Book Marketing, Author Publicity, Branding

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ten Things All Authors Can Learn From Amanda Hocking

You may have heard of Amanda Hocking.  She is the 20-something-year-old author from my home state of Minnesota who self-published some novels as e-books and sold more than a million copies.  According to Wikipedia, about 9,000 copies of her novels sold each day earlier this year.  Many of her e-book novels were priced at just 99 cents, but supposedly she has earned 1-2 million dollars from her ebook sales.  Earlier this year, she signed a $2 million, four-book deal with St. Martin's press.

Now, before you think success in the publishing industry is as easy as cranking out some e-books on your own and throwing them up on Amazon, you should read a few words of advice.  They echo many of the same things I have said on this blog time and again, but they are not MY words of advice.  They are the words of Amanda Hocking, taken from her blog.  I have added my commentary after her quotes.  I thought it would be a good idea to pass along these pearls of wisdom from Amanda because 1) She is absolutely right, and 2) Every author, no matter where they are published or how they are published, can really learn something here.  Amanda's quotes are in bold.  My comments are not.

1.  I don't think people really grasp how much work I do.  As I have mentioned before, most authors work for years to become an overnight success.  It doesn't happen overnight, in 3 months or even a year.  If you are expecting your book to "burst upon the scene" and sell thousands of copies the day it is released, you are going to be sorely disappointed.  I have had authors ask me how long it will take to make their book successful.  The answer:  I don't know.  Nobody can answer that question. 

2.  This is literally years of work you're seeing. And hours and hours of work each day. The amount of time and energy I put into marketing is exhausting. I am continuously overwhelmed by the amount of work I have to do that isn't writing a book. I hardly have time to write anymore.  Being an author is more than writing a book.  If you aren't willing to put in the time to market and promote yourself, in addition to what your publisher is doing, very few people are going to read your book.  Although Amanda has signed with a publisher now, that doesn't mean she will get to spend all of her time just writing books.  She will still have to market and promote in addition to what her publisher is doing.

3.   My books have all been edited - several times, by dozens of people with varying backgrounds - and people still find errors.  I get calls from panicked authors who are upset because they have found a spelling error, a typo,  a misplaced comma, etc.  No book is perfect, not even books written by millionaire bestselling authors who are signed with major NYC publishing houses.  No matter how many times you go through a book and how many times it goes through editing, you will never obtain absolute perfection.

4.  And just so we're clear - ebooks make up at best 20% of the market. Print books make up the other 80%. Traditional publishers still control the largest part of the market, and they will - for a long time, maybe forever.  Actually, the latest figure I have seen from the industry is that ebooks make up about 12 percent of the publishing marketplace.  I have heard too many authors express fears that nobody wants to buy books printed on paper anymore.  That is just silly.  Most books sold in the U.S. today are books printed on actual paper, not ebooks.

5.  Even if ebooks end up being 80% of the market, at least half of those sales will probably come from traditionally published ebooks. So publishers will still control the majority of the market.  Most ebooks sold right now are books that are produced by publishers.  Yes, there are a lot of self-published ebooks out there, but without the backing of a publisher they largely go unnoticed.  Publishers still serve a function, even if a book is released as an ebook.


6.  Publishers have done really great things for a really long time. They aren't some big bad evil entity trying to kill literature or writers. They are companies, trying to make money in a bad economy with a lot of top-heavy business practices.  I have never understood why so many authors begrudge a publisher for trying to earn a profit.  If a publisher doesn't make money, they aren't going to publish more books.  More specifically, they aren't going to publish YOUR books if they don't make any money off of them.   Publishers, by and large, are not non-profit entities.  At the company I work for, authors can purchase their books from us at a 60 percent discount and resell them for full retail.  The authors make more money off the sale of their own books than we do.  But yes, we do still make some money on the books.  We wouldn't be in business if we didn't. 

7.  Nobody knows what makes one book a bestseller. Publishers and agents like to pretend they do, but if they did, they would only publish best sellers, and they don't.   This is absolutely correct. There is no secret formula for becoming a bestseller.  I can't tell you how to make your book a bestseller.  Nobody can.  Despite how many "bestseller courses", webinars, seminars or books you buy from people who tell you they can show you "the secret" to how to make your book a bestseller, there are no guarantees in the publishing industry.  The folks who sell these products can tell you how THEY became a bestseller, but nobody can tell you how YOU can become one, too.  I can help authors make their books profitable, but I can't guarantee any author bestseller status.

8.  I guess what I'm saying is that just because I sell a million books self-publishing, it doesn't mean everybody will. In fact, more people will sell less than 100 copies of their books self-publishing than will sell 10,000 books.  I personally cringe when an author tells me they expect to sell a million copies of their book.  It's not because I don't have faith in the author or their book, or because I don't think their book is good.  It's because I don't think most authors realize what it takes to sell 10,000 copies of their book, let alone one million copies.  Since Amazon began making the Kindle e-book available, only eight authors have sold more than a million ebooks, whether they were priced at 99 cents or $9.99.  That's right:  eight.  Concentrate on selling one book at a time, and if the market responds, you'll start to see the sales numbers grow, but don't expect to sell a million copies right out of the gate.

9.  But I just think everyone should be realistic about this. When J. K. Rowling became the world's first billionaire author, I didn't go, "Ha! I will publish now, now that I see an author can make that much money doing it."  Not only is J.K. Rowling the world's first billionaire author, I think she remains the ONLY billionaire author.  The cold, hard fact is this:  most authors will not become bestsellers, and most authors will not make a million dollars selling their books.  You can say this about any profession, really.  How many extremely talented musicians do you see playing at small clubs in your area, musicians that are really, really GOOD, maybe even great, who will never sell a million copies of their CD or make it to the top of the music charts?  The answer is, most of them.  But most don't do it for the money.  They do it for the love of their craft, and because they do have a fan base that they want to please.

10.  Most people who do it will not get rich, just like most authors signed up at Scholastic books aren't billionaires.  Traditional publishers are not evil any more than Amazon or Barnes & Noble are evil. Things are changing, hopefully for the better, but it is still hard work being a writer.   Notice once again that Amanda says "it's hard work being a writer."  She isn't just talking about the act of writing a book, but the whole process, including marketing and promotion.   It IS hard work, and no author will become successful without it.  That is why authors must sell books, attend book fairs, signings, speaking engagements, reach out to readers via social media and the myriad of other tasks that have nothing to do with writing if they hope to be successful. 

Amanda Hocking has probably taken the hardest road to success in the publishing industry.  She self-published her books, and she did everything on her own.  I know of only one other author who has achieved that kind of success without the backing of a publisher.  Whether an author is self-published or not, Amanda learned that the road to publishing success relies on a good book, hard work, lots of self-promotion, and just plain old luck.
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