I’m getting a little bit real in this post about what it takes as an author to sustain your book sales and yourself.
Books don’t sell themselves. To keep them selling, you have to actively DO things. But between the writing, marketing, and life, it’s easy to burn out. Let’s try to avoid that, shall we?
LISTEN TO EPISODE 175 – SUSTAINING YOUR BOOK SALES AND YOURSELF
Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your favorite podcast app!
Earlier in 2019 I wrote a post celebrating my success–going from making $30 a month to over $8000 in a month just from digital book sales. I’m still totally in awe of that! (Read this post if you want to know how I did that.)
I don’t tend to talk about income a lot, because that’s just … not something I want to do. But I also wanted to address what happened after my giant celebration.
What I expected: passing the 5-figure mark that next month
What happened: my sales continued to fall through the year and are still falling
Yikes! One thing I’ve noticed in the online community is that people love to share the big numbers, but it’s much harder to share the low ones.
I mean, duh, right?
Part of this stems from the fact that it’s just plain embarrassing. (Even though I have to remind myself that it ISN’T. I’m still making solid 4-figures monthly from just book sales. Yay!) I had huge goals, and it was disappointing not to meet them.
Admitting disappointment? Uh, no thanks. I don’t even like admitting them to myself! I don’t check my income as frequently because I kind of don’t want to know.
Which brings me to this place: I want to talk about sustainability for your sales and for yourSELF.
Sustainable is a word that gets thrown around a lot. In this context, sustainable is what you can do and continue to do over longer periods of time.
SUSTAINING YOUR BOOK SALES
Enough time has gone by that I’m examining why my sales dropped. A few key things happened.
- I joined a multi-author series and wrote a book that was NOT in my bestselling series.
- I stopped running ads on Facebook.
- I stopped putting books out as frequently.
- The hot trend I was writing in cooled off.
- I finished a series and started a new one in a less hot niche.
These are all factors in my sales drop. I might dive deeper into each of these later, because these are BIG THINGS and I could say a lot about them.
What I’ve realized as I’ve looked at these things is that overall, to sustain sales, you have a few choices as an author.
- Rely on paid advertising (Facebook, Amazon, Reddit, etc)
- Work on smart marketing (updating old books, finding new places to promote, growing your list)
- Continue writing books quickly to boost your backlist
Honestly? I’m not sure what else is in your control. If your book gets great word of mouth reviews and people start snapping it up, that’s amazing! But you can’t make that happen.
Sometimes, all three of those things fail. Your books may simply not be connecting with readers or they may not be written in genres that are easily targeted or where there are a lot of sales. (This is where I see most people struggle–their book might be great, but it’s not in a more profitable market or is harder to market.)
The biggest thing, though, is that you cannot STOP. Which is a scary thought.
Book sales won’t happen very organically (in other words, without you ACTIVELY doing something). If you want to see your sales continue, you must continue writing and marketing.
It can start to feel like a very terrifying and fast hamster wheel. Which brings me to the next point…
If you want to sustain book sales, you need to find ways to continue to get eyeballs on your books. Ads, newsletter swaps, paid email services, social media marketing, or a million other creative things.
But as you’re planning out how you’re going to sustain those sales, consider how you’ll sustain yourSELF.
I’ll be honest: I never thought I’d write a book a month.
What I’ve found is that I could write several books a month. I love being fast at things, so I shouldn’t be so surprised. My fastest-written book has over 100 reviews on Amazon. The average rating is 4.8 stars. I wrote it in just over two weeks, mostly while on an elliptical machine, typing with my thumbs into my phone.
I NEVER WOULD HAVE PLANNED THAT. It just happened.
Then when I started publishing monthly or every six weeks, I saw a bump in all my old books. This REALLY worked for me.
The problem is this: I can write fast. But I also have to get things like covers done, edits done, emails sent, and MORE. There is all the marketing stuff.
I don’t mind marketing, which I know might make me a weirdo.
But I love writing.
If I could write and do nothing else, I might put out three books a month. I really might. My ideas file? Is HUGE. And I can’t wait to write each book. I’ve written over a book a month this year and love love love the writing.
Without marketing the books, though, they don’t sell. I have to actively market. Even if you release a book a month, without marketing, you aren’t going to make sales. It’s not magic.
Here’s the conundrum authors face: You have to keep marketing to SELL books. But you have to keep yourself alive to WRITE books.
That means you need a writing and marketing plan that’s sustainable for YOU.
What does this look like? I’M NOT SURE.
I’m figuring this out for myself right now. But I can tell you that I don’t want to lose the joy I have in writing. I also hate writing great books and seeing them languish on Amazon, dying a slow death because no one can find them. Because: no marketing.
I want to challenge you to think about sustainability.
What are sustainable goals? (Ex: My $10k a month goals are not, right now, sustainable.)
What are sustainable writing habits? (Ex: Writing a book a month IS sustainable. I love it and can do it.)
What are sustainable marketing habits? (Ex: If I’m writing MORE than one book a month, it’s hard for me to carve out marketing time.)
This looks different from everyone. It may look different for you year to year. But these are big questions. If you aren’t thinking long-term about what you can maintain, you’re likely to burn out or get frustrated. You might lose your joy or your income.
Make sustainable goals. Set sustainable writing habits. Create sustainable marketing plans.
Then adjust whenever necessary. And believe me, it WILL be necessary.
Great post! I wonder how you maintain love for a project that you’re also working on for money, and under time constraints to get that project to your readers? Is it just about writing the story quickly? Do you have projects that take more time and you can’t get them out as fast as you want to?
I’d be interested in knowing ^^ the above, too!
Sorry for the slow reply! I missed the first comment. For me, I LOVE all my projects. I really love writing and stories come to me and I get jazzed. Sometimes I want to write another story MORE than the one I’m working on, or sometimes I get bored and stagnant and step away. When the characters and stories become real to me, I get invested. So while I’m choosing genres sometimes that are more profitable, I truly do actually love the work I’m doing.
I wouldn’t turn in something or publish it if I weren’t happy with it at the end, and have pushed back my own deadlines for this very reason, to make things better.
That said, writing in some genres is more “simple” than others. When I got my MFA and was writing more literary fiction, there was more depth, more layers, different kinds of literary devices and a lot more complexity to things. In my sweet romance, I don’t need as much of that. I DO still need living, breathing characters who are complex. But it is faster and easier to write in some genres than others, especially if we’re talking genre fiction vs literary. I’ve also seen different levels of depth and writing complexity in genre fiction.
I never set OUT to write quickly, but when I realized that I could, that’s when I started publishing more. And because I love stories and have like 15 in my head that I want to write, pushing through one means I get to start the next, and that’s exciting to me.
I don’t think I could write if I didn’t ALSO love it. Lucky for me, I love a lot of kinds of stories. I think for me, it really is that I feel the characters and so I want to journey with them, whether that’s in a love story or in a magical world.
For sure, some things take longer. Every so often, I get stuck in a story and have to set it aside and go to another while the first marinates. Because I’m a pantser, not a plotter, I sometimes get to a point where something is wrong and I don’t know what, so I have to let it breathe until I figure it out. So while I CAN write a book in 2-3 weeks, sometimes it takes much longer.
I wouldn’t recommend writing quickly unless you can and actually like it and can stand behind what you’re putting out there. I hope that helps!!