One of the hardest thing to watch on social media is an author, usually a debut author, getting excited about their upcoming book launch and knowing they are about to get hit around the head with a hard dose of reality.
They’ve done the right things, built up a twitter or Facebook following, blogged about the book, sent copies out for review, told all their friends about the upcoming launch, pulled together a promo video and graphic, maybe taken out some adverts. The first few days after launch are filled with excited tweets, mentions of early positive reviews and chart rankings. Then, after a few days, maybe a few weeks, the positive tweets stop and an air of desperation sets in as the reality of life as an indie author hits home.
Part of the problem is that the authors most vocal on social media are those that have already seen self-publishing success. They got in early, made names for themselves through talent, hard-work and persistence, and are happy to spread the gospel of the new self-publishing utopia. They are telling the truth, from their perspective, but for the vast majority of authors the picture is very different. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find success with your debut novel, just that it’s rare – and with changes in the market, becoming ever more so.
In order to provide some balance, below are 5 truths I, and many other self-published authors, have experienced. This hasn’t put me off from a writing career, and shouldn’t put you off either, but at least you will be going in with your eyes open.
1 You need talent to succeed but it’s no guarantee
The days of being able to publish an average story with an OK cover and finding success are over. There are many, many talented writers out there producing fantastic books who are struggling to find an audience. I know so many brilliant authors struggling to get themselves heard. An excellent story, professionally edited, well presented and with an enticing blurb is the bare minimum entry criteria, and just because you meet it, it doesn’t mean you will be successful.
2 After your initial launch, you book will either take off or bomb – probably the latter
If you have worked very hard and prepped enough people, your book will sell a number of copies on launch. This number will not be as large as you expect as of the people you prepped, some will buy immediately, some when they are ready – no matter how often you’ve explained the importance of a good launch – and some will forget. Repeatedly. If you are lucky – and you have selected your categories wisely – your book will chart making it visible to millions of readers. It’s at this point your book could take off. If so, congratulations, enjoy the ride. More realistically your book will gradually slip down the charts and disappear from view. From then on in, expect sales of only a handful of copies per month, if that.
3 You are unlikely to sell thousands of books in your first year
I’ve yet to find the source of this statistic but it’s said the average ebook sells 100 copies. Not at launch, not in the first year, but over its whole lifetime. Now within that total sample you will get million sellers and zero sellers and your book could be anywhere on this spectrum but the reality is, despite excellent reviews and lots of promotion, your book will probably just tick along at best. Unless you manage to gain a promotion slot on a service like BookBub – especially difficult these days since the big publishing houses have started using their service – or you manage to generate great word of mouth – even more difficult, your sales won’t return to that initial launch peak for a long time, if at all.
4 Even giving your book away is hard work
In the past you used to be able to boost your profile by running a free or cut price promotion, but three things have changed since those heady days. Firstly, free books are not included in the overall charts, and although you do get a boost in ‘popularity’ rating, it’s not as big as it once was. Secondly, people’s kindles are full. Many have more books on them than they’ll ever read, so it’s now hard to even give away a book, let alone get anyone to read it. Thirdly, with Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, Oyster and the like, the big spending readers of the past now have access to unlimited books for a few pounds per month, lessening the allure of free books.
5 The best way of building a writing career is to keep writing and publishing excellent books – but it’s no guarantee
Most industry experts agree that the self-publishing gold rush is over and we are now in a period of consolidation. The good news is that some people will stop publishing, the bad is that there are many more to take their place. The best way to carve out a career is to keep writing books and to gradually build your audience. This should be your realistic expectation. If your sales rocket on launch and stay that way, congratulations, I genuinely couldn’t be happier for you, but the reality is that you will only gain through writing and publishing excellent books over a long period of time, and even then it’s no guarantee.
So what about you? What is your experience? Does what I say ring true or do you have a different experience you could share? I’d love to hear from you.
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It’s been wacky since I published my debut novel mid-October. I waited a long time to do it, as I wanted to make sure all my ducks were in a row. Got the professional help I needed, and even so, a number of proof-readings revealed more errors. As for marketing, I know the party is over with free book promotions elevating a new author’s visibility, but having said that, the quality of self-published paperbacks can now compete with anything out there if you do your homework.
