Mambo No. 5

It’s not so much a rule as a repeated observation. While the plural of anecdote isn’t data, there comes a point where something happens often enough that one has to believe there’s something other than divine intervention at work.

The observation is that many authors don’t begin to get traction until they’ve published five novels. More specifically, they’ve published five novels in the same recognizable niche—ideally, in a series.

There are two reasons why this observation is important.

First, the goal is to gain an audience for your work. Having an audience means people like to read the stories you like to tell. Everything else comes from that basic premise. Fame, fortune, or just seeing your name on the cover of the book a stranger is reading, you can’t get very far in publishing without an audience.

To gain that audience, you need to be putting books in the places they look. For the average indie author, that means in a sub-sub-cat on Amazon. This creates a problem if your five novels are all in different categories. Sure, go wide if you want. Kobo and Nook and iBook, oh my, but the same observation holds across vendors and even formats. (Can you say "audiobooks?" Of course you can.)

For an example:

In the old days, science fiction was on the Science Fiction shelf. Today it might be on the Space Opera shelf or the First Contact shelf or the Colonization Shelf or the Military SF shelf. If I want to gain an audience, I need to know who that audience is with a much greater degree of specificity than I might have had to in the past—and what kinds of stories each of those shelves hold. I write science fiction, but if I want traction, I need to pick one of those shelves to focus on because that’s where the most likely readers will look.

Which is not to say I need to run up the demographics on those people who have bought my books. I already know their most salient characteristic: they read space opera. Sure, they might read other niches as well, but in order to get their attention I need to have a big enough footprint in one niche to show up on their radar.

Second, amortization of your promotional investment becomes easier when you have more properties. As I wrote last September, backlist is your lever. The five-novel rule provides a rule of thumb for how long that backlist might need to be to effectively amortize your promotional investment in time, money, and focus across your catalog. When you can realistically expect buy-through on your catalog—because the books are in a series or at least all in the same niche—then justifying giving one book away for free becomes a lot more palatable.

This second bit is why I generally don’t recommend that new authors spend time, money, and attention on paid promotion. A Bookbub is great when you’ve got five books, but not so great when you spend $500 to give away a few hundred copies of your only title.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t work on gaining some early fans, but more like maybe focus on what matters most—having your five novels in play—and work on building relationships with the other authors in your chosen niche.

The career path for indie authors involves a different kind of dues. We don’t have to ride the query-go-round, but we have to look past the sales levels of our earliest works and grit through to at least five novels in order to find traction. While it’s true that some people capture lightning in a bottle on their first time in the rain, the odds of winning the lottery are still pretty small.

Somebody cue up Lou Bega. Suddenly, I want to mambo.


As an aside, what would you like me to write about as 2018 unwinds? Leave a comment or email me at nathan.lowell on the and I’ll see what I can do.

You Can’t Win

Starting out a new year always seems like "Woo! A fresh beginning! A chance to start over!" with the implication that "This time, I'll do it right!"


I've got a couple of nits to pick with that.

First, the same applies to every morning. I prefer to look at each new day as a chance to start again. Every day is a New Year's Day, even if it's a Wednesday in the middle of April. Don't get me wrong. Year end is a year beginning and that's cool. It's like a door into the future - as soon as we enter, we can pretend everything gets reset. But if I get off on the wrong foot on January 15th, I'm screwed on an annual framework. When I only have to get through today? Well, Ground Hog Day. I can get up tomorrow and do something different.

Second, I'm not convinced "do it right" is a meaningful construct. The difficulty for me is figuring out what "right" is. Most times, I don't know until after I've done it whether it was right or not - 20/20 hindsight and all that. What's been more interesting to me is that I seem to learn the most from doing it "wrong" -  what I thought was "wrong" turned out to be pretty darn good. I'm not saying "Go break a window," but maybe you keep using that word "wrong" and I do not think it means what you think it means. At least not always.

Which brings me to looking at outlook, looking forward, and an aphorism that is more canard than value. You've probably heard it:

Writing isn't a sprint. It's a marathon.

Here's the thing.

It's half right. Writing isn't a sprint.

It's half wrong. Writing isn't a marathon.

