Happy Friday! Many authors, including myself, dream of breaking big sales, turn into a J.K. Rowling overnight and live off of writing exclusively for the rest of their life. If I don’t aim for the stars, why write at all? At least, that’s the question my mother and fellow authors will ask me. They’re right. Why aim low when you have the potential to reach high?
The publishing industry nowadays is not what it used to be. No need to elaborate on that. Self-publishing has exploded, and will continue to explode, and any aspiring author out there knows they can publish a book, and they don’t need anyone’s help to do that. Heck, looking for books on Amazon and similar platforms has turned into a treasure hunt. If you don’t have an author in mind, and are simply looking for a new story to fill your head with, that search can take hours. That’s why Amazon and its fellow competitors have established the star rating system, the sales rank, and the promotional thumbnails to help the reader with their quest. And the same question keeps popping in my mind: how do I become more visible? How do I increase my sales rank? How do I become a best-selling author?
Great books may stay in the dark for years before a breakthrough. If the marketing is low, and the topic unconventional, these great stories might never break at all. We, as authors, are bound to having an audience. And finding this audience is key. During a writers’ conference, I asked publishers what they were looking for and they gave me a very simple answer. They want something that will sell. They provided me with details about what they thought would pop the readers’ cherry, but given they were no psychics, their assumptions were as good as mine.
“American Psycho” was a bestseller along with “Harry Potter” and “The Hunger Games” or “Twilight”. Sure, we have entered this YA/NA era where everything revolves around fantasy and paranormal genres, and as long as this pot of gold isn’t dry, the trend will live on for a while longer.
But how, as an indie author, will you know what to write so you can sell? That’s the one million dollar question right there. Many have tried to follow the steps of Grisham, King and Cornwell, or E.L. James and Meyer, for what result though? Erotica will always sell. Romance too. Psychological thrillers, and stories about crooks, gangsters, attorneys, dirty cops, and nurses – airport books I call them and that’s how I bought my first Stieg Larson’s “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” copy – that stuff reads well, and fast, and keeps you busy and distracted for a few hours. You might not consider the book a milestone in your reading career, but you will have fun reading it, and that’s the most important part of writing and selling books in the first place. So that the readers can enjoy themselves.
Once you try to tackle touchy topics, like necrophilia, pedophilia, rape, cannibalism, drug addiction, and so on…you’re appealing to the minds that find horror exciting. And horror sells as well, especially in the context of serial killers, zombie, and vampire tales. Same goes with deep psychological novels.
There are tons of bestsellers out there that prove that any genre can break huge – so following trends might not be a safe bet after all. You can try to ride the wave, and catch the next big fish, but your attempt might fail dramatically. It’s very difficult as an author to write stuff that has never been written about before. Sci-fi and fantasy allow writers to push boundaries, but main themes always remain the same.
At the end of the day, you’re basically back to square one. You got your manuscript and have no idea if the story will appeal to a multitude of readers or not, and then you have your marketing strategy, which might be super advanced or amateurish, depending on how much time you can devote to market your book, and money to advertise as much as possible. And still, you can do everything in your power to attract readers, your book might not sell much.
After this long monologue, you might be asking yourself, what is the best way for me to still make a difference? There must be a light at the end of the tunnel here.
Well, consider your competition a few millions books, and many more to come. Sub-genres that burst within sub-genres. Niches within niches. Word of mouth works wonders – it’s actually the most efficient marketing strategy. And…promoting your book doesn’t stop at writers’ conferences, book signings, and blog hops. Radio shows, podcasts, YouTube, and naturally, Twitter and Facebook, help tremendously. Like I often say, not only do you sell your book, you also sell a brand. Don’t think a trailer is useless. Freebies help and sometimes they don’t. An attractive book cover can take your book a long way, without you even realizing it.
The natural order of things will do that certain authors reach the top, and others stay stuck in the middle. If you’re in the middle now, remember, your book might reach the top someday. It’s never too late. But you have to keep trying. What goes on with writing, happens with indie filmmakers, artists, and pretty much any solo entrepreneur next door. A product is a product. If it’s good, people will buy it. If people hear about how good it is, they will buy even more of it.
Follow a trend, or don’t. Pour your heart out, stay true to your writing, and stand behind your product. Aiming for the stars isn’t crazy. Giving up is.