This is an excerpt from the book series Philosophy for Heroes: Continuum. You can get a copy here.
If only every 1,000th person in the world bought your book, you would be millionaire. So, all you need to do is release a book and wait, right?
Well, in terms of your expectations, one must understand numbers. Imagine if only every 1,000th person you meet on the street talked with you for a minute, your whole day would be busy (assuming you live in a big city). But that clearly does not happen. We spend extraordinarily more time on people we know, and the same applies for authors of book series. It is not enough to be someone’s 1,000th closest person. You need to be in (or near) their top 10 to get noticed. And you will spend whole days or weeks with a person if you are their top choice.
One way to see how well you are or will be doing with your readers is to look at competitors’ books of the same genre and general topic and combine that with information about how many books a certain “rank” will sell.
As a rule of thumb, on Amazon (in 2018), you need to sell one book per day to reach the top 100,000 (and 10 per day to reach the top 10,000). Depending on your sale price, this gives you around $50 to $300 per month or $600 to $3,600 per year (or $6,000 to $36,000 per year in the top 10,000). Assuming sales drop off over a year, and that you write four books each year, your yearly salary would be $2,400 to $14,400 (or $24,000 to $144,000 in the top 10,000).
Now, all those are nice numbers. But they should not lead you to exclaim “Wow, I can earn $144,000 in a year” but instead serve as an indicator when looking at your competition and what they are making. Selling more than a single book each day requires extraordinary effort.
The best advice I ever got was “Nobody is coming.” Well, at least without reason they do not. Do not expect to be suddenly the center of the universe once you have released your book. Instead, you need to be able to explain in detailed steps how someone would start taking interest in your book. If you do not know exactly how an action will engage your readers in reading about or buying your book, theycertainly will not.
The best starting point is asking yourself how you select the books you are reading. A recommendation by a friend? A positive review on your favorite blog? A random Facebook ad with a questionable cover and unclear title? Books are not about how great you are, they are about finding that niche of readers who want to read exactly what you are writing.
If we trust the advertisement, one sure way to boost your sales is to spend money on a variety of services. Especially when starting out, these offers may sound attractive. But you should keep the general business approach in mind: to spend only when you know you need something now and not because you think you might need it later. It is easy to spend thousands of dollars on things that sound good but will not help you to sell more books. A common mistake is to invest in things that make you look like a successful author, but that do not actually help you to be or become one. For example, you might start getting nice business cards, a business phone number, an office, a secretary, and a new car to make you look successful. But that alone will not sell books!
Did you know?
It is a belief similar to the so-called “cargo cults” of the native inhabitants of the islands northeast of Australia. They built primitive runways and control towers in preparation for the Allied forces’ aircrafts during and after World War II on which to land and unload valuable goods. Their execution seemed flawless to them, but they were missing something essential: cargo planes do not simply land because there is a runway. They are specifically ordered, loaded, and then sent to certain airports—with all parties involved being members of the Allies’ international network of mutual trust, protection, and trade. -→ Read more in Philosophy for Heroes: Knowledge
Spend money when you see a clear need for something. And seeing a clear need for something implies that you have empirical evidence. And to get empirical evidence, you first have to have an initial product you can show others and gather their feedback. Start with your own network, give out free copies, and hope they will find the time to review your work within the next few months. For creating and advertising your book, rely on freely available resources. For example, instead of setting up an author website “because every successful author has a website,” maybe rely on simply filling out your Google business website, LinkedIn profile, etc. Once you get sufficient traffic on those sites, you can proceed planning the next step based on that data, and so on. It is also important to note that simply asking is sometimes the best course of action. For example, the photographer or author of an image or text might be willing to share his or her work with you. Sometimes a creator simply wants to know how you want to use his or her work before agreeing that you can use it. As the saying goes, the best things in life are free; if you find a way where you both profit from the exchange, all the better. The mention of the creator and a link to his or her website might be worth more to than he or she could get by selling work as a stock image. As with everything “Agile,” choose whatever comes cheapest and most quickly to learn the most about your next step.