Article 3: Online selling – Guest Post by Phillip T. Stephens…

Online selling: The Brutal Reality

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Indie writing is tough. Selling your writing tougher.

I recently worked with an aspiring young writer who needed five thousand immediately and decided to publish his book on Amazon. By his calculation, if he released the book in the first week of June (two weeks from the day we were talking) he’d have the money in time to pay his July 1st rent.

I asked why he thought his book would sell. His answer? “All my friends think my book is great.” I didn’t have the heart to break down the reality.

Could he publish in two weeks? Yes. With a finished manuscript properly formatted for Kindle. And cover art. So I went down the list with him.

  1. Did he have a manuscript? He emailed the Word document, a first draft. Typing errors, tortured sentences, and even continuity errors sunk the book after two chapters.1
  2. Was it formatted for Kindle? Or any publication? He didn’t format at all. He could convert to Kindle, but the book would be boring to look at, and offer no navigation tools to readers.2
  3. Did he have cover art? His wife took art classes in high school. They scanned her water color at 6×6 x72 ppi, a format and resolution no e-publisher would accept.3 Their cat knocked coffee on the original, but he knew somebody who could “fix it” in Photoshop.

In other words, his book would look terrible and read even worse.

I didn’t bother to send him the numbers. If he sold his book under a KDP select contract, which would return the most but link him exclusively to Amazon, he’d make 70 cents on the dollar. The most he could charge and still sell would be $2.99.4 To make five thousand dollars in a month he’d have to sell 2500 copies.

I haven’t seen the book on Amazon, or anywhere.

You’ll work three times as hard to promote your books as you did writing. Even a publisher, will expect you to sell it. So let me offer a few tips (which have nothing to do with writing ) that you should consider if you truly aspire to build a writing career.

Build your audience

As soon as possible determine your audience. Before you begin writing. If you target the wrong readers, you won’t sell a copy. How do you find your audience? Pay a book marketing specialist or plan to do tons of research.

Go active on social media. Pick one: blog, Twitter or Facebook, and focus on audience building while you’re writing. Don’t do them all. One’s hard enough until your brand is established.

Prepare your book for sale

Find or make a good cover. Your cover should

  1. Follow the market for covers in your audience and genre. If you write romance and your cover says “science fiction geek,” you’ve lost almost every potential book sale.
  2. Stand out from the crowd. Even genre driven covers can find a way to draw the buyer’s eye.
  3. Be well-designed. They should have a clean color palette, asymmetrical but balanced layout, an attractive and readable typeface.

The best way to design a cover? Hire a pro, not an artist offering five dollar specials or willing to work for design credit.

Hone your hook and blurb. Now. Before you finish the first draft. The first sentence readers see should describe everything important about the book. In a dozen words. Your blurb should entice the reader by delivering the promise of the hook. Not only will this grab readers, the sooner you do so, the more focused your writing will be.5

Find beta readers. You need readers who aren’t friends, don’t love you and can tell you what needs work with language that translates into corrections.

Make sure your book is clean. As few errors as possible. This means additional readers, hiring an editor, and proofreading, proofreading, proofreading. Find the money.

Look for advance reviews by qualified reviewers. You can send PDFs and ePubs.

Look for distributors. Most authors go with Kindle. I now go Kindle Select exclusively. Others also use iBooks,6 Nook, Kobo and Smashwords.

Sell, sell, sell

Once the book is online find good people to review your book and post in Goodreads. Professional reviewers and authors, not friends.

Plan on spending more time marketing than writing from here on out, and even then, hitting the gold mine is a matter of luck and synchronicity. Hope for a thousand or more in sales. (Dollars, not copies).

Don’t depend on online sales. Use Createspace to sell hard copies. But that’s another article.

  1. In the plot, the hero’s best friend turns up dead after their graduation night. In the second chapter, the hero suspects murder but doesn’t have time to investigate because he’s studying for finals. If he doesn’t pass math, he won’t get his diploma. This is why they call the first draft “rough.”
  2. I’m skipping over the work he would need to do for his front matter.What’s front matter? If you need to ask, your book isn’t ready.
  3. Notice I’m not describing it.
  4. Do the research. That’s the price point. For a first novel, he should probably go $1.99 or .99 cents.
  5. And yes, the blurb may change as you write, but that hook should not. That hook should drive the writing process.
  6. Honestly, if a book is available in iBooks I buy it because their interface is cleaner and books can be backed up, but for indie selling, they’re not great.

Phillip T. Stephens

Barnes & Noble


USA  –  UK  –  CA  –  AUS  – IN


9 thoughts on “Article 3: Online selling – Guest Post by Phillip T. Stephens…

  1. Thanks for the reality check. I will publish my book and have been working on it for years. I have been learning about making sure my book is ready edit wise and I am watercoloring all the illustrations. I know you have to have the right format and and purchase an ISBN. Right now I blog and I’m sharing the process with my bloggers and on Instagram so by the time I’m ready to sell my fans will know. I know it’s going to be hard but for this first book I would be so happy if it generated a few hundred a month and then I can move on to other projects and books. Thanks for this article and just has me feeling good because I know what I need to work on. Thanks. Oh and as a guest teacher I read lots of children’s books and my audience is children. I read my first script and it was hard to see that it wasn’t good but I will continue and almost ready to share again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with everything Phillip lays out, especially the part about proofreading, then proofreading again, then again, then hire an editor!! As Indie Authors, we have to work twice as hard to make sure our work is clean.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great advice, downheartening but accurate. I have been with a small press for 10 years and haven’t made money yet since Amazon likes to giveaway kindles and sell pages. I’ve done everything you said, have about 80 rave reviews, radio and blog reviews, and yes, my book is a good book. It’s getting it to people in a higher ranking that is the problem.

    Liked by 1 person


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