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The Real Key to Strong Book Sales

2 November 2013

From author Robert Bidinotto:

It has been a mantra in self-publishing circles that an author’s most reliable pathway to long-term financial success is to rapidly write and publish more and more books. This strategy is supposed to increase your exposure and name recognition, and therefore the “discoverability” of your books to buyers who browse retail websites like Amazon. 

This quantitative strategy seems perfectly sensible, too. The key to strong sales is to make your work visible, or “discoverable,” to your target audience of readers. So, how could your cumulative sales over time not increase if you issue an ever-expanding number of titles for readers to find and buy?

. . . .

Discouraged by this trend, Dennis asked if fellow authors also were experiencing declining sales over time, despite publishing more books. A lot of other writers then chimed in to confirm the trend. Clearly rattled, the discussion participants have since been bemoaning — and trying to explain — the apparent failure of this, one self-publishing’s main articles of faith. After all, how could you not sell more copies if you publish more titles?

. . . .

Now, all other things being equal, it’s probably true that more titles = more visibility —> more sales. But I don’t think all other things are equal. Focusing mainly on quantity, no writer, no matter how prolific, can possibly crank out books fast enough to keep up with the thousands of new titles being published each week. The sea of available titles is now enormous, and ever-expanding. In that vast sea, how are yourkind of customers going to discover your titles?

Marketing experts have wrestled with that problem for decades. I learned a lot about how to achieve visibility in a glutted marketplace by reading the books by marketing gurus Jack Trout and Al Ries — especially their little classic, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. Its subtitle is How to Be Seen and Heard in the Overcrowded Marketplace — and that, of course, is exactly what  authors need to know.

Though not written specifically for writers, the book offers us many great lessons and insights, and I don’t want to take up space here repeating them. But its overriding principle of “positioning” is about how to distinguish yourself and/or your product so that it stands out from the pack and achieves a unique, memorable “position” in your target customer’s mind.

. . . .

Yes, the key to commercial success is achieving visibility to your target audience; but the pathway to visibility is not necessarily the quantity of one’s works. A second element, of course, is the quality of one’s writing.

. . . .

When I think about the super-selling books, though, what they have in common is that they are distinctive. They stand out as something fresh and memorable, because they contain unique themes, plots, and characters. They present provocative ideas, unusual settings, iconic personalities. And that is why they become “visible” . . . often, without even much of a marketing push. Those kinds of books succeed by “word of mouth.”

Link to the rest at Robert Bidinotto

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37 Comments to “The Real Key to Strong Book Sales”

  1. On the other hand, quantity can’t hurt…

    As Dean Wesley Smith says, quoting a friend: “the WIBBOW (Would I Be Better Off Writing) test applies” in the context of spending time on Marketing, Blogging, etc.

    • Dean also emphasizes the need to tell a good story that captures readers’ interest. Or at least to be working toward that goal with each new story you write.

      • Unfortunately, he has also emphasized such goals as releasing a new story every week. That may be good for practising one’s technique, but it is a rare writer indeed who can fulfil this order—

        When I think about the super-selling books, though, what they have in common is that they are distinctive. They stand out as something fresh and memorable, because they contain unique themes, plots, and characters.

        —once a week, every week without fail. Most writers who try it won’t succeed in any given week. They’re grinding out sausages, which is mutually exclusive with making filet mignon. And now we find that there is a finite demand for sausage.

        There are a few writers who showed the ability to create original and distinctive work while maintaining a story-a-week schedule: Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison come to mind. Even they had more misses than hits.

        There is one activity, I find, that very often passes the WIBBOW test, and that is thinking. Specifically, thinking your ideas through, throwing away what is obvious and facile, developing what is, as Mr. Bidinotto says, distinctive. I would rather write one interesting story in a month than four dull ones, and I would rather be paid for one interesting story than four dull ones.

        No doubt this is all quite obvious to Dean Wesley Smith himself, but he doesn’t necessarily make it clear to his readers, because he spends so much time harping on the need for quantity.

