How I increased my book sales

There are plenty of more tens where these came from. I want to be perfectly clear about this.  I do not sell tens of thousands of books (yet) every year.  I haven’t spent any marketing dollars since January of 2010 on any of my books.  I’ve never launched a major coordinated advertising campaign for any of my books.  I would say 90% of my marketing (or more accurately branding) takes place on this blog and my relentless (almost annoying) presence on various social networks.  So, if you’re looking to me to help you unlock the secrets to sell a million books, you’re likely to be very disappointed.  Trust me, when I figure that out, I’ll be on this blog discussing every detail of the trek.

My books sales hover in the thousands.  Not a blistering number of sales on the surface, but here’s the thing, I have increased sales every year.  Granted, I usually add a book to my arsenal every year, but even accounting for that, each title sells more copies year over year, and it all starts with my anchor book, The Takers.

Comparing 2010 sales of The Takers to 2009 sales to The Takers, I increased sales by 29% on just that title alone.  Taking all books into account, I increased sales 45% over that same time period.  I’m only counting print sales for our purposes here, but I’ve increased sales on the Kindle side of things, too.

So, how did I increase my sales so dramatically?  After all, I’m a self-published author.  Mainstream media wouldn’t know me if I sat down in front of them and pitched my books to them.  I’m not opposed to spending more money on marketing, but to this point, I’ve shelled out only about $1,500 since I first published in 2005.  I am not a household name.  To top things off, the publishing industry as a whole has struggled to increase sales since I entered the market.  This is not the golden age of publishing.  So, what did I do to sell more books this year than last year?  Here’s the list of things that I’m confident attributed to my increased sales.

1. Word of mouth – My books have a small fan base, but they are extremely engaged.  I have a handful I hear from all the time via email, this blog and my social network accounts.  They are champions at spreading the word.  More than a few of them are teachers, and they introduce my books to a new crop of students every year, to which I am extremely grateful.

2. Price reduction – I dropped my base price for my books from $15.99 to $9.99.  I never liked the higher price, but I didn’t have any flexibility in changing it until my POD provider (CreateSpace) had an overhaul in policy and created flex pricing.  I immediately jumped on the new policy and brought my pricing more in line with publishing industry standards.  It made me more competitive, and eliminated a huge sales hurdle for me.

3. This blog, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube – I’m fortunate to be a one-man shop in publishing in a time when I have access to the same tools bigger publishers use to brand their authors and sell their library of books.  Every day I use these resources at my fingertips, the more my brand gets out.  The world of publishing only looks like a sedentary lifestyle.  And in as far as the day-to-day routine is done primarily sitting on one’s ass, it is, but it is also a frenetic occupation.   Your mind is constantly in motion creating and looking for opportunities to get your name out there. And, we’re not counting the time you spend writing, rewriting and everything else that goes into creating a book.

4. Evergreen mentality – I don’t look at my books as having an expiration date.  Just because I’ve written and published a new book, doesn’t mean my previous books are no longer relevant.  I look at all my books as having equal value regardless of the date they were published.

5. Publishing every year – One way I’ve kept my fan base engaged is to provide them something new to talk about every year.  I’ve made it a personal goal to publish a new title every year.  Initially, I did it to keep myself sharp and hone my craft.  But, the unforeseen benefit of the practice is having those early readers returning over and over again to read (and buy) my next book.  One and done is hard to pull off unless your Harper Lee or Ralph Ellison.

6. An insane belief in the improbable – The odds are against a book doing well in the market.  Statistically, more people want to write a book than read one.  The odds are even worse for a self-published book.  If you take new books, and royalty-free republished books, more than one million books were published last year.  In 2005, when I first published, that number was around 270,000.  I’ve had to find my spot in an ever-expanding pool of offerings.  It would have been easy to give up a long time ago, and chalk up my exit to too many things stacked up against me.  But dreams are a funny thing. They are easy to conceive, but nearly impossible catch.  And as Dr. Robert Sapolsky put it, the more impossible something is the greater the moral imperative that it must be done.

