A few people have asked me whether I feel a twinge of jealousy toward other authors whose debut novels skyrocket on the charts and see something in the realm of 40+ reviews shortly after their release – indie authors, we’re talking about. My answer is a resounding ‘no,’ because releasing a few works prior to building a mailing list was exactly what I had in mind.
While the sales and royalties won’t trickle in until somewhere between two and four years down the road, something that will are massive sales once you write a nice-sized backlist for yourself, something most authors for some strange reason don’t understand.
No, they want to build their audience prior to releasing their first book, which will sail to the top of the charts on Day One and accrue between 50-100 ratings.
This is good but it’s a trend that’s slowly becoming outdated and obsolete.
Let me explain.
Netflix Changed the Game
And it continues to do so. See, while Netflix involves the watching of TV shows and movies and Kindle obviously involves reading, Netflix set the stage for something called ‘binge culture.’
Sure, if you’re an indie author and you took three years to build your audience, that’s great, and chances are they’ll buy your next works – if they don’t get their hands on another author’s work who already wrote six books and have slowly built their audience with the release of each work.
And by Book VI, they’ve accrued 20,000 readers to their mailing list, with the majority of them coming after they wrote and released their fifth book. They may also have another series consisting of three to five works, which gives them a grand total of eight works.
In today’s binge culture, thanks to platforms like Netflix with other industries following suit, new readers are far less likely to purchase your work after Book I unless your mailing list has hit the five-figure mark – especially when there are thousands if not millions of other authors to choose from who’ve written a complete series and just launched the entire thing to their mailing list.
Indie Authors are Getting Disillusioned
Okay, Book I had a fantastic release. You garnered 50 reviews on the work within the first 100 days of its release so you write and release Book II, only to hear crickets. Sure, the readers loved your work and love you as an author and trust me, they might get to your work.
But most of them may’ve found a twelve-book series (or more) in the same genre from another author. The author released a perma free series starter and a 99-cent sequel – both deep discounts are obviously intended to draw a reader in. Now, the reader just bought the author’s entire backlist – Book III is selling at $2.99, Book IV at $3.99, Books V through XII at $4.99.
Given that Amazon gives 70% royalties, these authors just earned $33.18 per sale – and with a mailing list of 20,000, plus discounted trilogy box sets selling at say, $4.99 apiece that gives readers a more cost-effective route, you can only imagine the dough these authors are bringing in.
And this is the route I’ve taken. If you click to my books’ pages on Amazon, they have very few reviews – and it’s been planned that way. Taking the long view – the right view – I learned very early that if I built an audience and released Northern Knights, earned money – perhaps even enough to sustain a full-time income for a few months what were my readers going to read next?
Something else – perhaps works by an author who’s on their sixth book of their first series?
With a multitude of books behind it.
So, when would they read Swords of Destiny?
I’d have been pulling my hair out when the sales wouldn’t roll in as they did with Northern Knights – it’s important to remember that readers on our mailing list are also customers of other authors.
Study Professional Sports Franchises
Seriously, study professional sports franchises who engage in the following – and until news came out that the Houston Astros cheated to win the 2017 World Series, I used them as a perfect example of this, but other teams will suffice. Let’s go with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers who recently won the NFC Championship and came within a quarter of winning Super Bowl LIV.
The 49ers suffered through five straight lean (losing) seasons from 2014 to 2018 after being on top of the NFC for a few years prior to that. It began in 2014 when the team dropped to 8-8 and missed the playoffs. Following the season, the coaching staff was axed and a man named Jim Tomsula took over, destined for failure.
And failure occurred when the team finished 5-11. Tomsula was fired and Chip Kelly took over, while the team got rid of many players, literally stripping it to the bare bones. Not necessarily saying the 49ers were tanking, but they were tanking. Kelly went 2-14 and was gone after a year.
Kyle Shanahan came in and the team was now completely stripped of star players, meaning it was going to be a long season in the Bay Area for a team that was once among the NFL’s elite. The team also hired a new General Manager in John Lynch and their jobs were simple, yet complicated – build this train wreck with young talent that’s going to suck for a couple seasons.
And it happened – Shanahan’s squad went 6-10 in 2017 and bottomed out at 4-12 in 2018. Yet the team continued to draft well, sign key free agents, and they traded for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, former understudy to Tom Brady. The team drafted the likes of DeForest Buckner, Nick Bosa, and had several steals such as tight-end George Kittle.
They built the foundation between 2016 and 2018, one season after tearing the roster down in 2015 and by 2019 the 49ers took the NFC West division with a 13-3 record, their best since 2011. It set the stage for the future and 49er fans know a repeat trip to the Super Bowl with this young team is highly likely – especially since most of their roster is intact except Buckner and very few others.
Why this history lesson?
It goes to show what a slow, but steady build will do. Sure, growing pains exist, but starting completely from scratch and building slowly over time will allow you to see more permanent results in the future – just as the 49ers will probably be among the NFL’s best for the next four to six seasons, if not longer.
The same goes for you and your books.
Continually Launch Old Works
When you steadily build a mailing list, it allows you to relaunch old works – most of my readers who join my mailing list because they saw I’m giving away this hot, new Kindle Fire never heard of my work. But they relish in the opportunity to win a new Kindle to replace their old one, so they join the giveaway and by the way, here are two free books (Northern Knights and Skyehawk Chronicles).
In my bi-monthly email, I say, ‘oh, by the way, if you enjoyed Northern Knights, here’s its sequel, Swords of Destiny, selling for 99 cents a the Kindle Store.’
And what’s inside every book?
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t relaunch other books as well – launch them all strategically. But still, include the backlist, as readers who loved the free first in series and deeply discounted second will most likely flock to your other works as well. And again, when you have a nice, solid backlist built coupled with a large mailing list, the possibilities are more versatile.
If you have a large mailing but just one or two books, it’s going to be much harder to keep their attention with the sheer number of books on the market plus authors – literally a massive surplus. So, if you’ve written six books but have made few sales – build your mailing list and show off that backlist.
You’ll be surprised at how many readers will go ahead and download the first three books – especially if Book I is free, Book II is 99 cents, and Book III is just $2.99 – that’s $3.98 for three books and for readers, it’s one heck of a deal. And when you leave Book III open-ended as I did with Missing in Columbia, they will go on to buy your backlist.
So, don’t be afraid to write first and build later. These new readers who discover you are going to have a series to read – and it’s far better than just one or two books before they’re forced to move onto something else unless you can launch a new book every six weeks.