“I have only made this letter rather long because I have not had time to make it shorter.”
There is much debate as to who wrote this quote originally (the 16th century French mathematician Blaise Pascal seems to be the leading candidate). But whoever it was, he or she captured concisely a problem for many modern-day authors trying to make a business out of self-published fiction.
The competition today is voluminous and sophisticated. Long gone are the days where you could maintain sustainable sales from just a single book thrown up on Amazon. (Assuming, of course, those days ever actually existed at all, outside of rare circumstances.)
If you dissect the strategies of successful self-published authors in the modern book market, none of them succeed by writing just one 600-page book.
The best time to sell readers your next book is when they are still enjoying your first one. And, if you miss that opportunity, then you have to spend more advertising dollars (and time) just to re-engage them all over again.
Ideally, the way it should work is this:
1.) Write and Publish a Catalog of Books to Sell (NOT JUST ONE!)
Consumers are trained today to buy in small increments – from car leases, to in-app purchases, to monthly Netflix subscriptions. This also holds true for the book market as well.
Whatever the exact history of how we arrived at this point, the reality today is that most fiction ebooks written by relatively unknown authors won’t sell for more than $4.99, with most being in the $2.99 or lower range. How do you make money in that environment? I can say with certainty that it is not by writing a single 600-page novel, which is the business model I see many authors follow.
It makes far more sense to split that novel into four 150-page books, price the first book to attract readers, and then charge $3.99 for books two, three, and four.
This business model is workable with three titles. But, the more you have, the better.
2.) Optimize the Categories and Keywords of Each Book
I wrote about this in my last article and it’s a service I offer authors through my company, BoostABook. Optimizing a book’s categories and keywords not only helps your findability by the casual searcher but, when you do start selling books regularly, it helps increase your organic visibility on Amazon. This is because of the way Amazon generates its various lists of best selling titles.
3.) Pick One Title to Be a Loss Leader
As you might know, the loss leader concept in retailing is to sell something at a loss to then create the opportunity for upselling a more expensive product to the customer. You can apply this same technique to selling fiction. Use a cheap price to hook the reader with the first book, and then offer a clear path in that first book to buying future books (through ads and direct links).
4.) Drive Traffic With Non-fiction Writing
The major reason to post novellas for free online, offering short story contributions to other websites, and selling articles – essentially anything that is not a novel you can sell – should be for the singular purpose of driving traffic to one of two places:
A.) Your website (so they can sign up for your email list), Facebook page, Twitter feed – anywhere you can convert that traffic into an audience.
B.) Your loss leader title (so you can start the upselling process).
5.) Have Assets to Capture an Audience
Your promotional costs drop exponentially when you have an audience of readers to which you can advertise on your timetable. That is why it is so important to put effort into building an email list and a social media following, as well as invest the time necessary to sustain it. If you have the audience, you don’t have to pay others for access to their audiences – driving your overall profit up over time.
Building a successful business model with fiction writing (or any writing) isn’t particularly complicated or mystical. But, it does require a long-term view, with some unsexy work along the way.
And, let’s not forget the books themselves. They have to be well-written, with professional covers, and they must cater to the tastes of book buyers. Even a perfectly executed marketing plan cannot sell a crappy product.
Involved in Internet marketing since 1995 (when it officially became a profession), Richard Hoy advises on, and helps execute, Internet marketing efforts for solopreneurs and clients of digital marketing agencies. His current focus is search engine optimization for books on Amazon and for local businesses on Google.
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Great article. Tweeted.