Lessons Learned from 1000 Books

Nat Russo Marketing, Necromancer, Publishing 128 Comments

**Updated May 10, 2016**

Having sold more than 1000 copies of Necromancer Awakening (my bestselling dark fantasy novel, now available on Amazon), I’d like to share some of my lessons learned about independent publishing. 

Some of them will delight you. Others will disturb you. I believe many will surprise you. Beware…many an exclamation mark lurks ahead.

One of my minions at work on social networking

 
[Update – January 10, 2015: This article was posted less than a month after Necromancer Awakening was published. In the interests of transparency, nine months after publication, that sales number is somewhere around 20k and climbing (not including 2.5k I gave away for free).]

Having a Platform – Every  Bit as Important As You’ve Been Told It Is

A year into writing Necromancer Awakening, back in 2011, I began hearing a phrase more and more: “If you’re going to be a successful writer, you’d better have a platform.” At the time, I wouldn’t have known a platform if someone had stapled a rejection letter to one and smacked me with it.
 
What is a platform? In simple terms, it’s a means to reach a large number of people in a short period of time. The big traditional publishing houses have this ability already. They have connections. They have marketing departments. They have resources!
 
You don’t. Embrace the knowledge that a platform is going to help your writing career and get started building one. It’s not too late, even if your book is already published! 

Look, this isn’t about turning the crank on a machine. It’s not about gaming some system to gain an advantage. It’s about fulfilling your passion! It’s about being you. Genuinely you! Look deep inside and discover who you really are, then share that person with the world. That’s how you’ll build your platform.

[Update – May 10, 2016: I get questions from time to time as to why I keep pointing people to this article, given its age. For one thing, the information is just as valid today as it was then. And secondly, it’s a historic record. When the industry inevitably changes, this will be a point of reference to see how much things have changed. As for sales of Necromancer Awakening: while sales are slower now than they were in 2014, they remain consistent in large part because of my platform.] 

Advertising is Not Your Friend

How many books have you bought as a result of seeing a commercial or a random Tweet/status update with a link? I’m willing to bet it’s not many. So what makes you think other readers are going to buy your book based on an advertisement?

Here’s some anecdotal evidence from my own experience: During the week Necromancer Awakening was published, I tweeted links to the Amazon store incessantly (ok…by “incessantly”, I mean twice per hour). That’s unusual for me. I usually only tweet links to helpful content with that kind of frequency. 

And I paid for it. Sales were dismal. I mean horrible. When they struck bottom, they started digging. Other authors’ sales would follow my sales around…but only out of morbid curiosity. My sales set low personal standards, and then consistently failed to achieve them. Get the picture? 🙂 

I had to slap myself. This couldn’t continue. So I took stock of what led me to writing and blogging to begin with: helping people improve their craft. Not selling books! It was never about selling books for me! As soon as I realized this, I went back to what I had been doing for two years: I went back to being a content provider, first and foremost. I slashed the number of book ads I was tweeting and went back to blogging and mentoring.

Sales rocketed. And by rocketed, I mean they leaped from 3/day to over 70/day, where they’ve remained ever since. Necromancer Awakening climbed onto three different Amazon bestseller lists and raced up to the top 10 on each.

All with minimal advertising.

If you’re going to advertise anything at all, advertise the fact that you’re providing content people may find helpful. If they find you interesting and helpful, they will seek out your work. I promise.

[UPDATE 5/3/2014] It occurred to me that it may help if I showed you all a screenshot of my KDP sales report screen for April, just to drive this point home. So here goes…

 

Notice the spike on April 21st? That’s the day I stopped the aggressive ad campaign!

 

The Power of Social Proof

The concept of “social proof” isn’t a new one, but it is interesting to consider. It’s the basis for why book reviews work. It’s the basis behind bestseller lists, hit lists, Hot 100 lists, popular deals, fan favorites, “customers who bought this item also bought…”, and on and on.
 
Put simply, people may not jump off a bridge if their friends tell them to, but they will jump off that bridge if their friend goes first and then talks about how much fun the fall was.
 
Make your audience part of your success. No…strike that. You wouldn’t have success in the first place if it weren’t for your audience. There’s no “making” to be done! Let your audience experience your success. Let them experience your happiness! Don’t be afraid to let your feelings show. If you’re giddy because your book just went from #93 to #92 on a bestseller list, share it!
 
I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Remember those book reviews I mentioned? I started searching for advance readers months before Necromancer Awakening was published. I gave each of them a copy of the final edition and asked them to write a review. By the time my publication date arrived, I had 7 reviews ready to go, 6 of which were 5-star reviews, and 1 of which was a 4-star review.
 
Reviews matter, regardless of what the naysayers claim. I’m contacted every day on Twitter by people who were on the fence about trying my book until they read the reviews. Reviews work.

[UPDATE 5/7/2014] I recently learned, in David Gaughran’s book Let’s Get Visible: How to Get Noticed and Sell More Books, that not only do reviews work, they’re directly related to your position on Amazon’s various “Popularity” lists! A high position on your genre’s popularity list will lead to more sales, which leads to a higher position on your genre’s Bestseller list! So roll up your sleeves and get those reviews!

