I was talking book covers with my friend Sarah Madison, since I’m designing a cover for a small, non-fiction book I’m self-publishing under my real name concerning mourning issues for people who have lost their parents.  It’s a very important book to me, and while I am giving it away (or, charging a pittance because trying to give it away on Amazon and B&N is just an astounding headache) I want to try to get it out to as many people as possible.

Combine this self-publishing experiment with my works being published by online “houses” such as Dreamspinner and Decadent, I have a lot of interest in what is working for authors online.

Personally, I don’t see much difference between the two insofar as the writer is still responsible for a lot of her own self-marketing; the epub houses take a lot (by which I mean, a huge whole fucking amount) of the headache out of the actual publishing end by electronically formatting the book, providing a cover, and submitting various sites for distribution. Good houses like the ones I work with also help with marketing, so honestly I’ve got no beef with the model. I’m happy to share profits with anyone who is making my life easier, and my career more successful. Win/win!!!

Yet, there are still a few projects (such as the book I mentioned above) that are very personal to me, or don’t fit into a genre easily, that I want to maintain control over.

So. Onwards research ho!

If you look for information about being an author online, you are going to find Joe Konrath; an established but not-name-brand midlist horror writer, he began epublishing his own work just about two years ago now, and has made a phenomenal success at it. He went from hoping to get a few thousand dollars from epublishing to support his traditional-model sales, to withdrawing completely from the old-school publishing paradigm to focus all of his energies on epublishing.

It’s a great success story that not all of us can duplicate, so it’s worth taking his story with a grain of salt. He’s also a full time writer (as so many of us are not) and can devote a lot of time to marketing online. That said, the man’s not stupid, and he networks a lot with other successful online writers. Between his own commentary and the many, many guest blogs he’s posted from other writers (I’ve read them all, so you don’t have to – but his blog is worth keeping up with, IMHO), I’ve distilled a few crucial concepts, what I call The Four Tenets of ePublishing Success:

1. Volume counts: The writers doing the best sales have at least five books in circulation, and release at least one or two new titles a year. No one is making money off of one or two books alone.
2. Covers count: I’ve read a lot of stories where the author changed the cover and sales improved dramatically.
3. Word-of-mouth is more important than blog presence, advertisements, or reviews, which is why community forums are crucial (like at goodreads) and, even more importantly, good writing is crucial. Crap doesn’t sell; we know that, but the myth persists that ebooks can be crap and sell. It’s not true. Period.  The readers have become the vetters the agents/publishers of old used to pretend they were.
4. Short stories matter: people find you in anthologies or on story sites, and seek out your work. Yes, writing books is key to success but don’t overlook the value of shorter works to market your brand.

And…that’s pretty much it. Dozens of blog posts and thousands of words boil down to these Four Tenets.

What surprised me was how absolutely unimportant advertising is to most successful authors. My own marketing background means I’m very tied to the idea of advertising to increase brand recognition; but these days, that’s been replaced online for authors by book forums (goodreads, kindleforums). So nix the advertising budget if you are tight on cash. It’s probably not worth the investment, in the long run.

I also have heard too much pro/con about reviews and review sites to make a firm yay or nay call it; in the spirit of “all publicity is good publicity” then I’d say hound the review sites as best you can to get coverage. It certainly falls under the Third Tenet: Word-of-Mouth is Important, so hey, go for it. (Me, personally — well I hate to admit it but I rarely read review sites. I chase my reading material by word-of-mouths (friends’ suggestions), cover art and blurbs/summaries that interest me. But I know a lot of people who live at Trashy Bitches or Michelle’n’Jeff, so I can’t dismiss review sites.)

Since Konrath came to the epublishing business after having already been published by the traditional publishing paradigm, he gets heat from people who assume his success is based on that. From reading his own experience and that of authors who did NOT have that kind of previous luck to rely on, I think…maybe a little, at first. But it does not explain his exponential success at epublishing, nor the success of authors who did not have a published book to their name when they started. They followed the Four Tenets listed above, and that is why they are successful.

If you think I’m relying on Konrath too much for this information, well, I’d agree with you. But there are two points to answer that: very few other authors who have been epublishing for more than six months are being as blunt and open about their numbers or experiences on their own blogs; and Konrath regularly features guest posts talking about the industry by writers from a variety of genres. In what is essentially a vacuum of information, I kind of had to rely on Konrath’s site.

However, discussions about these particular issues abound in writers groups and on author blogs. Sarah Madison recently asked about book cover issues on her LJ blog, and nearly every answer supported the Second Tenet: Covers Count.

Like any creative endeavor, luck counts a lot in regards to success. Fabulous and talented authors get skipped by readers and terribly written books become bestsellers (*cough*Twilight*cough*). Anyone who has worked in marketing knows that the “Magic Formula” is unique to each product and changes from day to day, and is never, ever assured. My take-away from the Four Tenets of ePublishing Success is that kind luck only happens to the hard working people who are writing a lot of books and stories, who work the networking, and who pay attention to the details of good writing and good cover art.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a word count to hit for today that this essay doesn’t contribute to at all! *runs off to get the work done*

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