I do a lot of one-on-one author coaching, especially around conference season. And in the decade or so that I’ve been chatting with new, incoming, and will-be authors, there are certain recurring questions that I get asked. Most could be boiled down to “How do I sell a million dollars worth of books?”
The answer to that one is very simple: Write a book, price it at $1 million, sell one copy.
But of course, the reality is there’s no way to answer a question like that. Or rather, there a million ways to answer a question like that, and every single one of them is contextual or dependent on an array of shifting and dynamic factors, making it impractical to even attempt a serious answer.
But for a million dollars, I’ll give you my best guess.
Still, there are some questions I get that do have answers. Let’s take a look at five common questions that come up among authors:
1. Should I distribute wide or stay exclusive?
But since one-word answers are rarely one-size-fits-all, and this particular answer, coming from us, is going to sound biased, let’s drill down a little. And let’s be a little honest, too.
First, the honesty: Some authors are going to be better off distributing through an exclusivity deal.
Mostly, those are authors with only one book (maybe up to three books), who aren’t interested in marketing, and who more or less want things on autopilot. Exclusivity programs can often be a good way to make at least some money from a book (or books) without having to think about the “business” side of things.
A couple of days back I wrote a whole blog post on my own experience with wide versus exclusive. Take a look at that for a solid look at the ups and downs of using a service such as Amazon’s KDP Select (commonly referred to as “Kindled Unlimited” or “KU”).
But as sort of summary, one reason you might choose to use exclusive distribution is that it can be a little easier to make some money, even if you only have one book.
The downsides are a little hairy, though.
For a start, you’re locked into that exclusivity for 90 days, during which time Amazon is the only place readers can buy your books. Which means that if you run ads on a platform such as Facebook or BookBub or even Google Adsense, there may be readers who discover you but can’t actually read you. Which means you may have spent some ad dollars to reach an audience who can’t actually buy your book.
Of course, each of those platforms lets you target pretty specifically, so you might mitigate that waste by focusing only on Amazon readers. But in my opinion (for what it’s worth), this means you’re spending about the same amount of money you’d spend targeting readers on multiple platforms, only to reach a much more narrow audience of readers. It costs you the same, but makes you dependent on one retailer.
In addition, as I laid out in the blog post I mentioned above, the revenue you make from page reads in Kindle Unlimited is a teensy-tiny-miniscule sub-percentage of the overall cover price of your book. Amazon typically pays less than .005% of your book’s cover price per page read. Which means that you’re going to be lucky to get as much as 1% of your book’s cover price. Even traditional publishing offers a better deal than that (and their deal is terrible).
Distributing wide, on the other hand, gives you the advantage of becoming discoverable amongst a bigger audience, worldwide, regardless of their preference of retailer or reading device. And you get a much bigger percentage of each sale—typically anywhere from 35% to 70%.
It doesn’t take many sales to overcome whatever income you might have “lost” by missing out on Amazon’s global fund. If you focus your marketing on attracting readers who love your type of book, rather than on readers who love your book but are also only on one platform, your chances of success start creeping upward.
2. How long should my book be?
New writers are obsessed with word count or page count for their books, and I’ve finally figured out why.
When you first start looking into this business, it’s hard to know where to start. You’re presented with a firehose to the face, spewing tips and guidelines and best practices that cover everything from writing craft to marketing. It’s overwhelming.
Add to that the fact that for years of our lives, through grammar school and high school and right into university, we’ve been given guidelines and parameters for anything we write. And now, for the first time, we’re left to determine such things on our own… well, it’s intimidating. We have no idea what the rules are.
And that, sadly, is because there are no rules.
There are the aforementioned guidelines and best practices. There are the proverbial “rules of thumb.” But when it comes to defining exactly what word or page count equals “book,” forget it. Anyone’s guess is as good as mine.
If you Google “what’s the minimum length of a book,” you’ll be served up with a spectrum of answers. Far from solid, written-in-stone numbers, you’ll get ranges.
Anything with a word count between 1 and 10,000 words is a short story.
Anything between 10,000 and 30,00 words is a novella.
Anything that is more than 30,000 words is a novel.
Yeah? So what’s a novelette? And what about Ian Fleming’s James Bond books—some were only around 30 words. Were those novellas or novels? And what about this other set of guidelines that says the minimum word count for a novel is 50-thousand? And this one over here that says anything that falls between 20-thousand and 60-thousand words is a novella.
Trust me… there no rules. Not really.
So the answer to this question is going to come down to which set of guidelines you choose to adopt as your own. Or, alternatively, if you are beholden to some third party you’ll need to adopt their guidelines on length. Traditional publishers, for example, may have a minimum threshold of 80-thousand words for their novels.
And then there are the genres!