I know that quality doesn’t guarantee sales. However, I’m pleased that I’ve become a bestseller in our local bookstore (yay!!!). The numbers aren’t huge and I’m still struggling to make that big splash online. What’s helped me handle the less than robust sales I still hoped for, were my low expectations going in. I’m a dreamer but also a realist.
I’m a relative no-name so I’ll continue to do what I can to market my novel. Meanwhile, I’ve written another that I’m pitching (don’t know if I’ll self-publish) and revising a third. Am I optimistic despite what you’ve written here? Yes, because I’ve already exceeded my expectations. I feel I’m now a legitimate author, having gone through the process with care and respect for the readers out there. Of course, I’ll need luck to continue my climb. I may get to the top yet, but if I don’t, I plan to enjoy every step I take.
Hi Diana, First of all congratulations on publishing your debut novel (and being a bestseller in your local bookstore)! I think you hit the nail on the head when you talked about expectation. It was because I saw so many people – myself included – believing they were failures when in reality their expectations were far too high. By pointing out the realities it doesn’t only help us reassess what we’ve achieved, but also allow us to plan how best to overcome these obstacles. I wish you all the very best of luck with your ongoing journey 🙂
It’s nice you can boast about your success after spending 500 words telling everyone else not to bother.
I don’t know whether you misread both my post and my reply here. I never said people shouldn’t bother. I just said that it’s unlikely you will gain instant success. I would encourage anybody to write a book, and if they think it’s good enough to publish it too. I would just caution them not to raise their expectations of what will happen next.
As for boasting about my own success, I’ve no idea where you got that from. I’m still at the early stage of my career. I have two books published, the first of which sold as I described in my post and has ticked over ever since. The second has just ticked over. I’m proud of the response my books have received from those who have reviewed it and my sales have exceeded my initial estimates (of 2 – I knew my mum and dad would buy copies) but less than my dreams. I have a long way to go before I can make a living from just writing.
Dylan, I love writing more than anything as far as work is concerned and you know I have faced all of the hurdles you have listed here in this excellent and realistic post, but I just want to add something if I may, and it is this: if you want something badly enough and are prepared to work hard enough, you will get it. No exceptions. There will be days when you get down, but absolutely categorically refuse to stay down. Don’t resign yourself to become a statistic before you start (ie accept that you’ll probably only sell 100 books just like the majority of self pubbed authors) and never let anyone tell you you can’t do something. People say there is no magic ingredient to success. I call BS. You already have the magic ingredient when you’ve decided to be determined in your endeavours – yourself. Yes it’s hard; nothing worth having comes easily. But don’t be put off trying because it’s hard. Everything worth having is hard to come by, but not impossible. When you love writing with every part of your being and can hardly think of anything else, you’re a writer, this is your day. Go get it x
Hi Heather, I was really hoping you would comment on this post. Yes, you’re absolutely right, although the key is not just wanting it badly enough but working harder and being more focussed than the majority of writers who want the same thing. The reason for writing the post was not to say “this is normal, accept your fate” but to bring a little reality into what self-publishing is for the majority of authors. Too many authors debut feel they are failing when what they are actually doing is OK, and it puts them off asking the next question, which is what are you going to do to take things to the next step?
You are a great example of somebody who has refused to accept this fate and turned things around through talent and sheer hard work.
Reblogged this on Lynette's Blog.
Reblogged this on ldbush21.
Genre divisions and expectations are real. You can try to write a book that is “a bit of genre X and genre Y mixed in with genre Z” but that’s a guaranteed way to publish a bomb. Research into what sells really pays off, even if you never make millions.
Research into the market is very important, true. I wouldn’t want to put people off genre-mashing if a Zombie Romance Western is what they want to write, but it is important to understand the likely consequences of those choices. I myself understood that near-future adult dystopian thrillers have gone a little out of fashion (despite being huge in YA) but wrote them anyway because they allowed me to explore ideas I couldn’t any other way. However, I did know that success would be more difficult because of the choice I made.
But still, you were able to define your genre. So many new writers can’t place their fiction at all. There is nothing wrong with writing the book you want to write, but you have to be able to place it with similar books.
Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.
