Author Topic: When the book just WON'T sell  (Read 6771 times)  

Offline Frank the author

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When the book just WON'T sell
« on: June 20, 2020, 03:55:28 pm »
We all know that these days thousands - yes, literally thousands of books are released every month.
The actual paper copies have maybe three to four weeks to prove worthy of shelf space in the bookstore while the e-book version, with luck and a small self publisher marketing budget ( Since not ALL books get a marketing team attached by paper publishers. For most of us we are on our own) has a chance to bring in hoped for cash flow. At least enough to make the journey worth it and to set aside time to write more books (if that's your plan)
But I'd like to speak with here a handful of you who- despite your very best efforts and sacrifices- the book just got lost in the shuffle and settled into history
I certainly HOPE there aren't ALOT of you out there but I have to assume there are SOME. I know I am a member of this club.
If you want to chat here we can or if you want to talk privately my email is [email protected] or my face book page is
https://www.facebook.com/writerfrank.zubek.1

And yes, maybe there's a small writers guide book in this I might write and if so you'll be mentioned or maybe there's a short story I can create from this but truthfully I have been curious about the writers who got lost in the crunch.
Despite every effort their book just didn't sell either at all or not as much as you had hoped.
I look forward to hearing from some of you and thanks in advance

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    Offline Shane Lochlann Black

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #1 on: June 20, 2020, 05:23:31 pm »
    If I hire a billion dollar company to send traffic to a trillion-dollar company my books sell. To make enough money to live on I would have to spend rather heavily on that traffic. Probably to the tune of several thousand dollars a month or more. Plus regular four-figure outlays for Bookbubs in between dozens of rejections.

    Other authors seem to have pretty much the same results in terms of return on ad spends. The ones who do better usually have audiobook revenue alongside their ebook revenue. They also got into the Bookbub clubhouse ("Bubhouse?") early and used it to build their mailing lists to tens of thousands of subscribers or more.  Anything short of that and you're invisible and doomed no matter how talented or prolific you are.

    Nobody's buying the "I write ten thousand words a day perpetually" stories any more, because mere mortals can't do that and maintain anything remotely approaching commercial quality. The big names have big stables of well hidden ghostwriters. If you can pump out the same book four times a month and you have fifteen thousand subscribers you can command to leave reviews on the first day and you can stack five large a month (minimum) for ads you too can earn "enough to live on." 

    As a business ebooks are a disaster for all but the tiniest fraction of the top one or two percent. For everyone else it's beer money or maybe a car payment at best. All we've done here is re-create the traditional publishing industry, made all but the top 100 authors invisible and replaced the agents with robots.  It's all the worst parts of a grinding corporate job with an optional paycheck and exactly zero creativity. It could be a lot better, but all the right people are making all the right amounts of money the way it is (by selling everything but ebooks to all that traffic you paid for), so good luck getting anything to change.   

    I should also point out that what I just wrote is a best case scenario PROVIDED you are writing in one of perhaps half a dozen marketable genres and you can target that genre's audience with exact precision by making your book look exactly like all the other books on your top seller's list. You stray just --><--- this much outside the lines and you will, in fact, be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog[crap] out of Hong Kong.  Even then, you're price-capped, revenue-capped and working from a constantly rising cost floor and on top of all that, you're exclusive so if you don't deliver enough gimme gimme this month (at a price you don't control), you're not going to be able to afford your ad costs (which you also don't control). This will get worse for you every month until either a) your subscriber numbers hit critical mass or b) you end up in the funny farm with the trees and flowers and chirping birds and the nice young men in their clean white coats or c) you file Chapter 11 and start an exciting career as a truck driver. 

    And for God's sake DO NOT try to write for kids. 

