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lorna_w
07-15-2017, 02:21 AM
Three years of experience and so far, so good. On a good week I sell 1000 books and on a bad week perhaps 100. (My avatar shows a good week, needless to say). Before 2008 when self-publishing became a viable choice, I was also trade published in a small way, and a month of income now is better than my best income year was back then.

I donít advertise much (last year, I spent much less than 1% of my gross income on it, though I know people earning in the mid six figures who spend 30% on promo), nor am I into daily social media promo. Still, it seems to me that promotional effort is more and more important all the time to midlisters like me, and Iíll be doing slightly more in the future. Make no mistake: there are hundreds of millions of dollars being earned every month by self-published novelists, mostly at Amazon, and that will continue through 2018, but I suspect in the coming few years itíll take more intense promotional effort to grab a share of it, as more and more writers abandon trade publishing, or augment it, or never consider that option in the first place. As for me, I believe Iíll have to do more promo to keep from sliding from my position. Itís crowded in this pool and getting more crowded every month.

Some people seem mistaken in their belief that this is no way to switch to trade pub if you wanted to. I know a few people much like me who have signed with a trade publisher this year, writers who are not at all famous. (Thinking self-publishing experience is only represented by the rare star, the likes of Howey, Hocking, and Weir, is like thinking King and Evanovich and Roberts represent the typical experience of trade-published authors. We all wish!) On my stronger sales weeks Iíve received emails from publishers, agents, narrators, translators, pro organizations, and fiction magazines. Few can do anything for me I canít do more profitably for myself. But ďbook scoutingĒ is getting, if anything, more common.

Again, the secret (that is no secret) to my sort of moderate success is:


Pro covers
Pro proofreading
Page-turner books in series
In a popular sub-genre, with
A product description that grabs the reader who is browsing her favorite sub-genre.
Keyword correctly
Publish at least five books, ideally completing one series
...and have some luck.
Be flexible in your thinking and donít cling to outmoded beliefs. Learn the business skill of looking at the real data and use that information to drive your business decisions; donít guess or listen to rumor when you can know--and these days, you can know, as there is now transparency about a number of facts that ten years ago were hidden from writers.

Beyond that my advice is this: Donít quit trying. The wheel turns, always. New opportunities arise. Bad luck changes to good, as good will change again to bad. Keep marching forward with as much patience, kindness, and grace as you can muster, and if youíre an excellent storyteller, a decent writer in all other ways, and if you keep up with the times and learn about todayís fast-changing business, and if you keep writing, you have a good shot of experiencing some good years, gaining enthusiastic readers around the world, and having the full-time income theyíll kindly provide you. Self-publishing finally gained me my FT writing years after Iíd given up on that dream, and I am grateful.

Ambrosia
07-15-2017, 03:48 AM
Lorna, congratulations. It is good to hear a person is successful at self-publishing.

I have a quick question about one of the things on your list. You said to "publish at least five books, ideally completing one series." Do you mean initially? As in publish the series on day one? If not, what time frame worked for you?

lorna_w
07-15-2017, 04:54 AM
Lorna, congratulations. It is good to hear a person is successful at self-publishing.

I have a quick question about one of the things on your list. You said to "publish at least five books, ideally completing one series." Do you mean initially? As in publish the series on day one? If not, what time frame worked for you?

Thank you!

If you have them done, certainly, you might put out a whole series at once. People do, but usually after they've had some experience. Not everyone has five novels sitting around, though, ready to upload. :) What I meant is that, while there is a rare exception, not many people start to see significant sales on book 1 or 2 or even 3. It might be book 8, but don't panic until you have 5 out, including three in one series. When I started this, nervously, I took Shelley O's advice, via the sticky here and private correspondence, and she said "just keep writing and publishing and don't worry until three years have passed." That's how I approached it, and I probably wouldn't have worried until my fourth anniversary if nothing much had happened. (Trade publishing certainly had me conditioned to expect not many results and slow progress, both.) I was lucky with this, getting results before my first anniversary.

I think some people expect to hit it out of the park immediately, and while that'd be great, it probably won't work that way. You need to (or I did) work out some kinks, get a sense of what sells and doesn't, adjust, build your "team" and learn as you go. Patience, in other words, is a virtue. Like your signature says, perseverance is necessary!