I published a novel last year. Four star reviews on Amazon, paperback availability and a tiny handful of copies sold. I’m revising my second novel now. I’m writing short stories and poems, illustrating magazine articles and drawing comics. I keep up my blog and twitter with witty repartee and shrewd observations, stay active in the social media and comment on other blogs (many of which, like this one, tell a grim tale). I work as an interface designer for a Fortune Fifty company forty-five hours a week and get up at 4 every morning to write. The idea of “making it big” was ground out of me by my experience of playing in great bands. In America, we think value is determined by what people pay. Grumpy Cat made a hundred million dollars last year. So did Glenn Beck. This can’t be about the money. It is about meaning, value and craft. I know my novel has connected with a tiny handful of readers, and because my intentions of writing it had more to do with telling a good, true story as well as I could that connection is enough for me. If I came into this wanting to be Stephen King or John D MacDonald, it would be another story. There is no chance in this life of success as defined by other people. Success is a goal, and life is not a goal-oriented affair. It’s a process, and process is continual. The truth is out there, and it’s up to me to seek it.
Thanks for letting us in on your experiences. I think you’re right that success needs to be defined by yourself and that money isn’t the only measure of success (although it is the main measure people use externally). The key point for all of us is to understand what we want out of this process and then looking at how we can achieve that in the long term. There are thousands, possibly tens of thousands of people making a living from writing that weren’t just a few years before. For many this didn’t happen overnight but has been built up over years of writing and rejection. The key is that they kept pursuing their dream and made the most of the opportunities that came their way.
Well said. Thanks.
To me, this is a good dose of reality. I’ve been self-publishing for a little more than a year. There is certainly excitement after publishing a new ebook — but there’s also the reality that readers don’t exactly come rushing to read your ebooks. They do buy — but I think much of that is due to building a foundation. I have a blog where I post flash fiction as a way for potential readers to find me. I think getting your name and books out there takes time — so persistence and patience are very valuable.
Yes, building a foundation of readers is important. There are ways of speeding up this process and if you haven’t already I recommend you read the guest post from Heather hill on how determination and refusal to take no for an answer has paid dividends for her.
I’ll certainly read the post — thanks!
This excellent post reflects everything I’ve heard from authors. I’ve yet to have any personal experience with any kind of publishing, but these truths aren’t what encourages me. My inner desire and my hope for success will be the final drive and so far my authorship auto ain’t got no gas in it.
Tossing It Out
I would recommend to anybody to write a book, even if it’s just for themselves, even if it’s just as a challenge. Millions of people say they would like to write a book but only a very small percentage actually do. The sense of satisfaction you get from writing ‘The End’ is enormous. The process is worth it just for that moment.
Yeah, I think you are probably right about everything, but I also agree, it’s worth the journey, and it still makes life tick along nicely.
It definitely is worth the journey. I’ve not once regretted my decision to write and publish my books and wouldn’t want to put anyone off doing the same. Yes, it can be tough, but the majority of successful authors are those who refused to give up and broke down the barriers blocking them from their goals.
Reblogged this on C h a z z W r i t e s . c o m and commented:
Brace yourself. Someone said that, in independent publishing, 2015 will be the Year of the Quitter. I hope it’s the Year of New Solutions. Still, we have to know the challenge before we can meet it, so…
Thanks so much for re-blogging this. Yes, to some this might make grim reading but as you say, you have to know the challenges before deciding what you’re going to do about it. The majority of writers who have found success through self-publishing have done so because they understood the realities but refused to just lie back and accept their fate.
Reblogged this on Armand Rosamilia.
Thank you for re-blogging this. 🙂
Reblogged this on Official Site of Alex Laybourne – Author and commented:
Thanks so much for re-blogging this. To some this might make grim reading but you have to know the challenges before deciding what you’re going to do about it. The majority of writers who have found success through self-publishing have done so because they understood the realities but refused to just lie back and accept their fate.
Reblogged this on Peter Germany's Blog and commented:
A very interesting, and honest look at self-publishing expectations. Well worth a read.
Thanks so much for re-blogging this. The key is to understand the realities and then work out what you’re going to do about it to change the situation for you.
Its my pleasure. Its the mindset that I’ve got already after listening to other writers, and I’ve accepted ill most likely not make a living from writing.