    Before the usual crowd leaps for their keyboards, I have 100+ titles published in five genres and nine and a half years of sales and advertising data to back up what I just wrote, so save it. 
    « Last Edit: June 20, 2020, 05:49:17 pm by Shane Lochlann Black »

    Offline Frank the author

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #2 on: June 20, 2020, 06:15:29 pm »
    Thanks for the reality check Shane. I think part of the trouble is the news and the handful of book reviews in the mass media usually only highlight the "NAMES" such as James Patterson and Stephen King.  And since they're the ones  "living the dream" it gives a degree of (false) hope to all hopeful writers out there.

    Offline Jeff Hughes

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #3 on: June 21, 2020, 03:24:21 am »
    Most books are pretty awful.  Lousy writing, clumsy storyline, stilted characters, and abysmal editing.  All the marketing in the world couldn't save most the titles out there.

    With traditional publishing, you had (have) agents and editors who gave a swift axe to the vast majority of stuff that came their way.  "Getting published" was an arduous, difficult, long-odds proposition.  But at least it guaranteed a certain level of quality.

    Now, of course, any Tom, Dick, or Harry can self-publish.  We all cheered the advent of the new paradigm.  We gave the finger to all those callous gatekeepers who - often enough that it became a meme - cluelessly rejected enough good-to-great manuscripts that we were happy to see them lose their jobs.

    Alas.  We cheered too soon.   

    The vast majority of the literal millions of titles out there don't sell at all.  Goose eggs every month.  All that gargantuan mass of unwashed books has done is to make your title - one of the rare exceptions that ought to be read - really hard to find.  And so marketing and advertising become the first of several big hurdles that one must clear. 

    There ain't no magic.






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    Offline Trioxin 245

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #4 on: June 21, 2020, 04:51:43 am »
    There is so much personal accountability in this thread its overwhelming. Has anyone considered blaming someone/something else for their trouble?

    Offline Shane Lochlann Black

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #5 on: June 21, 2020, 05:50:43 am »
    Quote
    There is so much personal accountability in this thread its overwhelming. Has anyone considered blaming someone/something else for their trouble?
       

    That's clever.

    I will happily take personal accountability for every dime my books have ever or will ever make. There sure as hell isn't anyone helping me, and when it comes to the money, I get paid last and least. That's another little gem I uncovered in 2020. Amazing what you can do when you finally have the facts.   ;) 

    P.S. Wrote me some software that breaks down my sales numbers, does the currency conversions, tallies up sales and reads, and produces real nice reports for me when compared to my ad data. (Putting my 25 years of Perl experience to use) And boy did it tell me a story. 

    Know the funny thing? When I went back and looked at those Chris Fox revenue videos from last year? They told the exact same story out to three decimal places.  Coincidence? 
    « Last Edit: June 21, 2020, 06:05:56 am by Shane Lochlann Black »

    Offline Doglover

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #6 on: June 21, 2020, 06:21:16 am »

    With traditional publishing, you had (have) agents and editors who gave a swift axe to the vast majority of stuff that came their way.  "Getting published" was an arduous, difficult, long-odds proposition.  But at least it guaranteed a certain level of quality.


    Are you seriously telling us you have never read a traditionally published book which was absolute codswallop? Never read one with terrible grammar, spelling and a half-hearted story that made no sense? Never bought one and made it through the first chapter before it went in the bin?

    If you haven't, you have been fortunate. There is no guarantee of quality with trad published books, only a guarantee that it will make the publisher lots of money.


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    Offline Amanda M. Lee

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #7 on: June 21, 2020, 09:11:56 am »
    If I hire a billion dollar company to send traffic to a trillion-dollar company my books sell. To make enough money to live on I would have to spend rather heavily on that traffic. Probably to the tune of several thousand dollars a month or more. Plus regular four-figure outlays for Bookbubs in between dozens of rejections.

    Other authors seem to have pretty much the same results in terms of return on ad spends. The ones who do better usually have audiobook revenue alongside their ebook revenue. They also got into the Bookbub clubhouse ("Bubhouse?") early and used it to build their mailing lists to tens of thousands of subscribers or more.  Anything short of that and you're invisible and doomed no matter how talented or prolific you are.

