Thursday, September 18, 2014

Modern Marketing for the Indy Writer Part II

Part One: Evaluate, Strategize, Execute, Re-Evaluate
Part Two: Sales Targets & Solid Foundations
Part Three: The Marketplace, Your Product & You
Part Four: Branding - Why Your Book Cover Matters
Part Five: Top Five Marketing Dos & Don'ts

Part II
Sales Targets & Solid Foundations

In Part One of this series, my short-term goal was simple: I wanted you to take a serious look at your current marketing efforts and truly evaluate how your book, your cover, your website everything you're doing stacks up to the competition.

But my longterm goal for this series remains the same: I want to change your mindset. I want you to walk away from this knowing that you can and should be selling more books.

But how many? How many books should you be selling? 

That's what we're going to look at today.

What are your goals? Do you have goals? How many books do you realistically expect to sell? What is the book-moving capacity for your chosen target market? These are the the very same questions I've asked every marketing client I've ever worked for, and these are the questions you should be asking yourself—and they're definitely questions your publisher should have very specific answers for (more on publishers at a later date). 

Don't worry about answering yet. Just think on it for a moment. First let me map out why it's so important we address these questions, and why I think you need a sales target.

Setting Sales Targets

The biggest mistake I see so many indy-artists make is that they don't set sales targets when they publish. They either don't have a specific target in mind, or if they do, they've set their sights way, way too low. Yes, low. Setting an achievable and realistic sales target is the first step you need to take to build a solid foundation for your marketing platform.

So why are goals so important?

A sales target is the foundation of any business plan, and yes, publishing and writing is a business.

First, we can't plan a marketing strategy unless we know exactly what we want to achieve. For instance, selling 100,000 units will require a vastly different strategy (and resources) than selling 10,000 units. Second, if you don't set a goal for yourself then it's absolutely impossible to gauge the success or failure of your (or your publisher's) marketing efforts.

If you've ever worked in sales (selling cars, clothes, real-estate, whatever), then you know that every sales person is given a quota. This is done for two reasons: one, it's a great kick-in-the-ass motivator, and two, it's the only way to gauge how well that sales person is doing. Are they exceeding their quotas or falling behind? Should they get a bonus or get fired?

Publishing our books should be no different. We need to know if our marketing efforts are working and helping us reach our projected sales targets?

So how many books can we expect to sell? What should our goal be?

Sales goals aren't about what you want to sell. It's not about wishful thinking. It's about what you should expect to sell (assuming you've researched your market, worked your butt off and done all your homework). I'd love to sell a million books, but I know that's not realistic as a goal—not right now, and not for a while.

So what is a realistic number? Fifty books a month? Five Hundred? How about five thousand?

The answer depends on what market your targeting, and the only way to answer this question is to thoroughly research your target market. We must know what the potential for our market is. We must have a firm grasp of what kind of sales other independent authors are doing in our chosen market of SFR.

Market Research

Before I published, before I wrote my first chapter, I spent months studying what the best-selling indy-authors were doing (in my very specific target-market of science-fiction adventure featuring ass-kicking cyber-women in a dystopian corporate-run future). I looked at how many books they were selling (you can find all sorts of sales data online), who was publishing them, who was editing them, who designed their covers, how often they released titles and what efforts they took to market themselves.

If you haven't already done this, then this should be your very first marketing research assignment. And it's important that you focus on what the best-selling indie-published authors are up to. Don't bother comparing yourself to the trads. Traditionally-published* authors are working with the kind of marketing-muscle we don't have, and their strategy will be very different from what we're capable of.

*SIDE NOTE: By 'traditionally-published' I mean published by one of the big, well-established publishing houses—the kind of house that's willing to unleash an entire marketing team behind your book series, the kind that's going to get you in magazines, on all the big web sites, on TV, youtube, and put you on extensive book tours. So, for the sake of this series, I'll be counting all the small ePress publishers as independents.

While doing your market research it's doubly important that you (again!) be brutally honest about how your book stacks up to the competition, both in terms of the writing and presentation (covers, book pages, websites, etc.). Take some time and read some of these books, too. Find out how your book compares, how it looks, how it reads. Examine how their marketing efforts differ from yours. Chances are you'll end up with some great ideas.

If this sounds like a lot of work, it is. But this kind of market research will reap huge rewards. I promise.

