Who Is Russell Blake?
This advice comes from Russell Blake. So, before we roll up our sleeves and get into the nitty-gritty of advice giving and, perhaps, taking, let's see who this guy is. Russell writes:
By way of background, I write conspiracy-based action/adventure novels. I published my first novel on Amazon June, 2011. I published my 20th novel in April, 2013. My first month I sold about 7 books. In 2013, from the start of the year to today, May 7, I have sold just shy of 100K books, and look good to exceed 200K for the year by a decent margin. I do not sell books at .99, or $2.99, or $3.99. The vast majority of my titles are $5-$6. I lay this out there not to crow, but to establish why it might be worth considering my approach.That means Russell has published 20 novels in 23 months. Wow. Just wow.
But, how much money has he made? Russell has sold 100k books at, say, $5 each. Let's say he gets 70% of that, so that's about $3.50 a book. $3.50 times 100k is $350,000. Divide that by 23 months and we get an average income of just over 15k a month. Nice!
Looks like Russell Blake knows what he's talking about, so let's check out what he has to say. How'd he sell 15k worth of books a month?
Russell Blake On How To Sell A LOT Of Books
1. Pick a genre you know and stick with it.
If you want to write different genres, use a pseudonym, and if you like, let your readers know that moniker is you. But stick to one name, one genre, because you're building your brand, and brand building is a function of clarity - clearly communicating what you do, and what your product is.
2. Write a series
Why? Because readers like series, and you want to give readers what they like. Or you won't sell as much. You can try stand-alone - I have - but my series outsell my stand-alone books 4 to 1. Once you have at least three books in the series, make the first one free. Make your money on the rest, but give readers a whole novel to decide whether they like you or not.Also see: How to use the power of permanently free books to increase sales.
3. Write at least 3 novels a year: Momentum breeds success
Don't bother with short stories or novellas (40K or under) if you're writing fiction (non-fiction might do better) unless it's erotica or your name is Hugh. If fiction, write 60-90K installments in your series, and release them AT MINIMUM every four months. Every three months would be better. Every two, better still. Momentum breeds success, and readers have short memories. The current market is a hungry animal, and you need to feed it, or risk being forgotten by the time your next one releases.That goes against what I had thought, that writing novels in series would be the most profitable because you would sell each book in the series and you'd get the revenue from bundling the books and selling them as a whole. Also, you can write a novella faster than a novel.
But, hey, there's no arguing with success, and Russell Blake has been very successful.
4. Read. A lot.
To write well, you need to read things that are well-written, and that serve to inspire you to greater heights or provide insight on how to improve your work in some way. You are what you eat. If you aren't reading a decent amount, start, because otherwise you're unlikely to write nearly as well as if you do.I've never read a successful author talk about writing who didn't say this.
5. Write at least 1000 words a day
Allocate time every day to write, and be disciplined. I suggest minimum one hour per day, or 1000 words. I actually ignore that and shoot for 5000-7000 a day when writing a novel, but that's just my approach, and it's not for everyone. My point is that you must be disciplined about your writing and develop that muscle. If you don't make it a habit, you won't write enough to put out one novel every four months, and you'll already be way behind the curve.
6. Write 75%, Market 25%
I recommend a 75%/25% writing to marketing mix. So spend an hour writing every day, and fifteen-twenty minutes marketing (social media, blogging, interviews, message boards ...). Two hours writing, half hour to forty minutes marketing. And so on.That's a sane approach. And if you want to market more you can, just write more.
7. Stay off the internet when you write
Set aside the writing time, and do only that. Leave placeholders for stuff you need to research later (XXX city is Y distance from ZZZ city, etc.). Stopping your writing to research breaks your momentum. Don't do it. Checking your e-mail, checking in with your facebook group, reading a tweet - none of these are going to write your book for you, so stop it already.
8. Get professional help to publish your books
Do pro covers. It's the first thing your potential readers will see. ... Get pro editing. You are asking people to pay for your product. They won't, and shouldn't, if you haven't ensured it is a pro product, which means it must be edited and proofread. If you're too cheap or too broke to pay an editor, barter something of value to get someone qualified to do it ...
9. Have a great product description
After your cover, the product description has to sell the book. Don't give too much info, don't spell out the plot like it's a test. Give the high points that will interest a reader in knowing more.Trying to summarize your story in one sentence can help with this.