    Nobody's buying the "I write ten thousand words a day perpetually" stories any more, because mere mortals can't do that and maintain anything remotely approaching commercial quality. The big names have big stables of well hidden ghostwriters. If you can pump out the same book four times a month and you have fifteen thousand subscribers you can command to leave reviews on the first day and you can stack five large a month (minimum) for ads you too can earn "enough to live on." 

    As a business ebooks are a disaster for all but the tiniest fraction of the top one or two percent. For everyone else it's beer money or maybe a car payment at best. All we've done here is re-create the traditional publishing industry, made all but the top 100 authors invisible and replaced the agents with robots.  It's all the worst parts of a grinding corporate job with an optional paycheck and exactly zero creativity. It could be a lot better, but all the right people are making all the right amounts of money the way it is (by selling everything but ebooks to all that traffic you paid for), so good luck getting anything to change.   

    I should also point out that what I just wrote is a best case scenario PROVIDED you are writing in one of perhaps half a dozen marketable genres and you can target that genre's audience with exact precision by making your book look exactly like all the other books on your top seller's list. You stray just --><--- this much outside the lines and you will, in fact, be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog[crap] out of Hong Kong.  Even then, you're price-capped, revenue-capped and working from a constantly rising cost floor and on top of all that, you're exclusive so if you don't deliver enough gimme gimme this month (at a price you don't control), you're not going to be able to afford your ad costs (which you also don't control). This will get worse for you every month until either a) your subscriber numbers hit critical mass or b) you end up in the funny farm with the trees and flowers and chirping birds and the nice young men in their clean white coats or c) you file Chapter 11 and start an exciting career as a truck driver. 

    And for God's sake DO NOT try to write for kids. 

    Before the usual crowd leaps for their keyboards, I have 100+ titles published in five genres and nine and a half years of sales and advertising data to back up what I just wrote, so save it.
    I can't stop laughing.

    Amanda M. Lee

    Offline ShayneRutherford

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #8 on: June 21, 2020, 10:52:55 am »
    Most books are pretty awful.  Lousy writing, clumsy storyline, stilted characters, and abysmal editing.  All the marketing in the world couldn't save most the titles out there.

    With traditional publishing, you had (have) agents and editors who gave a swift axe to the vast majority of stuff that came their way.  "Getting published" was an arduous, difficult, long-odds proposition.  But at least it guaranteed a certain level of quality.

    Now, of course, any Tom, Dick, or Harry can self-publish.  We all cheered the advent of the new paradigm.  We gave the finger to all those callous gatekeepers who - often enough that it became a meme - cluelessly rejected enough good-to-great manuscripts that we were happy to see them lose their jobs.

    Alas.  We cheered too soon.   

    The vast majority of the literal millions of titles out there don't sell at all.  Goose eggs every month.  All that gargantuan mass of unwashed books has done is to make your title - one of the rare exceptions that ought to be read - really hard to find.  And so marketing and advertising become the first of several big hurdles that one must clear. 

    There ain't no magic.

    This is so true. I used to read slush for a small press, and probably a good 75% of the submissions we received couldn't even put together a proper paragraph, never mind a decent story.
             

    Offline ShayneRutherford

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #9 on: June 21, 2020, 10:59:37 am »
    Are you seriously telling us you have never read a traditionally published book which was absolute codswallop? Never read one with terrible grammar, spelling and a half-hearted story that made no sense? Never bought one and made it through the first chapter before it went in the bin?

    If you haven't, you have been fortunate. There is no guarantee of quality with trad published books, only a guarantee that it will make the publisher lots of money.

    Just because something is published by a publisher doesn't necessarily make it good. There are a lot of indie presses out there that put out mediocre books because they can't afford decent editors.

    And there are plenty of books that don't make much money for the publisher, either. I used to work at a book store, and I can't even count all the times we would receive a batch of brand new releases one week, and then a couple of weeks later we'd turn around and return them all - without ever having sold a single copy - because we needed room for all the new books coming in.
             

