Been seeing a lot of posts about people discussing how hard it is to do self-publishing. And I sort of get it, (sort of, since I was one of those lucky ones who managed to write into a hot genre and find fans easily) because a lot of self-publishing marketing is counter-intuitive.

Briefly – Early Success & Write to Market

So, one of the things I should mention here and why a lot of people talk of ‘writing to market’ or ‘jumping on trends’ (e.g. writing magical academy books or writing in LitRPG) is because when you do so, you’re writing to markets that are particularly hot and looking for work. The fans do your work for you (so long as your cover and blurb are close enough to match) and you end up generating some, if not a lot, of sales.

A lot of the early success, one book success authors are like that. Yes, like me and a lot of the early LitRPG writers.

Now, I know write to market isn’t exactly writing to a trend (with actual write to market, you’re just positioning your work to satisfy tropes in a market that exists, whether it’s hot at that moment or not. For example, writing good epic fantasy that does a hero’s journey for a peasant well, with dragons) but I use the terms here a little interchangeably because a good written to market book should pick up some fans naturally.  

We’re setting this stuff aside, with some minor notation that most work, if you want it to sell, needs to have been written to market. Even if that is a market that no one really knows is a huge thing… yet. See Legends & Lattes as an example that has blown up cozy fantasy – an existing market, but somehow having hit the exact zeitgeist of the moment.

Putting that all aside and lucky success…

Launching a New Book

If you’re publishing into an existing market (going back to epic fantasy), it’s hard to stand out if you’re doing the same thing again with a peasant hero’s journey story. Your work might read great but the market is incredibly saturated.


Without doubt, you need to promote your work. Publishing your work and just leaving it on Amazon will see no sales. It just doesn’t work that way. If you think about how Amazon or people find your work, it can only be found in a few ways:

  • searches by keyword (peasant, hero’s journey, epic fantasy are all clogged…)
  • top 100 category views (bestselling ‘new’ books or bestsellers overall)
  • also bought on other books (available only if someone buys your books with others or soon after)
  • author follow e-mails (non-existent for new authors) or ‘you might be interested in these works’ e-mails from Amazon (non-viable if you don’t have sales).

Basically, in almost all of these unless you find a keyword that is in really high demand and yet no one uses, you won’t rank and be found.

So, people do social media promotions, try to acquire e-mail addresses and fan pages, get on TikTok and dance and all of that. Nothing wrong with any of that…

When most of that (unless you’re good at social media and have a following) won’t generate many sales. Even if you have a large following, you might not generate much sales. There are numerous ‘internet celebrities’ who put out work who just don’t covert.

That’s when people start reaching for paid advertising. And here’s where things get counter-intuitive…

Counter-Intuitive Marketing

Because really, the answer to should you be paying for promotions and/or paying so much attention and spending so much time doing social media outreach when you have one book is…

No. Don’t. 

Rule of thumb for paid marketing (and to some extent, even unpaid) is:

3 books in a series, 9 books standalone under a single pen name.

That assumes that you’ve got decent(>50% readthrough) in a series. Otherwise, you need a lot more books since the chance of people picking up the next standalone is slim…

So, here’s the problem.

You shouldn’t be promoting your work (paid mostly, but to some extent unpaid again) because the ROI of your promotions is just not there.

At the same time, if you do not promote your work, you cannot sell. 

You can’t really know your readthrough rates without buyers. You can’t even tell if your covers and blurbs are suitable till you have enough people coming by.


If it costs $0.50 for each click, and you earn $3 per book, then you need 1 in 6 clicks to buy your book with just 1 book. If you have 3 books, you can afford for that number to grow much bigger, because some of those readers will read the rest of the series.

And so you fall into this trap where you either:

  • pay a lot of money (often in the $1-2k range per book, some people spend more – and shouldn’t) to put out books that aren’t selling or;
  • pay a lot of money to advertise a single book… knowing the ROI is generally in the negative.

It’s why some people write to trend (chasing the next hot thing), others put out really low cost work (no or minimal editing, proofing maybe and cheaply made covers) so that they can push more books or just… give up.

What’s the solution?

Sorry, there isn’t an easy one. There are a few ways I can think of to get around the initial trap…-

  • posting to free publishing platforms like Royal Road, Tapas, Radish, etc to garner early fans (and potentially earn some money via Patreon, etc.)
  • spend time building up a social media platform early, including networking with other (successful) authors and building out a newsletter to help generate minimal sales at the start
  • learn how to do things cheap (covers for $50-100, proofing or getting free / low-cost beta readers and writing clean copy)
  • writing to trend to hit hot markets to generate early success with new readers. Hopefully, transitioning then to more permanent markets rather than ‘chasing’ sales
  • co-authoring with an established author / writing in an established universe. Bleed-through of readers is VERY minimal, but it can help jump start your career. It also (often) means a bigger paychque
  • working with indie publishers (or small publishers) who already have the marketing machine (e-mails of fans in the genre, social media pages, a stable of authors who can cross-promote).
  • being well off (yeah, it sucks. It’s the truth).

Can you think of other solutions to the initial new author trap?

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