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Friday, 14 June 2013

Guest post from Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Thanks Vicky for finding these excellent articles. It's a LOT for one blog post but the content is so good I wanted to share it as soon as possible.

In her article Kris gives us three great statistics (US based):

1)     In the first quarter of 2013, brick-and-mortar bookstores saw a 27% increase in foot traffic over the same period in 2012. There are an increasing number of independent booksellers and consumers are returning to actual stores, including the bookstore. The print book, still remains anywhere from 70-90% of the market for book sales.

2)     In the past five years, e-book sales in the United States have gone from zero to (conservatively) 706 million, with no sign of slowing down.

3)     About 30% of those e-book sales come from independent (self-published) authors. That’s about 210 million ebook sales that did not come out of traditional publishing.

Her conclusions:
Our industry is growing. We are getting new bookstores, new readers, new writers, and we haven’t hit the peak of the market yet. Why not? Because traditional publishers dropped the ball decades ago. Traditional publishers forgot that they sell books to consumers. Instead, they changed their business model to sell books to bookstores. When the independent bookstores declined at the turn of this century, traditional publishers started marketing to the big distributors and to the chain bookstores, which was why you heard such industry-wide panic when Borders went down. It wasn’t because the readers went away; it was because traditional publishers had no idea how to sell their books to people other than the ten to twenty buyers for national distributors and chain bookstores.


Her second article is on how indie publishers get noticed:

Word of Mouth:

In short, she says – don’t be annoying.  Don’t constantly tweet, push for likes on Facebook, or blog with buy me written a dozen times in a dozen different ways.

More than 3 million books were published last year, and those were only the books that Bowker, which runs the ISBN system, could count. I’m sure more books than that were published in 2012.
That distribution wall between traditional publishers and self-publishers is in the process of collapsing entirely.
The more promotion you do, from bookmarks to visiting booksellers to tweeting constantly, the more you will piss people off. 
So bookstores can order any book they want; the key is to make them want that book—without pissing them off.
How do you do that?

The best way to promote your work is to develop a fan base.
How can you do that with just one book?
You can’t. It’s a rare writer who hits on the first novel, and usually that’s a fluke tied into something going on the culture. You can’t control the culture. You can’t control book buyers. But you can control what you do.
Write good stories. Write great stories. Practice, practice, practice. Publish what you write. Readers will find good books, and they will tell their friends.

You can’t control word of mouth. You can start it only by telling your fans, Facebook friends, and the readers of your blog that a new book is out. Then, write the next book and let the first one take care of itself. Search engines will find it, if a reader is interested

That’s true whether you’re an indie writer or a traditionally published writer. I don’t care how much your traditional publisher nags you to promote, promote, promote. Ignore them. Write the next book and if they don’t buy it (or you choose not to sell it to them) publish it yourself.

Let’s assume you’ve written a good novel. In fact, let’s assume you’ve written several good novels. No distributor has picked up those books and no one is buying the e-copies. Word of mouth hasn’t even started yet. There’s no hope it ever will because no one outside of your family has read a copy, despite the book’s availability.

What’s wrong?
Back in the early days of self-publishing, a great story hidden in a book with a low price and crap cover could sell. Honestly, that’s how Amanda Hocking’s books sold. That woman can tell a story, but her covers were bad and interiors worse. And she was one of the few people writing good urban fantasy in the early days of Kindle. Readers who spent 99 cents got a good story, so they let other readers know.
Nowadays?... you’re not going to discover anyone who wrote a book with a great story and a crap cover.
A good cover isn’t just a good piece of art. It’s the right art with the right branding. It’s making sure you have the correct fonts, knowing where to put information, and keeping an eye on genre.
It’s a lot of work to design a good cover, and it’s not just about hiring an artist or someone who knows font. A great cover doesn’t just make the reader pick the book up; it also tells the reader at a glance what genre the book is in.

Cozy mysteries look different from traditional mysteries. Thrillers use different word placement than contemporary romances. If your book isn’t properly branded, then you’re hurting sales.
The next thing you have to do right is price. In the comment section last week, a number of people stated that they didn’t want to charge too much because they were new.

Sorry, folks. That’s day job think. Beginners get paid less than long-established people. Nope. A beginning writer, even in traditional publishing, can outearn a long-established pro on a first book. If traditional publishing believed that beginners had to work their way up to “real writer,” then traditional publishing would have run out of bestsellers years ago.

Price your books commensurate with other books of the same type.
If you don’t, if you underprice your print book, it won’t matter how much word of mouth you generate, no major distributor will take you on. They have to make some money on the sale, and they get a percentage of the cover price, just like bookstores do. If your cover price is too low, they don’t want you in their catalog or in their store. It’s that simple.

The other way to generate word of mouth? Availability. If you want people to talk about your book, make it easy to find. Yeah, you might not have your book in every brick-and-mortar bookstore, but make sure it’s in all the places that sell e-books from iBookstore to Kobo to Kindle. So you don’t make much on Barnes & Noble. Who cares? Honestly, the person who cares is the reader with the Nook who tried to order your book and couldn’t.

That reader will report to the person who recommended your book and say, “It’s not on Nook.” So the next time that person recommends your book (if, indeed, there is a next time after that), the person will say, “It’s good, but I don’t think it’s on Nook.” That means the reader with the Kobo device will think, Oh, it’s probably not on Kobo either, and won’t even bother to look for it. (ED: this is why we use Smashwords as well as Amazon, to reach all retailers.)
Word of mouth fizzled before it even started.

Should you send review copies to book bloggers or review sites or take out ads in RT Book Reviews? No. Not unless you have a lot of books already available. Don’t spend any money on advertising or waste the time of book bloggers unless you have many things that will appeal to all different kinds of readers
There are lots of programs that you can buy into as a publisher. You can get up front placement in a chain bookstore if you have enough money. You can buy ads in Publishers Weekly. But it all means nothing if you don’t write a good book. It means nothing if you wrote a good book and have a cover that screams romance when you’ve written a thriller.

You want to be successful? You want to be in the same catalogs as traditional publishers? You want to be taken seriously? Then stop haranguing bookstore owners and book bloggers and your friends, and learn how to write a good book, how to design a good cover, how to make the interior of your book readable, how to price your book so that it will sell, and how to write cover copy.

Write another book. Publish it with the correct materials, and repeat several times.
Then, maybe then, you can approach bookstores. By then, you might have learned the proper ways of doing so.
Write a good book.
Generate good word of mouth
Improve with every single thing you write.
Keep learning until the day you die. Seriously.

Let the readers find you. If you’re quiet and don’t bug them, and if they love your work, they’ll do the promotion for you, even to bookstores. That reader who walks into his favorite independent bookseller’s shop? The reader who asks for your book by name? He has a lot more credibility (particularly if he’s a regular customer) than you ever will with your bookmarks and your free copies and your posters.
Cultivate your readers by writing good books.

Realize that your readers owe you nothing. They don’t owe you good reviews or likes. They aren’t required to buy your next book.
You have to convince them to do that by writing a book so beloved that they want another just like it.
If you can’t do that, then no amount of haranguing and advertising will ever make your books sell.

That’s true whether you’re traditionally published or not.
Phew! She sure dribbled a bibful there, but what a relief to be told not to spend all our time promoting. Just write better and better books. We can do that, right?


  1. Fantastic advice. That takes a lot of the pressure off trying to find ways to force book sales. Just write a good story. Wow! I can do that!

  2. I think that what she says is very true, and sure, we all want to keep writing and improving as we go. We also want to SELL our books, and I guess for that, there is no easy answer!