty.

JA Konrath said...

I doubt anything I or anyone else says will likely change your mind.

Proof changes my mind. That's called science.

The burden of proof falls on the person making the claim. I can say I have elves in my closet, but I don't want to post any proof because I don't want the attention. Your skepticism would be warranted.

I've found there are two types of authors that don't want attention. The first kind makes stuff up. The second kind skirts (or outright crosses) the line of what is considered acceptable according to the TOS of Amazon. They rightly don't want the attention, because there are watchdogs who cry foul at the slightest hint of anyone trying to game the system.

The system has been gamed, many times. And it will continue to be gamed as Amazon evolves. My argument has always been the same; this isn't zero sum, and if some author tries to scam, I don't care. I've lived through the short fiction blitzkrieg when a 15 page pamphlet earned as much as a 400 page novel, and the book stuffing drama with the accompanying clickfarm accusations, and the brand spamming by hiring a bunch of freelance authors for cheap to write under a collective pen name, and I didn't care about any of it.

But I do care about learning how to legitimately advertise to consistently get a positive ROI, and I'm a sharp guy and I tried a lot of things and I never could do much better than break even, even at a heavy time expenditure.

Until someone proves me otherwise, using ads to hit the bestseller list remains as much a fairy tale as elves. I want to see someone say they are going to do it, then do it, then do it again, until it is as consistent as a billiard master running a pool table, and then I'll believe.

Robert Bucchianeri said...

There are a few big name Indie authors who report that Amazon or Facebooks ads are one of the primary reasons for their success. I won't name them because it's up to them to engage, but I'm satisfied that they're telling the truth by examining their sale rankings and other data. Some had lagging sales revived by advertising.
As for me, I've been experimenting with Amazon ads for the past few months with mixed results. Not much of an ROI but I think, with the crowded marketplace, it keeps my name in front of readers who might eventually try me out. And without Amazon ads, I'd be virtually getting no sales or page reads. I'm getting some of both every day( several sales and a few thousand page reads) on the first 3 books of my new mystery series.
Without Amazon ads I believe I'd be getting zilch. Before I started that's exactly where I was.
As I get more books up, my read through will hopefully make my ROI rise.
I think you have to have a series and at least 4 or 5 books in it to make advertising worthwhile, although it's damn hard to get any traction or visibility without them since Amazon has turned into pretty much a pay to play environment.

That's my nickel's worth anyway.

I'm glad you're posting again. Your maverick insights always make one think.

Carolyn Haley said...

"One brand, one genre, stop experimenting, stop being a perfectionist, and just write five good books a year in the same series. Make sure they are professionally edited and formatted, have great covers and descriptions, keep length under 75k words, and make sure they have updated, clickable bibliographies in the back matter, pre-order pages for the next release, and newsletter sign-up forms."
That's it. That's the sum total of my years of knowledge and experience.

I have no doubt this summary is true. It's bad news, though, for those of us who might write five books in a lifetime, never mind five in one year. I'm up to four now over fifty years, and I'm not sure there's another one in me. However, I long ago recognized I would never become a six-figure author, so I switched my goals from quantity to quality. Now I focus on writing the best stories I can, and exploring different ways to reach my small, cross-genre readership. This constrains me to being a hobbyist/artiste, but I get deep satisfaction from it. My choice came from understanding that to write for a living, I would have to do exactly what JA's summary specifies. It was hard to admit to myself that I can't/won't do it, but once I accepted that, my goals became attainable and my psyche recovered balance.

Anonymous said...

I'm new here - my question: I was surprised to see you mention submitting your books to an agent. if you're self publishing why do you need an agent? Many thanks!

Ernie J. Zelinski said...

Book marketing does work for me. My books (mainly self-published) reached sales of over 1,000,000 copies last September. I agree that a lot of techniques advocated by so-called book marketing experts won't work because a lot of people are trying those techniques. I put those techniques in what I call "book marketing porn." Check out the book sales on BookScon of most of the so-called marketing experts and you find that their books have sold fewer than 300 copies or even fewer than 100 copies. So they don't have any credibility to me.

Actually, book marketing can be difficult and time consuming but it does not have to be expensive. I have come up with 75 to 100 of my own unique marketing techniques that 99 percent of authors and so called "book marketing experts" are not creative or smart enough to come up with. I have used similar unique marketing techniques to get over 111 books deals with various foreign publishers around the world. These techniques involve what my competitors are NOT doing — instead of what my competitors are doing.