        • To be fair to Dean, that once a week short story was his own personal goal. I don’t ever recall him suggesting that all writers should have that goal or even most writers. Indeed, while he made a good effort to meet his goal of one short story a week for a year, as I recall, he didn’t meet that goal. After an attempt and a reset attempt, he went onto different goals. But I think each time he did 30-40 something shorts.

          I did something like that one time, wrote 10 episodes/shorts in 8 weeks for an episodic novel, while holding down a full time job. Had one beta reader go through them as I did them, fixed things, then sent it off to a publisher. Came back as a sale. Of course there was more editing later, but that was according to what the publisher wanted. And I’ll add, very little was suggested in the way of plot adjustments or story.

          I’m not saying I could keep up that pace indefinitely, I did get in a groove during that time. Nor am I saying those stories would win any awards, but they were unique enough to convince someone else to publish it. It certainly wasn’t same old, same old.

          So if I, who’ve only been at this gig for 7 years now, am able to pull that off, the club may not be as exclusive as you’re making it out to be. I’m sure there are any number of good writers who can write a very good short story in a weeks time, several weeks in a row if need be.

          But, I do think you’ll disagree with Dean, based upon what you wrote, when he says that most authors tend to edit out their unique voice by doing extensive editing and polishing, until they have a good enough grasp on what their voice is and how to preserve it. That’s sort of the opposite of what you are saying, that the uniqueness comes from rewrites and polishing, where he would say it is the rough draft that contains the unique voice that makes it stand out.

          Which is fine. I’m not defending Dean (he could do that well enough himself if he had the mind to). Only balancing what I know Dean’s said in this regard. Everyone is free to agree or disagree, of course. But if you’re going to disagree, at least it should be on something he’s actually said or taught. Setting up a personal goal is not emphasizing a goal everyone else should have. As he’s also said a number of times, every writer is different. Do what works for you.

          • But, I do think you’ll disagree with Dean, based upon what you wrote, when he says that most authors tend to edit out their unique voice by doing extensive editing and polishing, until they have a good enough grasp on what their voice is and how to preserve it. That’s sort of the opposite of what you are saying, that the uniqueness comes from rewrites and polishing, where he would say it is the rough draft that contains the unique voice that makes it stand out.

            Actually, I said nothing about rewriting or polishing. My point is that few writers are going to come up with a good story idea every week, and rather than write a blizzard of dull and derivative stories, they might be better served to spend some time working on the quality of their ideas before the first draft.

  2. This was an interesting article and the comments were great too. Dennis, the fellow who was talking on the Kindle boards saw it in a different light as well now.
    It always goes back to the story and your ability to draw people into you world that you created and making them want to come back for more. It all comes down to the you the storyteller.
    I also agree about the covers. If you don’t have something that is unique, you will just blend in and not be seen.
    Good post!

  3. Some authors, indie and trad pubbed, do make it on quantity alone. I won’t comment on the quality of their work but apparently their fans are committed.
    As a reader I seek out quality. Period. As a writer, no matter how many books I release, no matter the number of WIPs I have going at one time, quality still comes first and if that means a book takes time then by god a book takes time. I don’t lose any sleep over it. And that, my friends, is the beauty of self-pubbing, at least from my perspective.

  4. I clicked over to the Positioning book on Amazon, and, as I always do (now), read the negative comments: reader/buyer beware. If you don’t know it, you might be spending $10 on a book written a very long time ago (in modern marketing terms) that has been very badly turned into a Kindle edition.

    That would get you several nice new modern books you could actually read. And some ideas that included websites and blogs.

  5. The real key to strong book sales … quality in quantity. The problem comes in when someone looks at a person’s quantity, evaluates it based on their own quality/speed ratios and then makes assumptions. Happens all the time. If I can’t do it, no one can is a constant refrain on writer forums and blogs.

  6. I’m honestly really surprised one humble thread on WC is being discussed so widely on so many blogs, but I suppose that means it’s really a topic worthy of lots of in-depth discussion.

