I’ve been in publishing close to a decade now (yes I feel old), and the one thing that has always been the same, no matter how big or small you are, is that you still experience failure. Sometimes the failure is epic, other times the failure may be you comparing one book of yours with another. Regardless of what it is, we all have our moments.
Self-publishing burst onto the scene and really had its sweet spot in 2011. Suddenly we weren’t having to wait for publishing deals or agents, we could write a book, edit it, get a cover artist, format and bam! Suddenly your book is live, and people can read it! For many of us it was miraculous! Especially after getting rejection after rejection — sometimes a year after even submitting. It was frustrating and disheartening.
Self-publishing went from being a hushed confession to something to be proud of. I mean it doesn’t matter what conference you go to, what book signing, or even what book store–there’s almost always an indie section, which is such a cool thing to see. Finally, indies are getting a voice. Finally, they’re getting a shot!
Indies found overnight success and notoriety. Several got snatched up by big five publishers, while others started their own corporations. It was almost like this gold rush mentality, because how hard could it really be to write a book? Indies pumped out so much content it was almost hard to keep up.
And then, it happened.
Everything caught up, readers got tired, authors got tired, publishers lost money on what they thought was a sure thing — and the competition got insane. If I hear “saturated market” one more time…
Books, books, everywhere! Shirtless guy was number two on Amazon *hurries to slap something on new book with shirtless guy* Oh look stepbrother romances are huge *changes love interest to stepbrother*
Do you see where I’m going with this? I don’t necessarily think it’s market saturation. I think it’s all red ocean.
What do I mean by that? I mean that we live in this odd little book world where we see one thing work and go, bam, golden ticket, that’s going to get book sales, that’s going to make me a household name, that’s clearly the answer! I mean, look at that author! They’re killing it. Meanwhile, you don’t see that the author’s actually independently wealthy and dumping close to fifty thousand dollars a month on ads, or maybe that author isn’t even *gasp* writing their own books but hiring ghostwriters to stay relevant.
My point? On the outside, everyone’s scrambling to become the next big thing — by doing the exact same thing everyone else is doing.
In what world does this make sense? What happened to innovation?
Well, in the book world, it sort of died. And this is why.
Fear. There is this intrinsic fear that if you do something original, nobody will buy it and the sky will fall. You know that if you follow the rules that you’ll at least get some sales, so you do it over and over again, saturating your own brand, beating readers over the head with something they’ve seen a million times.
I’m not saying I’m not guilty of this. I think we’re all guilty of this. And I think it’s time we apologize to the readers for not giving them what they really truly want. An escape. Yes, tropes are fun. Yes, every idea is recycled to an extent. But I’ve noticed recently that the books that are performing are the ones that are outside the box, not the ones trying to hurry and copy the box.
A relatively unknown author is debuting in the top 100 right now. Her first book killed it, wanna know why? People liked it. I know its insane. They liked it, it was different, they talked about it, her sequel in the series is in the top five on Amazon. I can’t get on Facebook without seeing it somewhere. Her cover’s very different, the blurb is enticing, the packaging as a whole is really enticing. And she’s selling books.
I think a lot of times when we aren’t doing well in this job, we look everywhere but ourselves. Oh, it must be the publicist’s fault, or it’s the cover art, the blurb. It’s this, it’s that. But what about the actual book? Is it the book? Is it *gulp* me?
You will never be successful in this industry unless you release something that is original, something that comes from a place only you’ve seen, only you’ve experienced. Don’t sell yourself short by existing in this competitive red ocean, swim on over to the blue ocean and try something new.
Still confused? Still need some pointers? Keep reading and I’ll give you some tips and tricks. Take it from someone who writes in multiple genres–sometimes your readers need a break, sometimes you as an author need a break, writing what you love is necessary in order to stay sane.
1. Don’t trope skip.
This basically means you go to Amazon look at the top ten books and then rush back to your computer to slap something together that looks similar and release it at a lower price. Not only is this insulting to your own craft, but it’s insulting to your readers. Do better.
2. Don’t undercut your worth.
I know it’s tempting to release your book at a low price, and I’m all about sales or “first in the series free”. I think I have five permanently free books, but setting out a new release at ninety-nine cents every single time just trains people to expect that every single time, and eventually you’re going to want to make more than 17 cents a book. You are worth more than 99 cents. If you want to do a 99 cent pre-order, great, awesome, but if your words are good, people will pay to read them, and then they’re going to value your brand and wait patiently for the next great novel you deliver (plus most of us have reader groups where we have amazingly generous readers who like to gift or share, keep your book loanable, and it’s not an issue).
