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Author Topic: It's normal not to sell a lot  (Read 27916 times)  

Kitten

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It's normal not to sell a lot
« on: February 01, 2014, 08:41:23 AM »
A lot of people talk about their success here. About their loads of sales. I'm pleased about this, as it has shown me it's possible to earn a real wage as an indie writer, and gives me a goal to reach for.

But I wish it was clearer that having loads of sales is NOT normal. That it's the minority of writers who sell hundreds or thousands of books a month. Again, I'm pleased that the people who are this successful mention it, but I get worried that people will think this is NORMAL, and look down on themselves for selling less than that.

I used to sell barely anything and am doing better now, but I'm nowhere near as successful as those who sell hundreds or thousands a month. And that's okay. I do get swept up in all the stories of success and start to feel a burden on myself, like I'm not selling like them so I must be doing something wrong. But I work hard, and try, and what else can I do? You can't do better than your best. All you can do is try, and if what you achieve isn't the same as someone else, that's fine. You can only do what you can do.

Seriously, it's NOT NORMAL to sell loads, so for those of us who sell a few books a day, or a week, or a month, don't stress. We're in the MAJORITY, it's just that no one's really going to post, "Hey I sold two books this month! Woohoo!" Of course you're likely to post about success, not when things are normal and ordinary. But not selling much IS normal and ordinary. It doesn't mean your books aren't good. Sure, maybe you need to do more to succeed. But these things happen over time, usually. Hell, if you sell one book a month for ages, this happens. You're not alone. You're not even remotely alone.

Those with big success? Great. Good on them. I value their contribution and hope to be like them one day. I hear their stories and think, "That could be me!" I could hopefully earn a real living from this eventually.

But for now I'll try and remember that I'm doing okay, I'm doing my best, and I'm doing the same as most indie writers. Some do better. But most of us are in the same boat. The boat isn't sinking. It just hasn't reached the shore yet.

Offline Bards and Sages (Julie)

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2014, 08:59:01 AM »
The big numbers can actually be discouraging for many writers, because despite giving lip-service to the amount of work sales requires, the general vibe almost always boils down to: great cover+permafree and/or Select+Bookbub=SUCCESS. Which is actually detrimental in the long run. It's wonderful when someone sells thousands of copies, but that needs to be tempered a little with reality. The average self-published book will sell less than 200 copies in its lifetime.

But here is the thing. That isn't a BAD thing! Because how many of those books that sell 200 copies or less never would have been published at all? Maybe a book only sells a few hundred copies. Why is that a failure? I never started self publishing to sell thousands of copies a month. I started self-publishing because I'm a project junkie and I love the process. I have published books I knew had limited commercial value, but I did it because I felt those books deserved to be published. And the beauty of digital publishing and POD is that books that never would have seen the light of day because of the high cost of traditional offset printing now can be printed. I cater to a rather niche audience (I publish RPGs and literary speculative fiction). But these are niches that I am good at and that there are readers for. And while I'm not on the Amazon bestseller list, I recover the cost of each project in 3 months and can afford to pay for the next project with the profits of the last project. I pay my people on time. I give my readers what they want.

There is a little coffee shop around the corner from my sister-in-law's old apartment. Whenever we would go to visit her we would stop there for coffee because they had the best coffee. But it is also a fun little shop, where the patrons sit around and talk about Dr. Who and geek stuff instead of having their faces buried in their smartphones or iPads. The cashiers actually have conversations with you, and nobody gets bent out of shape waiting in line while a patron is showing the cashier pictures of her new baby. It's an awesome little place that has been there for years and supports its owner. It will NEVER sell as much coffee as Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. But it doesn't have to.

I never got into this to be the Starbucks of indie publishers expecting to move tens of thousands of copies. I got into this to be the quirky little coffee shop on the corner. That IS my success. I don't need to flash $50,000 advance offers or NY Times status at people to show I am successful. I have achieved the success I set out to do.

Success is how you define it. It isn't a sales number or a dollar sign.




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Offline Flopstick

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2014, 09:04:06 AM »
I would add that, in my experience, sales will be a relative trickle for the first year or so after publication. Don't expect them to perform a vertical take off. They take time to build momentum and come to the attention of potential readers. Don't expect steady sales from the word 'go'.

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Offline johnlmonk

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #3 on: February 01, 2014, 09:05:59 AM »
Great post, and I love your covers btw.

For the record: I sell hundreds of thousands every month -- of WORDS, not books :)

Cheers!

