March 20th, 2012 • Posted by Mary Rosenblum • Permalink
A lot of my clients and students have publication with a legacy publisher as a main goal for their publishing careers. Marketing isn’t their idea of fun, they grew up with the big publishers, and they want to be able to say they’re published by Tor or Random House or Penguin. But today it is VERY difficult to get accepted by a legacy publisher if you’re a new author. The market is tight and preference goes to authors who already have a developed audience, either through another career path or because they’ve already established themselves with previous books. Querying agents can be a discouraging and time consuming process.
So, will self-publishing your books really help you get picked up by a legacy publisher?
Yes, but the belief was that you had to have really big numbers in order to get a serious look, as in the tens of thousands of sales in a single month. That’s a pretty tall order for most new writers, who might establish themselves with numbers more in the 1000 – 2000 range. But things may be changing. Lindsay Buroker wrote about the self-publish versus agent path to publishing on her blog and has since been approached by an acquisitions editor from Amazon’s new SF/F/H imprint, 47North. She’s an author in the 1500 – 2000 books per month range.
The bar is not so high, any more.
Does that 1500 – 2000 sales range sound unreachable? It can seem so, when you have a single book out and you’ve sold twenty copies this month. But that’s where you have direct control over your career and your sales. You need to be thinking long term. You’d rather write than promote? Writing is good. You really do need to have multiple books out there in order to generate that kind of sales and the more books you have, the less promotion you may need to do. Realistically, a single book, your one life’s work, is not going support you unless you are one of those lucky blockbuster best sellers. It can happen. Don’t take out a mortgage on it! If you want to make significant books-per-month sales, you really do need to have more than one book out there for readers. Do that series, put out those single short stories and group them together at the same time as collections for a larger price. When readers like one book, they’ll be back for more. At some point you reach a critical mass and your sales really begin to accelerate.
But the marketing is critical, too. This is not a ‘build it and they will come’ paradigm. I’ve listened to a lot of authors complain how they put the books up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, they started a blog, a Facebook page, and sales are dismal and flat. Yep. How the heck are readers going to find your book? You have to reach out, find your readers, and bring them to your book if you want to bring your sales up to the level that will either provide a living income or get a legacy publisher’s attention. How do you do that? You do it the same way that you make friends. How do you make friends?
Let’s look at the process.
Normally, we like someone who shares our interests. We speak the same language, like the same things, laugh at the same jokes. Here, you the author are not making friends with the readers; your books are making friends with the readers. You need to find the sites that these readers who will like your books will visit and make yourself a presence there. That time you spend on another fantasy writer’s blog, adding to the conversation in return for leaving your own link there, is an investment in your own future and the sales of your fantasy books. You’re working toward that magic 2000 books in a month goal, and it’s easier than you think. You like what you write, and you’re going to tend to like books similar to those you write. Readers who like those books will…ready for this?...probably like your books.
Visit the blogs and sites of the authors who write those books. Comment. Contribute to the conversation. Be a positive presence – you are advertising your books through your personality. If we like you, we’ll assume we’ll like your books. Invite the author to visit your blog. That author’s fans are likely to enjoy what you write and your fans will probably enjoy that author’s conversation on your blog. By helping each other out, we’re helping ourselves, and widening our fan base. We’re helping our books make new reader friends and trading up to that sales level that offers a living wage and makes the legacy publishers take a look.