Thursday, May 22, 2014

YOUR GARDEN SHELF

As an author I know well the frustration and concern that comes from having finished a work the best you can and putting it on the shelf only to see it collect spiderwebs.  Sure, you sell some books, but so few it feels like it was all a waste of time.
Some people even begin to suspect they are terrible at their work, that no one reads their book because its just not any good.  The lack of sales and interest is simply proof that I'm a lousy writer and should just go bury myself in a hole somewhere and eat worms!
Its hard not to compulsively check your sales data, since its so easy online these days.  Every day at least, did any sell?  That flat line on your Amazon Kindle sales can be pretty depressing:

No Sales
A month of peaceful lack of variation


I've been studying a lot on publishing and the business side of writing and its changing my perspective on sales. Instead of constantly looking at your published work desperate for sales, you should be looking at your present work and growing your "platform."
I have read from several very successful and insightful people online that you need to see your work as a garden rather than a race. Yes your first book or first couple of books might not sell much, but that's fine.
The idea goes like this: you are establishing a body of work, and that's the beginning. Do the best, most professional job you can, put your work up, and then start on the next one. Does it sell or not? That's not really the concern at this point: your garden is growing. Tend it with the proper level of promotion and effort, but don't fret how fast its selling; focus on your real job of writing.
The first book you put out there might take off, or it might not - chances are it will not, even if you have a lot of friends and family who want to buy it.  The thing to remember about books is that they're a finite product; once someone buys your book, they have one and they have no reason to buy themselves another.  This is different than most products.
When you buy a car, eventually it will wear out and you'll want or need a new one.  You might even need a second one, or grow in your family and need a bigger one.  If you buy a sandwich, eventually you'll get hungry again.  When you buy a book, unless you are really sloppy or careless, its a lifetime purchase.
So once all those people you know have your book... they're done buying.  And that can be pretty depressing too: a big spike at first, then it fades, like the profile of a dinosaur:  
But without that uptick at the end
The thing is, your book is like a seed, its in the soil of that shelf and it won't grow by you looking at it and chewing your nails.  Your bookshelf of published works is a garden; treat it as one.  Do the best work you can planting that seed on the shelf - that means well edited, well written, well plotted, well characterized, and well-formatted, with a great cover and blurb.  Get it on the shelf and let it grow.

In the mean time work to reach out to the public and present yourself as someone people want to read, make sure people are aware of your work, and be a compelling, interesting product, so people say "I like what that person says or how they think, and they wrote a book; I want to read it."
Meanwhile, keep writing.  Let that seed grow on its own.  It might grow quickly, it almost certainly will grow slowly.  In fact its most likely to not seem to be growing at all for a long time.  Let it grow and keep working.  The job for you isn't worrying about the works you've finished, its getting more out there and growing your "writer's platform."
What's a writer's platform?  Well its basically just the group of people who you know, interact with, and are a part of.  I'd do a big piece on it, but Nat Russo already did, and he did it with more experience and greater sales success than I have, so check out his series on the topic.
As you get more work out there you establish yourself as an author and you can hope to see sales pick up over time. Fretting over your one baby not selling like you want is only going to give you ulcers and depression. Work for the love of it and the joy of writing.
The thing I've seen over and over from successful authors is that the more product you have on the shelf, the more likely you are to sell.  It seems to work like this: if you just have one book out there, maybe you're just some hack who printed their own book and are no good.  But if you have 5, chances are you are a pretty good writer, and you have product worth looking at.  And the more product you have on the shelf, the more likely you are to be noticed.  Its a matter of market share, and on the internet the competition is seemingly infinite.  Your book is among the thousands put on the shelf that day on Amazon.com.
The more books you have up there the better off you'll be.  And until that happens, each book is there growing in respect and importance by its age: that has been up since 2009, each day a better chance at being noticed.  Each new book you finish and care for, the more likely they both get noticed because of your name.  Every additional book lends more attention to you.
Over time the sales will pick up if you grow your platform and keep working.  If you keep producing and keep working on your online presence, your book will grow on its own.
So don't fret, Do the best you can. Let your garden grow.