Let me start by saying that I appreciate all the free content people in the self-publishing world put out. It’s quite generous and high quality. There must be ten or more hours of podcasts each week that come to my phone, not to mention blog posts and youtube and e-mails. That’s just me, meaning it’s only a small fraction of what’s actually produced.
If you wanted to be a student of this stuff, you’d have more class time than a full-time college student with no breaks for summer or winter. And there’s so much to learn that it could probably fill an entire major for a college student.
So, thank you to all those content providers.
That being said, I have two theories I’d like to present.
I’m going to call these people “gurus.” You either know who they are or don’t, but I don’t want to name names (google “podcasts for writers” or something if you really don’t know).
Every person I have in mind left their job at some point to be a full-time self-published writer. I think each of them makes at least six figures. This happened years ago for each of them.
Also, each of them has a “thing” they attribute it to: cover design that perfectly fits the genre, great copywriting on the product description, Amazon keywords and categories, Amazon marketing, Facebook marketing, writing to market, price surging, box sets, e-mail auto-responders, mailing list magnets, promotion services, etc.
Note, I’m not saying they push a well-rounded approach to improving each of the above; I’m saying their entire shtick is that once you get that one thing right, you will take off and have huge success.
This seems weird and crazy, so why would they, at least nominally, believe this? The cynical theory would be that they wanted to corner a niche in the market, so they figured this one thing out and pushed it hard as the expert.
I don’t believe this. I think there’s a much more obvious explanation. Like almost all successful authors, they started to gain traction, little by little. They were experimenting with all the above techniques to see if anything could get them a little edge.
As Gladwell explains in The Tipping Point, they just hit a critical mass of followers and readers at some point. This caused them to shoot from obscurity into prominence.
Human brains being what they are, these writers then attributed their success to the most recent major change they made rather than a natural progression to a tipping point. This is how we get people who are convinced you only need to get that one thing right to get success.
And this is fine as long as you don’t take that claim seriously when listening to them. The advice they give on that one thing is going to be pretty solid and useful. It will help keep you crawling upward toward your own tipping point.
I do think some people get frustrated when they work really hard at that one thing, and they only see marginal gains despite doing everything right.
Here’s my second theory based on the first theory. The gurus out there with the biggest platform have been wildly successful for years, and this actually makes them a bit out of touch with how things really are.
My theory is that they could launch a book to number one in their category by doing none of the advice they give: no ads, no pre-release, no notification of the mailing list, a sloppy and vague product description, a less-than-stellar cover, etc.
They have so many followers that news would spread of their release, and it would make thousands of dollars in the first month and be an Amazon bestseller.
If I’m correct about this, that means they actually have no idea if the advice they’re giving is correct. Don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not saying their advice is incorrect (quite the opposite)—but it’s just a fact of their prominence that they can’t know how much of an effect their advice has anymore.
I’m not sure if there’s much of a point to this post. I guess it’s that you shouldn’t put too much stock in any one thing you hear about self-publishing. Success is going to be a slow growth attributed to hundreds of things.
Writing a better product description might get you five more sales. Improving the cover: five more. An experiment with AMS ads: five more. Suddenly, these have added up to enough that you snatch a true fan that leaves a glowing review.
This review converts to twenty more sales, and the new fan starts you one person further along on the next book.
So it’s all interconnected and not traceable to any one thing. After a bunch of books of doing this, you find yourself starting with a hundred fans buying it on launch day getting you to bestseller status and days of free advertising in your genre. These “organic” sales translate to new fans, etc.
That’s the tipping point. It can look like a sudden spike in success, but it’s not the most recent marketing trick you tried. It’s dozens of things synergizing to create the effect.
So, most of all, take everything the gurus say with a grain of salt and don’t be afraid to experiment with your own ideas. What worked for these gurus several years ago may not be working in today’s market or your genre. Or they might. You’ll have to be the judge of that.