Kitten

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #4 on: February 01, 2014, 09:08:31 AM »
The big numbers can actually be discouraging for many writers, because despite giving lip-service to the amount of work sales requires, the general vibe almost always boils down to: great cover+permafree and/or Select+Bookbub=SUCCESS. Which is actually detrimental in the long run. It's wonderful when someone sells thousands of copies, but that needs to be tempered a little with reality. The average self-published book will sell less than 200 copies in its lifetime.

But here is the thing. That isn't a BAD thing! Because how many of those books that sell 200 copies or less never would have been published at all? Maybe a book only sells a few hundred copies. Why is that a failure? I never started self publishing to sell thousands of copies a month. I started self-publishing because I'm a project junkie and I love the process. I have published books I knew had limited commercial value, but I did it because I felt those books deserved to be published. And the beauty of digital publishing and POD is that books that never would have seen the light of day because of the high cost of traditional offset printing now can be printed. I cater to a rather niche audience (I publish RPGs and literary speculative fiction). But these are niches that I am good at and that there are readers for. And while I'm not on the Amazon bestseller list, I recover the cost of each project in 3 months and can afford to pay for the next project with the profits of the last project. I pay my people on time. I give my readers what they want.

There is a little coffee shop around the corner from my sister-in-law's old apartment. Whenever we would go to visit her we would stop there for coffee because they had the best coffee. But it is also a fun little shop, where the patrons sit around and talk about Dr. Who and geek stuff instead of having their faces buried in their smartphones or iPads. The cashiers actually have conversations with you, and nobody gets bent out of shape waiting in line while a patron is showing the cashier pictures of her new baby. It's an awesome little place that has been there for years and supports its owner. It will NEVER sell as much coffee as Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. But it doesn't have to.

I never got into this to be the Starbucks of indie publishers expecting to move tens of thousands of copies. I got into this to be the quirky little coffee shop on the corner. That IS my success. I don't need to flash $50,000 advance offers or NY Times status at people to show I am successful. I have achieved the success I set out to do.

Success is how you define it. It isn't a sales number or a dollar sign.


This is all so true! It is very easy to think success is about how much you sell, how much money you bring in. I almost forget about the stories themselves, what I was trying to convey when I wrote them. I forget about the joy and fun of creating something, of putting your vision and your ideas and creativity into something. I think about sales and income, and it makes me sad and dries up my creativity. I think about deadlines, like if I'm not releasing books as fast as possible I'm a failure. Why does that make me a failure? My readers haven't complained, haven't yelled at me for being a slow writer.

I like the story about the coffee shop. A place that's lovely and inviting, that doesn't bring in millions of dollars but doesn't need to. I like those sort of places! They make me happy :) I've got to get sales figures and money out of my head, and remember the stories, the joy of writing, the burning desire I use to have to write when I was younger. I couldn't not write back then. It was my heart, my soul, how I expressed myself. I miss the passion. Have to get it back.

Kitten

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #5 on: February 01, 2014, 09:09:14 AM »
Great post, and I love your covers btw.

For the record: I sell hundreds of thousands every month -- of WORDS, not books :)

Cheers!

Thank you :)

Offline Carol Davis

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #6 on: February 01, 2014, 09:15:56 AM »
Excellent post, Kitten!  And yes, it's very much something that we laborers down in the trenches need to remember.  If you look at it closely, even a few sales is a remarkable thing.  Someone PAID for your story!

Personally, I believe that massive success brings with it a variety of pressures and demands, not least among them the need to keep that momentum going.  I'd rather be the Little Engine That Could, and chug along generating small but respectable numbers.  I read the other day that 25% of ebooks never sell a single copy, and by that measure, anyone who sells half a dozen copies has already beaten out 500,000 competing titles!

I do extend congratulations to those who are enjoying huge success.  But very much YES: there are many definitions of "success."  Racking up sales of 5 or 6 or 7 figures is just one of them.  I've only sold 1,500(ish) copies to date, but my dad is massively proud of me.  I count that as a "win."

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Offline ElHawk

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #7 on: February 01, 2014, 09:21:27 AM »
You're right.  There are loads of factors that dictate how successful a book will be or can be.  Genre is a huge one, so people writing in less popular genres need to  temper their goals to match what's possible given the size of the potential audience for their book.  If you're not writing romance or thriller, you really shouldn't set a goal of thousands of sales per month...it's virtually unattainable.  Even among the more popular genres, not everybody is going to get outlier-level sales, for a variety of reasons.  Maybe because of other commitments in your life, you can't devote enough time to the right kind of marketing/promotion, for example.