    Offline chrisstevenson

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #10 on: June 21, 2020, 11:00:30 am »
    I'm not as concerned about my older books lost to history that have produced goose eggs. that's going to happen unless I throw a life-preserver at them. I'm agog at my present list of five books that have broken out within the past year, with glowing reviews, awards, heavy/massive promotion and marketing dollars and more guest post and interview ink than an octopus. I'm talking tepid to flat sales. I'm in three different genres and two pen names, so I can't say that I'm slack in one category or genre. I noticed this slump, starting for me, about three years ago. I can only surmise with the above opinion that we are SO awash in books that we're lost like little minnows in an ocean. I've been running an industry watchdog site, plus writing instruction, and Hell! I can't figure it out!
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    Offline Crystal_

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #11 on: June 21, 2020, 12:42:34 pm »
    Indie publishing is not a meritocracy. It's not even a libertarian expression of the free market, because Amazon, Facebook, and to a lesser extent Apple, BnN, & Kobo control so much.

    But it's closer to the latter. Books sell if they are what the market wants AND the author gets the books in front of the right readers. This is way easier said than done.

    Lots of people do it, but even the best have flops. Most writers have a few books that didn't sell well for whatever reason (bad timing, not commercial, off brand, etc). The good thing about indie publishing is there are redos. You can rework and republish a book. It may not have bestseller potential, but you can probably do better than you did initially.

    Offline Jeff Hughes

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #12 on: June 21, 2020, 01:05:59 pm »
    Are you seriously telling us you have never read a traditionally published book which was absolute codswallop? Never read one with terrible grammar, spelling and a half-hearted story that made no sense? Never bought one and made it through the first chapter before it went in the bin?

    If you haven't, you have been fortunate. There is no guarantee of quality with trad published books, only a guarantee that it will make the publisher lots of money.

    No, I've certainly encountered many, many examples of trad-published books of uneven quality.  And an even greater number that I simply didn't like, for one reason or another.  Traditional publishing doesn't mean every title is good or worthy.  But when every manuscript published has to first run through a gauntlet of professional editors, proofreaders, layout specialists, cover artists, and marketing experts - people who spend all day, every day, bringing their particular skills to bear - you end up with something qualitatively different, on balance, than what you typically see in the self-publishing world.

    There's no reason a good writer can't self-publish their own title, tick all those same boxes and clear all those same hurdles - producing a published work that is indistinguishable from a trad-published book.  Some, including many in this very forum, do exactly that.

    But most don't.


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    Online Usedtoposthere

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #13 on: June 21, 2020, 04:30:52 pm »
    I really think that the only truisim in publishing is YMMV. Your mileage may vary.

    I do know that one thing is true of everybody I know who has thousands of avid fans and who sells lots of books year after year. They know how to write a hooky book and present it well. Hooky concept. Hooky writing. Hooky cover. Hooky blurb. They write books that lots of readers can't wait to get their hands on, books that people re-read and recommend to their friends.

    Is that enough in the current climate? It still has been for some people who've broken out without much marketing even in the past few years. But it's less likely now. All I can say is--without that, you don't get that kind of career. And look--if everybody knew how to write as consistently hooky as John Grisham and Nora Roberts and Lee Child, you've have a lot more authors like those. You don't, because it ain't easy to have a unique voice and put out consistently strong work, month after month, year after year, whatever else is happening in your life.

    I don't think it has much to do with cutting X percent of the words you write or whatever. I don't do that, and lots of other folks don't, either. I edit as I go, personally. Same with all the other rules. You don't have to publish every month. You don't have to write 10,000 words a day--though if you can, and they're great words that people want to read, well done, you. You just have to have a unique voice, write books lots of people want to read and that stand out as something memorable, distinguishable from other books in your genre and even other books in your own catalog (don't just write the same thing over & over), and keep on doing it.