By trying to treat it as a race of any kind, it sounds like there should be a finish line. A tape you can break with your chest as you cross that line or a trophy you can collect on the way out of the stadium.

Maybe it's different for you, but for me, writing is neither sprint nor marathon. It's not a race. It's a way of life and nobody gets out alive. While that may sound moribund, for me it's an important reminder that, however we look at writing, we each have a finite amount of time to practice our craft. I see that as a challenge worth rising to. I see that as a really good reason to keep getting up every morning and putting on my writing shoes. It's a good reminder at this cusp of a year that whatever happened last year happened. What matters most is what happens today, and I'll see what I can do to make sure I leave as many good stories behind as I can without worrying about whether or not I'm winning.

Because with writing, you can't win. You can only do.

Here's to a productive and prosperous new year to all my friends in RMFW. May you all keep doing.

Image credit: Webweaver's Clipart

Step Right Up

"Hurry, hurry, hurry! Step right up! The show's about to begin! For the price of one thin dime see wonders beyond imagining. Sales beyond your wildest dreams and begin earning good money right out of the box! Hurry, hurry, hurry."

Yeah. No.

P.T Barnum gets the credit for "There's a sucker born every minute" but it's more likely author is a Chicago conman named Michael MacDonald(1). With the rise of self-publishing and the subsequent success of self-published titles, the hardcore scammers and Johnny-Come-Lately wannabees have proliferated like daffodils in the spring--each eager to fleece the hopeful, the earnest, and the gullible.

And they keep finding new flocks to fleece every day.

How to keep from being clipped.

  1. Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Whose books does this company publish? If they call themselves a "self-publishing company" and they want to publish your book, it's a rip-off. The degree to which they're willing to fleece you is the only differentiation. If a company publishes books, it's a publisher. If they only publish their own books, they're a self-publishing company and they're not going to publish yours. If they're trying to say they're something they're not, they're warming up the shears in the back.
  2. Do your diligence: Google the company name with "scam" as an additional identifier. There's a wealth of data which should be making it more difficult for the shearers but too many people see a glossy website and a promising pitch without remembering the golden rule of grift: If it seems too good to be true, save your gold.
  3. Who pays whom?: If you're paying them, it's a scam. This shouldn't be confused with a self-publishing author who pays an editor or cover artist for their services. Of course you'll pay but the editor will give you your file back and the cover artist won't try to upload your books to the storefronts for you. That's on you, as it should be.
  4. Ask around: If you're still not sure about a company, even after exercising a bit of Google-fu, then ask somebody you trust. There are whole communities of people who can give you guidance--people with no vested interest in separating you from your money--or your book.

The whackamole process of avoiding scammers while still trying to self-publish can seem daunting. It's not really that difficult as long as you remember that anybody with a few bucks and a willingness to lie to your face can make a good living. Some of the worst offenders have been around for decades as vanity presses. They've only changed their storefronts, not their businesses. They're expert in separating the sheep from the goats--and the gullible author from his money.

Just because there's a sucker born every minute doesn't mean it has to be you.


1. Asbury, H. (1940). Gem of the Prairie: An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld. New York, NY: Knopf.
Image Credit: W C Fields as Gabby Gilfoil in Two Flaming Youths (Paramount, 1927).
Image Donated by Corbis-Bettmann to Explore PA History.

Interaction, Engagement, Influence

Back in the 40's Abraham Maslow(1) put forth the proposition that humans are motivated by needs. Maslow postulates that each low level need must be satisfied before the next higher need can be addressed. It makes a certain sense. Without the foundation, you can't build walls. Without the walls, you can't build the roof. His pyramid of needs has served as a model for understanding human behavior ever since.(2)

I maintain that a similar hierarchy exists in social media marketing.

Marketing is about getting people to do what you want. Doesn't matter if you're selling toothpaste, insurance, or an elected official. Your goal is to get people to do the thing you need them to do. Buy the toothpaste. Enroll in the plan. Vote for the person. For that to happen you have to influence the public's behavior.