    Perhaps the thing that surprises me the most is how obvious Bidinotto’s point is. And it’s what I (and several others) said in the original WC thread: if you’re not writing good books, they’re not going to sell, no matter how many of them you have.

    In the original thread, and everywhere else I’ve chimed in with my opinion on the subject, I’ve said the same thing: in discussing how to improve ANY author’s sales, I’m joining the discussion with the assumption that you’re ALREADY writing books that are worth reading. Because if you’re not, there’s nothing you can do to save yourself. You have to have the basics down first, the essentials of story, readable prose, competence with language. And if you don’t already have those things down pat, what the hell are you doing publishing your books, anyway?

    In the case of Dennis’ thread on WC, he seemed to already have the basics down (at least the basics) and his packaging was good, too — which means it’s worth talking about what else he could be doing to improve things, or how the market has changed in the past few years that make sales more challenging in his genre. I left the thread when it started to chase its own tail, but my stance on the whole topic still stands: if you’re not starting with good books, there’s no point in publishing more. Why is that such a revelation that everybody has to blog that very same idea? I mean, isn’t it kind of a no-sh!t idea?

    Am I living under a rock? I know there are some incredibly bad self-published books out there. (There are also some incredibly bad traditionally published books out there.) I know SOME authors don’t get this. Is this really such a widespread issue that people are still declaring “Quality before quantity!” days after the original thread got started, and expecting everybody to go, “Ohhhh, NOW I get it!”

    • Although, I don’t want my post above to look like a dismissal of Robert Bidinotto’s KEY point, which is that books stand out because of a unique feature…from story/character to packaging. Very true, and a great point.

      I’m still just reacting to the idea that “quality first!” is even something that needs to be said, anywhere.

      • I think the bazillion comments that keep popping up on these threads is because people are bristling at being told they’re ignoring “quality first” when they are not.

    • Yes, but what makes a “good book”? I read gazillion-seller books I think totally suck in storytelling, prose quality, language use. Obviously I’m missing what a lot of other people consider “good.” If I’ve spent years learning my craft, then spend many, many hours of my free time writing a book, obviously *I’m* invested and interested in the story and characters. What should I take away if it doesn’t sell?

      I absolutely agree that quality is job one, both in storytelling and craft, but how do you quantify that? Taste is subjective, therefore, IMO, saying this is a good book, this is a bad book, is in reality saying “I like this book,” or “I don’t like this book.” I don’t think this is an argument worth having on any other level.

      • Yes, but what makes a “good book”?

        Exactly. Each reader has his or her own idea of what makes a good one.

        Tell the best story you can, as skillfully as you can, is good advice for a writer. Keep learning more about the craft of writing and story telling, yes.

        Beyond that?

      • You’re right, of course, that “good” is subjective. However, some things are universally regarded as “good” or “bad”. For example, awful grammar and misused punctuation are going to strike nearly any reader as “bad”. Obvious plot holes are going to strike nearly any reader as “bad”. Characters who do things without any apparent reason are going to strike most readers as “bad”. Misspellings are bad. Switching tenses = bad. Wooden dialog is usually going to be considered bad, but not always. 😉

        You see what I mean.

        There’s lots of leeway for subjective quality in terms of nuance, genre conventions, tone, atmosphere, voice, etc. There’s not so much leeway when it comes to muddled tense, POV issues, hellacious spelling, zero editing, etc. The technical bits and pieces of writing are things anybody (writer or reader) can agree count as “quality”.

        • And even then, there will still be best-selling books that break that rule. I’m thinking of 50 Shades here, which had atrocious grammar, even after it was acquired by a trade publisher. I can think of some other authors too but that one is a particularly egregious example.

        • Keep in mind that most readers don’t hang out online, commenting on books and writing. Most readers don’t know any writers, don’t lurk while writers are discussing craft or what they think quality is. Most readers know very little about things like grammar and punctuation. I’m sure you remember how few students went skipping happily into English class every day. [wry smile]

          Bottom line, it’s about story. Spelling and grammar and punctuation and word usage and realistic dialogue and three-dimensional characters who learn and grow are all awesome, and I prefer them in fiction I read. But if you’re telling a great story that does an id-grab on a lot of people, you can sell a bazillion books without all that craftsmanship stuff. And people have. And other writers, plus readers who know the craft, have and will continue to grouch about it, mocking and snarking these huge-selling writers, who I’m sure cry all the way to the bank with their wheelbarrows full of money.

