I hate to have to be the one to tell you this, but as an author, you aren’t an outlier. You aren’t. You’re not Hugh Howey. Statistically speaking, it’s an extremely safe bet for me to say that you will never sell millions of copies of anything you write – especially over the course of just a few weeks.
But what you probably are is a good writer. You might even be a great writer. So how do you attain the success that you’re seeking?
Slow growth is the sustainable way to success as an author
The algorithms and marketplace of the last 1.5-2 years allowed unknown self-published authors to become overnight successes, sometimes regardless of the quality of their product. That 18-month period of the “free” gold-rush WASN’T the norm; it was never going to stay that way. Now the systems and algorithms are starting to normalize.
Is Amazon perfect? No. Is B&N or Kobo or Apple perfect? No. But the technology is still amazing and it’s still unbelievably liberating.
And yet, I’ve actually watched multiple authors on various forums publish their first book, with absolutely no prior following, openly discuss their first and second week sales numbers with smiling emoticons, and then after the sales fall off over the next few weeks, they post about how they are barely staying afloat… and that they don’t know what to do… and that it seems like the time of the indie/self-pub author is dead.
I say – GOOD.
Real success – the lasting kind – takes a tremendous amount of time and effort.
Did you know Issac Asimov is believed to have written or co-written 512 books (a New York Times article from 1969 credited the then 49 year old Asimov with 108 books and over 7.5 million words). Stephen King has published 55 novels and close to 200 short stories, and probably has many more that are yet unpublished.
So here’s a real path to success:
Write. Edit. Re-Write. Re-Edit. (Do this a few more times). Get a great cover. Write a great blurb. Publish. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Notice the three repeats there at the end. That is the key. Most series don’t find success until at least the third book. Most authors don’t find success for the first few years, maybe even the first decade.
But what’s really worth discussing when it comes to “success” in today’s marketplace is what that success looks like when it finally comes.
A real example from a brand new author (with numbers and graphics and stuff)
Last year, my wife deployed, my other business was doing well, and I had a lot of free time on my hands. I started writing letters to mail to my wife (a dying but extremely valuable art) and she eventually asked me to send her a few stories. (You can read my first ever post and a little more about the start of my journey here). That’s how I initially got into writing on a semi-regular schedule.
I never submitted to agents or publishers; never submitted a single story to competitions or magazines. I published my first book in late May 2013. I just finished publishing the 3rd in my current series, a short 12,000 word novella.
So far, in the 3 months I’ve had books available to purchase, I’ve sold roughly 1 book per day, per title. Just a single sale.
So, again, I ask: what is “success”?
Because under almost any metric you’ll find online, I’m a complete failure.
Yet, here’s the reality for someone who is a completely new author in 2013:
- In roughly 5 months (beginning of March to present day), my website has attracted close to 500 subscribers who are actively engaged in the articles I write.
- In the roughly 3 months of being “published”, I have 210 subscribers to a newsletter specific to my book series. (The cross-over between these lists is minimal, roughly 4%).
- In the those 2 months, I’ve averaged about 1 sale per title released, per day.
This is what those numbers project to be by the end of 2013:
- My website subscriber list should be somewhere between 1000-2000 people.
- My book series subscriber list could be anywhere from about 500 up to “who knows”. The reason this is hard to quantify is because I only have 2 titles out right now in the series (and an additional 2 under a pen name), whereby the end of 2013 I plan on having 8-10 books out.
- I plan to publish to all platforms later this summer. Should I be able to bump the 1-sale-per-day-per-title up to a modest 3 sales per day (across all platforms) and, accomplish my goal of releasing 8 titles by year’s end, I would be selling 24 books per day. 24 books per day at my current avg. profit price of $2.35 would equal just over $20,000 in 365 days.
Is it “success”?
It’s a damn good start. Maybe not to you, but for me, the idea that a very realistic minimum of $20k in 2013 with ZERO pre-established base before March of this year – I have to say that I think that’s quite amazing.
With the right marketing, my numbers could be well in excess of that projected minimum. And the key is still the long term. Look at what happens if I publish 8 titles a year, for the next 3 years.
With 50 titles available and STILL only 3 sales per day per title, that yearly income becomes $128,662.50.
None of this takes into consideration that if you keep your head down and end up writing and publishing 16, or 24, or 50 different titles, it’s a fairly safe bet that you’ll be selling more than 3 copies a day of each title.
Selling books is about understanding the slow and exponential growth that happens with increased volume.
The point of this post is to show that from writing 1000 words a day on your laptop over the course of the next 5 years, you could very likely end up making an additional six figure income doing something you love. That’s “never hitting it big” – never selling more than 3 copies of any title on any given day.
And that income should continue on forever. In the digital marketplace, your books never go out of print.
To me, it’s amazing what is possible for a new author in 2013. The technology and networking at our fingertips is nothing less than incredible. But you still have to write. Sit down, every day, and write. Write a little; write a lot. Just keep writing. Keep turning out great products and, eventually, you’ll find an audience.
Success isn’t something achieved overnight – it’s earned over a long period of time, with a tremendous amount of effort. But it’s very attainable – now more than ever before.
August Wainwright is the author of the Remy Moreau mystery series, which includes ‘A Study in Sin’, ‘The St. Mary’s Cipher’, and ‘The Red-Headed Order’. He also regularly writes about indie and self-publishing on his website at AugustWainwright.com.