I can't find a publisher.....

are you looking in the right places and should you be worried?

   

   The Writer's Lottery

   

I have just finished my first manuscript

1

"You wouldn't even know a diamond if you held it in your hand. The things you think are precious I can't understand"  Steely Dan

You write your story the best you can, edit it the best you can, then you look for a publisher or you publish your book yourself. Simple. Hundreds of authors do it every single day! Whether they actually sell anything at all is a completely different matter. As harsh as it sounds: if you can't sell your book to a publisher you might have a hard time selling it to your neighbour as well.

What makes you a writer is your unshakable believe that you have a story worth telling. Writing is the easy part, getting your book out to readers is what you should concentrate on.

 

 

Writing for a living

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 If you are not self-employed you probably don't realise how hard it is to set up any sort of business that produces a regular income.


Writing for a living is a business. You need a product that has a demand and you need to build a customer base that will actually pay money for your book. It takes a lot of time and effort and you will have to get your hands dirty.
If you believe that writers are somehow ueber-gifted talents who leave all the mundane publishing and marketing stuff to publishers you most probably won't make it. After about grade five most of us can read and write. Never forget the most basic challenge: everybody can write but very few can actually make a living out of it. 


Even if you sell reasonable well you'll find that living on the royalties alone will not feed a family of five. So there goes your mental picture of sitting at home in you PJs, listening to cool music and tapping out bestsellers. You'll find that there is a lot more money to be made from using your "fame" to start earning a living.  I used to read at schools a lot - I mean for weeks on end. I earned a lot more doing that then selling books. The education department paid me for my time - not the publisher. If you want to survive in any sort of business you can't afford to be precious. You have to be flexible and grab every opportunity that presents itself along the way.


One of the great myths  is the believe that you can learn how to become a writer. Creative writing courses can only teach you how to write sentences. You might get a degree for creative writing but there is no such job. It's like training for NASCAR racing so that you can drive your Fiesta from and to work as a copy editor in an office job.  I guess it is writing for a living but I doubt that that was exactly the thing you had in mind when you enrolled.
Finding your own voice is what you want. Take any help you can to get but don't ever let anybody tell you how it's done. Nobody knows. Keep looking and keep writing. 


If one more expert tells you that reading (his/her book) makes you a writer, feel free to scream. Breathing helps you to sing, singing makes you a singer. Reading helps you to write, writing makes you a writer.  Got it?

 

Spend some time on publishing

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Forget writing for a while, spend some time on publishing. I didn't and I paid for it. I tapped out book after book, got great reviews, good sales, multiple awards, and translations into everything from Afrikaans to Swedish and how much do you think I made out of it.....? You'll have to read on to find out.

Before you publish your first book you should ask yourself: why? Do you just like writing or do you want fame and fortune?  It's not as stupid a question as it sounds. I see writers on Wattpad with amazingly high numbers of views. When I follow their stories back into the real world of publishing I find their eBooks lingering in the high hundred thousand in Amazon rankings and that translates to less than milk money (see "Show me the money"). So no, "fame" doesn't translate to fortune for all but a very few.

This should not at all discourage you but it should give you reason to pause and to look at other options that will actually produce some sort of an income.  If that's what you want. Not everybody wants or needs to make money from writing. I always had a day job but I did hope to make it as a full time writer. Speaking to my writing colleagues I can say with certainty that this always was and still is the main hope of authors.

To get there you really need to spend a lot more time exploring all your options. I don't say any of them necessarily produce good results but the combination of them might just get you closer to your dream.

 

The Predators

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Once you jump into the water with your brand new manuscript you most likely will encounter the top feeding sharks first:

Vanity Publishers aka Contribution Publishers

You pay vanity publishers a lot of money to receive 10 or 20 copies of your book, give them away to family and friends and hope for a return that will never come. 

Just for fun......  I actually suggest you submit your manuscript to at least one vanity publisher to take up some of their time and enjoy their spiel. I did. Sure enough, Austin Macauley was happy to give me a contract.

In exchange for two thousand five hundred pounds of my money they were going to print my book. The number of copies they would have printed was at their discretion. That might translate to zero - apart from my "free" copies. At around two hundred and fifty pounds a pop that was going to be a mighty heavy book!

Vanity publishers obviously must find a lot of suckers to keep them going.