 
Oh, and by the way, bad reviews help too. You read that right. A bad review that is well-written will bring focus to your audience. People who probably have no chance to like your book under the best of circumstances will see the bad review and realize they almost made a mistake. Members of your core audience, however, will read the same bad review and think “well, that doesn’t really apply to me. These aren’t the types of things that would bother me.”
 
And bad reviews that are laced with vitriol are the best of all. You should be far more concerned about well-written reviews that tear your book apart for problems that could have been solved by an editor. 

So…Traditional vs. Independent?

My answer to this question hasn’t changed since last I wrote about it. The only right answer to this question is your answer.

Independent publishing was the right direction to go for me. Had I waited, I’d probably be collecting rejection slips rather than sitting high on three separate bestseller lists. But independent publishing is a full time job in and of itself. I now work two jobs. During the day, I go to an office and develop software. Every other spare moment is spent marketing, networking, blogging, organizing, and planning to market/blog/organize. Somewhere in there I manage to squeeze in a little time for writing, but not as much as I used to.

It’s a trade off, and only you can know for sure which direction is the right direction. I’ll definitely say this: If you’re in this to replace your day job’s income and benefits, you’d better be prepared to settle in for the long haul. 1000 books doesn’t translate to much money.

Which brings me to…

There Are Going To Be Bad Days

Publishing your book comes with a rush of emotions. It’s the culmination of (often) years of work. Your book represents all of your hopes and dreams, particularly if it’s your first book. Every page is filled with the sweat equity you accumulated while learning your craft.
 
And no one cares.
 
Prepare yourself for this. The world is going to keep on spinning as if nothing happened. The universe isn’t marking your publication date in the annals of history. Your 60k plus Twitter followers aren’t going to trip all over themselves hitting the “buy now with 1 click” button. When your book goes live, it’s more likely to be met by the sound of crickets than fanfare.
 
There are days you’re going to be tempted to stare at the KDP screen, refreshing the sales report every few seconds. Give in at first…go ahead. But be prepared to reel yourself in. There comes a point at which it’s no longer healthy curiosity or the joy of a new experience. There comes a point at which it makes you question all the hard work you did. There comes a point at which it will make you question whether you’ll ever see any success as a writer.
 
I’ve had days I’ve sold 100 books and days I’ve sold 3. There is going to come a time when the ride slows down (though I’m hoping that time is a long ways away 🙂 ).
 
Remember that you’re in this for the long haul. Spend more time writing and less time looking at the sales report screen. Refreshing those reports isn’t going to sell a single copy. Publishing new work, on the other hand, will do wonders.
 
Oh, and people return e-books, you know. That’s right. They spend a couple bucks, finish the book within the 7-day Amazon return window, then return the e-book for a full refund. Free book. No royalty for you. Get used to it. 

The Dark Side

I saved this for last because it’s the one that surprised me most. There are writers out there who are employing a form of “blackmail” to generate reviews for their books. It goes something like this:
 
Writer X contacts you and tells you they’re going to write a 5-star review of your book. You thank them. They send you a link to their book.
 
Some time later you get another message: “I’ve written the review.” Again you thank them. More time passes. You get another message: “You have exactly 24 hours to leave a 5-star review of my book (link) or I’m deleting the review I wrote.”
 
Another version I’ve received is “…or I’m deleting the review and replacing it with a 1-star review.”
 
There’s a couple directions you can go at this point. I’ll tell you the direction I took. I did what any polite Italian living in Texas would do. I told them to piss off and shove their review up their…errm…it had something to do with the horse they rode in on. Well, you get the idea.
 
I don’t need those kind of reviews. And neither do you. We’re writers! We want people to read our work! Getting a review from someone who hasn’t taken the time to read it is a slap in the face to your audience. If you do this, you’re treating the most important people in your writing career as if they’re a bunch of idiots. And you’ll deserve what you get if they ever find out.
 
But let’s not end on that dark note! Publishing your book will be a dream come true regardless of your sales, if you approach it with the right attitude.
 
– This is about getting your work out into the world.
– You’re in this for the long haul.
– It wasn’t money that drew you to this (I’d hope! If not, you’ve been seriously mislead!)
– ALL reviews are good reviews if you’ve taken the time to learn your craft.
 
Now go forth and publish!

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About Nat Russo

Nat Russo is the Amazon #1 Bestselling Fantasy author of Necromancer Awakening. Nat was born in New York, raised in Arizona, and has lived just about everywhere in-between. He’s gone from pizza maker, to radio DJ, to Catholic seminarian (in a Benedictine monastery, of all places), to police officer, to software engineer. His career has taken him from central Texas to central Germany, where he worked as a defense contractor for Northrop Grumman. He's spent most of his adult life developing software, playing video games, running a Cub Scout den, gaining/losing/gaining/losing weight, and listening to every kind of music under the sun. Along the way he managed to earn a degree in Philosophy and a black belt in Tang Soo Do. He currently makes his home in central Texas with his wife, teenage son, and mischievous beagle.

Nat RussoLessons Learned from 1000 Books

Comments 128

  1. Fiona Skye

    What an incredibly helpful article! As I gear up to publish not one, but two books this year, I’m looking for ways to help bump my sales and ranking. I’m glad to see that I’m doing it the right way already!