Mass marketing has been with us almost forever. From the Molly Malone to carny barkers. From paperboys to fast food restaurants. From magazines and billboards to television and radio. Mass media has developed some pretty compelling models regardless of what scale the seller operates on. The mass marketing is getting your message to as many people as possible in the hope that some tiny fraction of people will hear your message and take the desired action.

Social media marketing has only really been a thing for the last twenty years or so. The desired result - get people to take the desired action - is the same but the process is different. Social media marketing strives to get your message to only those people who want to hear it so that a large percentage of those people will do what you want. Mass market techniques are antithetical to social media because social media messaging is controlled by the receiver, not the sender.(3)

That's a long set up to understand the three levels that govern social media marketing.

Interaction is the base. Without some level of interaction, nothing else is possible. It's where you get likes, retweets, and followers. It's requires nearly nothing of the receiver - only that they don't block, unfriend, or unfollow you. Most social media marketing advice tells you how to grow your numbers but not how to move up the pyramid.

Engagement is the next tier. This is where people actually pay attention to you, maybe talk back to you by leaving comments or adding their own ideas to a re-tweet. Engagement is a required - but not sufficient - condition.

Influence is the goal. Just like mass media marketing, social media marketing works to get people to do what you want. For authors - particularly self published ones - it's "buy the book." There are other less demanding goals that you might pursue - sign up for the email list, leave a review, tell a friend - but the ultimate goal for authors in doing social media marketing is to sell more books.

Here's the thing:

Most measures of influence *kough*klout*kough* use interaction as a proxy for engagement. Advice on how to get more followers, more friends, bigger numbers only applies to interaction. Sure you need to reach people but these numbers by themselves are meaningless. How many are bots? How many just follow you because you're a joke to them? How many just clicked like because it's almost a reflex action and not any kind of thoughtful response?

You can actually get a sense for engagement by comments and quoted retweets. It's a rough measure because most engagement will come from the lurkers - that 90% of people below the surface who actually follow what you do and pay attention to it, think about it, but don't actually step out of the ether to make themselves known to you. It's why counting doesn't really work here. Numbers aren't the answer and can be misleading.

Influence is even harder to measure because the action you want people to take isn't an action done in social media. It's invisible in that realm and only shows up in sales. The problem gets compounded by delays between message and action fostered by the internet. _Once on the internet, forever on the internet._ A comment you left on somebody's blog last month could drive a sale next week. Messages you put out last year could result in actions taken next year. You find yourself in the position of seeing a spike in sales when you've done nothing to promote your work, because somebody somewhere referenced a tweet that you responded to and forgot about.

Bottom line:

Keep interaction going by remembering that - on social media - "yes" is conditional but "no" is forever. Foster engagement by being engaged with your audience - don't robo-tweet, reply to comments, like and +1 posts. Remember that your goal is not numbers, but engagement. A mailing list of 20,000 names where only one or two percent click through to your book is much less valuable than a list of 1000 names where eighty percent open and fifty percent click through. It means you have more influence and it's influence that gets you sales.


  1. Maslow, A.H. (1943). "A theory of human motivation"Psychological Review50 (4): 370–96. doi:10.1037/h0054346 – via
  2. The other model is called the "expectation theory" - or sometimes "drives theory." It suggests that people are motivated by experience and that a person's motivation to undertake a task will be based on prior experience and their expectation of how much they'll enjoy the reward they'll get from doing it. Restated: If you expect to enjoy your day on the job, you'll be more motivated to do it than if you expect your day will suck. If your day doesn't suck (or doesn't suck as much), you're going to be more motivated to go back tomorrow and vice versa.
  3. Social media is "pull." The receiver pulls messages they want to get by controlling who they're willing to get messages from regardless of channel. Mass media is "push" because messages are pushed to every receiver who uses the channel regardless of whether the receiver wants it or not.

Indie Basecamp

When it comes time to make the decision about publishing path, too often indie writers overlook the fundamentals until the lack of foundation feels overwhelming. Once overwhelmed, the situation doesn't get any better. For this year's Colorado Gold, I put together a list of things to do - and the sequence I believe makes the most sense.

Here's my checklist*:

Day 0:

These are the things you probably didn't think about while you were writing your book.

