The secret to making tons of money as an author is: There is no secret.
Yeah, that’s right. There’s no “If you just do X you’ll make it big.” It’s not just about marketing, it’s not just about a good book, it’s not just about great writing, it’s also about luck.
Otherwise 50 Shades of Gray would never have been big.
I got into a discussion on Facebook today where I tried to explain that to a fellow author who was feeling down about her lack of success (with only one book out, I think she’s doing pretty good if she’s sold so much as one copy to a stranger. I only sold 25 my first four months, all to people I knew), but of course that explanation was met (by someone else) with the same old same old:
“If you just do this, this, and this, you’ll be a bestseller like these ten authors I know about.”
I’m sure they meant well, but it’s this kind of comment that discourages authors – and especially NEW authors – because they see all of this “Do this. Do that. Do another thing.” and if they can’t do all of it – or even worse if they do all of it – and still don’t get “successful”, then their natural reaction is, “It must be because I/my books/my writing sucks.” Even if it doesn’t.
Half of Indy authors earn less than $500 a year and if we’re being honest and really looking through Amazon rankings and what not, as another site said, 90-95% of books never even make 100$. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hope for more, work for more, but at the same time it also means we shouldn’t beat ourselves up, make ourselves cry, or want to give up a dream because we’re not on the bestseller list. Thousands of other authors aren’t either. And, having been there, I can tell you that you don’t stay there forever, anyway.
But we’re in a business where sales numbers matter, and we all “know” that everyone else is magically super successful. These estimations are based on how other authors comport themselves, not real numbers, because no one is sharing real numbers except those few who are making it big. Why? Because if we admit our book didn’t sell a million copies, we’re admitting failure. We’re admitting that our work must be bad, that we must be bad. We haven’t advertised enough. We haven’t worked hard enough. Plus, if we let readers know that the book isn’t making millions, they won’t want to read it. People read 50 Shades because “everyone else was reading it”, not because it’s good.
Well, I’m going to commit the cardinal sin. Here are my sales numbers of all time through July 2016 (I am NOT including all the free short stories or your brain would melt, just the free novel length books)
- 2,892 – Shades of Gray Paid (9/09 – 11/14)
- 18,058 – Shades of Gray FREE (11/14 – 7/16)
- 1,815 – Legacy of Ghosts (10/10 – 7/16)
- 1,178 – Ties of Blood (9/11 – 7/16)
- 784 – Ashes of Deceit (6/12 – 7/16)
- 590 – Heart of the Raven (3/13 – 7/16)
- 454 – Children of Shadows (3/14 – 7/16)
- 325 – Clash of Legends (3/15 – 7/16)
- 158 – Masque of the Vampire (4/16 – 7/16)
- 324 – Vampire Morsels Paid (7/12 – 5/15)
- 489 – Vampire Morsels FREE (5/15 – 7/16)
Have I made more than 100$ per book? Yes. Did it take a lot of time? YES! I have between seven and twelve editors and/or beta readers for each book. I do eight or more rounds of editing myself to make sure I am crafting a good final product. On the promotional side, I have a website which is maintained and updated constantly, a blog that’s updated constantly. I do parties, facebook takeovers, blog hops, blog tours, and giveaways. I have a newsletter and a street team where I do monthly giveaways for “helping” me promote. I write and publish free short stories that tie into the book universe (there are currently 41 free shorts total!). I’ve gotten included in anthologies. I do guest posts and author interviews all over the place. I’ve done podcasts and I blog on the Helping Self Pubbed Authors blog. I took a free online course on website optimization full of tips and tricks (including making your clickable button a contrasting color to your site to make it more click-able). I’ve studied about, and created, marketing graphics- optimized for so-called maximum effectiveness. I’ve sought out reviews, hired people to handle my blog tours, jumped on twitter, used triberr, made tie-in boards on Pinterest (like my characters and places they have traveled). Basically, I’ve done anything and everything that is suggested for “success”, including keyword optimization “classes” and paying for listings on book bargain sites. I have done all the “right things” and, yet, you can tell with some simple guesstimation-math that I haven’t made a fortune. I haven’t even made enough to say I make a living.
So why is this? Is it because, as many would like to so casually say, I just haven’t done “enough”? That I just don’t live and breathe writing every second of the day? That I’m not a *real* writer? Is it because my books are bad? Because if they’re good and I’m really trying I’d be a monetary success by now. I’d have tons of money. I’d be rolling in the easy dough.
Wrong. Because writing is not a get rich scheme. Period. Sure, there are going to be a few success stories. Some people can get rich at anything, but just like in traditional publishing, those are few. How many Stephen Kings are there? How many JK Rowlings? How many midlist people you have never even heard of?
So, my point is not to say “boo hoo” (I’m happy with where I am). It’s NOT to ask for your advice, it’s to say that maybe we should stop judging success by whether we are making a fortune and start judging it by whether we’re writing books we love – books that our readers love – and quit worrying about whether we’re selling as many as everyone else.
Besides, it’s impossible to truly compare to everyone else because, you know, no one wants to cop to the numbers.
Have a pennies on a tombstone kind of day!