    1. Nat Russo

      Good for you, Fiona! The time to get off to a good start is before the book hits Amazon! 🙂

      And thank you for your kind words!

    1. Nat Russo

      Both routes are viable, they’re just fraught with their own pitfalls and challenges. It’s great to know that independent publishing is there if you need it!

  2. Nicholas C. Rossis

    As always, wonderful advice! Thanks for sharing your experience in such an honest and helpful manner. 🙂

    You reminded me of a vitriolic review my first book received, that complained about the Giants. There are no Giants in my stories, so to this day I’ve been wondering what *that* was all about! 😀

  3. Wm. L. Hahn

    I was with you for the first third. I even love your title because the bad guy in my upcoming novel IS a necromancer. Yes, yes, yes, nodding along like a bobblehead doll- until you finally explained that for you, BAD sales, dismal sales were 3 a day! That’s where I fell off the train… but I think the spirit of what you wrote is exactly right (dare I say dead-on?). And the advice is very much the same I would have. All the best.

    1. Nat Russo

      Haha, I hear ya, Wm. 🙂 This is my first experience with publishing, so I don’t really have a frame of reference for what can be considered “good” or “bad” sales. But relative to my other days, 3 was bad. I’m sure there are some indie authors out there who chuckle when I say 100 is a “good” day 🙂

  4. Anne Stenhouse

    I have a publisher, but like everyone else am expected to take on a lot of the social media stuff. some I enjoy – I’m a writer, I like writing. Some is a bit like being that old-fashioned butcher who discovers by 4pm he’s agreed the weather is great, middling, poor, worst ever, best ever ,,, I keep trying and I really enjoyed this post. Anne Stenhouse ps Today’s the first birthday of my first book. I bet there haven’t been as many at her party as you’ve had here and I’m like Wm. 3-a-day I wish.

    1. Nat Russo

      Thank you for that perspective, Anne! I had suspected that traditionally published authors were still expected to do a lot of marketing, and this certainly confirms it. I mentioned to Wm. that since this is my first time out of the gate, I don’t have a good frame of reference, yet, for what are truly “good” or “bad” numbers. But I’m learning! I have a feeling that my expectations have been artificially inflated because of the success Necromancer seems to be enjoying.

  5. Micky

    Thanks for such a great article. I appreciate your candor. I don’t know about everyone else, but reviews definitely can help to persuade others. I spend a great deal of time reading reviews before purchasing any book. That’s not saying that I am always happy even after purchasing a high rated book, but nonetheless I always check them out first.

    1. Nat Russo

      Thank you for confirming that, Micky. I too look at reviews (in fact, I tend to be morbidly drawn to the bad ones first). As a reader, I pretty much write off any review that isn’t carefully considered. And those tend to be obvious.

  6. Michelle Irwin

    I’m still in the “about to release a debut” stage of my career and I’m both excited and scared as hell, but most days I have a handle on not going too far in either direction. I had to comment because I loved your note that bad reviews can be good, my publishers and I were discussing this not too long ago. Bad reviews are good for another reason too–they promote discussion. If Sally reads a book and states that X, Y & Z didn’t work for her, it might prompt Joe to read the book just to see if X could really be as bad as Sally said. I know that this knowledge will be cold comfort to me when I actually get my first bad review, but I hope it goes some way toward helping me pick myself up sooner. Thanks for the great advice 🙂

    1. Nat Russo

      Thank you, Michelle. I fully concur (as you probably suspect) with the result of the discussion you had with your publishers. I believe a well-written, carefully considered *critical* review does a lot to strengthen the work…if the work itself is well-written.

  7. Ellis Morning

    Congrats on your success, Nat! I hadn’t heard of the blackmail thing before. I’m glad you stood your ground!

    I’ve got a ways yet before my first book is ready, but I’m accumulating wisdom like this to hang on to for release time 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    1. Nat Russo

      Thank you, Ellis!

      That’s the same approach I took while writing Necromancer. I was a complete newb, so to speak. True, I had been writing for years, but Necromancer is the first work I took with the seriousness the craft deserves. So I gathered all the little tidbits of experience other writers had to share and tried my best to absorb it all. So far it has served me well, and I believe it will serve you well too!

      Best of luck on your work-in-progress!

  8. Kristen Mott

    This was a very eye-opening article, thank you for all of the information. I am a published indie author of two books in a children’s series and I am finding it very difficult to market and promote. Even with good five-star reviews, I’m not finding much success.

    1. Nat Russo

      Thank you, Kristen.

      I’m reminded of an old saying: “We know that 50% of marketing works. We just don’t know which 50%.” It’s so true, sad to say. The scary truth is that no one knows how to sell books, not even publishers. All we can say with any degree of certainty is that “word-of-mouth” will sell a book far better than an advertisement.

      Now if we can just learn how to generate that invaluable “word-of-mouth” with predictable results and bottle it up…

  9. Patricia Stoltey

    Good post, Nat. Most of your points also apply to those of us who are published by small or medium-sized traditional publishers. We still need that online presence and we still need to participate heavily in the marketing effort.

    1. Nat Russo

      Thank you, Patricia, for drawing that connection for me! I have zero experience with traditional publishing, and I LOVE to get the perspective of other writers who have gone down that path. It sounds as if we share many of the same challenges!