          If you read John McWhorter, a linguist who’s an excellent writer and lecturer, he has a bit of a rant about what he calls “blackboard grammar,” the kind of grammar that has rules punishes mistakes. Oral languages (those without a commonly used written component) have a much more free-flowing grammar. It’s usually complex like whoa, but it also evolves relatively quickly. Nobody goes around saying, “That should be ‘whom,’ not ‘who,'” in a primarily oral language. When languages get written down, and taught in school, and mostly fossilized in books, that’s when the rules become important to people. But the natural way of thinking about language, for most people, is that whatever gets the point across is all good. You have to be taught that using the wrong tense is wrong.

          I think that feeds into the huge numbers of people who periodically flock to books that writers and critics and educated readers think suck. Most people don’t care about the bad craftsmanship and broken language rules. If the story is good, if it speaks to them, if it grabs their empathy and imagination, then they’ll like it no matter how badly written it might be from the POV of people like us. To the greatest number of people, “quality” is a good story, period.

          Angie, who can be a craftsmanship nazi but also recognizes reality

    • Regardless of how I may feel about it or how you may feel about it, some authors write to a template. Every book is essentially the same and the concept of quality as I perceive it really doesn’t apply. What does apply is giving loyal readers what they want– and they will buy, what to me, reads like the same book over and over and over again.
      A few writers have experienced tremendous success via this method, and that includes both indies and those who are trad pubbed.
      I want to believe that quality will out, but that’s not entirely true.

    • Even Dean said write a good story. Don’t worry about the bad ones because they simply won’t sell. Our issue about these articles is they miss the point and conflate process with product.

      A great article on THAT issue comes from a trad author: http://pcwrede.com/blog/its-not-the-same/.

      Speed has nothing to do with quality. Quality has to do with quality, and quantity has to do with quantity, and speed has to do with speed. These are all different and separate.

      If you want a good reason for sales slowing down, look to the DOJ/Apple case: http://kriswrites.com/2013/10/30/the-business-rusch-unintended-consequences/

  7. “Quality over quantity” is a false dilemma. There’s no reason you can’t have both and there are plenty of people who don’t provide either.

    I can’t think of a single reliable source of advice about self publishing that has ever said “Don’t worry about quality, just produce as much work as you can as fast as you can!” Every reputable self publisher emphasizes quality work (work that will appeal to readers) first. They all say the first thing you need is a good story. In addition to that, they also recommend consistently producing work and increasing the size of your digital self instead of just trying to market the hell out of one or two works. No one out there is claiming quality isn’t important.

    Also I doubt there’s any real evidence that any perceived decline in sale is because the “produce work consistently” advice is wrong. There are way too many factors involved in why people buy or don’t buy books to know what’s really going on.

    • I think in the case of Mike Dennis and his particular dilemma, looking at the thriller genre specifically, and how authors are currently marketing their product, would be a smart idea. Like romance, it’s a genre with TONS of books on offer, and more all the time. In the super-popular genres, looking at how much a product stands out from like products, and how one can make that product more memorable (as Bidinotto implies) would be smart.

      Let me just say I’m really glad I’m not a thriller writer in 2013.

  8. I think this author has a point, but is missing a key distinction that a lot of people miss. The distinction between “quality” and telling an engaging story.

    The advice to get out a lot of work as a means of discoverability and sales, for it to work, requires learning how to spin an engaging yarn. Not necessarily quality as most people tend to think of it.

