Last week I talked about what a successful self-published author I’ve become. I followed that up with a description of the strange stumbling block I’ve placed in my own path.
I suspect some of you would be a lot more interested in knowing how I found that success in the first place. That’s not so easy for me to spell out–to some unknowable extent, I just got lucky–but I did approach the whole process with a clear strategy, and I can at least share that.
Konrath’s Five Rules
I’ve discussed this before, but the foundation of my strategy was Konrath’s five rules. J. A. Konrath was a mid-list writer who walked away from his publishing contracts to self-publish and marveled at the amount of money he was able to make.
More importantly, he shared that information. Konrath dedicated his blog to informing other writers of the opportunities in self-publishing, and in the process he became the poster boy of the publishing revolution.
And he said the most important rules for self-publishing are:
- Write a great book
- Develop a professional cover
- Prepare a compelling product description
- Get 5-10 products up for sale (all meeting the requirements of 1-3)
- Give the process more than a year to gain traction
(If you want to read more about Konrath and his five rules, check out my series, “Should I Self-Publish?“)
Keeping at It
The last rule is really the hardest. I released my first book in October 2010, and my total profits from books in the following year looked like this:
Month Income Expense Running Total Oct. 2010
$0 -$500 -$500 Nov. 2010 $0 $0 -$500 Dec. 2010 $121 $0 -$379 Jan. 2011 $68 $0 -$312 Feb. 2011 $61 -$500 -$751 Mar. 2011 $16 $0 -$735 Apr. 2011 $82 $0 -$653 May 2011 $43 $0 -$610 June 2011 $36 -$500 -$1,074 July 2011 $26 $0 -$1,048 Aug. 2011 $79 -$500 -$1,469 Sep. 2011 $1,531 $0 $61
Those values in the “expense” column refer to the money I spent on cover art and promotion. Most of that was travel expenses for our out-of-state cover artists (who shot, edited, and supplied the actual artwork for free), and then the cost of the handful of printed books we ordered as proofs and to give away in promotions.
Eleven months in–even getting my covers, editing, and promotions assistance for free–I had invested $2,000 out of my own pocket and earned just over a quarter of that back. I was looking at a loss of $1,469.
Throughout those eleven months I had lots of opportunities to recognize the failure of my self-publishing experiment and give up on it. Instead, I stuck to my schedule, kept investing the cash and the effort to give myself the best shot possible at finding success, and in June I put out Taming Fire.
Then I started seeing sales. The first real check for Taming Fire sales arrived in September, and it was enough to get me positive. Ever since then, things have been improving.
Month Income Expense Running Total Oct. 2011
$3,973 $0 $4,035 Nov. 2011 $5,790 $0 $9,825 Dec. 2011 $3,865 -$100 $13,590 Jan. 2012 $3,154 $0 $16,744
That’s Konrath’s five rules in a nutshell: sticking to it and putting out more books while the others still look like failures. The magic of that approach is cross-sell. Once Taming Fire turned out to be popular, it started driving readers to the Ghost Targets books. You can see it in my sales history.
So, yes, I invested time and money to publish a lot of flops before I found success. But once I found success, those flops were still sitting there, waiting to sell.
Write Another Great Book
One question my literary agents asked me when we first spoke was, “How did you promote the book, to generate so many sales?” I did almost nothing. I uploaded the book to Amazon and Amazon promoted it for me.
The problem with the fifth rule (“Keep at it!”) is the constant temptation to accelerate success. Konrath said it takes at least a year, but what do you do during that year? Do you take out ads on websites or billboards? Do you print up fancy bookmarks to hand out at conventions? What’s your bus bench situation?
If you look around, you’ll find people suggesting all those things. You’ll find some better suggestions, too:
- Get involved in reader communities like KindleBoards.com
- Start a blog
- Build a following on Twitter
- Set up a Facebook author page
- Activate your Amazon Author page at authorcentral.amazon.com
- Start reading and rating books at Goodreads.com
These are all things worth doing. I prod all our Consortium writers to do every one of them.
But none of them will do as much to promote your book as writing the next book. That should be your top priority. It’s how you accomplish rules 4 and 5 at the same time. It’s how you find success.
Speaking of which…it was the release of the sequel to Taming Fire that allowed me to quit my day job. And I certainly haven’t slowed down since then. The next Ghost Targets book will be coming out next week, and once that’s out, I’ll be busy writing Ghost Targets #5 and The Dragonprince #3 and more short stories and another two standalone novels.
There’s the secret to success: Don’t ever quit. As long as you don’t give up, you’ll eventually get there.