On Writing : Seriously? by David Tenenbaum


So I've written four books that are now on Amazon. Good covers, good blurb, good reviews...average monthly advertising expenses: $85, average sales $30, average profit: $4. I would just like to know how anyone else out there continues to stay optimistic about even breaking even (as opposed to paying people to read your books) when, according to research, this is the norm for most KDP authors.

Michael Cantrell

I’ve not finished anything and put it up for sale, but these kind of figures have me seriously questioning whether i want to do this. I mean if the chances of success are the same as those of screenwriting I’d rather just do that. That’s what I’d rather do anyway.

David E. Gates

I have six books and seven short-stories published via Amazon and other online stores. I sell a couple per month. Advertising rarely brings any improvement in the sales. Word of mouth and direct selling always brings more, or editorial in free publications (oddly enough) garners better sales. I placed an ad in Metro (free paper on the railways here in the UK) a while back. Cost £450. Sold two books, despite their 2.5 million people readership. The difference in writing and self-publishing, as opposed to screenwriting, is that I have product "out there", whereas with screenwriting, once complete, I have to do a lot of work to get agents/representation, to further it. It's a much narrower field to break into.

Jeff Guenther

David: A lot comes down to platform--people who know you not necessarily as a writer, but by name. If you don't have platform, you have to generate it: start a blog or website, use Mail Chimp to create and build a mailing list. Provide content on the blog, including video and stories on tape. Offer free chapters, samples, short books, freebies to entice people to opt in to your list(s). Check out Derek Murphy's sites for more specifics.

Good news: I've checked the books by David Tenenbaum on Amazon. If any of those are yours, Derek Murphy's cover design methods can definitely help you improve them.

That said, the writers who persist are those who write, no matter what, because they feel driven to write and they have something to say, themes they want to explore.

Isabeau Vollhardt

thanks for all this info....i've got advertisers hitting me up for monthly fees which i can't afford. i also can't spend a huge amount of time on line pitching my stuff for FAST profits. I did have a blog, but that didn't seem to help generate interest....

RJ Smith

It’s a horrible choice for new writers. Writing full time and not breaking even is a tough thing. I always tell new clients that if they’re writing to become the next S.K. Or Anne Rice, They have a better chance at winning the lottery regardless of their cleverness or talent in writing. The literary and movie UNIVERSE is all about nepotism. ITS NOT FAIR to up and comers... but that’s the reality.

Sophie Davis

So I'm a little late to this post...but I have been self-publishing since 2011 and this is my full-time job now. And it has been for two years. My books are all fiction, so I can't speak to non-fiction, but in general, as others have said, this is about the hustle. When I first started out, we didn't have the same options to to promote the books. My co-author (Sophie is a pen name for two people) and I first got our flagship series off the ground with A LOT of cross-promo work. We did a huge event for Valentine's Day one year, which took us from selling a few dozen books a month, to a few dozen an hour. This didn't last. We had to keep changing our strategy to find new readers, to make new opportunities for ourselves. We have redone the covers for that flagship series six times to accomodate trends in the market. We advertise based on those trends, too. In better months, we spend up to 5K in ads, but it pays off big. Of course, we spent a lot of time and money figuring out the ad platforms and the targets that work best for us, for each book, for each series. We still do a lot of cross-promo stuff. We have a newsletter of 17K strong. We have review teams for our ebooks and our audibooks. We each spend hours on different social media platforms networking with other authors every day. That is how we found our agents, via networking. We spend time every week looking at which types of books are doing well in KU and what is doing well in wide distribution. We've given out, literally, hunderes of thousands of free copies of our first book to get reviews and bolster word of mouth. It is hard to stay optimistic sometimes. But, for us, we've had a couple big opportunities come our way. Even the ones that don't work out help us keep going in the leaner months. It's not easy. Every week is full of ups and downs. But those ups and downs are worth it, to us at least, when we wake up with an email from reader telling us how much they loved one of our books...or one from our agents telling us someone has expressed interest in our titles. You never know when the "right" person might read your books, or who that "right" person is. It could be the child/spouse/friend of an entertainment laywer with a studio. It could be an agent looking for something to read on a plane. It could be an acquisitions editor waiting in line for the bathroom at a convention who just happens to see a copy of your book in your hand and likes the cover enough to give it a go. It could be the actor/actress you saw in a random episode of a TV show. These are all things that have happened to us. Not all of these opportunities have panned out. But some have. And some are just getting started for us. So, I guess this SUPER lost post is all to say, indie authors can still make it. It is harder than it once was, for sure. But there are things you can do to up your sales and get your books out there more and get them in front of the "right" eyes.

Isabeau Vollhardt

thanks Sophie, that confirms my intuition. it's all about being in flow, all about trusting the zen aspect of how timing works. the right person at the right time. we never know where that's going to happen, or when. or with whom.

Sophie Davis

You're very welcome Isabeau. I don't mean to sound too Suzy Sunshine about this industry, but a lot of people told us over the years that we would never make money writing self-published novels. And I know that we are exception to the rule. In our experience, we've been the exeption to a lot of rules. Our books are not the next great American novels. They were fun to write, hell to edit (again and again and again), and hopefully a decent read for the right audience. I just want people to know that it is possible to make it (whatever that means to you) as an indie author. We have felt all the discouragement, the disappointment, the frurstration--we still feel it every day--but we love what we do and it's all been worth it for us. And every down has made the ups that much better. Which is sappy but true.

Michael Cantrell

Sophie Davis The thing for me is, I don't have enough money to budget doing all of that with a novel. I would love to, but right now my income is really tight. Due to all that it takes to get this stuff off the ground, I've been considering calling it quits on storytelling and focusing on my current career as a freelancer, because, well, I at least know I can make money doing that without spending thousands of dollars I don't have.

I don't know. Maybe screenwriting would just be better. My stories may not go anywhere, but at least I wouldn't feel so damn disappointed by not "making it" due to not being able to invest in myself the way I want to.

Sophie Davis

Michael, it is an investment to get off the ground initially, for sure. At the very least, paying for a great cover and editing can be pricey. Joining groups with other indie authors in your specific area can help cut marketing and advertising budgets around your launch, though. Sometimes having one person send out the news of your release to their mailing list can give you a very nice boost in sales and/or rankings. And it's free. If you can get 20 other authors to do it, even better. We do takeovers in other people's reader groups (not sure if these types of groups are more used in YA and romance than other genres?) and do giveaways and talk about our books. Also free and often gets us increased sales in the week(s) afterwards. And going the traditional publishing route is also always an option if you have a story you really believe in and want to get out there but aren't sure or don't have the money to invest in making it success. I know the query process is daunting and comes typically with a lot of rejections. We've had agents who sought us out reject our work in the end. Contests are an option, as well. I know two authors (in real life, not from the online community) who have won publishing contracts by placing or winning contests that were free to enter. One signed with Harper Collins and the other with Penguin.

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