So now my novels have been out in the world for a few years, the question I keep getting asked is ‘how are the sales going?’ And just like when someone asks ‘how are you’, I need to decide at that point – do they really want to know, or are they just asking to be polite? Because there are a few things I could explain to them if they are really interested in the things I’ve learnt about that question as an “Indie Author”.
Firstly – what constitutes good sales? Where’s the benchmark? Lesson number one – don’t get hung up on trying to find out, because there are hundreds of blogs, vlogs and books out there that are dedicated to giving you the numbers to aim for. They usually sound something like this: if your book is anywhere half-decent, you should be selling at least x number of copies each week. Your mailing list should be attracting x number of new subscribers each week, and you should have x number of new followers to your blog (etc). If not, either your book is actually crap, or… you haven’t yet purchased my Self-Help-Marketing-Your-Book-In-Five-Easy-Steps book (sigh).
Yeah. I’ve read some of those. They’re not bad. They all start with the same basic principle, and that is momentum. How do you get book sales? First people have to know you exist. Therefore, write a blog and hope that the people who read it will like you. Then, you need those people to build a relationship with you, so offer them something. Like, for instance, exclusive giveaways or special offers – hence the mailing list. Hopefully then they will feel ready to take a risk on buying your ebook or ordering your paperback from somewhere. Okay, that’s fairly logical. Let’s not mind the fact that until I published my own book I didn’t even know that authors wrote blogs (I knew they sometimes did, but that was only if they felt like it was a good way to keep their fans happy, wasn’t it?) Not once had I signed up to an author’s newsletter. Again, never really gave much thought to the idea that they would even have one, and besides, I already get enough clutter in my inbox. If I wanted to buy a book, I’d do the simple thing. I’d go to a bookstore and peruse the shelves until my kids dragged me out again. Then, if I wasn’t quite hooked enough to spend the moulah, I’d head to the library.
Seems pretty obvious to me that getting my novel into bookstores and libraries would be a really big win. So why isn’t it there? It is certainly available. I have a publisher (Odyssey Books), my publisher has a distributor (Novella Distribution), the distributor sends out monthly catalogues to bookstores to advise them of the new releases. Sadly, so do many, many others (something like 7000 new titles each month!) and bookstores only have so much room on their shelves, and they understandably give first preference to the big renown publishers. To consider one of the indie-published books, what do you think it would take? Actually, this is a genuine question – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this ☺
Here are some of my thoughts – aka Five-Easy-Steps to Support an Author (in no particular order):
- Go to your library and ask for the book. Make sure they find it on that clever internet thing, because (at least if it’s an Australian library) it is available for them to order in and add to their list. Tell them to look under Odyssey Books or Novella Distribution.
- Do the same at your local bookstore (of course, you may be obliged to actually buy it then, but you know, it is actually quite a good book and of course you do have that nephew who loves to read, so a couple of copies might not be a bad idea… just saying)
- Join my mailing list so you know about any giveaways I’m running. Then you’ll have something you can share with your friends who will share it with their friends…you know how that works. I promise I’m not going to spam you, and of course you can unsubscribe at any time. This also has a huge added benefit for me, you see, authors like to help each other, so they often run these group giveaways, where they can promote a bunch of books free or cheap, and take advantage of each other’s marketing platforms to spread the word. Of course, they are much more likely to let me play if I have lots of people on my list to spread the word to.
- Talk to me on social media. Like and comment on things. This improves my visibility by taking advantage of those clever algorithms that are built into Facebook and Twitter that help you to only see the things it thinks you will be most interested in, ie, the things that lots of people like. Consider joining Goodreads. It is just like Facebook for book people. You can join groups and chat with people. There’s one called ‘Aussie Readers’, for example. Another called ‘Book Giveaways’ (why wouldn’t you join that one?) There are role-playing groups, music groups, reading challenges, games – something for everyone. And every time my novel is mentioned in any discussion thread, it gets exposure. Did I mention there are also lists you can vote on? Just a handful of votes could get me a nice ranking on the LoveOzYA list, for example ☺
- Reviews. Oh yes. That thing that keeps popping up to annoy you every time you buy something or go anywhere or even book a dental appointment. Seems everyone is hung up on them these days. Can I just say now that for a novel, having sufficient good reviews really is a lynch pin for marketing. Many advertising platforms won’t even take my money until I have a bare minimum of 50 or so reviews. Preferably with a nice number of 5-star ones. Also, remember those 7000 books per month that bookstores and libraries get offered? Guess what they look at to see if a title is any good? I can tell you now that the poor staff certainly don’t have time to read the books themselves. Lucky for them there are places that they can go to see what other people think of the book… They usually check Amazon US and Goodreads (so if you are going to write a review, it would be nice if you could copy and paste it to both). Remember, a review does not need to look like a Year 11 Literature essay. My favourite so far is from Isaac, age 15 – “I cried”.
So if you don’t want the big publishing houses to be the only ones to have a say in what you read this year (let’s be honest, that system hasn’t really worked for TV, has it, Firefly fans?) then why not check out a few indie titles this year? I know there is a lot out there, but please don’t believe those people who say that ‘if the book was any good, it would have a little penguin on the spine and be on the shelf at Kmart’. Those 7000 per month have been selected by professional publishers. They are all good. So find the ones you like and give them a bit of a boost. Then when one of them is picked up by the Fox Network and made into a TV series and subsequently cancelled, you can still go to bed happy, mumbling in your sleep ‘I told them so, the book was better’.