When I was a kid I hated math. It wasn’t that I was bad at math, yet still today, I shudder at the words “long division,” and please don’t say fraaaactions. Growing up, that word was like nails on a chalk board to me.
But here’s the thing, for authors, especially independent or self-published authors, if you’ve been at this for more than a year, and you’re not yet scratching out a living, you probably need to brush up on your math skills.
“Wait a minute, E, Most indie authors don’t earn a living. Are you telling me the only reason we aren’t successful as authors is MATH?”
Of course there are always other factors—talent being one—but math/numbers is the biggest. How many bestselling novels have you read, and said to yourself “this book is garbage?” Clearly, talent is not the key to success. Then, what is? Luck, timing. But the only factor we can have an effect on is the numbers.
The thing is, us creative types don’t want to be sidetracked by numbers. Math is not exciting (unless you’re my brother. He loves it). It’s exact. It’s finite. There is nothing creative about it. One and one will always equal two. There’s no creative way around it. We are turned off because it is drudgery; it is boring. But here’s the beauty in it—get your numbers right, and anyone can succeed at this. That’s a bold statement, but I am sticking with it. ANYONE. Talent is extra. If you have talent, you can possibly become even more successful.
Do you know the key to Warren Buffet’s success? I do. I’ve read almost all the books on him. Was he smart, yes, but he was a working guy who took the numbers seriously. Math. Now he’s one of the richest men in the world.
Here’s my story, my tale of woe that led me to math as a solution. My second and third YA/Paranormal novels, Boyfriend From Hell and Earth Angel became Amazon Children’s and YA bestsellers early in 2012. Both books were in the top 10 at the same time. The only other author in my genre with more than one book in the top 10 was Suzanne Collins with her The Hunger Games trilogy. I got lots of attention.
Like many authors, I thought I’d made it. I sold 400-500 books every month without a promotion. When I promoted the books I sold in the thousands. I assumed it would only get better. I remember having lunch with a (then new) thriller author. He told me he’d only sold 500 books. I said: ‘Yeah, me, too. I’m having an off month.” He said “No. I’ve only sold 500 books total.” I thought “Hmm, maybe his book is not that good.” Cocky.
I was doing what many indie authors were doing at the time. I’d lower my price to 99 cents and promote my books on BookBub. There’d be a spike during the promotion. I’d raise the price back to where it was before the promo, and there’d be a tail. This is where the book continues to sell even at the regular price. The tail usually lasted two to three weeks. And then, almost overnight, the tail went from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 days. At the same time, BookBub was growing their business. With more quality authors to draw from, I was no longer guaranteed a BookBub promo every month.
I began promoting my books on more and more sites to poorer and poorer results. By 2014 I’d gone from an author who made a living as a writer, to an author who was throwing more and more money away at bad promos with worse results.
In my life, I have been pretty good at business. This is not to brag, but I have made millions of dollars. But for some reason, the same business acumen I applied to the rest of my life was missing when I got creative.
At the end of a dismal 2014 I had a come to Jesus sitdown with myself. I asked myself a key question: “Are you ready to turn pro?” Was I ready to go from being another writer with an amateur attitude to being a serious minded professional? I knew it was going to take work—a lot of it. I also knew I had to reeducate myself.
We authors are infuriated by traditional (legacy) publishers who won’t accept our manuscripts, or when they do, they won’t promote them. Guess what? Their dismissal of us isn’t personal (although it feels that way to us) it’s, as the Godfather would say, “It’s just business.”
Stop worrying about getting their approval. They are in a different business than we are. It’s strange, because it seems like we’re in the same business, but we are not. The business they’re in versus the business we’re in is a topic for another post.
Here’s what I did once I decided to turn pro:
· * I spent the money to take four excellent marketing courses. Two of the courses were specific to books. I studied hard.
· * I began implementing the strategies I learned in May 2015
· * In May, my mailing list had 164 subscribers. Now, it has nearly 2000 subscribers. I’m getting there.
· * My novel Boyfriend From Hell (first book in a series) was made free summer 2014. It had 11,000 downloads. Good. The summer of 2015 we did the same thing with much better results: over 25,000 downloads. BFH reached top 10 overall ranking in the free store, something I’d never had a sniff at before, and the #1 Teen Horror ranking. Since June, BFH is rarely out of the top 20 in teen horror. Right now BFH is ranked #12 Teen Horror with no promotion.
All of my books are selling—not great, yet. I am not in profit, but I have no big losses, either. I no longer participate in poor performing promos. How can I tell the difference before I plunk down my money? That’s a topic for another post.
I am (finally) building my business. As a startup, growing profits and growing your business may not be the same thing. We writers complain when we run a promo and it doesn’t turn into a profit. How many millions did Goolge burn through before they made a profit and became… Google? All startups must spend money to grow their business. You and I aren’t only authors, we are also startup businesses. You MUST invest to grow your business. What’s the difference between spending money wisely, and throwing money away—MATH.
Want to know how I turned my business around? How I am on track to making a profit in 2016, and breaking into the $100,000 club by 2018? Here’s a better question: are you ready to turn pro? Then, join me. For now, just follow the blog here, and I will share what I’ve learned—what works, and why it works. I will post again in a week or so. Remember, I am a working writer. If you have questions, ask them here, and I will answer them as quickly as I can. If you discover this post six months or a year from now, and you have a question, it is never too late to ask. I’d like to keep you from making many of the mistakes I did.
Stop being a writer who says “I’m just happy being published.” No, you’re not. Don’t you want to earn a living with your writing? Let me know if you are ready to turn pro.