Please don't pay anybody any money to get your book published on a vague promise of sales. Sales will only materialise if you make them happen yourself. There simply is no incentive for a vanity publisher to do anything with your book apart from listing it on all the free services you can access yourself. Vanity has paid him, thank you very much!

 

The Sharks

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Traditional publishing is not the smell of newsprint, cups of latte and freshly baked cakes by the log fire. It's a shark tank where old hands with big pens circle the new blood. And the very worst of the sediments on the bottom of the tank are the folks who will lecture you on how to become a writer if you pay them! It's like those investment guys who tell you how to make millions - just like they did right before they turned into pathetic salesmen who try to hustle another dime out of some hopeful would be investor. 

Even the big publishing houses have followed the trend - right next to your submission guidelines you'll find the very self-help book you need to write your next bestseller and get it published for another twenty bucks you should never spend.

Far worse is to come. The flood of unused manuscripts and the desperation of their unpublished or unpublishable authors can easily be turned into cash. Some well-known traditional publishing houses have already thrown away their book of ethics and joined the vanity predators with contribution contracts.

In a way they are even more disgusting than the notorious vanity fraudsters who prey on the hopes of the vulnerable. Traditional publishers won't get their own hands dirty but they'll pass you on to one of their subsidiaries.  Instead of a rejection slip you can now expect an offer for a contribution contract.

Beware of publishers that boast about their no-fee contract, too. I was offered such a contract myself for several of my books by a well known and reputable company. When I insisted on an advance, negotiations broke down.

So they should. If you have a product that actually sells and you can prove it, don't let them free- ride on your hard work.

I know it sounds tempting to let somebody do the work for you but be careful what you sign. There are no-contribution outfits that actually produce very professional looking work and they do list you on all the usual channels for print on demand and eBooks. I wondered how they made their cut.

If you follow the money trail you'll stumble across the catch: they won't pay you until you sell a certain number of copies. I know of one such publisher who set the bar at 200 copies.  For most novice writers that is about the ceiling so they will not see any money but are now looked into a life-long contract.

Before you sign anything remember that the devil writes the details into your contract.

 

The cheapest way

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The cheapest way to sink your book to the bottom of the ocean is to publish it online for free. Great!

It really is easy to get an eBook online. There are a lot of platforms you can access but let's just look at Amazon kindle and Smashwords because they cover most of the market. Of course both of them will give you some shining examples of people who have made it as authors. Success is usually defined by number of copies sold, praise in the traditional print media and yes, almost ready to give up the day job. If nothing else, this is the keyword that seems to define an author. If so, the unemployment rate amongst writers must be in the high 90s.

No wonder. Think about it. Everybody with a word document is now a published writer. That's the curse and the blessing those free platforms have added to publishing. Everybody just throws their piece in the pot. Gems and garbage, all melted into one big fat stew. Still, it's free as long as you don't sell. Once you start selling you'll have to pay your way.

Remember, writers are in the business of make-believe. Few will actually tell you how miserable their sales figures really are. It can be pretty embarrassing - even for the big shots who have their autobiography ghost-written by capable hands.

Publishing platforms are the kings and queens of fiction. Pay close attention: when they show off their success stories they'll show you a young woman sitting in a cafe, musing about how beautiful life is now that she is a published author. Ask yourself: do I fit her profile? Do I have the same background in marketing and sales? Have I been published recently and actually sold a thousand copies or more? Do I have a thousand friends on Facebook? Do I present like her, talk like her? Where are the annoying kids?

 "This is so boring, can we go now, Mum?" 

Amazon is tricky in so many ways... Easy to access and easy to use but they keep their cards so close to their chest that nobody in the universe actually knows what they are doing, how they rate sales, how many downloads, visits and so on. I guess they didn't want to repeat the mistakes Google made by giving away the recipe for everybody's favourite cookies.  Ok, they are mostly computers, apart from Tarzan and a board of humanoids who actually run the Amazon. I have no problem entering their jungle. It offers a free platform for all takers.

Change providers to Smashwords.

They are not as big as Amazon but they do cover Kobo and Barnes & Noble and they are growing.  I strongly suggest you go on Smashwords right now and publish something. Anything. You can publish a movie ticket of ten words. In any language. For an author, this really is great entertainment value.

If ever there was a reality check on what e-publishing really means, Smashwords will pop your eyes!

