Saturday, September 3, 2011

How to Sell a Lot of E-Books

A friend of mine who is a published author and great writer just emailed me about what it takes to sell a lot of books. E-Books in particular or so I'm assuming. At first I was ready to dig in with a two page email about marketing and social media and how important it is to maintain a constant presence on these digital mediums. I was also ready to discuss the importance of blogging two or three times a week on topics ranging from how to write a great noir novel to what I did on my summer vacation. Then there's Kindleboards, Goodreads, Crimespace, yadda...

But then it occurred to me that no matter how much I talk about these issues, none of them are really responsible for selling books, so much as they simply spread the word about your books being available for sale on the free market. Social media can definitely help you sell books but it can also hurt sales when you abuse and over-use it. After all, you shouldn't be directly selling your books in a social media setting. You should be selling you the human being.

So then, how was it I've been able to sell hundreds of thousands of e-books so far this year?

Jeeze, I'm not entirely sure how I did it.

But I do know this. If you want sell a lot of units (as they are lovingly called in the trade), you need to write great books (luckily my friend has this going for him already). You need a great cover (like me he's traditionally published so he has to rely on his team to produce this for him), a great product description and a very good if not "cheap" yup "cheap" price. As for the rest of the equation, you have to rely on a little luck here.

But then, how can you improve your luck as an author who wants to sell lots of books? The best possible way is simply to write more books. Authors like Scott Nicholson and JA Konrath are making thousands of dollars every month not on just one title, but upwards of 40 titles. These guys are sitting on a novel and rewriting it over and over again for two or three years. They are writing them in a matter of two or three months (please don't take this as gospel, I'm merely trying to make a point).

But Vin, you say, how is it possible to write a great novel in two or three months?

My answer is this: can you produce five good pages per day, five days a week? Or are you worried about writers block? If you believe in writers block, you must learn to change your beliefs. Writers block doesn't exist. If you're a writer your job is to show up at work everyday and write. Granted, there will be days when Mr. Plot and Mr. Story and Mrs. Brilliance don't show up for work, but that's just the nature of any business. You go with the flow and you keep plugging away anyhow. You take up the slack and plow through the day.

Or here's an idea that might help.

Whenever you feel like it will be impossible to write yet another book, think about your dad or mom. What did they do for a living while they were raising you trying to put clothes on your back, Hamburger Helper on your dinner plate and video games in the Play Station? If your dad was a lawyer, did he ever get lawyer's block? If your mom was a nurse, did you ever hear her complain "I've had absolutely nothing to nurse about for the past six months"? Of course not. Your parents showed up for work five days a week because that was their job. Sometimes it went well, and on occasion, when the proper support staff didn't always show up, things were hard. But by the year's end, they produced a body of work for which they were paid a significant sum.

Back to my point about selling books.

There is no tried or true answer to selling books. Sales flow in cycles. I seem to experience a few weeks of stellar bestselling sales every three or four months or so, probably due to Amazon marketing campaigns. My last great months was in July. I'm not due for another Top 100 Kindle Bestseller months until October or November. But then, this is just a guestimate. I have no control over Amazon marketing, other than signing on with their publisher, Thomas and Mercer, which I'm about to do.

So, in the final analysis, there is only one tried and true method of increasing your chances of selling books. That tried and true method is to show up for work everyday, and write more of them.


  1. Honest and tried advice. I know you write everyday much more than you spend on social media. Unlike myself. Alas I shall try to do 5 pages a day 5 days a week. Perhaps I'll find someone to keep me accountable for at least two weeks. That's 25 pages, and they say it takes two weeks to make a habit.

  2. Okay, you're on! FIVE a day/5 days/week = 25pp X 3 months = polished mss. Time to get down to the REAL business end of the business - writing the next book, and the next, and the next... thanks!

  3. Thanks for the mention, Vincent. There's a lot of luck involved, but if you don't work, you don't get lucky!


  4. This is a really helpful and educational post, Vincent.

    Thank you for emphasizing that authors need to sell themselves using social media, rather than their book(s). I've been suggesting this very thing to our clients, from day one…

    And you are 100% correct about a regular rotation of new books being released as one of the best way to promote and sell books!

  5. When I retired from my job as a teacher I took up writing. However, I knew that if I didn't block a work day in my home the same as going to work I'd get lazy. It was the first time in forty years I'd been able to be a stay at home person. A newly found freedom for me. However, I knew this wasn't healthy. I am disabled and I need to keep active as possible and feel productive. I set up an eight hour work day. I stick with it until a book is finished. Then I give myself a vacation during that down time when you are waiting for publishers to print books and send them to you. I write a little as inspired but not seriously. THen I set a new book and begin back to work on an eight hour work schedule. I take a coffee break, a lunch break, and of course I get up fifteen minutes every hour walk around and sit back down. That is physical therapy for my back. It also refreshes the thinking process. I keep treats close at hand such as nuts, finger foods, whatever so I don't get distracted by the kitchen. My books are what I invest in myself so the time given is important. I don't take phone calls unless they are work related or medical related. My friends know not to call when working.Evening time is usually my pleasure time as I relax on facebook networking with new friends and posting about my books. It is my social outlet. Writing is a serious business but I love writing and continue to do so. Thanks for your wonderful advise I enjoyed your column.

  6. Excellent advice, which I'll take to heart. Thanks, Vin!

  7. Right on Guys...Thanks Heath!!! ;)

  8. Awesome advice! You shed light on what it means to be a writer/author. It's in your pulse, in your heartbeat, in everything about you.

  9. Good post, and I especially liked the point about writer's block. I have people (mostly non-writers) ask me that question all the time, and I always tell them I don't believe in writer's block, that it's simply a matter of sitting your ass down and doing the work...which reminds me, I have to go sit my ass down and do some work.

  10. I don't believe in writer's block either...Thanks for the thoughtful and inspiring post.

  11. I agree. No writer's block. Just sit down and write.

  12. I needed this kick in the britches, Vincent. I've been making excuses for not writing, since I've been in the process of moving the past several days. Time to write more books!