    It's not easy, but it's possible. I almost quit before I started because I got so discouraged by posts like some of those above, saying it was impossible, don't bother. It wasn't impossible. It still isn't. It just isn't easy.
    « Last Edit: June 21, 2020, 04:32:33 pm by Usedtoposthere »

    Offline Flying Pizza Pie

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #14 on: June 21, 2020, 08:51:55 pm »

    I don't think it has much to do with cutting X percent of the words you write or whatever. I don't do that, and lots of other folks don't, either. I edit as I go, personally. Same with all the other rules. You don't have to publish every month. You don't have to write 10,000 words a day--though if you can, and they're great words that people want to read, well done, you. You just have to have a unique voice, write books lots of people want to read and that stand out as something memorable, distinguishable from other books in your genre and even other books in your own catalog (don't just write the same thing over & over), and keep on doing it.

    It's not easy, but it's possible. I almost quit before I started because I got so discouraged by posts like some of those above, saying it was impossible, don't bother. It wasn't impossible. It still isn't. It just isn't easy.

    THIS ^^^^^ AND:

    What has become my quarterly reminder that about 2% of writers can make a living at their craft. There are plenty of studies and polls that bare this out; and we have to accept that the chances of us making bank are slim. AND - here it is: the best written, marketed, and timely books sell. Doesn't mean a clunker can't get traction, but there's a very small sweet-spot we are all trying to hit.


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    Offline jb1111

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #15 on: June 21, 2020, 08:58:33 pm »
    I'm not as concerned about my older books lost to history that have produced goose eggs. that's going to happen unless I throw a life-preserver at them. I'm agog at my present list of five books that have broken out within the past year, with glowing reviews, awards, heavy/massive promotion and marketing dollars and more guest post and interview ink than an octopus. I'm talking tepid to flat sales. I'm in three different genres and two pen names, so I can't say that I'm slack in one category or genre. I noticed this slump, starting for me, about three years ago. I can only surmise with the above opinion that we are SO awash in books that we're lost like little minnows in an ocean. I've been running an industry watchdog site, plus writing instruction, and Hell! I can't figure it out!

    Supply and demand.... one of the most basic laws of economics out there.

    Offline Doglover

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #16 on: June 21, 2020, 09:57:28 pm »
    No, I've certainly encountered many, many examples of trad-published books of uneven quality.  And an even greater number that I simply didn't like, for one reason or another.  Traditional publishing doesn't mean every title is good or worthy.  But when every manuscript published has to first run through a gauntlet of professional editors, proofreaders, layout specialists, cover artists, and marketing experts - people who spend all day, every day, bringing their particular skills to bear - you end up with something qualitatively different, on balance, than what you typically see in the self-publishing world.

    There's no reason a good writer can't self-publish their own title, tick all those same boxes and clear all those same hurdles - producing a published work that is indistinguishable from a trad-published book.  Some, including many in this very forum, do exactly that.

    But most don't.


    But what you said was that traditional publishing gave a guarantee of quality. I'm just saying that, no, it doesn't. Of course a lot just slap up any old rubbish and expect it to sell, because they've read all the self published 'I made $50,000 a month' kindle books and every writers' forum has somebody bragging about how much money they made. There was even one on one of the facebook groups recently whose blurb was in such poor English he had used the word 'heartburn' instead of 'heartbreak'. Not only that, but he had helped himself to reviews from NYT and USA Today for other books and posted them as his own. There is even a course being advertised to teach how to 'write' an e-book in ten minutes or somesuch BS.

    I have on my bookshelf a book about the Six Wives of Henry VIII by no lesser an historian and author than Antonia Fraser, in which she has spoken of Henry wanting a 'mail' heir.


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    Offline MaxDaemon

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #17 on: June 21, 2020, 10:22:02 pm »

    It's not easy, but it's possible. I almost quit before I started because I got so discouraged by posts like some of those above, saying it was impossible, don't bother. It wasn't impossible. It still isn't. It just isn't easy.

