I was recently reading a few articles about breakout authors who have managed to sell millions of eBooks despite self-publishing. I noticed one thing that some ultra-successful self-published authors have in common – they had money or a pretty good job prior to being authors. They also got into the eBook game early on, when the Kindle craze began. Timing is everything.
For instance, Darcie Chan was a lawyer prior to selling 400,000 copies of her books. John Locke was a successful salesman and marketing mind who had the resources to invest $25,000 in his books before finding the winning formula.
Of course there are exceptions – Amanda Hocking worked at group home prior to becoming a best selling authoress according to Wikipedia. (I would actually love to watch an independent movie about her story, but I digress.) But in many cases, people who have a solid marketing budget available to invest in their books are more likely to succeed as self-publishers.
I receive a lot of messages to the tune of “Help, my book isn’t selling! And I don’t have any money to invest in it!”
I don’t always know how to respond to this type of message, because usually the first suggestion I have is that they fix the cover or get the book edited, which costs money. Not to mention advertising and promotion…
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There are two main reasons why it’s really helpful to already have money in the bank if you want to become a successful self-published author.
1. You need plenty of money to sustain yourself while you’re promoting and writing books. If you’ll notice, most high-selling authors have written 10 or more titles. They can keep pumping them out because they have cash to fall back on and pay bills in the meanwhile. Many other self-published authors don’t have the ability or time to write 10-20 pages a day while still juggling a job and everyday bills.
2. Money opens doors that aren’t open to small guys in the publishing industry. For instance, a book table at one of the major book expos costs thousands. Buying advertising on top book websites costs hundreds per month. Professional editors and book designers charge thousands to make your book look nice. Some services allow you to pay for high profile reviews.
And as this Wall Street Journal article confirms, authors who already have a large following are the ones who are most likely to succeed.
So where do these authors get that following?
It’s either from time served (they’ve been writing for years and developed a large fan list over those years) or money (they purchased ads or reviews and gave away plenty of books to develop a following).
Not to mention, their writing has to be pretty good to keep people interested.
So if you’re a brand new self-published author who no one has ever heard of with little to no following who doesn’t have much money, is it really a mystery why you’re not selling any books?
I’m Pretty Broke — What Can I Do?
1. The first thing to do is to be realistic as a brand new self-publisher. This is one of the top points I try to get across in my How to Sell Books eBook and when consulting clients. Be realistic and take measured steps toward your own personal success. Stop looking at the success of others as a gauge of whether you yourself are successful.
Some people look down on this advice as pessimistic, but I call it realistic optimism. About 130,000 books are self-published each year. According to Para Publishing there are about 86,000 self publishers. Only 12 self-published authors have sold over 200,000 copies of their books according to the New York Times. That’s roughly .01 % of self-publishers.
The other 99.99 % of indie authors don’t get these stellar results. In fact, the vast majority of self-publishers sell about 150 copies total according to the New York Times.
So am I wrong for telling the truth to the 99.99% and trying to help them get on the right track?
I believe it’s best to be realistic about what you’ll sell and invest accordingly. Then if you happen to join the ranks of million-selling authors (which is largely a matter of luck and partly due to writing an amazing story), party like it’s 2099!
2. The next thing I would suggest is to consider taking time to hone your craft (writing) and save up some money to invest in your book if you’re really serious about self-publishing as a career. (Or at least as a consistent source of residual income.)
3. Finally, invest in affordable, effective, smart advertising. You must have a marketing plan and budget to sell self-published books but avoid places run by “the big boys” who are just trying to rob you of your money. You know, the $5,000 a month retainer publicity agents and $5,000 tables at book conferences. Find your niche audience and attack them with inexpensive yet well-placed ads, reviews and free copies of your book.
Of course I have more tips for self-publishers which I detail in my eBook. Your book is a product, and you have to become a bit of a marketing genius to sell it.
You must think of self-publishing as a business. Selling isn’t very fun. Making money is fun. And the old adage rings true: it takes money to make money.