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.