It’s hard being a new author; most authors will confirm. You just finished your first manuscript, polished it fervently until it shine and sparkles (metaphorically), and it’s the nearest and dearest thing to your heart next to friends, pets and family. But when you enter the industry, you find yourself surrounded by honed veterans with tens and hundreds of manuscripts to their names.
Suddenly, your one little manuscript doesn’t seem so valuable anymore. It’s like having an old dog; it may not be the cutest thing, but its yours, and you want from the world is for them to see how special it is. Yet, you have no idea how much attention is sufficient, and how far you need to go before feeling satisfied.
After a month of swimming through the writing industry, I was able to sell a little more than 400 copies of my book, The Almshouse. (I did not hit my 500th sale until 3 days after my 1-month anniversary.) I managed to shove it onto the top of the Hot New Releases list for my genre. At its best, it was ranked 3,000-something in Amazon’s paid rankings, and currently it has 19 reviews. Without ads, it sells ~ 5-9 copies a day.
I had no idea what to make of these numbers until last week.
Earlier last week, I was curious as to whether the behavior behind sales for The Almshouse was standard, so I launched an old manuscript under a different pen name. (We’ll call this New Story.) I did the same thing for New Story as I did for The Almshouse, including advertising through all of the channels I’ve listed below in “Ads” and “More Ads” and discounting this new book at $0.99. The result…
I sold 5 copies in 7 days.
It was pretty bad. The gentleman who ran BKnights even offered me a refund because of the abysmal sales. (I still consider him one of the best promotional source; I’m just amused that even he had a hard time peddling New Story.) Regardless of how hard I try to imitate my approach to marketing The Almshouse, New Story simply refused to sell. After 7 ads, most of which were free or cheap, nothing worked for New Story. In the end, I was satisfied with my experiment, and a little prouder of my first book.
The rest of this entry is just a summary of the lessons I’ve learned this past month, but have yet to write down.
1. The first manuscript usually sucks more than the author realizes:
When I started writing ten years ago, I was an idiotic, entitled teenager looking to get lucky. I spent 3 years writing and polishing my first manuscript, and thought it a unique work of literature that the world must see. I spent a year querying agents, got a 33% return rate in partial requests, only to have the blasted thing returned every time with a “not for me.” Frustrated, I complained to several friends that, if only the agents would give it a chance, they would see it was a bestseller. This manuscript is now known as New Story, and the only one who ended up eating her words was me.
2. Friends make decent guinea pigs:
The best thing I did was attempt to read my works out loud to friends. Your friends love you; they want you to succeed. They will do their best to listen to you gush about your novel. So… if your friends’ eyes are glazing over when you try to reach them your work, you know your story is boring, and if you can’t even keep the attention of your loved ones, it’s time to rewrite or give up on the thing.
3. Marketing early is not optional, and neither is math: Amazon does its rank calculation based on “# of units sold” divided by “# of days the book is on the market.”
This means, for every day you do not make a sale, your rank will drop. (This part is common knowledge.) BUT… this also means that, the later you make a sale, the less impact it will have on your ranking.
For example: no sales in 2 days and 3 on Day 3 = an average of 0,0, and 1 sale a day; this will result in an abysmal ranking for 2 days, and a slightly better ranking on Day 3. However, 3 sales on day 1 with no sales for 2 more days = 3, 1.5, and 1 sale a day; this will result in a much better ranking than the alternative.
4. Stick to one genre, the one you read the most: I have no idea why I tried to write a paranormal romantic comedy as a teenager.
I am not a romantic. I’m not even funny. And the most recent book I’ve read involving any sort of hanky-pankying was The Great Gatsby. Most authors have a tendency to write what they want to read, so when they present their books to the public, it’s to draw in everybody else that share their reading habits. If you don’t read romance (like I don’t read romance) you won’t be comfortable writing a “steaming? steamy?” scene about your hot princess or knight in shining armor.
5. Grow thick skin, the kind people get after tanning too long:
Writing is not a competition, but that won’t stop some people from treating it like one. Unlike desk jobs (or in my case, law) there are trolls, and angry mobs, and even people with personal vendettas. If you read the writers forums, you’ll see some pretty interesting stories about readers giving reviews to the wrong book, or chefs getting 1-star reviews for their BBQ cookbooks from members of PETA. Remember: the reviewers mean less to the reviewers than the author. Don’t take anything one person says personally (yes, it’s easier said than done.) People read stories for different reasons. Some of them might be upset. Some of them might be drunk. Some of them might be rival authors. Just grit your teeth and ignore the reviews. Even Harry Potter has 1-star reviews (though goodness knows why.)
That’s all for now. This is just one person’s reflections. Feel free to take as much or as little to heart!