(reblogged from Inkless: A Writer’s Blog)
Self-publishing is a pretty tough game for most authors, but as the industry matures and best practices start to emerge, we’re starting to learn more about what makes a self-published title sell.
Each year, Smashwords parses its sales data to give the rest of the world a little glimpse into what works for its best-selling authors. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, the fifth annual survey revealed that romance, erotica, and young adult fiction are the top sellers for the digital self-publishing platform.
These categories are so popular, in fact, that romance titles (adult and young adult combined) make up more than seventy percent of the top 200 best-selling titles, Smashwords CEO Mark Coker said. Seventy percent. That’s a pretty steady paycheck for the seamstresses that have to repair all those ripped bodices.
Fantasy clocked in as the fourth most popular fiction category in 2016, which I can only assume is due to the fact that we’re the only other genre that talks about bodices a lot. Fantasy novels made up 4.22 percent of the best sellers this year. Meanwhile, Sci-Fi titles only scooped up a measly one percent of the marketplace.
This may seem kind of depressing for those of us who are not big fans of the romance genre, but there are some concrete reasons why these authors have such huge success. And, as Coker points out, it’s possible that the wild success of these authors can teach us some lessons about how they garner such legions of loyal fans.
“Romance writers are typically ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new best practices,” he said, “and certainly this is underscored by their early adoption of series writing, free series starters and preorder usage.”
So what are some of the key tactics that best-selling writers employ, and how well do they work?
Racking up sales before release day
Preorders are especially important for boosting a book’s chances of success, the survey found. Average earnings for books that were available for preorder were 6.7 times greater than books that only banked on a big release day. More than half of the top 200 books in 2016 were available for pre-order. Of the top 200 pre-order books, 78 percent were romance titles.
“Every preorder gains you incremental benefit in terms of expanded readership, and over the course of years this incremental benefit compounds upon itself like a great investment. This is because the more readers you gain, the easier it becomes to gain even more readers because fans breed more fans through word of mouth,” said Coker.
That’s also why social media is so important. Unsurprisingly, the top 100 authors were much more likely than others to have a good website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account.
But this may be more of a correlation-not-causation scenario. I know plenty of authors who tweet like crazy and constantly post to their Facebook pages but remain unsuccessful – and that’s probably because they don’t know how to use social media wisely. Spamming your Twitter followers with cringe-worthy self-promotion tactics won’t get you anywhere.