Genre versus Author Platform? Which Matters More?

by | Dec 18, 2013

by C.S. Lakin (@CSLakin)

When my friend and colleague Susanna Lakin told me about her experiment in trying to find out exactly how important an author platform is for genre novelists, I was fascinated. Now, she’s written up the story of what she did, and what she’s found out. This is crucial reading for any novelists who are having trouble getting traction with their sales. Susanna, who has written more than a dozen critically-acclaimed novels, was the ideal person to run this “experiment” and I think you’ll be as fascinated as I by her results. Here’s her report.


Is it enough for an author to write a terrific book, then market it wisely, devoting a lot of energy and time to building an author platform? Will that ensure great sales? Most authors have precious little time to spend on building their platforms, yet most experts in publishing will agree that author platform is crucial.

But how crucial? Even if an author spends hours a week trying to get known—via social networking, blogging, listing their books on paid and free promotions, joining in on forums, offering sales—often all that effort shows little return in the way of sales, new readers, and buzz. A million writers are vying for attention, and many are putting out similar effort to build their author platform.

Authors can certainly benefit from engaging in all of the above activities; surely those efforts must help to some degree to get their name “out there” and be recognized. The aim of most authors is to get discovered, and to have name recognition (along with a great reputation for being a solid writer).

We’ve heard how crucial it is, particularly for nonfiction writers, to build that platform, which is so much easier than trying to build a platform for fiction. However, fiction writers are highly encouraged to do similarly using many of the same methods as nonfiction writers, such as blogging on timely topics that can tie in with their novel’s themes or setting.

Where Does Genre Fit In?

Without going into the strategies and methods for either fiction or nonfiction platform-building, I’d like to take a step back and ask this question:

How much does genre [for the novelists] have a bearing on success?

This is a question I did not want to ask myself, but after writing more than a dozen novels in various genres and spending years trying to market them, promote them, grow sales and readers, I kept coming back to this question.

Why? Because although my books were getting terrific reviews and winning awards, they were not strict genre novels—in fact many of my books are a bit experimental and can’t be easily categorized. My books just weren’t selling much.

With indie publishing, authors like me have been able to publish our “unusual” or “different” novels and find readers. But after I’d put out five novels as ebooks (and some also in print), and did extensive marketing and promotion (spending an outrageous amount of money on publicity, for example)—following to the letter all the sage advice I’d garnered on how to sell for success, nothing worked. My author friends were making easily five figures each month, often off one title, or they would release a book and it would hit the best-seller lists off the bat.

Maybe It’s Just Luck

I thought they were just luckier than me. I thought perhaps they were doing something special with their marketing and author platform that I wasn’t. But when I interviewed them all, I found out the truth. They were not. Many had little author platform. Some (yikes!) had none. I mean—no website, no social media, no previous novels out, no name, nada. Huh?

What I did see was that these hugely successful authors were writing to a specific genre, and often a niche genre. What do I mean by that? I mean a subgenre that has a particular readership—one that is very large and one that has few (compared to other main genres) books available for sale. What I was seeing was a manifestation of the old economics “supply and demand” rule.

But could that really be true? Could an unknown author write a novel with no author platform for one of these subgenres and sell big, with no additional effort other than putting her book up on Amazon, carefully using the same kind of description, cover, etc.?

I was dying to find out.

My Genre Experiment

So, here’s what I did, in a nutshell (I plan to write an entire ebook soon on this experiment/method called From Idea to Selling in Three Months, so others writers can do this too!):

  • I picked the subgenre I was told “sells itself” without any author platform.
  • I came up with a pen name so I would be an unknown, unpublished author.
  • I chose one novel to deconstruct. [NOTE PLEASE: I did not plagiarize or copy the plot, writing, or tried to mimic this author. I just deconstructed the structure. If you don’t know what that involves, buy my book when it comes out!]
  • After deconstructing the novel, I plotted and constructed mine.
  • I hired the same cover designer to brand my look for my series.
  • While writing the novel, I copied and pasted 30 Amazon descriptions of books in this genre in order to create my own in the same style and fashion. [NOTE: This was a genre I had never even read, so had no clue how this differed from the genres I already wrote in.]
  • I got a couple of well-known author friends and a reviewer for the Examiner to read in advance and write me reviews/endorsements, so I’d have something to put in the book and on the Amazon page.
  • I did set up tweets (not as my pen name but via my real Twitter account) to get some exposure.
  • I set up a Facebook page for the author, but did nothing to promote it. Even now it has maybe 25 likes. So no big influence there.
  • I hired an assistant to find bloggers and reviewers, but only had three people blog about the novel when it was released.

author platformSo, essentially, as far as author platform goes, I did almost nothing to build or prepare for this book release. I felt I should do a minimal amount of promoting, just as many of my successful author friends do when releasing a new book. And of course, their subsequent books sell very well too, since they have, inadvertently, build a bit of author platform just from the sales and buzz of the earlier novels released.

