Artists are dreamers by nature.
Through my experience working with (and for) a good number of creative people over the years in different media, I’ve noticed a common thread that binds most of them together. They think big. They have bold dreams and high expectations.
Disenchanted authors are commonplace in self-pub blogs and forums, and I wanted to pass on some pragmatic advice that has helped keep my expectations tempered. Hopefully it will help other beginner authors set attainable goals.
Don’t Obsess Over Sales
Have you ever heard the sage advice to not watch your stocks everyday? The same goes for your Amazon dashboard. I see 100-150 batted about as the average number of lifetime sales for an eBook on Amazon. On the high side, that averages to 12 sales a month for one year. Ever.
I make it a rule to only review sales every 30 days. Not only does it save your sanity, it allows you to make smarter decisions based on real trends month-over-month, the way businesses do. Plus, any time wasted fretting over sales numbers could be better spent researching and writing your next book.
Give Your Book Time to Grow
We live in a culture of instant gratification, and I believe one reason so many authors (and other artists) give up is because they put their work out on display, and become disenchanted when they aren’t an instant success. I approached self-publishing knowing it wasn’t a get-rich-quick scheme (although I see many attempts at this on Amazon).
Something that sticks in my craw a bit is the widespread ideal that everything in self-publishing needs to operate at a breakneck pace. It’s evangelized across blogs and podcasts, and seems to stem from a marketing culture that is trying to capitalize on one thing; Amazon’s algorithms. Don’t get me wrong, it works for authors who are able to output quality work at a lightning pace, but it’s being sold to a majority who cannot successfully adopt it as regular practice.
I think it sets new writers up for failure, because “write the best book you can” is fundamentally at odds with “write as many books as fast as possible” for all but the most experienced among us. Even then, some of the most successful modern authors (I’m looking at you George R.R. Martin) have trouble producing at a quick rate. Don’t feel pressured to maintain crazy output. A huge advantage of self-publishing is that (theoretically) your product is out there for as long as your chosen platform exists. Unlike traditional publishing, your book isn’t going to get yanked from shelves and pulped if it doesn’t sell right away. Plus, you can re-edit and even change your blurb and cover if things aren’t initially working.
Think in months, not days, and give changes time to germinate to see what sticks. Don’t fall prey to dreams of instant success. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Develop a Plan
Before you even hit publish (or publish your next work), set some realistic goals of where you want to be in a month, 3 months, a year, etc. Having a plan with realistic goals such as “I want to sell 2 books a week”, gives you something to measure your progress. Plus, if you end up selling 5 books a week it’s exciting to outpace your goals.
Some may think I’m suggesting to set the bar low, but I feel it’s better to start small and build from there, rather than setting unattainable goals and becoming frustrated.
Keep The Cart Behind The Horse
There are MANY paid services for self-published authors. These cottage industries have sprung up thanks to a massive demand for eBooks. Some of them are legitimate, but a few are predatory and trying to take advantage of starry-eyed first time writers. As always, before you hand over your hard earned cash, review your chosen service on WRITER BEWARE to ensure they are legit.
That said, it seems many people throw money at legitimate services before they are ready. There is no need to spend hundreds or thousands on marketing when you have only published one untested book. It’s far better to channel that excitement into writing a second book, or seeking out beta readers who will give you valuable critical feedback. Again, start small and work your way up. If you gain traction and sell copies, you’ll have profit that can be re-invested into promotional strategies, a higher quality cover, etc.
I hope some of you just getting started will find this advice helpful. Writing is hard work, and I believe setting realistic goals can ensure that an author is around for the long term, allowing themselves time to both polish their craft and produce increasingly better works.