A little bit about me. I've been at this thing awhile and have seen many changes over the years. I started writing in 2004, got an agent in 2005, was elected to a board of international fiction writers in 2006, sold my first book in 2007 and it released in 2008. I've judged writing contests, been involved in critique groups, and eventually started doing critiques for pay (of other authors' works.) During this time I also had a side job that consisted of getting good journalistic writers to write articles for a fiction (online) magazine and recruiting publishers to back the site by paying to advertise their books with us. I learned a lot about promotion through the process and discovered that well-known authors can spit on a piece of paper and sell it, but newbie authors can have an amazing book and still get passed over if the slots for the year are full (openings for new authors.) I also learned that publishers that pay an advance expect you to use part of the advance to promote yourself. Many authors got professional photo shoots for their promo. Over time it became more of what the author was expected to do if they were new because the big dollars went to promote the authors that were raking in most of the revenue for the publisher.
I had my first ebook release in 2009 where most people thought ebooks were the equivalent of self-publishing. They were not. E-publishers would pay for editing, cover design, promo and all things that a paperback publisher would do, but they would see how well the book sold in ebook format before investing in printed paperbacks. Those are called print runs. My first print run was fairly small (for my first book) and it was only about 4,500 copies. Then the trick was to get a spot in a catalog (the publisher paid for that) to make it possible for libraries and bookstores to get it. That was pretty cool to see my first book in a number of catalogs and available to purchase by libraries, etc. But as awesome as that was, by the time the money trickled down to the author, it was not much because the publishers had the expenses of editing, cover design, and a ton of other things they paid for (and let's not forget the agent gets 4% of your cut.) So needless to say when authors discovered ebooks had a larger profit margin, they no longer considered ebooks to be akin to self-published books. Here is an example of cover designs that were offered. Some don't give you as many choices and some don't give you any at all. I had 8 mock up covers for Letting Go. I ended up choosing #3.
I tried different things like book signings, radio interviews, store appearances, reading in local bookstores, magazine articles, etc. I was on panels at the RT book lovers convention, had my book "Their Separate Ways" (pictured below) featured in the RT magazine along with an article about marriage. I also taught several classes on marketing, visited high schools and attended writers events at libraries, was on a billboard at the Mall of America, etc. I always enjoyed being on "ask the author" panels the best. There were no limits to what could be done to make people aware of my books. But the one thing that seemed to always kickstart a new round of sales for me was reviews on other people's blogs or on Amazon. I had one fairly well-known author in the UK read one of my books and posted a review on her blog and the next thing I knew I had a major sales boost. I only got 7 cents per book, but that all adds up when you get over a thousand sales.
The market has changed so much now that it's almost hard to get on the bandwagon before it rolls over into something else. Have you noticed the fads that flood the market for awhile? There would be hundreds of vampire books releasing a year until the market was saturated. Amish books lasted longer than most fads, but even they started to wane after awhile.
I've tried all kinds of gimmicks to promote my books including a matching costume to having several covers on tee shirts that I would wear to get people's attention and start a conversation about fiction. I once sold a series of books to a lady I sat next to on a plane. She got them for her niece who loved to read but had everything (except autographed copies of my book, apparently.) Word of mouth is the best way to increase sales. There was a time when a simple mention of my upcoming book on Facebook or Twitter would cause massive sales. Those platforms don't hold the weight like they used to. Blog tours were a hit at one time, but now blog tours are not used to propel sales either. Then the book video trailer promos began and that trend also hit its peak and fizzled out. Whatever is the fad today is not often trending by the time you write that pop culture novel and send it to your agent. Social media has impacted writers in many areas of self-promotion as well. Paid ads don't make much of a difference. Reviews don't seem to have much impact anymore either. The latest trend is to give away books for free.
Yes, that is a problem if you only have one or two books. There are sites like Bookbub that boost sales, but getting on the list is hard and very expensive. I've known people to make thousands a month after being promoted on the site, though. I did a promo through the Booksends newsletter and it did boost sales for me. The price of books have gone down a lot. Giving away a book for free on Amazon use to result in a top ranking when it came off the freebie list. Then Amazon changed it so the boost in rank no longer transferred when they were no longer free. People started saying that any ebook over $2.99 was too much money. No, I am not kidding. So to sell a book (unless you are a big name NY Times best-selling author, ) you have to keep the price around $2.99 or less. And if you are not well-known, you may even have to drop to 99 cents to introduce a series.
With authors grouping up and offering ten books in a genre (Genre Crave does this promo) for free through Book Funnel, now authors have to compete with free. I'm telling you, it's nuts out there. But at least self-pub are no longer stigmatized due to their method of publishing. In fact, they renamed it "indie authors" to make it sound classier. And truth be told, people who started at the ground level are making about $100,000 per year now as self-published authors. Many well-read authors will get permission from their agents to put the retired books on Amazon and will sell them via an "indie" platform when their rights revert back to the author. I've done that with a number of books myself. Typically, after five years publishers will offer you the option to get your rights back. Most people take back them because it's more lucrative than just allowing a book to go out of print. But even that is getting tricky now. I had friends who through Amazon's kindle press independently made $6,000 a month around two years ago and are now only making about $1,200 a month. To boost sales you have to be creative in your approach. A fan base is critical to an author's survival.
In short, I've learned a lot about publishing, marketing, and promotion over the years. The bottom line is you have to be at the right place at the right time. No one can accurately predict how well a new author will do if a publisher takes a chance on them. It's a crap shoot and you may get lucky, or not... I equate it to real estate. It's your hope that the value of the home will go up after you buy it but no one really knows which way the marketing wind will blow. Many agents have commiserated over the years about wishing they had taken on an author that they didn't think would make it only to find out that they missed some million dollar deals. No one can predict with any accuracy what will become the next craze or fad. All they can do it give it their best guess and hope they get lucky. On that somber note, I would say don't leave your day job if you have a good one. At least not until after you are established and doing well with sales.
If anyone has questions I will attempt to answer them. Thank you for checking out my post. I hope the lessons I learned can help you in some way. With gratitude, Michelle Sutton.