    Nothing's easy, at least if it's worth doing.

    I've taken years to get good at my day job. Heck, I go to McDonalds and I can tell the days the person making fries knows what they're doing, vs the ones just putting in time.

    Putting out one or two or three (I have three) books doesn't really mean anything. I've not written enough yet to even have confidence that I'LL like my work, let alone you.

    But I'll keep at it. Hearing that it can't be done won't stop me from trying.


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    Online Kathy Dee

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #18 on: June 22, 2020, 01:03:27 am »
    I really think that the only truisim in publishing is YMMV. Your mileage may vary.

    I do know that one thing is true of everybody I know who has thousands of avid fans and who sells lots of books year after year. They know how to write a hooky book and present it well. Hooky concept. Hooky writing. Hooky cover. Hooky blurb. They write books that lots of readers can't wait to get their hands on, books that people re-read and recommend to their friends.

    Is that enough in the current climate? It still has been for some people who've broken out without much marketing even in the past few years. But it's less likely now. All I can say is--without that, you don't get that kind of career. And look--if everybody knew how to write as consistently hooky as John Grisham and Nora Roberts and Lee Child, you've have a lot more authors like those. You don't, because it ain't easy to have a unique voice and put out consistently strong work, month after month, year after year, whatever else is happening in your life.

    I don't think it has much to do with cutting X percent of the words you write or whatever. I don't do that, and lots of other folks don't, either. I edit as I go, personally. Same with all the other rules. You don't have to publish every month. You don't have to write 10,000 words a day--though if you can, and they're great words that people want to read, well done, you. You just have to have a unique voice, write books lots of people want to read and that stand out as something memorable, distinguishable from other books in your genre and even other books in your own catalog (don't just write the same thing over & over), and keep on doing it.

    It's not easy, but it's possible. I almost quit before I started because I got so discouraged by posts like some of those above, saying it was impossible, don't bother. It wasn't impossible. It still isn't. It just isn't easy.

    ^ Great post!

    I have cut and pasted the text below, and put it on my desktop as a reminder for what is required for my next series ...

    "Hooky concept. Hooky writing. Hooky cover. Hooky blurb - as consistently hooky as John Grisham, Nora Roberts and Lee Child!"


    Offline ShayneRutherford

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #19 on: June 22, 2020, 01:45:22 am »
    But what you said was that traditional publishing gave a guarantee of quality.

    Perhaps a better way of phrasing it would be that publishing with the larger publishing houses guarantees a certain level of competence. It may not be a super high level of competence, but it's still better than a good 75% of what's out there. And I used to read slush for a small press, so I've seen some of the horrible crap that people have thought was good enough to submit.
             

    Offline Jeff Hughes

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #20 on: June 22, 2020, 02:44:08 am »
    But what you said was that traditional publishing gave a guarantee of quality.

    What I said was that traditional publishing guaranteed a certain level of quality.  Not that they - trad publishers - don't have miscues slip through.  But simply that the presence of all those professional eyes poring through a manuscript make it less likely.

    Self-publishing has two great challenges, IMO.  First, most people aren't nearly as great at wordsmithing as they would like to believe.  Without a neutral editor around to shake their head and gently say "uhm, no, this is not going to work," it's child's play to have those not-so-great words see print.  And, two, most self-publishers spend ninety percent of their time and effort on the writing part, giving short shrift to everything that comes after.

    Don't get me wrong.  I'm a huge fan of self-publishing, else I wouldn't be here.  But I'm also convinced that we're often our own worst enemy.

    Jeff Hughes

    Offline Shane Lochlann Black

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #21 on: June 22, 2020, 02:47:29 am »
    Quote
    It still has been for some people who've broken out without much marketing even in the past few years.
       