My Results

The novel has only been out a month. Within the first two weeks, the book jumped to paid #247 on Amazon, and hit the top ten genre lists: Historicals, Historical Westerns, Western Romance. My genre is Historical Western Romance (and more specifically sweet Western—meaning no sex or heat).

In those two weeks, the book sold more than 1,500 copies at full price ($3.99 US), while all the top twenty on the lists were sale priced. I wanted to start out the gate with the novel regularly priced and not discounted, based on Mark Coker’s research (Smashwords) that $3.99 sells better than any other price. I also wanted to imply “quality” because it is a long, rich, quality book.

My novel has been on the genre lists’ top 100 ever since, selling about 30-50 books a day. Way more than I ever made on any of my other dozen novels. Here’s the interesting thing. I made $3,600 or so in three weeks. I was told by writers of that specific subgenre that they make about $3k a month off each book. Which is what it looks like I’m making. Why? Supply and demand.

One author sold 80,000 copies of her first novel, with no Internet presence, website, or author platform. She still doesn’t have a website, and her books are all selling in the tens of thousands. Is she a terrific writer, better than anyone else out there? No. She writes good books for the genre, as do the others who are selling well.

Genre Isn’t the Only Factor

I can’t emphasize enough that first and foremost an author has to write a terrific book. And it now looks to me that a terrific book in one genre just may sell a whole lot more than a terrific book in another genre. Authors who lament that their “terrific” book (if it indeed is one) is not selling, may need to consider genre. Maybe they might even want to try their own genre experiment.

My novel has been getting mostly 5-star reviews, and what pleases me most is when reviewers say I wrote a book that perfectly reflects the genre. I did my homework and it paid off. The strict genres I’ve noted sell well in addition to romance, romance, and more romance are paranormal, thrillers, and mystery (and YA versions of all those).

I don’t read or particularly like romance, but the RWA (Romance Writers of America) recently noted that 40 percent of ALL ebooks sold are romance. And I actually had a blast writing this novel, with two more in the series slated to come out in 2014. I love Lonesome Dove and always wanted to try my hand at Westerns.

You Don’t Have to “Sell Out” to “Sell Big”

I don’t think writers should “sell out” and write something they don’t want to write just to make money, but hopefully I’ve given you food for thought. I find nothing wrong with writing to a specific audience for the sole reason of selling more books and making some money. It feels nice to pay the bills.

So, does it matter whether you have an author platform or not? I suppose it depends on what genre you want to write in. As my pen name identity grows an author platform, I’m assuming it will help my sales. But it didn’t hurt at all to not have one when I published this novel.

Any thoughts? Let me know in the comments.

author platformC. S. Lakin is the author of fourteen novels and while she writes two novels a year, she works as a freelance writing coach and copyeditor, specializing in manuscript critiques. She offers deep, free instruction for writers on her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive and provides critique services via Critique My Manuscript. Her novel, Colorado Promise, is written under her pen name Charlene Whitman (nickname Charlie), and you can buy her “experiment” here!

Photo: bigstockphoto.com. Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

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153 Comments

  1. Liz Harris

    What a stimulating and interesting article, Joel and Susanne. Many thanks for taking the time and trouble to write it and post it. There’s food for much thought in what you’ve said.

    Reply
  2. Emily Shore

    So I did the whole thing you did with my self published books except I had a marketing agent who promised my books would go far and spent money on an advertising campaign (though I believed it was done very poorly), and I did everything from FB to Good Reads and all I got in return was a bad case of carpel tunnel. My eplatform contract is finally ending, and I’m rewriting and reediting my books and trying for indie publishers. I’ve been querying agents for years and have had a few bites but no real hits. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong because I’ve received very positive feedback from bloggers and other writers and friends on my books. I’ve thought about self publishing, but I have absolutely no money to spend on promotion. How do you build an author platform when you have no money to advertise or hire assistants etc?

