There is a ton of advice out there about how to sell the first 1,000 copies of your debut novel. So much advice that 1,000 copies became kind of a mantra of mine. If there’s all this advice, people must be doing it, right? If they can, I can.
1,000 copies became a magic number for me. At first, it sounds like a ton but when you think about the population of the United States (320 million or so) that’s only .0003%. Statisticians wouldn’t even look at a number like that as being relevant except in lottery chances.
It can’t be that hard, right?
Well… as it turns out—it is. According to my editor, 90% of self-published books will sell less than 100 copies. After I heard that, the way I looked at my book changed. It was no longer about selling the first 1,000 copies. It was about selling the first 100 copies. It was about breaking into that elite 10% of self-published authors.
This means selling one book at a time.
In some ways, this shift in mentality is extremely disheartening. I’ve spent close to $4,000 on my debut novel. To recoup that investment, I have to sell over 1,400 copies of my e-book (you see now another reason the 1,000 copies was a magic number for me). For the record, I don’t regret my investment at all because that’s precisely how I see it—an investment. Investments don’t typically return money overnight. They take time to mature, which is what I hope my novel will do. As I said in a previous post, I write because I have to. I publish to make money, but I realize that takes time. The old adage that “you have to spend money to make money” rings true. Additionally, I can’t imagine my book without my team. I didn’t simply invest in my book, I invested in talent and that’s something I’m extremely proud to have been a part of (and will continue to be a part of).
In other ways, however, thinking about selling my first 100 books is refreshing. Every single book I sell feels like a victory. Every review on Amazon brings a fresh spark to my veins. I get excited about the process all over again. It gives me the fuel to keep going. I have a feeling it won’t always be this way, so I’m trying to focus on the little things and hold this moment close. One book at a time.
When I started this blog, I promised myself I would be completely transparent with my readers. In the name of transparency, I’ll tell you it has been 3(ish) days since my book launched and I’ve sold 20 copies. All 20 have been on Amazon. Most of the 20 were to people I know, but there are a couple I can’t account for. The mystery readers are especially exciting.
I am one-fifth of the way there!
Of course, this journey is only beginning, but I want to use this blog as a place to keep track of my thoughts while they’re happening in the hopes that one day I can look back on it and smile to myself about how far I’ve come and think about how silly I was. I also hope one day others can read about this journey for what it was. I’ve had tons of people send me encouraging messages about how many times J.K. Rowling was rejected and how she struggled, but I think it would be an interesting experiment to watch the struggle in real time with a real life person who probably won’t ever be J.K. Rowling-famous. Maybe one day, if I ever make it, aspiring writers can look at this blog and know they’re not alone. Maybe even if I don’t make it, I can help one person feel less alone.
So… here are some brief thoughts for the first 20 copies of my book:
1. Facebook ads will attract “likes” but not necessarily sales. This is really bizarre to me, by the way. I posted an ad on launch day with a link to my book on Amazon and I had 24 people “like” or “love” it (95% of whom I didn’t know) and as far as I can tell, not a single sale. I’m confused who would like an ad without buying the product, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there. I haven’t completely given up on Facebook ads because well… it’s only day four, and I’ve heard they can be successful, but the early results are not convincing me.
2. The internet loves cats more than dogs. Okay, I don’t actually know how true this is, but I tweeted a picture of my dog Gabi and a picture of my cat Maia and Maia won the mini-Twitter war. This doesn’t have much to do with book sales, but I did want to mention it in the event you were considering putting an animal of some sort on your cover—pro tip: pick a cat.
3. There are people who literally Instagram pictures of books. This was something I didn’t know but is really fascinating to me. One of my friends told me I should send copies of my print version book to some IGers and see if they’d post. I was thoroughly confused. When I looked into it… my mind was blown. These photos are incredibly beautiful and strangely calming to look at, but I had no idea this was a thing.
4. People who say they’re going to buy your book probably won’t. If you’re relying on people who hear you’re writing a book and say, “I’ll definitely buy it”—don’t. Some of them will (especially friends, family and coworkers who are forced to see you every day and know you will shame them if they don’t support your work) but most of them won’t. I really thought that first 100 books would be no problem because I had at least that many Facebook friends tell me they’d buy it. All right, that’s not being entirely honest, I had maybe 40 Facebook friends tell me they’d buy it, but whatever. Not that many did. That’s okay, though. They’re mostly not my target audience anyway, and I’m building a business here as much as a book. I want readers who are in my target audience who will continue to come back for more.
5. It’s okay to be sad. Yesterday was a rough day for me. I was disheartened. I’m normally a pretty logical person but yesterday my emotions got the best of me. I knew I wouldn’t wake up on Tuesday and have sold 10,000 copies. I knew it would involve a lot of work. Everyone tells you it’s going to be tons of work—your editors, designers, other indie authors, they tell you. I told myself, over and over, but I still harbored thoughts that I was going to be the exception. When I wasn’t, I was bummed. I cried. “I worked so hard,” I whined into my pillow and to a couple close friends. “I spent so much money.” “I did everything everyone said.” (I didn’t, by the way). “I feel like a failure.”
I got a lot of advice. “It’s only been two days.” “Keep marketing.” “Tell everyone.” “There’s always a publishing house.” “Sometimes it just takes luck.” “You’ll get there eventually.” The best bit of advice I got though was: “Cry it out now. Just get it all out and then once you’re done, take some deep breaths and make the decision that you’re going to keep working at it until it IS successful.” So. Much. This.
There’s so many people in our lives who will tell us to suck it up and stop whining and put our nose to the grindstones and if “you’d just work harder” we sometimes forget we’re freaking artists. We’re spiritual, emotional, creative beings and we need to feel. We need to suffer. We need to allow ourselves to suffer. If I hadn’t suffered, I wouldn’t be where I am now. I wouldn’t have these words to share. Suffering made me a writer. Suffering is the one thing all people have in common. It’s the great connector. To block ourselves off from it is to block ourselves off from the one thing that makes us writers. So go ahead and cry. I know it’s stupid and trivial, and it feels foolish to cry over shit book sales in your first three days because there’s war in other countries and people are starving and your first world problems are nothing in comparison to the problems of many. But it’s fine. Do it. It will help refresh your creative spirit. And then when you’re done, get back to work. There’s another book to sell.