Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Writing Wednesday: It's Not About Selling Books, It's About Earning Readers

Hello everyone! I'm still in the aftershock of Christmas and had zero idea what to write about today. Fortunately for me, my amazing husband/business partner/person who actually makes most of the business decisions Travis Bach appeared with this amazing post already written. Not one to overlook a belated holiday miracle, I looked it over, added a bit, and the result is the post we have today! True, it's a bit more business than craft, but I think you'll find the Writing Wednesday attitude still applies.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it, and Happy New Year! May we all write many awesome books in 2016. 

Without further ado, here's Travis!

Hi Folks,

Today I'd like to talk about the difference between readership and sales. But first,

Much to my surprise, several of my posts have garnered a decent amount of attention. I'm so glad that people like the more business
and numbers side of things. I just wanted to say Thanks! While this is always a writing blog, I'm very happy to be able to help Rachel out with keeping Pretentious Title loaded with fresh info.

Rachel and I yak the publishing business to each other all the time, so its also really fun to come on the blog and talk about what we've found and learned.

Anyway, just wanted to say thanks. Now, let's talk about an important distinction that needs to be made,

It's Not About Selling Books, It's About Earning Readers

How authors feel about their readers ❤
What's the difference between a reader and a sale?

A reader is someone who reads your book; hopefully all the way through. A sale is someone who bought your book. The two might sound interchangeable, but there is a world of difference between them when it comes to your career..

Someone who buys your book will give you a sale, and that's good! But a reader who buys and finishes your book will hopefully review it. They will hopefully read the next book. They will hopefully go find your other books and read those too. If they really like it, they will hopefully yak at their friends obsessively about how amazing your book is and secretly slip copies of it under their door and lurk outside their window so they can watch them read.

Okay maybe not that far, but you get the idea. Depending on how you got it, a sale may never open your book. For example, if you do a giant free giveaway, the vast majority of those 'sales' won't ever read the book. Another example is promoting your book in box sets, packages, or themed promotions that don't match it. There are lots of indie writers these days hitting the NYT from being in a big selling box set, but when you look at the rest of their books, they're definitely not at NYT Best Seller levels of readership. This is because things like box promotions focus on sales, not readers.

This is where things get tricky, though, because you need sales to get readers. If you don't catch a reader's eyeballs through whatever means, they'll never find out about your book and fall in love in the first place. But while book sales are the foundation of readership (and will get you money in the short term), focusing solely and exclusively on sales numbers will not build a career or long term value.

This is a hard line to toe. When you're just starting out as an author, ANY sale feels like a triumph. This is why you see so many new authors practically (and literally in many cases) giving their books away in the hope of building the critical mass you need to get your career off the ground. This tactic makes sense: the more people click your free download, the greater the chance some of them will like your stuff and want more. But while there are definitely authors who've made this work, this kind of "market to everyone and hope for the best" approach ignores what we here at Casa de Aaron-Bach feel is the most important part of book selling: finding your real readers.

Moving Units vs. Finding People Who Actually Want to Read Your Book

There are many ways to go about sorting through the vast sea of customers to find the ones who actually want what you have to sell. Ironically, part of this is done by price. For example, we charge $4.99 for Nice Dragons Finish Last. There's a lot going on with this price (market pricing, brand quality protection, etc..), but one of those things is that it sets a bar of interest. As in, someone has to be $4.99 worth of interested in the book to buy it.

The opposite of this is pricing free for maximum volume. We'll probably never do free. This has nothing to do with greed. I have heard from many sources that free promotions come with lots of bad reviews. This seems to be because people will download anything that's free, regarless of whether or not they're actually interested. Then, if/when they actually do read the book, you're getting the absolute worst kind of experience: the judgement of someone who wasn't really sold on the product to begin with. Just look at the one star reviews for any free title and you'll see this phenomenon in action, and that alone is enough to put us off free forever. We are both very proud of how well-rated Rachel's books always are. That she always produces good books is part of her brand. It's part of how we can, with a straight face, dare to ask readers to follow Rachel across genres and series: because we have numeric proof of the quality of her books.