    Reply
  3. Karen

    Huge respect for the ethical issues Bridget raises. I’ve had my illustrations plagiarized, and would never suggest we cross those lines with our experiments. Sussana experiment raises a great point: when is it plagiarism and when is it “business?” I’m sitting with a copy of Texas Destiny & Texans Wager in my hands. (i wish we could upload photos here!) Both have similar typefaces, both have a bunch of daisies on the cover – and clearly they both have similar titles. Publishers – who are business people – will dance as close to the line as they can to promote their books & maximize profit.

    Now that “the gatekeepers” are gasping for air and authors have become publishers & business people, short of breaking the law, we’ll each need to figure out where that line is drawn. It’s one of many things I never thought I’d ever have to consider when I became a writer.

    I’ve so enjoyed Susanna’s wildly generous post & it was great to read the thoughtful and excellent questions Bridget has raised.

    Reply
  4. Rose Mary Boehm

    With Bridget 100%. She has spoken for my brain and for my heart in this matter.

    Reply
  5. Greg Strandberg

    When I lived in Shenzhen, China, there was a place called the Dapeng Villages. Here all manner of painters and other artists lived and worked. They all did their own work, but they made their money copying the masters. And when I say copying, I mean just that.

    They’d do all the famous masters you can think of, the exact same picture you see in museums, and sometimes even better. You’d pay anywhere from fifty dollars to thousands of dollars and could then have a nice conversation starter hanging in your living room.

    Reply
  6. Sandra Schwab

    Susanne, if you are so fine with crediting Debra and her book, one wonders why you haven’t done so in the blog posts you wrote about your little experiment, and why, when you exchanged e-mails with Debra after she had left her comment here, you actually refused to do so.

    As to not trying to co-opt Debra’s covers – oh please. I had only seen one of her covers before I read your article, and I immediately recognized the similarity. Given that you tried to get the cover designer to make your cover as similar to Debra’s covers as possible AND misrepresented yourself as a close friend of Debra’s, makes your claim rather ridiculous.

    Deconstructing Debra’s novel is not a problem here (though one might want to point out that most genre writers don’t need to deconstruct a novel in their chosen genre before they sit down to write one because … um … they’re actually readers of the genre in question). But the way you went about it is a problem. The way you misrepresented yourself while seeking information; the way you aimed at imitating Debra’s brand and then failed to acknowledge the debt owed to her; the way you CONTINUED to do this even after Debra left a comment here on this blog , even after you exchanged e-mails with her, THAT is the problem. If you read her comment above, it’s fairly clear to see (even for me as a non-native speaker of English!!) how very taken aback she was by this whole thing.

    For anybody interested in what actually went on behind the scenes, may I suggest that you read Debra’s comment on Barbara Rogan’s blog? Here’s the link: http://barbararogan.com/blog/?p=777#comment-3238

    Reply
  7. Linton Robinson

    Funny, because copying the masters is an example I often use in the context that writing ISN’T like other arts and really has almost no technique. You can learn a lot doing stroke-by-stroke copies of paintings. You can’t learn a damned thing by copying a book out word for word. I’m not sure how much you actually learn by deconstructing the format… but it’s not the same at all… more like learning basic composition of the masters. Aping the marketing, cover, etc. has nothing to do with writing. It’s something writers for money do all the time.

    Reply
  8. Michelle Weidenbenner

    I had a college professor from a writing program recommend that we do this deep evaluation of our favorite books. I love to study why books make bestsellers and totally think there is value in dissecting the parts and understanding what makes a story work. Kudos to Susanne for her hard work and her devotion to her readers in taking the time to write something fans would enjoy.

    Michelle Weidenbenner

    Reply
  9. Bridget

    At times, there may be a fine line between inspiration and predation, and it seems that it might–like all fine lines–be unintentionally crossed. Hence the call for caution.

    If the process described in this blog post were the former rather than the latter, would there have been a need for Lakin to introduce it as an “experiment” and describe it in terms which make it clear she believes she has come up with an innovative shortcut to epub success?

    Karen’s comment about students copying classic works of art is clearly well-meant, but specious for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that student copies are didactic in nature and not meant to compete for market share with Rembrandt or Dali’s own work. Yet her example is a good case in point for the inspiration vs. predation concept. Recall that Lakin herself stated in the comments: “I don’t think there are any classics in that genre” (Sweet Historical Westerns). She is not discussing a classical way of learning about art by studying many examples. She is instructing us in how to hack the niche subgenre market for ebooks by drawing unusually heavily upon a single successful novel as a source.

    The hack is not in itself a problematic goal. And her willingness to share her method could be construed as admirable, even altruistic.

    I only question whether this particular process blurs some distinctions which should remain sharp and well-defined. And I leave it at a question–not an accusation.

