Most books sell less than 100 copies.
Authors upload their precious works to Amazon and watch their sales numbers like a hawk. Their friends and family buy a handful of copies.
Then sales flatline.
Every week I get new authors asking me how to sell their books. Some are frustrated because they spent a thousand dollars to publish and have made ten bucks in six months. Others are about to publish and rushing blindly into a marketplace they know nothing about.
Am I the be-all end-all of sales gurus? Not by a long shot. But in a market where the average book sells under 100 copies, and when the first book of any series tends to sit near rock bottom, My first Gideon Ira novel has sold over 500 copies since I published it on October 4th. Every additional book in the series bumps those sales numbers again and again.
So let’s get down to some gritty truths.
What everyone does wrong
The biggest mistake I see new authors make is running to an author collective and trying to piggyback off the other members’ audiences. The average writer’s group has at best a couple hundred readers between them. If your group has thirty authors, and every author is sharing the group’s books to their audiences, imagine how saturated those readers are with suggested books. You may get a handful of readers, but it likely won’t go anywhere. You’re standing in a crowd of thirty other people all trying to out-scream each other while marketing the same product. You’re not special.
And author groups are notoriously terrible. They’re usually cliquish and full of people who crave fame. Get more attention than the darling prima donnas at the top of the roster and watch them turn on you like jackals. If you doubt it, lurk on the fringes of a group and watch how they gossip about authors just one step above them in the food chain.
Are other authors useless?
For sales, they often are. The exception are those authors dedicated to the craft who grind out their works and cultivate their websites and lists. These folks take the job seriously and tend to stand apart from the average members of writing groups.
It can be helpful to shake hands with authors in your direct genre. Share email lists, blog about each other, offer each others’ books in your Kickstarters, and the like. I’ve worked successfully with serious authors and got fantastic boosts from their serious approach. One of these was a personal mentor to me, and others are folks I’ve met along the way who churn out material even faster than I do.
But to trade resources, you’ll need to create some value yourself before you have much to offer these successful authors. If you’re starting from zero, you can shake hands, but don’t expect much of a boost from these folks yet.
Beware the author who spends more time talking about being an author than publishing new works. Everyone wants to hang out in base camp and talk about going to the top, but few ever make the final climb.
Everyone has their secret
No matter what author you ask, everyone believes they’ve got the pathway to sales.
For some, it’s algorithm manipulation. For others, free offerings on websites like Wattpad. Some authors claim fanfiction is the place to start. A few swear by email list trading.
The ugly truth is that every author needs to discover their own pathway to sales. But the common factor is this: Every author got their material front of a bunch of eyes. To sell books, you need raw numbers. The more people seeing your book, the better.
You don’t need a secret method. You need exposure to raw numbers of viewers.
There are, of course, some complicating factors.
Cover and copy
How’s your cover? This is a billboard for your product. If you skimp on the cover or pick something vastly outside of what readers of your genre expect to see, you’ve wasted your money. Lots of color, helps, brighter colors help with thumbnails, and a decent font goes a long way. You need to WOW people with the art and get them to click in. This is what your cover is for.
After folks drool over your cover and click in, they want to read a short synopsis of the book. This is what we call writing copy. You want to hook the right side of the reader’s brain first. This means they need to FEEL. Too many authors lead with left-brain stuff and explain about the book like they’re selling a set of pots and pans. Consider the following copy from my book Gideon Ira: Knight of the Blood Cross:
Demons and Necromancers haunt a burnt and blasted future in the ruins of what was once America.
A holy crusader sworn to slaughter the dark cults of Ba’al the Ever-Hungry must rescue a band of innocent children with his blade and blood-soaked gauntlets, or die trying.
All of Hell thirsts for his blood, but a man of God will never be broken. This holy crusader’s vengeance will be brutal.
The first book in a new heavy metal Christian pulp series.
Not a heck of a lot of info about the plot. I don’t detail every little thing he’s gonna do. But this copy makes the reader FEEL SOMETHING.
If your copy doesn’t make your reader feel something, you’re writing useless copy and will sell almost nothing.
The best thing to do is honestly go look up Nick Cole novels on Amazon and read his descriptions over and over. Odds are good you’ll buy a few of his novels in the process. He’s a master, and every time I write copy I ask myself if it’s Nick Cole worthy.