  • Hang out a shingle. Get the URL and establish a website. Your website is the place where you gather fans. Set up a shell so you have a place to link to when you need it. Don’t worry about content there yet.
  • Set up a mailing list. Your mailing list is the one channel you have that goes directly to your audience. Don't abuse it. Mailchimp is your friend. Start an account and add their signup widget to your website.
  • Write your author bio. Make three versions – 50/100/300 words long. Don’t recite the facts. Tell a story. Add them to a page on your website (often labeled "Press Kit") so you can find them again when you need them.
  • Get a photo of your face. Professional is good, but a selfie that says “Hi there!” will do at this stage. Add it to your "Press Kit" page
  • Get a Twitter account. Use the short bio and the headshot. You'll use this to talk with readers.
  • Get a Facebook account. Use the medium bio and the headshot. You'll use this to talk with readers and writers (via closed groups)
  • Get a Google+ account. Use the long bio and the headshot. You'll use this to talk with writers.
  • Put the links to all three on your website.
  • Decide if you want to play in any other gardens.
  • Begin cultivating your network of peers

Week 1:

A lot of these things need more than a week to do. My editor asks for a month to work her magic. I only give my betas three days. I've bundled these together because you can't really get ahead in the process until you've done all these things. While you're waiting, you could start the next book and reach out to indie authors in the niche you're about to become part of.

  • Pass your final manuscript to beta readers. First time authors find this difficult because they have no betas. (It's easy. Ask me how.)
  • Decide how much of the feedback to incorporate. Just because they said it's a problem, doesn't mean you need to fix it.
  • Pass your final manuscript to your editor. You'll need at least a copy editor. Plan for this.
  • Decide on how much of the feedback to incorporate. Just because the editor noted it, doesn't mean you have to change it.
  • Get the cover art

Week 2:

These are the "publish it" steps. There are a lot of different paths. Mine is more complicated because I'm fussy about the ebook formatting. I've taken the time to learn the skills necessary to publish the ebook in the format I want. In the beginning, I'd have done this if I could have. While I've labeled this week 2, it shouldn't take more than a morning.

  • Get an account at Draft2Digital
  • Upload your final manuscript but don’t publish it there
  • Upload your cover art
  • Download the resulting .epub file
  • Get the Amazon Offline Previewer
  • Open the epub with the previewer to convert to mobi.
  • Decide what markets to participate in (Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBook)
  • Upload your files (cover and interior) to each one directly

Week 3:

After you've hit publish, there's not much you can do. Especially not with a first book. What you need to do is start the next one and work on your foundation.

  • Profit. (not really)
  • Work on growing your network of peers
  • Join RMFW

I appreciate that this laundry list doesn't actually tell you everything you need to know - like what to do with your new accounts (play with the people you find there) or how to get people to sign up for your email list (I support the "one at a time" strategy as most valuable). One of the difficulties is that there are as many different ways to use social media as there are people.

Leave me a comment and I'll do my best to answer.

* The steps assume you're writing long-form fiction (novels) and have a completed manuscript in your hands. You can't get fans for a book you're going to write so having the manuscript done is a watershed event. Non-fiction authors may discover their process works a bit differently.

This post tries to answer the question "Now what?"

Image Credit:Image Credit:cotaro70s: Everest Base CampCC BY-ND 2.0

Marketing Physics

Back in the dark ages when I took physics, I learned about the six simple machines. When dealing with marketing, I find the lever makes a good analogy. It increases the force applied by a given amount of effort. Rephrased: You don't have to work as hard to get the same result.

Call me lazy, but any time I can get the same result with less effort - especially in marketing - I'm all over it.

The concept is simple. In marketing, we need to apply effort to gain purchase - literal as well as figurative. The more leverage we have, the less effort needed.

Marketing isn't the lever. It's the fulcrum. It's base you need in order to focus the application of effort. The fulcrum needs to be solid enough to take the load of both the effort and the output. If it's too squishy, applying effort will crush it. It can't really be too strong, but there's no need to make one stronger than you need. A fulcrum that can support ten tons doesn't actually give you any advantage when you're only trying to move a ten pound load.

In this context, marketing is not what you do. It's the way you've decided to do it.

