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What I’m Learning About Struggles in Selling My Novels

Writing and selling novels requires immersing yourself in learning


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Don Simkovich

3 years ago | 5 min read

Cover art for Tom Stone novels, photo by Lon Casler Bixby

Imagine if I had written a novel and it took off to make thousands of sales right out the door. My wife would have been happy because writing fiction would be more than just a hobby.

But the downside of success like that is I probably wouldn’t have learned why the book sold in the first place.

That’s a debatable situation because it didn’t happen, fortunately or unfortunately.

I write the Tom Stone Detective Stories with a writing partner and we had okay sales during the launches of our first three novels thanks to friends via social media and our Tom Stone Facebook page. We’ve even had between nine to 15 reviews on them that were mostly four and five stars.

Each novel takes us several months to almost a year to write, format and publish, so we don’t have a quick release strategy. After our initial releases, our rankings on Amazon dropped like a rock tossed into a lake.

We’d share links on Facebook, Twitter and occasionally on LinkedIn and we started a newsletter.

We also launched a blog after our second novel published and had some traction through it. Our third novel came, got reviews, and then followed the same pattern.

In our fourth novel, we didn’t little marketing except through our newsletter and primarily on Facebook and Twitter. Some initial sales were then met with a rapid descent into no-reader’s-land. We actually ignored the reality as we wrote our fifth novel.

We were frustrated by no sales because we believed our stories were well-written. But we didn’t have a marketing strategy — until this fall.

I also write blog content for professionals and businesses, along with social media posts and I have a Master’s in Communication Management which includes aspects of marketing so I’m not unaware of marketing content.

But marketing fiction seemed like this mysterious beast until I decided I’m really going to learn this. Our fifth novel published early November but back in September I found various resources to build a marketing strategy.

I didn’t want to release our fifth novel and release it like kicking it out of an airplane without a parachute. How in the world do you make sales happen?

We released our fifth novel and are putting a system in place to have on-going sales while we write new short stories and begin work on our sixth novel.

I’m not going to release a grand formula for sales in this post because such a thing doesn’t exist, but what I’m going to say is that I’m thankful for the challenge of having to learn the steps. I wrote The Power of Struggling for Success in 2019 because I knew that this was an area to struggle and learn.

The principles that apply to fiction apply to any online business whether product or service oriented, so it’s worth learning.

Our Marketing Assets Before Our Fifth Novel

We have:

  • an active Tom Stone Facebook page
  • a newsletter of almost 70 people (so it’s small)
  • I have over 4,200 people on Twitter
  • a Tom Stone blog
  • we started a publication on Medium called Stone Cold Crime Stories
  • we had a handful of readers who genuinely enjoyed our series
  • we had four novels already — that’s a major asset that we leveraged before we launched our fifth novel
  • We did cover reveals and giveaways, too

My writing partner Lon is more active than me on Instagram with a good following and we both have plenty of friends and family following our posts. So we have a social media presence.

Forget Generic Advice — It Doesn’t Work

If you’re like me, you’ll read all the general articles about how you need a social media presence and a newsletter, plus a blog can help and PR, etc. The reason generic advice is nearly worthless is because the same cheap information is found online and everywhere.

You can read variations of the same articles a million times over and you won’t learn anything new.

But in my research here’s what I learned over and over again: you have to find readers in your genre. Yes, I knew that already but I really learned that in September of this year.

There are multiple reasons for that, especially because Amazon likes buyers purchasing books in the same genre, that’s a benefit to authors.

It made me ask and evaluate, where am I going to find those readers? We had a handful of them.

What we did to make book sales

Since we had four novels on Amazon, I knew that if we made sales from those four immediately before we launched our fifth one then those buyers would get notified of our new release. It’s a little like having people on a newsletter.

We decided to leverage our existing novels.

Just because they had been published from four years ago to one year earlier didn’t make them irrelevant. They still mattered. I’ve bought plenty of novels a decade or two after the publish date and still enjoyed them.

So this is where book directories are helpful. They can help you target readers.

We used Book Doggy, Book Rebel and Best Book Monkey as three directories that were low cost and had specific crime fiction genres for readers. The best directories are constantly developing email lists of readers.

We made a couple of dozen sales on Amazon in late October to early November.

We planned to release two short stories so we’d have three releases, three months in a row.

Our novel Tom Stone: Subterfuge released November 10th, next week (mid-December) we’ll release our short story on Amazon that we originally published on Medium and in mid-January we’ll release our next short story.

We learned the basics of Amazon ads.

We’re still in the beginning stages of learning Amazon ads, but I see that they’re useful. What was odd was that we launched our first ads and we only had a few sales of the title we were advertising, but we had multiple sales of our other titles.

Our guess was buyers clicked on the book advertised and bought the other titles in the series.

I could go into greater detail of what we’re learning but what I am seeing is this:

We have five novels on the market and soon we’ll have three short stories on the market.

We’ll be able to do an advertising or marketing activity each month while we write our sixth novel. That’s the advantage of having multiple titles published.

We used resources to learn

I’ll have to make a list of resources but for now I’m really appreciating Craig Martelle and his five minute YouTube videos on a variety of key subjects for indie authors. He’s one of the founders of 20Books to 50K, a group on Facebook.

He pulls in other successful indie authors like Mark Dawson and many others in his videos but he also gives useful information for free, or your investment of a brief amount of time.

He’s a good place to start.

Hope this helpful. Please remember this truth:

Many aspects of marketing require specialty knowledge from building an email list to running Amazon ads. So if you feel like you’re not mastering everything, then that’s why.

You don’t have to try and master everything at once. Don’t try.

Pick and choose what you find helpful, make sales and keep writing. Writing a strong story is the most important part because without that the rest doesn’t matter.

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