Check this blog post by book marketing guru John Kremer about some of my unique ways of marketing books.

https://bookmarketingbestsellers.com/ernie-zelinski-creative-book-marketing-strategies/

The thing is that what worked five years ago may not work today. I have to continually be looking for new ways to market books if I want to beat out my competition.

But the most important element of book marketing is word-of-mouth advertising. This is what keeps certain books selling for years like my "The Joy of Not Working" which was first self-published in 1991 and still sells about 5,000 copies a year. This requires a blockbuster book. These quotes apply:

"Good isn't good enough."
— Mark Coker (owner of Smashwords)

"Very Good Is Bad — It's Not Good Enough!"
— Seth Godin (My favorite Marketing Guru)

Fact is, there are no short cuts to being successful at the game of writing and self-publishing. Near as I can tell, most book writing/publishing/marketing "experts" have never had a true bestselling book (one that has sold at least 100,000 copies in print). So yes, why would anyone trust any of these frauds?

For the record, I have three true bestselling books (out of 17 that I have written) that have sold over 100,000 copies in print.

Ernie J. Zelinski
International Best-Selling Author, Innovator, and Unconventional Career Coach
Author of the Bestseller "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free"
(Over 390,000 copies sold and published in 10 languages)
and the International Bestseller "The Joy of Not Working"
(Over 310,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

Judy C said...

Missed your posts. Please keep them coming!

Maria G. Swan said...

OMG!!! finally, some smart cookie said it as it is!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I keep repeating to myself...a matter of luck. You only need one to get you on the map. WOW. Mille grazie.

Angelic Rodgers said...

I believe Konrath's had an agent for a long time; they do things other than try to sell to publishers (foreign rights, audio rights, interactive multimedia rights, for instance). If I made the kind of money Joe does, I'd have an agent to do things I don't want to spend time on. Note, too, that Konrath did have his agent shop around the latest before self-publishing.

Glynnis Campbell said...

Thank you for the best excuse ever to stop futzing with marketing so much and getting back to what I really love--writing books! Your advice is spot-on.

The one tweak I'd make is that if you can score a BookBub Featured Deal, it's worth the investment. I've done about six of these a year since they began, some of them for my perma-free series-starters. I've always earned around 50% over and above the cost of the promo from sales of the rest of the series, topped the genre charts every time, and had a nice halo effect on sales for at least a week afterward. The only catch is they prefer books to be wide, so it doesn't work so well for KU.

Luck = Preparation + Opportunity

Glynnis Campbell
USA Today Bestselling Author
Voice of StarCraft's Kerrigan

Anonymous said...

No gaming of the system going on. I'm wanting to fly under the radar because I'm not eager for people to swarm into the niche I'm doing well in. It's that simple. It will happen eventually of course, it's inevitable, but I'd like to delay it as long as possible. Ads can work wonders--if you have all the other stuff too, a good book, good cover, and you're targeting the right people.

John Etzil said...

Going wide and building a mailing list has been huge for me...

JA Huss said...

Konrath, Konrath, Konrath. You hit the nail on the head! Writing more books is always the #1 best answer. Everything else comes second. And here's another bit of advice for those of you looking for the magic bullet online course on how to use ADS to sell books - ask those people making those courses this ONE simple questions - "HOW MANY BOOKS DO YOU SELL WITHOUT ADS?"

Most of them don't know. Most of them have no clue. You know why? They have never turned the ads off.

I turned mine off 2 years ago. I still run them off and on, but am I running $20,000 in ads for each new release like I used to? HELL NO! Because it doesn't work. LUCK was how I got on the New York Times. And a good book, but mostly LUCK.

WRITE MORE BOOKS.
WRITE A SERIES YOU LOVE.
FIND YOUR FANS ONE AT A TIME.
COVET THOSE FANS AND GIVE THEM MORE OF WHAT THEY LOVE.
REPEAT.

Good Luck.

JA Huss

JA Konrath said...

Good advice, JA.

I checked out your website and saw under a pen name you wrote a sexy sci-fi alien romance called BIG DICKER: HAREM STATION, which I immediately downloaded because that is the GREATEST TITLE OF ALL TIME.

You are now my new favorite person.

I spent a whole calendar year doing ZERO promo while I wrote LORI. No ads. No sales. No freebies. And my sales dipped.

But that probably had less to do with no ads, sales, and freebies, and more to do with No New Books. Instead of spending a year on LORI, I could have written four new Jack Daniels books and my income would have gone up. But I had to go all 'big avant garde idea' and I'm still trying to figure out if I made a mistake or not.

LORI may do well, but I doubt it will do as well as four JD books would have done.

