The question I get asked the most from new writers is how to sell books.
I wish I could offer a magic bullet, but the truth is, there is no magic bullet. There are people who’ll sell courses to help you with your marketing strategies. If you take your time to do your own research, you don’t need to pay for this information. This information can be found in Google searches on the Internet, in writer forums (in places like Facebook, MeWe, and Kindleboards), in You Tube videos, and in ebooks on marketing and promotion. So before spending hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars on courses, I recommend you do some research to find out different marketing strategies to help you in your pursuit to sell more books.
Back in 2009, it was super easy to get noticed. This made selling without much effort pretty easy. But times have changed, and now you’re going to be confronted with this ugly reality:
The #1 problem facing writers is visibility.
To date, no one has ever been able to produce a surefire way to get noticed. Without getting noticed, it’s impossible to sell books. You have tools at your disposal, but just because you use them, there’s no guarantee those tools will do what you want them to. In the end, it comes down to luck. You have to be in the right place at the right time. You have control over the content of your book, the cover, the description, the keywords, where you publish, when you publish, your pricing, and the marketing strategies you’ll use. Yes, that is a lot a things you have in your favor, but ultimately you have no control over who sees your book and who buys it. Also, way more people will look at your book than will go on to buy it. But to get them to even buy it, they have to know it exists.
The most popular strategies I know to gain visibility are offering a free book (ideally the first in a series), running ads on Facebook or Amazon, getting a promo deal with B&N or Kobo or Apple, running ads at sites with a huge list of email subscribers like Freebooksy or Bookbub, and doing cross-promotions with other authors in the same genre you’re in. Those are all good strategies at your disposal. But will they secure sales? No. They help with visibility, but they don’t automatically equate to sales.
I have the most success with having my first book in a series free and running a Freebooksy ad on that free book. I haven’t run the numbers on the follow through sales, but way more people will download the free book than they’ll go on to buy the other books in the series. This has pretty much been reported across the indie author community. I like the free book method because it gives me an inexpensive and hassle-free way to get someone to take a chance on me. Yes, you’ll end up with some negative reviews this way, and you’ll end up with quite a few people who will “nudge” you to give them the rest of your books for free since they don’t want to buy books, but the people who are willing to buy my books have been higher because of this method.
Will that method work for you? I don’t know. You have to try it to find out. Most authors I’ve come across benefit from this method, but there are those who say the method backfired on them. They did better pricing Book 1 at $0.99. Part of it will depend on your genre. Some genres naturally lend themselves to free books being a useful strategy. In romance, first in a series free is standard procedure. Enough authors offer free books to make this a viable strategy. You have to look at other books in your genre and speak to authors in that genre to find out how well the free strategy works for them. Also, with pricing, you’ll have to experiment and find out what price points work best for you. In romance, most books are between free and $3.99. Only really successful authors can push the price point higher than that. But it seems that in science fiction, fantasy, and thriller, $4.99 and up yields some great results.
Another thing to consider is if you’ll enter KU or distribute your ebooks wide. KU is an Amazon program called Kindle Unlimited. In this program, your ebooks are exclusive on Amazon. You can publish on KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), which is Amazon’s platform, AND have your books be wide (on Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Google Play, etc). KDP is not the same as KU. KU is a program within KDP. If you’re in KU, you can only be on Amazon. Think of KDP as an umbrella. KDP has ALL the ebooks from all authors. KU is a box under the KDP umbrella and ONLY KU authors are in that box. I’m not in KU. I’m not in the box. I’m in KDP because my books are on Amazon, but my books are also at other retailers. KU comes with some perks like countdown deals, but the biggest advantage is that readers who pay a monthly fee to the KU subscription program can read as many KU books as they want. This makes KU books “free” to them. That makes it easier for KU readers to take a chance on an unknown author who is in KU. KU authors get paid a certain amount for each page the reader reads. Amazon sets this amount each month, and the amount will fluctuate.
Wide means that an author has their ebooks on Amazon AND other retailers like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Google Play, Smashwords, Scribd, in online libraries, etc. There are small stores popping up and (unfortunately) dying off periodically, so it’s hard to keep track of them all. If you want your books to be on more than Amazon, do NOT go into KU. If you put your book in KU and put them on other retailers, Amazon might find out, and if they do, the result might not be pretty. Amazon’s been known to get tough on authors. If you’re going to be in KU, be exclusive to them unless you have a personal agreement with Amazon where you can be in KU and wide.
