Here’s an interesting exercise for you - call it an experiment if you will.
You’ve probably been ‘trained’ to think in certain ways about how to turn your writing into an income. A number of popular methodologies and images of how to do this exist in modern culture and are hard to avoid. The fact that only one in a billion of these approaches actually works doesn’t seem to put people off, but rather makes many of them think, ‘Oh look what just happened for him/her! I must persist with bombarding the internet with ads and the same thing will happen for me!’ Or ‘I just have to get my keywords or the font in my ads exactly right and I too can make millions!’
These popular methods have an appeal partly because they look easy and impersonal and partly because of the fantasy figures bandied around with them. But real marketing functions with a little work and some degree of affinity for real people. Real marketing is what underlies any tiny success that popular methods have; popular methods are so time-consuming and wasteful and fail to see what it is within them that is working.
Try this approach instead.
1. Work out how much you would like to make each year from your writing.
Don’t be unrealistic about this, but at the same time, don’t fall for the ‘pauper author’ image either. The best figure would be in some kind of reasonable middle ground, let’s say £25,000 or roughly $US28,000 annually. Not a huge fortune, but able to facilitate a comfortable lifestyle.
2. Assuming approximately a £2.00 (or $US2.00) profit or royalties from each copy sold, work out how many copies of your book you’d need to sell. In the case of the above £25,000, that would mean 12,500 copies sold in a year.
3. Work out a demographic group of sufficient size so that 12,500 of them would probably buy your book. In other words, where are your people, your readers, your fans, and how many of them are there?
Let’s assume that only a certain percentage of the wider audience will actually buy your book. Out of 50,000 people who are rabid fans of the kind of thing you have written, perhaps only one quarter will fork out some cash and order your work, even though the whole group is mad for your subject/genre/theme etc.
4. 12,500 x 4 = 50,000. Now you have to find 50,000 people who are rabid fans of the kind of thing you have written.
How do you do that?
This is where it gets interesting.
5. What ‘kind of thing’ have you written? Try to break it down into as many categories as you can. What genre is it? When and where is it set? What are its themes? Does it have any other distinguishing features? And so on.
To show you what I mean, let’s take a classic short story like Charles Dickens’ ‘The Signalman’ and come up with as many categories as possible into which it might fit:
First person narration
…and so on. You can probably think of a few more. You need at least ten, I think, before you have enough to do the next step.
6. Look for other fiction or websites or publications or people which match those categories. You can use Google as much as you like: just add in each word or any combination of words, and see what comes up. Also do a similar search through Facebook, especially looking for groups. I did the same with the first three words from the list above and whole new worlds opened up in terms of web pages and social media groups.
Those places are where your people are ‘hanging out’.
7. Now you have a choice: you can join dozens of groups, pages, websites, societies and so on who are ‘into’ the same kinds of things that your story is about, or you can start your own groups, pages, websites, societies and so on. Be prepared to do some work - but far less work, and far more interesting work, than spamming the internet to try to get hold of faceless strangers.
8. Invite like-minded people to join your groups, pages, websites, societies and so on. Spend as much time on this as you like, but keep in mind your previous steps: you’re looking to gather together about 50,000 people in one way or another. By ‘gather’ I mean loosely associate, not turn into customers.
You see the big difference? Instead of firing thousands of advertising arrows into the sky hoping that a few random ones land where they will do some good, you are collecting a ‘captive audience’ which to some extent is under your control.
9. Work to amass an email list from these sources. You can do this by offering something for free which you think they will like - and you already have some idea of what they will like from doing the earlier steps. If you’re not sure how to do this, ask them what they would like. Don’t ask ‘What would you like from me so that I can get your email address?’; instead, ask what is their greatest desire or fear or struggle and come up with something genuinely valuable based on their answers.
If you do all of these steps properly, over a few months you will accumulate a base of names of people who are extremely likely to buy your book.
Now you need to work on your blurb, your cover, and other elements of your author platform and marketing to encourage as many of these people to part with money in exchange for what you have to offer.
This is your pathway to the income you named in step one.
It’s much more satisfying work than sending ads out into the void. You’re working with real, breathing people of like mind, or with your own writing most of the time. There’s lots of communication involved. It all feels more authentic and solid. And it gets results.
You might not make £25,000 in your first year, but you’ll see progression towards that figure. Over time, repeating or expanding upon the above steps, you will grow a working machine around your writing.
And you will have created the career you always wanted to have.
Try it. Let me know how it goes.