You publish your masterpiece on Smashwords and it will come up on top of the screen in all its virginal glory. Don't blink. Ten seconds later you have lost the top spot to something you think is a book but it could be a railway timetable. It's in Arabic so you'll never know. You don't have much time to worry about it because the next book scrolls up. Twenty thousand words with a bare-chested six-pack young man on the cover. See how many of them you'll find in the Amazon top 100 but don't change the screen to count them, by now your brand new eBook exits the screen and disappears out of sight.

And that is where most eBooks stay for good.

The few eBooks that were successful in their own right, i.e. not spin-offs from print books, never made anybody rich. To make a living out of writing you'll have to get into print.

 

Advice dirt cheap

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Online publishers are well aware of their literary Green Mile. That's why they spend a lot of time giving you advice on how to prolong the agony and temporarily avoid the inevitable.

Here is your free soup kitchen meal in five courses, handed out by your friendly online publisher:

1. Tell your friends and family about your book, make them buy and make them get others to buy. Really?  I couldn't even get my kids to read my books!

  2. Write more books. This still is the accepted formula in the publishing world but it's about as helpful as telling you to buy more tickets if you want to win the lottery or fly more because it increases your chances of a crash. Both are obviously true. However, if you flop with book one you'll start back at zero! The only benefit of writing more is the one every author needs: more practice, both as a writer and a self-publisher. Most authors will agree that it takes several books with at least a modest success to get a writing career going.

  3. Get somebody to review your book. Send it to the top reviewers and hope they'll pick it amongst the other how many books they receive?

 4. Tell friends, write more and build an audience. Sell two books to two friends who tell two more friends who will buy your next book and so on. Chain reaction. Big Boom! Remember the chain letters? No boom. Silence.

5. The clincher: post a cute cat or dog video with your literary masterpiece because, let's face it, more people like cats than prose.

I'm fully aware that in principle all this is good advice but does it actually work outside the selected few used in the samples?

Is any of this predictable and repeatable?

Of course not.

 

Traditional, please

8

The traditional way to publish your book is to actually look for an agent or a publisher who will eventually turn your manuscript into a book and give you a modest advance towards sales in the order of $ 2,000 - 5,000  (and not much else). Some publishers won't pay advances but they won't ask you for a contribution, either. They stand somewhere in the middle between vanity publishers and traditional publishers. Some have already crossed the line into the dark side. They'll pass you on to one of their subsidiaries who will offer you a contribution contract.

It's clear that paying you an advance and spending money on layout, editing, printing and distribution is a real incentive for publishers to give your book a good chance of success. However, it is not the case that publishers go out of their way to promote your title - unless it takes off and makes them a lot of money in return. You are an investment. They love you if you pay off, they drop you if you are a bad investment. Your are a business transaction and you have to pay your way.

There is little money in publishing - hence there is little money in writing. I quite liked all the publishers I worked with - so I mean this in the nicest possible way: publishers are businesses fighting for survival on small margins. The less they have to pay you, the better their chance of survival.  Whether you like it or not: business is about the bottom line. No matter how much hard work you put in to promote your book, publishers will drop you like the proverbial spud if the going gets tough. 

My last publisher hit the wall and didn't even tell me. I found out when my former publisher informed me that he had just bought what was left. I think I was working on my 12th book and I had a contract for three more. I guess I could have gone to court but I had changed continents and careers and I had no agent so that was the end of writing for me. I never saw any sales records for my last three books, never received any royalties apart from a $ 2,000 advance. My combined sales for all my books with all translations would have been well over 200,000

I made around 25 cents per copy.

 

The Gatekeepers

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Publishers don't owe you a thing. After all, you are the one who is asking them for a job in a market that has very few vacancies to fill.

If you submit your manuscript to a publisher or an agent, get used to rejections.

Agents kind of hang around the writing and publishing circles looking for the "it" thing  tat will net them a 15%-20% cut of the author's royalties. I managed to find six publishers on my own but I never could find an agent willing to take me on. Not for the want of trying. I have sent out dozens of submissions into the void. Every now and then a short blip pinged back, telling me that I'm not quite right for the agent's list. The list of what? If you check the backgrounds of literary agents you'll invariably find some connection to publishing as a former former of something. They do know publishing and that's why they don't want to take you on unless you can prove to them that you will make a bucket load of cash. Simple as that. Same as every two bit lawyer these days promises you to work on a no win no fee basis. If that was true they would take on everybody. They won't.  If my experience is anything to go by, don't bother unless you earn too much money, can't keep track if it or feel the urge to give away a fifth.