  10. Ferns

    I laughed out loud when I read the line “And no one cares.”

    I mean, this is patently untrue: My best friend cares. And my mum!

    I do wish you could nail the reason for the ‘spike’ more clearly than “I stopped self promoting” because while I’m sure that didn’t help (I unfollow people who keep doing that because it’s hellishly annoying, and they are only telling the same people over and over again), stopping it could surely not have been the sales catalyst. Unless your followers were so relieved that you stopped that they decided to reward your restraint…?

    Ferns

    1. Nat Russo

      It wasn’t a merely a cessation of advertising. It was a return to previous practices, which involved advertising my craft-related mentoring content.

      In other words, advertising my book was NOT selling my book. Leading people to articles they found helpful, on the other hand, started selling my book.

  11. Tracie Podger

    Interesting article Nat, I was getting a little discouraged at the lack of response to my ‘marketing’ plan. I agree about flooding twitter with continuous advertising for your work, I’m a believe in letting people know about me, the author as well as my book. I would love to know how to jolly up purchasers to leave a review. I’ve only sold a couple of hundred books and have 18 reviews on UK and four on USA Amazon.

    1. Nat Russo

      As far as reviews are concerned, I contacted all of my writer friends on social media, and also tapped colleagues at work on the shoulder who were interested. This helped me have a nice body of reviews waiting to be posted as soon as the book was published.

      Also, I strongly urge you to include a brief request at the back of your e-book. When the reader finishes the book, you have the *most* power to convince them to review it. So just ask 🙂

      Other than that, don’t forget to start going with Goodreads. Establish an author profile as soon as your book is out. You’ll need to contact Goodreads, and it will take a few days, but it’s well worth it.

    2. Iola

      18 reviews for around 200 sales is almost a 10% review rate, which is high from what I’ve seen.

      For example, marketing consultant Tim Grahl has sold 10,000 copies of his book, asks for a review at the back (like the experts say), and has less than 180 reviews … 1.8%. Necromancer has 64 reviews. That’s 0.6%. The Fault in Our Stars has 25,000 Amazon US reviews, buit it’s sold an estimated 9 million copies, giving it a review rate of 0.3%.

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  12. Kaaren Douglas

    Your article was very helpful. Just back from #authoru in Denver where @MarkCoker talked about Smashwords, the company he started to help people publish ebooks. Have you heard of them? You might want to consider getting in touch with them to publish your book as well. They publish and distribute through iBooks, Nook, and other outlets, and in multiple countries.
    All the best,
    Kaaren
    @douglasmkting

    1. Nat Russo

      Thank you, Kaaren!

      Amazon has exclusive distribution rights for the first 90 days, since I decided to join the KDP Select program, but I will be reevaluating this when the 90 days draws to a close.

  13. Cinnamon Cooney

    You may not know this, or you may. This is true for any artist in any creative field putting their work out there. I am a painter, a content creator, and a game designer. All happily going well enough to pay the light bill…. thankfully. Everything you have written here is the fundamentals for success. Loved it! I am sharing for the happy few who like to put your the effort in and see a dream grow.

  14. DB Jones

    Nat,
    Thank you so much for sharing such useful information in your article. My biggest hurdle is finding my readers and building my platform while working a full time job and then writing into the wee hours. I appreciate the tip on contacting some of my writer connections on Twitter and Facebook for reviews. That’s something I haven’t done yet. I’m new in the field and have much to learn. Also, I like the one about asking for reviews at the end of each book…great idea. Thanks for the tips. DB Jones

    1. Nat Russo

      It sounds like we’re in the same boat, DB, in terms of the available hours. I strongly recommend putting as much automation to work as you possibly can. For me, this means a combination of 3 online services that automate everything from follower/following management to automated tweeting.

      With these 3 services, if I wanted to go on vacation, I could invest 15 minutes *per week* on platform building and not have to worry about the machinery coming to a halt. (I don’t recommend that extreme approach, however, because you *are* also trying to make personal, human connections.) This frees me up to answer personal messages throughout the day, as my schedule permits, and concentrate on writing when I’m not at my day job.

  15. Carol Hunter

    As an about-to-be-published author for the first time, I found this article helped me breathe a lot easier. I’ve started building my audience but it takes so much time and I was panicking a little. It’s given me a boost to know I’m on the right track. You’ve written a lot of sense here, Nat, so thank you for that. I’ll be following your advice. Very helpful indeed.

    1. Nat Russo

      I’m glad you found it helpful, Carol. It’s a time-consuming process with very few shortcuts, but I think you’ll find it well worth the effort.

  16. M L Farmer

    Have been a fan of your informative, down-to-earth writerly advice for a while now, Nat! I too have puzzled over the “returns” column in the KDP dashboard. Still don’t really understand how somebody can ‘return’ an ebook after they’ve read it. Isn’t that what the Amazon Prime “lending library” column is for? It’s a little bizarre IMO.

    1. Nat Russo

      It is strange, given how inexpensive most e-books are. In truth, I don’t really have a problem with the notion of returns, but I have a problem with Amazon’s “7-day” policy. I think that’s far too long for an e-book return, because I’m willing to bet there’s a significant percentage of people who are capable of finishing a book in less than 7 days. Of that percentage, I’m willing to bet there’s a high percentage of unscrupulous people who take advantage of the system just to get a free book.

