Alright, I was asked to do a post about indie publishing and common misconceptions, so here we go:
1) Series sell better than stand-alones, but book 1 will always sell the best
Generally, the best way to make money indie publishing is to publish series. The corollary to that is that book 1 will always sell better than any other book. So, if you sold a 100 units for book 1, book 2 would sell anywhere from 50-80 units and book 3 anywhere from 40-72 units.
There is some bump in sales when you release a new book in a series, but read-through rates generally trend around there for a successful series. A ‘bad’ series can be seen in much lower than 50% readthrough rates in book 2 and low uptake in book 3 onwards.
2) Genre, cover, title and blurb
That’s pretty much the order on what will sell your book (removing things like personal recommendations which you can’t control much). Genre matters because if you are writing in a genre that has 10 total readers (the Erotic Adventures of Lice and Bed Bugs!), it doesn’t matter how good your work is, it won’t sell.
Your cover needs to be on genre, has to tell your readers what you have written. Titles need to be memorable – unmemorable titles or those that cause confusion will be forgotten. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read who I can’t remember the title for which were great books…
Blurbs have to finish the sales job if your cover and title hasn’t. If a reader is going as far as to read your blurb, they are interested.
3) Promotion ≠ Marketing
Marketing has 4 Ps [Price, Product, Place (aka Distribution) and Promotion]. Most indie publishers focus on the first product and promotions, and forget the other aspects beyond a cursory glance at them all.
Don’t. Making strategic decisions on the kind of product you want to put out, the pricing method you use and where you’ll sell it (and why) will make for a stronger publishing business.
4) You will not hit it big with one book
Yes, there are exceptions (Andy Weir, etc.) but for the vast, vast majority of publishers, you won’t hit it big with one book. Even in a hot genre, a single book won’t pay your bills. Backlist – books you have published before – will help generate a certain $ amount in the future, but without constant promotions (and often, new releases in the series), that $ amount will drop constantly.
To make a decent income, you’ll need to keep writing and publishing. There is no specific number of how many books you need. It could be 3. It could be 6. It could be 20. But it is unlikely to be 1.
Also, on top of that, don’t do much paid marketing (if any) until you have at least 3 books out in a series or 7 standalones. You won’t be able to recoup your cost before that (mostly – AMS can be an outlier on that sometimes).
5) Advice is good, but we are all different
A lot of advice on writing, on how to produce great books, on how to get sales, is often prescriptive. Do X, you’ll get Y. You need to plot! You need to write into the dark! You need to edit! You need to do rapid release! Etc.
That said, none of that is truly prescriptive. Conditions change, genres change, individuals learn in different ways and manners. Some people learn mainly by listening, others by reading, others by doing.
Some people are discovery writers. Others are plotters. Many mix the two. None of that is wrong. Test it yourself to see what works best and be willing to test again in the future. You too will change.
6) Ratio of sales
Here’s my personal ratio of sales and what I recommend people use to estimate sales. 89% of units sold are ebooks, 1% paperback & hardcovers and 10% for audiobooks. Audio often pays much, much better per unit (approximately $4.20-4.50 per unit).
Within that, for ebooks Kindle Unlimited can be 60-80% of your ebook income (read revenue) if you have ebooks.
These ratios can change depending on book length, whether you are wide or not, etc.
7) The Kindle Unlimited vs Wide Debate
There is no right answer. It depends on your genre, it depends on your strategy. I know of many writers who do amazingly well releasing free work and acquiring thousands of patrons. They are wide because they make much more from patrons than going KU would (and also, more consistently!).
Kindle Unlimited pays you per Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENP) at around $0.0043 per KENP. That’s less than half a cent per page. This is NOT your paperback page numbers (unless you create 5″ x 8″ at which point it should be close(ish)). It requires exclusivity, but ONLY for ebooks.
You can have paperbacks outside of Amazon, same with audiobooks. Don’t limit yourself just because you didn’t read the contract.
8) Revenue is not Profit
Realise that when people throw around big revenue numbers (how much they earn without expenses); it does not mean that is how much they are taking home. Some authors hit big revenue numbers due to high advertising spend.
Others do so by releasing every month and word of mouth.
Don’t be fooled. Profit (Net Profit) is what you take home after you remove all your expenses. That number is what you need to focus on.
9) Editing is good, editing is nice. Editing might be necessary
You can self-edit. It might not be as good as a good, professional editor who has 20 years of experience; but it is possible to churn out quite readable self-edited work.
I can’t do it. I suck at editing (detailed work is not my strength).
But it can be done and I know of writers who do self-edit. Many have spent years honing their craft in other areas (journalists, technical writers, proofreaders) and who have learnt how to edit properly. But you can teach yourself to self-edit. There are books out there and tricks (reading backwards as an example).
You can even release your first books without editing. I did. I got hammered in reviews, but still got sales. If your story is strong enough, if the market demand is hot enough, you can get away with it.
But… maybe get it proofread. Proofreading is much, much cheaper. 😉
10) Your Next Book will still be your best Marketing
Nothing sells your previous books like your next book. This is generally true – if you already have a reader base. If people are looking forwards to your book, if you have readers, they will help you sell your previous books by the release of the next book.
Releasing more work indicates you’re serious in this business. Releasing a single book and then spending 6 months doing nothing more than promoting it indicates to most readers that you aren’t interested in continuing your story.
Write and release your next book. And take some time to promote some of your work, but you are a writer. Writing should be your main focus. The next book released will generally push all your other books up.
And one last bonus point:
11) Study Copyright Law
Yes, I know you’re not a lawyer. But you are a writer and publisher. You need to know about copyright law. Not just for your own work and how it works with regard to your own work (e.g. the poor man’s copyright registration of sending registered mail to yourself? Isn’t legally binding), but also on how it pertains to everyone else’s work (stop including lyrics into your books people!).
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