Fact: right now, more published books exist than at any other point in human history.
The reason is simple: the ebook explosion. And yet it’s not just ebooks. Observe Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and any number of a thousand vanity presses, and you’ll find that not only are there more books in print (or potentially in print) than ever before, but the number of authors keeps growing.
Every. Single. Day.
…we all need to step up our game.
Stage 1 – Writing a Marketable Book
If you’re an author with the intention of making money selling books (which you probably shouldn’t bother with) your competition is currently larger than any author has ever faced.
Tomorrow morning, it’ll be greater than it was today.
Next year, the odds will be stacked even higher against you.
And so on…unto the end of the publishing world.
And while the hundreds of ‘I’m not competing with other authors‘ memes are cute and optimistic, the fact is this: If you’re trying to sell books, you’re competing with every other author on the planet.
That’s why Stage 1 – Writing a Marketable Book – is the first and most obvious hurdle to new and established self-published authors. It feels like it should go without saying – if you plan to write, write well. And yet we all know our market. Due to the ease of publishing, the literary world is flooded with weak, poorly-written, badly-edited junk.
And so we’re going to make an assumption. If you’ve clicked this article, and if you’ve read this far, we’re going to assume you’ve written something worth reading. Your book is smart. It’s entertaining. It’s well-edited. If you were a famous author, you’d simply shuttle your new novel to the publisher and watch the sales and reviews stack up.
But this is where the assumptions stop.
And the struggle begins.
Stage 2 – Pitching your Book to the Masses
Before we dive too deeply into the muddled waters of the book pitch, I want you to do something for me. I want you to close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remove the following three-word phrase from your vocabulary. I want you to promise never to utter this phrase again. And I want you to promise it right now.
The three-word phrase I want you to forget?
“Check out my…”
You mean to say you’ve written a book (and remember, it’s good) but the only words you can think of to lure people into buying it are “Check out my book?” No. Just…no. If readers are going to build any desire to invest in your words, you need to awaken the same skills you used to write your novel and apply them to your sales pitch. You need to practice writing blurbs. You need to master using one or two sentences to not only describe your book, but also to hint at your writing style.
You need to capture people with words.
You need to make them say, “Whoa!”
Let’s look at the following sales pitches. You tell me which of these you’d be more likely to buy:
Pitch 1 – “Hey everyone! Buy my new book ‘Angels of the Seventh Dawn’ on Amazon today!”
Pitch 2 – “Upon burning fields and cities buried in ash, seven angelic spirits awaken to deliver humanity from the coming darkness. – Angels of the Seventh Dawn – Now available.”
That was easy, right? By the way, I don’t know of an actual book named Angels of the Seventh Dawn, but if it existed, I might give it a read.
The point is this: most self-published authors suck at pitching their books. They go through all the glory and suffering of writing something beautiful, and suddenly it seems their creativity abandons them. In their greatest hour of need, they become lost. They pepper the internet with boring ads, dull sales pitches, and no real content other than “Check out my book.”
Don’t ask readers politely to check your stuff out.
Light fires under their asses.
Stage 3 – You are More than the Books You’ve Written
So you say you’ve written a masterpiece.
Your new book, Angels of the Seventh Dawn, is the bizniz.
It’s bold. It’s epic. Readers will wet their underwear by the time they get to page two.
Trouble is, other than your mom, your cousin Marge, and two of your Facebook BFF’s, you don’t have any readers.
Do modern authors expect to write a book, however great it might be, and watch it soar atop the charts like some kind of cash-feathered eagle? Based on the number of complaints uttered by self-published authors across the internet, yes. But, c’mon now. Why would someone who doesn’t know you, who’s never heard your name or read anything you’ve written before, and who just worked their asses off to make $2.99 – spend that same $2.99 on your new book?
The answer is simple – they probably won’t.
Which is why any author who wants to make even the most modest sum of money selling books needs to create a presence. And by presence, I mean everywhere. To get known and to stay known, the self-published author (who lacks the marketing vehicles supplied by traditional publishers) must write far more than books.
Things an author needs to write:
Stories online – preferably free
Blogs – the topic doesn’t matter as much as the skill exhibited while writing about it
Words. Lots of them. Here, there, and everywhere, establishing who the author is, what they care about, and why they’re someone whose words are worth investing in
Oh, and more books (you thought three was enough?)
And in case authors believe grammar, spelling, and good proofreading are meant solely for their novels, they should think again. The internet is a cesspool of shitty wordplay, and it’s a writer’s job to rise above this. Be sharp with your blogs. Be clean and focused when telling stories. Go back and read your own sentences before hitting the ‘Post’ button. Be a grammar Nazi, but only for yourself.
I don’t know about you, fellow book reader, but the number of misspelled words, obvious grammatical mistakes, or incoherent sentences I’m willing to tolerate from the authors whose books I read is – zero. That’s right. Zero. If a writer can’t manage a simple Facebook post well, what are the odds they can handle the pressure of an entire novel?
Stage 4 – If your Presentation Sucks, Readers will Assume your Writing Sucks, Too
Is it fair?
Is it accurate?
Oh baby. Angels of the Seventh Dawn, your kickass new book, is really good. It’s got angels. It’s got dawns. It’s got…wait…what? A shitty cover?
There’s a ton of good art out there. And a ton of great artists. If you’re serious about the industry, and if you really want to sell books to more people besides your cousin Marge, hire one of these artists. Collaborate with them. Talk about the feelings you want them to convey through their art. And then, after they’ve worked wonders to create something for you, pay them. And pay them well.
The odds are already stacked against you, fellow writer. Why hamstring yourself by using boring template art or poorly-rendered, low-rez crayon drawings?
Don’t. Just don’t.
Your presentation doesn’t just include your cover art. It’s much, much more.
It means having a website, a good one. One that’s easy to navigate. One that includes cool graphics, links to your books, and a rockin’ bio.
It means learning how to write articles with subtle links to your content.
It means creating content that has nothing to do with salesmanship. Just sharp, engaging articles without any mention of your books.
And it means managing your personality online. Not mixing business with pleasure. Not overwhelming people with book ads. And not betraying yourself by spilling negativity onto your audience.
You’re not just selling books, baby. You’re selling you. It won’t matter how good your books are if your self-presentation is sloppy.
Stage 5 – You Can’t Cheat the System
Yes, you can hire a ‘street team’ to pile up 5-star reviews for your books.
Yes, you can use Bookbub to generate a giant sales spike.
And yes, you have a 0.0001% chance of striking it big with your debut novel, Angels of the Very First Dawn.
But there’s no substitute for quality writing. There’s no marketing strategy allowing you to ‘click it and forget about it.’ There’s no cheat code to worm your way to the top of the industry. You’re going to need patience, and a lot of it. You’ll also need discipline, a willingness to push other pursuits aside, and at least a little bit of luck.
And while walking down the long, hard road to making money via self-publishing, you might be tempted to complain. You might feel the urge to lash out at the unfairness of Amazon’s review system, the prominence of trolls, and the agony of having to deal with readers lobbing 1-stars your way. You might want to quit because you haven’t topped the best-seller charts.
Sit the fuck down.
Stop complaining online.
Kill your desire to post memes about killing off people in your books, how much you need coffee, or how great it is when people reward authors with reviews.
And get your ass into gear writing Angels of the Eighth Dawn.