I write SF/F novels. I self-publish them. I use social media as my primary communication channels. I follow the "Big Frog, Small Pond" and "1000 True Fans" strategies. Those were my decisions regarding marketing. That's my foundation, my fulcrum.

Effort is the sum of all the forces applied to the lever. For authors, that can be time spent at conventions, on social media, or writing blog posts. It can be cash spent on ad buys and market research. It can be anything the author does to promote the works. It's built from all the decisions an author makes about strategy and model. What do you have to offer? Where do you offer it? How do you choose to make people aware of your product?

The output load in this case is the number of purchases or - perhaps more accurately - profit. After all, it does little good to spend $10 for every $1 in revenue. It might be advantageous to achieve some short-term goal, but it's a bankrupt model in the long run. Literally.

The lever is the key. The lever is what multiplies the effort and provides the applied force to the output. For authors, that's the backlist. If you only have one book to sell, then the lever is short. You have to apply a lot of effort to get a unit of output. If you have two books to sell, then you get a multiplier. Perhaps people who buy the first will buy the second. You have more visibility - a bigger footprint - which makes your lever longer but also stronger. Add a third and a fourth and a fifth and you begin to build a machine where only the lightest touch of effort can give you a huge amount of purchase.

It's just simple physics.

Hocus Focus

Another one of those articles came across my feeds the other day. You know the ones? The ones where somebody with a book or two placed with A Real Publisher decries the sad state of authorship and how being poor but published is much superior to being one of Those People? There are fewer of those articles floating about these days,  but I keep running across this canard:

"Self-published authors should expect to spend only 10% of their time writing and 90% of their time marketing."

If that's what you're doing as a self-published author, you're doing it wrong.

I understand the rationale. It comes from the old school marketing people using mass market techniques on niche market segments. The impetus to do something - even something that doesn't work - can be overwhelming. It's what causes authors to abuse social media by posting "buy my book" messages six times a day to hit all the major time zones. It's what causes writers to spend time writing meaningful blog posts three times a week because they've been told that's how to get readers. It's why so very many of us think they have to be everywhere all the time or they're missing out the growth potential of each of the channels.

But here's the thing.

As content creators, we really should focus on creating content. The content we need to create is not "interesting links" or "regular blog posts" or even "quality content." We need to create new stories. Sure, they're rehashed retellings of one of the seven basic plots, but to readers, they're new stories. We breathe life into the characters and unfold plots. We take readers to worlds that fascinate or horrify or titillate - sometimes all three.

We can't do that if we're focused on marketing. We can't do that if we're spending the majority of our effort and attention chasing goals based on flawed models.

The heck of it is, the models sorta work. That's the danger in them. They work in the same way taking a pair of pinking shears to your lawn works. If you stick with it, you will eventually get your grass cut. It may take so long that you'll have to start again immediately, but it does work. Sorta. As an analogy, I think it applies to the way people approach marketing. The mass market tools work but they're not very effective and they're horribly inefficient. By focusing time and energy on using those tools, you incur an enormous opportunity cost. You wind up spending all your time marketing and never write the stories your audience wants.

All because of a misplaced focus.

Image Credit: "Focus" Michael Dales CC BY-AT-NC

The Launch

Few subjects quicken the blood like releasing a new book. Between the fear that this one is going to stink and the hope that maybe this one is going to be The One, the emotional roller-coaster of launch has few equals in the life of any author.

A lot has changed in launch strategies over the last ten years. The process is still fun, nerve-wracking, and almost never as successful as we hope, but there are some things to consider beyond how much time you shouldn't be spending refreshing the Amazon reports page. Start with the basics:

What Do You Want?

Most new authors - and a fair number of experienced ones - don't actually take the time to think about this. "Sell more books!" is an admirable goal but operationalizing that can be problematic. For many, the launch is an occasion, something to announce, an event to bruit about because who doesn't love a book launch? They see it as a great time to promo the heck out of a title in the hope of launching the book into Orbit ... or maybe Tor.

So what do you want? Sales, income, or readers. Pick one.

