For one of 9,999 out of 10K authors, you’re going to have to fail a lot before you do one of two things:
- Eventually succeed, or
What about that 1 in 10,000?
They have already been there, done that. Failed a lot. Ran into brick walls. Spent a lot of time and money they can’t get back – well, at least the time.
What do those 1 out of 10,000 have that the quitters don’t?
And faith in their own talent. But figure this: Earl Nightingale in his “Strangest Secret” recording said: “Persistence is just another word for faith.”
Read your copy of Napoleon Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” again – Chapter 3, and then Chapter 2. Again.
Because, the authors I’ve tracked down have all taken between 5 and 10 years before they had their “overnight” success.
And that’s after writing and publishing between 5 and 10 full novels (there is no data available on prolific short-read/short story authors.)
Yes, they took an average of a year per book.
How About Getting a “Thousand True Fans”?
And let’s take apart that idea of a “thousand true fans”. One email expert told me recently that you’d have to have a mailing list of about 16,000 in order to achieve a thousand people who would pay you a hundred per year. Another author showed up in research from a couple of years ago saying that he paid to have a million copies of his book given away before he got his “thousand true fans”.
The cheapest cost I’ve found for maintaining that size of list is around $50 a month – and it goes up over a hundred with other providers. And you are going to be giving away a lot of books to help those fans find you. And that cost is at least $20 per month. With a lot of time promoting your giveaways. Also, emailing your list to attend other people’s giveaways – so you never know what your list actually consists of, since you’re constantly emailing them about free and low-cost books. (Meaning you can’t complain about freebie-seekers, since you’re training them to be that way.)
But run the numbers above, and you see that you should expect to shell out nearly $1,000 per year to start – in addition to whatever you’re paying people per book to edit, design, and cover each of your books. (And some of these “service providers” recommend spending as much at $3,000 per book for formatting and covers. Because it keeps them in business. Same reason freelance proofreaders and editors hype how important their craft is – so you can pay them.)
Why Authors Quit
This happens mostly before they ever get really started.
While some 83% of all people say they have a book they want to write, only about 3% do write it. Of those, only about 1 percent actually get it published.
If they publish on Amazon (likely), they have a .4% chance of making any decent income – and that $50K isn’t a livable income in New York or L.A. or SanFran. (See the Author Earnings report on author income from May 2016 and reverse engineer the numbers they gave.)
Again, those who make it on Amazon follow the old Steve Scott adage, “Amazon works as well as you send traffic to it.” And it takes money to send traffic.
Meaning that your day job is paying for your hobby long before those books can ever start paying their own way.
Here’s the real problem, graphed:
Look up: Gartner’s Hype Cycle, and “Crossing The Chasm” on Wikipedia.)
Inflated Expectations come from buying into the hype out there about how simple it is to “make money” on Amazon and by self-publishing.
But new writers have to get people to find and discover (adopt) their books. And conventional wisdom says you have to spend money on all this. Thousands per year. On books that tell you how to “crack” the system.
You can’t just write a great book and expect it to be found (like Thoreau’s fictitious “better mousetrap”.)
The conventional wisdom says you’re going to have to be ready to shell out thousands. Annually. For years.
The Secrets to Publishing for Free
Even while it’s still free to publish your book, it still takes your time. But look up the track record for “The Martian” and “50 Shades of Gray”. (And there are many, many others.) Both of these first worked their way up on free platforms and forums (like Wattpad – so many successful authors started there that they now have started investing in authors on their own.)
- Publishing on Amazon is free – for 30% of your income.
- You can self-edit/proof for free.
- Covers on Canva are free.
- A little work, you can get your book into good enough shape to match anything up there.
The “big books” already have a ready audience – you don’t.
Why do successful Wattpad books “instantly” climb the charts?
Those authors invested time on that platform and built their audience. That audience wanted more books as good as the last ones they’d read for free.
Took them a few years. But all it cost them was time. And they built their audience – which was ready and waiting to buy when they published.
Result: “overnight” bestseller.
If you read Joe Pulizzi’s book, “Content Inc.” you’ll see how this works.
Why you ignore all Conventional Wisdom about Amazon
Because Amazon is the Greedy Gorilla in the room, they get the most attention. And the most “advice” books on “how-to” leverage their algorithms.
The trick with these-type books is that they are like the suppliers selling the tents, picks, shovels, and jeans to miners in any gold rush. More money came out of those miner’s pockets and their families’ bank accounts than ever came from the ground.
But when authors format their book just to “juice” Amazon’s algorithms, they make a poorer reader experience. Ads right in the front. Lots of added text to get a larger payout.
What people want by repeating surveys are…
- Your unique author’s voice.
- They want engaging entertainment.
- They want to be transported out of their hum-drum worlds.
- They want breakout books that have all the “plot structures” in a single story – romance, mystery, adventure.
- They want new and fresh versions of classic stories.
What they don’t want is the same old trite plots and “tropes” that all the other books contain. Not just different settings and character names.
Meaning – you have to write from your own heart. You have to write stories, not just melodramatic plots with characters and “emotional hooks” in them. Not just books like you can already find on Amazon when you “write to market”.
Look back to when books were real entertainment, not brands. Dig up the authors who started out writing for pulp magazines and survived to write popular novels. Louis L’Amour, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Erle Stanley Gardner, ….
At the end of such a study, you’ll see where all these authors threw out most of the “rules” about plotting and outlining and just wrote the stories their inspiration fed them.
Build a business based on finding readers who love to read great stories. And reward them with even better ones than they expected.
Why You’ll Hate This Advice – It’s So Obvious
- Write daily for years, publish everything to Wattpad (and Medium) for free.
- Build a site by blogging and getting people to subscribe to your mailing list. Build this up to about 50K active subscribers and giving them what they most want.
- Once you get popular (by learning how to write on Wattpad and how to actually talk to your subscribers) then start publishing your book to the major outlets – all of them, via aggregators like Draft2Digital and PublishDrive, Streetlib.
It might take you five years, but could be less.
And you won’t make a dime for the first five years. You won’t have to pay a dime to publish on Wattpad. Maintaining your mailing list is going to cost you money. But if you do it right, you’ll at last have your “overnight” success and the income will roll in. (Ask Adam Croft.)
First, deliver value and pay your dues by finding out who your audience is and what they want. (Hint: it’s not some “avatar” you build out of some demographic studies.) Write a bunch of great stories and people will tell other people.
Once you have your rave fans, then pay to get your book edited and proofed – then put it up for sale (in a series from your online serialized chapters.)
Above all, have fun at this. Because that’s why you and I are here – to enjoy this vacation on our little mud-ball on the edge of this rim galaxy. Good writing just makes your own time and your reader’s pass more enjoyably.
Also published on Medium.