Sunday, May 25, 2014

Does Slow and Steady Win the Book Race?

by Stephen Woodfin)

One of the enduring topics in the book business is the myth of the overnight success.

That myth has done more to disappoint authors than almost anything I can think of.

How so?

Every author who will be candid will tell you that she holds deep in her psyche the notion that her present work in progress will be the one that charges up the charts and establishes her reputation, produces her the income necessary to quit her day job and retire to the beach.

She may also win the lottery.

The odds are about the same, although she may have a little better chance with Powerball.

Authors know this is true, but they still cling to the hope of breaking through.


Part of the reason is that historically, before the advent of Kindle Direct Publishing (“KDP”) anyway, publishers guarded book sales information, even from their own stable of writers.

I saw a blog the other day that mentioned that publishers intentionally keep sales information from their authors for fear that if authors know how few books they are selling they will jump ship or fall into despair.

The irony is that authors came to the publishing house in the first place because those publishers carefully cultivated the myth of overnight success and held it out as a carrot to entice authors to sign with them.

KDP has brought transparency to book sales for those authors who use it to publish their work. The same is true with Nook Press and other self-publishing portals. The author can track sales virtually in real time. She knows exactly how many books she is selling. She doesn’t have to wait for a semi-annual or annual sales report from her publisher.

That is the two-edged sword.

Indie authors know how many books they are selling. They can look at sales ranking on the books of other authors on Amazon and have a pretty good idea how many books those authors are selling.

Those numbers make the case that slow and steady is the best way to win the book race.

By slow and steady I mean that the Indie author who is publishing in the digital world has one advantage over authors in prior times.

That advantage is shelf life.

No more does a book vanish from the shelves in two weeks never to be seen again.

Rather a book remains on the digital shelf forever.

Readers can find the book, and it is new to them although it may be two, three, four, five or ten years old.

Of course, a corollary to shelf life is that an author must add books to her shelf, continue writing, continue adding new content.

Digital shelf life gives authors a chance to win the race without sprinting.

An author who devotes herself to building her brand, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out, now stands a chance of establishing steady sales.

What does it mean to win the race?

That will be different for each author depending on the goals she sets.

Tenacity and persistence will trump overnight success ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

I like those odds.

*Blogger's note: I wanted to give you some insight into what are called "overnight successes". I know many authors and there really is not too many books that are an overnight success. I found out "Harry Potter" was shopped around for a while. I know an author right now who has a book that is better than Harry Potter and he cannot catch a break but he is working all the time and branding himself. When you read books remember how hard someone has worked on it and take a look into the book's history. I like to do that.

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