Ambrosia
07-15-2017, 05:31 AM
Thank you for the explanation. It's very clear now and makes a lot of sense to me.

I have my first book in beta at the moment and have started the second in the series while I wait, but if I had to have five books ready to go, that would really stretch my patience. :tongue

J. Tanner
07-15-2017, 06:20 AM
Well done!

I think you may be intentionally anonymous and if that's the case, completely respect that decision, and thanks for sharing what you have already.

If not, I'm always interested in hearing about what genre you're writing in and (assuming it's genre fiction) checking out the covers and reading the blurbs to see what's working for people.

AW Admin
07-15-2017, 06:30 AM
That's wonderful Lorna!


Publish at least five books, ideally completing one series


I think this is a really important part; not to write just one good book, but to have several available. A series is particularly effective, but really truly, a new good book sells older good books.

Anna Iguana
07-15-2017, 06:55 AM
Congratulations, Lorna! I appreciated reading what you chose to share. Good wishes for your fourth year.

raelwv
07-15-2017, 07:09 AM
Thanks for sharing what you've learned - and congrats!

rwm4768
07-15-2017, 07:42 AM
Congratulations on your success!

I just started myself. I haven't made a ton of sales, but I'm getting a decent number of pages read in KU. I'm hoping that this will translate into a few reviews, which will hopefully help me in the future.

In the meantime, I'm focusing on writing. I have six more books that I've finished writing. They still need to be revised, edited, and polished. But at least I know the stories are finished. It's two separate series, and I'm currently writing the second book of a third series.

I'm not expecting immediate success. I know it's often a long road to success in self-publishing.

lorna_w
07-15-2017, 10:09 AM
thanks, folks. Yeah, I prefer to be honest with the results and anonymous with the pen name/s. Ryan, wow. With a cover like that, it is no wonder you're getting attention at KU. That's gorgeous!

Old Hack
07-15-2017, 10:31 AM
Three years of experience and so far, so good. On a good week I sell 1000 books and on a bad week perhaps 100. (My avatar shows a good week, needless to say). Before 2008 when self-publishing became a viable choice, I was also trade published in a small way, and a month of income now is better than my best income year was back then.

That's brilliant, Lorna. I'm so pleased for you. You make it sound easy, but I bet you've worked your socks off to reach this point.


Some people seem mistaken in their belief that this is no way to switch to trade pub if you wanted to. I know a few people much like me who have signed with a trade publisher this year, writers who are not at all famous. (Thinking self-publishing experience is only represented by the rare star, the likes of Howey, Hocking, and Weir, is like thinking King and Evanovich and Roberts represent the typical experience of trade-published authors. We all wish!)

Successful self publishing can definitely lead to a trade deal, but I don't think many people are successful enough for it to happen for them. As I said, you've worked hard to reach this point, and your efforts and talent are paying off.


On my stronger sales weeks I’ve received emails from publishers, agents, narrators, translators, pro organizations, and fiction magazines. Few can do anything for me I can’t do more profitably for myself. But “book scouting” is getting, if anything, more common.

A good agent should be able to access foreign, translation and subsidiary rights markets for you in ways you can't do for yourself, so it's well worth discussing this with them. I would advise against working with a book scout to find your own foreign rights deals (I've heard of a few self published authors doing this now): agents are going to be on your side, scouts not so much. And the nice thing about these rights is that you probably weren't exploiting them yourself, and wouldn't be able to anyway, so it's all extra money, extra sales, extra readers who will search out your future books and your backlist. Wins all round.


Beyond that my advice is this: Don’t quit trying. The wheel turns, always. New opportunities arise. Bad luck changes to good, as good will change again to bad. Keep marching forward with as much patience, kindness, and grace as you can muster, and if you’re an excellent storyteller, a decent writer in all other ways, and if you keep up with the times and learn about today’s fast-changing business, and if you keep writing, you have a good shot of experiencing some good years, gaining enthusiastic readers around the world, and having the full-time income they’ll kindly provide you. Self-publishing finally gained me my FT writing years after I’d given up on that dream, and I am grateful.