    Of course, it depends on which definition of quality you are working from, and that’s why when the word is used, many of us are internally talking about different things. Quality can mean:

    1) Free of typos and grammar mistakes.
    2) Devoid of plot holes and inconsistencies.
    3) How poetic and fluid the writing style is.
    4) How professional the cover looks.
    5) How professional the formatting of the book itself looks.
    6) How engaging the characters are.
    7) How engaging the story is.
    8) How unique is the author’s voice and style.

    Probably other issues could be added. While I would say that getting most of these quality issues right is important, and we should do the best with what resources we have, I suggest that it is only 6 – 8 that will affect a story’s ability to generate sales once discovered.

    Yes, a typo laden book like Moon People will sink much chance of sales and do more to make you an example of what not to do. But we all know of books with bad writing, major plot holes, weak or bad dialog, that have hit the best seller’s lists and sold well, simply because it got one to three of those “how to tell an engaging story” elements down pat.

    And that is what I hear this article getting at: a unique voice, a distinctive character that raises it above the herd. That is the quality I hear the article talking about, not so much the others.

    Again, I’m not saying the others are unimportant and don’t deserve getting it done as well as can be, only that if you have the most professional product out, free of typos and grammar mistakes, poetic prose, stunning cover, etc., but your story and characters are boring, then that quality isn’t going to help your sales no matter how many books you have out. Whereas, the reverse can be true. Have a compelling story and characters, and readers will wade through some lower quality in the other areas and you can still have great sales.

    And I agree, quality vs. quantity is silly. You get quality (good storytelling ability) by writing purposefully. The more writing you do, learning something new each time, the better your stories get. You really can’t have quality without quantity.

    So for me, it is not one over the other. Low number of stories is just as likely to keep one buried in obscurity as is mediocre stories and characters.

  9. Frankly, I think the primary driver of declining ebook sales is the overall poor economic situation at the moment. With a few exceptions, retail sales of all kinds were down across the board in Q3 2013, and there isn’t any reason ebooks would be exempt from that.

    Additionally, regardless of one’s opinion on the Affordable Care Act (no political derailments, please), in the US there’s currently a great deal of uncertainty about health insurance costs over the next few years, and there is absolutely nothing as effective at stopping consumer spending like economic uncertainty – if you think you’re going to lose your job or your health insurance premiums are about to double next month, then you might need to think a lot harder about that $3.99 ebook. Better instead to save that money and go instead to the library for reading material in case disaster does strike.

    So I suspect declining ebook sales are more a result of larger economic forces than the mythical “tsunami of crap”.

    • I don’t know anyone who is worried about the ACA that much. Losing a job? Sure. But those are frankly the same worries people I know have had for the last 10-15 years. Unfortunately, that’s just how a lot of people live. It’s kind of a persistent thing. What I do notice is that people make smaller purchases even when they’re worried about future employment. They put off big purchases (like a house, a car, etc), but smaller purchases are rarely affected all that much. People still live in the moment and as Americans we still want to enjoy the things we like. In a way it lessens anxiety and makes things seem normal.

      So I don’t buy the health care argument. People still go out to lunch (even though they can certainly prepare pretty much all the same foods at home). They still buy clothes, and if your books are up to par and visible, they’ll still buy your book if they’re into books. I suspect there’s just a LOT more books and the quality of many of them is probably dropping (that and they’re just more picky because they can be). Consumers dare not dumb. You can fool some of them at certain times, but the question is, how long can you fool enough of them to make a decent income if you’re just cranking out books, hoping to get rich?

  10. I noticed a few misunderstandings of my piece, so let me briefly clarify.

    I too believe that “quantity vs. quality” is a false dichotomy, as a close reading of my full post will show. I assume we’re talking only about well-crafted fiction, and complete professionalism in its presentation, publication, and promotion.

    However, among the many books that meet that professional threshold, why do some achieve visibility and terrific sales, while others don’t?

    That’s what I am addressing in my post. And that’s where I believe good “positioning” and “branding” come in: doing something that distinguishes your work, that sets it apart from the crowd in its own unique niche, so that it can be noticed by your target readers.

    Once you’ve met the basic “quality” threshold, and also done something unique to catch the attention of your target audience, then the “quantity” of your output can make you rich. But too many indie authors are putting that cart before the horse.

