As the publisher of Sky Warrior Books and a bestselling author, I'm sometimes at a loss as to how authors think their books will do well without them lifting a finger to promote. That somehow a press is going to publish their book and they're going to rocket right up the charts to bestseller. Or that they'll publish the book themselves, and the book will skyrocket.
The reality is much grimmer. Most books won't sell more than a couple hundred copies in their lifetime--including e-books--without the author's promotion. When my e-book, Prophecy of Swords , hit the Amazon bestseller lists, the trade paperback had already sold close to 300 copies from the small press. While that isn't a lot of sales, for a small press novel, it had beaten the odds considerably, since it held a hefty cover price of $18. Even at the publisher's discount of $16, that's quite a bit to swallow for a first novel by a new-to-the-genre author.
How an Instant E-Book Bestseller was Born
When I put it up on Amazon by myself, after offering it to two other publishers, I decided to put it on sale at 99 cents. Not a lucrative price, since I would only get 34 cents for each copy. Still, I decided that I wanted to appeal to the widest audience possible who would buy a copy. Three months later after I forgot about the book, I received a check for more than $100. That meant that I had to have sold more than 350 copies. I started paying attention. I also started analyzing what I was doing to make money. And I put my other two books on Amazon. Within 6 months, I had sold more than 4500 copies. Respectable for an experiment.
The Huckster, or No One Can Sell Your Book Like You Can
One of my friends and publishers calls me (affectionately) the huckster because I chat up everyone about my book. The reality is no one can sell your book like you can. Yes, I'm emphasizing this important point. While your publisher loves your work, he or she can't possibly sell it like you can. You can pay a publicist, but he or she has other clients too, and the publicist isn't as enthusiastic about your work as he or she is about your money. You are more excited about your book than anyone else. You know who your market is. You can best describe your book. You have the time, or should have the time to invest in promoting your wonderful novel.
Consider the book publishers. Whether they're small, medium, or NY gigantic, they've all been hit with the economy. The small and medium presses often have no publicity department, or the publisher or an editor is the publicity department. This person is already swamped with work. If the press has 10 to 20 authors, you're looking at vying for attention among 10 to 20 other authors vying for attention. If the promotion budget is next to nothing (and many are), you're better off promoting the heck out of your book. Even the big New York houses don't promote most authors. If you get some promotion, congratulations! You're a rarity. Most big publishers throw the books to the proverbial wall to see what sticks.
Promote your book. Let the publisher get your work looking professional and into the distribution channels; you need to promote.
At this point, I can hear some authors grumble. Why bother to promote when it should be the publisher's job? Well, because if you don't promote, your book won't make any money.
Let's take a look at Prophecy of Swords. If it sold to a press like Sky Warrior Books and the publisher priced it at $5, Amazon gives 70% of retail as a general rule for ebooks, but sometimes the percentage drops to 35% for certain countries. For simplicity sake, let's use the 70 percentage and say the ebook earns $3.50 a sale. My contracts to authors are at 50%, so the author will make $1.75 a book. For every hundred books, the author would make $175. In six months, if the book sold 4500 copies, we're looking at the author making $7850! I don't know about you, but most authors I know wouldn't turn down that cash. New York numbers? Maybe not, but you're making more than most authors published by New York presses in less time. Even at my $2.99 price point, you'd be making close to $5000.
So, if you don't promote, you're saying "I don't want five to ten thousand in six months." Yes, you can hope it will be "discovered" along the way--and some books do get discovered by accident--but with more self-published and even spam books, (aka "private label" books), what's the chance of that?
How to Promote on a Shoestring Budget
Promoting doesn't have to be expensive or consume most of your time. You don't have to live in con central or in a major city (I live in the wilds of Montana). The reality is you can promote well without spending too much or taking up all your writing time.
People like putting a face or voice or email with a book. Unless you already have a fan base who pick up your book and buy more the moment they see your latest book, the reality is that you have to build a base. That means establishing a presence on the Internet. And that means social media.
Yep, I hear all the time about authors who complain that they hate Facebook or Twitter or can't be bothered to keep a blog or update their website.
Is it worth $5000 or more in six months? How about another contract with your publisher?
Basic Promotional Tools for Authors
The following suggestions are free except for your time and will net quite a bit of sales.
1. A Website. Not a placeholder--a real, honest-to-god website with links to your books on Amazon, Smashwords, and your publisher. Have stuff about your books, excepts, cute pictures of your pets, and links to your blog. Don't know how to program a website? There are several companies with precanned website builders. Oh, and buy a domain name. Nobody wants an odd link that doesn't roll off the tongue. You need to have a domain name so you can print them onto business cards and link to it from other social media sites.
2. A Blog. Yes, really. I don't care if you post about your rotten day writing or your failed cheese souffle. Establishing a presence on the web and that you're human will gather a fan base. Visit other people's blogs and friend and link to them. Keep it updated at least once a week. (I'm bad about this, so do as I say, not as I do...)
3. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, LinkedIn and other social network accounts. I don't want to hear that you "don't get" Facebook or you "don't want to be a twit." Get the Net, dude. Your future fans are there and want to hear from you. Post interesting articles you've read. Comment about other people's posts. Friend other peoples' friends. Talk about your cat. Don't know how these work? There are plenty of books and free online articles to help get you started.
4. Email Lists. Whether you set up a free list (recommended) or pay to have precanned content, you can ask folks to sign up for your email list. Offer specials, giveaways, and other goodies like free sneak previews into books that your fans can't get anywhere else.
5. Exchange Promotional Favors. There's nothing wrong with helping out other authors in exchange for helping you out. Ask other authors to click the Facebook Like button on Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, your blog and your website. Ask them to select keywords for your books and click on what is available. Offer to review each others' books with the provision that your review is honest. Run a blog tour where each author is a guest writer for each other.
6. Try Something Different. Try podcasting your novel (if you have the rights to do so) or getting onto some e-radio shows. You know what's different about you and your book--don't expect your publisher to know esoteric things about you that would net you a radio spot. You may not have a large number of followers, but the interviews and podcasts will remain up a very long time.
Will This Really Earn Me Lots of Money?
As I always say, your mileage may vary. It's no guarantee that you'll do as well as I did, but you never know. It won't make a bad book sell well -- no one can fix that. If you're diligent and work at this, you can start seeing results. If you don't, you run the risk of having your books lost in the proverbial shuffle. The good news is that most writers aren't doing this, hence their books fall into mediocrity. Many authors fail to build fan bases, and then expect the book to sell itself. No one will buy it if they don't know about it. Now, get out there, because no one can sell your book like you can.