10. Make the first five pages amazing
You've got five pages to hook the reader, make those the best five pages you've ever written.
11. Know your audience before you write your book
Do a bit of market research and get to know your audience. Russell writes:
You do that by reading a fair amount in the genre, and by looking at the reviews of your competitors/the bestsellers in your genre. If you're writing for a genre that's 90% cat ladies, you need to know that going in. If mostly older males, know that too. Teen girls, ditto. Whatever your audience, figure it out before you start writing. Do a little research. It will pay dividends later.
12. Dream big
Turn your name into a brand. Russell writes:
As an example, Dan Brown is synonymous with a genre Umberto Eco pioneered with Foucault's Pendulum - the theology-based conspiracy treasure hunt. Nowadays, when readers try to articulate that, they say "it's a Dan Brown kind of book." You should live so long, but make that your goal.
13. Price competitively
Look at your genre. Where are most books priced? Are you undervaluing/underpricing your work? Price to sell, but don't go cheap, no matter what Locke or Hocking did years ago. Use low prices occasionally to move product, as promotional pricing. But price your product consistently with the rest of your peers. Over time, you can increase prices, if your product warrants it and your readership is willing to pay it. My advice here is don't price too low, or too high.
14. Always strive to improve. Always be learning.
15. As you get better, rewrite and republish your old work.
16. Keep in mind that each of your books could be a reader's first impression of you, so make each book your best.
17. When you write think like a writer but when you sell your books think like a business person
In the book selling business, saccharine bromides of "just go for it" and "follow your dream" are about as useful as a bowling ball to a fish. Writing is art and self-expression, something beautiful and intensely personal. Book selling is a commercial enterprise. Confuse the two, and you hurt any chances you have of success, if success to you means selling a bunch of books.
19. If you want to excel you have to do more and you can't give up
Look at what the average person does in their first year, and their second. That's average. It ain't pretty. If you want to be different than average in a good way, you need to do something better/different, and you need to make your own luck. Don't get bummed because you haven't been an overnight sensation. I sold $300 of novels in November, 2011, after six months of 15 hour days and seven releases. In December, 2011, I released five novels I'd been working on for months, to create a massive Xmas surge. I leaped to $1450. With a dozen books out. That's not exactly a ton for the big Xmas season. But I continued writing as though my work was in hot demand. And I kept investing in my product, losing money, until it turned the corner and I started making real money in Jan of 2012.
20. You have to promote your books
Book selling is a retail business, and retail businesses are promotions intense. You're only going to be as good as your last, and next, promotion. Promotions are a necessary fact of life in retail. You have to generate noise - the product won't do it by itself. There are millions of books out there. Yours are just more books. Figure out how to get some visibility. I won't advise you on how - there are plenty of 'experts' that will charge you $5 for a book on what worked two years ago. Simply put, it's constantly changing, so you need to experiment and push the envelope, share information with others and stay ahead of the curve. But if you aren't promoting, you're stalling. In business you're either shrinking, or growing. If you aren't promoting, chances are you aren't growing.I think it's pretty uncontroversial that after you have 10 or so books out on the market it's a good idea to invest in some sort of promotion. Joe Konrath recommends BookBub.com and ebookbooster.com.
21. Have a business plan
[E]valuate what it will likely take to get where you want to go, and then calculate what it will cost - in time, effort, money. If you can't afford whatever that is, then you either need to scale back your goal, or you need to increase what you're willing to invest of yourself and your resources.
22. Be yourself
Your readers will spot insincerity and be turned off. Be yourself. There are billions of people in the world. No matter who you are or what you're like, there are going to be a few thousand like you; all you have to do is find them.
23. Keep records
Keep track of what worked and what didn't.
26. Write the next book
Having said all this, your best chance of making it is always writing your next book. You should always be working on the next one, and the next, and the next. Nobody ever succeeded by quitting. So if you're going to do this, do it, stop whining, suck it up, and get to work.Excellent advice!
The material I've quoted comes from Russell Blake's post on the Kindle boards, How To Sell Loads of Books - My Approach. FYI, Russell also has a similar post up on his website: How To Sell Loads Of Books.
Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for talking about Russell Blake's post.
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Photo credit: "Cheek" by daita under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.