Selling Self-Published Books: It Takes Money (and Planning) to Make Money

I was recently reading a few articles about breakout authors who have managed to sell millions of eBooks despite self-publishing. I noticed one thing that many ultra-successful self-published authors have in common – they had money prior to being authors. They also got into the eBook game early, when the Kindle craze began.

For instance, Darcie Chan was a lawyer prior to selling 400,000 copies of her books. She likely had some money budgeted to promote her work properly.

Of course there are exceptions – Amanda Hocking worked at group home prior to becoming a best selling authoress according to Wikipedia. But in many cases, people who have a solid marketing budget available to invest in their books are more likely to succeed as self-publishers.

There are two reasons why it’s really helpful to already have money in the bank if you want to become a successful self-published author.

  • You need plenty of money to sustain yourself while you’re promoting and writing books. If you’ll notice, most high-selling authors have written 10 or more titles. They can keep pumping them out because they have cash to fall back on and pay bills in the meanwhile. Many other self-published authors don’t have the ability or time to write 10-20 pages a day while still juggling a job and everyday bills.
  • Money opens doors that aren’t open to others in the publishing industry. For instance, a book table at one of the major book expos costs over $1,000. Buying advertising on top book websites costs thousands per month. Professional editors and book designers charge thousands. Some services allow you to pay for high profile reviews.

As this WSJ article confirms, authors who already have a large following are the ones who are most likely to succeed.

So where do these authors get that following? It’s either from time served (they’ve been writing for years and developed a large fan list over those years) or money (they purchased ads or reviews and gave away plenty of books to develop a following). Not to mention, their writing has to be pretty good to keep people interested.

So if you’re a brand new self-published who no one has ever heard of, with little to no following who doesn’t have much money, is it really a mystery why you’re not selling any books?

I’m Pretty Broke — What Can I Do?

The first thing to do is to be realistic as a brand new self-publisher. This is one of the top points I try to get across in my eBook and articles. Be realistic and take measured steps toward your own personal success. Stop looking at the success of others as a gauge of whether you yourself are successful.

Some people look down on this advice as pessimistic, but I call it realistic optimism. You have to be realistic yet determined about the approach you take to self-publishing if you want the best results. About 130,000 books are self-published each year. According to Para Publishing there are about 86,000 self publishers. Only 12 self-published authors have sold over 200,000 copies of their books as of the first publishing of this post. That’s roughly .01 %.

The other 99.99 % of indie authors don’t get these stellar results. In fact, the vast majority of self-publishers sell about 150 copies total.

So What About the 99.99%?

It’s best to be realistic about what you’ll sell and invest accordingly. Then if you happen to join the ranks of million-selling authors (which is largely a matter of luck and partly due to writing an amazing story), party like it’s 2099!

The next thing I would suggest is to consider taking time to hone your craft and save up some money to invest in your book if you’re really serious about self-publishing as a career. Or at least as a consistent source of residual income.

Finally, invest in affordable, effective advertising. Avoid places that are just trying to rob you of your money as an eager self-publisher. You know, the $5,000 a month retainer publicity agents and $5,000 tables at book conferences. Find your niche audience and advertise to them with inexpensive yet well-placed promotions, reviews and free copies of your book.

Of course I have more tips for self-publishers which I detail in my eBook. Your book is a product, and you have to become a bit of a marketing genius in addition to a writer.

You have to think of this as a business—selling isn’t very fun. Making money is fun. And the old adage rings true—it does take (some) money to make money.