Cracking 6-Figure Book Sales by Mid-list Publishing (and a Pulp Fiction Mindset)
Shreeve’s stated overall goal is to pass on data so struggling writers and change their mindset, and sell enough books to live full-time from your writing.
In fiction, there is no scarcity – just getting your entertaining books discovered. Given a great supply of books, readers will read more.
Lesson 1 – Admitting You Bought into Useless Conventional Wisdom Myths.
The quiet mid-lister probably makes more money than the flash-and-gone bestsellers. Look at the Author Earnings report for Jan 2018 (http://authorearnings.com/report/january-2018-report-us-online-book-sales-q2-q4-2017/) and you’ll see that the biggest earners on Amazon are there because of backlists. Massive backlists. (James Patterson with 348!)
The Big Name bestseller lists are consistently gamed and do not mean a viable income. Amazon bestsellers can be up there for minutes. Sustained income on Amazon is due the range of sales you have on a regular basis per book, and how many books you have that sell at all with regularity.
Even Data Guy at Author Earnings isn’t able to track Amazon writers that publish ebooks under several pen names without ISBN’s or publishing imprints.
So you have to get over this fact of getting fame from being a “big name bestseller.”
Same for big launches of a single book. Lots of effort for a blip of sales.
Change your mindset from ideas of big sales from one perfect book to regular sales of your multiple high-quantity best books. (Deep backlist selling regularly.)
The Business Model is Being a Mid-Lister.
Mid-listers are what keeps the big traditional publishers afloat. (See Rusch: https://kriswrites.com/2010/12/29/the-business-rusch-midlist-writers-changing-times-part-11/)
It’s not writing the “Great American Novel.” It’s about writing a lot of entertaining books in series and serials. (Series includes pen-names, same author.)
So you replace the pressure to write a “bestseller” with writing more good, entertaining books.
Lesson 2 – Bestsellers are based on luck (and timing) – you don’t need luck to sell 300,000 books a year.
See the above. The guys making the big bucks may or may not have promotional engines and networks of big traditional publishers behind them. But they do have a big backlist of very entertaining books.
This again ties into the Big 5 trad publishers hold on the mindset of business. Income for authors is better – with fewer books sold – when they are indie publishing.
Take cracking into 6 figures. Breaking it down means 800 books sold every week (only 40K per year) which average at $3.99 royalties ($2.79 minus your aggregator’s 10% gives you about $2.50 each = $2,000) Times 50 weeks – $100K. A six-figure income. Now if you aren’t trying to get your single book to make that, but rather have about 50 books up there (because you’ve been writing prolifically for a couple of years or so – J. K. Rowling as “only” 37 per Author Earnings.) Then the pressure per book is less. Most can need only sell about 15 copies each week, as long as they keep selling that amount.
Which brings up…
Lesson 3: You Need to Spend Money on Advertising to See That Sales Volume.
All the films you watch were advertised. The myth of “building a better mousetrap” only works if you tell people you have, and where they can come to buy it.
With the sheer volume of books being published, it’s easier than ever to get lost if you don’t do effective promotion. The trick is in running effective ads that actually increase sales. Facebook (and maybe AMS) ads that show up immediately in increased sales. And then take those increased sale revenues and re-invest them in more ads.
James Patterson sells books because he advertises his books. He was an advertising executive who started writing books.
Shreeve credits selling a thousand books per day through 2014 on his advertising.
His tips: Run ads to a series, and never more than $10/day.
It works because you are getting backlist sales, not going for “bestsellers”. Be patient. Keep writing. Make your ads always earn you more income than they cost – by several times.
Eventually, you can work up to 5-figure monthly income – and you’ll have started your business for real.
Lesson 4: Your Readers Want to Know When You Publish Your Next – Give Them Their Opportunity to Find Out.
Build an email list. By pen name, by genre.
Mail them on releases to pre-orders, mail them on price increases as that book comes off the low intro price on Amazon.
Lesson 5: Free Only Kinda Works.
Shreeve says he paid to give away over one million books in 2014. And says that that was his first and last year. Because he’s now got a base who will support him.
(Instafreebie/ProlificWorks says I got 6082 subscribers through them. Means I gave away 70% more. or about 14K books. While that’s only 4 cents per subscriber, that’s a lot of books.) If I hit a million, I’d have an initial mailing list of 300K (and would drop by around 50% within three months – just the cost of free. Shreeve points out that he got his 1000 true fans from that million. That’s the key point.)
Shreeve says that he can now predict the impact of his mailings within $300 – just by telling people about his releases.