    "Breaking out without much marketing" implies the following: 

    1. There is a source of organic traffic to our retail book pages that:   

    2. Converts with a high enough ratio to: 

    3. Create traction for a book or books sufficient to overcome limits like the 90-day cliff that: 

    4. Generates growing sales month after month after month.   

    Here are the problems with that myth:   

    1. There is no source of organic traffic to our retail book pages. (I have the data to prove it)  Occasionally someone might stumble over your page through search, but all you have to do is look at the average bounce rates (yep, I have the numbers for that too) to know that traffic isn't going to help you. 

    2. Even if there were organic traffic, such traffic is highly unlikely to convert at a ratio any higher than one or two percent. I know this because 90%+ of my traffic doesn't convert, and I have a laser-targeted ad (that I've been perfecting for almost two years) that has consistent double-digit click-through and generates anywhere from 2x to 6x returns on spend alongside generous social media activity. 

    3. Sufficient traction to overcome the 90-day cliff likely means dozens to hundreds of sales a day, which is flatly impossible without tens to hundreds of thousands of people landing on that book page every week. There is no source of tens to hundreds of thousands of organic visits to book pages any more. If there were such a source of traffic, far better financed sites wouldn't be going out of business for lack of readers/customers. 

    4. Growing sales month after month implies a growing reader base which must come from marketing of one kind or another. Someone has to tell your new reader about your book, because they aren't going to find it by accident in sufficient numbers. Who is going to tell them about your book? Well, the myth is that if your book is "good enough," you'll get that sales growth through word of mouth. That's a comforting theory, but the truth is that in our modern world, the chances of anyone even noticing word of mouth between InstaFaceGramGoogleBookTweetTikPhoneTokTube is zero and the chances of your average new reader running into the hinterlands waving your book in the air and searching for someone to evangelize are also zero. That just doesn't happen any more, and for those of us who have been studying marketing for the last ten years, we know better because we've lived it. 

    Now there are people who are going to try to make you believe that this business boils down to writing a great book with the hooky hook and then performing some kind of secret sorcery that causes the book to suddenly launch into orbit.  We've all heard the stories of authors who can somehow flagrantly violate the laws of marketing and take one book to the top of the USA Today list with no advertising or mailing list. (It's always their first book, natch)

    While those stories are entertaining (and also catastrophically expensive marketing disguised as the screenplay for a Disney film), they are to us what sports films like Hoosiers are to the everyday athletic coach: myths. You are not going to write a debut novel and sell 100,000 copies of it in two months any more than you are going to take seven farm boys none of whom are taller than 5'11" and win the Indiana State basketball championship.  Every time someone tells you all you have to do is publish a "great book" every month to make money as an author, look in the mirror. If you are not Gene Hackman, stop it. 

    There are four numbers that matter to any author who casts a shadow: 

    1. Number of people who visit your buy page.   

    2. Conversion ratio (sales divided by visits).   

    3. Price of your book. (More specifically, your royalty) 

    4. Your ad costs (specifically the exact cost of each sale in ad dollars).   

    In order to have growing sales, you must balance those numbers in such a way as to create the following: 

    1. The value of number one must increase consistently.   

    2. The value of number two should increase gradually. 

    3. Number three must be high enough to pay for number four. 

    4. You likely can't control this number, so concentrate on one through three.   

    The way you increase number one is by creating a better ad. You increase number two by better targeting of that ad. The cost of those two things plus the cost of number four determines number three. 

    Incidentally, the people who perform secret sorcery and can somehow move a thousand books just by writing have at least one of the following advantages: 

    1. Multiple successful Bookbubs back when Bookbub worked (that likely got them mailing list signups). 

    2. A permafree back when permafrees worked (that likely got them mailing list signups).   

    3. A mailing list in the five figures (because of one or two or simply by buying subscribers).   

    Psst -- The mailing list, incidentally, is how those authors get huge traffic and a hundred reviews to their buy pages on the first day.