    So, if I had to summarize my point about this in a single sentence:

    Quantity of books will bring you lots of cumulative sales, but AFTER visibility is achieved, almost always by other means; however, quantity alone is unlikely to bring visibility, and thus sales.

    So yes, by all means, write and publish as many books as you can. But don’t expect volume alone to generate significant and ongoing sales. Other factors, usually intrinsic to the books themselves, capture reader attention and interest. After that happens, then the more books you have out there, the better.

    • I think you’re right that lots and lots of indies are putting the quantity cart before the quality horse, and that’s a fatal error. In the case of Mike Dennis, I’m not sure that’s the case (though I haven’t read any of his books to find out; I’m going by what others have said of his work, and by what I observed of his covers, product description, and samples.)

      I think that’s why his thread in particular is still generating so much commentary. What’s different in his case? I think all the discussion happening about declining sales and/or the quantity strategy in general are worth having, but there’s something else going on here. Personally, I think the sheer challenge of positioning within that genre has a lot to do with it, as most people I’ve seen with similar disappointments have been thriller writers.

      All it means, of course, is that it’s time to put on the thinking hat and figure out smarter, more unique ways of out-positioning all the other thriller writers.

      I don’t yet have that problem in my genres (literary fiction and historical fiction), but I have a similar problem: there are so few READERS of literary fiction that it’s hard to gain enough momentum to launch a book up the charts for any length of time. It’s possibly, clearly — some have done it. But it can’t be done, apparently, by conventional methods.

      I think everybody in this industry, right down to the indies, are so used to doing things The Way They’ve Always Been Done that we’re all thinking the same way about packing and promotion. If you’ve got challenges in positioning, either because you’re doing it wrong or because too many of you are doing it conventionally, you’ll have to think in ways nobody else in the industry has yet thought to think. 😉

      I’m planning something unusual and weird to try to maximize positioning in 2014. Who knows whether it will work, but it WILL be very different from anything any other author has done (so far).

      • Having published fairly slowly myself and quickly under a separate pen name, I will simply say this, with only three books under your name, no matter how fast you publish them, the odds are quite strong your sales won’t take off until after your tenth book is available. They may and I won’t deny it, but that is one factor few indies take into account however fast they write.

        I have three pen names and am about to start another one for throwaways because they don’t match my other brands. Speed of publishing had no effect on sales for me. The tenth book affected things HUGELY.

    • Yes, with some exceptions, yes.

    • You know, you’re probably right. I buy a few books a month. My buying habits have changed over the last 6 months or so, not because of my income (my income has gone up). It has changed because it’s getting harder for books to impress me as a reader. I still remember the books I read when I was younger that gave me chills. I remember reading a story and getting to that point where the story could take so many turns and I was absolutely high on the suspense. Somewhat like an addict, I keep going back hoping to experience those highs again, but I find it less and less. So many of the characters seem the same. Not particularly bad, or poorly written, just…blah. So when I’m wading through books, it’s just harder for me to get *excited* for a purchase, and frankly for me part of the high is the excitement of stumbling across a book that has an intriguing cover, a nicely written synopsis, and a first chapter that pulls me in. I like books that have potential too, but I don’t like being disappointed at all. With more people looking at publishing as a get rich quick scheme, I think a lot of writers are not giving the readers what they want.

  11. I am certainly no expert (unfortunately), but I think quality is #1, despite the fact that certain books are bestsellers despite not having excellent writing–although there is something else memorable about them.

    However, I think when you are building a following, you need to keep producing. That doesn’t mean you need to churn out books, but you should try your best to keep a pace going, so your fans don’t move on.

  12. How to get your book to stand out? Write a horror/romance/thriller/dystopian/NA/YA book.

    And make it a series.

    Then jump up and down 10 times, turn around 6 times and then stand on your head. Works every time!

  13. I think independent authors are dealing with a new marketplace that is evolving all the time. I have been publishing for about 4 years, have six books out and find it’s almost impossible to know or guess what is going on.

