My publisher sent my second quarter sales report at the end of August. As discussed previously, it’s pretty standard for those to come in long after the quarter ends — in my case, two months after.
Folks, it was not what I hoped.
Because my book released halfway through March, and based on my Amazon rankings during this period, I believed my initial launch surge of sales would go at last two weeks into Q2, which was about half of that launch surge. Thus, I expected to see Q2 sales about on par with my Q1 sales (which encompassed presales and two weeks of my launch).
Turns out: Nope.
Between April and June, I sold a whopping 118 copies of my novel. So, still not a bestseller.
This made my heart sink, because I now realize that I am not going to make my initial goal of selling 1,000 copies in my first year (which will end in March 2016).
Not only is this number far below what I’d need to be on pace for my 1000-copy goal, but I’ve only seen my Amazon ranking continue to sink since this period ended, so my sales trend is going in the wrong direction.
So yeah, it stings.
Unfortunately, a sales dip is normal, particularly when you only have one book on the market, and particularly when you’re with a small press.
The debut novel holds a lot of reverence.
For writers, it’s a symbolic step that takes them from “aspiring” to “professional.” For readers, it means an exciting new voice to check out, and they can be the first to discover it.
For a lucky few who manage a major publishing deal for their debut, and who are chosen by that publisher for a large marketing investment, the debut can shoot a writer straight to stardom.
For the rest of us, this only the first step in a long road ahead.
- Books in a series tend to hit sales “critical mass” at book three, according to my publisher. Which makes sense, because every true fan is now three potential sales, instead of just one.
- As a result, there are certain promotional steps my publisher won’t take until the series has three books in it (like run a BookBub promotion). My publisher has strongly discouraged me from spending my own budget on this, too. I have taken this advice, and I find it a wise approach.
- Many authors report seeing a “tipping point” in their sales trends around book eight to 10 (series or not), where they are discovered by more readers, each reader buys more books, and there is an overall upward shift in sales trends. My own observation of authors at every stage backs this up.
In other words, if you want a long-term career as a writer, the debut novel is not a sales machine. It’s a first step for growing a readership.
Platform over profit
Based on this conclusion, I’ve chosen to approach my debut launch as a tool to grow my platform, rather than a product for immediate profits.
This means I am prioritizing my investments (time and money) for ways to use my book as a credential to take actions that will support my more long-term goals.
- Get an agent and major publisher for my next book after my current series.
- Grow a readership who will want to buy my future releases.
To this end, I am active on social media, I blog, I send out a newsletter.
I invest in Facebook ads to grow my email list and recently started giving away a free novella as an incentive.
And I’m pitching to speak at relevant events on panels and on my own.
Shift your thinking
I may not make my sales goal for year one, but let’s be real: it was pretty lofty. There’s actually a silver lining in all this, and it’s nothing to sneeze at:
Just four months into the launch of my first book, I have surpassed the “average” mark for first-year book sales.
The average book, measuring everyone from that self-pub guy who throws his book on CreateSpace and does nothing else, up to JK Rowling, sells 250 copies a year (and only 2,000 in its lifetime). As of June, I’m at 322.
Between this fact and all I’ve learned about debuts in general, rather than beat myself up, I am choosing to shift my thinking. Instead of stressing over short-term goals, I am setting myself up for future success.
How are you investing in your writing future?