    This business, like all other businesses, boils down to math. The math does not care about your personal opinion or how badly you want to be a good writer or how hooky your hook is or what myth you think will help you sell books. What you need is X traffic to your buy page at a Y conversion rate that generates Z royalties to cover A advertising costs where:

    X times Y equals Z

    and

    X increases over time

    and

    Y is (at worst) a constant

    and

    Z > A   

    The end.   
    « Last Edit: June 22, 2020, 03:05:20 am by Shane Lochlann Black »

    Offline boba1823

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #22 on: June 22, 2020, 07:54:07 am »
    . . . This business, like all other businesses, boils down to math.

    This is actually one of the best explanations that I've seen on the boards.

    Two errors, though - one minor and one.. well, I'll get to that.

    The minor error: The statement that ad costs (specifically the cost per sale) is largely beyond one's control. This is not true for most pay-per-click advertising platforms, and particularly Facebook. The reason is that what you will need to pay for each click depends on several factors, including how well the ad performs in terms of getting clicks. Ad platforms effectively convert pay-per-click ads to pay-per-view ads through what they charge advertisers. E.g. if I get 1 click per 1000 views and you get 2 clicks per 1000 views, then all else being equal, you will only pay half as much as me per click.

    It gets more complicated than that of course, and it varies by platform. Facebook also seems to take certain other factors, such as the 'quality' of the ad and possibly also user engagement with the page, into account in some way. Amazon.. well, who knows that they do. It's quite possible that they factor in the actual sales performance, given that unlike Facebook, they aren't limited to making money from advertising.

    In any case, better ads - that is, more attractive ads that generate a better click-to-view ratio, as well as those that are better targeted - will lower the cost per click. Potentially by a lot. Just as importantly, the ad (and especially the targeting) can have a significant impact on the ratio of ad clicks to book sales. Often, it will turn out to be more effective to pay somewhat more per click for an ad that generates a better sales ratio. Making improvement on these fronts, though, requires testing, which requires $s.

    The Big One:

    The math does not care about your personal opinion or how badly you want to be a good writer or how hooky your hook is or what myth you think will help you sell books.

    How 'good' a book is, in terms of appeal to potential buyers, is almost everything. It's going to be the determining factor in your conversion rate. More than anything else, it will determine whether it is even possible for the maths to work out, as well as how difficult it's going to be to make it work. Having a super appealing book product (which encompasses the appeal of the general premise for the book, as well as how it is packaged with title, cover, blurb, etc.) makes it fairly easy to generate a profit even with lousy marketing skills/efforts. The less appealing the book product, the better the marketing will have to be - up to some point where even the best marketing will not make it a success.



    Offline jm2019

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #23 on: June 22, 2020, 08:08:33 am »
    I'll +1 to one of Shane's observations: conversion of organic traffic to book sales. My blog is pretty popular, and I get steady traffic on it, including major spikes once a while. But from the weblogs, I can say with certainty that almost none of the traffic leads to book sales - ok, maybe 0.1%. So, the math of % of people organically finding my site x % of those that feel like checking my books x % that will buy = very very very small.

    Offline Amanda M. Lee

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    Re: When the book just WON'T sell
    « Reply #24 on: June 22, 2020, 08:37:43 am »
    Is visibility harder now? Absolutely. Is it impossible? Nope. I know people who have broken through in the past six months who now make way more than me on far fewer books. How? Write to market and brand perfectly. That's not to say that everybody who writes to market and brands well will sell well. Sometimes it just doesn't happen. However, what do those who have made it have in common? The answer is right there. So, it's not a guarantee but it does make things easier. Also, the key is to keep the readers you have and build. How do you do that? Give them what they want. Word-of-mouth advertising is still a thing. It happens every single day. And, before the inevitable argument pops up, writing to market and writing to trend are not the same thing. Yes, you can hit big writing to trend but you have to be fast and when the trend dies, that book is often a black hole in your backlist. If you write to market, your books stay evergreen longer and can always pop up on the charts again because it never goes out of style. And, no, I'm not going to explain what writing to market is. You can easily look it up.

    Amanda M. Lee

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