When Amazon released the Kindle in 2007, it changed publishing. It turned thousands of hopefuls into authors. Many of those authors make a good living writing nonfiction books.
Sadly, many authors do not. I work with authors every day, and the biggest error I see authors make is that they category-hop. They write a recipe book. Then a book about dog breeds. Then a book about fish. Next, they try the self-help category.
They make a few sales, but they could be selling many more books… if they wrote in series.
The biggest opportunity in nonfiction books: series
A series gives you a chance to brand a name;
A series increases your visibility;
A series gives you an opportunity to build a readership; and
with the right series, you can build a great income.
Popular series: think Chicken Soup
Chicken Soup for the Soul was a early-1990s self-published book which turned into a bestseller. These days, it’s an entire conglomerate, which not only publishes books, but also sells pet food and makes movies. That’s what I mean by a brand. 🙂
At this stage, very few authors think longterm. They think about the ebook they’re writing now, worry about their ebook sales, and think about the other ebooks they hope to publish.
Think Chicken Soup. If you hit the right series, you can turn it into an empire.
Is it easy? Heck no. Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected many times, but Jack Canfield believed in the book. Over the years, there are endless stories about how tirelessly he worked to push Chicken Soup for the Soul. According to his website, there are now 123 million copies of the book in print.
Toss your hat into the ring: you never know what will succeed
As you may know, I coach writers. I love it, because I love writers and writing. However, it can be frustrating when I see writers make the same mistakes I made. Here’s one of my biggest mistakes.
Early in my career, I spent way too much time waiting for my editor and agent to get back to me. Finally I dumped my publishing house, and my agent, and struck out on my own. No, that wasn’t the mistake.
The mistake was waiting. I waited around for others to do stuff, instead of writing, and I listened to others, instead of believing in myself, and taking risks. These days, I believe in myself. I know that if I make a mistake, it’s just feedback on something that didn’t work, and the mistake is MINE. After suffering through others’ mistakes instead of taking control, I’m proud to take the blame when things don’t work out.
Don’t wait. Write, and sell.
As soon as you finish one book, write another nonfiction book on the same topic. And then another one. And another. By the time your third ebook in the series has been published, you’ll have some idea whether you’re making enough sales.
Trust yourself: what do YOU think?
Let’s say you’ve written four books in a series. You’re selling ten copies a week. That’s not a huge amount. On the other hand, you haven’t done any promotion yet. Now it’s up to you. Consider that you have FOUR ebooks.
Create a bundle, so that you have FIVE books in the series;
Make one of your ebooks permanently free;
Create audio books out of the ebooks;
Create print books from your ebooks;
Create a mailing list…
I could go on, but you get the message. Once you have three or four books in a series, even if they’re only short ebooks, you can make a splash. If you want to…
On the other hand, perhaps you think that the topic you’ve covered doesn’t have an audience which is eager for your ebooks. In that case, let the series lie fallow for a few months. Do a little promotion, but focus on writing your next series.
A series gives you options that you don’t have when you write standalones
One of my students wrote 20 ebooks, on 20 different topics. When you write standalones, it’s a real challenge to build a following. I encouraged him to turn his bestselling standalone into a series.
Just three months later, he’s selling 100 ebooks a week. That’s not enough to make his fortune, but it’s showing him the value of writing in series.
Although the halcyon days of the Kindle gold rush are over, self-publishing still provides great rewards, even for a brand new author.
Just a few days ago a jubilant author who’s been writing for less than a year sent me an email message with a screen clip. In the first 18 days of November, her two books (I promised not to mention the genre) earned over a thousand dollars. At the rate her sales and KENPC are going, I can see her doubling that thousand within a few weeks.
Until November, her books were selling just a few copies a month. Then they took off.
Self-publishing is STILL a goldmine, if…
Why did her books suddenly take off? She’s been doing all the usual things like building a list, and spending a little money on Facebook ads. Mostly, the gods alone know, but two things she did are clever.
Here they are:
She’s writing in a very popular genre, and is following genre tropes which readers love;
She’s writing a series.
So let’s look at some self-publishing tricks especially for new authors. Established authors can learn from them too.
One thing I should mention… if you’re a new author: be patient. Overnight successes can take quite a few nights until they happen.
1. Write in a popular genre: the more readers, the more potential sales
Pay attention to your genre. Popular genres like romance, with all its sub-genres, have masses of readers who love to read, and are hungry for new books and authors.
What if your favored genre has few readers?
That’s OK. As long as you believe in yourself (see the fifth tip), and write characters YOU love, keep going. Who knows, you might be an author who drags your genre out of obscurity. 🙂
If you can’t — you’re not sure how to turn a book into a series, or your mind doesn’t click and go hey, this world could support a series… Write short stories.
I love writing short stories for the marketing benefits, and also because I can play with many different worlds and characters. Most of my novels had their seed in a previous short story.
3. A little marketing really does help: it can be minimal
Whenever I mention “marketing” new authors have lots of objections. They don’t know how, they don’t want to blog, etc.
As I’ve always said, a little marketing can go a long way. You needn’t spend hours on it. A few minutes a day is fine.
4. Use your back matter to promote your books: add an excerpt
Use the back matter of your books to promote other books.
I’m always amazed when I mention this to authors (established authors, as well as newbies) and discover that they aren’t doing it, because it’s so simple.
When you’ve written the second book in a series, edit Book 1 to include the first scene or two of Book 2 in the back matter. Also at the end of Book 2, mention “Book 3 coming soon” and add a link to your website or Facebook page.
When Book 3 comes out, edit Book 2, to provide an except of Book 3 in the back matter. And so on and so forth.
It takes just 20 minutes to edit a book, and republish it.
5. Believe in yourself: write in a genre which is fun for you
Which genres of fiction do you read for fun? If you’re not reading a genre with pleasure, you’re unlikely to be able to write successfully in that genre. Your reading tells you what readers of the genre want.
When your writing is FUN for you, it’s likely to be fun for readers, as well. Please don’t torture yourself, trying to write in a genre which bores you, or which you actively dislike. It won’t work.
(Bonus tip) Avoid freebies and 99 cent ebooks
“Free” isn’t a guarantee of anything, least of all readers. Today, readers have so many freebies offered to them that they no longer trust “free.” They tend to look on 99 cent ebooks as trash too.
If you’re uncertain about pricing, price at the upper levels of the indie authors in your genre.