While KU is a tool, it is not a magic bullet. A couple of years ago, authors had a much easier time making money in KU than they do today, which I believe is to due to the amount of books in KU. There are new authors popping up all the time, and this naturally makes it harder to be discovered.
Amazon ads are a way to get added visibility in the Amazon store. These ads seem to do best on KU books. This was according to an author friend who tried ads on her KU books and ads on her wide books. Does that mean wide books don’t have any success on Amazon with those Amazon ads? No. It just means you might get more bang for your buck with KU books.
Pre-orders might be a way to gain some visibility, but you need to be proactive in letting people know the pre-order exists. Mention it in your blog, on social media sites, in an email list, and/or at the end of a book. For example, if you have Book 1 out, put Book 2 on pre-order and mention this at the end of Book 1. Or, if you don’t know the release date and don’t have pre-order links up for Book 2, you can use the back matter in your book to mention you are doing Book 2 and add a link to your email list so people can get notified when Book 2 is out. Yes, people have to read Book 1 all the way to the end to find out you have Book 2, but this is a free way to let people know this other book is going to come out.
I don’t personally do author collaborations because it turns out I’m not an easy person to work with. I have a hard time modifying plots and characters to compromise with another author’s vision of the book, the characters, and the world that the stories take place in. It turns out I am a complete control freak when it comes to writing. I even have trouble working in a series where different authors take on other books in that series. For example, I was offered an opportunity to participate in a 50 book series where I would only have to do one or two books among other romance authors. It was an awesome opportunity, but you had to work with some authors on what is happening with other people’s characters and you had to try to keep everything straight on the timeline with what happened in other books. That was just too complex for me. So I had to decline the offer, though it was an honor to be invited to do this.
That all said, if you are the type who can do collaborations, I think this would be an awesome way to boost visibility. You will be promoting other authors in this collaboration to your readers, and they will (hopefully) do the same for you. Most collaborations have benefited the authors extremely well, but I have heard of one horror story where one author in a thriller genre pretty much did all the work. So be careful who you’re doing this collaboration with. Another thing, the goal of the collaboration is to expand your readership. Be sure the authors you’re doing this with have the same audience you do. For example, clean historical romance authors should only do collaborations with other clean and wholesome historical romance authors. An erotic author will not be a good fit for a collaboration with clean romance authors.
After all that rambling, my advice is to think long term. Visibility is a long-term game. There will be an author here and there that will publish their first book or series, and their book(s) will just take off. I understand that it takes good books and some marketing savvy to make this happen, but it also takes luck. You have to be in the right place at the right time. People who are interested in your books need to be able to find you. So, use the tools that fit best with your budget and your interests, but also keep the long-term focus in mind. This is why I believe in writing books I love instead of writing books that I believe will sell the best. Writing to market is a tool you can try. But writing books you’re most passionate about is what will keep you going even when sales suck.
The part of the post where I go beyond the monetary worth of books.
Honestly, when we look at books as a price tag, we’re neglecting the possibility of a book having timeless value. I’m all for writers being paid for their work while they’re alive. Writers have every right to earn money with their books. But there’s also the side of the equation that looks beyond the money. You never know if someone will read your books and be positively impacted by it. You have no idea how many lives you might touch in a meaningful way simply because of the story you created. There is an emotional component to creating books that all the money in the world will never fill.
Also, there might be a spiritual component to why you write your books. You might be doing something God has called you to do, and while you won’t reap those rewards here in this life, you might get something on the other side. This, to me, is the most compelling reason I’ve found to embrace passion in my writing. I want God to guide me in every book I write, and I want to write in way that will glorify Him. One of my prayers is that He uses me to write romances that pay honor and respect to the marital relationship because I believe it is a gift he’s given us.
I don’t know what the motivating passion is for you. It might be a cause you believe in. It might be leaving behind a legacy for your children and grandchildren. Whatever your motivation is, that might give you something beyond money to focus on if it turns out you don’t sell as many books as you were hoping to.
And my final thought is this: don’t let the genre you write hold you back. Any genre can be used. For example, I might reach someone who will never read anything but romance, and you might reach someone who will never read anything beyond science fiction. But, ironically, we might have the same message. Who knows what power our stories can have that we’ll never even know about? When we look beyond the contemporary situation we’re in, our work takes on a whole new meaning, and we find something bigger and more important than ourselves to invest ourselves in. So I urge you to have a wider view of what your book’s worth is. Yes, it has monetary value, but it also has a much deeper worth. Sales are great, but they aren’t everything.