This is where short reads and short stories come in. Give the singles away, charge big and advertise for the anthologies. Especially where the pen-names “co-author” with each other.
By the end of this year, I’ll have 100 short stories and nearly 30 anthologies. Do the math – 12K per week (that’s two 6K short stories) for 50 weeks gives you 600,000 words, or 2400 pages. Which makes eight 300-page works, or twelve 200-page works. (and almost 10 250-page books.) Mark Dawson said that the $3.99 and $4.99 books are the ones that make positive ROI. Your short stories become inexpensive samples.
Meanwhile, you aren’t limited to what kinds of anthologies you can build. I (will) have six collections which showcase the publishing imprint’s two-month’s worth of short stories. Eight collections of bi-annual author anthologies for four pen names. Two (soon to be three) anthologies which build a particular universe they all contributed to. Six smaller anthologies (around 50K each) by genre and special themes. That’s 23 anthologies out of the same 600K of words.
One year can build a deep backlist for you, too. Get into the consistent-publishing mindset (pulp fiction is back.)
The next best time to start is now.
– – – –
A Preview of Next Year’s Challenge – Making Your Writing Business Pay
Content Inc is the model to follow.
For this case, we are actually taking fiction authors and concentrating on mastering the book-selling platforms. That will require building a responsive, buying list.
Then there is diversification somewhere down the line, which leverages your list.
The most basic products any author (fiction or non-fiction) can leverage:
- A Backlist of Books (in all formats – ebook, print, audio, even video)
- Courses (all fiction authors should be recommending courses and books to improve their craft – at least getting affiliate sales. Dawson figures he’s on track to crack a 7-figure year with the courses he’s added. Grahl says a course based on your book can 100x the income you make on that book’s sales.)
- Paid Talks
- Podcast advertising
- Annual Events
So you start off mastering the book business and then leverage that audience by offering them additional services and products. If you can make six figures a year from book sales alone, consider 100x-ing that…
PS. A Note on Pulp Fiction
In the hay-day of pulp fiction, there were only mid-listers writing short stories and serials to the pulps – cheaply printed magazines that came out regularly. Paper shortages during WWII made the publishers shift to cheaply printed paperbacks, and writers began writing longer.
The bestseller lists were for hardbacks. (“quality” paperbacks came later.)
Eventually, those list sponsors had to recognize paperbacks and ebooks, grudgingly. But those lists, as I’ve covered above have always been a bit of a fudge as to who they allowed on them. And have been gamed, regularly. (Speaking of gaming – Amazon “bestsellers” are a laughingstock.)
The point is making a decent living from your writing. Author Earnings says just a few over 1400 do this from Amazon alone.
I’ve spent today recovering an old write-up (around 80+ pages) from one of the early masters of this craft – H. Bedford-Jones – one that Erle Stanley Gardner recommended. (Both prolific pulp authors.)
In our modern age, the ebook democratization means the pulps are back. Shreeve is the first I’ve found to lay out how to do it. So the long reference to his post.
The model is to be prolific: write short and publish wide/long. Start with short stories to master your craft, churn out tons of these (like 12K per week, which is doable even at Stephen King’s 2K per day.) Publish them all everywhere you can. And put them up for free on Wattpad and Medium. Encourage subscribers and build your list.
Wattpad and Medium are the modern-day pulp fiction publishers – and on Medium, you can submit to “publications” there.
With a big backlist, you can start mailing readers about your releases. And advertise your larger page-count books, profitably.
I’ll have this recovered book out shortly, probably as part of an anthology of related pulp-writer advice’s. Here’s a PDF download for you…
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A List of Notable Pulp Fiction Writers
From Francis L. Fugate’s “The Story Telling Techniques of Erle Stanley Gardner”
The hungry woodpulps served as a training ground for writers, illustrators, and editors. Their contributors made up a roster including Isaac Asimov, Rex Beach, H. Bedford-Jones, Ray Bradbury, Max Brand (Frederick Schiller Faust, who really would rather have been a poet under his own name than write Western stories), Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, Major George Fielding Eliot, Zane Grey, H. Rider Haggard, Dashiell Hammett, Harold Lamb, Jack London, H. P. Lovecraft, Rafael Sabatini, Marc Schorer, and Tennessee Williams—to name only a few. Perhaps the most notable was Sinclair Lewis, who served a stint as associate editor of Adventure under Arthur Sullivant Hoffman before going on to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. And, of course, Erle Stanley Gardner was by no means last or least.
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Of course, this inspires me to cobble an anthology of pulp fiction writer’s advice’s, most I’ve already shared on this site.
. . . .
Just keeping you up on what I find as I do…
Also published on Medium.