Approaching publishers directly is no picnic, either.

I remember my first rejection very well. It went along the lines "... is this your first novel? If so you are surprisingly competent. Unfortunately your work does not fit in with our program. You might want to work on chapter ...í Now isn't that a nice brush off!  It kept me submitting.  I guess that's long ago and maybe editors were better paid and had less work and better manners back then. These days you'll be lucky if even one of them bothers to send you a rejection slip.

The submission business is a bit like waiting for the first date. You'll have to make it happen yourself or you won't ever be kissed. Not by this lot, anyway. These are the gorgeous young cheerleaders. Quite literally!

There is a high probability that your submission will never hit the desk of a senior editor. There is a tiny chance that a young sub-editor might glance at your work. There is a high probability that the sub-editor will be in her early twenties with a shiny new degree in creative writing. Nothing wrong with any of that - just remember who you are writing to!

Editors, agents and related literary glamouristas in workshops and self-help writing groups are a cliquey lot who like to know each other.  To break into that circle might seem like a good idea for newcomers but you're just wasting your time. I know because I've been there - and I mean everywhere! I have done my rounds of talks, interviews, public readings, school readings and workshops and I went through half a dozen publishers.

I don't know, somehow the fun has gone out of the whole process  of looking for a publisher. Once upon a time you could write your story with lipstick on a paper napkin - now you enter your manuscript in the world's toughest spelling bee. Ah yes, and somebody is sure to tell you that you have to write the first chapter so well that even a blind man/woman will fall for it just by taking a whiff ... !  Tell that to some of the old dudes who took five chapters just to let you know what town you were in!

Publishing houses these days feel it necessary to warn you of the dire consequences of submitting a query with a typo or a wobbly syntax.  Maybe it's just me. I always thought  publishers were actually looking for good stories instead of marking test papers for grammatical errors.

I believe that's exactly what thirty years of creative writing degrees have added to publishing: and endless flow of clones who can't do anything but passing on their learning to each other, following trends to avoid taking risks.

Still, I know there are some very good, decent and hardworking people out there in the publishing world. I'll never give up looking for them.

 

 

The exception is the exception

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This is your intermission chapter.  This is where you go if you think you know better, have done better or can do better.
Do not quote the million copy/dollar/follower exception. It's neither predictable nor repeatable. All you offer is another lottery ticket. All you tell me is  that there is hope.
Hope doesn't improve the odds.
I've been down here before. I've stared/clicked a hole in my letterbox/inbox in vain. It never stopped me from sending out another submission but it gradually dawned on me that there must be more than just hope. There must be a way to take control.
There is........

 

Show me the money

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There is a great lack of honesty amongst the eBook writing folks and the publishing platforms that encourage them. Most of it hinges around Amazon rankings and what they actually mean.

Here is why: There are two different Amazon rankings. Just about all authors who use the #1 Amazon ranking in their blurb talk about the category ranking i.e. the genre, sub genre etc. their book is listed in. Hardly anybody ever mentions the other ranking which is the overall ranking of all books in all categories based on all daily sales.

Here are some real numbers, based on my own sales.

You rank 300,000 in the overall rankings if you sell in the order of 10 books per month. Your category ranking will be a lot lower, depending what sub genre you are listed in. In my case around ranking 60. My royalties for a month were $ 60 including print copies. eBook royalties only make up 1/10th of my sales.

15 sold books per month deliver an overall ranking of under 200,000 and a category ranking of around 20.  My royalties for a month were $ 120 with only $ 10 from Kindle.

One sale per day or 30 per month puts you in the under 100,000 ratings overall and the lower teens in most categories with a ranking one on a busy day. In fact, one or two of my books made rankings 1-10 several times with an overall ranking of 40,000 to 90,000. My combined royalties were about $ 200 per month with Kindle accounting for only 10%.

To hit the 100 top sellers overall you'll need to sell in the order of at least 400 copies per day.

These figures are based on my sales on Amazon print and Kindle combined. I mainly write nonfiction that usually sells better and lasts a lot longer than fiction.

I know all this number stuff is boring but my point is interesting: you don't need large sales to rank high in your category. You should remember this if somebody wants to sell you their success story on Amazon in book form for another twenty bucks you should never spend. Ranking in your category doesn't mean you sell a lot of books or make a lot of money.