That's life though, right? Making mistakes so you can learn from them.

Looking forward to BIG DICKER. :)

JA Konrath said...

Going wide and building a mailing list has been huge for me...

So you dropped out of KU? I did that and my sales halved.

JA Konrath said...

I'm wanting to fly under the radar because I'm not eager for people to swarm into the niche I'm doing well in. It's that simple.

Au contraire. My sales aren't hurting because other writers write the same sort of things as I write and promote the way I promote. This isn't a zero sum game. My old post still applies.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2012/07/zero-sum.html

But if you really are worried about being usurped or sharing the pie, you don't have to share your secrets here. Just email me. I'd love to test some of your ideas.

ME! said...

I agree with almost everything you said.
I, too, noticed that a lot of 'How To' books were big sellers - but their fiction or other books had low sales, which is why I stopped buying 'How To'.
Great post!

Sydney J. Baily said...

Thanks! Just...thanks! Indie authors are often made to feel as if writing good books isn't enough. We have to become expert marketers and promoters (I don't even know the difference between those two tasks). I feel as if you've lifted a weight off my shoulders. I already do the newsletter once a month and those recipients seem to appreciate it. I occasionally post on FB, and I have a good website with an email signup. I'm going to stop beating myself up for not micromanaging FB ads and AMS ads with spreadsheets and keywords and unicorn hooves ground up and sprinkled over my bed, though that might help. So, again, thanks. Back to writing.

Shawn E Bell said...

While I could give you pats on the back for weaving such an excellent post or curse you as a neophyte for being completely wrong on absolutely everything you wrote - including the questionable use of the letter 's' throughout your post - I believe the best and most timely response is a simple question: What's a PSY album?

Thanks for all your hard work. I do have quite a few of your releases - including your latest - and because of these purchases, I cannot afford any of the craft beers you recommend. So you're awesome. And you suck.

Walter Knight said...

The key to selling books is to just be seen. I gamed Amazon back in 2011 by posting over 400 book reviews for other authors' science fiction books. Attached to each review was a product link for my books. People could not read anything science fiction without seeing my product link. Sales soared to about 2300 per month.

However, watchdog busybodies complained to Amazon. Amazon suspended my account. Sales tapered until my books became invisible again. I did take your advise, and continued writing. Writing is the only thing you can really control.

Write long and prosper.

JC said...

A lot to unpack here but I agree with most of it in principle. First, whenever talking about anything that has to do with publishing, I think it’s critical to distinguish between FICTION and NON-FICTION. In my view they are as different as artwork and house painting. Sure, they both might use oil paint but they serve very different purposes. Is there crossover? Of course. But fiction is much different in terms of audience and marketing. I think the most important thing is to conceptualize yourself as a “brand” and work towards refining that. If you’re consistent with your message, both in your writing and your marketing, then you will maximize your chances of building a fan base and being compensated for your work. And it may take years.

I’d have to disagree somewhat on productivity. While I agree that the more novels you have increases your chances for exposure and solidifies your brand, 5 books a year seems absurd. It’s putting quantity over quality and any discriminating read will know. I’ve started dozens of ebooks which I could tell by page 5 were hastily published. It’s not even a matter of poor editing, but rather the content felt to weak and underdeveloped. And mostly dialogue. Excessive dialogue to me is the first red flag that a manuscript has been shoddily crafted.

As for overall marketing...even the pros (at least the ones I’ve talked to and I’ve been going to writers conferences for years) admit that they don’t know exactly what makes a bestseller. The easiest predictor is an author who has had a previous bestseller but that’s still no guarantee. Just looking at some of the really weak novels out there like Fifty Shades or Twilight (yeah, yeah, I know. Cliche criticism) is enough to make anyone realize how unpredictable fiction is.

My advice to myself and to anyone who asks about this business is to slow the hell down, and write something your grandchildren and great grandchildren would be proud of. The ebook market is flooded with crap because there’s no real vetting system anymore and now we have people writing 30 novels a year. It’s really devalued good solid writing, in all styles and genres, so much so that collectively writers have forgotten what good writing is.

Rob Goluba said...

Could audio books be the next provider of luck?

Would you recommend doing an audio book for every title or stick with ebooks on KU?

Joan Reeves said...

Thanks, Joe. I've missed your posts. (Don't know if you remember, but you helped me get an agent for foreign rights sale so you're my hero. *g*) You are always the voice of common sense and reason.

My career nearly tanked these last few years because of dealing with my daughter's medical issues which became a full-time job. Only has there been enough improvement this year for me to feel I'm full-time again.

