29 December 2012 by Published in: Uncategorized 99 comments

In the spirit of the season, I thought I would serve up some predictions for 2013, based on a post I wrote today. It’s targeted at indie authors, but is more of a commentary on the state of the self-publishing union at present rather than anything else.

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Many indie authors are complaining that their sales are down. That may be true. Could be any number of things causing it. I speculate as to some possible reasons in my predictions. But with all the gloom and doom, at least three success stories from December are noteworthy. First, my friend and fellow author Steven Konkoly, who I did an Author Spotlight with about a year ago, hit in the Top 100 paid on Amazon on Xmas day, and has held remarkably well with his now-over-a-year-old action thriller Black Flagged. That translates into thousands of books per day. You can do the math, but suffice it to say December is being very good to Steven. Couldn’t happen to a nicer or more talented guy, either.

The second account is R.S. Guthrie, who I also recently featured in an Author Spotlight, who released his follow-up to Blood Land (one of the best books of the year, IMO), Money Land, on Dec. 27, and watched it catapult into the Top 500. The market is volatile, so ranking will bounce around, but his other books are also selling nicely – my hunch is December is treating him well.

The third December story is my own. I don’t like to publish revenue numbers, but this month is my biggest month to date, up 30% from November, which was a huge, and I do mean huge, month for me. This, 18 months into my journey. Over 100K books sold this year, not counting free downloads. How next year goes is anyone’s guess, but for now, so far so good.

The reason for highlighting these examples is because Steve’s book was 14 or so months old when it took off on this go around. My oldest is 18 months old. Rob’s are about the same, if not a bit older. It can take a while for a title to hit, and yes, aggressive and well-timed promotions can help, but foremost, having a book worth reading in a popular genre is a big part of it. Then again, maybe not. In January I’ll be hard at work penning 50 Shades of Yarn for Mr. Mittens, an erotic cat adventure featuring a billionaire and a demure but adventurous vixen who is obsessed with knitting and kink, which I believe will blow the lid off my sales records to date.

You think I’m kidding.

Only a little.

But on to the predictions. Feel free to disagree with them, or disregard them. We can return next year around this time and see how they fared. That’s part of the fun – returning to see how much of an ass hat I was only a few short months prior.

1) The KDP Select free program will continue to wane in terms of usefulness for authors. As of Black Friday, I believe that Amazon further de-tuned their algorithm so free downloads count as even less towards ranking on the popularity lists. From what I can tell, free now has 5% or less of the impact on ranking than it originally did, meaning that if you don’t land in the Top 40, you won’t see any bump in sales. I believe this is because Amazon dislikes free as much as many authors do. It served its purpose, but now it’s hurting sales and has created an environment where a certain segment of readers no longer buy books they might have, preferring to download free books instead, even if the majority of them suck. I believe that eventually even the dimmest indie authors will figure this out, and stop putting their books free unless they have a good chance of landing in the Top 40. On December 27, there were 43K books free. You’re reading that correctly. 40 might see a post-free bump in sales. The other 42,960 titles won’t, and the authors either wasted their time or saturated their own market and diminished their likelihood of selling anything.

2) The environment will get tougher. Worsening economics in the U.S., greater reader discrimination (as when VCRs were new, for the first year or two the novelty of being able to watch a movie in your house meant that people bought or rented virtually anything – but as the selection grew, they became more discriminating over what they were willing to spend money on), and an ever larger supply of ebooks meeting a demand that is growing far slower than supply is, will all make it harder to rise above the clutter and get noticed, which one must do if one wishes to sell books.

3) The environment will get tougher, redux. Traditional publishers will lower prices or release some of their huge backlog of titles for which they own the ebook rights, creating even more competition for indies. Many of these books will be marginal or won’t have withstood the test of time, but supply will increase even more as trad pubs try to duke it out for dwindling reader dollars.

4) Many indies will give up. Having realized belatedly that 99% of indies fail to make any real money at this, those that don’t feel like beating their heads against a seemingly indestructible wall will go on to something more lucrative. The Gold Rush mentality of “hey, look at X, he’s a talentless twat and sold a ton; it must be easy, so I’ll throw my hat into the ring because then maybe I’ll sell a ton, too” will die, as it should. It will become abundantly obvious to even the dimmest that this is a very, very difficult business to make a living at, and that the chances of being that one in a million are close to nil.

5) Some will hit big, but nobody will be able to predict who, nor will they be able to reproduce the success. Put simply, once something works, it’s over, and those trying to follow in successful footsteps will fail to replicate the win. Which won’t stop people from trying, but it will be a pointless effort.

6) Rudimentary grasp of craft will become a prerequisite to authoring a book if you want to make more than beer money. The perceived environment where you can be illiterate and still find someone who will give your book a shot will dry up as readers demand more in exchange for their limited time. Just as agents and publishers used to be gatekeepers, more and more readers will become their own gatekeepers, and won’t suffer ill-crafted books lightly. Writing good books will become even more important as 2013 develops, although writing good books won’t in itself guarantee success of any sort. See point 4 for the actual odds, which I invented as I wrote this, but are probably optimistic at that.

7) Amazon didn’t “double down” on Select as many seem to believe, so the payout isn’t likely to be significantly more than it has been historically. What I believe they did is correctly project that, A) adding international markets will dilute the payout from the fixed pool of $700K they had set aside, reducing it to a level where most of the decent authors wouldn’t participate unless they added cash to at least somewhat maintain current payout levels, and B) they forecast the number of kindles they planned to sell between Black Friday and February, and calculated how much they would need to add to keep payouts relatively attractive. Then some bright lad in ‘Zon marketing positioned that like it was a big bonus instead of what it actually was, and a lot of folks who don’t think critically assumed the payout would go up. I don’t believe it will, but I’d love to be wrong, having seen about 1000 borrows in December. But I’m not holding my breath.

8) Amazon will continue to lean towards pushing trad pub books and their own labels, as they have most of 2012, for two reasons: Trad pub books generally cost more so they make more absolute dollars from doing so, and trad pubs pay advertising dollars back to Amazon, whereas indies don’t. This isn’t because Amazon is the great Satan. It’s because it makes better business sense to push products you’ll make more money selling, and higher-priced products from producers who will give you money to advertise tend to be more lucrative than lower-priced products from folks who produce no ad revenue. And the reason for pushing their own labels is obvious – more margin. It’s all about margin. So deal with it.

9) Other vendors like Apple, B&N, Kobo, etc. will take market share from Amazon, but unless you’re getting as good or better visibility in those venues, your odds will stay about the same. I understand that some think that more markets mean more opportunity, and on its face that would make sense, but if the odds are really about 99% against you making anything more than a few sales or ever turning a profit, the number of markets you still aren’t selling in will be slim consolation. Which is the reality of the book selling business. It’s a tough gig.

10) I am probably wrong about some or all of this. Think critically, for yourself. Come up with your own damned predictions and stop listening to pseudo-pundits on the web.

So there they are. The message is clear. In a muddled, garbled way. You can win, but the odds aren’t good. Having said that, I believe that focusing on writing, and not so much on marketing, is a good idea, but as Steven’s, Rob’s, and my own cases should indicate, a decent marketing approach can also be a game changer. I have read plenty of blogs advising folks to just focus on the writing and let the marketing handle itself, but I think that’s disastrous for new authors, and most established ones as well. My solution is different: allocate time for both, as they are both important to building a career. The best books in the world won’t sell themselves, and people need to know about them in order to buy them. Amazon won’t market them for you. None of the other sites will. So you are the marketing engine, as a book seller, who has to capture the readers’ attention and lure them into trying your books. Once they do, your job as the writer is to have crafted as compelling and well-written a product as possible, but if you wish to succeed in this business, I think you have to do both writing and marketing, not only one. I believe that notion is misguided panacea for the self-pubbing masses, and is a recipe for failure if followed to the letter. I personally devote about 80% of my time to writing, and 20% to marketing, which consists of promotions, advertising, interviews, blogging, tweeting and message board participation.

That’s all I have. I need to get back to writing now, having used up all my marketing time for the day. Have a good New Year, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Oh, and buy my books. You’ll live longer and be happier. Really. Mostly.

Both JET and King of Swords are specially priced for the holidays, so if you’re feeling Blake-curious, those would be good places to start. I know. That is probably the shortest self-promotional bit I’ve ever tossed out. For that, we are probably all grateful.

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Comments

  1. Sat 29th Dec 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Excellent article. I am a new author and have been reading the KDP forums for a while lately. Doom and gloom abound.

    It is somewhat disheartening. Your explanations, however, clarify several points to me and still give me hope that decent unknown work still has a chance–even if slim.

    J.R. Kiefer

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 29th Dec 2012 at 7:00 pm

      I think the point is that it’s always been lousy odds that a decent unknown work gets noticed. It’s actually better now than before – but people got unrealistic expectations based upon patently dishonest hype to sell “how to sell lots of books” books. It seemed for a while that if you could land letters on screen, you could make it big. That’s never, ever been the case.

      Having said that, Steve, Rob and I are three examples that it is possible to get noticed. It just takes lots of work, an investment of time and money, and hopefully, good writing. And a boatload of luck. I’m reading a book right now that’s quite good in the action/thriller genre, but it hasn’t done a lot, even though he is a columnist for a major periodical. There’s just a lot of luck involved.

      But perseverance and practicing one’s craft are never bad ideas. That way, when lightning does strike, you’re ready.

      Reply
      • cnwriter  –  Thu 10th Jan 2013 at 8:41 pm

        thank you for this Russell…it is important information….

        Reply
  2. Sat 29th Dec 2012 at 6:01 pm

    A great read.. Many congratulations on the superb sales figures. I wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 29th Dec 2012 at 7:00 pm

      Thanks, David. And to you as well.

      Reply
  3. Sat 29th Dec 2012 at 6:36 pm

    Spot on as usual. An indie ignores marketing at his/her peril, but you can’t get consumed by it either. Thanks also for the advice a few weeks back. For a brief period around 15 December, Deadly Straits broke the Amazon top 100 (No. 42). It was a bit like Orville and Wilbur’s first flight, but hopefully predictive of things to come.