It's easy to forget that one's goals are one's own.  You don't need to measure your own success by somebody else's yardstick.  Sometimes it seems there's a lot of pressure to do that around here, but it's simply not necessary.  Measuring your own success begins with having a good understanding for what's possible to achieve within your genre, and then looking hard at what kind of sacrifices you're willing to make, or what kind of sacrifices you are realistically able to make.  

Most of all, I think it's important to remember that whether you're talking about traditional publishing or indie publishing, MOST writers are not outliers.  Most writers who continually publish are solid but not spectacular performers.  They are not any less writers because of it.


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Offline Moist_Tissue

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #8 on: February 01, 2014, 09:31:48 AM »
It can be discouraging when other authors give off the vibe that the reason you are only selling a few dozen books a month is because you simply aren't doing it right. Then we over-analyze what the right way is, thinking that following specified steps will bring great rewards. For me, I went the independent route because I write in a very narrow niche that will appeal to a rather small demographic. I would love for my work to appeal to a broader audience, but if I am realistic about the situation, then I must acknowledge that a sizable group of readers won't like what I talk about. And, I am okay with that.
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Offline blakebooks

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2014, 09:36:30 AM »
I'm usually derided as Mr. Buzz Kill when I point out that the vast, vast majority of books don't sell.

But those are the numbers. The odds say you won't sell.

Which is why doing everything you can to narrow those odds is critical. And why I value posts on these boards that offer insight into the process of others who are selling well. Yes, the odds are extremely long. They've always been long. That's the gig. If it depresses you or you don't like it, that's fine, but it doesn't change reality.

I tend to just suck it up, hunker down, and work harder. That's my response to seeing the odds. "I better do something different, if I want to have a result that's different."

It can be depressing, or motivating. Depends on whether the glass is half full...


Offline Lisa Scott

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #10 on: February 01, 2014, 09:44:45 AM »

 I'm a project junkie and I love the process.


 My name is Lisa and I just realized I am a project junkie, too!  Good to finally have a name for it. :)

Offline lee27

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #11 on: February 01, 2014, 09:49:11 AM »
I  never got into this to be the Starbucks of indie publishers expecting to move tens of thousands of copies. I got into this to be the quirky little coffee shop on the corner. That IS my success. I don't need to flash $50,000 advance offers or NY Times status at people to show I am successful. I have achieved the success I set out to do.

I like that analogy. Since I started self-publishing, I discovered several of those little coffee shops -- other indie authors whose work I enjoy and look forward to reading more of. I am in the little coffee shop business myself.

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Offline bonbon foofoo

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #12 on: February 01, 2014, 09:57:59 AM »
I know what you mean. I see people in my genre who make thousands a month after a few months publishing, and I think I'm failing because I'm not. I have to tell myself that this is a marathon not a sprint. I've had some success, but it could take a few years to get to full time income status. I'm okay with that. Looking at the numbers and other factors, I've decided to stop following a certain technique I learned here for my genre, and begin producing more polished work. I might even put more energy into my SFF pen name. It doesn't get nearly as many downloads or sales, but that could be because I've published a fraction of the word count with that pen name. It does, however, have more dedicated, engaged fans and a five times higher read-through rate than any of my free titles in this pen name.

There is more to life than making tons of sales. I want to think about the legacy I'm creating with my work. I don't want to produce a bunch of short titles just because I think it will make me money. Even thought it works for other people. I don't feel resentful or judgmental or jealous about it. And I'm not saying other's work isn't good. I just think mine could be better. Part of the change in mindset is spending more money on my books and writing full length novels.  I don't want to have pages and pages of serial parts with no reviews and freebies that get tanked.  The technique does make money, but I want something more than that. I want to put out work that feels authentic. I want to be proud of myself. I want to express myself as the writer I believe myself to be. My older titles aren't horrible. I'm not saying that, but they do leave me open for criticism by nature of the way I'm working. I have to admit, I'm too sensitive to deal with being dogged. Anything I can do to avoid that, and keep writing, is well worth it.

Offline valeriec80

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #13 on: February 01, 2014, 10:00:29 AM »
I think the truth may be more like... THERE IS NO NORMAL.

Most writers need to be able to do two simultaneous things that seem sorta contradictory:

1-Make peace with the fact that they can't control the buying public.

