Editor’s Note: Ellen Gable Hrkach originally wrote this for the blog of the Catholic Writers Guild in 2012. I have reposted it with permission.
When I began writing my first book, Emily’s Hope, ten years ago, I did so thinking, “If just one person can read my book and feel they’ve learned something, then I’ll have reached my goal.” It never even occurred to me to “make money” with my books. But, eight years and three books later, I am making a nice supplemental income.
The average self-published book will sell fewer than 150 copies (and most of these will be to the author’s family and friends). That isn’t even enough to pay for your printing and/or editing expenses.
Remarkably, self-published novelist Amanda Hocking, has sold 1.5 million Kindle books. And while that is unusual, many self-published authors ARE selling books and making money.
So what is the difference between successful self-published books that sell thousands of copies and ones that only sell a few hundred or less? And what can you do to increase your chances of selling more books?
1) Quality of Writing
There is usually (although not always) a difference between self-published books that sell thousands of copies compared to those that only sell a few hundred and it’s most often in the quality of writing. Please, please, please don’t just accept praise from your friends and relatives telling you that your book is the greatest masterpiece ever written. Give your manuscript to a professional editor, as well as a copy-editor. Humbly consider their advice. Once you’ve finished editing, ask those friends who think your book’s a masterpiece to proofread it for you.
My spiritual director once told me that editing a manuscript is like polishing a diamond. The more you polish a manuscript, the more the brilliance shines through.
It takes a lot of work to write the first draft of a book. However, in my experience, it takes a lot more work to edit, polish, edit some more, polish some more until the book is ready for publication.
2) Eye-Catching Professional Cover
If I had a dollar for every self-published book that had a poorly designed or downright bad cover, I’d be able to take my family out to dinner weekly for the next month.
A book’s cover is the first image a perspective buyer/reader sees, whether it’s in print or on Kindle. The cover MUST be professionally produced, aesthetically pleasing and tell the story of a book with one glance. Learn more about making a good cover from my post on covers entitled “Discover Your Cover.”
3) Extensive marketing versus minimal marketing
This is the one thing that can make or break a book, in my humble opinion. There are many, many outstanding (even brilliant) self-published books out there that are going virtually unnoticed because the authors have done little or no marketing.
Writing the book is only a small part of the success of a book. In my talk at the Catholic Writers Conference Live last year in Philadelphia, I spoke about the importance of marketing: blogging, social networking (Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Linked In), blog tours, Kindle e-books. Marketing takes 90 percent of my time. But then again, I’m a social person. I like connecting with people on Twitter or Facebook. I enjoy a lively conversation on my blog. I enjoy commenting on other bloggers’ posts. If an author is not willing or doesn’t have the time to market, this will show in sales.
4) Target Audience is Too Small
Sometimes an author will write a book directed to a smaller target audience. This has definitely been an issue with my first book, Emily’s Hope, which some people have coined as “NFP Fiction.” Since NFP-users probably make up a very small percentage of women who read, my target audience for that book is decidedly small. Most readers don’t even know what NFP is, so it’s not a book they would normally pick up.
My second novel, In Name Only, is very different from my first book. Although the characters are Catholic, it’s not as genre specific. It’s an historical romance, which makes it more appealing to the female population. It’s not as religiously thick, so secular readers can enjoy it as much as Christian readers. It has been my most popular book thus far, selling hundreds of e-books a week on Amazon Kindle, often attaining the #1 position in Religious Drama.
Most self-published books sell an average of 150 books. You can increase your odds of selling more than that by considering the following factors: quality of writing, eye-catching cover, good marketing and a wide target audience.
Keep these things in mind for a successful self-publishing experience.
copyright 2012 Ellen Gable Hrkach, reposted with permission
Ellen Gable is a novelist living in Pakenham, Ontario, Canada. She is the author of five books: “Stealing Jenny,” a contemporary thriller about a pregnant woman who is kidnapped; “In Name Only” (Gold Medal, Religious Fiction,2010 IPPY Awards), “Come My Beloved” (non-fiction) and “Emily’s Hope.” The Kindle editions of her novels have been in the top 20 of the Religious Drama category since February, 2012. Ellen is President of the Catholic Writers Guild. She does freelance writing for a variety of websites, and she blogs at “Plot Line and Sinker” http://ellengable.wordpress.com. She and her husband are the creators of the Family Life cartoon which illustrates Catholic family life, a topic she knows much about as the mother of five sons ages 15 to 27. Her new book, “A Subtle Grace,” the sequel to “In Name Only,” has recently been published.