Good Writing Isn’t Enough

There’s a discussion on one of the writing forums right now about how many books are actually published on Amazon right now and how many authors those represent. And in that discussion someone mentioned that they knew an author who had published two brilliant novels and that those two novels hadn’t sold a single copy.

(My first reaction was, “You their friend who thought their book was brilliant didn’t even buy a copy? Or recommend it to anyone who bought a copy? Why not?” But I digress.)

That comment started me thinking, though, that oftentimes with a writing career, whether it’s on the trade publishing or self-publishing side, it’s very often not just about the writing. Yes, the writing needs to be there. You need to be able to write at a sufficient level to sell your book(s).

But oftentimes the difference between success and failure is in all the other choices you make. I had a friend who a few years back had two publisher offers for their debut novel. They were trying to decide which publisher to go with, but at that time there was really no visible difference between the two. The advances were the same, the royalty payouts were the same, and both were small presses.

Turns out one of the two didn’t do such a great job of paying their authors and that issue blew up right around when my friend’s book was being published. So choosing Publisher A meant a smooth first publication experience whereas choosing Publisher B meant having that book published while authors were vocally advocating for readers to boycott the publisher.

Some trade published authors were caught up in a Barnes & Noble dispute a few years back that meant their books never landed on the shelves of any B&N throughout the country. Others were caught up in the Amazon dispute that happened a few years back where entire publisher catalogs weren’t listed on Amazon.

Pick the wrong publisher, agent, or editor and your book publishing experience will be completely different from someone else’s. Happen to have your book published in the midst of drama and same thing.

On the self-publishing side it’s picking KU or not KU. It’s putting a book in audio or not putting it in audio. It’s publishing in print or not. It’s using that new distributor or not. It’s trying that new ad platform or not. It’s publishing one book now versus three at once two years from now. It’s pricing high versus pricing low. It’s trying permafree or not. It’s having a mailing list or not.

Any one of those choices can sink an author or make their career. And it’s not always clear which choice is the right one to make at any given point in time. You can take the exact same book, make very different choices, and have completely different outcomes.

Considering that author mentioned above who wrote two great books and sold no copies, think what advertising could have done for those books. (Assuming they had adequate covers.) Or think what asking friends and family to give it that initial boost could have done. (Yes, yes, I know that can screw up also-boughts so is not ideal, but if the alternative is no sales at all? Better to get a few sales IMO.) Maybe that was an author who should’ve continued to slog it out in the trade-publishing trenches.

It’s hard to say, but you have to think that there was another outcome for that author had they just tried something different.

We all makes our choices. Some of them the wrong ones. Some of them fatal ones–for that book or that pen name. (And some of them the exact right ones.)

A good enough book is just the beginning. (Which considering how hard that can be to master is a bit disconcerting, but there you have it.)

It’s All About Having Enough Product

Over and over and over again, I come back to this central conclusion: that writing success is all about having enough product. When I look at the authors I know who are really killing it, almost universally they have more than a dozen titles out under one name and those titles feed into one another.

It is incredibly rare (not impossible, but rare) for an author to be making six figures with just one or two books. I know authors who’ve done it. Who published a title and just seemed to connect to the zeitgeist of the moment and took off.

But the ones who steadily earn well year in and year out tend to be ones with a significant body of work. An oeuvre, as they say. (I tried to use that word years ago on the LSAT and could not for the life of me figure out how to spell it…)

Which makes sense, right? When I was doing the videos for AMS Ads for Authors and Excel for Self-Publishers I kept bumping up against this idea. The the more works  you have out there, the more effective and cheaper your advertising per title becomes.

If you have one book to promote, you’re kind of limited in what you can do with it.

Set it to free with nowhere for readers to go and it’s going to fizzle out fast. Not to mention, unless you’re in KU and get page reads, you won’t make anything off of it.

Set it to 99 cents and now you’re making 35 cents a sale which requires some serious volume to make any money worth speaking of. (Again, assuming we’re not talking KU reads to bolster you.)

Plus, then what? So someone reads and likes book 1 and then…That’s it.

They could love you and think you walk on water and are the best author in the world and re-read that book a hundred times and get tattoos on their body inspired by your book, but if there’s nowhere else for them to go, that doesn’t do much for you in terms of paying your bills.

I guess you could do a Patreon or a tip jar, but I like to deliver value for value, you know. So if you’ve just got that one book, you’re very limited in what you can make from it.

We aren’t selling toothpaste here. If you sell toothpaste, you hook a user, you keep your product consistent and your price reasonable, and they’ll buy it for the rest of their lives and you’ll earn $x from that customer every n months from here to eternity on that one product.

But a book sale doesn’t work that way. People usually buy it once. Maybe twice. Maybe three times at most.

Which means you need more product to offer them. You have to keep feeding that hunger.¬† Produce more to please those who like what you’ve already done. (Or find a way to make your books toothpaste…Calendars anyone?)

ANYWAY. Just a fun thought for a windy Tuesday when I have more ideas than time to implement them in.