    December was also my best month to date since I started about 20 months back. Nothing really explosive, just steady growth month on month. Not as exciting but it sure beats the alternative.

    Congratulations to you on a great year. It is richly deserved and I couldn’t be happier for you. Here’s hoping that 2013 holds nothing but good things for you.

    Happy New Year,

    Bob

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 29th Dec 2012 at 7:04 pm

      Thanks for the kind words. Alas, there are no magic bullets, and what worked last month probably won’t work next. That’s why it’s important to stay up on trends and to try new things.

      Glad to hear things are trending up. Hope the new year treats you right.

      Reply
  4. Sat 29th Dec 2012 at 10:18 pm

    Rudimentary grasp of craft?

    D’oh!

    No one said writin’ books was work!

    So…if your prophecies prove wrong, do we get to stone you? ; )

    Of course, if I am one of the .001% who make it big in 2013 I will throw gold coins instead.

    Here’s to a great new year!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 29th Dec 2012 at 10:24 pm

      If I’m wrong, someone will get stoned, that I can promise you. Even if I’m right, come to think of it…

      Happy New Year to you as well.

      Reply
  5. Sun 30th Dec 2012 at 5:52 am

    First, Russell, thanks for countering all the doom and gloom, which has been getting ridiculous.

    Second, thanks so much for making your point about marketing for new authors. I’ve been wanting to counter some big names who of late have been saying to only focus on writing, but felt I should just keep my mouth shut (out of respect, mostly).

    But, I’d like to throw out just a couple of recent examples for new authors who don’t think it is worth the time. Recently, a person ripped one of my reviews for an author on a certain website, which I won’t name. I responded kindly, once I determined it was a reader and not an author. An exchange took place, then a couple private emails, and lo and behold, he liked my website, enjoyed the top blog entry, then bought both of my books.

    Then tonight I friend request on facebook a fellow Marine who made a political point that required courage. We start emailing, he asks about my book, I offer to send him a copy, he declines and says he’d rather buy one.

    Marketing can work, and it’s usually NOT (in my experience) when you’re just touting your wares, but when you’re simply interacting with folks. And those single purchases can obviously multiply, and when you’re a nobody like me, gaining those single sales helps tremendously! (Sorry for the long comment. Would have written a shorter one…)

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 30th Dec 2012 at 1:10 pm

      True. I have stressed throughout this journey the importance of being yourself, of being genuine. Not as a marketing tact. As a brand differentiator. There is only one you, and you have to be true to yourself, because given that the odds don’t favor anyone being particularly successful, you might as well just be yourself and go for it. That way you don’t have to change much.

      My message in my predictions is that this is a very tough business. Readers are won one at a time. The odds are against us all. But if we are to improve the odds, we need to both write good books, as many as we can until we’ve got some sort of critical mass, and we need to be very disciplined and put aside a certain amount of time every day for marketing. I think where “the big names” get it wrong is they don’t view the business of writing as separate from the business of selling books.

      Writing is the creation of stories using the written word, and at its best, is art. Selling books is a mundane commercial enterprise. They are related, in that the product the mundane commercial enterprise sells is books. But other than that, they really aren’t anything alike. What these names fail to grasp is that if you engage in that commercial enterprise, and then ignore the necessary steps to make ANY commercial enterprise successful, you will likely fail. Those steps are product quality control, packaging, distribution, marketing, sales and customer support. The commercial enterprise of selling books is essentially a retail sales business. So if you are going to self-publish, you have to become a retail sales specialist, or you will fail unless you have just dumb luck, which some will, of course.

      In retail, you have to constantly promote, and do whatever you can to get visibility. Retail customers cannot buy something if they don’t know it exists. So your job is to package it so it’s appealing, QC it so that it does the job and is competitive, and then market it so that customers can find it. If you are spending 100% of your time writing, and ignoring the business of book selling, I can make a prediction. Your odds just got a lot longer, unless you are naive enough to believe that books will sell themselves. They don’t. EL James was a TV executive for 20 years. Her hubby is also in that business. She chose to write fan fiction, which by its nature already has fans. And then she pulled every string she could to get her product visibility – and I’m pretty sure that over 20 years in the entertainment business, two people have a lot of acumen and contacts they can bring to bear. The point is, for every self-pubbed story of sitting back and waiting for success to come to you, I can find the real story – review buying (remember when Locke’s claim was that writing a heartfelt blog was what made him take off? Er, not so much), tireless marketing, friends and family in the entertainment business pulling on the oars for you, working to make something go viral, ads, interviews, etc. etc. etc. There is ALWAYS a story to every success, and I can guarantee most don’t involve just writing and laying back and thinking of England. That’s a bromide for failing or newbie authors, and it’s an appealing one, I know. Nobody wants to be told that they need to work this like a job, assign time for writing, and also for marketing, and do both very, very well. That doesn’t sound nearly as much fun as entering a lottery of talent and just hoping for the best as you write more.

      I just can’t advance that perspective with a straight face. I agree that writing, preferably at a high quality level, and prolifically, is very important. So’s marketing the wares once they’re written. Any other philosophy ignores that they really are separate disciplines, and muddles the two, with disastrous results for those following that counsel.

      Bluntly, writing a book could be compared with cooking a gourmet meal. The act of cooking the meal is what a chef does. Great chefs become renowned for their abilities. But operating a restaurant, which is a retail meal distribution business, is a completely different skill set than being a great chef. Can you imagine any credible source recommending for chefs to just focus on cooking, if they want to succeed in the restaurant business? It wold be laughed out of the room. And yet we hear that dubious counsel time and time again with self-publishing, invariably from authors who have spent plenty of time in the trad pub game, and whether they realize it or not, their expectations are somewhat co-opted by that world, where the writer does the writing, and someone else handles the retail marketing. Being a self-published author means being both a great chef and a savvy restaurant operator. The irony is that, like in the restaurant business, a savvy operator can succeed with mediocre food but great presentation and hype, but a great chef probably won’t get far by ignoring the restaurant business and hoping that if he cooks it, they will come.

      I always say, use your head. If it sounds too good to be true – “just focus on writing the next one” – it probably is.

      Reply
      • Stan R. Mitchell  –  Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 1:07 am

        “I think where “the big names” get it wrong is they don’t view the business of writing as separate from the business of selling books. … Selling books is a mundane commercial enterprise. ”

        Wow. Just wow. There is a lot of brilliance in those two lines. You’ve really nailed the crux of it all.

        “Those steps are product quality control, packaging, distribution, marketing, sales and customer support. The commercial enterprise of selling books is essentially a retail sales business. So if you are going to self-publish, you have to become a retail sales specialist, or you will fail unless you have just dumb luck, which some will, of course.”

        And you should seriously take this comment you’ve made (and the one I’ll paste below this) and save it for a later blogpost (since most will probably miss this comment).

        “Bluntly, writing a book could be compared with cooking a gourmet meal. The act of cooking the meal is what a chef does. Great chefs become renowned for their abilities. But operating a restaurant, which is a retail meal distribution business, is a completely different skill set than being a great chef. Can you imagine any credible source recommending for chefs to just focus on cooking, if they want to succeed in the restaurant business? It wold be laughed out of the room.”

        I’m still just amazed at how you’ve really gotten away from this whole business enough to see it clearly and then describe it so well. In my business that I started, I always realize that I’m too close to it to see some of the mistakes, inefficiencies, etc. But, you’ve somehow managed to really nail the realities of the biz despite being super close to it.

        I hope you take your entire comment and share that with others — unless you think it might cause strife or a rift with some of the other big-name authors like you who argue the other POV.

        Either way, thanks a million for sharing that long comment. It’s certainly helped clear up things for me, even if it doesn’t for anybody else.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 3:50 am

          Share with whoever, Stan. I’ve had a startlingly productive year by eating my own cooking, so to speak, so if someone wants to argue I’m wrong, I’d point them to my sales on my 18 months in the biz, and ask them what sort of success those following the model they espouse have had in that timeframe – their first 18 months?

          I’m sure there are lots of other ways to do it.

          I just don’t know of any sort I’d bet my own money on. And that’s it in a nutshell. I’m telling you how I do it, not how I theorize others might be able to do it. Whether it works for others is anyone’s guess.

          But you can’t sell em if nobody knows they exist. That seems elemental.

          Reply
          • Stan R. Mitchell  –  Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 8:54 am

            I may just share this then. : ) Besides helping at least a few writers, it’ll help increase your name recognition a bit. (Well, a small bit, but every bit helps.)

            In all honesty, this is just far too rich not to share as far and wide as possible. And it makes the case not really being made right now by many of the bigger name authors.

      • Sandy Appleyard  –  Wed 09th Jan 2013 at 10:04 am

        I really wish I’d have known about the marketing part when I wrote my first book back in 2010. Back then, I was under the foolish assumption that writing my book and paying a then subsidy publishing company money to publish and market it, that it would take off. Now, three books later, I’m still struggling. If I’d known from the get-go that it would be like this, I would have done things way more aggressively. My point is that paying someone to do the work for you won’t get you any further; it needs to be done by you from the start. This business is such a huge learning curve from day one, and you have to hit the ground running, or you’ll be lagging behind for what seems like an eternity.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Wed 09th Jan 2013 at 10:24 am

          I advise folks to hire qualified, pro editors, pro book designers unless they can do as good or better than one themselves, and a pro formatter so all their hard work doesn’t wind up looking like a science experiment on a fire or ibook or whatnot. Anything else, as you’ve discovered…not so much.

          Reply
      • John A. Hoda  –  Sun 27th Jan 2013 at 10:22 am

        Web site is still under construction as we get close to the debut of Phantasy Baseball. I like your writing/marketing ratio and think that a clearly spelled out marketing strategy executed in the time allotted will give a well-written novel a puncher’s chance. Thank you for rising above the din.

        Reply
    • Jonathan Gunson  –  Wed 09th Jan 2013 at 5:23 am

      Stan
      Quoting you: “… Marketing can work, and it’s usually NOT (in my experience) when you’re just touting your wares, but when you’re simply interacting with folks. And those single purchases can obviously multiply….”

      Dead on target.
      Jonathan

      Reply
  6. Sun 30th Dec 2012 at 10:37 am

    I wonder if KDP Select isn’t a wash, in the end. If you succeed wildly at amazon, it stands to reason that you’ll succeed wildly at other vendors, too.

    If you’re not in Select, you’ll lose on promo opportunities, but you’ll gain by letting nook and kobo readers read your books.

    There’s really no way to know for sure, so I’ll just keep my books everywhere and hope for the best.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 30th Dec 2012 at 12:53 pm

      Well, maybe, or maybe not. How’s that for definitive? I think that Select has been a very viable marketing tool for some – me, for instance. But it has faded now to the point where it’s not completely useless, but is for 99.9% of those who try to use it to boost their sales or increase their visibility. So as always, the real answer is conditional and very case-specific. Select made a huge difference for me. None of the other platforms offer anything besides listing my book. So really, what one might say is that if you’re going to be unsuccessful with Select, might as well be unsuccessful with all the others too. For me, Select has been life-changing. But it looks like that is fading, so time for something else. For most, Select has changed little or nothing, in which case being with Select has cost them exposure through other channels, and gained them nothing. I suspect that’s the vast majority. I think the 43K free, 40 in the top tier example speaks for itself.

      Reply
  7. Sun 30th Dec 2012 at 4:18 pm

    Damn good read. Thank you, glad you’re doing well, and a very Happy New Year.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 30th Dec 2012 at 7:01 pm

      Gracias. Can’t complain. But I could always do better.

      Happy New Year to you as well.

      Reply
  8. Sun 30th Dec 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Excellent article and very informative. As an indie, I’ve struggled with the ups and downs of marketing. I’ve got the reviews, 16 so far which I’m quite proud of and 37 on Goodreads. They are positive, the trouble is this doesn’t translate into sales and despite all the work I’m doing, I just can’t see how I will make any dent in the rankings. Still, it’s very rewarding interacting with readers and I prefer the one on one approach to marketing. Meeting new people, describing your book and having them then download it.

    I’m going to concentrate on writing as I want as many books to my name as possible. I’ll keep the Twitter up, as it’s far more useful that Facebook for me and interacting with the forums on Goodreads.

    thanks again for the useful information and have a good 2013!

    Mike

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 30th Dec 2012 at 7:03 pm

      My advice is go 80/20. Or even 70/30. If you can’t crank out good books at 70% of your available time, it’s doubtful that 100% would make the difference. But investing in your bookselling business as well as your writing business is a must. I tend to be very disciplined about my allocations, so that has worked for me. But everyone is different, and there’s no magic formula I know of.

      Thanks for the input, and have a good holiday.

      Reply
  9. Sun 30th Dec 2012 at 10:26 pm

    Russell – this is as good as it gets for blogs. I think EVERYTHING you’ve said here is correct and admire that you had the guts to say it. But that shouldn’t surprise me or anyone else.

    I have personally made the decision to “return” to writing for the love of it and things are going much better now. Marketing is still necessary, but improving my writing and enjoying it is my top priority – because at the end of the day, if I’m not having any fun I may as well be working in a corporate, soul-grinding environment.

    Thanks. Great start for the New Year.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 30th Dec 2012 at 10:46 pm

      Nice to see you.

      Yes, it’s tough to get the balance between marketing and writing to a satisfying equilibrium. For everyone, it’s different. As an example, today I’ve spent most of my day on comments at various blogs, doing an interview, etc. and very little writing. I don’t mind it, but I truly enjoy the writing part. Can’t wait to get back to that on NY day (out all day manana entertaining, to use a euphemism) – but even then, I’ll try to get in couple thousand words tomorrow. In the end, I write for fun and for love of craft, and I market to make money and get read.

      Happy New Year to you, too, and thanks for the always kind comments.

      Reply
  10. Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 1:23 am

    Totally agree on the balance of marketing and writing. Nothing sells more books like another book, but you have to get the reader to read, and like one, in order for them to read another. I’m sure you’re seeing that with your JET series. Readers like one and buy the next, but if they didn’t like the first or never saw it you wouldn’t get sales of the others.

    Time to get back to my writing. Happy New Years!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 3:52 am

      I am seeing extremely high sell through on all four JET books. So the theory is working. Of course more books will sell more books, but only if they ever heard of the first book in the first place. That’s where the marketing comes in.

      Happy New Years to you as well. It’s been an interesting one, I think you’d agree with me on that.

      Reply
  11. Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 3:48 am

    Thank you for an excellent and insightful article. I found it very useful esp. your opinion of Amazon’s KDP Select program, which make me rethink things. New authors will either sink or swim, but hopefully when the greater mass of poorly-written and -produced books diminishes, the better ones will come to the fore. Unfortunately, the success of authors such as EL James, whereby a poorly written book series grabbed the imagination of gazillions of readers has clouded the issues for some authors and publishers. Now everyone is churning out ‘Something Shades of Whatever’ in the hopes of striking the mother lode of erotica again. I can’t wait for your version… Anyway, I have subscribed to your blog and hope for more excellent stuff. No pressure…

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 4:04 am

      Trend chasing rarely turns out well. All the Harry Potter imitators. The Twilight imitators. The Hunger Games imitators. And on and on.

      The problem is that nobody knows what will reach the tipping point, until it does. Once it does, it’s a singularity. Several indie examples. John Locke. Wrote a book about how he did it. Left out buying reviews, but whatever. The man sold almost two million books, most at .99, and most not my sort of book, to be truthful. But for whatever reason, he hit. Many have tried to follow his model, and exactly zero have been able to reproduce it. Or Amanda Hocking. Her approach landed her the fabled two million dollar deal. But nobody else has done that the way she did. EL James was a singularity that will never be repeated. They are all singularities. John Grisham was a singularity. Hemingway was one too. They happen, they are successful, but they happen once. Same in movies, and music. There will never be another Barbara Streisand. Or Madonna. Or Beyonce. Never be another Rolling Stones. Beatles. Nirvana. Chili Peppers. Snoop Dog. 2Pac.

      Nobody knows which artist is going to hit, and which will fizzle. Even the experts with the big publishers don’t know. They take their best guesses, and then the vast majority of their picks fail to sell well enough to earn back just the advance. That’s the business. Same as the film business, where most films don’t make money, and the few that break big, make most of it. And then something comes out of the blue and blindsides everyone, like Slumdog Millionaire, or Amadeus, or Poltergeist, and hits huge, and nobody can reproduce it, because it’s not reproducible. It hit at the right time, right place, right collective consciousness, whatever, and that was its time.

      I don’t know what next year’s indie sensation everyone is talking about will be. I do know that the likelihood is that it isn’t the best written, and won’t be the best story, either. And it may seem stupid to everyone, until, of course, it hits the tipping point and becomes a fad, and then everyone is racing to duplicate it, but its success means that it’s already over for the pretenders to the throne.

      The only thing we can be truly sure of in this business is that we know little or nothing.

      Reply
      • Art  –  Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 12:12 pm

        Thank you for the thoughtful commentary. Your blog is very helpful, and your comment here prompts me to add a few words about my own experience, althought it’s in a very different area from most (probably nearly all) of your readership.

        You mentioned Hemingway here as an example of a single-case success, and you’re right (none of these great successes in books and music and film are repeatable, because they are all special cases), but it hits home because I’m also a “literary” writer, and what I’ve seen in the indie world is that there are no literary writers. It just isn’t represented, doesn’t count, is not on the radar. It isn’t part of the KDP system at all. All of the indie successes to date are with genre books, mostly action thrillers, sci-fi, horror, romance, and erotica. It hasn’t deterred me (I can’t write what I don’t want to write); in fact I hope to find myself as the first literary success in this indie world, but it seems to be a strange fact worth noting.

        From what I have seen, nobody knows exactly what makes something hit, nobody can repeat it when it does, it’s just a matter of doing your best work and continuing to put that work out into the world. In the early days of this I used to read JA Konrath’s blog, and he too had (in the end) no real idea what made something hit: it was a matter of putting out something good that people wanted, and having enough of it out there, and having something in the right place at the right time. But again, he writes thrillers and horror and has never had an answer for the literary writer. I don’t have an answer either (obviously), and although I continue to write and publish and market and write, I do find it strange that literary fiction is entirely unrepresented here. There are zero “indie literary” blogs, zero “indie literary” reviewers, zero “indie literary” bundles or co-ops or promotions. A few times a genre writer has cross-listed a work in Literary Fiction, and it hit, but of those few works none of them are actually “literary” in the same way that Hemingway or some other big name of the past (or present, like Franzen or Wallace) is “literary”: they always turn out to be a genre book.

        Is this going to change? Is 2013 going to be the year that indie expands to include literary fiction? I don’t know, but I do observe that (figuratively) there are plenty of Stephen Kings and John Grishams and Dean Koontzes among the indie success stories, but no Hemingways or Jonathan Franzens or David Foster Wallaces. None at all. Can the readership for such work be that small? Are literary readers still attached to their paper books? Is literary work itself somehow antithetical to indie publishing? Or is this kind of literary writing itself extinct, and I missed that memo?

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 6:03 pm

          I think there is a relatively limited audience for literary fiction, especially on Amazon, and that audience probably is neither early adopters of technology like the kindle, nor is it a fan of anything indie – I’d wager that most who appreciate DFW or Pynchon or whatnot either work in the book business or academia, neither of which are eagerly embracing the idea of upstarts overturning the hallowed towers of the status quo. So there’s probably a baked-in-the-cake prejudice against an indie literary fiction author to begin with (“oh, he’s indie, he must not have been good enough to rate a REAL publishing deal”), which is made even more obvious by the relatively small audience for that type of work. Genre fiction consumers don’t seem to care as much about whether or not a book as a NY Times review to its credit, whereas many lit fiction fans live by those tiny badges of honor. So I believe that literary fiction authors don’t have a ready audience on Amazon. Theirs is the sort of audience that buys into the notion that the best will persevere in the traditional system until a slot opens up and it can take its rightful place in the hierarchy of trad lit fic books, most of which sell abysmally.

          Ease of understanding of the product is one of the reasons that genre fiction does well – it’s easy to describe what it is the reader is getting. Thriller. Romance. Erotica. No surprises, within reason. “It’s literary fiction” doesn’t really tell anyone much except that it’s likely nothing happens in the book beyond explorations of language and characters.

          I also think that the modern reader’s attention span is shorter due to the web, TV, and the pace of modern life. So there’s a sense of “don’t waste my time” going on – it’s mission-driven reading. That’s not to say that literary fiction doesn’t have value – I’m probably DFW’s biggest fan – but rather that it’s not an immediate gratification dish. Genre fiction is, for the most part. And so, easier to package, easier for the reader to evaluate, and just easier to describe. As an example, my new JET series can be described as “Kill Bill meets Bourne with a Bond twist.” No doubt you have a good idea what to expect. But “it’s literary fiction” doesn’t really tell me much – huh? As in, Old Man and the Sea, or Grapes of Wrath, or The Magic Mountain, or what? What is it you want me to read here? Perhaps that’s overly facile, but looking at my reviews (and I believe my readership to be at the upper end of the bell curve for smarts), overall intelligence and literacy isn’t what it was 40 years ago, so the audience now is even smaller still.

          In short, I believe literary fiction really appeals to a small percentage of Amazon readers, and those readers are, for lack of a better word, book snobs. Which is as it should be. Appreciation of literary fiction is like appreciation of a Kurosawa or Fellini film. It’s not for the masses. So you won’t find that patron browsing the virtual shelves of Amazon for the genre, you’ll find them underlining misspellings in the NY Times weekend edition and grumbling, or shaking their heads at the state of literacy in America while they caress their copy of Infinite Jest (yes, guilty as charged), or reading the New Yorker for effete discussions of the latest esoteric rage for the erudite.

          Of course I could be wrong about that.

          I would love to write the next Lord of the Flies. I’ve been pushed by my former editor, Stef, who is a remarkable talent and somewhat of a mentor, to try my hand at a literary fiction work a la Orwell or Chuck P or even Tomas Mann. Something rich, dense and philosophical, that will make us question our beliefs for years after reading it, and be a seminal work of change, an articulation of post-modern cynicism and the disconnectedness it brings, as well as nearly OCD deconstructionism of any events that touch us, with irony substituting for opinion or dissent.

          I’d love to take six months off, go hang in Thailand, smoke too much dope and drink too much whatever the hell they drink fro a hollowed-out monkey skull (I’m just assuming they do that because it seems way exotic) and write the defining tome for our time. Instead, I have been writing one thriller per month. Maybe he had a point.

          Or maybe I do. I always wanted to be Frederick Forsyth or Robert Ludlum or even Tom Harris when I grew up. OK, I actually wanted to be Van Halen and Chuck Norris, because he could kick a whole boatload of ass while still being short and relatively talentless, but that’s another story. Point is that as far as literary works went, I had my model. It’s funny because I revere both, but went back and read both recently, and groan, sigh, snore. I remembered them as awesome. Read them now, and not as much awesome in there as I thought. Point is, I think I’m on my game for my genre, but I also know I’m wasting my real talent, assuming there is any, because I could write the next slaughterhouse 5 or Grapes of Wrath, but I’m too busy doing what I’m doing to even think about it.

          I think I’ll go lie down now…

          Reply
  12. JA
    Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 11:54 am

    Russell, I came here after seeing this featured on The Passive Voice. Excellent discussion and while I don’t agree with every point you made, it was a terrific read. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 6:06 pm

      I’m right about all of them except for the ones I kind of got wrong. We’ll know which those were in about, oh, a year. In the meantime, eat, drink and be merry…

      Reply
  13. yoon
    Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 12:28 pm

    I have tried to read the whole thing a few times, but all this talk about KDP, publishing, marketing, and writing is making my eyes cross. But I got the most important part – you sold more than 100K books this year and now you are filthy rich and you are hiring a personal pastry chef and another monkey typist. Congratulations! Hope you have a wonderful and successful new year filled with much tequila consumption. xoxo

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks. I actually didn’t hire another monkey, merely leased. Best not to buy some things.

      Wink.

      Reply
  14. Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Bravo!!! (a bit on the cynical side, though.) Still, you have a firm grasp of a tenuous situation. Thanks for the insight.

    However, I’m intrigues by your comment about traditional publishers advertising on Amazon. Where did you see this? And how is it done?

    I figure if they can do it, so can I. If not by myself, then an alliance of indie authors. (I know some people.)

    Again, well said Russell. To your continuing success!

    Best, Michael Allan Scott

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 31st Dec 2012 at 5:47 pm

      A bit?

      I’m cynical. The truth is that every time I’m sure I’m actually too cynical, the world bitch slaps me and I realize I was too optimistic.

      They can advertise any number of ways. $25K minimum per month or they won’t pick up the phone, not that they do anyway.

      Thanks for the warm wishes. Let’s keep hoping that the train keeps a rollin’…

      Reply
  15. Linda
    Tue 01st Jan 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Can’t wait for Mr. Mittens book – has to be better than that awful Grey drek.

    Reply
  16. Sarah Kades
    Tue 01st Jan 2013 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks for the article and congrats on your success!
    Cheers to an excellent year of writing and figuring that whole promo thing out. . . and having fun while doing it.
    Happy 2013!

    Reply
  17. Tue 01st Jan 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Nice article, and probably correct predictions.

    It’s interesting that you had 1000 borrows in December. I have three books on Amazon, only one of which is on KDP Select, and had 380 borrows on it in December (371 on .com and 9 on .co.uk), yet I’m pretty sure I had nowhere near the number of sales as you. I had far fewer sales than borrows – isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?

    Nevertheless, borrows are a nice reason for being in Select – for now at least…

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 01st Jan 2013 at 8:57 pm

      Yes, but I probably only have 6 or so of my titles in Select, so it makes a certain kind of sense. I’m sure if I had all 18 in the program, it would have been much higher, but frankly the incremental difference in income is offset by the opportunity cost of excluding all other markets. So I chose to do both. Can’t complain about the results, and I’m pretty sure another 1000 more borrows wouldn’t change my life much.

      Congrats on the nice numbers. 380 borrows on a single title is nothing to sneeze at, as you know.

      Reply
  18. Jessica Hatchigan
    Wed 02nd Jan 2013 at 12:03 pm

    Russell, I visited this site after seeing a Tweet from Jane Friedman. Excellent post and follow-up commentary! Thank you for sharing your insights – and I look forward to the kitten book. ;-)

    Regards,
    Jessica
    Author of How to Write a Pageturner Novel: 8 Steps to Writing Books Readers Will Love – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00ALPXQVE/theinspirationpl

    Reply
  19. Wed 02nd Jan 2013 at 8:39 pm

    I frankly don’t care what Amazon does as long as I can take advantage or adapt to what strategy Amazon implements. I agree with Russell that Amazon will push for the product that makes them most money. Although, free is a good thing for Indies, it may be pulled off overnight the moment Amazon decides that it served its purpose. They could charge a quarter to the Indie authors for every book offered for free, or charge a monthly fee for listing the books that don’t sell well or at all. As long as Amazon dominates the market, we play by its rules. The trick is find out what the rules are and improvise to take advantage of them.

    Reply
  20. Wed 02nd Jan 2013 at 9:07 pm

    Russell:

    I just found out about you because of Jane Friedman.

    You are not cynical. You are as you say optimistic. So am I.

    You are saying what I have been saying for a long time. If you want to make it in this business, you have to be a 1 percenter. By 1 percenter, I mean someone who is more motivated, operates out of more high intention, and is much, much more creative (in both writing and marketing) than 99 percent of authors are. If you aren’t and you expect to make money from writing, you are delusional.

    Here is a quotation to place the business of writing in perspective:

    “What people really want … is to be broke. At least, that’s one likely interpretation of a new YouGov poll that shows more people [in Britain] would rather be a writer than anything else. Now, it’s possible they’ve all got their eyes on the J. K. Rowling squillions, but the financial reality is rather more depressing. Most book manuscripts end up unwanted and unread on publishers’ and agents’ slush piles, and the majority of those that do make it into print sell fewer than 1,000 copies … It’s not even as if writing is that glamorous. You sit alone for hours on end honing your deathless prose, go days without really talking to anyone and, if you’re lucky, within a year or so you will have a manuscript that almost no one will want to read. Your friends and family will come to dread requests for constructive feedback …”
    — John Crace writing in “The Guardian”

    For the record, I have been successfully self-published for over 20 years (with over 750,000 copies of my books sold worldwide) as has David Chilton who self-published “The Wealthy Barber”, which sold over a million copies in its print edition. I just laugh when I hear about this “indie revolution”.

    I have an article titled “Self-Publishing Comes of Age” from the “Financial Times of Canada” written 20 years ago about David Chilton and me. And even David and I were not the pioneers in self-publishing because there were other very successful self-publishers who came before us such as Robert J. Ringer with three self-published titles, each that sold over 1,000,000 copies.

    Fact is, David and I were very successful at this game over 20 years ago and we will continue to be very successful at this game because we are 1 percenters. Fact is, the majority of authors (lat least 95 percent ) excited about this “indie revolution” will end up selling fewer than 100 copies of their ebooks in a year, and likely in the ebooks’ lifetime.

    The sad thing is that there is more money being made by so-called “book experts” and “best-selling authors” (who, in fact, are not true best-selling authors) selling programs and services to authors than will be made by the vast majority of authors.

    One other note. Print is not dead yet as some so-called experts claim. I just had the best year ever with my self-published “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” since it was released in 2004. It sold 18,600 copies in 2012 and I make $5 in profits per copy. So I made around $93,000 on this book in 2012. It has now made me over $700,000 in pretax profits. Heck, I don’t even have it as an ebook.

    I am just getting into placing my books on Kindle and I quite sure that I will eventually do better than 99 percent of authors simply because I know that I am a lot more industrious and creative than 99 percent of authors. I also don’t follow the crowd like most people do.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    International Best-Selling Author
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 02nd Jan 2013 at 10:37 pm

      Congrats on your success. It’s inspirational to hear from veterans who have been doing it for years, earning more than fair livings.

      99% of all authors won’t be the 1% that make the real money. The numbers are pretty easy to understand. But to be in that 1% for year after year is even more exceptional. Hat’s off to you.

      I’d spend the few hours it would take to put your latest on kindle. Just saying. You might be leaving some money on that thar table.

      Reply
      • Ernie Zelinski  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 6:06 am

        Russell:

        You are very astute, much more than 99 percent of authors as well as the book experts out there.

        Yes, I am definitely leaving some money on that table. By bringing out the Kindle edition, I may be cannibalizing some of the print sales, but at the same time I will increase total sales. What’s more, some people who purchased the print edition may actually want the ebook edition as well. That has happened to me with some books.

        The Kindle editions of my books are coming. One of the reasons for the delay is that I want my books formatted properly.

        Amazon actually contacted me and offered to format “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” for me for free, but they said it would take over a month to get it to their outsourced company that does the work for them. I also convinced Amazon to format all my books for free ( I have over 25 books).

        Unfortunately, I also found out that the outsourced company that does the work for Amazon does not do as great of a job as I can do working on it myself and hiring another company to help me with the technical stuff. Of course, it will cost me more money this way.

        I have been working for almost two months now to get “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” much better formatted than most Kindle books. The print edition of “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free” has proven to be the best retirement book in the world by its sales and I want the Kindle edition to be the best Kindle edition of all retirement books.

        This is just another aspect of marketing, which most authors don’t understand.

        Of course, I know that you understand this.

        Ernie J. Zelinski
        International Best-Selling Author
        “Helping Truly Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
        Author of the Bestseller How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free
        (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
        and the International Bestseller The Joy of Not Working
        (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

        Reply
  21. Thu 03rd Jan 2013 at 10:32 am

    Excellent, Russell! Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  22. Fri 04th Jan 2013 at 4:42 pm

    To say that 99% of indie authors won’t succeed is perhaps too pessimistic. It may be true that 99% won’t hit the big time, but I consider myself a success. Surely there are many in my position: A strong enough income to make a real difference, and enough to make you wonder what you could make if you did it full time — but not enough to match your day job. At least not consistently.

    The arts have never paid well. They say that the acting unions are the only unions in the country that have a 97% unemployment rate. When you hit, you make big bucks — but very few reach that level. That doesn’t mean the rest of us are chumps.

    Congratulations on your wonderful career!
    Diane Farr

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 04th Jan 2013 at 7:20 pm

      Hi Dianne. No, I mean what I say – 99% won’t make more than a couple hundred bucks, period. If you are one that has, congrats, you are in the extreme minority.

      First, I didn’t say that 99% wouldn’t succeed. The reason I didn’t say that is because it’s too generalized. Someone could say, “Hey, I actually am for sale in Amazon’s store, thus I’m a success!” which would have no real meaning. What I said is that 99% won’t make any real money at this. I can clarify. What I mean by that is that they won’t make $500 from their publishing career.

      It’s actually probably worse than that with self-pubbed authors than with trad-pubbed. With traditionally-published authors, you have a culling system – finding an agent, then getting a publishing deal – that eliminates the vast, vast majority, so they don’t get counted. But of the lucky few who get a deal, something like 90+% fail to even sell enough to earn out their advance – and the average advance is now $5K or less (it changes regularly, always down).

      With self-pubbed, if we just extrapolate from the number of books on Amazon, there are likely well over a million authors now. 1% would be 10K. Do you think that there are over 10K self-pubbed authors making, say, more than $500? Net of whatever expenses they have (not counting the value of their time), and I’d say absolutely not. Even assuming there were no costs involved and they did everything free, I’d still say no. Truthfully, you could make far more selling crap you find at garage sales on ebay than you will being an author, per the numbers.

      What percentage do you think make, say, $5000 a year? .05? .005?

      How about $50K?

      $500K?

      If you work for months if not years on a book, then edit it, then publish it, and you make less than $500, that’s not even beer money, and if you divided the profit over the number of hours you invested, never mind all the tweeting and facebooking and all, it would be less than a Bangladeshi beggar makes. So no, it’s not a good deal by any stretch of the imagination for the overwhelming majority, as in, probably more than 99%.

      As you point out, that’s just how it is in the arts. In fact, for an actor to get into Screen Actors Guild, they would have to have gotten a gig that paid real money and been in a film – so they at least made something for their trouble. If that’s the hit rate with actors who made it far enough to be in a film with a speaking role, imagine how many more are plying their trade and never even got that far. With self-publishing, there is no minimum bar to becoming an author, thus the numbers get really ugly really quickly, as it’s a complete crapshoot even among the 1% who might make, oh, say, $500 during their publishing career, as to how many of those will actually make $50,000 over the entire course, much less per year. It’s a tiny fraction. Just the way it is. Always has been a long shot. Doubt that will change any time soon.

      Reply
  23. Fri 04th Jan 2013 at 9:42 pm

    Loved everything about this post, Russ. I enjoyed all the comments too. It’s always amazing how the writing work ethic stops after a book is finished, maybe edited before publishing, and it is only then that the expectations falter. Just write. Love to write. Make it your obsession; there are worse, and would probably get me into lots of trouble.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 04th Jan 2013 at 10:37 pm

      Nice to see you visiting, my friend. Glad you liked the musings.

      There are certainly worse passtimes. But doing this vocationally is probably one of the hardest jobs in the world, and one that carries with it the longest odds of financial success, that’s for sure. So best to do it out of love. Actually, best to do most things for that reason, but that’s a topic for a different blog.

      Reply
  24. Sat 05th Jan 2013 at 10:07 pm

    Personally, I write because it’s the only way to make the voices in my head shut up. And I love the stories they weave together. But the marketing aspect of this is tiring, tiring, tiring…

    I was fortunate enough to get some mileage for “Perigee” out of KDP Select last year, back when the free promotions were actually useful. Actually cracked the top 100 paid list once or twice, but didn’t make much dough since it was selling strong at 99 cents. I was afraid to touch it for fear of screwing up a good ride.

    That was probably the right move, since a first novel probably should be about building an audience more than anything. Hopefully I have several thousand readers now awaiting the sequel. So I should probably quit now and get back to writing…

    Reply
  25. Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 7:03 am

    Pat:

    I acknowledge you for how well you have done with “Perigree”.

    Apparently, you have done better than I have done so far with my Kindle editions. I have three books so far, but by the end of year I hope to have 20 to 30.

    Yes, “the marketing aspect of this is [or can appear to be] tiring, tiring, tiring…”

    Even so, unless you are a household name, you will have to do some marketing and it will have to be truly creative.

    I think that Russell will agree me with me when I say don’t get sucked into what Joe Konrath says on his latest blog post:

    http://jakonrath.blogspot.ca/2012/12/konraths-resolutions-for-writers.html

    Essentially, Joe says in his 2013 resolutions that he will concentrate on his writing and forget about the marketing aspect.

    This will work for Joe Konrath because he has had a lot of success already, partly due to traditonal publishers, which he now trashes.

    For the unknown author, forgetting about marketing is insane advice. Trust me on this, marketing is essential.

    But don’t look at marketing as “tiring, tiring, tiring”. It can actually be a lot of fun. Put your creativity to use and market in ways that other authors haven’t. Forget about all those so-called book experts talking about social media and all the other sure-fire marketing techniques.

    As Russell stated on this blog post, “The KDP Select free program will continue to wane in terms of usefulness for authors.” That’s what happens when the majority do what is supposed to be the key to marketing.

    Pay attention to one of my favorite blog posts ever by Bob Baker, about how one should be doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing.

    http://book-promotion.blogspot.ca/2010/11/how-to-become-book-marketing-ninja.html

    These quotes also apply:

    “Nothing sells by itself.”
    — Ellen Chodosh

    “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.”
    — Seth Godin

    “There are three difficulties in authorship: to write anything worth publishing, to find honest men to publish it, and to get sensible men to read it.”
    — C. C. Colton

    “Even the most careful and expensive marketing plans cannot sell people a book they don’t want to read.”
    — Michael Korda

    “People think that just because they’ve written something, there’s a market for it. It’s not true.”
    — Cathy Langer, Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver

    “Are you publishing this book to make a living? Good luck with that. Less than 3% of newly published authors make enough in royalties and advances to be happy to live on.”
    — Seth Godin

    In short, writing and publishing a book is the easy part. When you have gotten to this point, you have completed about 5 percent of what it takes to make it a bestseller. The rest is promotion.

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    “Helping Truly Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free
    (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller The Joy of Not Working
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 11:41 am

      In the venture capital game, the common understanding is that the idea, and writing the business plan, is worth maybe 10%. The other 90% is execution. If your business plan is to sell books, then writing them is the product creation, which while important, is not a substitute for the work required to successfully sell books.

      They don’t sell themselves, contrary to the no-doubt well-intentioned wisdom being espoused by some. This is a highly competitive market. You are either shrinking or growing. If you decide to cocoon and ignore the realities of the book selling part of the equation, you may feel actualized as a writer, but you won’t sell many books.

      Seems simple to me.

      Reply
    • R.E. McDermott  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 3:08 pm

      I think another thing often overlooked is how you personally feel about marketing. If something is drudgery and a chore, you probably won’t sustain the effort, at least not in the long run. For example, Russell’s a great blogger, he’s good at it, and obviously enjoys it. That shows through in both the blog itself, and his interaction with readers in the comments.

      My blog has cobwebs on it, and I’m not much better at Facebook or Twitter. I certainly respond when someone addresses me via those platforms, but otherwise I’m not very active.

      What I do enjoy is one on one communication via email, and in the closing pages of my books I invite folks to contact me. And they do. I answer each and very email personally (not a form letter) and engage people as individuals. With some, I’ve now had a running correspondence for some months. These people aren’t just readers, I consider them friends and enjoy our exchanges. Having several hundred loyal readers really pays off when you launch a new book.

      Is all that correspondence time consuming? Most assuredly, but it’s not drudgery because I enjoy it. I mean let’s face it, it’s hard not to like people that contacted you because they liked your work. These people have become my friends, and it’s not phony, it’s genuine. I really like and appreciate each and every one of them.

      I’m a bit longer in the tooth than the average indie author, and I decided quite some time ago not to spend the rest of my life doing things I didn’t enjoy. So my advice would be to design a marketing plan based on what you enjoy. If you like blogging, blog. If you like Twitter, tweet. But whatever you do, enjoy it and be genuine.

      I’m certainly not making Clancy/Grisham type money, but I am making a good living. In 2012 I sold +60K ebooks, which ain’t bad considering most of that was one title and the second book only came out in September. But the point is not the $$. I think you really need to be enjoying the experience, ALL of the experience including marketing.

      At first, I bought into all the standard indie marketing stuff, but it made me miserable. Then I figured out what I actually enjoyed doing and concentrated on that. My opinion, for what it’s worth.

      Reply
      • Pat Chiles  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 4:04 pm

        Maybe I should clarify…and by the way, I appreciate the kind words.
        I enjoy blogging (both my own and commenting in others), and have actually learned to enjoy Twitter. What wears on me is figuring out what works and what doesn’t – and all of us who have day jobs and families know how precious time is when you’re trying to crank out a novel a year. I wasted a lot of time (and $$) on web advertising, but at least the ability to track sales in real time allowed me to more accurately assess the results.
        So what have I learned so far?
        Favorable reviews on book blogs: uniformly good results, which were always pleasant surprises. Any time there was a sudden spike in sales, a quick Google search was usually all it took to correlate.
        Paid ad placement on book blogs: Nothing. In fact, the square root of nothing. With sprinkles on top.
        KDP Free days: quite good last Feb/Mar, so-so in June, and declining to zip ever since.

        Going forward, my marketing strategy for the next book is get advance review copies to the blogs that already know me (pure genius, right?), and spread the word via Twitter just prior to release. After that, I’ll leave my followers alone because no one likes being Twitterbombed with endless “buy my book, please!” spam.

        Russell, thanks for a great blog. Along with Kris Rusch, Passive Voice, and Sarah Hoyt ya’ll are my go-to reading.

        Reply
      • Russell Blake  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 4:53 pm

        True. You have to enjoy what you’re doing or you won’t last at it.

        Congrats on the outstanding sales numbers. 60K mostly from one title is awesome.

        Maybe you should tweet that.

        Kidding.

        But only a little.

        Reply
        • R.E. McDermott  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 5:56 pm

          “Maybe you should tweet that.”

          My Twitter feed seems to be about 80% other authors, and to paraphrase Yogi, “half will be pissed off, half will be jealous, and half won’t care.”

          Reply
          • Russell Blake  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 7:20 pm

            Tongue planted firmly in cheek.

          • R.E. McDermott  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 8:00 pm

            Actually, I’m jealous of all your titles. I’d be a lot more so if I didn’t realize you’d worked your ass off to get them written and published. You’re terrifically prolific and I’m much less so. At some point I hope to hit two books a year, but I’m not there yet. But I am enjoying the trip.

          • Russell Blake  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 8:29 pm

            Twin motivators of greed and fear powering me through every day. And tequila. Let’s not forget the tequila.

          • R.E. McDermott  –  Mon 07th Jan 2013 at 7:56 pm

            LOL. Greed I possess in ample measure. Fear not so much, but now maybe I SHOULD break out the Cuervo.

  26. Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 11:13 am

    Hi Russell,
    Congrats on your sales for 2012. I’m also glad your blog is growing. It is certainly worth reading and keeps me sane! 100,000+ sales is fantastic. It also proves that we all could be in the 1 percent given the best writing, editing, formatting and marketing.
    I only mustered 10 percent of your sales in 2012, but sold most of my books above the $5.99 line-70 percent. My own strategy with producing only series books.
    It seems that 2013 on Amazon will be a harder game of chess; trying to solve the ways of the ever-changing system.
    One algorithm I have noticed over time is that whenever I release a new book, the older book sales decrease. In May I did as well with 4 books for sale as I did over Christmas with 8 books. The May/December numbers were within 1% of sales. Weird! Also Christmas was the worst time of the whole year-borrows increased, sales decreased.
    I firmly believe that the game of chess with Amazon to keep ones head above water is only going to get harder for us unknown Indie authors.
    I wish you steady growth over 2013.
    Thanks for keeping me same with your blog.
    T I WADE.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 11:43 am

      The business of competing for reader mindshare in 2013 will get tougher. No question.

      December for me was huge. Now that I have the final tally, it’s almost unbelievable. Of course, I’ll believe more when I get the check. That does have a way of bringing reality into the equation.

      Reply
      • T I WADE  –  Sun 06th Jan 2013 at 11:52 am

        I look forward to one of your big months. I just want to go fishing for a while.

        Reply
  27. Mon 07th Jan 2013 at 9:31 pm

    100,000 copies in 2012? Proof that it’s worth being in this business Russell. However, as you say “The business of competing for reader mindshare in 2013 will get tougher. No question.” But having a book & author brand in position will do 90% of this, and also by constantly releasing new books to your increasing tribe.

    Is your output going to continue?

    Jonathan

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 07th Jan 2013 at 9:43 pm

      Thanks, Jonathan.

      Well, I am going to slow down to “only” 5 or 6 novels in 2013, down from the 8 I released in 2012. I am just finishing up Requiem for the Assassin, the fifth book in the Assassin series, which will release in Feb, and then JET 5, which will release in March. Then I’ll release one in mid to late June, one in Oct, and one in November and December. So 2013 will be a year of more focus on marketing, and less on writing. With 18 novels now out, the problem isn’t that there aren’t enough Blake books in circulation. Now the goal is to increase my visibility.

      One effect I’m seeing a lot of is that once a reader tries out one of my books, they generally keep going through them until they read all of them. So 2013 will be expanding my reach and finding new readers. The good news is that success tends to create more success, so I’m hopeful that I’m over the worst part of the hump now.

      Reply
      • yoon  –  Mon 07th Jan 2013 at 10:07 pm

        LMAO. You are incorrigible.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Mon 07th Jan 2013 at 10:58 pm

          Damn you. OK, I wrote another one. Am writing another one. So shoot me. I got new glasses, have a treadmill, and am the picture of vibrant good health after my extended two week hiatus. It was like a trip to Club Med. I felt rejuvenated and reborn. Like a new man, or a slightly less used one. And now I’m back, bouncing on the balls of my feet. Which I can mostly feel now. So there. The muse will not be denied. But the positive is that thanks to certain people gifting me a remarkable tome, I’ve been inspired to up my game another notch. So really, I’m not to blame. I think that lies with *cough, cough…you…cough*. I am just doing what the voices in my fillings command me. I’m a victim in all this. Don’t be all judgmental.

          Reply
          • yoon  –  Mon 07th Jan 2013 at 11:38 pm

            You got a treadmill? Now you won’t even get out of the house to go to the gym? Oh no!

          • Russell Blake  –  Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 12:34 am

            With a desk. CJ Lyons told me about them. Says they’re de rigeur for us high-falutin scribes. I got one with an ashtray and a beer cooler attachment. Thinking ahead.

          • yoon  –  Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 1:03 am

            With a desk? Seriously? You are going to hurt yourself!

          • Russell Blake  –  Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 1:30 am

            I’m assuming that it comes pre-assembled, and with safety equipment. I shall don my spelunking helmet and roller-blading knee and elbow pads and just go for it. Seize the day, and all that happy crap.

          • yoon  –  Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 2:19 am

            I’ve seen people roll and fall off the treadmill while paying too much attention to TV. I don’t know why they even make treadmills with desks. I’m more worried about you having to get a hip replacement surgery or some such unhappy crap. Considering your advanced age and all.

          • Russell Blake  –  Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 2:58 am

            In Mexico, they don’t replace hips. They just prescribe tequila. Apparently, it works. But your concern is noted.

            And I don’t watch TV, so at least I’m safe from that.

  28. Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 7:06 pm

    I did the KDP free thing, got 1580 downloads in total, and was on a complete high, thinking I was going to see some major sales….not so much……3 in the past 3 weeks. I could cry. This is my third book and I’ve been pulling out every stop promoting it. Dare I say that some people just look for free books and run? They don’t do reviews as a thank you or any of the niceties that one would hope for. They don’t even ‘like’ your book! Sorry, I’m ranting. Well done article. I wish I knew what the magic formula was, but I don’t think any of us do. Good luck to you :)

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 7:16 pm

      As I’ve said till I’m blue in the face, nowadays, unless you see at least 5K downloads per day, you probably won’t see any sales effect. That’s just how it works. The algorithms have been so de-tuned nobody in their right mind would do free anymore if it was for the post-sales bump. Sorry you have found out the hard way. That sucks.

      Reply
  29. Peter Prasad
    Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Senor – I just finished Fatal Exchange and bought Jet #1. Huzzah to you! Stunning detail, pace & plot. But why did you let the Mutt & Jeff of torture waltz away from NYC?
    I’ll bite my tongue waiting for your reply. THANKS!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 9:30 pm

      I actually wrote another ending, where they get it from the boyz in the hood, but when I tried it out on some beta readers, it didn’t score as well as the one where they got away with it, which was more a statement of the moral relativism in play whenever dealing with governments. I wrote em both, and loved when they got their just desserts, but others felt it was too pat, so you got the other ending. Lo siento.

      But sounds like you liked it other than that. For which I’m glad. But I’ll tell you, if you think that was paced well, wait until you read JET – it’s a an out-of-control-Ferrari-on-black-ice of a read. You’ll see what I mean. Oh, and as always, if you liked Fatal, kindly leave a review. They all help. And tell a friend…

      Reply
  30. Robert Jones
    Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Hi Russell,

    I believe you’re 99.9% correct in your predictions. It just makes logical sense. Writing needs to be more craft focused if the indy trade is going to survive. I too have seen relatives and friends gobbling up all the free content on their Kindles before I ever got one, pointing out how well some authors did financially, setting crazy rules about not buying an ebook if it cost them upwards of $2.

