March 16, 2013

Publish it and they will come? Nope

I hang out occasionally in the Kboards' Writers' Cafe, a forum for writers, especially those publishing on the Kindle platform. Every once in a while, a new writer will join because they just published their first book (congratulations!) and wonder when the money will start to roll in. I don't blame them for thinking that publishing a book means readers will immediately flock to it. I'm sure many of them were seduced by success stories like Amanda Hocking or Joe Konrath just as I was. But the sad truth is that finding success on Hocking's or Konrath's level is almost like winning the lottery.

I know because I've lived through an era of even bigger promised riches. I've been a software engineer in Silicon Valley for all of my career. When the dot-com bubble started in the late 1990's, I was still young and impressionable, and if you believed the press like I did, it seemed like anyone who worked at a dot-com was getting rich, but it wasn't true. I've worked at plenty of startups in my career, and sadly, none have turned me into anything close to being a millionaire. I've also built a handful of my own sites, hoping they'd become the next Facebook, YouTube, or even Craigslist. In case you thought it was just my bad luck, I should also mention that of all the engineer friends I know in Silicon Valley, the number who have become millionaires can be counted on one hand. Somebody's hitting it big, but most people are still plugging away, albeit at a comfortable level of living.

I've already walked down the path laden with promises of build-it-and-they-will-come instant riches. And I know now that it's no guarantee. Actually, the odds are very high that you will not see those riches. So when I began my publishing journey, I didn't expect otherwise despite what I read about Hocking and Konrath. I wasn't (overly) disappointed that my books didn't sell better and that monthly sales still only amount to lunch money.

But that doesn't mean you should stop writing because your first book didn't sell a million copies. As many authors have said, publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. Write because you love to write, not because you see it as a get-rich-quick scheme. And if there is anything that I've heard that will help improve your odds of success, it's publishing more books. It makes sense. You never know which one of your books will be a hit, and the more you have, the more likely one of them will hit it big. To draw an analogy to my engineering career again, as an author, you should act like a VC (venture capitalist) with a portfolio of companies. For even the best VCs, more than half of the companies in their portfolio will lose money, but it only takes one big winner to generate a huge return for your overall investments.

Publish a book and expect a lot of readers? No. But publish lots of books, and even a small group of readers per book starts to add up.

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