But I know I’m on a losing streak
As I pass down by your street
And I’ll sing in your ear again
Now the books don’t work
Those immortal lines were written by “The Verve.” Well, almost. I may have taken some creative liberties in regard to the actual lyrics. Not many though.
If you’re wondering why I’m talking about this it stems from a conversation I had with a friend of mine.
We were talking about the frustrations of publishing fiction. Even if you’ve published dozens of books you can experience a rapid deterioration of your royalty checks.
I decided that this week I’d explore the options an author is faced with when this happens.
Grab a cup of coffee (or your drink of choice) and let’s see if we can’t untangle this Gordian knot together.
Watching your sales and your royalties dwindle is enough to make you despair. You put in a lot of hard work and yet you can’t consistently seem to bring home the same royalties from your books.
It’s a pattern that repeats itself over and over. I know it’s probably not much in the way of consolation, but this happens to all authors. It’s just that some authors start at a higher level when they publish their books. Their sales numbers still dwindle, but because they sell so many more books the sales the books make after a few months will still be significant.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a Fantasy category on Amazon without witnessing a Harry Potter book at or near the top of the charts. That means each of those still sell thousands of copies every month. The same goes for Lee Child, Stephen King and other authors of that level of success. Just in other categories.
You. And I. We start at lower levels. Our books don’t sell thousands upon thousands of copies upon release. So the initial spike we see is far lower. For that reason the sales of each individual book will often dwindle to almost nothing. Especially, if you don’t have many books on the market yet.
It’s heart-breaking isn’t it.
Calling It Quits
One option you always have is calling it a day. Throw in the towel if you will.
One thing I can guarantee is it won’t improve your sales. And you’re likely to regret it some day in the future.
I get where you’re coming from. It sucks putting in so much effort only to see the sales vanish before your eyes. Heck! If you’re like me you’ll have dreamt of publishing that single book that means you’re set for life.
For most of us that’s just not going to happen.
For most of us it’s a long road to get to the place we want to be. Self-publishing is not a get rich quick scheme. You can get rich. But it’s not quick. And it’s certainly not effortless. If you thought that was the case you’re mistaken. Terribly mistaken.
No matter how you dice it there’s a lot of work involved.
The most important quality you have to acquire isn’t creativity. It’s stamina.
You have to have the stamina to keep going when it all just plain stinks.
That’s when it’s determined whether you can make it in this business or not.
I’ve been at it since 2008 on one platform or another, and I’m still not where I want to be. In fact, I didn’t find any level of success until about 4 years ago. People in the industry actually told me that if I’d been working at it for this long without making it I probably never would.
I don’t take kindly to being told there’s something I can’t do. It makes me stubborn. As my wife will attest that’s not my best quality.
But in publishing, it’s something you need.
Stubbornness and a plan.
The Way Forward Part I – The Simple Version
The plan is actually really simple. I’m going to outline it in a few simple steps below. I’ll go into greater detail about each part of the plan later on as well, but for now, what you need is the simple version. So here it is.
1. Publish your book.
2. Publish often.
3. Keep publishing books.
Now you’re asking if it never stops.
The answer is no.
There’s a reason even big shots keep publishing new books. Even considering their status they know they have to keep feeding their audience. They know that even they can be forgotten by those who used to love them.
They keep publishing books.
Of course, when you’re a really big name you don’t necessarily have to do it every year. But you have to keep publishing.
For you and I that means publishing frequently. We don’t have a massive readership and we have to ensure we don’t lose those readers we do have. The only way to do that is to push out books like we’ve got nothing else to do.
But J.K. Rowling…Stephen King…Lee Child…
I doth protest!
You don’t see any of the big shots churning out several books a year. Why should I?
Well, hate to say it, they’ve got a few things you don’t.
They have name recognition and huge publishing companies backing their plays.
And as I mentioned earlier they actually do publish books pretty frequently. I mentioned J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, and Lee Child. Let’s take a quick look at their publication frequency.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (26 June 1997)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2 July 1998)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (8 July 1999)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (8 July 2000)
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (supplement to the Harry Potter series) (1 March 2001)
- Quidditch Through the Ages (supplement to the Harry Potter series) (1 March 2001)
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (21 June 2003)
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (16 July 2005)
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (21 July 2007)
- Harry Potter prequel (July 2008)
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard (supplement to the Harry Potter series) (4 December 2008)
- The Casual Vacancy (27 September 2012)
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (story concept) (31 July 2016)
- Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists (6 September 2016)
- Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies (6 September 2016)
- Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide (6 September 2016)
- Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay (19 November 2016)
- Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – The Original Screenplay (16 November 2018)
- That’s 18 books since 1997. And that’s NOT counting her nonfiction work. In this case, we’re just dealing with all her fiction works. That’s almost a book every year on average.
