Why Don’t Authors Think Like Business People?

I admit it… I spend part of each day in forums designed for indie and other authors. I must also admit that I don’t understand the attitudes and decisions of so many of my peers in this industry.

If you’re an independent author, books are your business. Or at least they could be. It can takes months, perhaps years, to produce a novel that’s ready for publication. And there are three kinds of possible rewards: 1) Get readers – raise your hand if you prefer that no one reads your pages. 2) Get admiration and respect for your writing – which can only occur if you achieve #1 above. 3) Earn significant revenues – which also can occur only if you achieve #1 above.

Now, if you invest up to a year in writing a book, how can you complain about spending $20 or $50, or even $200 to promote it? I read many complaints bemoaning the “cost” of cheap ads. I think what these authors are really saying is:

I don’t think my book is worth investing my own money in it.

It isn’t worth $20 to find out if there’s a market out there for this book.

It’s not worth $200 to find readers who can help boost my career.

In what other business could you expect to find buyers for your product without promoting and advertising it to likely buyers?

Some of these same authors also complain about “devaluing” their work by giving it away free. In my mind, free copies are just another way of investing in your own work. Other authors resist experimenting with programs like Kindle SELECT and its free promotions because of the “exclusivity” requirement. I’ve spoken with three authors who have produced wonderful books but refuse to do a three-month SELECT exclusive because they don’t want to quit selling on other platforms.

I asked all three of these authors how many books they sold on average per month on B&N. The range was 3-10. How many on Smashwords? The range was 0-4. Kobo and iTunes? The range was 0-8 on both platforms combined.

For their books, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes and Smashwords are not revenue-producing sales channels. They’re failed sales channels. Not worth the time you invest in them looking at your monthly sales results. If you realize that, it makes sense to put your time and energy on platforms that predictably produce sales and revenues, and also give you multiple ways to promote your titles.

Right now, only one such platform comes to mind. Amazon. I don’t own stock in that company, but I’ve sold thousands of copies of two books on Amazon. I don’t care for the size and clout that Amazon has amassed across industries. But so what? Would I give up $50 of sales on other channels to gain maybe $2,000 on Amazon? If I’m thinking like a business person… of course!

I’ve had several authors comment to me that they want to “support” their readers on other platforms (as if they had legions of B&N and Smashwords readers out there). I say, send those readers your book on their platform of choice for free, if keeping them happy is a big concern. You’ll lose a few dollars in income, perhaps. But when they recommend your book, most of the people they mention your book to will be Kindle users. Go where the money is. Today, that’s Amazon.

Increasingly, however, the number of self-published titles has made even the Amazon platform ultra-competitive. For many authors, it’s tougher than ever to rank high on a SELECT Free promotion. The big sites that will promote your free offering at no cost – such as Pixel of Ink (POI) and Ereader News Today (ENT) – have been pressured by Amazon to list fewer free titles each day. So now only 20 out of 2,000+ free books each day can earn the big sales bump that a listing on one of these powerhouses can provide.

If you think like a business person, and you understand the success that can come from a successful SELECT free promotion… well, why would you gamble 2-3 of your valuable free days on the slim chance that POI or ENT might – just might – give you a free listing? (Frankly, if neither of them do, you won’t give away enough books to get a paid sales bump after the promotion).

Of course, you could buy some paid advertising to attract downloaders to your free books. But when scouring the author forums, again I see many authors refusing to buy ads (out of principle, or just a refusal to invest any money in their good work.) The results are usually predictable. Can you waste money on advertising? Yes, But you’ll never get smarter and learn which advertising programs work best for your books unless you invest a little time and money to learn.

In my opinion, the sooner authors begin to think like publishers, who are in it for the money, the more successful they will be. Invest some money wisely (don’t try to do it all for free; you’ll leave too much sales revenue on the table.) Focus your time and energy where the sales are (today, that’s Kindle.) Find programs that promote your platform. (Can anyone tell me how to promote a NOOK book to raise its ranking in B&N and generate sales?)

Self-published authors cannot sit back and wear only their author hat. They have to wear the publisher-promoter-marketer hat as well – perhaps most of the time. If you don’t want to do this work, then find a publisher-marketer to put your book out there. Just be prepared to have them make most of the money from your writing. If you think about it, that’s the “old” model of publishing.

By the way, you can check out my books by clicking this link.​ Contact me if you like and we can chat about the latest trends, successes and failures in book marketing.

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