    Writers are thoughtful people; this situation has given us all something to think over, and decide about for ourselves.

    Reply
  10. Karen

    What Sussana has written about is indeed an honorable practice. It’s a classical way of learning any art or skill. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is filled with groups of young students sitting in front of great works of art, sketching away, observing, analyzing and learning to create their own works of art.
    A lotta years ago, I was one of them!

    Reply
  11. C. S. Lakin

    Bridget, I understand your defending Debra. I am perfectly fine with crediting her book as the one I used to study and deconstruct the structure. Authors do this in every genre all the time, including romance writers. It is the best and a most honest way to write to a genre. It has nothing to do with stealing ideas or copying style, although plenty of writers try to write exactly like Stephen King or Dean Koontz, and even in those cases, there is nothing truly wrong with that.

    If you take the time–and I would encourage you, and Debra, and anyone questioning what I’ve done–to actually read the book I wrote, you will see it bears almost no resemblance at all to her book in style or content. The fact that I hired the same cover designer to get a similar look is something many, if not most, savvy writers do. Writers find covers they like and then try to copy the look.

    I never tried to pretend I was her, or that my books were hers, and did not co-opt her cover. My cover is very different. I have a different font, different elements, no people, I have horses and mountains. Really, these arguments, although well meaning in defense of Debra Holland, are baseless.

    Frankly, I have no problem when other authors read and study my novels to see how I wrote them. I encourage that. And with my hundreds of writing clients, I encourage them to study best-selling books in their genre to see how it’s done. My guess is you have done that to some extent too, if you are a writer.

    I have no idea what you mean by “graphic text.” All I did was take notes like: opening: show the heroine in her ordinary world. Introduce conflict. Chapter two: show hero in his ordinary world. That is all I did. And I heartily encourage you and every writer to deconstruct novels in the genre they would like to work in so that they get a feel for how to do it. I’ve studied fantasy writers and have written eight fantasy novels. Did I copy any one? I have a few authors I love and I’ve studied their books, but my novels are unique in content, style, and structure.

    In fact, I highly encourage you to deconstruct my romance novel to see why it’s getting fantastic reviews, and compare with Debra’s (deconstruct hers) and you will see I used only a little bit of general elements (that a lot of writers in this genre use, like a love triangle) and very general structural elements. I mostly followed Michael Hauge’s 12-scene Lover’s Journey structure, and made sure I had those 12 key scenes. Which is what I’ll use for the next books.

    I am sorry you and a few others are so upset by this very acceptable and honorable practice. It is never a good idea to accuse authors of plagiarizing or engaging in “suspect activity” without having all the facts and without actually examining the books in question.

    Reply
  12. Bridget

    What a gracious and kind comment left by Debra Holland.

    The notion of “deconstructing” her book and using it as some sort of graphic organizer with which to generate a derivative text, then co-opting her cover designs, and going on to profit from this suspect activity, could have understandably warranted a far different response.

    Please, everyone. Ask yourself if you’d like to have this done to one of your books, published or unpublished…and behave accordingly.

    Reply
  13. Debra Holland

    A wonderful article. I have no idea if I was the author whose sweet historical Western romance you chose to deconstruct, and since I’m a huge self-publishing cheerleader, I won’t mind a bit if you did. I do know that when your book first hit the top 100 Western romance list and I saw your cover that I thought you copied the style of my New York Times bestselling Montana Sky Series covers–same font style and a beautiful setting rather than a clinch cover. Again, not something that bothers me. :) I think your cover is beautiful.

    When I self-published my first two books, Wild Montana Sky and Starry Montana Sky, in April 2011, I was stunned by how the books took off so quickly without any promotion on my part. I’d found two under served niches–Sweet AND Historical Western. Within a year, Wild Montana Sky hit the USA Today list–a huge shock for a previously unknown and unpublished (in fiction) author, who had a stack of rejections for this book.

    Wild Montana Sky won the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart award in 2001. But in spite of the attempts of two agents, the book didn’t sell to a traditional publisher precisely because it was sweet (meaning not sexy.) Ten years later, the series found a readership.

    Wild Montana Sky had almost 100,000 sales before I allowed Amazon Montlake to acquire the series, although still I self-publish smaller books, novellas, and short stories in the series.

    With the visible success of my sweet series, other authors started publishing their sweet books, proving what I’ve believed all along (and amiably argued with some editors about) that there are readers who will read any type of romance as long as it’s a good story AND there are readers who been wanting traditional (not sexy) romances but didn’t have much access to them.

