From an email a few weeks ago:
WRITER: Hi, could you show me someone on Amazon who is self-published and having success writing serials or series in the detective/mystery genre.
ME: Sure. Here. (attached a link to an author on Amazon)
WRITER: No, I mean someone who is successful. Making money. Her books are mostly ranked in the 20,000s. She has one at 11,000 and one at 15,000 but the rest aren't selling all that well.
ME: She has 11 books in that series, all priced at $2.99-$3.99 and they are all selling copies every day. She also has a second series of 4 books that are selling every day. The highest ranked is at 11,925.
WRITER: Yeah, but she hasn't even got anything in the top 10,000. MY book is in the 20,000s same as hers and I'm not making much money.
ME: She has 15 titles.
WRITER: Is there anyone else? Someone who is successful?
A more recent email:
WRITER #2: Hey, TW, since you won't reveal your pen names can you point me to a successful sci fi series. (self-pubbed) But not an outlier.
ME: Yeah. Here you go. (link to sci fi series on Amazon)
WRITER #2: No, his books aren't what I meant. I mean somebody making money.
ME: He is making money. Six books in the first series and the most recent was published in April but is still at 17,000 way after the "30 day cliff", showing he has a fan base. All the books are priced at $3.99 and the first in his new series is ranked at 11,000.
WRITER #2: I meant someone who has books in the top 2 or 3 hundred ranks.
ME: You said, "Not an outlier."
WRITER #2: Not an outlier but someone successful.
ME: <expletive deleted>
Here is something to think about:
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO WRITE BESTSELLERS TO BUILD A CAREER AS A FULL-TIME AUTHOR!
Hugh Howey has said that the real story of indie publishing is the amount of authors quietly making enough money to pay their bills.
There are many, many full-time authors out there making a good living from self-publishing yet their books have never graced the Amazon top 100, and maybe not even the top 1,000. They are known to their fans but are not household names and they MAKE A LIVING as FULL-TIME authors. Isn't that great?
If you go and take a look at one of their books and dismiss it because it is ranked at #35,000, you aren't seeing the full picture. Where are the author's other books ranked? What about books you might not know about written under pen names? How many titles do they have out? How much royalty are they making? How much does this all add up to?
If you get enough titles out, you can make good money even if no single title ever becomes a bestseller.
Think about that for a minute.
If you write enough good stories, you WILL make money. That wouldn't necessarily have happened in the old world of publishing.
So next time you think an author is not a success because their books aren't all at super-high ranks, take a moment to consider how many titles the author has to and how long all those books have been selling. Do some mental math. Maybe that's something for you to aspire to.
…which brings me on to my next topic, which I call the "Hugh Howey Or BUST!" syndrome.
I'm seeing writers on message boards bemoaning their lack of sales and saying things like, "I thought there was money in self-publishing." or "My <insert genre here> books don't sell, therefore the <insert genre> is dead." or "I've been doing this for a year now with not much to show for it."
This ties back to the topic above and the writers quietly making a living at self-publishing. Those "quiet" authors might be inspirational for people moaning about their sales but the moaners are focused on the authors the media mentions whenever a story about self-publishing crops up …the BIG names. Outliers like Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath and Bella Andre.
In the "failed" author's mind, if he/she doesn't become a success as big as Hugh then what's the point?
Isn't the point that you want to write? You DO want to write, correct?
Because if you don't, there are much easier ways to earn a living!
In the old days, before self-publishing, you wouldn't have been able to make ANY sales without first querying agents and publishers, signing contracts that gave you very little royalty and waiting years for your book to come out. If you make even 1 sale of your self-published book, you are doing better than you probably would have with all those gatekeepers.
And in the old days before self-publishing, there was a quality every writer needed: PERSISTENCE
Manuscripts would go out to publishers only to be returned with form rejection letters. The author would simply send it out again to another publishing house. And again. And again. They knew they were going to have to work hard if they wanted to make a living doing something they loved. And while the book was out doing the rounds, they were working on the next one.
Do you have the same persistence as those pre-kindle writers or are you spoiled by the ease of self-publishing? Just because it's easy to put a book online doesn't mean it's easy to make a career out of it.
Not too long ago, before the advent of self-publishing, you would have had drawers full of manuscripts that would NEVER sell yet you would keep writing and keep improving your craft. These days, you can out your work up online and hope it sells but you still need to keep working and improving. Who told you this was easy?
NEW WORLD OF PUBLISHING…SAME OLD AUTHOR STRENGTHS NEEDED
This may be a new world of publishing where you can publish yourself but I put this idea forward to think about.
To make it as an author in today's world, you must possess the same strengths as authors in the old world possessed.
Meaning: Don't do something that would have killed your career in the old model of publishing because it will probably kill it in the new model too.
You need that tenacity and stubbornness to keep going in the face of adversity. In the old days it was rejection, now it's lack of sales. Like the writers who shrugged it off and sent out the manuscript again, do the same and write another book.
PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
Do you moan about your lack of sales? Think it's the genre and not your writing/covers/blurbs that is at fault? Want to do anything (marketing/promotion) other than write more books? Here are some solutions to specific problems…
PROBLEM: "I've been at this writing game for a year and am not where I wanted to be."
SOLUTION: Do it for 2 years.
PROBLEM: "I've been at this writing game for 2 years and am not where I wanted to be."
SOLUTION: Do it for 3 years.
…If you really want to be a writer, you will keep at it for however many years it takes. Look up your favorite writer and see how many rejections they had to endure before they "made it".
PROBLEM: "My <genre> books aren't selling. The genre must be dead.
SOLUTION: If you decide that a genre is dead, then it is dead to you. And you are dead to it. You could be making a big mistake turning your back on a genre you love. Opportunities are everywhere. Be a happy writer.
PROBLEM: My first book didn't make much money.
SOLUTION: Write your second book.
PROBLEM: My second book didn't make much money.
SOLUTION: Write your third book.
…if you REALLY want to be a writer you will KEEP GOING.
PROBLEM: There's an author who doesn't write anywhere near as well as I do but they make way more sales than me. It's disheartening. What's the point?
SOLUTION: You should only ever focus on YOUR OWN career, not anybody else's. You will be MUCH happier.
PROBLEM: Writing is a lot of hard work.
SOLUTION: Who ever said it was going to be easy? If you want to write, you won't mind doing the work.
PROBLEM: Writing is too much hard work.
SOLUTION: Get another job, An easier one. And forget all about that nasty writing.
BE THE WRITER YOU WANT TO BE
Don't spend your time focusing on the outliers. Concentrate on your own career and make it the best you can. Aim high but don't try to follow in someone else's footsteps (it's rarely possible to do successfully). Instead, be a trail blazer. If you want to write pearl diver romances (and let's face it, who doesn't?) then do it.
But be honest with yourself and be prepared to work.