SFA 050 – Leveling up: Going from 4/5 Figures a Year to 6 Figures a Year as an Author
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For this week’s show, we discussed a common question in our Facebook group: how do you go from four or five figures a year as an author to making six or even seven figures?
We shared our own paths to breaking $100,000 the first time, then went into some best practices AKA things to consider if you’re in a rut and struggling to get to the next level.
As mentioned in the news, David Gaughran’s Starting from Zero course is open now (and is free). There’s a few hours of solid content for newer authors.
General Thoughts on What It Takes to Make Six Figures a Year as an Author
Per a chart Alex Newton shares with his K-Lytics subscribers, if you have only one ebook, it takes staying in the Top 50 on Amazon all year for a 99-cent title or staying in the Top 500 all year for a $2.99 title.
Realistically, it takes a series selling pretty well. Even people who make it into the Top 100 don’t usually stay there long.
Lindsay shares the details on one of her backlist series that should bring in $100,000 this year (minimal expenses since everything is paid for at this point, and she doesn’t pay for ads on it):
I mentioned last week that my five-year-old Dragon Blood series should make about $100K this year without any advertising spend other than a $200 boosted Facebook post where I promoted all of my free series starters.
The sales are coming as a result of people downloading the free bundle of Books 1-3 (which I have promoted quite a bit in the past, just more with sponsorship sites than any kind of pay-per-click ads. I’ve done multi-author boxed sets with the Book 1. When I haven’t gotten Bookbubs, I’ve done Freebooksy. It’s had about $10K in sponsored posts lifetime over the 7-odd years since I released the first one.
The covers were some of my least expensive (Photoshop manipulation of stock art) at about $200 each.
There are eight novels total in the main series, a side novella, and a side novel, so taking away the three that have been free all year, all of the income is coming from six novels and a novella. Combined, the books are earning $8000+ a month on Amazon. I didn’t include the spinoff series when I did the math.
The books are around 20K-30K overall in the Amazon store and aren’t in KU, so this is an example of what it takes to break $100K (the series is wide and sales also come in from the other platforms). I’m guessing this is a lower sales ranking and sales than you would have thought. You don’t have to be killing it on Amazon to make good money. The series has just been consistently doing pretty well month in and month out this year. It’s always been a good one for me, but downloads of the free series starter have been up in CoVid Times.
Jo shares next:
I’ll say that I’ve never been a rapid releaser. During my six figure years, my success chiefly came from very strong sell-through on my series, each starting with a free starter. The Book of Deacon stuck in the top 100 free books for a long time, and in the top twenty free-fantasy books even longer. Back then, free and paid were displayed side by side, so I got a tremendous amount of traffic to Book one, which kept books 2 and 3 very close to each other in the ranks. I kept each series afloat with about one new entry and on average one to two BookBub features per year, either on a discounted boxed set or a Free Book 1. Beyond that, the only paid advertising was boosting the odd facebook post.
Through all that time I was wide, and I had some particularly good runs on Barnes and Noble and Apple. At any given time, I usually had one series being buoyed by a recent release and another series riding on the high of a recent BookBub. The combination of four or five books selling reasonably well was enough to keep the money rolling in. Through a lot of that time, I kept my books relatively cheap. Despite each of the Book of Deacon stories weighing in at nearly 150,000 words, I charged only $2.99 at the time.
A lot of the keys to my early success were pretty tightly linked to catching the Kindle Wave early, but most of the longterm earnings came from keeping that momentum up with periodic promo in the form of new release pushes and series starter features.
And here are Andrea’s thoughts:
I used to always say that people who don’t give up eventually find success, and that’s mostly still true. But people who never give up and consistently do the wrong things most likely won’t ever be successful. Or if they do, it’ll be very short-lived. Like, a couple of months.
The most important thing is working smart and hard. You can’t become successful if you’re not willing to put in HARD work. And you can’t become successful if you’re not willing to put in SMART work.