    The important thing is to write the story that YOU want to tell, not just write for the market. It’s too hard to write a book in a genre or subgenre you don’t enjoy. Or maybe I should say, it’s too difficult to CONTINUE writing in a genre you don’t enjoy. Also, in this rapidly shifting publishing world, the popularity of certain genres or subgenres can change before your book is published.

    All the best,
    Debra Holland

    Reply
    • Greg Strandberg

      I just want to say thanks for bringing attention to my state and introducing a lot of new people to what life here can be like.

      Reply
  14. Karen

    How can we research market share each romance genre and / or subgenre has. Would you know how to find that information or where to research those statistics?
    Again, many thanks for this great post!

    Reply
  15. Karen

    How did you choose the book you analyzed / deconstructed? What were your criteria?
    Which book did you deconstruct?

    Reply
    • Susanne Lakin

      Hi Karen, I chose this genre because, as I said in my post, I had heard the authors in this genre usually sold a lot of copies and some didn’t do any marketing or have an author platform. I am sure there are many other subgenres that have plenty of readers but not so many books. Sorry, I won’t tell which book I deconstructed. You’ll have to buy my book and read it and try to figure that one out. It wouldn’t be right to divulge.

      Reply
      • Karen

        I understand your not wanting to divulge the actual name of the book – but did you choose a classic – can you just describe your criteria for choosing the book? A classic? – a recent bestseller? A top selling author? It would be so helpful to know what your criteria was for choosing a book that would be worth the very large effort of deconstructing it?

        Reply
        • Susanne Lakin

          I think I explained that in the article. I don’t think there are any “classics” in that genre. I had heard this author sold a lot of copies without a platform. That’s about all I can tell you. You can do your own research as mentioned in many of the comments above. There are many ways to find which genres sell well, but I can’t speak for other ones since I didn’t research them. I went on what the authors themselves were saying.

          Reply
  16. Roberto Santos

    I always read Joel ‘s blog here . And it’s really amazing the quality of posts. And now we have this one.

    I believe all of us writers invariably always ask ourselves “what is the REAL secret of a bestseller?” And your post Susanne, it sure helps to answer some of these questions. In other words, any experiment that aims to help all of us in the wide world of modern literature is very welcome!

    Maybe, from what I can read the posts, some did not understand what you wanted to explain here for all of us. Maybe because they did not understand the nature of the thing itself. Or, maybe because they simply had too lazy to watch the thing as a whole.

    One thing I was thinking while reading your experiment here – and this may be another interesting thing – is how many paperback books you sold?

    I ask this for a reason, they can give you another idea to experiment, I believe : the extent to which readers are willing to gamble on buying paper books? It will be an exciting genre determines the provision that a reader has to bet on an unknown author and buy a paper book which is more expensive, or it is connected only to the cheap price of e-books ?

    Does this alone explains why the “big names of the industry” sell their e-books so expensive?

    By the way, congratulations again for this experiment! I look forward to see the continuation.

    Best regards!!

    Reply
    • Susanne Lakin

      Most indie authors have told me they sell few print books in comparison. For example, one author who sells about 100k ebooks of a title says she might sell 200-300 print books a month. Some authors who sell 1,000 ebooks a month sell a handful of print books. I am guessing the big sales in ebooks is geared to ebook readers. Not sure how to target those who read mostly print books, but ebooks are taking over.

      Reply
  17. Michelle Weidenbenner

    Hi Susanne –

    I remember when you first told me about your experiment. I thought you were crazy for using a pen name no one knew. I thought you would fail if you kept your novel and your identity a secret.

    I’d been taught and believed that your brand was you, Susanne Laken, C.S. Lakin and LIVE, WRITE, THRIVE and that if your blog followers knew you had written a new novel they would help tell the world. After all, you give them free and valuable writing information every day.

    But you wanted to test the industry. And you did. And you’ve been successful. I’m thrilled for you! It’s about time!

    Thanks for sharing your results and giving authors like me something to learn from and ponder. I can’t wait until your books come out. Just think of how many authors you’ll help!

    Best,
    Michelle Weidenbenner

    Reply
  18. Susanne Lakin

    Thanks for all the kind words! Everyone. What has been the most wonderful blessing of getting into blogging about writing and sharing everything I’ve learned about writing is the people who have connected with me. There are so many terrific people who freely teach and blog, like Joel here, and it’s such a joy to guest post on each other’s sites and get feedback and encouragement from readers. It’s a ton of hard work. I think I write somewhere between 150 and 200k words a year on my blog, including comments and ancillary comments on LinkedIn and other places I post my blog posts. It’s pretty exhausting to keep up on and keep good content flowing. So we bloggers greatly appreciate the support.

