By far the bulk of my emails from the public still relate to how I sell my books. I wouldn't quite consider myself an expert, but I have sold somewhere around half a million books (I say somewhere because I haven't calculated it precisely) so I suppose I'm more of an expert than the droves of hacks out there looking to steal author's money with "secret promotional strategies they don't want you to know about." Just check out the Facebook ads by these snake oil salesmen and you'll see what I mean.
There is no magic bullet to marketing. It takes a lot of work to sell books and sacrifices of time and money. But, as always, I'm happy to share what I've learned so far. Here are five tips for those of you looking to make your mark as authors:
1. Write a Series
I'm surprised by the number of people that contact me for advice and have only written standalone thrillers. Standalone thrillers are fun to write (I've written at least a dozen), but if you're looking for sheer sales, you have to create a series around a popular character. I've created five: Jon Stanton, Mickey Parsons, Sarah King, Brigham Theodore, and Baudin & Dixon (new series that hasn't been released yet). Why so many? Because I monitor my sales figures closely and it's clear that the people that buy the first in the series are the ones buying the second and third. In some cases, almost to the number (for example, in my Plague Trilogy, the first and second book sell only a few books difference from each other each month).
But just because you have fans in one series, doesn't mean they'll jump over to another of your series. So you have to write several books in each series. Sorry, but unless you have a standalone that just takes off (which is about as likely as winning the lottery) you're going to have to write a series.
2. Publish as Often as You Are Able
Again, rather simple rule that isn't followed that often by authors. Your readers don't want to wait forever. They'll move on to other things; books, video games, Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes and Pandora, the movies and network television are all vying for your reader's attention. So if you think they're gonna wait two or three years while you write book two in your trilogy, forget it. They will have forgotten all about you by then.
So you want to dedicate yourself to writing. Treat it seriously. It's a difficult art and every page you write is your soul bleeding on the page a little bit. It deserves better than 'I'll just write on the weekends' or 'I'll write when inspiration hits.'
You should write every day, for a set amount and not stop until you hit your goal. It doesn't really matter what that goal is. Some of my author friends write 500 words a day, and some write 10,000. Doesn't matter; the point is they are writing and consistently putting out new work. You have to do the same.
3. Try to Spread Your Works to as Many Readers as Possible
This is a tough one. It was recommended not too long ago to put your book on every platform: Kindle, Nook, Apple, Kobo etc. But Amazon has so dominated the market, it may not be worth your while to publish on those other platforms and forgo the benefits of being an Amazon exclusive author (which include higher royalties in some countries, better promotional opportunities etc).
Here's a piece that came out a couple days ago stating that Barnes & Noble is losing so much money on the Nook they're kicking it out of their company and staring a new company. Why are they doing this? My guess is so that, on paper, their parent company keeps looking like they're not losing the enormous amount of money they are losing every quarter (I predicated recently that Barnes & Noble would be out of business in a year and it looks like my predication is on the right path).
But, given all this, I know there are droves of authors who swear they make more money on B&N or even Kobo than Amazon. I don't see how this is possible since those platforms are likely rigged against authors (Hugh Howey had an excellent piece on his blog months ago where multiple bestselling authors said their books were selling thousands of copies a day and never got past #128 on the B&N bestsellers list because they were indie authors and not with the big publishing houses that have deals with B&N).
So experimentation might be for you and you can try the different platforms all at once and compare results. I personally have had the most success on Amazon, as have all the other big and mid-list indie authors I know, but you may want to play around before settling down.
4. Promote Newer Books in Older Books
Putting a link to your new works in the front or back of your older books is a great idea. If someone finishes one of your older books and turns the last page and sees a link to your newest book, you better believe if they enjoyed the book they're clicking. They may not buy right away, but they're checking it out. And if your cover, pitch and writing are solid, they'll likely buy. I used to have all my books listed at the end of my works but I don't think people bought much like that. Having forty titles at the end of the book drown out each one. So now, I may have one title at the end of a book with a link to it, and that seems to be working well.
5. Don't worry about Piracy
I know you're grimacing at this, but the fact is, you can't stop it anyway. I know you think you can, but you can't. Digital pirates are too sophisticated for you to do anything about them. So you may as well not enable digital rights management and get your book out to as many people as possible.
I enable digital rights management on some books, but not others. I think of piracy as a promotional tool: I want to give the pirates a taste of my work, but not the whole enchilada. Hopefully they read one of my books illegally, and then decide to buy one that they can't find illegally. Might just be wishful thinking on my part, but, like I said, you can't stop someone from stealing your work so you gotta just find a way to use them.
Well, that's it for now folks. Not that complex is it? One more thing I would recommend: don't waste your money on people that claim they can make your book a bestseller. If that were true, every one of their clients would be bestsellers. Ask them to verify that that's the case and watch the backpedaling and squirming begin.
So just work hard, put out a lot of books, promote your books within your other books, and don't sweat piracy. Eventually, you will start making sales.