One thing to consider is the Amazon Rocket Launch. This is the one most people pursue, hoping to get a huge first day or two that will catapult their book into the upper reaches. Before you pursue this remember the mantra:

Up like a rocket,
Down like a rock.

Amazon's weighted rolling average of sales ranks punishes spikey sales so if you sell to everybody who knows you on day one, there's nobody left on day two to keep your missile from falling back to the ground.

For me, the goal is income. As a full time author, I need to cover my bills and keep food on the table. If I can afford to keep doing what I love, then sales and readers will follow. So I focus on the basics of launch to avoid the Rocket as much as I can. The strategy is called "soft launch" or "slow burn" and involves keeping the news low key and spreading it out over time.

1. I don't announce the release any more. I let fans tell me when the book is available. They often know before I do. Having them tell me - on social media - means they're also telling all their friends at the same time.

2. I actually do send an email out to my list around the second or third day. They signed up to be notified and I try to let them be the first people I tell. I just don't tell all of them at once, hoping to spread the sales out over a few days. It's not like I have a big list. I keep it trimmed down to under 2000 addresses but spreading those out can make the difference between a long, steady climb in sales and a crash ending spike.

3. I post to my blog. Eventually. Frequently that's earlier than I'd like but I only update my blog once a month and I tend to release near the end of a month so I capitalize on Kindle Unlimited (which is a different conversation).

4. Back in the day, I used to make one tweet with a link to the book. Just one. Not one a day. Not one that's repeated three times to hit all the major time zones. One. Ever.

My goal is to stay in the top 1000 on Amazon for a month. After that, gravity - and algorithms - take a toll on the heartiest of fliers. Doing that generally gets me about 5000 sales and over a million page-read on KU.

But I'm established. I spent years building my audience and growing my fanbase. What about somebody just starting out?

The rocket ride is the same should you choose to light the fuse. You might climb very high very fast. The crash will hurt just as much.

Soft launch pays dividends for those who are just starting out. Since you can't depend on your fans yet, getting the word out is where you need allies to help you. Joining a like minded group of authors who can help you is probably the single most important thing a new author can do. I have a mantra for that, too:

The fastest way to get an audience is
borrow one.

Who do you ask? How do you do that?

I've written about allies and how to find them before. There's nothing fancy or complicated about it. Compared to blog tours, swag planning, and review chasing, it's pretty low key and not as time consuming. It leaves a lot more time for what matters - writing the next book - but often feels uncomfortable to new authors who'd rather do something - even if it's not very effective - than to  trust the soft launch to do its magic.

Generating early buzz with beta readers pays dividends as long as your beta-to-release time is short (a few days or a week). The issue there is my third mantra for today:

You can't get fans
for a book you haven't released.

Whether or not you ride the rocket, here's hoping your next release brings the results you want.

Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Myth Of Reviews

While I'm pottering about in my writing shed, I frequently come across the myth of reviews. Generally it follows the form of "How do I get more reviews for my book?" This question is a symptom of the more pernicious problem - buying into the myth that reviews generate sales.

It's an understandable myth that's been caused by confirmation bias getting passed along as causal relationship. It develops like this:

  1. You publish a book.
  2. You don't get many sales.
  3. You do a little promotional activity
  4. You get more sales.
  5. You notice you have more reviews.
  6. You seek reviews with ARCs, giveaways, pleas at the end of the book.
  7. You get more sales.
  8. You notice you get more reviews.

The confirmation bias comes into play because you took an action - requested reviews. You believe that action resulted in more reviews and that those reviews generated the sales.

Here's the thing: If you want more reviews, sell more books. Only people who read the book will review it. If you're seeing more reviews, it means more people are buying your book.

Here's the other thing: When it comes to Amazon reviews - the ones most people seem concerned about - the potential reader who sees those reviews is already on your page. You've done the heavy lifting and it's up to the cover and blurb to get them to sample.

My opinion is that reviews only matter in the edge cases - those situations where the potential reader is either on the fence or is looking for confirmation for the decision they've already made. If you haven't hooked them with both the cover and blurb, the reviews aren't likely to convince somebody to overlook that pair of sins and take a sample. They'll have already clicked 'next.' If they've decided to maybe give it a try, they'll look at reviews to justify their decision. If they've decided they probably should pass, they'll look at reviews to confirm their choice.

