Here are the lessons I’ve learned from selling over a thousand eBooks since December of 2012.
So I’ve crossed another self-set milestone, things which are very important to authors. This one—more than a thousand ebooks sold. As of this article, I’m probably closer to thirteen hundred ebooks sold, but I’m not recounting. What I will recount, however, are the lessons that I’ve learned. You may have already sold your first thousand books, maybe even years ago. There may still be a nugget of information here for you. My experience may be of more help, however, to the author who is reaching their first one hundred ebooks sold. Or maybe you haven’t even published yet, and you’re still thinking about it, wondering if self-publishing is still the evil, stigmatized thing it once was. Self-publishing is not what it once was. In fact, it’s revolutionary, specifically because of the medium of the ebook. Oh, the ebook? That’s another stigmatized, demonized product of technology, right? I love reading, and prefer, a print copy of a book more than anyone. I especially love to stick my nose in it when it’s brand new. But the reality of today is that ebooks outsell print books. Period. And the trend is continuing. It’s not going anywhere. Let’s try to stunt my tendency to digress and begin.
LESSON 1: Write More
It’s hard to find time to write. I know—I, like the majority of indie authors, also work a full-time job that consumes most of my time. Luckily, I truly enjoy my job, and it is in the field of my passion: I teach English. The other benefit to teaching is that I get the summer off. What does this mean? Well, for the more undisciplined among us, not a whole lot. Maybe watching a lot of movies, eating junk food, relaxing, and just having a good old time not worrying about the stressors that are waiting for us when we go back to work. This is true for anyone’s vacation—whether two months or two weeks. What I’ve learned is that I need to have discipline to write. Otherwise, I’m not going to get anything done. And when it’s all said and done, the most important thing you can do to accumulate book sales is keep writing books, short stories, or novellas, whatever your thing is, in whatever genre. Because the ebook stores don’t care what length your book is (I’m currently working on my fourth full-length novel, but have a bunch of short stories and episodes out as well); either way, it counts as a sale. What I’m currently doing is working for me—I’ve taken a piece of advice from Stephen King—write 2,000 words a day. It’s so easy to do once you find your rhythm, that you’ll find yourself writing over your quota all the time. But no matter, just have a quota for yourself. Have an idea of what you want your writing discipline to look like. For me, during the school year, I write and publish serially. That means about 5,000 words every month. Even if you worked at that pace all year round, and didn’t get the luxury of a two-month break, you’d still have a novel a year. Now let’s say you upped it, and wrote twice that. You’d have two books a year. Remember, when I don’t work, I can accomplish 5,000 words in two days, sometimes one. In the end, write more. The best possible marketing you can do for yourself is create more digital shelf space for your books.
LESSON 2: Write What’s Interesting To You
Many people will advise you to develop your brand, and to stick to a series, and to make sure your readers know what to expect from you. I say screw all that. Sure, it might pave the road to faster riches, or a clearer picture of your work, but I say I’d rather write happily. Now, maybe someone who always writes in the same series, or genre, is happy. There are probably loads of writers out there like that. I am not one of them. I started out with fantasy, publishing my first book, the slow, crawling, archaic-language-ridden Darkin 1. It sounds like I’m bashing my own book, but I’m not. It was the kind of writing I was influenced by at the time I started it. When I wrote the sequel, I was still very much into the fantasy style of writing, but I was developing as a writer, and I believe we do develop with each new story we write. My prose became easier to read, faster-paced, and more direct. I wasn’t as much trying to impress any more as tell a story. Then, I decided I wanted to break from Darkin for a while. Will I come back to the Darkin Saga? Yes. I plan it to last six books. But, I don’t have to stick to it if I don’t want to. And I didn’t. I had a horror story stuck in my head, so I wrote it. It’s called House for Sale. It became my best-selling story. It was short, easy to read, and frightening. I went on to write another horror piece, but I’d had an idea for a science fiction story kicking around in the back of my head. So I wrote that. It’s currently in its rewrite, but I published it serially. It’s called Black Hull. And now that I’m done Black Hull, I’m onto a new story. This one is another scary thriller, but I’m working in my desire to tell a story in the first-person from the perspective of a child. So there you have it—write whatever makes you want to write. You know best when you’re excited about a story, or when you feel as if you’re shoveling crap and can’t wait to finish it just so that it’s finished.
