Paying It Forward vs Letting in the Wolves

That sounds horrible, doesn’t? Letting in the wolves. But it’s accurate.

A few years back when I first started getting serious about self-publishing the entire industry was much much more open about what was working. If someone went from making nothing a month to thousands, they immediately jumped on a public forum or raced to their blog to shout it to the world.

“Look! Here! These books, these ones right here. They’re flying off the shelves. I might be able to quit my day job!”

I was always a little surprised by how open people were about what was working for them and how well they were selling their different titles. And often when this was discussed it came down to a combination of “I wouldn’t be where I am if others hadn’t shared their stories first so I want to pay it forward”, “We’re all in this together helping make indie publishing legit”, and “There is no competition among writers. One writer’s success creates more readers that the rest of us can sell to.”

And I always wondered about parts of that. I’ve posted here before that there is something to be said for all of us working together to create respectability and a market for books. But that top 100 list only has 100 slots. And Bookbub only runs so many books a day. And AMS is a bid system. The more people who participate the more likely you’re going to get priced out of using them.

Now, when you see everyone as a friend who shares the same way you do, a little setback in one area is more than made up for by that same person helping you out elsewhere. I tell you about the Kobo promo tab, you tell me about how to use AMS in the UK. What goes around comes around and we all benefit.

But…

There are wolves in this industry. And even when people don’t mean to be wolves I sometimes picture the way self-publishing works as a swarm of locusts that come along and destroy a field full of grain.

You write a book to a hungry market and people notice and suddenly there are so many books in that market that are underpricing yours that you’re done. And the readers are sometimes done, too. Maybe you luck out and you established name recognition with those readers before the others arrived and they stay with you at your higher price. But more often they say, “Ooh, I’ll try Book B over here for 99 cents and see if it’s as good as Book A at $5.99 was.” It isn’t. But enough readers do that and you’re done.

Or you discover a method of advertising that works for you. Hallelujah! And then everyone else discovers it too and you’re sunk. You’re priced out by the folks with a hundred books under their name. Doesn’t take much sellthrough to make back your ad costs when there are a hundred books for someone to go through if they like what you write. Or you’re just out-classed by better covers and blurbs.

All of this has brought me to an interesting point. Because I still want to help people. It’s my default instinct. To say, “Hey, have you tried X?” Or, “No, actually, you can do well at Y.” Or to say, “Holy hell! Look at this book, it’s actually selling.”

But after having people basically copy my best-selling title and then use AMS to advertise the copy, and after having seen how whole genres overwhelmed by people looking for a quick buck no matter what it takes, I hesitate to share as openly as I did before.

My best AMS ad is over $12K in estimated sales at this point. I didn’t post when it hit $10K. Because when I did at $5K is about when that look-alike title came along. Thanks for sharing, f you.

So when someone wrote me today and said, “Hey, can you share your numbers on X because people don’t seem to realize you can do well at X,” rather than run right over and share, I wrote this blog post instead.

Because it’s tiring to be open about the little things that work and then have them taken away or destroyed. I know, it’s a competition. That’s what happens. But I don’t have to like it. And I don’t have to open the door to the wolves and tell them to help themselves.

Which doesn’t mean I’m going to stop sharing altogether. Like I said, not my nature to hold back. But I’m getting a little more leery these days. And I’m glad that writing is not life for me. That if I have to eventually walk away in disgust I can. (Turns out what matters to me is doing something where I have control, autonomy, authority, and visible accomplishment. And earn enough to pay the bills. For now that’s writing. Five years from now? We’ll see.)

Anyway. Something to keep in mind.

 

 

Author: M.L. Humphrey

I am a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 I have also been a published author who writes under a variety of pen names across non-fiction, fantasy, and romance.

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