author book sales

Climbing the Self-Publishing Mountain

(part of this blurb is a recent response to Editor/Author Philip Newey on Goodreads (

New Note: Hundreds of self-published writers on Goodreads and other author sites report the same phenomenon regarding book sales: erratic, meager and disappointing. Most remain hopeful that, one day, their creations will float to the top. Meanwhile they keep writing because writing is their passion and because the conventional wisdom is, ‘the more books you have on Amazon, the more sales you’ll get’.

But how many more is the question? (I love starting out a sentence with a conjunction – it’s so defiant! It should become a convention) Most writers, it seems to me, just keep doing what they’re doing – writing and hoping – and making a living in other ways. The problem before the advent of Amazon was writers had to have the approval of the gatekeepers – the big New York City publishing firms. Now that this entry ticket is no longer necessary and that self-publishing is now a means to connect directly to an audience, the even bigger problem is that there is a sea of good writers out there and, coupled with the fact that nearly everyone has instantaneous access to Amazon, Barnes & Noble and a myriad of other book-sellers, it’s a marathon for every writer to break through the “noise” and to sell himself/herself (let’s be politically correct here Mr. Trump, assuming you are reading this) to an audience that, on average, I’m guessing, might spend three to seven seconds on the author’s site/ad/tweet before making the decision to “click” to somewhere else.

Artists in France had a similar problem in the 18th and 19th Centuries. If you were not connected with the “Salon” (beginning in 1667 the Salon was the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Between 1748 and 1890 it was the greatest annual or biennial art event in the Western world – Wikepedia), your art career was heading to no-where. And if you were lucky, or well-connected, and if your work was accepted by the then gods of the art world, you likely had to conform to their tastes, aesthetics and politics. Huge and distasteful compromises – the very thing that most good artists, writers and musicians – all artists really – hate. For instance, the everyday, common-man-type subjects for painting such as a woman bathing in a river – unless she was a Greek goddess – surely would have been rejected, until the Impressionist school emerged. Imagine if Monet had been born one hundred years earlier! Or Van Gogh?


Personally, I think that Amazon with its huge profits should “foot the bill” to develop its own “Author Discovery Investigative Department”. Without the writers, where would Amazon be? Amazon should develop a panel of educators, lawyers, bakers and machine shop workers, and others from across multi-communities – who it pays to read and rate (grade if you will) all of the books on it’s site on their merits, not on their sales ratings. Right now, Amazon provides readers with sales ratings and reader recommendations — and that’s fine. Sure, that kind of creation would spark much controversy and moaning, etc. But it would be better that what exists now!

I believe there are many fine books out there in the modern-day ocean of books that will never really rise to the top – or rise at all – because their authors are writers, not e-commerce wonders. The burgeoning self-publishing industry needs more professionalism – right now it’s too much of a hodgepodge – a hit or miss potluck for people who put their heart and soul into their creations only to watch helplessly over the years as their work wallows in the oblivion into which it was born.


Well, that said, here’s the initial message to Philip Newey:

“I publish through CreateSpace and, while sales have been meager, my footprint is growing all the time – it definitely takes a lot of time and effort. I’ve learned so much about self-publishing and that in itself is invaluable as you can then write about your experiences and help other authors. I went with one small publisher for my first book and was unhappy with the results and finally made the necessary improvements myself. Self-publishing, for me at least, is the best way to go. I have nearly complete control over my work but it takes a major commitment. I suspect that is the hard part for many who want to go the self-publishing route. It’s great to have a lot of book sales but writers must remember that book sales aren’t the measure of good writing. Look at Melville’s Moby Dick – it was not a commercial success in his lifetime and critics trashed it when it first came out. The problem now as compared with then – 1850s – is that there is an ocean of good writing out there and writers these days have to be good at self-promotion to get noticed but then getting noticed isn’t enough, is it? No, they must have audiences who buy their work. Writers write because that’s who they are. Actors act because that’s who they are and most of them have other jobs. Historically writers have always struggled to do what they do because they need an audience to survive unless – like Tolstoy – they are already wealthy.”

The following are re-printed example comments – there are many similar expressions -from Goodread’s authors about self-publishing. The names are omitted.