LESSON 3: Learn About Marketing Yourself
This is a big one, but it comes down to this: you have to learn a bunch of stuff about how ebook promotion and publishing works. You also have to learn how to use various pieces of software, and how to create your own websites. This seems overwhelming, and impossible to some, but it’s actually quite easy. You have to find a place where you can accomplish things with guidance, one piece at a time. My new haven for advice is the Writer’s Café over at Kindleboards. There is no one there that would refuse to answer any question you have, no matter how inept you appear. If you’re willing to seek help, and listen to advice, they’ll give it to you. Also, find an author who writes about the indie author scene, someone who is doing well. I found Lindsay Buroker and followed her. I read her old posts about marketing and which websites to try. If you’re lazy, use her. I picked her because she was writing fantasy, and that’s what got me going, and she was what I still view as wildly successful. She eventually let me write a post on her blog, despite that my experience paled in comparison with hers. In the end, yes, you’ll need the Facebook page, the Twitter, the Author Blog, the covers, the paid promotions, the free promotions, and the knowledge about the major channels you should be on—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple iTunes. But take it one step at a time, and patiently wade through the experiences of others. They are widely available on the internet if you’re looking for them. Some things you’ll need to know in the realm of marketing, just off the top of my head: POI, ENT, BookBub, Goodreads, Kboards Writer’s Café, KDP, NookPress, Kobo Writing Life, Draft2Digital, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Mailing lists, good back matter that asks for a review—and on and on and on.
LESSON 4: Stay Open To Criticism—It Is Your Teacher
If you write with the intention of getting your stories into other people’s brains, then you need to be open to criticism. You need to be open to one-star reviews. You need to see these things as your teachers. If you can’t, then you’ll become static. Part of staying open to criticism is asking what others think about what you’re doing (let’s say in Writer’s Café, for example), and listening when they tell you how you could improve. This might be a part of your marketing plan, your website design, your book covers, your approach to writing, or even the spelling and grammar issues you’re having. You will really have to dedicate yourself to identifying your biggest weaknesses, whether it’s your writing itself, your ability to market yourself, or your ineptness with computers. I listen to what people tell me when they criticize something about my work. It doesn’t mean I’ll always fix it the way they want me to, but I’ll take it into my head, let it sit, and eventually, it will have an impact on me, if only to increase my awareness of others’ perspectives. And we’re trying to invade the perspectives of other people. That’s what writers do. We get in our readers head, at least we hope. And we want to stay there. So be open, ask for help in whatever area you need it, and listen.
LESSON 5: Read More
If you’re not reading a lot, you might as well hang up any ideas you had about becoming a successful writer. They go hand in hand. Again, I am lucky in that I have to read for my job. And in the summer I’m happier than a monkey with a banana. Why? Because I’m in control of what books I’m reading. Either way, to hone your craft as a writer, you must read constantly. That doesn’t mean every day, but then again, it does. If you balk at this lesson, then you may need to examine your true, underlying aspirations. Maybe you’re not in writing for the long haul. Everything we read has an influence on how we write, and how we think. I’m currently reading a book about the U.S.S. Indianapolis, another book about Teddy Roosevelt’s expedition into the Amazon, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, and The Making of the Atomic Bomb. Reading inspires you to write. I just finished Stephen King’s On Writing, and it is heavily influencing my thoughts on what it means to write prose. What are you reading?
The main thing it takes to sell a thousand books is willingness, effort, and openness. And then, specific stuff, most of which you’ll have to find through research and drive. I have listed some of the starting points here. I hope you write up a storm and make it happen.