About two weeks ago I posted Leo Babauta’s inspiring article about how he conducts his business, and you can see what Leo has to say here. In honor of Leo, I decided to write something similar. Here’s part 1 of How I Conduct My Business as an Author.
1. I learned from those who came before me
When I joined the indie author revolution in 2011, I knew absolutely nothing about independent publishing. Nothing as in zip, zero, nada. I began searching the web for information, and I was lucky enough to stumble on a few websites that have been valuable beyond mention. The websites I turn to again and again for information, ideas, and plain old inspiration are (in no particular order) David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Digital and Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn. The truth is, pretty much everything I know about indie publishing and book marketing I learned from these nice people. What I like about them is that David and Joanna don’t make pronouncements about what’s right and what’s wrong for indie authors. Their attitude seems to be (to me) “Indie publishing is a grand experiment and we’re all in this together. I’m sharing what I’ve learned so far in hopes that this will be helpful to you.” And their posts have been helpful to me. I’ve had the success I’ve had because of what I’ve learned from them.
2. Forget about stats
Leo talks about this in his post (#10), and I agree. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. I’m not saying I never check stats. I checked my stats frequently last week because I was curious to see how the free promotion for That You Are Here was going. I’m trying to determine if the 90 day exclusivity of KDP Select is worth it, so I wanted to see how many copies were downloaded, if there were any new reviews, and if sales went up after the free days ended. If you have a promotion, then checking stats can be fine, especially if it’s a promotion you paid for since you’ll want to see if the promotion is worth it.
Otherwise, I’ve learned to leave the stats to themselves. Like Leo, I was obsessed with stats. I checked Amazon, BN, and Smashwords several times a day, as though things would be that different between 3 and 5 p.m. I made myself crazy wondering why I sold 20 copies of one book on Monday and 3 copies on Tuesday and 9 copies on Wednesday. Why aren’t the books selling as well on Tuesday and Wednesday as they did on Monday? Is there something I can do to change that? Then I realized I had lost focus on what was important. Instead of wasting time checking stats, I should have been writing.
The truth is, I can’t control book sales. I can do everything I can to make my books discoverable. I can write the best books I possibly can. I can hire a great cover artist who designs eye-catching, professional looking covers. I can tweet about my books, Facebook and Google+ them, post about them on this blog. I can do giveaways and blog tours. I can pay for ads on Facebook and Goodreads. But someone either chooses to buy my book or not. I love Joe Konrath’s no-nonsense approach to publishing, and I read his blog A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing at least once a week. In this article Joe talks about the role luck plays in generating publishing success. One author can do A, B, and C and have a mega hit, and the next author can do the same A, B, and C and not have the same success. Why? Because the first author had luck on her side when the second author didn’t.
I don’t find this disheartening. In fact, I find it liberating. That doesn’t mean I don’t do all of the above to get my books discovered because I do. It means there’s an element to book sales I can’t control, and that’s okay. I’ll keep writing more books, keep trying new ways to get my books noticed, and then I can let it go. Letting go of stats feels much better than being obsessed with them, trust me.
3. The power of free
I had great fun last week when That You Are Here was free on Amazon. I loved watching the novel hit #208 free overall and it stayed #1 in its two genre charts for four days, slipping to #2 on both charts on the last day. Thousands of copies were downloaded for free, and I loved every minute of it. Her Dear & Loving Husband has had over 100,000 free downloads.
You see, as an independent author, I don’t have unlimited funds to spend on marketing and advertising. Right now, for me, the name of the game is to get my books downloaded onto as many e-readers as possible, and I find free to be a great way to do that. Free costs the readers and me nothing, but as an author the return is priceless.
I know that not everyone who downloads a free copy of my book is going to read it. I’ve downloaded books for free I haven’t gotten to yet because, like other readers, I tend to read the books I’ve paid for first. But if my books are free at least I have a chance to get my books downloaded onto e-readers with a chance of being read whereas readers might not have known about the books if they had stayed in limbo on the paid charts. I believe the power of free is why the Loving Husband Trilogy has sold so well. The first book in the series, Her Dear & Loving Husband, has been semi perma-free since it was released in 2011. I say semi perma-free because I’ve played around with the price, but for the most part it has been free for three years. Her Dear & Loving Husband has had a lot of word of mouth going for it, largely because the book was free and people read it and told others about it. Never underestimate the power of word of mouth advertising. That, too, is free, and perhaps the most valuable kind of advertising because word of mouth comes from friends and family whose recommendations people trust. I’ve had so many e-mails from people who said, “I told my whole family about it!” or “I told my best friend about it. She loves paranormal romance,” or “My sister told me about it. She loved it and raved about it!” All the money in the world can’t pay for advertising like that. Seriously.
Shortly after Her Dear & Loving Husband was released in 2011, I was interviewed for a local Las Vegas magazine about the novel and about my work on The Copperfield Review. I mentioned to the reporter that Her Dear & Loving Husband was free on Amazon, and he said a former editor told him never to give his work away for free because you teach people what you’re worth. I thought about that a lot, but I came to the conclusion that I don’t agree. I do believe my work is valuable. In fact, I believe so much in the value of Her Dear & Loving Husband that I set the price as free with the belief that those who like it will buy the next two in the series.
Are there negatives to free? Sure, but not enough to make me stop giving books away. People who download free books may download books that aren’t the genre they enjoy reading, and readers aren’t afraid to say so in their reviews. So, yes, you do open yourself up to more negative reviews, but so what? I’ve learned not to fear negative reviews. Whether your book is paid or free, it’s not realistic to expect everyone who reads your book will like it. As long as you have more good reviews than bad reviews, it’s all good.
The biggest downside to free for a lot of authors is, well, the book is free, and if the book is free that means the author isn’t making any money. Even I with my limited math skills (that’s maths skills for my British friends) can figure that out. But I maintain that more people have read my books than there would have been without the free downloads. Not all the people who downloaded my books for free have gone on to pay for my other books, maybe not even half of them, but it’s still thousands of people who pay for my books after they’ve read one for free. For my vision for myself as an author, it’s a more than fair trade. I’m in this for the long haul, and I’m willing to sacrifice the money I might have made up front in hopes that I’ll find new readers for my other books.
Next time, part 2.