Writing as a Business

So, the other day I was thinking about writing, planning out how to be a success, and whatnot. I’ve always considered being a success as a writer to be a long term venture. It will take time to write a decent backlist, to acquire a pool of dedicated readers. Then I started making parallels with any other business.

I’ve known quite a few people who started their own businesses, so I know a little bit about what’s involved. For example, I know that you can’t start a business without a year’s worth of capital, ideally two. This is where most businesses fail. Most businesses bleed money for the first year or two. I can’t count the amount of restaurants I see go under in the first year. I don’t understand it. Don’t they know better?

And, while the period of time it takes to become self-sufficient as a writer is longer (maybe 3-5 years), it probably costs less to start a profession as a writer than another (Which is why I really don’t understand it when an author says they can’t afford it. If my friend, who’s unemployed and disabled, gets by, I think you can scrounge up some money for what’s important to you.). Now, I have proved I can live off about $26,000 a year. If, in about 3 years, I’ve produced ten books. My favorite cover artist charges $100 for her art. Say another $1000 a book for editing. I do my own formatting (I’m really good with computers). I do my own marketing and promotion. In three years, the capital required would be less than a hundred grand. If any other business could lay claim to that, they’d celebrate. And we, as authors, can start up our businesses while working full or part time.

But back to my analogy with the business model, in the first year, you should be trying to gain a clientele. Hosting events, giveaways. Giving discounts and freebies. First you needs the clients, then you can make a profit.

It kind of clicked that that was what writing was all about. Why worry about the number of sales right off the bat? Especially if you’re not with a traditional publisher where they need to make it a NY Times Bestseller in a week or they give up. Play the long game.

In the beginning, it should be all about gaining readers who will want to read future books. For example, I plan to have a link to my mailing list at the very end of my books. On the same page as the ending. With a comment saying, “If you liked [Book Title], join my mailing list to know when the next book comes out…” Sales are good. Reviews are better. Repeat customers are best.

Most authors survive because, while selling enough of a single book to make a living is difficult, spreading that over their entire backlist isn’t. Give you an example. For simplicity, you need $24,000 to live on. Say you have one book. You make $2.00 profit on each ebook. You don’t sell paperbacks (again for simplicity). You would need 12,000 book sales to live off that one book. That’s 1,000 a month. That’s insane. But if you have ten books, you only need 100 sales per book per month. That’s more reasonable. That is an attainable goal, and that is why repeat customers are so important.

Now sales don’t mean much early on, but reviews do. Reviews determine your success on both Amazon and Goodreads. Amazon looks at both sales and reviews, but more 4 and 5 star reviews will bump up your book ranking in a category. On Goodreads, get enough 4 and 5 star reviews and they will start putting you in the Goodreads recommendations system, which has been known to vastly bump up book sales (though I can’t, at the moment, find the article I saw that in).

Please note, when I say book ranking, I do not means sales ranking, which only looks and number of sales, recent sales, and frequency of sales…

And I’ve seen studies that showed that the more reviews you have, the better your book does. There is a graph in the below slideshow showing how the number of reviews influences the number of readers who add the book to their shelves on Goodreads.

This is part of the reason I find it so funny how some authors are so hesitant to give books away. I mean, sure, I understand with paper books. There’s a cost involved. But I can quickly give away an ebook without any cost to me. Heck, I could set up a Smashwords coupon code meant exclusively for reviewers, so I wouldn’t even have to generate a coupon every time.
Of course, there’s an art to requesting reviews. Like with emergency situations, people respond better to direct correspondence. Post a request on a Facebook fan page of 700, maybe a hundred see it, maybe nobody clicks it. Send a message/email directly to someone, including personal comments, and questions about how they’re doing, etc, and you’ll likely get a response every time. For example, I ignore most of the book recommendations people send me on Goodreads, as well as requests for reviews. Most of them aren’t in genres I read, many appear to be mass distributed. But if someone sent me a message saying one noticed I really liked fantasy novels, and this book would probably hit my fancy, would I like to review it and they’d gift it to me if I would? Then, I would actually take a look.
Now, talking about giving books away, when I first started seeing authors giving away ebooks on Rafflecopter giveaways, I thought it was a brilliant idea. I mean, the author isn’t out a penny for the giveaway. But I realized something. Personally, as a reader, I won’t buy a book if I feel there’s even the slightest chance I could get it for free. So, if I put my name into the giveaway, I won’t buy the book on impulse. It seems to me, these giveaways are actually taking away from the most important element in sales… impulse buys. And, trust me, an ebook is, more often than not, an impulse buy. You see a cover, read a blurb, read a sample, and you’re all giddy, can’t wait to read it, think it’s going to be a blast. I think most of the ebooks I’ve bought in the past have been impulse buys.
Photo credit: Tax Credits / Foter / CC BY

2 Comments so far:

  1. Excellent post! I’m at that point where I need to start thinking about how I want to market my book. It’s sort of tricky at the moment, because I don’t want to do the exact same thing as everyone else…

    • I’m reading a pretty good book called Let’s get visible, which explains Amazon algorithms and such. I’ve only started reading, but I’ve already learned some things about category placement.

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