That said, it's better not to put too much trust in Amazon rankings. They are not open to scrutiny and they can be manipulated (see faking it). Newspapers have to have their paid circulation numbers audited. Amazon doesn't even tell you how they come up with theirs.

 

Taking control

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With your eBook resting on the bottom of the ocean, your submission queries unanswered and your print on demand book ranking 3 million plus you might slowly come to the realisation that

Amazon or any of the other platforms don't sell books for you.

You have to sell your book yourself. If you can't do that you might as well stay out of the jungle. There is only one piece of advice that really works:

Stop writing and start selling

Publishers sold a lot of my books and I never got much joy or reward out of it. When I wrote, produced and marketed the very first of my own titles I felt enormous joy and a real sense of achievement. Even more so when I sold a few hundred copies. In every which way possible, the rewards outstripped anything I had ever experienced writing through a publisher. Still, it is hard work and you need a day job that allows you to spend half your time making very little money from books.

It's not all gloom, though. Even the process of taking control is rewarding and earning a little bit of money doing it is a bonus. If you don't try you'll never know.

How to go about selling your book depends on the type of book you write.  Fiction is a lot harder to sell than non-fiction that usually has a well defined market through the subject matter. Herein lies the crux of the matter: If you know your market you can target your sales.

Knowing who your readers are and where they can be found is the key to success in publishing. Readers and buyers are not always one and the same. Wives buy handyman books for their husbands, parents and grandparents buy for children and so on. How you target them depends on your background, your budget and more than anything else, your determination and courage to go out and flog your work.

I met a middle-aged woman at the local flea market the other day. She was selling her Indie book. I didn't ask her how many copies she had sold that day. I thought it might be rude but later on she volunteered that she had just put in an order for 500 additional copies. She had gone through all the usual steps, eBooks, submission, contribution predators and the rest until she finally realised that she had to take control herself. I absolutely adore writers who have made it on their own - no matter what genre they write in. 

You might have noticed by now that I speak of real books made from trees because I sell around ten times more real books than ebooks myself. However, the principle is the same. You either go to a virtual market or down to the local flea market - which takes a lot more courage. I love the internet but I prefer personal interaction and so do most humans! If you can overcome the fear of fronting strangers with your book you have taken the first step.

Courage and conviction will always find you potential buyers. Take your book to the local newspaper, TV station, community meetings and so on. Find small stores that sell products that somehow relate to your story and ask them to take a few copies on consignment. Your local bookshop might be happy to do the same. You might venture further and find other outlets....

 .... itís all slow, hard work and the rewards might be pretty small but it's still a hundred times better than sitting at home hoping for a publisher to answer your query. Don't waste your time hoping - make it happen! Go Indie!

Indie published

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Indie publishing is NOT just Amazon publishing but it can be.

If you use Createspace (Amazon) to publish your print book you can buy extra copies and sell them yourself. This is not a bad option if you live in the UK or the USA . The high postage costs make it almost impossible to ship your copies anywhere else. What's more, Createspace's printing is very basic and unsuitable if you need a special format like A4 or if you want quality colour on gloss paper etc.

If you want to print your book with your own ISBN and use the facilities of a professional distributor who can handle orders and returns from bookshops, I suggest you look into LightningSource or their smaller version IngramSpark. They are based in the USA but they also operate and print standard book sizes in Australia, UK and possibly other countries and they ship a lot cheaper and faster than Createspace or Amazon or Lulu. However, like any other platform, they offer a lot of services you should carefully examine - especially the extended distribution.

My advice is not to allow extended distribution with Createspace (Amazon) or any other publishing platform. What it means is that they can sell your books at wholesale prices to any type of retail outfit - including some they might well control themselves. Even if that's not the case you still get taken for a ride because you get a lot less royalties for those "wholesale" copies. The buyer gets your book for next to nothing and puts it straight back on Amazon or eBay etc. - in effect then competing with your other books listed at the normal price.

You literally shoot yourself in the back by ticking extended distribution. It won't be an issue in the beginning but as soon as you sell a few copies the free riders will pop up like fungi and you are left wondering why they can offer your book for so much less. It's because you ticked extended distribution, stupid! (This is actually a note to myself!)