The vast majority of authors need to learn how to market. I definitely did – my books alone weren’t bringing in serious money. I had to learn to be smart about marketing. I’m lucky in that I love this aspect of being an author, but I didn’t always – I had to learn what made it tick. Once I had a taste for what good marketing felt like, I got a bug that hasn’t left since.
The biggest thing I tell clients is not to plan their lives around one specific tactic, especially something they can’t control (like BookBub features), but to teach themselves several ways to bring in money. Good writing in good genres, advertising on at least one of the good spots (Amazon, FB, BB, etc.), and running regular promotions with websites are a few key ways to become successful.
Checklist: Things to Look at When Trying to Figure out What’s Not Working
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result”
Quoting our own Jo Lallo: “Ads get strangers to buy your books, but your books make those strangers into fans, and your fans give you a career.”
Check your mindset: I keep hearing from people saying it’s pay to play and you don’t have a shot these days if you don’t have piles of money to spend on ads. I will agree that it’s going to be hard to get into the competitive category Top 100s (and stick) without ads. But you do not need to do that to have a very solid career. Also realize that all ads do is get you some visibility on your first book. That’s only part of the battle and at most it gets you a sale on Book 1. No amount of advertising is going to get people to buy the rest of the series if they don’t like Book 1. If you see someone killing it in your category, and they’re advertising all over the place, but you also see that their Books 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. are selling well enough to rank too, then I promise they’re doing a lot more right than just throwing money at ads.
Cover, blurb, sample pages: You’ve heard it before, but if the writing isn’t clean and engaging, and the cover doesn’t immediately tell your target audience that this book is for them, nothing else is going to work.
Too niche: You don’t have to write to market, but if you’re writing genre fiction, it has to have some commercial appeal. Sometimes a small niche can work if it has an underserved and hungry audience, but sometimes it’s small because there’s not an audience.
Not writing a story that meshes with the wants of the audience you’re targeting: If you think men are your target audience, put a male protagonist on Page 1. If you think women are, use a female protagonist to start off. Younger heroes for younger readers and vice versa.
Stylistically awkward, literary, or otherwise special: If you want to sell books, write in the tense, PoV, and style that’s typical in your genre (download samples of a bunch of the books in the Top 100 to double-check your assumptions). Third person past tense is never going to get you in trouble, but there are lots of readers who won’t go past Page 1 of something written in first. Present tense is hard to pull off and again will turn off many readers. Long convoluted sentences also make it difficult for the casual reader to get into the story.
Mining reviews for clues: We’re sensitive souls, and I’ll be the first to say I don’t look at my own reviews anymore, but there can be hints in there. Maybe your star average is okay, but there are a number of reviews that start out, “It took me a while to get into this but then…” or “Slow start but I’m glad I stuck with it.” Realize that for every reader who will stick with something, ten won’t.
Try a different genre: Yeah, we usually suggest sticking to one because it’s easier to build up an audience if you keep writing more of what they like, but that’s assuming you’ve actually made some headway in that genre. If you’re struggling to get your steampunk romance off the ground, and you’re also a reader of romantic comedy, maybe go try a series of that. I’ve seen quite a few people who struggled to sell as much as they wanted, despite good reviews, in a small niche and really broke out when they jumped into something bigger. The opposite can also hold true.
Time and consistency: I know this isn’t romantic, but some of this is like compounding interest. Over time, if you keep publishing new work and promoting your old, and people keep finding it and become fans who will buy everything, you get to the point where you can have good launches and you know a series isn’t going to bomb even if it isn’t anywhere close to what the mass market wants. With rare exceptions, you build up a fanbase over time.
Have a plan for burnout: What will you do to prevent it? What will you do if you get it? How will you keep your business running while you take a break? Are you willing to do what is necessary for your overall health and happiness, or are you going to force yourself to keep working? (Sometimes giving yourself permission to take a break will get you through burnout faster than working through it.)
Thank you for listening, and thank you to Joshua Pearson for producing the show. If you haven’t already, you can join the Facebook group at:
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