I remember having a dialogue with a writer friend a few years ago. She was chastising me for stressing the importance of luck in publishing. Her argument was that, if you work hard enough, you’re bound to succeed.
At the time, I was wondering if she was right and hard work was all it took.
After a decade in this game, I changed my mind. have now added prayers to luck as the most important factors helping with your career.
Now, it looks like I’m not the only one to think so. J.A. Konrath, one of the best-known Indies in the world, recently shared a sobering post called, Your Book Marketing Plan Won’t Work.
Even though you may think he methodically destroys all of your dreams, what he really does is debunk the myth of writing being some sort of get-rich-quick scam. Konrath himself used to make 800K a year from his writing. He attributes this not to his hard work or ingenious marketing, but to one single factor: luck.
Granted, without hard work, luck is insufficient (well, most of the time. After all, you could be the author of the next 50 Shades). But for most of us, it takes both to ever get anywhere. As Konrath points out, even if you do everything right–social media, advertising, marketing, publicity–the simple fact remains that none of these is a magic bullet which will skyrocket your sales.
As he points out:
NOTHING guarantees success.
Not past success.
Not a big advertising budget.
Not a big marketing budget.
Not social media.
Not any sort of plan that you read anywhere.
You can write the Best Book Ever, do everything right, spend a fortune, and not even come close to making any sort of money.
So, what can you do to improve your luck?
As Konrath confesses, the reason he broke out and made major money was due to pure luck. Amazon created the Kindle and allowed authors to self-publish with DTP (now KDP). Konrath was uniquely suited to exploit this new type of media because he had ten shelf novels that publishers had rejected, and he now had the opportunity to self-publish them while undercutting traditional publishers on price. Then, as ebooks grew in popularity, he got his backlist back and was able to leverage a whole lot of cheap books into a whole lot of money.
But when Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, his income cut in half, and has never recovered.
Luck again. Amazon giveth and Amazon taketh away.
As he points out, he has gotten some decent publicity. It never moved the needle on sales.
He has a very popular blog. It never moved the needle on sales.
He’s experimented. A lot. He’s done interactive ebooks (Banana Hammock and Stop A Murder), tried Kindle Worlds (now defunct), had three pen names, combined some of those pen names so he had a consistent brand, tried starting two ebook businesses, done book tours, done blog tours, traveled to 42 states, collaborated with over a dozen authors. He’s tried many different genres (thriller, sci-fi, erotica, mystery, horror), done short stories and novellas, edited an anthology, done audiobooks, advertised, had some big publishers, and won a few awards. Plus, he writes pretty good books.
And all that really counted was Amazon inventing the Kindle, and he luckily being perfectly suited to exploit that new opportunity.
And now he has a giant backlist, and Amazon is so well run it continues to recommend his books to readers, so he still makes a great living.
But… It is possible to improve your luck and sell a bit more than random chance?
Here are the things you need to do, in order of importance.
Write a lot of books. Be exclusive. Price them right.
The bigger your backlist, the better. And if the books are quality (great writing, great covers, great descriptions) then that will help.
Pricing also helps. Konrath has found that the best price point is between $2.99 and $5.99, depending on length and age (newer is more expensive).
And he makes more money going exclusive with Kindle Unlimited than he does going with other publishers.
Have a social media presence and a newsletter
You should be allowing people to sign up for your newsletter. And you should be sending out one newsletter a month.
Along with your newsletter, you should have a social media presence, at the very least Facebook and Twitter. And you should engage people with enlightened conversation and content on these platforms. But every once and a while, mention that you have a book on sale, free, available for pre-order, or recently published.
The people who follow you want to know that. So tell them on social media, and with your newsletter.
Advertise in moderation
You should certainly experiment with AMS, boosting Facebook posts and Tweets, Google Adwords, Ebook Booster, BookBub, and any others that are out there. But here’s the caveat; before you use any ads, look at other writer’s ads and then check the sales rank of their books using those ads that you want to try.
If GuaranteedEbookBestseller.com offers you a one-time only deal of advertising on their site for $99, check to see what books they are promoting, and check their ranks. That’ll tell you how well that service works.
Here’s what Konrath would tell his younger self:
One brand, one genre, stop experimenting, stop being a perfectionist, and just write five good books a year in the same series. Make sure they are professionally edited and formatted, have great covers and descriptions, keep length under 75k words, and make sure they have updated, clickable bibliographies in the back matter, pre-order pages for the next release, and newsletter sign-up forms.
Let me repeat them here in bullet form, so that you have a nice checklist:
- One brand.
- One genre.
- Stop experimenting.
- Stop being a perfectionist, and just write five good books a year in the same series.
- Make sure they are professionally edited and formatted.
- Have great covers and descriptions,
- Keep their length under 75k words
- Make sure they have updated, clickable bibliographies in the back matter, pre-order pages for the next release, and newsletter sign-up forms.
That’s the sum total of Konrath’s years of knowledge and experience.
Do that, along with a minimal social media presence and some moderate advertising, and maybe you can attain a following and make six figures a year.
Maybe. It still comes down to luck.
So, stop worrying. This is all out of your control. Stop trying to find the answer. There is no answer. No answer, no logic, no reason, not even any scientific cause and effect.
Instead, focus on your work. It’s the only thing you have true control over. Keep writing good books until you get lucky!
And, did I mention prayers?