So, there you have it. I know I haven’t given you any magic bullets or even gems of wisdom.  Succeeding in publishing takes the same one element every profession takes, hard work.  If you’re pursuing easy riches, you’re on the wrong road.  Writing and publishing serves a compulsion first, and with persistence, the money will follow.  So, lead with high expectations, and survive with an impenetrable sense of success despite you current struggles.

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Christopher Walken Voicemail on Marketing Books

Time to make a fool out of myself!  This a little game I like to play. What if Christopher Walken published my book? It makes no sense, and my Walken impression sucks, but what are you going to do? It’s strangely therapeutic. Spend any amount of time talking like Christopher Walken, and suddenly you feel like you can do anything. Plus, he actually came up with a great marketing idea. “Ring Tones!”

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How Can a First time Novelist Sell 1 Million Books? (Text Version)

Even bad fiction is art!

(Text version of video)

It is a question I am asked frequently by someone who has no concept of the true nature of publishing.  Selling a million copies of a novel is extremely difficult.  Can it be done?  Yes. I’m not here to discourage you and tell you to give up on the idea.  It is indeed possible to sell a million copies of your novel, just as it’s possible to make a hole-in-one in golf.  But unlike a hole-in-one, it takes more than persistence, practice and luck to sell a million books.  It takes a cultural shift.

What you have to understand is that novels are a form of art.  Some are more worthy of that label than others, but even bad art is art.  Successful art, art that becomes part of the water cooler conversation, has to be either loved or hated.   You cannot sell a million copies of a book that does not ignite some sort of passion in the reader.  Passion creates cultural shifts.  Cultural shifts are waves of behavioral changes that make art not just popular, but so popular it becomes common.

If you want to sell a million copies of your novel, all you have to do is rewire culture.  Easy, right? Here’s the rub.  In large part, readers don’t buy books, they buy authors.  In order to give yourself the greatest opportunity to make your book a cultural phenomenon, the author has to become a cultural phenomenon first.

Your personal brand has to ignite the same kind of passion you expect your art to ignite.  That’s where web 2.0 and your online persona come in. This medium – blogging, social media, web videos, etc. – this is where the reader in 2010 and beyond is going to get to know you.  This is where the cultural shift begins.

Your personal brand has to be bold, be consistent, and be authentic.  And as the builder of your personal brand, you have to carry on in the face of self-doubt and outside ridicule. Not everyone is going to connect with you.  Accept it.  Embrace it. Move on.  Not everyone who connects with you is going to buy your book, but they will do something more important.  They will spread the word about your personal brand.  Over time more and more people will be exposed to you and your book, and – we’re back to the golf analogy – with persistence, practice and luck – the cultural shift will take place, and you will sell a million copies of your book.  By the way, for those of you who are disappointed to still see luck as part of the equation, I happen to believe that luck is when preparation meets opportunity, so you can make your own luck.

Remember, your book won’t sell a million copies.  You will sell a million copies of your book.

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As long as I’m the least selling bestselling author unicorns will die.

I’ve decided I’m going to kick it up a notch this year and sell more books… a lot more books.  How?  First by picking a target.  Unbeknownst to Stephenie Meyer, I have decided that she and I are in competition.  We both published our first book in 2005; She with her first book in the Twilight series, and me with my first book in the Oz Chronicle series.  Her rise to the top has been meteoric, while I have clearly over-stayed my welcome at the bottom.  It’s time for me to move up.  

Currently, Stephenie has about an 85,000,000 copies head start on me, so I have my work cut out for me.  To illustrate just how far I have to go to catchup with her, I made this handy-dandy chart:

Move over Stephenie. I'm coming to take my spot at the top.

What’s that you say?  Insurmountable?   Not at all.  It is very mountable… er, doable.  Especially if you buy 85,000,000 copies of my books.  Yeah, didn’t think of that, did you? 