Market your products like you’re selling to hormonal teenagers. Big guns, big muscles, pretty models. Feelings. Aim for the right side of the brain.
This goes for both copy and covers.
Your social media profiles
Authors tend to be morons when it comes to marketing. This includes myself, though I’ve become an educated moron. We draft our Twitter profiles to be fun and personal. This is a total mistake.
People see you interacting with them on social media and click over to your profile. Do they find an immediate link to your best product? Do they find a link to your email list? Or is it all jokes and a pinned tweet of that one time you totally got over fifty likes?
If you want to turbo-charge your social media profiles, spend the $27 on this marketing course. I took the course, followed the suggestions, and doubled my book sales overnight. I was so amazed at the results I started shouting about it all over social media. The creator saw me squawking about his product and asked me to affiliate for him, which I now do. Not only did the course help me double my book sales and perfect my social media profiles, it made me a cool new friend and business contact to boot.
So where do you actually find readers?
In the places you least expect: Your current social groups.
Where do you think an author is more likely to stand out: In a writer’s group swarming with other authors screeching for attention, or in a group of marathon runners? What about in a church? In an office? In an anime club? In a marketing group?
The best advice new authors need to hear is that people will think it’s awesome you write books. The average person can’t do this and is awed by people who can. Some folks may know one other author, and this is likely someone who wrote a quick nonfiction guide to supplement their business. If you tell people you’ve written three books, watch their jaws gape open in amazement.
Then they’ll want to tell everyone in your group.
“DID YOU KNOW THEY WROTE A BOOK??” “They did? What’s it about? Where can I buy it?” “Right here! Everyone buy a copy and support our member!”
The vast bulk of my success as an author came when I quit all my author groups and started hanging out with successful people instead. Joining social groups around fatherhood, fitness, masculine virtues, religion, my daytime profession Psychology, and anything else where I had genuine interest. I engaged with those people like a Normal Human™ and forged genuine friendships with them. I mentioned my books here and there, and people thought it was so dang cool they had an author in the group.
Soon they were reading my books and talking about them on social media, blasting my Kickstarter campaigns on their blogs and email chains, and asking me to be on their podcasts to talk about non-author things but inviting me to mention my books while I was there.
And these were genuine friends. They wanted me to succeed because I’d helped them in their own pursuits, or they just genuinely wanted to see a friend rise above and get some attention.
If you really want to sell books, the best advice I can give you is to quit all your author groups and go make some real friends in other fields. Author groups give you a false sense of security because you sell one or two books and feel that’s your best bet. They also soak up time you could be spending forging real relationships with awesome people who will be SO AMAZED to learn you’re an author and who will demand you come on their video game podcast to talk about your books “that totally feel like playing a video game!”
Most authors with a single book jump straight to ads, dump a huge wad of cash into the system, and complain when they make nothing back. Learn how Facebook ads work with very specifically targeted audiences. Only advertise the first book in a series of 5, so you get a ton of repeat sales.
If you’re going to run ads, find someone who successfully markets products and pay them to teach you. Otherwise you’ll blow huge sums of money learning the vague system. Pay a professional to teach you.
Better than ads, though, are social media influencers. Make friends with them so they pump out your books, or approach them and ask for help marketing. Most of them will give you a fair deal to talk about your book on their blog or social media. If your explain your mission, they may even like you and agree to help for nothing.
And some people use bots. I haven’t had a lot of success with these yet, but I’ve made friends with a new business guy who swears by them. I’ll report back if I find a useful method.
Once you find readers, DON’T LOSE THEM
You need an email list to remind old readers about your new books. Don’t desperately find a new audience with each book. Hook them into your social media and email lists with free short stories and then tell them every time you release a new book.
Build sequels instead of standalone novels. Each new sequel in a series also sells the previous entries. Book 10 of your fantasy series will also sell books 1-9. Selling nothing but standalone novels may get you a few repeat sales, but nothing in the same ballpark as an ongoing series. At least aim for a trilogy to benefit from this repeat business.
This list is not exhaustive, but it should get you through your first few sales and into the real market. Your biggest goals are to strike the right side of the brain, get yourself into places where you’ll be unique, and find ways to get raw eyes on your products. And stay away from author groups, they’re mostly sand traps. If you don’t like it, fight me in the comments.
And if this post was helpful to you, take a look at my Patreon and help me rock my own sales.