1. You Just Don't Know
If traditional publishers don't know which book will sell, neither do you. You might have studied the trends, researched your competition, created the best, most polished book. You got a great cover and wrote an awesome product description. You hired the entire slew of editors. Your last book in this series sold like snow cones in a hot summer day, but this particular book isn't moving.
Meanwhile, the short story you dug out of your slush pile, the one you wrote for your mother when she was having a bad day, the one you thought should never hit the light of day, but your friends wanted you to join their boxed set on Mother's Day stories, so you give it a look-over, proofread it, dash together a hasty cover by downloading a stock photo and typing a few words on it, upload it with a dedication to your mama. That one's screaming up the charts. What's that about?
2. It Doesn't Last
You had an awesome Bookbub ad. You hit the charts. Yay! Bestseller status. You took the screenshots to prove your book was sub-100-ranked on Amazon. Not just a subcategory, but the entire freaking store! You bring out the champagne. Update your covers to say "Bestselling Author" and ride the wave.
Only... two weeks later, your book is back in the slimepits. All the hundreds and thousands of new readers who were supposed to leave glowing reviews never materialized. As for follow-on sales for the next book of your series? Where are they? You tear your hair out and apply for ads from every site you can think of. My book is a bestseller two weeks ago. Why isn't it selling? You ask you author friends for leads. Which ad should I buy? Which book blast? Should I go on a blog tour?
Hate to break it to you, but your 15 minutes of fame is just that. It's the entertainment industry. You're an entertainer. The public is always looking at the latest viral hit. What to do? Remember to save your money. Save it and don't project your earnings and quit your job. No, really. Even consistent bestselling authors can drop off the charts. REAL QUICK. Think back to who the kindle superstars were last year, or the year before? I'm not naming names, but go back and make a list. Now, look up their sales ranks. Where are they?
3. No One Else Knows
We're always asking each other: Does this work? Should I advertise here or there? Which cover of mine is better, A or B? Can you tell me if my blurb works or not? Which genre is the hottest? Do you think my space vampires steampunk zombies BDSM billionaire stepbrother romance mashup will work? What keywords should I use? And thanks to the friendliness of most indie authors who love to share, you'll find thousands of blog posts just like this one to tell you what works or what doesn't work. Remember. They don't know or if they knew, it only applies to them. Yes, really. More specifically, it only applies to that particular book at that particular time.
Once, long ago, I wrote a post about how I ran a free giveaway on Amazon for Broken Build and got tons of downloads. Then my book sold like wildfire the next week and months after that. That was 2012. That was a particular time, a particular book, a particular stroke of luck.
While it's great to sit around the kindleboards and chat about what works or doesn't work, the caveat should be like with mutual funds: "Past performance does not guarantee future results." Or even stricter: "One book in one place at one time's performance does not guarantee future results."
4. You Can't Keep Up with the Jones
Really. You can't even keep up with yourself, as points 1-2 show. But the truth is, we look at others as a gauge to our success. Sales ranking is comparative, so is author ranking, so are the NY Times and USA Today lists. We can't help but compare ourselves to other writers. That's human nature. However, if you can't even keep up with yourself, how the heck are you going to keep up with millions of other writers out there? You. Will. Drive. Yourself. Crazy.
Sadly, this 'driving yourself crazy' disease is rearing its ugly head among authors I know and care about. It's destroying their motivation to create art. It's making them question themselves about whether they're cut out for this or not. It's heaping loads of self-doubt over their head and sucking the joy out of their lives. Literally. To the point of not just quitting writing, but sinking into a crazy quilt of depression. And it's not just authors who haven't "made it." No, no, no. It's authors I greatly admire who outsell me by bazillions. Who write books I like to read and have fans who'll miss them. It's authors who have made a name for themselves. Why?
Because of points #1 and #2. You don't know and it doesn't last. Even if you hit the NY Times bestselling list. Even if you are one of the superstars of 2014, you are one book away from oblivion. Yes. That's true, IF you are comparing yourself to others. There's always going to be that book about space vampires steampunk BDSM billionaires that's going to surprise the world and blow up your carefully crafted series with the bazillion brothers, sisters, cousins, and the entire state of Virginia family saga for the #1 position. It came from nowhere! And you, my goodness, you slaved and slaved for twenty hours a day, you wrote your fingers to the bone, and you can barely open your eyes and drag yourself to your laptop one minute longer, and blammo. That book beat yours! You've lost the brass ring, the lucky charm, the golden crown. You're a HAS-BEEN!!! Ahhhh... kill me now!
5. Enjoy the Journey.
The best thing I learned is to set your own definition of success and enjoy the journey: writing, connecting, and making friends. I love to create new characters and tell stories. And I love meeting people whether in person or across the world over the internet. And yes, I write so I can be read. What writer doesn't want to be read? Everyone wants recognition or a pat on the back or even someone to scream, "I hated your characters. Kill them off." Who wants to yell into a vacuum? I mean, if a book is unread, does it mean it doesn't exist? So do what you have to get discovered. Write lots of books, hang out, socialize, and take feedback. Then let it go. You can only affect how well you can be discovered, not whether you'll be read.
Meanwhile, crave the company of your fellow travelers, relish in the delight of talking to readers, and most importantly, LOVE to write. That's how you got into this gig in the first place. Recapture that feeling of putting words on the page, and revel in the lives of your characters. After all, YOU are the artist. YOU can make a HAPPY ENDING. So go ahead, make those moments and savor the journey.
That collage I have up top? Those are my rewards. Those people and others are the gems I picked up along the way of self publishing, and I treasure every one of them. Yes, I have books, and I have sales, and I have moments of glory, and bestseller status, and income to pay taxes on, and awards, and fan clubs, and book signings and all the other perks of being a writer. But at the end of the day, it's the relationships that matter. Between you and yourself, you and your characters, you and your readers, and you and your friends and family. That is what I learned after four years of self-publishing.
How about you? Please add your comments of what you've learned and what's important to you.
Rachelle Ayala is a bestselling Asian American author of dramatic romantic suspense and humorous, sexy contemporary romances. Her heroines are feisty and her heroes hot. She writes emotionally challenging stories but believes in the power of love and hope.
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Books by Rachelle Ayala
Jewells in Love
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