    Reply
  19. Laure Reminick

    Wow, every single post has been fascinating and helpful. I’ve copied and pasted several parts for later consideration.

    C.S./Charlene, you mentioned you thought to try this experiment because of something you read in a blog post. And you researched heavily after that.

    This type of 1. involvement in other people’s comments and blog posts and then 2. taking the time to do research, is an activity belonging to a certain type of person. Because we are all different, there are writers out there (new, and experienced I dare say) who don’t spend much time reading posts nor would have been able to figure out how to track down the popular genres. Different strokes for different writers.

    The wonderful thing, for me, is that you freely share what you found. THAT is so useful for me. I’ll take it, and use it in my own manner. I thank you, deeply.

    Reply
  20. Rose Mary Boehm

    Thank the lawd. Of course I’d like a bestseller, I’d be lying through my teeth if I told anyone I write ‘only for myself’. ‘course not. And I have been a copywriter, how hack can you get. Neither do I put myself on the high horse, saying ‘you should never…’ Why on earth not. If that’s your beef, do it.

    It would also do me good (my sales) if I were a little more Google savvy. No doubt about that either.

    But write write I can only do from another place inside myself. The rest would come out as pure crap. And there’s already a lot of that out there – as you rightly point out. Not even saying that my two novels are masterpieces. But I had something to say and I said it. End of story. Now…wouldn’t it be nice if they were selling better :)

    Reply
  21. June Shaw

    Susan, what a terrific post! Can you suggest how to research subgenres?

    Reply
    • Susanne Lakin

      Hi June, someone said joining forums on Goodreads was a good way to see where readers are looking for more books. I’ll be going into more detail in the ebook I write, but I would Google top-ranking authors (Kindle) and top-ranking genres. Then look at some of the product pages and see what best-seller lists their book is in. I really have no sure way to do this. The key, though, is to study whichever genre you want to write in by creating a novel that is structured exactly to reader specifications so it will fit that genre.

      Reply
      • Rose Mary Boehm

        I am beginning to wonder why we write. Do we write to make bestsellers and a loddamoney, or do we write because we are writers? Do we want to formula writijng to fit ‘reader specifications’ or do we want to express ideas or tell stories.

        Reply
        • Linton Robinson

          VERY valid question, which I’ve implied here, but you’ve made it open.
          Of course that “why” varies from one writer to another, and from one book to another.
          But I think most writers who are motivated by any sort of self-expression or artistic impulse cringe at the idea that your run around doing a bunch research to tell you WHAT to write.
          It all sounds real cute and tech-hip, but it’s basically hack and verges on whoring. And the thing is… it doen’t really work all that well.
          The books people create for market don’t really do all that well. Because there is nothing behind them and people don’t want to read that sort of synthetic crap. Ironically, if you look at amazon and all the hundreds of little 99 cent books advising this–many written by pinheads who can barely speak English and often to to the next step–once you’ve figured out what book to write, get somebody on fiverr.com to write it for you–are all in 8 digit ratings.
          I don’t think I’m the only one who finds the “find a great category then write a book for it” thing to be insulting, frankly. But if you want to go write a romance novel because people buy them, injstead of the book inside you that you want to get out, go for it.

          Just by the way… I’m not a purist artiste by any means. I wrote for magazines and papers for years. My best-selling book is self-publsihed, no ISBN. It dominates it’s niche as an ebook, one of the best-selling English titles in Mexico. Since I put out an ebook version, it has been on the first page of its categories from the first day it was published, and every day since. It sold 130 copies last week. It was in the top couple of items on Google for many years. It’s down to the second page now because I didn’t bother scrambling for SEO after the algorithm changes. Because I don’t see Google SEO as being as effective as the other ways I sell the book.

          What this comes down to is something like: yeah, you can go get your face surgeried and your tits augmented. Might get you hit on more. Is that what you want?

          Reply
          • Greg Strandberg

            I wrote a book for authors on eBook promo sites – it’s one of my bestsellers. Wrote it right for the market.

            In Montana we have a long tradition of selling shovels to miners. Those smart folks were the only ones still around after the gold rush and they got the state started.

