I had a release recently. One of many this year. And that could be a nightmare…if I still gave a damn. But here’s the thing: the majority of the time, for Midlist authors, releases will be underwhelming. There was a time–before KU–when a release was worth all the watching and hoping. You’d wake up early, check the ranking every hour, watch it rise slowly, then after dinner see it soar, and often you’d have to stay up really late because it would continue to rise, possibly dancing into that Top 100 territory, often hitting Top 10 in a category.
Then came KU. And suddenly, out of nowhere, rankings began to fall, for existing books and new releases. Making the Top 100 overall and even in categories became a dream of the past. These days, if you’re not already one of the power brokers of romance fiction, you’re looking at overall rankings in the four digits not the three for new releases, and for a lot of writers, those rankings are in the five digits, even with preorders added in.
So here’s some advice I got early on in my career, that applies now more than ever: You’re in this for the long haul. There are some lucky people who hit it big in this business with one book, or two, or three. They are absolutely, positively the EXCEPTIONS. Do not fall into the trap of looking at them for your example of anything. There are other things at play for most of those authors–things like having powerful friends in high places, or a previous career in marketing and p.r., or a spouse who earns enough that they can invest thousands of dollars in advertising right off the bat, and also just sheer good fortune–that perfect combination of time, place, and product that even they didn’t realize would happen.
For the rest of us–the other ninety plus percent–each new book is a small incremental shift in our progression toward earning respectable income as writers. And that can be hard. Especially if you view your books as children which far too many writers have been led to believe they should. Those first few books can feel as though they deserve the attention and expectations that a new baby does, but the more books you write, the more you realize you can’t put that much importance on each individual one.
Books are the most fun product in the world. And while you’re in the process of making one, you should enjoy it, get lost in that world, research and fine tune and fall in love with your characters. That’s the joy of writing. But once you’re done, you have to make the shift from writer to business person. You have a store, you place products in it, some will sell better than others, but you need all of them, and together they are what makes your stock–you have to keep adding to your stock, replenishing and reorganizing it in order to keep your store fresh and marketable.
If you owned a t-shirt store, you’d design new t-shirts regularly, and you’d put the newest designs up front in the window. They would help attract buyers to walk into your store, and then they’d see the rest of your t-shirts–some old staples, some seasonal, some designed for special niche audiences. Those new designs in the window might be what attracts people to your store, but alone they can’t make or break your store, because you’re building a reputation as a t-shirt store that people can rely on. That might be for the wide range of t-shirts you offer, or one particular type of t-shirt you do better than anyone else in town, but either way, each new design you offer is an addition to your collection, a way to entice buyers to enter your store and look at everything you offer.
And so it is with each new release. None of us can predict with certainty which book might take off and become a big earner. But every book is another t-shirt on the rack. Another possible hook to pull passersby into your store. And as you add books to your backlist, you are incrementally filling your store, polishing your brand, and adding to your income. It’s a long haul. A slow climb, because writing books–even when you do it fast–is a slow process.
And that’s why what a book does on release isn’t nearly as important as what it does thereafter. Because once you have that book in your backlist, it’s there forever. It’s there for sales, and bundles, giveaways, and box sets. It’s there to apply for Book Bub, and spin off a new series, it’s there to put in KU, distribute wide, offer in audio, or have translated. It’s great if a book comes out with a bang, and it’s absolutely an indicator that it will be a high earner for you over time, but if it doesn’t have that momentous start? Don’t fret. Release is one day, that book will be working for you month after month, year after year, and you never know when some marketing tool will meet that book and turn it into a huge success. Bestsellers have been made out of books that have stagnated for years. There’s no telling what might happen. And worst case scenario, if it sells two copies a day for years on end, then it’s paying for the cup of coffee that helps you write new books that earn more.
In this journey, a select few are the hare, but most of us will be the tortoise. Enjoy the scenery, and keep your eye on the finish line.