There's one other factor at play - the sophistication of the potential reader in navigating the Amazon ecosystem. People who understand the jungle know how the Amazon review game gets played. They tend to go with sample over review in order to make up their minds before they pull money out of their debit accounts.

Just to forestall the argument about Goodreads or Bob's Book Blog or Kirkus or whatever, those are lovely. Getting reviews there by convincing a reader to talk about you is good buzz. I'm not convinced that Kirkus is worth the dosh, but I'm miserly. My point is that nobody's going to review your book if they haven't read it. I know it's common advice to send out ARCs and generate pre-publication buzz and all that, but spending time and energy pursuing Amazon reviews is not likely to pay off anywhere near as handsomely as getting that next book out.

If you're doing anything that stands between you and release day, stop doing that.

I realize this is the minority opinion, but if books with more reviews got more sales, then my book with 700 reviews would have more sales than my newly released title with only 70. While that is, in fact, true, the reality is that the book with hundreds of reviews was released years ago and sells a couple of units a day. It has sold a hundred times more units in its lifetime than the new release, which generated a lot of reviews. The new release - with only 70 reviews - is selling a couple of hundred units a day. It hasn't been around long enough to generate many reviews but it's still selling much faster than the older titles.

I use this handy mantra:

Reviews do not drive sales.
Sales drive reviews.
If you want more reviews,
sell more books.

The best way to sell more books is to release more books for readers to buy and not spending time and effort chasing the review rainbow.


Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
CC BY-SA 2.0 License

A Few Notes on Discoverability

Discoverability is one of those newish buzzwords that tries to describe the process by which a reader finds a book to read. The problem with the generally accepted view of discoverability is that the goal is not to have people discover a book. You can't build a career on a book. As an author you need readers to discover you. That may feel really scary but fight it. If you're an author, it's the reality of your chosen work. You can't be a concert pianist if you never get out of your living room.

Discoverability Only Matters Once

What we tend to lose track of is that most of an author's fanbase is made up of people who discovered him or her just one time. Once a reader knows your name and what you write, you don't need to be discovered by that reader again.

If you're smart and if you write something that that reader likes, you'll keep him or her reading your stuff forever—or at least until you piss them off by charging too much, writing too much stuff they don't like, make them wait too long between works, or toss some other sand into their gears.

How Does A New Author Do That?

Lean on your network.

There’s a difference between network and platform. Your network is a collection of your peers. Writers, artists, editors, and others engaged in the creative endeavor of bring literature to the audience. Your platform is your audience. They're the people who support you by buying your stuff.

Your network doesn't need to discover you. You need to build the network. You've already started by being a member of RMFW. Your network should have members who like and respect your work. It should have at least a few members whose work you like and respect. They don't all have to be in the mutual kumbaya society, but having a half dozen people with whom you share sensibilities is important.

Individually, new authors have very small audiences, perhaps as few as a hundred readers garnered over months of frustration. Ten such authors—with similar sensibilities and writing in related genres—have a thousand.

A thousand true fans represents critical mass. Once you get there, discoverability is a function of how fast your true fans share. It is no longer the author's problem.

The combined audience of ten authors won't give you that thousand true fans, but it's a nice start. Use that group to prime the pump by giving them something positive to talk about.

Give Them A Reason

My friend Evo Terra regularly says something like "If you want people to talk about you, do something remarkable." Having people talk about you means you get discovered by people who hear the talk.

One book is not remarkable. One book a year is not remarkable. One really OMFG book? Not remarkable for more than one news cycle.

What’s remarkable?

  • Regularly recommend somebody from your network.
  • Participate with readers in social media.
  • Build a body of work as fast (and as good) as you can.
  • Earn the reputation you want to have by being willing to build it one reader at a time.

It'll take a couple of years. Maybe three, maybe five.

If you write good stuff, if you build a good network, if you pay attention to the details of your craft, then readers will discover you and--through you--your work.

It's up to you to make sure they only need to discover you once.

Image credit:By Stewart Butterfield (flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons