The horror short story “Stone Hollow” by author Jerrod S. Smelker takes place at Halloween – the traditional time of year for spooky stories. It’s set in a quiet, bucolic suburb in the American northern-MidWest. The maple trees are orange. The air is crisp. Neighbors chat over coffee.
But everyone in this community knows … once it gets dark on Halloween Eve, you lock your doors and stay inside …
Every aspect of earnings via the Amazon sales system is well documented both by Amazon and by authors. When we look at a book on Amazon, we know the exact price it’s selling for. We know exactly how much percentage the author gets of that price, since it’s determined by a simple formula. We also know pretty much exactly how many sales that book gets each month, because the sales ranking it shown right there on the book. None of this information is hidden in any way.
What the statistics show us is that writing can bring in a steady flow of income to help with any budget. However, unless you are Bill Clinton or Obama or Stephen King, it’s probably not going to buy you a house. So it’s a good idea to set realistic expectations. Just like with artists and musicians, writing is a wonderful way to raise up others and to share a creative talent. At the same time, only a few bands become The Beatles or Lady Gaga. The millions of other bands each reach smaller audiences, and that is quite fine.
I have about 480 books in the Amazon system, many of them short stories. Here are my stats for November 2020. Again, none of this is secret in any way. Someone who sat down and went through my book listings one by one could easily generate this information. I imagine there are computer programs now which do this automatically for any author name. In the KDP system, this report is under the ‘Payments’ tab. Amazon makes this kind of information very easy to read for authors.
My bank account shows every one of those as separate payments. So at the end of each month I get a flurry of payments, one for each currency. I imagine they do that for tracking reasons. Note the net earnings are in the native country’s currency like Euros or Rupees and then the payment into my bank account is done in US dollars at the current exchange rate.
I’ll make a few comments about this.
I find it detrimental that some people struggle with a hang-up about talking about money. There sometimes seems to be a feeling that lower amounts of money equates to a value judgement – that a low-earning task is somehow “not as important” or something even to be ashamed of. I feel this judgmental view is a serious problem in our society. A high-paid banker isn’t automatically a better person. In some cases he simply had a coddling banker daddy. A poorly-paid artist isn’t somehow something to be ashamed of. Often it just means they haven’t found their audience. Our entire monetary system is riddled with imbalances. The more we can all discuss money openly and without judgement, the fairer things can become. Poorly written books become best-sellers simply because of the popularity and connections of the author. Wonderful books sell low numbers due to a lack of marketing and networking.
Authors with wealthy parents have a built-in boost. They can afford to nurture their art. Authors from rough situations face far higher burdens to get editing support, design support, marketing support, and everything else which brings a book to the wider reading public.
My books sell higher numbers when I actively market them. If I neglect marketing, they easily drop into low-to-no sales. When I am financially stable and running marketing campaigns, book sales stream. When I am on a tight budget, book sales are far lower. Time is money. Either I invest time in effectively marketing or I invest money in hiring someone to effectively market. Either way, I need to hone every dollar or hour to be as effective as possible. Tossing money or time (or both) at ineffective marketing is rarely a productive path.
Amazon is now flooded with books. Gone are the days when I could launch an ebook and it would instantly sell hundreds of copies because mine was one of the few ebooks available. Nowadays there are millions of new books being added at an astronomical rate. If you’re going to be found at all, you need to market your book. My sweet medieval romance “Knowing Yourself” has 300 reviews and 4.1 stars, but it was published in 2013. That’s “ancient times” to current readers. If I’m going to keep it fresh in the mind of readers, I have to market it. Otherwise readers are filling their ToBeRead piles with all these cool just-released books they hear about. They won’t even find mine.
So one can’t expect a book to sell itself. It doesn’t matter how much time and effort you put into writing it. I’m not saying this to be cruel. It’s just that, if a potential reader never even sees your book cover, they never have any opportunity to learn more about it. If your book is never seen by anyone, it can’t sell. For example, I poured months of effort into creating a dream symbol encyclopedia. I published it in 2014; it’s 233 pages. It hardly sells at all; there is a lot of competition in that topic area. My book’s ranking is #3,409,981 in the Amazon store. If I want it to sell more, I need to market it. I can’t just expect it to sell itself.
I’ll caveat that sometimes books do sell themselves. I have a free book Five Minute Meditation: Mindfulness, Stress Relief, and Focus for Absolute Beginners with 341 reviews, 4.3 stars, which is #1 in stress relief and #1 in meditation. I don’t market this book at all. Between the title, subtitle, cover, and reviews, it sits happily in that #1 spot. It serves as an eternal marketing tool for my other books. The end area of the book encourages people to buy my other books, by showing covers for each series. So yes, it does happen that a book can sell itself, with enough precise effort. But one should not expect that to be what happens. One should expect that ongoing marketing will be required.
Here’s how my top free books have done in the time period of Feb 1 – Feb 25 2021. This is without any marketing. They act as free promotions and draws for my entire library. Again, none of this is secret. You can see on each free book’s page exactly what its ranking is. That directly equates to its downloads.
So, to summarize.
Book sales or income information is not secret. It is all publicly listed on every Amazon page. The sooner we can rid ourselves of the emotional baggage we associate with sales and income figures, the better.
Books need to be of high quality, certainly, but even so, they need effective marketing. Our current environment requires it. Without effective marketing, even a wonderful book will struggle to be found and read.
An effective marketing campaign does not need to cost a lot. It does need to be taken seriously as a key part of the book’s long-term life. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s fine not to enjoy marketing. It’s simply a task to do, like research, writing, and editing.
So so happy. Remember that “dark fantasy” short story I tried to write under 4000 words? That kept getting longer? Now I find out the setting I randomly chose, at Lincoln Castle in England, is REALLY REALLY cool.
There was an actual female Sheriff!!
I’m turning this into a full series.
It shows inspiration is everywhere if you keep your spirit alight!
You’ve probably seen them as you scroll through Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. Notices of book blog tours. Just what is a book blog tour, and how does it work?
First, the basics. There are hundreds of thousands of people on the internet who blog about books. They read books and give reviews of those books. They want traffic. They want free books.
At the same time, there are millions of new authors publishing brand new books. Those authors want their books to be heard about and read. They want book reviewers to read and review their books.
A book tour organizes all of that.
With a book tour, a blogger a day is lined up for a period of time, usually two weeks. Each blogger commits to posting a review for the book on their given day. The entire “tour” schedule is posted and promoted. Sometimes the author agrees to be available at each blog each day to answer questions and chat with visitors. Sometimes it’s simply about those reviews getting posted.
In most cases, bloggers do this in exchange for the free copy of the book to read. The process of a book tour drives thousands of visitors to their blog, providing them with a wealth of fresh readers and subscribers. It’s important to note THE BLOGGER NEVER GUARANTEES A POSITIVE REVIEW. That would go against their integrity as a blogger. What they do promise is that they’ll post a review on the date in question.
Authors provide the free copies of their book in exchange for that publicity.
Sometimes there’s an “organizer” – someone who coordinates with the bloggers, makes sure the reviews go up on time, does publicity on all the major social networks, and so on. That organizer typically charges to do that management of the process.
The end result should be a win-win. The blogger gets lots of new followers thanks to the marketing which drives people to their page on their chosen day. The author gets a bunch of bloggers talking about their book. Note that this DOES NOT GUARANTEE AMAZON REVIEWS. Bloggers are never required to write Amazon reviews – that would violate Amazon’s terms of service. Rather, the overall high level of marketing which happens should then generate reader reviews naturally.
An Example of a Book Blog Tour
My story “Voodoo Doll” is part of a SmashBear Publishing horror short story collection entitled “The Abyss Within.” There are thirteen stories in this collection. All proceeds benefit battered women’s shelters, a cause I strongly believe in. As part of its launch plan, SmashBear Publishing arranged a blog tour.
As each blogger’s turn came around, that blogger made a review post. Along with it, nearly all bloggers also created a custom image including the book. For the ebook version, they generally lay the tablet or photo with the ebook on it in an appropriate themed atmosphere. Here is the collection featuring images generated by this blog tour. You’ll need to click through them to see them in their full proper dimensions.
Having those appealing images is really key. If someone sees “just a cover” flat on a white background, it looks like an ad. You need the book to be in an appealing layout to get someone to stop scrolling.
These posts were made on Instagram, Twitter, WordPress, and so on. Authors who were involved in the book then shared and liked and retweeted, bolstering the marketing.
Ask with any questions!
Here’s the book – all proceeds benefit battered women’s shelters –
Try #2 at writing a short dark fantasy story. This time I wrote one set in 1459 Romania. At least it didn’t turn into a medieval romance. Still, I can’t seem to bring myself to include elves, dwarves, etc. It’s solely humans with mystical visions.
Let me know if you time to read it & offer suggestions! It’s for a paid compilation.