Thanks for writing the post though as I think a lot of other writers out thwre haven’t realised this yet.
Thanks for this post. I started my writing career in 2014 with two self-published novels.They’re the first two of a seven book series. And my experience is a lot closer to what you describe than the people who crow about selling thousands of book their first year. I knew that I had a book that might take a little while to find its audience so I’ve been looking at my initial sales as market testing more than anything. The readers who have found me really seem to love the book. But my expectation is it’s going to take at least two more books into the series before I can hope to get any real traction. And that will take time and money and a lot of hard work with no guarantee of success. Kinda scary.
I’d like to add another truth to your list–your friends and family won’t be anywhere near as excited about your second book as they were about your first. My first month’s sales on the first book were almost exclusively driven by people I already knew excited by the novelty of knowing a published author. The second book, they were all like “yeah, yeah, so what else is new?”
I love you for this comment: “I’d like to add another truth to your list–your friends and family won’t be anywhere near as excited about your second book as they were about your first.” This is so true! But then, you should never build a business – or a writing career – based on book sales to friends.
The good thing is you are looking to improve your situation by finding your target audience. Many people put their book out there and hope Amazon’s categories and keywords will do the rest. I wish you all the very best on your journey.
I enjoyed this so much, I’m reblogging it here: http://gentasebastian.blogspot.com I hope that’s alright. I’d also like to add you to my list of Author’s Blogs, if you don’t mind?
Yes, I’d be delighted on both counts. Thank you 🙂
Thanks for sharing such an honest post, Dylan. Two things that I feel helped to boost my sales on Amazon were putting them in the correct categories and using the pre-order facility. I changed my trilogy to a new category when I was publishing book three and it made a huge difference to sales. It’s all about the reader finding you. If they like your work they will look for more. I self-published my first book two years ago in the hopes that even a handful of readers might like it and six books later I’m making a decent enough living as a writer. I never take anything for granted and every time I check my sales I am amazed and grateful that another group of readers have found me. It’s very rewarding and a pleasure in itself to see your book either in digital or paperback form but if you want to make a living as an independent author, it will take hard work and a lot of discipline, as with any other business.
Thanks, Jean, for telling us your story. It’s great to hear from somebody who is making a living from their writing and the advice you’ve given will be really useful to many people. As you say, you’ve used categories and keywords carefully to maximise your exposure but most importantly you’ve worked hard, focussing on your writing so you can produce a number of books over a relatively short period of time. There are no short cuts. 🙂
A very interesting, and honest look at self-publishing expectations. Well worth a read.
This post is very helpful and full of truth. We all have different experiences but we have to admit: it’s very hard to succeed in self-publishing, even if you have talent. Even if you do everything right. >>>> P.S. The text of the previous message is not mine, it belongs to someone else. I do not know how it got there with my name.
Thank you. Yes, for the majority of us it will be a hard slog but it doesn’t mean it’s unachievable. The best way forward is to keep writing, learn about the market and look to engage potential readers wherever they may be.
I’ve no idea what happened with the previous comment. I think WordPress is having a senior moment.
Reblogged this on onlybyyourblood.
Thanks so much for re-blogging this. I’m glad you found it interesting 🙂
I swore I would never self-publish. Typically, self-published books are awful. I didn’t wanna be guilty by association. Then Kindle/Amazon exploded. Then I started to understand there’s no shelf space for me. No one is going to move Martin, Jordan or Sanderson books off the shelf and put up mine. To the traditional publishing world I’m a risk. I changed my mind and decided to self-publish.
I had an written 3/4 of an epic fantasy. I pulled back and redoubled my study of how stories are structured and what makes readers wanna read them. I read piles of how-to write a great book, books. I came up with a totally new book derived from a back story in the “had written” epic. I did this because I figured out I would need to write a lot of books as self-published author to gain notoriety or credentials.
I read piles of books on marketing. Started a website (not a blog). I started an email list, too – but I started to late. Still working on that. When I finished writing my book I hired a professional editor. Then I hired a proof reader.
Meanwhile I produced a book trailer. Original epic music from an award-winning composer. It truly is an awesome piece of art on it’s on – graphics, teaser-wording, mysterious intro and epic crescendo etc. I had a professional book cover designed.