      That being said, the enemy of a writer is obscurity 🙂 So as long as my book is getting circulated, I can’t complain too loudly 🙂

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  20. J.T. Williams

    Good morning from the gulf coast! I enjoyed your post and I also wanted to tell you I got a copy of Necromancer’s Awakening the other day. I look forward to reading it!

    I am soon to publish my first collection of short stories and will be following with a novel later in the year, my question to is you use of ARCs. You said you have reviews ready. Were these reviews that readers agreed to post once the book was live?

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      Nat

      That’s correct, J.T. I lined up reviewers several months before my publication date, then sent them the final version (mostly in Kindle format). The agreement ahead of time was that they would read and leave an honest review. Pretty much every one who received an advance copy followed through on their end.

  21. Liz Crowe

    Well said and timely. I have over 20 books published in the last 4 years all with “small and smaller” press. I plan a self published trilogy in January and am working on building buzz for it NOW (as it is written and edited) which is something I learned publishing with small and smaller presses. It’s a lonely road, full of potholes labeled “this could be you if only you were as ‘good’ as EL James” that I find myself tripping and tumbling into almost daly. And I am not one of those who considers myself a “content provider.” My “Content” is my fiction so I don’t feel comfortable/like I have time to tell everyone else how to do what I do. That’s why your posts are always so well-taken and valued by authors like me!
    cheers
    Liz

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      Nat

      Best of luck with the trilogy, Liz!

      The cool thing about “content” is that it can be about anything you want it to be. I’d say that anything you have a passion for qualifies as content, because it’s your passion that will keep you writing about it. Your readers will sense that passion.

      But you’re absolutely right about time. If blogging/social media is keeping you from writing, then it’s not helping!

  22. Kate Wrath

    What a nice, refreshing article. I’m still working on building my platform, and it is soooo much work. I definitely don’t want to be a spammer, though. Thanks for the advice. It is much appreciated.

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  23. tibibou

    At last somebody is giving a good story with numbers and feelings. I like it. I came to the same conlusions without taking the time to think about them. Therefore, your post is very welcome!

    Greetings from France.

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      Nat Russo

      That was definitely a shock to discover. I think Amazon really needs to reign in the return period.

      As a general rule, I think returns are a necessity. I’m sure many people accidentally click “buy now” when they mean to add to wish list, or some such. Then there are those who read the book for a day or so and just really don’t like it. That’s understandable. Those folks should be able to make a return.

      The difficulty I have is that Amazon allows them 7 days to make the return decision. In my opinion, this is way too long. Most avid readers with a voracious appetite for books can finish a book in half that time, particularly fast-paced fiction like I write. Fortunately, most of these readers have scruples, but I think Amazon could do a lot more to protect its authors by shortening the time to 24 hours (48 max).

  24. Kylie Betzner

    Nat Russo, Thank you for sharing. Yeah, I remember your spam days. Haha. To be honest, I did purchase your book because I saw a link to it. It did invite me to check it out, and, of course, reviews helped. That’s true.

    I noticed the shift back to content. That is why I started following you on twitter because your blog has been so helpful to me. I appreciate your sharing what you’ve learned. Getting ready to jump into the publishing pool myself and I want a realistic idea of what to expect.

    Keep it up! Keep us informed of the sequel. Looking forward to it.

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      Nat Russo

      Thank you, Kylie! I’m glad the blog has been helpful!

      Direct ads are good to an extent. As you mentioned, you purchased the book as a result of seeing a link to it (and probably after checking out the reviews). A well-placed direct ad can serve as a reminder to people who have been meaning to buy something, but have been putting it off for whatever reason. Increased frequency of that ad, however, actually puts those same people OFF from buying it.

      It’s a delicate balance, but the cool thing about the indie community (from what I’ve found) is their openness and willingness to share what they’ve learned. It’s a great community to be a part of!

  25. Lee Mountford

    Great article Nat, really enjoyed it. As a journeyman writer it really helped but things into perspective and confirm some suspicions I had. But it was actually really encouraging as well.

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      Nat Russo

      Thank you, Lee!

      Independent publishing has been quite a learning curve for me, but I’ve found the indie author community to be incredibly open and helpful!

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  27. Amanda Kerns

    Thank you for the information in this article! You are full of great information! Now I need to get busy and figure out how to get started with these things. I need to learn how to start a blog and get my “platform” started! I have so much to learn! I am thankful for your blog and the information you are willing to share with other writers. You are really helping me! I am such a newbie at this and am scared out of my mind! I am getting ready to send my book out to the beta readers within the next week and my stomach is in knots! You know, the “what if……” thoughts going through my mind and self doubt and all that “stuff” infiltrating my every thought process. I believe in my story. I was reading through a section that had me crying for my lead character. It was very difficult to write the first time and is still very difficult to read because of the emotions it pulls out. (I have enjoyed going back and reading my book several times during the writing process. To me it is such a moving story. And I hope others will find it just as moving.) It definitely tugs the heartstrings and makes you truly feel compassion for this girl. And your writing tips, especially the table wearing the purple robe really helped me put the words in the right places! So, know that your blogs and tips are honestly helping other writers and I especially appreciate them so much! Thank you so much! You are a real God send!