    Then they showed me some of the fantastic free books they got. I even tried to read a few recommendations. It was mostly (with some exceptions, since even the better authors were taking part in the free give aways) fairly amateurish stuff. And where I applauded the fact that everyone under the sun was suddenly a published author, I also knew the day would come where reading poorly crafted stories would wear thin.

    Of course, the rest of your predictions follow suit, as business marches on and certainly isn’t going to wait for everyone to sit back and learn how to write well. That takes years for most people.

    However, that being said, I really do look on at all that’s happened in awe. It has opened not only a new market, but the real gift is that it exposed potential writers to a world they never had before. Sites like this for one thing, where elements of craft can be learned, questions asked. A few years ago, that was unheard of. And I really hope that some who have tried, and gotten off to a slow start, will have developed a taste for writing from their efforts.

    I believe there’s a lot of fear in the nasty word “rules” that have frightened, or even froze many would-be writers in their tracks. But the craft of writing is really like nothing else in the arts. You can go as deeply into as you want and it never stops being interesting…on any level. So I would encourage those who stepped up to the plate to walk a little further. The joy of building anything is in the details. And for some, the coming year may just mean embracing their craft with a fresh set of eyes. Yes, it will take you longer to complete your next opus if you attempt to perfect craft. And you probably won’t get rich over night. But if that’s the lure that got you here, you never really stepped off the dock and set sail in the first place.

    Thank you, Russell, for putting things into such a well-thought out perspective.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 9:51 pm

      Most of the free stuff, with few exceptions, were half-baked crap unworthy of anyone’s time. Not that I have an opinion. There were some gems, but frankly, the ratio has been around 1 in 50 or worse.

      That tells me that the vast majority of those who are attempting to be authors have absolutely no clue how to write well. And by write well, I mean to tell a compelling story in an original way, with a voice that is interesting and unique. Never mind the finer points of pedantry, which most besides bitter authors like myself and a few lit students and their professors care about anyway. I’m talking remedial literacy, here.

      What’s strangely fascinating to me are the author forums where I participate on occasion. For every well-constructed, sentient post, there are dozens by folks whose command of their mother tongue is sub-custodial, at best. To have the audacity, no, the presumption, to jot out a few poorly-cobbled pages and then foist them on readers is to me nothing short of criminal, and yet there’s a certain, country-music, I don’t need none of that school lernin attitude that celebrates ignorance and ineptness at one’s craft. Now, while I certainly believe that there are audiences for all levels of books, and most of the most popular books are not the best written, I also don’t celebrate mediocrity or worse. I’m certainly not aspiring to be Pynchon or Wallace or even Burke with my prose, but at least I took the time to learn the basics before putting my work out there and charging for it. The past few years have been a wild west in the game, but my sense is that’s drawing to a close, and readers are growing impatient with having to sift through mountains of poo to find a few diamonds. Having said that, here are a few gems I discovered, mostly through free downloads. They are all worth reading, and some rival the best of the trad pub releases.

      RS Guthrie – Blood Land
      David Vinjamuri – The Operator
      Boston Tehran – Giv, the story of a dog and America
      Gae-Lynn Woods – The Devil of Light
      Justin Bog – Sandcastle and Other Stories
      Steven Konkoly – Black Flagged
      Simon Royle – Bangkok Burn

      Those are just the ones off the top of my head. There were undoubtedly others. Most are still dirt cheap, and you could do worse than reading any of them. But that’s out of hundreds and hundreds where I got two pages or less and tossed em. I’ve never been much for slush piles, and if authors aren’t going to try to put their best foot forward, they lose me. I don’t have a lot of time for reading, so when I do, I will gladly pay for a dependable author who knows his craft. Dirt is also free. I just don’t eat it.

      Reply
  31. Luke
    Tue 08th Jan 2013 at 9:54 pm

    After a long spell I decided to read this blog again. It is so depressing coming here after spending three months at Dean Wesley’s blog, and even Konrath’s, who offer hope, guidance, wisdom and most of all ENCOURAGEMENT. This has to be without a doubt the most depressing, discouraging writing blog I have ever seen as far as writing is concerned, and I’ve read many. With almost forty books under my belt, I can’t believe anyone would be so pessimistic about the future.

    The two blogs are literally like night and day, but find far more of a mentor in the other one than this, and I am not sure if that is because of just one reason, or many. As I studied the initial posts here, this vampiric pessimism goes back to the very beginning (odds are against you, you have to be an elite writer, sky is falling, yada yada). I suppose one could argue that its is being “brutally honest” (a mantra I have heard before) but…I don’t find it being “honest” at all. It looks more like hurling a fiery dart at the readers (or writers, in this case).

    Kind of like the Coen bros. did at the end of No Country for Old Men.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 09th Jan 2013 at 12:30 am

      I’m sorry. I missed where when I sit down to write this blog, I must do so with an eye towards bolstering your self-esteem, and encouraging you. Must have been in the fine print.

      But tell me, have Dean and Konrath’s blogs gotten you into the club of the 1% of indie writers who make most of the money? If so, congrats.

      If not, besides making you feel good about being in the 99% who don’t, what did frequenting them and sipping of their upbeat nectar do for you? In concrete, constructive, anyone-but-you-would-give-a-shit terms?

      I’m all for encouragement. “Hey, everyone’s a winner, and we all are going to do great! Keep on keeping on!” The problem is, that’s a lie. Everyone isn’t a winner. Most won’t do well at this. Indie authors who earn enough to quit their day job and live decent lives are rarer than Picassos. That’s just the way it is. I don’t have any interest in trying to make people feel good about themselves. Or bad about themselves. I offer counsel and insights into how, just maybe, to become one of the 1%.

      Perhaps that’s not what you’re looking for, in which case, hey, no need to read any longer. Perhaps you’ve confused positive upbeat spin for usable data, or you’d like the bad news honey coated and served on nerf platters. Many do. The world is filled with people who want to think that if they only believe, things can be different. That’s the basis of countless self-help programs and mantras and pseudo-scientific philosophies.

      But that’s not what I do. I don’t really care whether my readers feel super great about the odds or not. I don’t care whether they view my position that you have to be extremely skilled, work hard, get lucky, and be skeptical of any and all claims, to be uplifting or depressing. I don’t sell folksy aphorisms or uplifting chicken soup bromides for the unsuccessful writer’s soul. In fact, I’m not selling anything on this blog. I tell indie authors that their odds of making it are slightly worse than being attacked by a honey badger dressed like Snoop Dog on the subway, and then tell them what I think will improve their odds. That’s what I offer. I don’t have a writing workshop for you to attend, I have no self-help tome to sell, and I am not in the business of improving self-images in a thankless business where most don’t succeed. Given I get paid exactly zero for doing any of this, I’d say you can have a full refund if you aren’t satisfied.

      And if this comes off as mean, guess what? I have been 100% consistent when I started this blog and was selling $20 a month. So it’s not like I just began “lording it over others” once I sold 100K books. I have been on point and on message for the last 18 months. The only thing that has changed is I’ve gone from selling 20 books a month to 20K.

      And I’m not pessimistic about the future. I’m realistic. That realism has been a reliable barometer throughout my life, and I’m finding it no different in this business. Most will not make it as authors. The overwhelming majority, whether they have 4 or 40 books out. That is the simple truth. I don’t find the truth offensive or unsettling. It’s just the truth. I value sources that will tell me the truth, as opposed as blowing smoke up my ass and filling me with false hope and empty optimism. This business won’t reward the overwhelming majority of authors. It just won’t. Now, as you have pointed out, there are countless rah rah, uplifting blogs that make you feel good about your choices, yourself, and those around you. That’s not what this blog does. This blog discusses why this is a crap shoot with lousy odds, and what you can do to try to beat the odds. It doesn’t coddle, encourage or tout.

      Sorry that’s not what you are looking for. Fortunately, thousands and thousands of people do in fact look for it every month. Different strokes, I suppose. Best of luck with your work.

      And I thought the movie sucked.

      Reply
      • T I WADE  –  Wed 09th Jan 2013 at 9:20 am

        Well said Russell,
        A good reply to an interesting, and honest message.
        I use Russell’s blog to work out ideas how to better my sales, take in the information to try and twist out more sales by reading what others write.
        Its hard to figure out how to work with the system Amazon KDP offers by ones self. Its always interesting to get new ideas, suggested by others.
        To me this is not a rah-rah blog, but a think-tank forum on how to work the system. I’m sick of good messages and sites giving out hope. Hope doesn’t produce sales-understanding and learning about the system offered to us does.
        Playing a game of chess gives the player hundreds of different ways to excel; new thinking, new strategies, new ways of planning, not just the chance to win a game.
        AMAZON KDP, to me and my writing career, is no more than a serious game of chess. Writing is the easy part!

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Wed 09th Jan 2013 at 11:41 am

          Writing is a noble calling that generally pays squat. But there’s nothing I’d rather do, except maybe chug tequila and chase clowns with a broadsword. I believe if you are going to write, it’s best to, A) Get good at it, B) Push yourself constantly, and C) Shoot for excellence.

          The business of selling books is a business like any other. This blog, while concerned with writing (I’ve certainly blogged about writing before), is mainly concerned with a commercial enterprise – that of self-publishing, which consists of taking writing, packaging it so it’s presentable, and then marketing and selling it.

          I’m not sure why anyone over the age of ten requires upbeat positive spin and ENCOURAGEMENT to read about a business – this one being book selling. I’m pretty sure most medical related sites for doctors aren’t all, “Hey, high five, it’s SUPER to be a DR.!!!” or “Keep on Doctoring! Never say never!!!”, nor are sites for lawyers trumpeting, “Being a lawyer is the BEST!!! It’s super-duper awesome!!! Just go for it!!!”