ISBN: Should you get one?  Regular bookshops will not touch your book if it comes through the jungle path. If you want to market and sell your book without using any of the platforms it's better not to let them assign their ISBN and get your own instead.  

On the other hand, If you are looking for a publisher for your book, an ISBN might be a turn-off. There are a number of publishers who won't consider a book that already has an ISBN assigned. I guess you can always change the title for your submission, if that is an issue.

Slow progress

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If you do everything yourself apart from the actual printing, you only need to sell around 300 copies of a $ 20 book to make as much as a publisher most likely would pay you for selling 3,000 copies of the same book.  I doubt that this is achievable with fiction that has a shelf life of weeks or months, but self-publishing nonfiction that keeps producing revenue for years definitely worked for me and many other authors.

Doing one thing doesn't exclude the other. Keep submitting, regardless. If you get offered a decent contract, take it!  In an ideal world you'll be an Indie author as well as a traditionally published author. Meanwhile, create your own website with a good static content that will get you Google rankings and hits. I've had mine for close to 20 years now. I don't actually sell my books there - I just link them to either Amazon or my direct sales outlet for which I use another site. eBay is another great outlet for nonfiction. It works well because you can target your market.

By now you'll have your eBook, your Amazon print book, your own print book with your own outlets plus eBay and you might still only sell 6 books per week.  I know it sounds pathetic but that's what you should expect when you start out. Add a second title and you might sell 10 copies a week. By book four you might end up selling 30 per week. It still only gives you a turnover of $ 600 per week but look how far you've come and how much further you can go!

Like in every other start-up business, success is neither quick nor guaranteed. But you're in control. No more waiting for overworked editors to get their act together. No more waiting for the trickle of royalties to filter through the system one year later.... it's now all on your head. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Fiction or Nonfiction

15

The nonfiction market is several times bigger than the fiction market. If you are a fiction writer you'll have to work a lot harder and face a lot more competition to make a living out of your craft.

Even if you get published, your fiction book is not likely to last more than a few weeks or months. You most likely will not get any royalties other than the advance and most writers will not have a second book success or be locked into an endless series of follow-ups. If that's what you want, go for it!

If not, you might want to have a crack at nonfiction. Even though publishers need to keep  pumping out new titles to survive ( I told you they were sharks) , non-fiction still has a longer shelf-life  than fiction. This is great news for small scale self-publishers who can keep selling older titles for years to come, even if they fall under, say 100 copies per year. My publishers used to get rid of the old stock once they sold less than 100 copies per annum - that's a turnover of $ 2,000 per title per year for years to come if you write nonfiction.

As a writer you should consider the marketability of your work. I know that this goes against the grain for most creative writers but should it...?  It is possibly to write a cookbook with wit and fun. It is an art to produce a literary travel guide or trace a family history. It's all been done with great success.

Everybody is good at something or just being a human. There are no age restrictions. Even if you are not so good at being a human, either - people still like to read about other people.

Faking it

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In a sense, eBooks are fake books. Despite all the claims to the contrary, eBooks have not replaced print books. Books made from trees still are the real money spinners that make careers and sometimes fortunes. When it comes to nonfiction, eBooks haven't got a leg to stand on. That said, a growing number of very successful fiction writers who probably would never have been published by traditional publishers, started off on e-platforms and ended up in the New York Times bestseller list - alas most of them were eventually picked up by publishers.

The exception still is the exception.

Before eBooks, traditional publishers used to act as quality control that filtered out most of the rubbish. In the process they also managed to overlook some gems that could have landed them the jackpot. The reverse is now true. It's just about impossible to find the pearls in the swill. This poses a problem for writers: how do you get noticed? In fact, standing out from the crowd has now become the key to being read. As an author you need a presence. Real or fake.

An author's biography that quotes an extensive publishing history with several Amazon #1 bestsellers is impressive. It can be.

It can just as easily be fake.

The devil is in the detail. "Published" implies traditional publishing. Most times it's not. I don't mean to belittle anybody's efforts. I admire writers who keep churning out eBooks for little monetary return and ever changing rankings. Rankings mean nothing on a daily basis and they mean little in your category. Overall # 1 rankings are a lot harder to achieve but it can be done - at least for a day

Of course it's worth nothing apart from the fact that you well and truly have cracked the # 1 spot.  You won't make money from it. On the contrary, it will cost you money and after your brief fake success you're back where you started from.