- 1974 – Carrie
- 1975 – ‘Salem’s Lot
- 1977 – The Shining
- 1977 – Rage
- 1978 – The Stand
- 1979 – The Long Walk
- 1979 – The Dead Zone
- 1980 – Firestarter
- 1981 – Roadwork
- 1981 – Cujo
- 1982 – The Running Man
- 1982 – The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger
- 1983 – Christine
- 1983 – Pet Sematary
- 1983 – Cycle of the Werewolf
- 1984 – The Talisman
- 1984 – The Eyes of the Dragon
- 1984 – Thinner
- 1986 – It
- 1987 – The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three
- 1987 – Misery
- 1987 – Tommyknockers
- 1989 – The Dark Half
- 1991 – The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands
- 1991 – Needful Things
- 1992 – Gerald’s Game
- 1992 – Dolores Claiborne
- 1994 – Insomnia
- 1995 – Rose Madder
- 1996 – The Green Mile
- 1996 – Desperation
- 1996 – The Regulators
- 1997 – The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass
- 1998 – Bag of Bones
- 1999 – The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
- 2001 – Dreamcatcher
- 2001 – Black House
- 2002 – From a Buick 8
- 2003 – The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla
- 2004 – The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah
- 2004 – The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower
- 2005 – The Colorado Kid
- 2006 – Cell
- 2006 – Lisey’s Story
- 2007 – Blaze
- 2008 – Duma Key
- 2009 – Under the Dome
- 2011 – 11/22/64
- 2012 – The Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole
- 2013 – Joyland
- 2013 – Doctor Sleep
- 2014 – Mr. Mercedes
- 2014 – Revival
- 2015 – Finders Keepers
- 2016 – End of Watch
- 2017 – Gwendy’s Button Box
- 2017 – Sleeping Beauties
- 2018 – The Outsider
- 2018 – Elevation
Let me start by saying going through Stephen King’s bibliography is a very depressing exercise. It makes me feel like I need to get my act together. There are very few years since 1974 where the man has not published a book. And it’s far from uncommon that he has published more than one every year.
And we’re not dealing with short books either.
Most of them are several hundred pages long. The shortest on this list is “Cycle of the Werewolf” which comes in at 127 pages.
I would do Lee Child’s bibliography as well, but I think I’ve done enough to make my point.
Even big shot authors keep publishing books.
The Way Forward Part II – Frequency
That begs the question how often do you need to publish books?
The answer is as often as you can. There is simply no way you can allow yourself to sit back and rest on your laurels. The big name authors we all look up to certainly don’t do that. Which means you cannot allow yourself to do it.
No matter how many books you’ve published at this point.
If your goal is to make a living writing books you have to keep doing it.
In my opinion, you should publish at least one book a month when you’re starting out. In fact, if you can you should probably do as many as one a week.
The greater the frequency the better.
And How Do You Expect Me To Do That?
That’s a good question.
How can we do that?
Well, emulating Stephen King who is probably one of the most prolific writers we know of is not a bad idea.
He has stated in the past that he writes 2,000 words every day. EVERY SINGLE DAY!
Obviously, I can’t say for sure that he’s never missed that mark. It would be strange if he hadn’t. But when you look at the sheer number of books he has published it’s clear that he has developed a system that works for him.
Several of the books on the list are more than 1000 pages. By my estimate, that’s at least 250,000 words.
And that’s the bare minimum!
Most likely some of those are closer to 400,000 words. That means he will have spent somewhere between 125 and 200 days writing those books.
2,000 words a day.
I don’t write 2,000 words a day.
I’m working toward that goal, but I’m not there yet.
I’m faced with the same obligations so many others are.
Family. Chores. Shopping for groceries. And all of that.
Time is often limited.
So I don’t necessarily recommend going for the 2K right away.
You build to that point.
Which obviously doesn’t make it any easier getting books out frequently.
I have a plan for that.
The Way Forward Part III – Format
Write short books.
I’m a big fan of short books.
I would hate spending most of the year working on one huge novel only to find out there is no audience for it.
I like seeing results right away.
I need to know that I’m moving in the right direction with what I’m doing.
That’s why most of my books are planned to be between 10K and 20K words.
That way I get to see the results before I’ve invested several months.
It allows me to get at least one book out every month.
In fact, I can often get one out in a week. Especially if I know the genre well.
But the truth is I’m more likely to spend two weeks on each book. Particularly if you include editing and such.
The thing is, with every book I see a spike in my sales. And if I’m smart about it I make sure that helps the other books I’ve published as well.
It’s not all you have to do to become a successful publisher. If you want to be truly successful you spend time and resources promoting your book as well. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time or cost you a fortune, but a little promotion goes a long way.
But most importantly you have to keep publishing books.
That is the only way.
The system I use is one I call “Book-A-Day Kindle Short Reads.” It’s a system where you can write and publish a book in one day. It’s not every day I do this. In fact, it doesn’t happen very often. The point is I have done this several times in the past because the system is rock solid. And I know that whenever I get a full day just to focus on my writing I can sit down and write a book from scratch.
Most of the time I split the tasks needed to get it done out over a week. That way I don’t stress myself out too much. Still, it’s nice to know you are able to do it.