Once you start spending some time online getting to know the books and authors you’ll be in competition with you'll also start to develop a more complete picture of how Amazon works, and how to manipulate Amazon it in your favor. I know when I did this a huge dime dropped for me. I knew then that there was a huge potential to sell a lot of books. And I was right.

Numbers! Numbers! How many, already!

After doing my research I came to the determination that it was possible for me to sell 10,000 books. That number became my goal. I gave myself three years to hit that mark. And because of that research I thought that number was doable, even conservative, though I had no idea if I'd actually achieve it.

Again, this estimation was calculated based on what I saw other indy writers selling, how many titles they had vs. the single book title I was releasing at the time, how many units they sold per month, how I thought my book stacked up against theirs, in terms of quality of writing (story, characters, narrative, etc.), and of course the look of the book (packaging and branding).

Whether or not I would hit this number didn't matter, though I'm extremely happy to say that I did. And it took a lot less time then I thought. But what really mattered was that I had a realistic target in my sights. It was realistic because I'd done my research. I knew what kind of sales were possible. I had a firm goal in mind and I was determined to reach it—and because of that research I had a pretty good idea as to how to go about it.

Best of all, doing this research got me excited enough to actually sit down and finally write my first novel. Something I'd wanted to do for decades. It was the exact motivation I needed.

Depending on your perspective, selling 10,000 books either sounds like a lot or a little. For me, it was a mix of both. I’ve been around the block enough to know that 10,000 books is a drop in the bucket in the publishing world, but I also knew that selling 10K would be like totally freaking awesome for me as a first-time indy-writer-publisher. And it was.

Now that I'm getting set to publish the third book in my series, my new goal is to sell 100k by 2018. I've raised that number up from 10k, because I know that books sell books, and the more you have the more you can sell. Again, this number has not been pulled out of thin air. It's based on what I see similar titles doing. It's not just wishful thinking. It's based on the research I've done into my target market. I also know that if I don't reach this goal I'll have no one to blame but myself. Right now I'm falling way, way behind in my writing milestones and it's putting a serious damper on that 100k goal. But this is my fault. Not Amazon's. Not my lack of publishing support. It's my fault.

Your own sales goal will have to be based on your own research. It's all about how your book stacks up to the competition, how well it stands out from the crowd, and what your target market will bear.

Which brings us to the next section.


This is what I did before I published, and if you haven't already done it, now's the time.

  1. Pick your target market (smallest, most focused sub-genre on Amazon). Mine was Sci-Fi/Genetic Engineering.
  2. Find four best-selling books by four different best selling indy-authors within that target category. These should be books that you think your readers will also enjoy.
  3. Study these authors. See what they're doing to market themselves—this includes their online presence, who they picked to edit them, who designed their covers, and in some cases who published them if they went with a third-party publisher.
  4. Lastly, research how many books they sell, by month, by year and by total sales. There's a few ways to do this. The easiest is to look them up on a sales tracking site. You can also estimate their sales by their Amazon ranking. If they're ranked between 2k and 3k, then they're selling around 1000 books a month. If they're in the top 1000, then they could be selling a few hundred copies a day. Top 100 ranking means they're selling thousands of copies a day! Use this data to determine your sales target and time-frame to reach that goal.

It's a lot of work, but take heart in the fact that this assignment serves a number significant purposes. I know when I did it I learned a f*deleted-by-editorial-staff-ton about Amazon and how it worked. By the time I published I felt I had a pretty good handle on things. I felt confident that I was launching my book properly, and that it would slot in well into my target market. Within a few weeks, that list at the bottom of my Amazon book page (where it says "People who bought this book also bought these books…") featured all of the very same books that I had researched. Their readers had become my readers. I felt like I'd nailed my target market.



  1. My first book has been out for a week, and I've been fiddling with search terms in KDP. My target are the sweet romance readers ready for a new world.

    Thanks to this post, it made me go to Amazon and type in "sweet science fiction romance." I'm the THIRD result on the first page! Pretty flippin' sweet. No pun intended...

    The next key, I think, needs to be me consistently applying the sweet label to make sure readers can find me. I'm also testing quite a few different things next month. I wanted a sales baseline with minimal promotion so I'd have good comparison numbers.

    I'm getting GREAT feedback on my cover, and it really stands out in search results because it's different. But not too different, I hope.

    1. That's awesome, Rachel. I've got a whole post on meta-data and Amazon searches, coming up. Playing around with that stuff has made a huge difference for me. I tweak it every few months.


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