July 11, 2014 was the official launch day. My book was along side George R. R. Martin, Terry Goodkind and Star Wars books.
Everything paid off to a degree. Then I received many 5 star reviews on Amazon and I’ve sold about 3500 copies total, including hard copies. I went exclusively with Kindle Direct Publishing (And CreateSpace – which meant my book ended up on Barnes & Noble in print). My first book, Blood & Soul, was on the bestseller list for almost 6 months! That blew me away. It stayed in the range of about #18 – #58 most of the time. Once or twice it was #1. It’s still way up in the TOTAL ranking (#119,155 at this moment in the Paid Kindle Store) but I’m selling 2 to 4 books a day now. I’ve not promoted it for a month and a half.
I did not get rich or gain a lot of notoriety. But I made a dent in the universe and I consider that maiden voyage an investment and the cost of doing business at this point. I have a lot to write and a lot to learn.
All of that is fine.
My biggest problem is figuring out how to write and produce QUALITY books in a timely manner and consistently enough to make a name for myself while holding down a full time job to support myself and enduring everything life seems to throw at you when you trying to write.
Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m afraid I will have to disagree with your first point, at least from my personal experience. I’ve spent the last 9 months reading many self-published books. There have been books that were well written but not for me, a few that were poor, but there have been many that I’ve really enjoyed and one or two that were excellent. Still, that’s slightly off topic.
I think one of the important points you make is that you researched the market, hired in expertise where required and published the best possible book you could. I would be interested to know whether you felt the book trailer played any part in your book’s successful launch. I’ve never tried one because I’ve never been drawn to watch a book trailer. That said, it doesn’t mean others have a different opinion, so I’d love to know your thoughts.
Thanks for your response. I agree. There are well-written self-published books. I’ve just not found many.
I’m not drawn to book trailers either. Not because I don’t think they could work, I think, generally speaking, they are poorly done. The imagery is typically cheesy. A lot of them are too long. The music amounts to background noise. They tend to feel like a sales pitch or mini-documentary and thus are more informative than entertaining or enticing.
My book trailer feels more like a movie trailer (http://www.allengbagby.com/trailer/). Everyone involved did a great job. But it has only got 456 (at this moment) views. So I don’t think it played a big part in the success of the launch. But it is “evergreen” and will be seen far into the future. I figured out no matter how awesome a trailer is even it has to be marketed. Since I don’t have a built in audience, I must market the marketing tool! If I could get it in front of readers who love fantasy fiction I think a lot of them would buy the book. I sent out about 200 tweets over the last 6 months with a link to the book trailer.
I think my trailer discounted when I provide the link on Twitter or Facebook or in my subscriber list because big time readers are savvy to cheesy trailers and they have a resistance to them. So it gets lumped in.
I’ve tried, as best I can, to offer high quality on every level: book cover, editing, website and book trailer. I do this because I MUST separate myself from the crowd. It’s like American Idol, right? LOL. One chance to make a first impression and all that.
I want a reader to think, “Hey. If there’s quality in the book cover and the website and the trailer then maybe this guy put the same effort into actually writing the story.” Then I have a chance. That’s all I’m asking for. If I get enough chances then maybe one of them will be “the one” that reviews my book on Amazon or becomes a crusader for Blood & Soul, like I’ve been for books I’ve read.
I’m just trying to start off solid. I’ve got a long way to go.
Reblogged this on Abigail Lynn.
Thanks for re-blogging this 🙂
Thanks for this great article. Gained a lot of knowledge.
Hi, Dylan: I think you’re right. It is your overall body of work that eventually gets you attention, if you are destined to get attention, that is. I came to that realization gradually. James Michener said: “Being goal-oriented instead of self-oriented is crucial. I know so many people who want to be writers. But let me tell you, they really don’t want to be writers. They want to have been writers. They wish they had a book in print. They don’t want to go through the work of getting the damn book out. There is a huge difference.”
Since I was 15, I think I was the latter. I wanted to have written, not be a writer.
I had to learn that the payoff is in the creation, in the practice. How much do I love story? How much do I love staring at that blank page and coming up with something brand new, out of my head?