2-Strive to improve their chances of selling books.

Now, I say *most,* because there are people out there who seriously don't care if their books sell or not. I'm not one of them, and I imagine most writers aren't, because most people write in order to be read. But there are people who really don't give a crap one way or the other. And those people are just all right with me. (Oh yeah! do doo do do do doo doo doo. Come on, guys? Doobie Brothers? Anyone?)

The reason these things seem contradictory is because it seems, when you first glance at it, that if you admit you can't control the buying public, then everything you do is useless and pointless, so why bother?

But the thing is, you can *influence* the buying public. You can't be sure how much you'll influence them or what precise effect you'll have over them. The degree and the results are unpredictable. But you *can* do *something.* And so, if you want to sell books, you have to keep trying stuff.

Sometimes, you get to a point where you feel like you've tried everything and nothing is working, and you get disheartened. That's okay.

There's a difference between a writer making a lot of money and writer who's not. The writer making a lot of money hit on a something that worked at that time and under those circumstances. It's not *pure* luck, and it's not *pure* skill. It's both, because without the work they did, they'd never have made the money, and without the right combination of factors lining up for them, they never would have made it either.

Anyway, the point is that we all have individual journeys to take, and what happens to you will never happen exactly the same way to any other author, just as you and another author will never write the same book. There is no normal. There are no rules. Celebrate diversity and listen to more of the Doobie Brothers! :P
   

Offline anniejocoby

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2014, 10:04:33 AM »
Wow! You must be in my head! Thanks so much for so bravely stating what so many of us feel. I can't tell you how many times I have felt inferior or less-than because such and such is selling 1000 books of their debut without lifting a finger to promote, or so and so hits the top 500 without doing a whole lot. It's nice to give voice to those of us who do have to promote to get our works known, who write multiple books, and still sell less than those who make it look like the entire thing is a walk in the park. I try to feel happy, but mostly I feel that I must be doing something wrong.

Again, thanks!

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Offline ElHawk

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #15 on: February 01, 2014, 10:17:02 AM »
It can be depressing, or motivating. Depends on whether the glass is half full...

Right.

I think one of the most important aspects of motivating yourself is figuring out exactly what your real, actual goals are.  And not being afraid of or ashamed of those goals.  (For example, if your goal is to make a buttload of money, please don't listen to the threads that yak about how if your primary goal is to earn as much money as possible, then you are Not Making Real Actual Art.  That's baloney.  If your goal is to create a beautiful work of art that will be lauded someday, maybe not until after you're dead, and you don't care whether it sells well right now or not, then please don't listen to the threads that yak about how if you're not selling like hotcakes then you and/or your book suck.  That is also baloney.)

Your goals are your goals, whatever they may be.  They don't need to be approved, tacitly or overtly, by anybody else.

Once you know what your goal really is, look hard at what you're doing, and whether it's likely to get you to that goal.  And yes, be aware that most books don't sell well (or, in some cases, at all.)  It's perfectly okay if some of yours don't.  Adjust what you're doing (either with writing or promoting) to align yourself better with your goal, and keep going.  Even when you have dozens of books out, some of them will sell like crap compared to the others.  C'est la vie.


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Offline SLGray

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #16 on: February 01, 2014, 10:28:47 AM »
This is a beautiful post, and very much what those of use just starting the climb (or who have been climbing for a while) to where we want to be.

So thank you.

I like the little coffee shop analogy too. I think I'll go start another pot brewing...

Offline LKWatts

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #17 on: February 01, 2014, 10:30:29 AM »
The big numbers can actually be discouraging for many writers, because despite giving lip-service to the amount of work sales requires, the general vibe almost always boils down to: great cover+permafree and/or Select+Bookbub=SUCCESS. Which is actually detrimental in the long run. It's wonderful when someone sells thousands of copies, but that needs to be tempered a little with reality. The average self-published book will sell less than 200 copies in its lifetime.

But here is the thing. That isn't a BAD thing! Because how many of those books that sell 200 copies or less never would have been published at all? Maybe a book only sells a few hundred copies. Why is that a failure? I never started self publishing to sell thousands of copies a month. I started self-publishing because I'm a project junkie and I love the process. I have published books I knew had limited commercial value, but I did it because I felt those books deserved to be published. And the beauty of digital publishing and POD is that books that never would have seen the light of day because of the high cost of traditional offset printing now can be printed. I cater to a rather niche audience (I publish RPGs and literary speculative fiction). But these are niches that I am good at and that there are readers for. And while I'm not on the Amazon bestseller list, I recover the cost of each project in 3 months and can afford to pay for the next project with the profits of the last project. I pay my people on time. I give my readers what they want.