Here is how you achieve a legit Amazon # 1 ranking:

1. Do a few searches to establish the numbers of titles in your category. Chose a category that is not too crowded. You can test your result in your Kindle Bookshelf: Set Categories. There is enough scope in the categories to roughly match your topic.

2. Publish your book on Kindle and set the price at 99 cents.

3. Get 20 friends or family to purchase your eBook on your D-day and with a bit of luck you have a # 1. If not you might have to up the numbers. At least you'll get a pretty good idea of how many copies you need to sell.

3.1 I know, it's hard to get 20 people organised and synchronised but think outside the square: writer's club, any other social club, school friends, work mates or simply pay for it yourself.

3.2 If you pay you can get anything you want on fiverr. It will cost you $ 5 to get one person to buy your book. If your #1 ranking is worth $ 100 to you, you can buy it. No, it's definitely not against Amazon policy to make people buy your book. After all, that's what Amazon wants you to do. It might be stupid and ethically questionable but so it advertising with Amazon or Google.

 

The big book advertising con

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In my opinion, Amazon advertising doesn't work for books at all.

Amazon offers you paid marketing tools for your book in auction format. That is, Amazon auctions their advertising clicks on either search words or products. You give Amazon a maximum amount per click. The actual price is set by the competitors bidding for the same click. If you are the highest bidder your ad appears on the product you selected. I used some for my Stanley Planes book. Every time somebody looked for a woodworking tool or a tool related item, the ad for my book would pop up on their screen.

Amazon charged me per click for this advertising campaign. I watched them do their stuff for a while. The clicks added up but the sales did not. It actually cost me around $ 15 in Amazon advertising to sell one copy for $ 9.99

I'm a great believer in advertising but this must be about the worst value for money ratio an advertiser can offer. Apart from the miserable result, there are no checks or balances. You don't know who bid against you, how much or how often.  I'm not suggesting any dishonesty on the part of Amazon but their lack of transparency in everything they do leave them open to questions of integrity.  

Advertising fiction didn't produce a single result for me. I believe it's a big waste of money and it will remain so unless Amazon actually gives you value for money.

Once again, it's Amazon's secrecy that hampers all your best intentions. It would be easy for Amazon to let you have a custom made target audience for your book by making their database available. They won't. Instead they let you find your own by searching keywords or products, making your choice irrelevant, too wide or too narrow. Unless you're an expert who can spend hours working out the correct parameters you're just paying for nothing.

Reviews and reviewers

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In the world of books, reviews are just another form of advertising.


The Amazon offshoot Createspace links you to Kirkus who offers you a review by an undisclosed "authority" for a cool $ 400. You can get the same result on fiverr for ten bucks. Ok, technically speaking you might be paying for reviews but outside Amazon's hypocritical policy everybody does pay for reviews one way or other.
Every now and then Amazon gets into a great big huff about paid 5 star feedback ratings by removing the worst offenders. However,  by and large the paid feedback rating is alive and well. Big corporations pay a lot of money to agencies who specialise in 'soliciting' product reviews listed on Amazon.  If they can do it, so can you.  


I frankly don't see anything wrong with paying somebody on fiverr ten dollars to buy my book and review it - as long as it's clearly stated that I want an honest feedback rating - even if it's one star.
Technically speaking, sending your book to a friend for free and have him/her review it for you is the same. You use your friendship as coin. How many drinks in a friendship? How many favours? Having others review for you in exchange for your review of their book is fundamentally wrong as well. Buying somebody a dinner and hand over your book before dessert might be just as bad. How about placing a paid ad in the local newspaper and make them write a small review/editorial on the side? How about paying Kirkus four hundred bucks instead?


At any rate, reviews are way overrated. They might help a little but they do not bump up your sales. Even a review in a major Sunday paper might only translate to maybe 50 or so extra sales. I know because that's how many extra books my publisher sold after a full page feature article of my books in a one million plus copy Sunday paper.

 

Frustrated and depressed?

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Don't be

People don't hate your book. They just don't want to read it. You have to accept the facts as they are. It's nothing personal.

If you keep writing, somebody will eventually read one of your books and like it. What you do from now until then will shape you as an Indie author.  Time is on your side if you use it wisely.

Sell the first five copies of your next book and work on selling the next ten. Eventually you might make your first thousand. It took me three years to get there with my first nonfiction book. I can see the sharks circling.

Don't hope - make it happen.