          • Linton Robinson

            Very true, Greg. I use the analogy of selling booze to the 49 ers, same idea.
            I keep mentioning how many of the “how to sell books” experts are experts because they sell a book on how to sell books. Writers are MUCH more gullible than the general public.
            Thing is though… so little of what helps that kind of book sell is useful for a novelist. I mentioned SEO in the context of a non-fiction guide. But it’s useless for fiction. People react to that statement, but come on… do you look for novels to read by googling? What the HELL keywords would you use? Nothing that would pull and indie book up over all the big publishers books, for sure.

            The reason I said this stuff varies from writer to write,,, and from book to book… is because of the situation you describe. I’m the same way, that non-fiction title pays my rent, has bailed me out for years. But my hearts in the fiction.
            I always swore I’d never to a writers’ how-to book… but I might.

        • Susanne Lakin

          Rose, I think the answer is different for every person. As I said, a lot of people make a living writing. It’s a job for many. Just like any other regular job. If you’re good at what you do, you should be able to make money at it. Unfortunately, writing novels doesn’t follow that formula. Writers should be rewarded for writing well, but that’s not always or often the case.

          But we each have to ask why we write and what we want to write. For me, I write stories I love to tell. And since I would now like to make some money writing so my husband can retire from his grueling job, I plan to write the kind of novels that sell well–that are in demand. And that’s romance. I have tried hard to sell my mysteries, but romance seems to sell better. I may try a paranormal vampire Amish love story or the like. Who knows. But if you are wondering if it’s selling out to write to sell, check out the variation of this post I wrote here: http://jordanrosenfeld.net/writing-to-genre-without-selling-out-guest-post-by-c-s-lakin/

          Reply
  22. Mark Coker

    Susanne, fascinating experiment, and cool to hear you found our 2013 survey useful. For those interested to explore our survey and our findings, here’s the link: http://blog.smashwords.com/2013/05/new-smashwords-survey-helps-authors.html

    Here’s the link to the 2012 survey so folks can compare how things changed from one year to the next: http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/04/can-ebook-data-reveal-new-viral.html

    I’ll present the results of our 2014 survey at RT Booklovers in New Orleans.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Susanne Lakin

      Thanks for chiming in, Mark. You do great work and help authors so much with all your research and advocating for authors. Your style guide for formatting ebooks is my Bible, and I’ve used it to format all my indie ebooks as well as many of my clients’. You’ve been the pioneer in the ebook revolution. So just want to give you a big shout out! And just let me know when I need to change my price on my book!

      Reply
  23. Pamela Beason

    Fantastically useful post! You proved a theory I’ve been wondering about for a long time. Genre fans are extremely loyal. I have deconstructed bestselling novels in the past and will now return to that successful method in the future. Thanks so much for doing the experiment and for writing about it!

    Reply
  24. Kath

    Interesting post. Thanks. Well done on your success. I’ll be interested in reading your book. I enjoyed Lonesome Dove too though it really isn’t the kind of book I normally read. I wonder would you be able to advise me on the use of pen names and epublishing. If I epublish under my pen name who owns the copyright on my novel? Thanks

    Reply
    • linrobinson

      A whole topic in itself, Kath. But first of all, you own the copyright. Who else would, the anonymous nom du plume? There are three levels of penomimity.
      1. The pseudonym is common knowledge. Donald Westlake/Richard Stark, Saki, Clemens/Twain.
      2. The nom du guerre is only known by you and your agent. (If your publishing house knows… see #1.) One aviso here, it brings your agent into the circle, and if you are using the pen name for fraud or anything like that, they’re on the spot.
      3. The identity is known only to yourself (and, of course, Santa and the NSA. One big problem here is cashing the checks.
      If you are self-publishing, it gets easier, but you still end up needing plausible ID’s on amazon, CreateSpace, etc. Those publishing platforms tend to have forms tailored to entering a seperate “written by” name.

      Reply
      • Kath

        Many thanks for the advice – much appreciated. You’re all very kind. Good wishes Kath

        Reply
    • Susanne Lakin

      Hi Kath, I didn’t want my real name showing on the copyright page so I copyrighted it in my pen name. It costs $35 to register a copyright via the online site with the copyright office. They give clear, easy instructions. You choose the option of using a pen name in one of the windows. I don’t bother copyrighting any of my other novels, which are in my real name.

      Reply
      • Linton Robinson

        Just out of curiosity… why do that? If you don’t protect your books normally, why bother to copyright one under a different author name?

        Reply
        • Susanne Lakin

          No need to copyright my books in my name. Copyright law protects them automatically. But someone named Charlene Whitman could come along and claim she is the author, so I needed to connect my real name to my pen name, since I put that pen name on the copyright page. I am not a lawyer and did my own research and spoke to agents and publishers for advice. So there are other factors involved, but this scenario worked best for my concerns.