There is a little coffee shop around the corner from my sister-in-law's old apartment. Whenever we would go to visit her we would stop there for coffee because they had the best coffee. But it is also a fun little shop, where the patrons sit around and talk about Dr. Who and geek stuff instead of having their faces buried in their smartphones or iPads. The cashiers actually have conversations with you, and nobody gets bent out of shape waiting in line while a patron is showing the cashier pictures of her new baby. It's an awesome little place that has been there for years and supports its owner. It will NEVER sell as much coffee as Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. But it doesn't have to.

I never got into this to be the Starbucks of indie publishers expecting to move tens of thousands of copies. I got into this to be the quirky little coffee shop on the corner. That IS my success. I don't need to flash $50,000 advance offers or NY Times status at people to show I am successful. I have achieved the success I set out to do.

Success is how you define it. It isn't a sales number or a dollar sign.





AMEN to this :) And your original post Kitten. You speak wise words here :)

L.K.Watts

Offline Lisa Grace

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #18 on: February 01, 2014, 10:31:42 AM »
Great thread! :)

Sure, I'd love to be selling thousands of books (lol, JohnLMonk) not words, a month. But I am building a terrific reader base, and I'm thrilled with that.

I get awesome reader emails from people who love my books and can't wait for the next one. That's exciting, and why I write. I always wanted to be a published author (when I was five that was my big dream) and I am. Not just one book, but five so far, with three more almost ready to be published.
These are wonderful achievements for me. I'm so greatful for the ability to self publish and build up my own little worlds with readers who love to spend time in them.

I have one book, my poor little flash fiction anthology, which only sells one to two copies a month. That's the breaks of writing in an unpopular sub sub sub sub genre.  :)

 
 
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Offline Jarrett Rush

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #19 on: February 01, 2014, 10:34:52 AM »
Quote
The average self-published book will sell less than 200 copies in its lifetime.

Then I'm above average, Huzzah! Took me almost three years to get there, but it's good to know.

I haven't read this entire thread, but wanted to tell the OP that it was a great one to start. I think it can be incredibly defeating when you start out and don't see great numbers, average numbers even. Nice reminder that these big sales are great to aspire to, but they don't indicators of quality.
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Offline Istvan Szabo, Ifj.

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #20 on: February 01, 2014, 10:42:36 AM »
The question is never that how many you sell, but who will remeber for your books. Personally I rather sell less all around the world, a story what for people will remember and treasure, than selling something in the number of thousands what for no one will remember after a year or two. This is the reason why I aim to sell less.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2014, 10:47:40 AM by IstvanSzaboIfj »
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Offline Katherine Roberts

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #21 on: February 01, 2014, 10:57:38 AM »
I think the truth may be more like... THERE IS NO NORMAL.

So true!

Another thing to remember is that sales figures usually ignore ignore price/profit. Attempting some maths here... 100 sales at 99 cents equals about $35 for the author (35% royalty), whereas a mere 10 sales at $9.99 brings in about $70 at 70% royalty, or $35 at 35%... i.e. at least as much profit for the author, despite the less impressive figure. I think the trick is to find a balance between profit and sales/visibility.

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Offline Elodie

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #22 on: February 01, 2014, 11:04:05 AM »
My name is Lisa and I just realized I am a project junkie, too!  Good to finally have a name for it. :)

My name is Elodie and I strive on projects  ;)
The short story: Young adult author, I write the stories swirling in my head during my commuting time. Those stories always include steamy kisses.

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Offline FireMonkey

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #23 on: February 01, 2014, 12:06:16 PM »
I think the truth may be more like... THERE IS NO NORMAL.

Most writers need to be able to do two simultaneous things that seem sorta contradictory:

1-Make peace with the fact that they can't control the buying public.

2-Strive to improve their chances of selling books.


This covers it nicely I think. Sure most self-published books don't sell, but who among us got into this game to sell nothing? Expect the worst, hope for the best, but always always ALWAYS aim for the top!! I don't think anybody ever really regrets hitting the big time.

Offline Patty Jansen

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Re: It's normal not to sell a lot
« Reply #24 on: February 01, 2014, 12:45:35 PM »
Maybe I need to dig up my indie prawn thread...