Posted in Book Marketing, E-publishing | Posted on 19-01-2017|
2016 was a tough year for a lot of indie authors, with people reporting everything from flawed reporting and not getting credit for page reads in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program to no longer being able to get Bookbub ads to no longer being able to afford Facebook ads due to their increasing popularity with authors. Every year, there’s more competition, with more ebooks than ever for readers to choose from. Where the Kindle Store was once flooded with mediocre covers and blurbs full of typos, we’re now seeing lots of self-published books that look as good as (or better than!) trad published books.
The industry has matured, and a lot of authors are finding it tough to get noticed. More, authors that once sold well are struggling to earn what they did back in 2012 or 2013, even though they have more books out now.
Despite all that, some established authors had banner years in 2016. Further, I know of at least three authors who came out of nowhere, publishing their first books ever in late 2015 or early 2016, and went on to make six figures. Their first year in the biz. And none of them showed up with huge backlists to start out with (Granted, they’ve all been insanely prolific, but I do want to point out that these were science fiction and fantasy people, not authors writing romance or erotica or whatever genre you’ve heard is super popular).
For myself, I had my best year ever in 2016, on the heels of what was my previous best year ever (by a long shot) in 2015. Now I’ve been writing a lot (I launched and completed my entire 8-novel Fallen Empire series in 2016), and I think you’ll find that as a common denominator with a lot of the success stories, but I also don’t think you have to put out a book every month to make it as an indie.
I do think you need to be efficient as a writer, publisher, and marketer though, hence the title of this post. I’m going to offer a few suggestions for making the most of your time and making sure the books you put out sell.
1. Analyze what you’ve been doing with the 80/20 Rule firmly in mind.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the 80/20 Rule or Pareto’s Principle. There are lots of interesting applications, but as authors, let’s keep it simple here and suggest that 20% of the work is responsible for 80% of the results.
Once you’ve got a good-sized backlist, with multiple series out, you’ll probably find in any given year that roughly 20% of your titles are responsible for 80% of your income. This may be as simple as your backlist versus your new releases, but it may also be that one of your series, or one subgenre that you write in, perennially outsells your other stuff. If that’s the case, write more books like that!
I know, I know, as authors we don’t want to be accused of doing the formulaic or repeating ourselves, and we often try the new and different, but if you’re just trying something new because you feel obligated not to repeat yourself, well… maybe instead, you could put a new spin on some things that are, quite frankly, probably favorite types of stories or characters for you. (There’s a reason you wrote them in the first place, right?)
If you don’t have anything that’s selling well yet, then that’s when trying something brand new might be a good idea. Jump down to #3 in this post if you think that’s you.
By the way, this rule also applies to marketing, perhaps even more so than to writing books. If you make a list of all the things you do that fall under the realm of “marketing,” and if you’re good at analyzing where your sales come from through smart links and careful monitoring of campaigns (this is key), you’ll probably realize that a few of the things you’re doing for marketing are resulting in the majority of your sales. You’ll probably also find that a lot of things you’re doing are wasting your time or resulting in so few sales that you would be better served doing something else. Like writing the next book.
I know it’s a cliche, but it’s true: few things sell books better than publishing more books. As they say, you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy any tickets. I definitely put my focus on writing, and I always have. I doubt I spend more than 5% of my work time on marketing-related activities, and that’s counting my occasional Facebook and Twitter posts.
Look at everything you’re doing for marketing, and look at the results, and then run the WIBBOW test — Would I Be Better off Writing?
2. Learn how to write more quickly and efficiently so you can publish more often.
As much as I’d like to say it’s possible to make a living publishing a book or two a year, you’re going to find that dang hard as an indie author. (Few trad authors with fewer than ten books out are making a killing either — I know a lot of the scifi and fantasy trad authors doing well who started in the last 5-7 years have a lot of books out already).
I don’t think it’s at all surprising that I had big leaps in income in 2015 and 2016 because I’d gone from publishing 3-4 novels a year when I was getting started to closer to 8-10. Last year, including pen name releases, I believe I hit 12.
Yes, this is easier when you’ve already written several novels and you’ve naturally gotten better at doing it more efficiently, and of course it’s easier if you’re able to write full time, but I’ve met people with kids and full-time day jobs who are still writing 6+ novels a year.
I won’t attempt to give tips on how to improve your writing speed, since there are plenty of resources out there that cover it, but I will say that I outline, I turn off the internet if I’m finding myself distracted, and I prioritize my word count over anything else (yes, I’m sorry email friends — that’s why I’m always behind on my inbox) when I’m working on a new project. And that’s often!
For a more helpful resource, check out Rachel Aaron’s inexpensive 2K to 10K: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love.
3. Be smart about the genres and niches you write in.
No, this isn’t another “write to market” tip, though it’s probably not a bad idea to read Chris Fox’s Write to Market: Deliver a Book That Sells if you haven’t already. If that’s something that could work for you, by all means, go for it. I’ve seen countless authors talking about how they were making pennies and then finally wrote a book “to market” and suddenly jumped up to four figures a month in earnings.
But, for those who are like me, and never like reading (or writing) the popular stuff (like gag me with a spoon if I see one more vampire, man), there’s still hope. I’ve always been someone who, for whatever reason, is never interested in anything that’s mainstream. What can I say? I’m not very mainstream. (That’s code for: I’m kind of a weirdo.) The cool thing about indie publishing is that you don’t need to sell tons of any given title to make good money. The internet is huge. Your people who share your same quirky tastes as you do are out there.
That said, you can still be analytical about the series you choose to start. I’ve often said that even though my stuff is never to market, I do write books that have some commercial appeal. They’re not so quirky that the market is going to be severely limited.
If you have ideas for three or four different stories in a couple of different genres, go out there and do some research. (Chris Fox’s book can be helpful for analyzing the potential of any given subgenre on Amazon.) Which genres are trending upward? Are any underserved by trad publishing right now? Are any subgenres just coming into existence? We recently did a podcast with someone talking about LitRPG. A few months ago, I would have said WTF is LitRPG? Go look on Amazon. Some of the books with the keyword in the subtitle are doing amazing (there’s not even a category for it yet).
A few years ago, Amazon created new subcategories under romance. Science fiction romance and fantasy romance. I’d gone through a phase of reading all of traditionally published SFR out there a few years before that, and there sure wasn’t much of it. Once the category was created, it got easier to find more, more put out by indie authors. Not only did I buy some, but I made a pen name and wrote some (you can read my first and second posts on launching the pen name anonymously a couple of years ago). The stuff I wrote was far future space opera romance and not to market (aliens steal women from Earth for breeding purposes, go!), but it sold well because I published the first few quickly into an underserved genre that was still fairly new. And there was an audience for what I enjoyed audience, even if my pen name books were never going to launch into the Top 100 overall on Amazon.
On the podcast in 2015, we kept interviewing authors who were doing really well with space opera/military SF. A long time Star Wars/Star Trek/Firefly fan, I’d been thinking of writing a space adventure series for a long time. Since many authors were rocking it in what was another genre fairly underserved by trad publishing, I decided to bump a fantasy series I was planning to the side and devote most of 2016 to jumping genres and writing the space series. Again, my stories weren’t to market (it might be the only pilot-mom-goes-looking-for-her-kidnapped-daughter series out there), but they had enough commercial appeal that they found a readership. And as I’ve already shared, 2016 was my best year ever.
So before you commit to writing your next series, take a look at what’s out there now and what’s selling. It’s very possible that one of the handful of ideas that you’re excited about has more potential than the others.
Good luck, and I hope you have an amazing 2017!