For us, that's priceless. Could we get a ton of "sales" by doing a big free promotion? Almost certainly, but for us,it's just not worth it. In the longest view, how many units you move doesn't matter. Earning happy readers who come back again and again is what builds a career, and those can only be earned through consistent quality and by writing books that cater to your readership.

So how do you find that readership? How do you start earning those loyal fans when you're just starting out? Well, the most obvious example is to write a really good book. It's amazing how many authors forget this. Not to sound like a curmudgeon, but Amazon is full of authors copying what's popular as fast as possible. But while these books do sell, those authors didn't earn that readership. It came to them because people were desperate for more of the popular book they liked--the author they're actually loyal to. Someone else earned those readers, the copy cats just picked them up, and the moment the popular fad is over, they'll be gone, and sales will all dry up because there was nothing real behind them in the first place. When that happens, the only choice is to find the next popular thing and repeat the cycle, because with no loyal readers buying your backlist, your income depends entirely on your next book.

Again: there are writers making a good living doing this, and no hate to them. We're all about people making a living from their writing! At the same time, though, that kind of career isn't what most authors envision when they hear about "making a living from their writing." Chances are, if you're an author, you want to be known for your own ideas. You want your own readers and fans who love your books because they are your books,

You can't get these people through tricks and shams. You can only get them by treating them to a quality reading experience. You get them by being good enough and creative enough and consistent enough that these random strangers remember your name, and tell it to their friends. Reader to reader recommendations is still the most powerful method of selling books. Its about getting people to become invested in you and your books. It's about getting them to care, and the only way to do that is to write books worth caring about.

We talk a lot about book advertising and selling on this blog, but at the end of the day, the quality of your work is the only thing that matters. All the other stuff writers obsess over--landing a BookBub, mailing lists, social media, etc--is entirely secondary when compared to writing quality. Because you can sell a bad book. Hell, with a good enough cover, blurb, and hook, you can sell a very bad book to a LOT of people. But even if your sales numbers are sky high, if the book is really bad, that bad book won't keep selling, and it won't sell the rest of your series. That's the difference between sales and readers, because readers--the ones who buy your books even when you're not advertising and then turn around and sell them to their friends--can only be earned.

Long story short: if you want to sell a lot of books, focus on quality. Even if you mess up everything else, a good book well written will always sell. It might take a while to get momentum, especially if you mess up key aspects like the cover and title, but quality always shows through. But if you keep focusing on your craft and never settle for "good enough" you're doing everything you can to give readers a reason to come back, and that's the most important work you possibly can for your career.


Aaron J.E. said...

Well, ever since I read The Spirit Thief I have thought your books are fantastic, and have read each of them that have come out. Keep 'em coming and you will have a reader in me. Happy New Year!

Jamie Sawyer said...

Travis - this is very good advice. I especially appreciate the point about "free" titles on Amazon. I think the same issue can arise with low-priced titles, for the same reason. BTW, I loved the Paradox series - would love to see a return to that world one day!

Jimney said...

Very interesting post, Travis. I agree with cultivating readers rather than sales, and also with not giving away work for free. For one, authors have to live too, and the other, free items tend to attract a different kind of audience, an audience who does not understand the value of books and would not spend money either way/only get them 'because they're free'.

Then there's this: if it's free/low priced, how good can it be? If the author himself is giving it away like one would their old, used shirts, it makes it seem as if he doesn't believe in the value of his book either, or that it's simply not good enough to 'deserve' a price. Hence... no free books works for me.

PS: Happy New Year! (I know I'm late, but eh, better late than never!)

doandroidzdream said...

I am def a cheapskate when it comes to e-books. I've borrowed Rachel's titles through Amazon Prime, and keep an eye on coveted books via my wishlist hoping to catch them plummet in price. Usually they end up rising >.<

Authors I really, really want to read sit there collecting dust because there is always something I can nab on the cheap to suit my personal FOTM whims. Again, I am a cheapskate and in no way represent what I think is the norm. Yanno, ppl with money :P

Good article, thx for allowing me to chime in.

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