I self-published my first YA novel and companion journal for girls in 2011, after coming *this* close to selling the manuscript to a Toronto publisher. Sales online have been dismal, locally not too bad (hard copies). But it doesn’t matter so much. For me, in order to keep writing and growing as an author I needed to release the book to the world. Last year, my husband and I collaborated on a rhyming picture storybook and we’re releasing another this year.
Lots more story dead ahead. If, as Victor Hugo said, “a writer is a world trapped in a person,” then I’ll need the rest of my life to explore it.
Blessings and best wishes to you.
Thanks for sharing your story. Yes, I know many people who want to be written – I’ve even been asked to write a book for some of them – but there are less of us who actually go through with it.
I wish you all the best of luck for your continuing writing journey. 🙂
Reblogged this on Strange Writer and commented:
My co-writer found this and described it as ‘depressing’. I agree that there are some hard truths in this article, but I knew all these things before I decided to take the self-publishing route. I also stay positive… and do you know why?
Because it’s business. There are lots of businesses (shops/restaurants/services) trying to start up, and a lot of them fail. To me, that’s not a good enough reason not to try.
I think it’s only depressing if you believe you’re debut novel will become a bestseller. If you’re looking at writing as a business, starting small, working hard, reinvesting your profits back into it and having a clear plan, you’re more likely to build a successful career.
Thanks for your comment and for reblogging and all the very best to you and your writing partner 🙂
Thank you so much for replying. I think she used the word on a whim, because they feel like negative points. We both understand what you’ve said is realistic, however our reactions. There’s no spin to be found here, just cold hard fact (and just the way I like it), but some people do like a little sugar on their porridge 😉
Don’t worry, I wasn’t offended (and she wasn’t the only one to say so). I ran a few follow up posts about how to increase your chances of being successful. They contain a lot more sugar. 😉
Reblogged this on katywaltersreviews.
Thanks for reblogging this. I’m glad you found it interesting:-)
These are important points well made, and more new authors need to be aware of them! I recently wrote something fairly similar for Authors Publish magazine which detailed the things I wish I had known before I started my own indie journey. I think I also agree with the blogger who commented here that friends and family won’t care as much as you think they will. I have never had massive expectations personally, as it took me so many years to get brave enough to share my stuff, that sometimes I look at where I am now and simply can’t believe it. I am proud of myself for getting my books out there and I am thrilled with my reviews and with the lovely comments I get from readers. I’m only doing this because I have to write. I would write anyway, and getting it independently published and available to people is just another bonus for me. I think it is important for authors to realise the ground work they need to put into every aspect you have mentioned, and to accept early on that a couple of sales a month is probably as good as it will get most of the time. But that doesn’t matter to me. As Bukowski once said, if you want to be a writer to get rich, don’t do it! Do it because you have to. I am going to post a link to this article on my Facebook page Chantelle Atkins-Writer, as I have a lot of new authors on there who I think might benefit from it. More of us need to be as honest as this!
You should be very proud of your achievements. Writing a book is an incredible feat in its own right. Most aspiring authors don’t get that far, and then there is the large number who never feel confident enough to share their work. I wouldn’t resign yourself to ‘only’ writing for the love of it. It is possible to build a career from writing but it takes a lot of hard work and time to build your audience. There are ways to help speed this process up but no guarantees. Thank you for sharing your experience.
Not just for self publishers, either. Those of us with a small, traditional publisher struggle too because our publisher doesn’t have the huge publicity machine that others have.
The honest truth is that few authors have immediate success. Becoming a successful author usually takes years of hard slogging and the most important thing – not giving up. The good news is you can always keep marketing your old books. After all, there are plenty of people out there who won’t know they’re old. I keep looking for new avenues for marketing, both online and elsewhere, but it’s definitely not easy.
This is something I’ve heard from a number of authors and I think it’s one of the things any new author needs to weigh up when they are looking to publish – what are the positives and negatives of the different routes and which best suit my needs for this book.
You absolutely hit the nail on the head, though. With digital publishing and print on demand, our books are now available for ever. The more books you write, the more possibilities there are to make sales, the more your name will become known. This is the way most authors – indie and published by a small publisher – make their name. Thanks so much for your comment.