I kept writing though, contributing to box sets that hit the NYT and USA Today bestseller lists which was fun. Every year I managed to publish a book or novella because writing just makes me happy. I spent sleepless nights on social media and working with other authors on group blogs and kept up my own blog SlingWords.

I think of the good old days of 2011 when I was selling thousands a day! *LOL* What a ride! Btw, I introduced Jack Daniels to my husband who also loves your books.

Keep on telling it like you see it. Write hard and live free!

Maria G. Swan said...

Joan, I don't know you, but you sound awesome, and yes, family matters, I get it. May 2019 be your best year ever.

JA Konrath said...

So you're awesome. And you suck.

Thanks! :)

JA Konrath said...

5 books a year seems absurd.

Pretty sure I could do 10, and they'd all be good. But I'd be a whiny, exhausted little bitch.

JA Konrath said...

Would you recommend doing an audio book for every title or stick with ebooks on KU?

If you hire someone to do the audio and give them 50%, you really don't have to do much other than give them a listen. But they're only going to make money if you are already a brand.

ME! said...

Joan, I remember those heady early days of self-publishing! Four figures every month (which made me feel rich!) that has now spiralled down to 3 figures a month (and I know I do better than some authors, I'm still lucky). I didn't give up my job way back then, thank goodness, so I still have my day job. I'm afraid the dreams of writing for a living are gone for me unless the 'luck!' happens!. I used to put 4 books out a year, but the day job and other things ended up with me burning out. So now I aim for 3 if I can manage it, otherwise 2. I still have a life outside work and writing, and I needed to embrace that as well. Took me awhile and a lot of guilt, but it was either burn-out and no writing, or take a step back and do what I can. So I do what I can! (Heck, if I could write for a living, I'd get probably about 4 - 5 books out a year!) As for marketing - it sucks. I do some, try some, but still have no idea why some authors rave about a certain marketing but when others try the exact same thing, it tanks. I do know that one good idea is taken by all (and why not?) and readers get the overload and move on. It's constantly chasing the next big marketing gig. I'm over it. I have a couple of ads now and again at Amazon to keep my books 'out there', but that's all. Otherwise it's website, newsletter, blog on Goodreads. Prick me with a fork, people, I am done!!!

ME! said...

Oh - BTW - LOVE the Jack Daniels series! Read every book so far :-)

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chirikosan said...

I presumed he meant to get under 75k on specific genres (epic fantasy is allowed longer word counts partly because of the more complex world building), because from the sound of the book titles the blog owner focuses more on thrillers where you can write in that range more easily.

I am always skeptical of authors who fart 5 to 8 books a year. Even if they are novellas, I suspect half of the draft is done by a ghostwriter, the author tweaks a few things here amd there and then sends it to a copyeditor to clean it up. Those authors do quite well because they churn the same rehashed story over and over again but at the cost of lack of true literary quality and losing thw freedom to write what thry truly want. If you're in it just to make money without caring about writing memorable books, there isn't anything wrong but I would rather not make much and write what I personally enjoy and vary things.

Arthur Crow said...

Many a writer would be wise to read this article. Thanks for sharing!

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Anonymous said...

I heard about this post belatedly, so pardon my late comment.

First, good to see you back! Second, you're 100% right about luck mattering most (once you reach a basic level of competence at your craft). Write a lot of books and never give up, and don't be stupid and use your think organ all the time, and one day, you'll see the lucky moment and get something out of a writing life.

Third, you say two really golden things in here: a) if someone is trying to sell you a book/course on how to sell your own books or even on how to write well, check their rankings (historical rankings, too, via Kindle Nation Daily) at Amazon.com; b) if an ad system is trying to convince you to spend money on ads, check those books' rankings. (There's also a "c" of a related thought I'd add--if you're doing well self-published, and non-big-five publishers contact you wanting to publish your books "legitimately," (or if you're querying and you're thinking about querying a small publisher) check their most recent release's rankings. If their top recent books' rankings at Amazon are worse than #100,000, there is nothing they can do for your that you can't do for yourself through self-publishing. In other words, always check those Amazon rankings. They'll tell you all you need to know about the legitimacy of the person trying to sell you an idea or service.

Thanks for posting again. You and Eisler convincing others, who then convinced me to go indie is why I've made more than a quarter million dollars as a novelist these past few years. Not amazing money, but paying the bills money.

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Wanda Luthman said...

I can’t tell you how many books I have read or webinars I have watched or podcasts I have listened to and I have come to the same conclusion. Excellent post! I love your sense of humor.