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      Nat Russo

      Thanks so much for those kind words, Amanda!

      I know exactly what you’re feeling just before sharing your story with the public. It’s a difficult thing to force yourself through at times. On the one hand you want and need the criticism, but on the other hand, part of you isn’t ready to see your “baby” pulled apart. But don’t worry. The more you go through the process…and *trust* the process…the more you’ll be able to deal with it productively.

      If you’re just getting started on your platform, search my blog for an article called “Platform Building Primer”. It may be just what you need!

    2. Amanda Kerns

      Thank you so much! I will definitely be checking it out! I really do appreciate the replies from you!

  28. Vivienne Tuffnell

    Excellent article.
    I’ve not had the reviewer-wars thing but it may happen yet.
    By the way, the pop-up to sign up for your newsletter is really annoying as there doesn’t appear to be anywhere to remove it or minimise it and it took me ages to get to the comments form because of it!

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      Nat Russo

      Thanks for the feedback, Vivienne!

      Trust me when I say it annoys me as well. There’s a (well-hidden) “x” on the top-right corner of the form that allows you to close it. I’ve yet to find the magic style sheet reference that allows me to change the properties on it, but I’m still working on it.

  29. Angelo Marcos

    This is a really good article Nat, thanks for the tips!

    Much as I hate to admit it, I think the part that resonated for me most was when you wrote:

    “When your book goes live, it’s more likely to be met by the sound of crickets than fanfare.”

    I remember finally, FINALLY finishing my first novel. Everything was done – all the feedback was great, it had been edited, formatted, the cover designed and approved, the whole shebang… Then I clicked ‘Publish’ and sat back waiting for the accolades to come rolling in.

    Nothing.

    Then a bit more nothing.

    Then, finally, after what felt like a century, a bit more nothing….

    I mean, I obviously got a few sales but not as many as I’d hoped at that point. It wasn’t until I’d published my second and third books that people really started taking notice and sales got both higher and more consistent.

    So, yes, the crickets can be deafening…

    😉

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      Nat Russo

      The key to consistent sales definitely seems to be having a nice-sized backlist. I haven’t gotten there myself yet (I have one novel-length book and one novelette, and I’m finding that short fiction is a VERY tough sell.)

      I’ll have another novel coming out in late Spring or early Summer of next year, so I’m hoping that boosts sales across titles. The tricky bit, though, is this book is book 2 of a series. I’m sure that’s a factor of some sort, but we’ll see!

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      Nat Russo

      You’re very welcome, Jason. I hope to expand on it (probably in a separate article) once I publish the 2nd book in the series. I think the more data we can accumulate, the better off we all will be.

  30. Pingback: So You Want To Start A Blog - A Writer's Journey

  31. Dr. Chase Hayden

    Another great post Nat. When I uploaded something to Amazon I remember looking at the sales sheet just assuming it start flying off of the digital shelf. It made me realize that I did not really have a platform set up, and that I could, and should have started setting something up long before I started trying to “market” it. The good news is I am still passionate about the content, and I can continue growing the platform for round two.

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      Nat Russo

      Thanks, Chase!

      The great news is that it’s never too late! As soon as you have the basic parts of a writer’s platform established, your sales will start reflecting the change, because you’ll be reaching more people than ever before.

  32. Becki Rizzuti

    I strongly suspect that your increase in sales when you stopped spamming Twitter is the result of internet search engines.

    Since you’re using your blog (effectively, I might add) to publish articles with writing tips and information about your experience as a writer, you are providing copy for the major search engines to spider and to list in their results pages. Your blog readers are, no doubt, coming from various sources including social media and SERPs. You have thus increased your reach beyond Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

    It’s also possible that you’re improving your odds of your book (itself) appearing in search engine results pages because of the links in your blog posts and then the pingbacks those blog posts are getting. This is a much more effective marketing tool than spamming people with links to the book.

    I’ve told you already, but I enjoy following you on Twitter because you are communicative and you provide informative and entertaining information that is helpful to the people who are following the link. This is unfortunately unusual.

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      Nat Russo

      Thank you, Becki. Unfortunately, I can confirm that it’s unusual. I follow a lot of writers, as you can imagine, and my timeline is overrun by book advertisements. There are some writers that have popped up on a #FF that I didn’t follow once I checked them out, because scrolling back as far as I could in their timeline (as far as I had the patience to, I should say) it was nothing but the same advertisement tweeted over and over.

      I honestly cannot remember a single time in my life that I bought a book based on an advertisement. So I try to toss out a tweet a couple of times a day just to raise a flag and say “hey…I made this thing, in case you didn’t know.”

      I also suspect you’re right about the platform in general. This blog allows me to extend my reach to people who aren’t on social media at all.

  33. Pingback: Thoughts on Using Twitter Effectively as an Indie Author | Michael Dalton's Blog

  34. augustmacgregor

    Thanks for this post! I’m trying to find my way in social media to promote my books. I’ve seen authors on Twitter who push their books a great deal, as you mentioned doing. I’ve often wondered how successful that strategy was for them, and if I should give that a try. But you saved me the step of trying out a rapid-fire tweeting campaign! I like tweeting about my books, but I also like tweeting other things, like micro-fiction — that gets nicely noticed, too.

