There are a few lessons I’ve learned as an author that I have to remind myself of on a daily basis. One of the bigger ones is where I put my focus and with what intention has consequences for my wallet.
When I was relatively new I was more interested in gaining as big an audience as possible. My thinking was that surely the book sales would follow. Turns out that’s not necessarily true.
I managed to build a bigger and bigger audience till I had a readership through my national column that numbered in the millions but with anemic book sales. I actually achieved what I set out to do but it turns out that money matters. What was I doing wrong?
My focus was in the wrong place, which meant when agreeing to do new projects I was asking the wrong questions.
Here’s a few of the right questions if book sales matter to you and frankly, I’m not in the category of wealth just yet where I can ignore the bottom line.
- Am I willing to give up the ‘literary’ category for the ‘commercial’? And if not, can I accept that most agents and editors will not be interested and I may never make much money at writing?
- Am I willing to make changes to the manuscript that make the work even more saleable? (Frankly, all the changes that have ever been asked of me ended up making the story better, which benefits everyone.)
- What genre did I choose and can I live with this one for at least the next five years, no veering off into another one?
- Can I say no to the writing offers that pay nothing so that my time stays available for the projects that do pay?
- Can I say no to the writing offers that are interesting but have nothing to do with my genre so that my efforts can stay focused and the momentum builds in one direction?
- Can I be patient enough to build a blog audience of people who’d like my books (and are more likely to buy) rather than cater mostly to other writers (who want to learn the same profession but aren’t necessarily interested in your book)?
That last point is a tough one because it’s our community, our peeps and we are very supportive of each other – except for one interesting category. We don’t buy books outside of our own personal taste just because we like your advice on the craft. That makes sense – no pity buys – but it also means that if you’re an author, you need to let the potential audience get to know you and your genre and not just mentor others. That’s going to take a lot of blog posts about you or your subject matter. It’s a question of balance and being okay with the notion that building a solid base takes time and not everyone is going to keep coming back.
If you’re looking for an agent or a publisher this ought to be your focus as well just out of respect for their time and talent because it takes all of us looking in the same direction to really pull off a literary win in the money column. Remember an agent works for you, not volunteers and a publisher has a business to run, not a charity.