September 23, 2014
How Does Author Visibility Affect Book Sales?
Before we get into visibility, let’s talk about invisibility and how great it is. Animals have been using invisibility in one form or another for a long time: moths, butterflies, snakes, caterpillars, chameleons, octopuses, lots of fish, and many others. (For a picture of an unbelievable stick caterpillar, check out this post on Invisible Characters.) To these animals, being invisible isn’t an option—it’s for survival.
Humans have a different take on invisibility.
I still remember when I was 8 years old and I saw The Invisible Man for the first time. The movie starred Claude Rains, and man was it great. It gave me months—hell, maybe years—of pleasure, dreaming of things I could do if I were invisible. I even wondered if it was possible to someday turn invisible, and I dreamt of becoming a scientist to figure out a way to accomplish that.
And then my dad ruined it all by telling me there weren’t any invisible people—and there never would be. I can’t say that I blamed him; I think he grew tired of me pretending he couldn’t see me when I was right in front of him.
Okay, that was 50 years ago, and now I am invisible. And you know what? I don’t like it one bit.
What The Hell Do You Mean?
Just what I said. I’m invisible. As an author that is.
The problem is that authors don’t want to be invisible. In fact, unlike the animals discussed above, our survival depends on the opposite—visibility.
When you’re an author, you want everyone to know you’re there. Like a hunter wearing orange during deer season, or a crossing guard with their yellow coats or vests.
According to Bowker, 500,000 new books will be published in 2015. I’ll save you the trouble of doing the math—that’s almost 42,000 books per month. And that doesn’t count the millions of books already for sale. So how the hell are readers going to find you among the masses?
I have news for you…
There Is No Cure For Invisibility…
Except money. Or publicity. Or word of mouth. Or a number of other things that might make you and your book go viral.
When one of the big publishers has an author or a book that they feel has a shot at the bestseller list, they pour money into it. They send out hundreds if not thousands of ARCs (Advanced Review Copies); they place advertisements in the major media centers; and they arrange for reviews at the big papers and magazines. Oh, and they pay for those books to be quite visible in the bookstores, with front-of-store placement, books turned sideways on the shelves, and posters in the windows.
All of that is fine, and it does work, but only for the select few who are deemed worthy of receiving that level of advertising budget. For the peons, and for indie authors, none of those options are feasible. It’s up to us to make a splash, and usually with little or no budget.
But The Problem Is Deeper Than That
Most indie authors believe they have a quick cure for invisibility. They think that if they Tweet about their books endlessly that readers will respond. Or if they post countless times on Facebook, that readers will decide they should buy the books. Or if they put enough images of book covers on Pinterest that someone will pay attention.
This kind of activity will not prompt readers to buy your books. It might, however, convince them not to buy. The sad news is that there is no quick fix for invisibility. None.
Yes, you might get lucky and have Amazon or Apple pick your book to feature, gaining you tens of thousands of readers instantly. Or you might be spotted by an agent or publisher and offered a sweetheart traditional deal. But chances are you won’t. And chances are that nothing you do regarding social media will make enough difference to sell more than a handful of books.
How Do You Sell Books?
The only true and tried method I know of is to write great books, and keep writing them. Don’t stop after the first one and think you’ll sell a gazillion books. And don’t stop after the second or third or fourth book either. You have to keep going. It takes a lot of books to build a following. And every one has to be as good as the first, if not better.
The big-name authors you see at the top of the bestseller lists didn’t get there by being overnight successes. Most of them were still struggling after their fifth or sixth or even tenth book. Look at two of the best-selling indie authors—Russell Blake and Melissa Foster. They were both doing pretty darn good, but it wasn’t until recently that sales exploded. And by that time both of them had more than 20 books published. If they had quit after writing five books, they would have never seen this level of success.
Am I Saying You Have to Write 20 Books?
No. But the chances of striking gold with your first or second novel is equivalent to hitting the lottery. My suggestion is to stop worrying about sales. Stop spending so much time on social media. And keep writing good books. That is the one method that works more than any other.
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He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”