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      Nat Russo

      I’m glad you like the post!

      The closest thing I can compare flooding Twitter with book ads to is a person driving down the freeway, rolling down the window, and shouting “Hey everyone! Buy my book!”

  35. David Grenier

    Thanks for your insight Nat. I just published my first book (indie style) and it’s nice to get some comforting words of “be yourself, just keep writing.” I know that’s what I have to do and that’s what I tell others but it’s different coming from someone who has had success; thanks for sharing :). I look forward to reading more of your work.

    Dave

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  36. Pingback: What it's Like to Publish Your First Book? - David Grenier Books

  37. Brida Anderson

    Thank you for the blogpost. It’s very interesting (and encouraging) to see that helping other writers (in itself nonfiction activity) increased the sales of your dark fantasy novel. I was happily blogging away (before my novel Hedge Games was published) then heard that to use blogging to sell fiction I should only blog about stuff my *readers* would find interesting. Which is much easier when you write nonfiction or SF like Charlie Stross – the possible topics are already in the book.
    For romantic Urban Fantasy I find it much harder to come up with ideas for blogposts. And constantly “censoring” what I blog bec. I keep straying away from fantasy/elves/romance, … isn’t helping. %-) Writing reviews could be one idea but that’s difficult for time reasons (mom to two young boys, just moved abroad to the Middle East, …). Any ideas?

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      Nat Russo

      I think the absolute best advice I can offer is this: choose a subject…ANY subject…that you’re passionate about and blog that. Seriously. If your passion is model trains, blog about model trains.

      The relationship between writer and reader is an interesting one, and it’s similar to other arts. I’m a Genesis fanatic (progressive rock group with Phil Collins as lead singer). When I look up information on Genesis, I’m only marginally interested in their take on important issues within the music industry. And since I’m not a musician, I probably wouldn’t understand what they had to say about advanced music theory.

      I’m MUCH MORE interested, however, in what kind of beer Tony Banks drinks, or how Phil Collins came to be so obsessed with the Alamo. These things humanize them and transform the band members into people I can relate to.

      Readers are going to be far more interested in you as a person than in you as a writer. Be yourself, if you don’t mind sharing some details about your life. You’ll connect with people on topics other than your books, and that’s how you’ll find those “Thousand True Fans” that everyone talks about.

  38. iantennent

    Hi Nat. I just wanted to commend you on your site. It’s a mine of info. Great info! For me, Sol Stein’s Solutions for Writers is the all round best practical guide to the craft of writing…it just resonates with me and makes a world of sense.
    In the same vein Nat Russo’s blog is now the best all round guide to actually being a writer!!! Everything you say in your blogs above resonates deeply and makes a world of sense to me. I will be taking heed….
    I wish you every success with Necromancer Awakening….you’ve earned it!

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      Nat Russo

      Thank you so much for saying that!

      I definitely need to check out Sol Stein’s guide. Adding that to the list as we speak! Thanks for the recommendation.

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  39. Nathan Schaad

    Several excellent points for self-published and traditionally published authors alike. The big houses have the connections, but they still expect you to do the footwork. There is a lot a trad-published or aspiring trad-published author can learn from this post. Thanks Nat!

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      Nat Russo

      That’s very true, Nathan. Many new authors searching for a publishing deal mistakenly believe their job will be finished once they sign the contract. Or, at most, they understand some editing will be involved. What few realize is that they’ll still have to do the lion’s share of the marketing, even if they land a deal with one of the “big guys”.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for stopping by!

  40. Sean Rodden

    Excellent article…thank you! Congratulations on your success! Despite having an excellent indie book out there and stellar reviews, my Amazon/Kindle sales remain dismal. And I mean dismal. And nothing I have done has changed this, nor likely ever will. But then, I did write it for ME…so 100% percent on my intended audience thinks it’s great! Congratulations on your success!

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      Nat Russo

      Thank you, Sean!

      It really is a “slow roll” when it comes to building an audience. Traditionally, back when publishers weren’t in it for a quick buck, they invested in a writer’s career over a span of years, because they knew it could take that long for a story to find its target audience.

      As far as Necromancer Awakening is concerned, I was fortunate in that I had an audience waiting for it when I published. This was primarily due to the platform building I did in the two years preceding publication. And even now, there are times I run a special on Amazon and practically can’t give the thing away. It fluctuates, so I just roll with it.

      The great news is it’s never too late to start! Do what you can to build a platform, but never forget the most important thing is the writing. I’m a firm believer that the absolute best thing you can do to market your current book is to write the next book.

  41. Ken

    Nat,
    I’m preparing for publication of “The Gay Detective” this summer. Your comments are as refreshing as waking to a bucket of cold water and I mean that in a good way. Your story is truthful and enlightening. Even so, I’m sure I’m in for a few unpleasant surprises. I try to arm myself with as much knowledge as I can in preparation. I am considering using a publicist. Do you think that will be helpful or is it one of those areas that “it might help” in the big equation?

    All that being said, I enjoyed your article and thank you for sharing your experience. As always, it’s about content, content, content.