          And yet clearly some people want that in their blogs covering the mundane business of book selling. Probably because they dislike being reminded that it’s an extremely competitive, tough business where most fail, especially those that don’t get clear that book selling has almost nothing to do with writing. I see no value in encouraging people in a business where commercial success has a financial reward. It’s self explanatory. If you are successful at the book selling BUSINESS, then you will get the encouragement of making MONEY in that BUSINESS. That is why businesses exist. To make money.

          Writing is a terrible way to make money from a statistical standpoint, because the vast, vast majority of authors don’t make enough from their craft to buy a mid-priced cell phone. And even fewer can manage the craft of writing, AND the BUSINESS of book selling. To do so requires a special sort of personality – artistic to be good at the writing part, entrepreneurial and reasoned to manage the book selling part, and possessed of either split personality or tremendous discipline to do both well and allocate sufficient time to the two.

          I can understand why the folksy wisdom of “just keep writing, the sales will sort themselves out” is a siren song for the deluded. I don’t see how it’s especially helpful for those trying to grapple with the BUSINESS of selling books. I’m not in agreement that focusing all your energy on the writing part will do much good for the completely separate BUSINESS of selling books, any more than focusing on that business will make you a good writer. I suppose most prefer to confound the two, and confuse themselves, or adopt a philosophy where the BUSINESS of selling books should be left to the winds of random chance while hoping that quality will rise to the top. They are free to do so, but that has nothing particularly helpful to provide me for the book selling BUSINESS, any more than prayer or hope or positive thinking will help me sell more widgets. “Just make better widgets! And never give up!” may be of use to someone, but it’s not me. When I put my widget selling hat on, I am most concerned with, well, the BUSINESS of SELLING WIDGETS.

          So perhaps our friend doesn’t like that separation between the art of writing and the business of selling, and finds it depressing that it’s really hard to have a successful book selling BUSINESS, and wants to believe that as long as he grinds out more books that somehow his book selling BUSINESS will prosper, and finds opinions to the contrary threatening to his beliefs and thus draining of motivation. If he’s looking for motivation to write, I have blogged in the past about why I think it’s important to develop a mastery of craft so one can recount one’s story as adeptly as possible. Perhaps he feels that my counsel to get as good as you can at your craft is also draining of motivation. Perhaps he would prefer blogs that pretend that anyone who can scribble has a shot at the winner’s circle, and which ignore the true odds of even the most diligent and talented ever making money from their craft, and instead focus on acting as good-time, high-spirited cheerleaders for the pursuit of writing. This isn’t that blog.

          I focus on how to improve you odds in the very difficult business of book selling, and how to become a good writer so the book selling business has the best possible product to offer. Neither of those are pump-you-up topics. I’m sure there are hundreds of blogs where the author is trying to sell writing seminars or marketing savvy or whatever, that will focus on putting a happy face on this very tough gig. Not me. For which I’m utterly unapologetic.

          High five!

          Reply
    • yoon  –  Wed 09th Jan 2013 at 1:17 am

      Dude, high school was long time ago. Well… maybe not…

      Reply
  32. Robert Jones
    Wed 09th Jan 2013 at 1:13 pm

    @Luke

    I tend to believe we all need encouragement. Daily doses of it. But I also believe it has to be in the correct proportions, or blended into a brew containing a few other ingredients…and the cold, hard facts are a part of that mix.

    I haven’t had a lot of encouragement in my own life in terms of my creative endeavors. On one hand, that can suck. On the other hand, I’ve had to find my own encouragement. And nothing quite does it for me like real knowledge. If the facts add up that the odds are against me, that just makes me work harder, dig deeper. In all honesty, it’s only by doing that that the odds of anything you want in this life begin to build up on your side of the fence. Real knowledge is real power. And hey, the odds are against everyone from a statistic POV in every speialized field. The fact that so few do it well in any of the arts is a testament that no one want to really dig into it all that deeply, that lazy minds and quick fix addicts populate the world and rank on all who do well, or came before them, with their deftly beligerent attitudes…which serves them with nothing but more of the same.

    Further, any higher education (in any form) usually has its roles that are filled with tough, less than popular teachers. They usually become the grit that annoys, but also makes people think, or face those odds that are against them with enough of the correct attitude to pull down a few walls, bust down the doors, accost the gate-keepers with an air that speaks of more than just, “Im fluffy and eager.”

    I get more encouragement from this site, and storyfix than anywhere else. I don’t need to hear that I CAN DO IT! I already know that. I want to know how to do it better so I can plan my stategy. And that becomes pretty much a stategic improbability if I don’t know what I’m up against…in any battle.

    Point of fact, all the fluffy eager bunnies who lost their cotton tails, along with their will to go on as writer, never expected to work very hard. Never expected nasty sniping bunnies who sabotaged ratings of those who wrote on similar subject (a damn fool notion in its own right), or that there would be” business-things” to keep track of and not just a nice fat bank account at the end of the rainbow. They became prey…mostly by their own ignorance…but mostly because their was no grit, no rules, no icky learning of the overall facts by which any real strategy could be formulated. They came at this like most sellers on ebay who believe just because they own a computer and can set up an account that they arrived on site fully loaded and preprogrammed with skills to run a business. Only here, there were no business skills, and no writing skills to land on, either. Just a lot of hope that by diving into the pool, they’d magically float.

    From their disappointment, a few will dig deeper and might even come back with what it takes. Most will take from it little more than an extra bucket of angst, go back to ebay, and become even more difficult to deal with next time someone has a question about whatever they try to sell next. It’s a shame, really.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 09th Jan 2013 at 2:14 pm

      That mirrors my attitude. When my enthusiasm flagged, I took comfort from the sales figures of guys like Konrath who were making good money, not from the tone or orientation of someone’s blog. I’m self-motivating, and have learned on the harsh forge of life that you have to make your own luck, not trot along with the herd seeking affirmation or facile glibness.

      I don’t require that the world be lined with neoprene, the hard edges dulled by a Nerf coating of positive thinking. I prefer my truth unvarnished and straight so that I can improve my odds of devising a strategy to become one of the 1%. I presume that those who are regular readers of this blog share that quality.

      Those that don’t are free to go elsewhere for their daily bread.

      Note I restrained myself and didn’t say they could suck it, or that I’d dance gleefully on their cold, dank potter’s graves as I spilled Crystal from an enthusiastic stripper’s shoe (because we could all use a little enthusiasm) while shopping for dream vacations on my latest-generation techno status-bauble. I exercised this uncharacteristic restraint because I want to be loved.

      As do we all.

      Reply
    • Ernie Zelinski  –  Fri 11th Jan 2013 at 7:32 am

      Luke and Russell:

      I agree with both of you.

      Related to this, I would like to share the link to the “New York Times” article about “The Power of Negative Thinking”

      I love the part about several people being burnt after walking on hot coals at an Anthony Robbins seminar.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/opinion/sunday/the-positive-power-of-negative-thinking.html

      I like how the writer of the New York Times article states:

      “What if all this positively is part of the problem? What if we’re trying too hard to think positive and might do better to reconsider our relationship to “negative” emotions and situations?”
      Incidentally, the writer of the “New York Times” article is Oliver Burkeman, the author of the forthcoming book “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.”

      For what it’s worth, I love the title of his book.

      This I do know: Over 90 percent of the people so elated about this “indie revolution” today will not be heard from in a year or two. They will be involved in some fraudulent multi-level marketing scheme or some other racket that will not pay any rewards.

      For the last two years I have been saying that
      overall there is more money being made by
      so-called book experts selling wannabe authors
      programs on writing and marketing than there
      is money being made by authors.

      Check out what Mark Coker of Smashwords had to say in his 2013 predictions:

      http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/12/mark-cokers-2013-book-publishing.html

      Note Mark says,

      “In the self-publishing gold rush, more money will be made in author services than in book sales”

      Of course, most people don’t want to hear the truth and would rather utter flaky affirmations and practice the silly advice presented in “The Secret”.

      Ernie J. Zelinski
      International Best-Selling Author
      “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
      Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
      (Over 175,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
      and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
      (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

      Reply
  33. Fri 11th Jan 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Very interesting read and I agree with you to great extend.

    There seems lately to have been a great many sales and pushes for absolutely everyone to become an author and “hey, it only takes a few hours for you to write your book and publish it on Amazon” etc., which in the end will lead to really unqualified and lousy books.

    When the market is swarmed with this the demand will eventually decrease and the respect for authors decline. Hopefully, you can hope that the audience will just be more critical at their book choices and book purchases instead of disappearing altogether.

    The freemium model can be a great tool for many things, but it can also be a bad thing, especially for two reasons:

    1. You teach customers they can get it all for free – so they won’t spent a dime on the things that should be charged for.

    And

    2. Too many people flood in with their really poor quality products – in this case – books.

    It will be interesting to follow the development of this as we move forward.

    Reply
  34. Fri 11th Jan 2013 at 3:00 pm

    All I want to say is… I got Jet for free from Amazon just a short while back and I have now bought every subsequent book… and wait eagerly for Book V. I have now also grabbed a few of your others because I loved Jet so much.

    So, that one free book did, indeed, lead me to be a purchaser of your other books. I don’t know if I’m the minority. I do download a lot of free books, but when I like the author… I become a customer.

    Reply
  35. Sun 27th Jan 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Russell,

    Congrats on 2012, and here’s to a great 2013.

    This article reinforces the “tried and true” advice, there is no magic button. Success in anything comes with hard work. From my perspective, there never was really a “gold rush”, just a different way of distributing any author’s books.

    The folks who profited from this new way, worked their ass off to maximize the potential from it.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 27th Jan 2013 at 12:45 pm

      Yes, hard work is generally a good recipe, although not a guarantee of success, in any business. I think there are lots of authors out there with tremendous talent, but because of their day job, inadequate time resources to devote what it takes to make this happen. There are also plenty who are marginal, but have the time, but lack the critical thinking skills to figure out what the best way to proceed is. These are the folks who buy the “How To Sell Blazillions!” books and then invest thousands of hours in marketing that doesn’t work for them.

      I believe that every author’s journey is different, and no two will have the same experience. But each success will be atypical, and impossible to duplicate, which is both part of the magic, as well as the frustration, of this business. Hey, if this was easy, everyone would be doing it…

      Reply

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