One dares not submit that their 50-thousand word fantasy story falls into the “Epic Fantasy” genre, where books routinely top 130-thousand words. It is laughable. And laughter can hurt one’s feelings.
So again, in deciding what length is right for your book, consider:
- Your target market/audience
- What is typical for your genre
- Your avenue toward publishing (and the requirements of a publisher)
- Your own personal tastes and preferences
Oh yeah… those count. For some of us, we feel most comfortable writing something around 60-thousand words and stopping. Dean Wesley Smith once told me that 60K was a pretty comfortable length for a book, in his mind. His publishers used to demand more, but now that he has the clout to do what he wants, he writes ‘em his way.
You can, too. Just make sure you understand the risks and rewards. The most important thing is to meet reader expectation. If you readers are complaining that your books are too short, considering that with your next book.
But don’t fret so much over length. Write the story—beginning, middle, and end. And if you’re telling a complete story that resonates with you, it will likely feel like a “real book” to your reader.
3. With all the different marketing options, how do I learn them all?
Marketing scares the bejeebers out of authors for some reason. It may be due, in part, to the fact that many of us worry about “selling,” or coming across as pushy or egotistical or a dozen other negative ideas.
The truth is, if you have created something that can enrich and improve the lives of others, you have an ethical obligation to market your work.
Which probably doesn’t take much of the pressure off. But let’s deal with some basics.
First, marketing is the process of improving the odds that the right reader will discover your book at the time they are most ready to purchase and read it.
That’s the broad definition, but it is intentionally so. Because marketing is a very broad science.
Anything… and I mean literally anything… can be considered marketing, in the right light.
Forget the scary stuff, like learning about analytics and setting aside budgets for ad-spend. That’s only a very narrow approach to marketing.
You might also consider creating content, and consistently posting it online—blog posts, social posts, YouTube Videos, etc.
You might also go to live events, do readings at local libraries, visit school classrooms.
You might hand out business cards to wait staff at the restaurants you frequent, or wear T-shirts or use stickers or signage that advertise your books.
If anything you’re doing has even the slightest chance of getting a reader to your book so they can decide to buy it—congratulations! You are a marketing machine!
Still, all of that is a lot to consider. And there are pressing, scary questions on top of it all. We worry about whether we should be on Instagram and/or Pinterest. We get stressed out thinking we should be posting video to TikTok and/or YouTube. We start to lose our minds thinking about taking that elaborate and expensive course on Facebook advertising, or going through thousands of tutorials to learn how to use Google Adsense.
It’s easy to drive yourself nuts. But the answer to all of this can be found right in front of you.
This blog post.
I kid! I kid!
The real answer is something you may already have applied to another aspect of your life: Focus on one thing at a time.
We are terrible at chewing gum and brushing our teeth at the same time. I can’t sharpen knives while riding a unicycle to save my life. And when I’m reading, I’m pretty much the worst there is at using a telescope.
We are built to do one thing at a time. Especially if we want to do that one thing well.
Now, when it comes to something like a marketing strategy, there can be a lot of moving pieces. Ads, social media, blogging, videos, etc. are all a potential part of that. But no one ever said you had to know all of it and use all if it right now and all at once.
One piece of advice I give authors regarding writing their first book (or any book) is kind of applicable here:
We sometimes freak out thinking, “How am I going to write fifty thousand words?” Or insert your target word count here.
And the answer, of course, is you are not going to write that many words. Not all at once. You are going to write five words. Or 100 words. Or maybe 2,000 words. Whatever word target you’re comfortable with that day. And then you’re going to repeat that tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, until you have all the words written.
We don’t write an entire book all at once. We write it in chunks. A little here, a little there, and it all adds up over time.
The same is true for marketing.
Pick one thing, and master that for 30 to 60 days. And start with whatever you’re comfortable with—if you feel good about Pinterest, focus on mastering Pinterest. If you like making videos, focus on videos. If you’re a data nerd, focus on learning how to run ad campaigns.
Whatever it is, stick with that one thing until you have it down so pat you could do it in your sleep.
And then go focus on another marketing task.
Do one thing at a time, for 30-ish days, and when you’ve got it mastered you can add something new. In this way you’ll eventually learn all the skills you need, and you’ll be the one people ask for advice.
4. How much does publishing cost?
If I told you it costs $60,000 to publish your book, what would you do?
What if I said $1,000? Or $100? Or $0?
The truth is, the “cost of publishing” is another slippery little worm to try to snag. Because when we say “cost,” we might all be working from a different playbook.
There are services out there that will gladly charge you $60K to publish your book. They often pad their offering with attractive-looking “perks,” like including marketing and PR, cover design, social media management, websites, things like that. If you look around hard enough you’ll likely find everything they’re offering from hundreds, maybe even thousands of other services, running a whole range of prices.
I want to make something clear, because it’s very, very important:
Services that offer to publish your book for an upfront fee are almost always predatory.
I’m willing to allow that there may be legitimate exceptions. But I haven’t yet found any, and I’d still be dubious either way.
Now, we should distinguish here between two concepts: Cost and Overhead.
Cost, in this context, means that a service is charging you to publish your work.
Overhead, by contrast, means that there are some expenses that are inevitable for the self-published author. These can be called a cost of doing business, but shouldn’t be confused with the cost for a service to publish your book.
Overhead costs might include things like professional editing, professional cover design, professional copywriting services (writing your book description, writing a press release, etc.), and things like graphic design and web design. These are business expenses. If you were going through a traditional publisher they’d cover some of this, but as a self-publisher these things fall on you.
Not to fear, though—there are a lot of ways to keep overhead down. It’s outside the scope of this post to go into all of them, but just as an example you can use a service such as Canva to design your ebook cover, and you could hire a copywriter on Fiverr.com to write your book description or edit your manuscript, or use it to find someone to design your website.
Spending money on overhead is a normal and acceptable part of being in a publishing business. But giving a company thousands of dollars to “publish” you is simply not a good idea.
There are a lot of predatory services out there, and one way to be on the lookout for them, or to vet a service that may sound too good to be true, is to Google the phrase “writer beware,” and then use any of the reputable sites you come across to sniff around the less than reputable service that has approached you. You might also Google “[Service Name] scam” to see what kinds of things pop up.
And when in doubt, tag @draft2digital on any given social platform and we might be able to point you in the right direction.
But the short answer to this question is, self publishing is free.
We can help with that, if you need it. D2D offers a ton of free tools and services to help you get your manuscript ready for publication, and you can use them even if you don’t distribute through us. If you do distribute through us, we take ~15% of the royalties you make from each sale. That’s it. It’s the only money we make from you, and it’s kind of indirect.
We’re also here to help and answer questions for our authors. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org any time and we’ll answer your questions and help solve your issues. You can Google that, too.
5. How do I find more readers?
This is really a marketing question, and we’ve kind of answered it in the sections above. But I get asked this question, in one form or another, from literally every author who comes to me for advice. It’s the key question. The core question.
The simple answer is “marketing,” but I know that isn’t what you’re looking for. You want an easy button. You want to know the one thing that will bring in readers by the thousands, that will get them excited about your books so they’ll buy them and you can retire to your hundred acre ranch with its own private beach.
I don’t have that button.
If I had that button, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog post, to be honest. Instead I’d be holding on to a rope tied to one of my galloping horses on the shore of my private beach as it dragged me along on my wake board. Let’s be real.
But I do have some advice for moving the needle on this.
To find readers, go where they are.
Authors spend a lot of time gathering with other authors. We do writers groups and conferences, we join Facebook groups and attend livestreams. We do writers retreats and novelist weekends. It’s good to connect with other writers. There’s a lot to gain there. A lot to learn.
But what we tend to forget is that the point is to connect with readers.
As authors, we should make an effort to be in the places where readers spend their time. We should go to conferences and events that are aimed at readers. We should join groups where readers spend their time, talking about books. We should take part in conversations with readers about the books they’re reading, which may be the same books we love.
We need to take time to connect to readers as often as possible, and on their turf.
But one thing we do not do is invade their turf and try to sell them our books.
Not overtly. Not outright.
If you join a reader’s group on Facebook, put it in your bio that you’re a writer. If you’re allowed, link to your website. But don’t blast “I AM AUTHOR READ MY BOOK” at everyone. That’s crass, and and counterproductive.
The best advice I can give you is to think of it like a cocktail party. Nobody wants to talk to the guy trying to sell them something in every conversation. They want to be around the lady with all the wonderful insights about this book or that film, who has something valuable to contribute to the conversation. They want to be around someone who is like them, who is interesting, who shares their interests.
Whether you’re attending an in-person event or tooling around on social media, be Interesting Lady Who Contributes Things, not Blowhard Guy Always Trying To Sell Things.
But most importantly, be where readers are hanging out.
It’s helpful to join readers who are into the kind of stuff you write. If your books are similar to Stephen King’s work, or John Grisham’s, or any other author, join some groups where readers are talking about those books. And then talk about those books. Make insights, tell jokes, share memes, invite people to fan events. Be a part of that audience.
By doing so, you’re learning more about them. You’re learning what they like, where they shop, what they pay attention to.
It’s called “market research.” And you learn by doing. So go be a part of the community you’re trying to reach. It will definitely help you.
Those are five questions I get a lot. I get many more, but I think most could be summed up with the five above. It’s pretty amazing how much all writers actually have in common, when we get down to it. All of us, me included, have the same insecurities, the same wants and needs, the same drives and passions. It kind of makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger.
Because you are.