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      Nat Russo

      Hiring a publicist is something I haven’t researched yet, but it would have to be a “cost vs. reward” question. Until you find your audience, my gut feeling is that sales won’t be able to sustain the fees of a person doing publicity for you. However, it may be a good plan for the future once you have a steady stream of sales.

  42. Linda Tillis/ writing as Chloe Gibson

    Thank you so much for this article. Found it on Twitter. It drove home (for me) the importance of building a platform. I must get started NOW! Thanks again,

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  43. mlhe

    This—what we’re reading right here—is the Current State Of Publishing! Writers write. They sit with their work in fogs of creative thought and that supports our mass consciousness. Then they break through the fogs by navigating the Sea Of Publication Options. There is no wheel. There is no tiller. There are no sails. (Um.) But there is a boat! And there is an ocean. And the question that is the fuel is, “Who will read this collection of words I’ve strung like pearls?” Fuel is to motion as oil is to function. So the question that is the oil is, “Where are the people who will read my wordpearls?” Asking questions, asking questions. Finding answers, finding answers.

    It’s a great life, being a writer. It’s a great life being an author. It’s a great life being a reader. The best life is being part of the Reading Cycle.

    Choosing a book. Buying a book. Reading a book. Recommending a book. Writing a book of your own.

    Breathing.

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      Nat Russo

      It is sad but true, and it continues to happen to this day. I’ve also discovered there are some writers who get so upset at one-star reviews that they go on a “one star spree” on Amazon, marking everything they come across as one star even though they haven’t read it.

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  44. scifi jon

    That’s great. Thank you for the article. I have been on the fence with advertising, always leaning towards not do it, because the only people that say do it, write the article as if they are selling you something. I’m learning about the platform as well. I wish I figured it out long before I published my first book, Android Hunters, but at least I’m getting the hang of it now.

    Again, thanks for the great write.

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      Nat Russo

      You’re very welcome!

      I haven’t eliminated advertising completely. There’s a saying I love: “We know that 50% of marketing works. We just don’t know which 50%.” So I still tweet the occasional ad and produce book trailers. But I never see a resulting sales spike when I post them, no matter how much they’re retweeted/shared.

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  45. Zed Amadeo

    Thank you for this helpful post! I’m realizing more and more, through my own publishing experiences and what I’ve heard from other authors, how constant advertising really isn’t the best way to go about marketing your book. One book that I read about marketing discussed how we are practically drowning in a sea of advertisements, and how it is likely that constant advertisement of your book will just become a part of that white noise and be subsequently ignored. As the book put it, which author are you more likely to buy from: the one who only tweets ads for their book, or the one that shares helpful articles about writing from across the Internet? The ability to provide content that others find useful and interesting is far more effective, and much more worthwhile for you as an author, than constant advertising.

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      Nat Russo

      Without a doubt, content is king, Zed. I’m a firm believer in the notion that you’re far better off selling yourself than selling your books. If people become interested enough in you, they’ll become interested in your work automatically.

  46. Pingback: Quick Catch Up! | Ian Tennent

  47. cascondaville

    I found you via a link from Ink Deep Editing. I really enjoyed what you shared. So happy for you and your book! Reading this helped clear up some of the murky water involved with self-publishing. I feel I can now jump in knowing more about the ‘gators! I’m a hard sell, but am intrigued enough by what I saw here to take a look at Necromancer, even though that genre is not my typical read. 🙂

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      Nat Russo

      Thanks so much for stopping by! Self-publishing has been one of the most rewarding endeavors in my life. In hind sight, I’d go back and do it all over again!

      I hope you enjoy Necromancer!

  48. Pingback: Lessons Learned from 1000 Books – A Writer’s Journey | Jack & Liz

  49. Suzy

    I’m curious that with over 20k books sold and 2500 given away, how do you only have 113 Amazon reviews? I have sold a hell of a lot less (hell of a lot) and have 102 reviews. Did you ever tweet or email blast people to review your book? I think getting reviews is not only important, as you maintain, but hard to do. Is there anything you’d do differently to get more?

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      Nat Russo

      I don’t consider it “only” 113 reviews. That’s 113 people who like the book enough to go back to Amazon and actually write something about it. That’s amazing! If you manage to get over 100 reviews, you’re doing something right, so celebrate.

      Neil Gaiman has stories that have fewer than 100 reviews. I’m fairly certain he’s sold a hell of a lot more than I have. 🙂

  50. Elizabeth Foster (@e_foster3)

    Thanks for a very helpful article. I am seeking the traditional publishing route for now, but know that a platform is vital going forward whichever way my book ends up being published. Great to learn from someone who has already travelled that road and can share the pitfalls and successes so honestly.

  51. Bertram

    Great article Nat. Found it via Twitter, which underlines the value of ‘platform’ as a way of helping people. Like most, I get turned off by people just putning their work. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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      Nat Russo

      Glad you found the blog, Bertram!

      Platform is invaluable. For every person who complains about the frequency with which I tweet article links (happens maybe 3 times per year), I receive dozens of messages like yours per week from folks who wouldn’t have otherwise found the blog. I think the best thing a writer can do is focus on producing their content and let the chips fall where they may.

      Cheers!

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