If this weren't so long I'd have it put on a T shirt. Great stuff.

lorna_w
07-15-2017, 06:58 PM
Old Hack, yes, it's definitely work. I've had more than one 60-hour week. It's writing--which I've done for 30 years and is, if not easy and dance-down-the-street-naked fun every single day, something I know how to do--plus running a small business--which I was in no way inclined to learn about or interested in, but I've had to make myself be. (To find myself in the entrepreneur section of my local library--wow, never would have predicted that moment!) Part of the work has been in giving up old training from my writing education that's useless now in this new world. Part of it is doing stuff I hate doing. Getting back to the writing and getting lost in a story is the bigger reward, the thing that keeps me sane when I'm struggling with an overloaded inbox, running ads (which I truly do hate to do), and other tedious bits. (though I have learned I rather enjoy building spreadsheets. Who knew?) Writing: a joy. Reading a contract or finding out your proofreader, so hard-won, is going out of biz? not so much.

playground
07-16-2017, 01:13 AM
Do you mind sharing the cover artist and editor you used while self-publishing?

weekendwarrior
07-16-2017, 01:38 AM
That's amazing - very inspiring!

Question about writing series: how do you know the series is worth continuing if you don't see significant sales after the first one or two? Is there a way to deduce whether it's worth pursuing before spending a whole lot of time writing multiple sequels?

davidjgalloway
07-16-2017, 03:01 AM
Is there a way to deduce whether it's worth pursuing before spending a whole lot of time writing multiple sequels?

Seems to me the answer to your question strikes somewhere on the continuum between "art for art's sake" and "writing to sell." Presumably, there are many writers who are not making the decision based on profitability, but because they are telling a story they want to communicate to their readers. Is there an example of someone who just cut off a series because it wasn't selling (which seems very short-sighted in that many folks have testified that as a series goes on, it tends to sell better)? I've seen one or two people start a series and then drop off the planet, but never heard of someone making a business decision not to continue.

lorna_w
07-16-2017, 03:39 AM
That's amazing - very inspiring!

Question about writing series: how do you know the series is worth continuing if you don't see significant sales after the first one or two? Is there a way to deduce whether it's worth pursuing before spending a whole lot of time writing multiple sequels?

you just never know. If it isn't selling, I'd wrap it up in a satisfying way and plan the next series, making sure the next series was in the smack dab center of a sub-genre (no genre mashes--they can sell, but they probably won't). If the second series takes off, it'll sell the first series. If the first series takes off two years later, you can always go back and do a spin-off series with a secondary character in the same world.

Old Hack
07-16-2017, 10:56 AM
Lorna, can you share with us a little about your books? I'm interested in how long each one is, on average, and how many books in your series.

lorna_w
07-16-2017, 04:56 PM
Old Hack, I aim for 75-80K words but I have a few books over 100K. The length to aim for is genre-dependent (a 100K cozy would be a bad idea; a 50K high fantasy is also not what readers are looking for). I have 3-5 books in series and plan to write a series next year that ties in to a pre-existing series. I also have stand-alones. These don't sell as well, but I enjoy writing them, so I'll probably write a few more in the future.

One more piece of general advice: set up your mailing list, with links in books' end matter, and via a form on your website, from your first release. That's the most crucial promotional tool of all, and a list of 1000 true fans who buy everything you write will guarantee your success without your having to make any other promotional effort. I know an author who does just that and is usually in the top 100 authors of his genre at Amazon without running any ads.

Now I have to run off again. I have 3000 words to write today. Because there is a lot of work involved in hanging on to my position in this competitive sphere, my social time with writers is often limited to contact with my five best pals in the biz (three of whom are six-figure authors, which keeps me feeling quite unsuccessful on a daily basis. :Shrug:)

Maryn
07-16-2017, 06:07 PM
(And I'll note that Lorna also takes a few minutes most days to help wanna-be writers on another site, which is where I know her from.)

Maryn, with way less energy

ASeiple
07-17-2017, 09:55 PM
Heya, Lorna! Thank you for the post... it's very encouraging. You're where I want to be in a few years!

My anniversary is coming up too. Tomorrow, actually, and it'll mark two years in. Haven't achieved everything I set out to do, but my god, it's been an awesome trip so far.

The wheel is always turning, and we can keep spinning it as long as we keep writing. Only way to lose is to quit, and even then, you might get lucky.

:: Raises a glass :: Salud! See you again in a year, huh? May your hard-earned reward continue to grow.

Daffyjkl
07-26-2017, 10:28 PM
A 1000 books on a good week is brilliant, I'd be happy with the 100 on a bad week (I sell about 30 a month). Well done.