    I’ve just released the third book in my more popular series, it’s taken me a year to complete this book and readers have said they felt this was a long time to wait. I think there is an expectation that indie e-books will move faster and of course that is one of the great things for authors, the ability to move faster without the delays associated with trad publishing.

    I have another quandary which is somewhat to do with quantity and finding your niche market. Some time back there was an interesting discussion on ‘endings’ here at PV, and being notoriously bad at endings I have worked to give some resolution in this third book. Some commenters like this and see it as a good end to the series, but others wonder and hope there will be more books. I’m a bit torn now, I’ve left room for more stories and it would seem crazy to stop writing a successful series when there are readers out there. However, after unanimous great reviews so far for the final book I don’t want to spoil the series with a book that does not work as well and leave readers feeling let down.

    Another weird thing is that while this series’ e-books are moving fast in the UK, US sales have dried to nothing although the free first e-book is still being downloaded in quantities. I find this strange as the series, though never as popular in the US as the UK, always did quite well, the halt in sales in the US has been sudden and strange, I can’t figure out why it’s happened. Has anyone experienced anything similar?

    • I’m pretty sure it’s because the bumper crop of books everyone was waiting for: I forewent indie books in favor of holding my dollars for Allegiant. I haven’t bought that book yet solely because I’m very concerned with early reviews giving me the impression I’ll wish I hadn’t read it.

      See this for some food for thought on the current hit to the market: http://kriswrites.com/2013/10/30/the-business-rusch-unintended-consequences/. It won’t affect whether certain books are bought in the long run, but it will certainly affect WHEN they are bought.

  14. Liz, same for me. I’m reading a lot less fiction. When I read book blurbs, they sound blah, boring, and derivative. The last book that really excited me was A Discovery of Witches. This is a good case study for the quality argument. The pacing is often too slow, the characters are flat, the romance element is unconvincing, and yet, the book was a major bestseller. It’s the storytelling that has vaulted this book to the top of the list. The author is a historian and she lards the book with interesting facts. But without a compelling story, this book would have sunk. Storytelling is the most important factor in a book’s success, but if you can excell in at least one other area–interesting characters, author’s voice, exotic setting/ profession/details–you improve your chances of success.

  15. I think this article raises a good point. It’s important to explore what does and does not work, and not go with established conventional wisdom – as tempting as it is.

    The thing is there are lots of people telling other people what works for indie writers. But the reality is NO ONE KNOWS.

    The self-publishing industry was born LESS THAN 5 YEARS AGO and NO ONE KNOWS what will work.

    What works for one person, may not work for another, because causality is always in question. Timing or name recognition may have mattererd, or they may not; quantity or price may matter, or not; genre or social media may matter, or not.

    What works today, may not work tomorrow. What works with one book may not work with another.

    NO ONE KNOWS what will work, and I would steer away from anyone who acts as if they do know, because they don’t. No one can possibly know. It’s five years old and changing all the time. So, arguing about something that can not be known is not the best use of time, nor the best way to build community.

    There are no certainties. It’s a brave new world out there. We are pioneers, exploring a new frontier. Part of the bravery required for us indies is to not know, and to venture forth anyway. And it’s nice to venture forth as a collective, letting ourselves be open and acknowledging that we just don’t know.

    And We should be proud. We are the Pioneers.

    • I would go so far as to say that there is no such thing that “works” at this stage. Our corner of the industry changes every 6 months or so. By the time you codify something as “working”, it could change.

      Quality always sells at some level. Garbage usually can’t sell very well at all. Quality is a critical component.

      Quantity has nothing to do with quality, unless you’re sacrificing quality in order to finish sooner. Quantity is also a relative idea. What Dean Smith does or Joe Konrath does, or whoever, is irrelevant to what I do. I write at the speed I do, in the time I do, with the skill I have.

      I would also suggest that if someone’s book sales are going down, it could indicate a lot of things. They could be in a slump or a rut, it could be a market trend for their genre, it could just be that there are a lot more skilled writers putting out their work than before.

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