A while ago, I wrote a post Why Don’t My Books Sell. It was originally written on this blog, but before I did the crash & burn to fix weird problems with this blog, I moved it to the “Self-publishing” section on my author site.
That post is all (well, mostly, at least) about the book. It’s about cover, branding, quality of storytelling.
But it is not uncommon to see books that defy all the advice in that post, which is pretty much conventional wisdom. The books that are full of formatting, spelling and grammar errors that DO sell really well. Or the books that are beautifully done but don’t sell at all.
If anything, the fact that both these things happen means that there is something else going on.
Sometimes it is just that. The author came in at a right time, something caught the attention of readers and the book took off.
But let’s unpack “luck” a little.
If luck means you’ve got to be somewhere at the right time, it means that you’ve got to BE somewhere first. In other words, the more you try, the more luck you can catch.
The more you try, the better you get at it.
Who are your readers and how much do they care about books that follow strict formulas, and story tropes and how much, indeed, do they care about spelling and grammar? (I can hear a whole library of writers shudder right now)
Marketing types will sometimes tell writers to imagine a typical reader and then to imagine where that reader hangs out.
The fact is that a lot of beginning writers have Absolutely No Freaking Clue about who they are writing for, how to reach those people and how to engage them.
A lot of writers bumble through the beginning of their career trying this or that before eventually figuring out that this sort of stuff is important.
Who are my readers? Well it’s different for each series, but the typical reader for the Ambassador books is male, over 40, has a tertiary education. He is a geek and if he has a partner, he is unlikely to have children. He may be gay. He is quite likely not to live in the US, although he might. He votes left.
Where does he hang out?
He goes to geek cons. He talks about these on Facebook, Twitter or Google+ He buys books mostly through word-of-mouth and promotion sites.*
Do you see a pattern emerging with what I’m doing with my promotions?
If you have no idea who your “average” reader is, then you don’t know where to find them.
So what about those books that are full of mistakes, poor craft and still sell like hotcakes?
I had an epiphany about these, because it always baffled the hell out of me. Invariably, these writers report that they do much better in Kindle Unlimited (Amazon’s subscription service) through page reads than through sales.
I heard someone mention on a podcast that he had bought his 12yo son a subscription (because at that age, the boy can’t buy his own books: no credit card) and he was tearing through books. At that age–sadly but true–many kids are also not going to care much about spelling.
How much of that audience is yours?
If you just publish a book and have no way of letting people know that it’s out, then it’s going to sink pretty much no matter how good (or bad) it is. A lot of people who get “lucky” out of the gate brought their own audience. For example from a fan fiction site or they’re a podcast host who had been talking about a novel for a long time. Or they are well-known in a non-fiction field and everyone knows that they are writing a novel that encompasses the profession, hobby or discipline.
It takes a community to launch a book successfully.
* How do I know this? Well, it’s quite easy. You make an ad on Facebook for the book. You target broad, like the genre and a major writer in the genre. You see who clicks and run the breakdowns on age, country, gender. And when you correspond with readers, Facebook will often give you a quick rundown of their education, job, marital status and hobbies, if they choose to share it, and it’s amazing how many people do.