TEN SELF PUBLISHING FACTS STANDING IN YOUR WAY
(And What You Need to Do About Them)
- The Market
The market is huge. With an estimate sixty million books and fourteen million authors on Amazon alone, you are swimming in a sea of too many fish, all fighting for survival and there is not enough food to go around. It is a sea where the bigger fish will gobble you up, leaving the scraps for scavengers. The demand for books is simply outweighed by the sheer volume of available titles. Put it this way, if each book sold only ten copies in its life, that’s six hundred million sales. It does not take a student of economics to figure out that there is no way this situation can be sustained. Needless to say only a small number, perhaps as few as five per cent of authors will have a measure of success and of those, fewer still will make a living from their sales. In order to be successful (if sales are your only measure of success), you will need to sell a minimum of one thousand books per month. Of that, you can expect to earn a net profit of between a thousand and a few thousand (dependent on pricing) for your efforts. A good portion of those profits will be eaten up by purchases you made yourself of your own books to sell physically to the community. This leaves you with little left over. Even if you were lucky enough to earn say three thousand dollars (US) per month, this will hardly grant you an income to sustain your lifestyle.
The Global Economic Crisis is still a huge player in today’s market. Many experts expected the downturn to be over by now. It’s been almost seven years since the world wide market crashed and many European nations especially went under completely. People simply do not have disposable income and they certainly don’t want to waste even 99 cents on an unknown quantity. Yes, that’s you and me. Even America, once the most stable economy and the richest nation on Earth, has suffered through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Economic signs are good, but recovery has been slow due to natural disasters, the War on Terror and other factors.
- Self Promotion
It’s a tough business promoting your own work and getting tougher. The restrictions on who you can promote to and how you promote to them are becoming tighter, due largely to the amount of spam out there. People don’t like spam. But promoting your work by word of mouth does not generate enough interest on its own. Let’s face it, even with the best self-promotion you are still relying on luck. I have met people online who have won book awards and they still struggle.
The popular consensus amongst indie authors is that in order to promote yourself you have to give of yourself. This is rubbish. I can tell you as fact that I spent many late nights and hundreds of hours helping others promote their books, setting up a website for other authors, making tutorials, producing videos, blogging, writing articles, reviewing other authors, giving away books to gain reviews. Nothing I did helped me. All it did do was help others and whilst I have no regrets, the return I gained was minimal at best. In fact, throughout the period of time as an author that I gave of myself, not only did my own writing suffer, but my sales decreased exponentially to the point that I did not achieve a single genuine sale (I took off giveaways and gifted books) for three long months.
- Your Brand Name
You need to have a brand name. If you don’t have one, your sales will suffer and you will wander aimlessly in an ocean of souls who also have failed to see how important branding is. It starts with a unique business brand. Mine is Brave Bear Books (it was Red Bear Books, but it clashed with brands I did not wish to be associated with). You will need a domain name. They are usually simple and the simpler your branding, the more effective it will be. Since biting the bullet and purchasing a domain, I have noted significant additional interest in my brand and my books. This brand must carry through to your social media presence, on Twitter, on FB and other valuable sites.
- Illegal Book Downloads
This is the elephant in the room. Rarely do people discuss it. Instead, authors bury their heads in the sand and pretend it makes little difference. I remember one author telling me that any publicity is good publicity and the more books in the hands of readers the better, no matter how they get them. RUBBISH! Of course it matters. You don’t want people stealing your work, any more than a singer wants people stealing their songs. As to what can be done about this, you are limited. You can issue take down notices. Sometimes this works, but often your requests are ignored. Sadly, the impact of illegal trafficking of books has had a significant impact on sales worldwide.
- Traditional Publishing
Let’s face facts. Traditionally published books are always going to do better than self-published titles. This is simply because publishers already have access to the very best marketing and promotions and this will always be the case. The ultimate objective of any self-published author is to find a way for publishers to notice them and if you’re lucky enough to get a publishing deal, you are on your way. But even then, there are no guarantees.