Seriously, I’m working on slogans for my “beat Stephenie Meyer” campaign that are sure to become part of the American lexicon in 2010.  So far, these are my favorites:

  •  “Every day R.W. Ridley sells fewer books than Stephenie Meyer an orphan cries.”
  • “If R.W. Ridley doesn’t sell more books than Stephenie Meyer in 2010, unicorns will go extinct.  I’m not kidding.”
  • “Have you bought one of R.W. Ridley’s books yet?  No? Jerk!  Didn’t you hear about the orphans and unicorns?”

Granted, they still need a little work, but I’ll iron out the details later.  The important thing to remember is that the fate of orphans and unicorns is in your hands.  Do the right thing.

BTW – I know the chart makes it look like I haven’t sold any books, but I have.  It’s just tough to register on a chart that tops out at 85,000,000.

Geeky Publishing Stuff – Who is today’s book consumer?

Found this awesome presentaion/video from R.R. Bowker on today’s book consumer.  This will only be interesting if you have a book on the market or want to have a book on the market. It really just re-enforces the growing influence of new media marketing in the publishing industry.

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Competitions for Self-Published & Independently Published Books

Here is a list of competitions for self-published and independently published books. None of them are the National Circle Book Critics Award or the Pulitzer, but if you’re an author or small publisher they are nice little marketing boosters if you win or place. Enter, win, sell books!

IPPY Awards – Call for Entries – 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards now open! Announcing the 13th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards, honoring the year’s best independently published titles. We’ll accept entries until March 21st, 2009 for books with 2008 copyrights or that were released in 2009.

http://www.independentpublisher.com/ipland/IPAwards.php

17th Annual Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Awards –

ENTRY DEADLINE: May 01, 2009

Win $3,000 in cash! Gain international exposure for your book! Catch the attention of prospective editors and publishers!

All books published or revised and reprinted between 2004 and 2009 are eligible. ( Writer’s Digest may demand proof of eligibility of semifinalists.)

Writer’s Digest is searching for the best self-published books of the past few years. Whether you’re a professional writer, part-time freelancer, or a self-starting student, here’s your chance to enter the only competition exclusively for self-published books!

http://www.writersdigest.com/selfpublished

The 2009 New York Book Festival has issued a call for entries to its annual program celebrating books that deserve greater recognition from the world’s publishing capital.

The 2009 New York Book Festival will consider published, self-published and independent publisher works. Click below for full details on entering the 2009 competition! Deadline: May 25, 2009

http://www.newyorkbookfestival.com/

2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards®

  • Open to independent authors and publishers worldwide
  • Enter books released in 2008 or 2009 or with a 2008 or 2009 copyright date
  • 70 categories to choose from
  • Cash prizes and fabulous awards
  • Exposure of top 70 books to leading New York literary agent
  • Earn recognition and receive other benefits from having
    an award-winning book

Enter the 2009 Next Generation Indie Book Awards® by March 15, 2009 to take advantage of this exciting opportunity to have your book considered for cash prizes, awards, exposure, possible representation by a leading literary agent, and recognition as one of the top independently published books of the year!

http://www.indiebookawards.com/index.php

Hollywood Book Festival – celebrating books that deserve greater recognition from the film, television and multimedia industries. July awards program and day festival. Deadline: June 25, 2009 More information at hollywoodbookfestival.com

San Francisco Book Festival – the summer of loving reading starts with Spring’s top book selections. Deadline: April 25, 2009. More information at sanfranciscobookfestival.com

Green Book Festival – The 2009 Green Book Festival honors books that contribute to greater understanding, respect and positive action on the changing worldwide environment on Earth Day. Awards and festival Deadline: April 10, 2009. More information at greenbookfestival.com

Beach Book Festival – The hottest reads of the summer season submitted for your approval. Celebrate your victory with a special promotional campaign to beach readers. Deadline: May 5, 2009. More information at beachbookfestival.com