  1. “I just had to share this because I think all writers can relate. I certainly do. Through the course of over a decade of journalism, readers have begged me for “a book”. I finally wrote fiction for them, offered the intro and few chapters for free – no responses. I even posted the free download option here, in this group, but it is either lost in the ether or no one has looked at it.
    This led me to the age-old question of, ” Why did people ask me to do it if they didn’t want to even download it for free and read it. Is there something I am missing?”
  2. “I understand the frustrations of being a self published indie author and can relate to not only your statement but what is written in the link.
    It all comes down to being heard in a sea of voices and also understanding that when people talk about wanting to support your work and asking for you to do something for them, talk is cheap.
    For a majority of people, if it requires any effort at all, even clicking a link and then downloading etc, well, so many people have better things to do.
    So what is the answer? Marketing marketing marketing, then you can raise your head above the average sea level just a bit. Then, if you are lucky, enough people will see your head bobbing on the water.”
  3. “I think a lot of it has to do with that now there is the internet, people are being flooded with so much information daily. It is constant. There are all kinds of things to read. There are 2 million ebooks on Amazon, all wanting to be the top, to have a career like J.K. Rowling has.I do believe that the more persistent you are, the more you push, the more it will work. People want to feel engaged and personal too. A good friend of mine who is a new york businessman, once taught me that if you stand on the street and talk to people, you have more luck selling your craft, because they feel a part of what you have created…there is something about meeting a real life author.It can take a lifetime for a person’s work to be acknowledged. Even though we are bombarded with successful celebrities and how rich and important they are, art is a journey that requires your commitment and unwavering passion for decades. You have to keep showing people and convince them that they will feel moved by your creations, and entice them into the possibility.
    It helps to connect with those who are passionate in the same genres that you are too, that is a journey as well.But I think that if you don’t see this as a goal to be successful with fame and money, and see it as a journey of art instead, and connecting with others as an author and artist, it will feel less defeating and more elevating and inspiring. Essentially, you are an entertainer, a muse, channelling fantasies and emotions, experiences and memories for others.”
  4. “I’m going through this right now. My debut novel (novel title omitted) went on sale just over a month ago. Sales are poor, and I’m floundering.”
  5. “I agree with much of what BB has to say, especially regarding the glut of book choices out there, and the prospect for a continued glut in the future. As a newbie that does not even have an author page yet (will have within two weeks), you can take what I have to say with a grain of salt.As a new author, business geek, and entrepreneur I have been researching the self publishing industry for close to two months now prior to the release of my debut novel. Included in that research are comments made in posts in this awesome support group, as well as others. Many times I read about the lamenting of new authors that they published with little time spent, and knowledge of, how to market. It makes sense that there are probably many new authors out there that have had little or no training in sales and marketing. I think in many cases there is often a rush to publish, and who can blame a new author’s anxiety for wanting to get their work out there. I am chomping at the bit myself. Someone in our group put it nicely as “premature publication”. Some in these groups have also indicated that they do not have the money/resources to invest in promotion/marketing.So far, my research has found that the keys to a successful launch should include: 1) professional editing, 2) professionally designed book cover, 3) a posted summary or “blurb” that is enticing, 4) author web site, and 5) email lists/social platforms. I think it is a great advantage when readers are allowed to develop an affinity with the author, as in BB’s example above “feeling part of what you created”. I am sure there are cases of successful launches that do not contain the components listed above, but I would be willing to wager they are few and far between.It is also my belief from the research I’ve done that content is king and making your content new, different, creative, and distinguishable from the rest of the pack in your genre will give you a much better chance to succeed.
  6. “Very interesting discussion.
    I published my first book, (title omitted) in December. I was so pleased and proud and thought that was the hard part was over.. how naive!! Doing all the promotion solo is hard work and it can be frustrating, after spending so long perfecting your labour of love, to find it lost among the vast number of books available in a few clicks.
    The internet is a double-edged sword – in one way it’s harder than ever to get your book noticed; in another there have never been so many opportunities for would-be authors, thanks to online communities such as goodreads and being able to connect to writers and bloggers across the world. I do love the fact publishing a book is open to anyone, regardless of background or having the right contacts.
    … it can take a lifetime for a person’s work to be acknowledged. Recommendations play a massive part in people’s choice of book, and I do think word of mouth still plays its part. That is something that progresses slowly, yet we live in a culture that is all about instant gratification. If we aren’t selling shedloads of copies in the first few weeks and splashed across Twitter it feels disheartening, yet perhaps we should keep in mind that most books are there to be absorbed slowly, enjoyed and appreciated – then, and only then, recommended to a friend.
    I’ll continue to actively promote but also try to stay realistic – without a massive marketing budget, I’m counting on word of mouth, which will not happen overnight.



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