3. Take your time.
I know, it’s hard, but take a deep breath. Is the cover representative of what’s inside? Have you written several different blurbs and picked the best one? Have you had anyone re-read your pitch to make sure that it isn’t lost? There is no rush. Amazon clearly hasn’t taken over the world with robots (yet). Ergo, you have time to make sure everything is perfect, even if that means you release at a later date. As a reader, I would much rather wait for something perfect at $3.99 than get something half done at ninety-nine cents.
4. Do your homework.
Find authors who write in that same genre and ask if they can read your book. Yes most of them are very busy, but you don’t know until you ask. I’ll repeat this every single time I write an article — see what other authors are doing when it comes to their brand–not their books–and apply it to yourself. What are they doing well? Readers don’t like getting online and seeing authors complain about book sales or the current market. That’s not what they are here for, so use your energy to problem-solve rather than rant.
5. Stay humble.
Let’s be honest, not every book is perfect. If an editor tells you to fix something or another author suggests something, please, for the love of God, listen to them. Readers are professional readers. They know what they like and why they like it. If your beta readers say something’s off, something is probably off. Communicate with them, fix it and deliver the best manuscript you can.
6. Take responsibility.
Sometimes a book under-performs. Yeah, it could be a number of things, but at the end of the day, that’s on you, not on your publicist, or Amazon or Apple Books, or the tornadoes. Yes, it sucks when you can’t afford ads, but I can promise you this, some of the best performing books are not the ones that are dumping money into ad after ad. They’re the ones that readers simply love talking about because they’re that good. I’ve seen a reader group grow from five to five hundred in a week over a book — trust me, it happens.
7. Do something for you.
Being an author is such a fun experience. I love creating something from nothing, but I also get tired when I go from deadline to deadline, which is why I have one series that’s just for me. If it tanks, it doesn’t matter, because I’m writing it to cleanse my soul. Find something that you love writing and write it. Release something for just YOU, and you may be shocked how it does.
8. Ask the questions.
I know this is hard, but you need to be brave. Ask authors where they are advertising. Ask them how they got that ad on Facebook. ASK because you never know unless you ask. It may be something so ridiculously easy, something that you, yourself can do! And use your search engines! I’m embarrassed to admit how many hours a day I used to research places to market my book. If you don’t know, look it up!
9. Remember that overnight success isn’t the norm…
…and that constantly telling people to buy your book probably isn’t going to get them to buy your book. I have tons of followers that tell me to my face that they only follow my Instagram because of my husband and son haha. But you know what? ONE DAY I will wear them down, and they will buy a book, and it’s all because my little guy attracted them in that Batman suit. What I’m saying is that you work on your brand as much as you work on your book. People don’t want to see you post book meme after book meme, but they do want to know that recipe for lasagna that you just posted. I’m a reader first, author second, and I get exhausted when I see authors post meme after meme. We get that you’re pumped, and you should be, but diversify your social media before you turn everyone off.
10. And finally…
…because I know we are going to have people reading this going, “where’s all the marketing advice?”, I need you to go back to the top of this page and re-read, and then do it again. This is all marketing advice and if you aren’t doing these things, THAT is why your book isn’t selling. You can dump all the dollars you want into ad spend or into a publicity firm from New York, but unless you’re putting out the best product possible and spending a solid amount of time on social media — connecting with readers, authors, asking for advice, making sure that your brand is you — basically doing all of the above, you will be a perfect failure.
And before you get offended, remember that I’ve failed numerous times, too many times to count. I know exactly what failure looks like, smells like, tastes like. Perfect failure is the worst, but it doesn’t have to be your identity. Remember, this is your marathon, and at the end of the day why in the world would you ever want to finish this race in the first place? If you’re reading this thinking, “but when will it end?” then you’ve already answered your own question. You’re tired and you need to take a step back and evaluate.
Writing isn’t about the finish line. It’s about the race itself.
Enjoy the journey. Stop thinking about the end. And get to writing the beginning…
Rachel Van Dyken is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of Regency and contemporary romances. When she’s not writing you can find her drinking coffee at Starbucks and plotting her next book while watching The Bachelor.
She keeps her home in Idaho with her husband, adorable son, and two snoring boxers! She loves to hear from readers!
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