          Reply
        • Linton Robinson

          Hmmm… actually, they are not “protected” unless copyrighted. You can’t take an infringer to court unless they are registered. I’d suggest you look into this.

          The other… well, what if somebody named Suzanne Lakin showed up? Your rights to an unregistered book would have to be proven. Easy enough with witnesses, prior online posting, registration with amazon, tax payments, etc… but no different from your other books, essentially.

          I see so many people jumping into pen names without thinking it out before hand, or even being aware of the laws and financial ramifications involved. Look…. it’s a brand. You have to treat it seriously.

          Reply
      • Joel Friedlander

        And you don’t even have to list an author name on the copyright page at all. For many years it’s been common practice for publishers to copyright on behalf of authors, and many books show the copyright as “© Book Publisher, all rights reserved.” The copyright registration is where you list both your real name and your pen name, if you’ve used one. Hope that helps.

        Reply
        • Linton Robinson

          I’m guessing anybody interested in this question is self-publishing, otherwise their publishers would give them the answer for that particular project.
          Writers all seem to think they understand copyright, but not that many do. I still see them saying, “Just mail yourself a copy.” The next level of not understanding is, “Don’t worry about it, it’s copyrighted as soon as your write it.”
          Deeper than that you get the realization that you have to be able to prove you wrote it prior to any infringement. Deeper yet is the fact that you can’t take anybody to court without registration…. and there is a deadline you have to make to file. Shorter than the time it takes for copyright registration to become final… unless you pay a couple of hundred dollars, as opposed to the $35 to just do it up front.

          Joel, I think it might be really helpful if you were to get a copyright attorney as a guest poster. There is plenty to know, and writers tend to not know it.

          Here’s one of Uncle Lin’s laws about copyright. Don’t ask strangers on the internet what to do about legal matters. :-)

          Reply
          • Kath

            Many thanks for the advice, Linton – much appreciated. You’re all very kind. Good wishes Kath

          • Roland Denzel

            I’d love to hear what a copyright attorney has to say on the matter, too.

            From what I’ve read in the copyright office literature, you are protected without registering. You must register the copyright before filing a lawsuit, however. You can register at any point down the road, too.

            Of course, it’s much clearer if you do it from the get go, but you don’t have to. It will be on you to prove it, either way, and a copyright filed before the infringement certainly plays in your favor.

            http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ1.pdf

            “Even though registration is not a requirement for
            protection, the copyright law provides several inducements
            or advantages to encourage copyright owners to make regis­
            tration. Among these advantages are the following:
            • Registration establishes a public record of the copyright
            claim.
            • Before an infringement suit may be filed in court, regis­
            tration is necessary for works of U. S. origin.
            • If made before or within five years of publication, regis­
            tration will establish prima facie evidence in court of
            the validity of the copyright and of the facts stated in
            the certificate.
            • If registration is made within three months after publica­
            tion of the work or prior to an infringement of the work,
            statutory damages and attorney’s fees will be available to
            the copyright owner in court actions. Otherwise, only an
            award of actual damages and profits is available to the
            copyright owner.
            • Registration allows the owner of the copyright to record
            the registration with the U. S. Customs Service for pro­
            tection against the importation of infringing copies. For
            additional information, go to the U. S. Customs and
            Border Protection website at http://www.cbp.gov/.
            Registration may be made at any time within the life of
            the copyright.”

        • Kath

          Many thanks for the advice, Joel – much appreciated. You’re all very kind. Good wishes Kath

          Reply
      • Kath

        Many thanks for the advice, Susanne – much appreciated. You’re all very kind. Good wishes Kath

        Reply
        • Linton Robinson

          Pretty much what I said, Roland.

          What I’d suggest that writers interested in this do is examine the sentence, “Your work is copyright protected, but you can’t take to court anybody who infringes it.” See if that makes any sense.

          Yes you CAN register it after the fact, like I said, but it costs you heavily to do so.

          Reply
  25. Joanne Guidoccio

    A fascinating post! Thanks for sharing your experience, Susanne. I’m looking forward to reading your book about the process.

    Reply
  26. Autumn Kalquist

    Susanne,
    Writers can be a prickly bunch. ;D

    I really appreciate this post. It has me thinking about the type of book I want to tackle next. I appreciate it every time someone shares their experiences with indie pubbing. I didn’t think you were making blanket statements. You were sharing your experience so that some of us might be helped by it. Thank you. ;)

    Reply

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