Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Success Is Not A Sprint... It's A Marathon

We love success stories. The tale of how a couple wrote a lurid indie romance novel, and a year later they're paying off their mortgage, is a particular favorite. We love telling the story about how J.K. Rowling was rejected dozens of times, but when the first Harry Potter book hit the market, it exploded. Even success stories we disapprove of, like the massive success of Twilight or its offshoot 50 Shades of Grey, still fill us with a kind of awe. And envy, because if those books can do it, then why can't we?

Come on... what's a guy got to do to make a little scratch around here?
Something that we tend to forget, though, is that being an author isn't like winning the lottery. You're not looking for one, big payday. You're setting a foundation to erect a money machine that will continue long after you've written this article, that blog entry, or the other novel.

In short, you aren't running a sprint. You're gearing up for a marathon.

It Takes A Lot Of Work To Be An Overnight Success

It's possible for your first book to be a roaring success. You might get snatched up by an agent with an eye for talent, placed with a major publisher, and your book could fly off the shelves. You could get a major movie deal, and thanks to the film's success, your name is known far and wide for this one story you told.

Possible doesn't mean likely, though.

What's significantly more likely is that you'll get a dozen or more rejection letters for your book. You might finally place it with an agent, or a mid-size publisher if you're either lucky, or have connections. Barring fate and friends in the right places, you'll probably get published by a small company, or you'll do it yourself through a self-publishing platform. Then, once your book is actually available, you'll find that no bookstores will put it on their shelves. The mainstream media won't be terribly interested, unless it's a slow news week, and most of your attempts to move copies aren't going to go very well.

Even if you offer a special deal.
You'll sell some books, of course. Everyone sells a few books, but it's unlikely your first book is going to make you a lot of money without a lot of luck, or some serious marketing zeitgeist.

So what do you do when that happens? When you spent more than a year of your life to make something, and it seems no one's really interested in it? Well, you keep marketing it. You also spit on your hands, get a grip, and start working on the next project. And the next. And the next.

A funny thing happens at that point. First, you're working too hard on writing new projects to really worry about your low sales figures. Secondly, your figures are going to start going up a little at a time. That's numbers of sales, reviews, followers, and all the other metrics that matter. Why? Well, if you put one letter in a bottle, you'd be pretty unlikely to get a response. A hundred letters, though? A thousand? People are going to start to notice.

Stack Up Enough Content To Create an Avalanche

There's an old saying that goes, "the best advertisement for your recent release is your next release." That goes for authors who write stand-alone books just as surely as it does for those who write series, because when a reader decides they like your style, they will look you up by name. If you have ten books they haven't read, they'll start working their way down that list. This means that things you already had on the market get retroactively popular as you accumulate new readers.

Don't take my word for it, though.
Vincent Cross is a Chicagoland author, and fellow con rat, and in 2016 he started releasing stories of his own through Amazon's Kindle Direct platform. I asked him what his numbers looked like, and what he said was about what I expected. His best month, when his first release got rolling in November, netted him about $20 in sales. Attention fell of, though, because you can only repost a link so many times. Then, when his next piece went live, the process started all over again.

Every time, without fail, there's a scattering of older titles that pick up reads whenever a new piece hits the market. Because at least a few people who've seen the new stuff want to know more about his body of work. Speaking of which, if you're curious about that cover up above, go take a look at his most recent release The Terror From Titan. And if you like what you see, check out his Facebook page.

Endurance is The Stat That Matters In This Game

Becoming a successful author is a lot like going from being a couch potato to being a bodybuilder. It doesn't happen overnight. Worse, before you see real progress, you're going to have to deal with some serious sore muscles, and peering into the mirror for any evidence that what you're going through is having an effect. A lot of authors will quit after their first, second, or third swing gets them nowhere. Others stick it out, and when they do, something happens. They might not win the trophy, or go down in history as Mr. Universe, but they still get the physique they've been trying for. They still end up with the power, and build, and the prowess they've been working toward this whole time.

Five more pages! Don't give out on me!
If you have a huge archive of work, and you put it out there for people to see, trust me, you will find readers. You might not live in the lap of luxury, and have lines of people waiting around the block to get into your book signing, but mark my words, you'll grow a following.

And who knows? It might be the next book release, the next blog entry, or the next article that garners you widespread attention. But if you don't push for one more rep, then you'll never know.

That's all for this week's Business of Writing post. It might sound similar to what I've said before, but I think it's an important message to remember for all those authors out there discouraged by giving it their best, and getting nothing back. If you like what I'm posting, though, consider showing your support by going to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! $1 gets you my eternal gratitude, along with some sweet swag in the form of free books. Also, if you haven't followed me on Facbeook, Tumblr, and Twitter, why not start today?

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