- Professional Book Cover
It can be a very expensive exercise getting a professional cover made. It can cost you up to several hundred dollars for one cover. This is simply out of reach of most people. I make my own covers. I am proud of them, but they are not nearly as good as a professionally designed cover. They are the best I can do with what I have and good enough that many people have commented on their effectiveness. However, I always strive to do better and I have learnt a great deal about cover design and my own abilities over the last four years.
- Your Audience
Never forget your audience. Write books you would not only love to read, but books for your chosen readership designed to appeal to them. Having said that, do not be tempted to write for a pre-existing market. The only thing that will happen is you will find your story about vampires is one of hundreds of thousands of similar titles. Instead, focus on your niche market. Brand to people who desire books like the one you write. Choosing a narrow market where those books are hard to come by is far better than choosing a market flooded by certain types of books. Contact organizations, reading groups, libraries etc. who will only be too happy to stock your books. Find out about your target readers. What do they like? how old are they? Are they competent readers or just starting out? Don’t fall into the trap of writing to the audience. Write what you know you can, from the heart, but market the book to satisfy their needs and desires.
- Book Listings
Book listings on Amazon favor popular books. It is tremendously difficult to push your book up the steep ranks of like-books on Amazon and it will take a lot of sales to get there. My research has found that Amazon listings are unfair in the extreme and that’s because they make sure that perennial sellers will always be at the top. Even self –published authors who managed to hit the top seller’s lists, don’t stay there for long, pushed down by publishers who have exclusive deals with Amazon. Amazon might beg to differ and claim their listings are fair for everyone, but this simply is not the case. I have written about this before many times (not on this blog). So, don’t expect any special treatment and make no mistake, Amazon is in it for the money. They do not care if you become a best seller, they only care if you sell a handful of books. If every self published author sold just ten books, Amazon will earn millions from them, with little effort on their part.
You stand in your own way. If you choose to ignore advice from seasoned self-published authors who through hard experience have learned what I have, you are not doing yourself any favors. You need to approach this from the perspective of a salesman. You need to have a good product which matches the expectations of your target audience. You need to brand it effectively. It needs to look good. It needs to read like a book your audience will want. You need to appear at the top of search results. You need to have a shiny website with your own domain name. That name must reflect not only the books you sell, but your personality. It matters little how many reviews you have of your books. What matters is that people appreciate your work. Build your fan base and they will do the work for you. Do not be tempted to swap review for review or like for like. You will only find you are wasting half of each day on others, when you could be writing and promoting your books.
There is a tremendous amount of jealousy out there. It is hidden, but it is there. People you have written with and for and helped are the worst in some cases. They will promise much, but deliver little. It is not their fault. They want to be a success too, but let’s face it, of all the books you have read from others, how many of them can you honestly say are good. You might have written a four or five star review for them, but only because to tell them it is worth only two or three stars is asking for a backlash you can ill afford. It must be noted here that I have written revises for others and have fallen into the same trap. However, many of the reviews I have written are for books and authors I care about and I always strive to be honest and helpful, otherwise I simply don’t bother writing one.
Finally, trust yourself. Trust your own judgment. Trust your own work. If it is any good it will stand up to scrutiny, it will stand the test of time. You will give up many times. You will be overwhelmed by the shear size of the market, which is massive. But you are a writer, if only by default. Your legacy is the words you have arranged into a narrative, which has become a story others love. Don’t let a perception of failure ruin your dream. Keep at it. Keep revising, changing, altering, and perfecting your books until they are literally as good as you can make them.
There is coming a time when most so-called authors will give up. They will fall by the wayside. They will no longer write. When this happens, if we are patient enough, the right circumstances will make it possible for your work to shine. The rising Indian and Chinese markets are set to dominate the next decade. And they desire books in English as much as Hindi and Mandarin. There are good economic signs of recovery. The market seems to be on the mend and as things improve, people will once again have the disposable income to experiment with purchases and if your books are still there and you are actively promoting them, they will be bought and bought by people who will love them every bit as much as you, assuming those books are good enough, of course.
The purpose of this rather lengthy article is not to dissuade you, not to put you off, but to contextualize your struggle and to properly quantify and qualify your success. Too often we see failure as our own failure, when there are simply a multitude of reasons we might fail, most of which have nothing to do with the quality of our work, but the realities of the market as outlined above.
Copyright©2014 Paul G Day.