For years, I have belonged to Romance Writers of America, which promotes romance novels and helps to bring writers together in local chapters. I am a PAN member there, which requires having sold a certain number of books to indicate the writer is treating it as a profession. Many romance writers earn a living with their books, but most are lucky to make car payments. In 2017, quite a few experienced fewer sales and began to look for why.
With all the things an indie author must do, learning the ropes of the business end, is maybe the hardest. Most writers, at least of fiction, do not have an MBA. They may take their writing very seriously, as a business, but most are not knowledgeable in sales or marketing-- at least to begin. The author can hire services from those who are professionals like a publicist, review services (these are sometimes a little shady as reviews are supposed to be from real readers not paid apps), editors to determine if their work is marketable, and pay for advertising sites. Each service costs money. Some are better than others for being effective. The author can also elect to go it on their own and start reading and listening to what has worked for others-- or not.
Since in late December of 2011, when I brought my first book out on Amazon, I have done very little advertising. What I have done has taught me a few things. For instance, advertising, on a site that is not filled with readers in your genre, is probably a waste of money. Facebook has ads and I have used those, keeping the listing away from my friend list and trying to target readers of romances. I also have used the free services of Twitter. Personally, I think none have garnered a for-certain sale. Sales come from mysterious forces. While the Internet is very connected, it is also often unknown. What we can control there is debatable. That said, word of mouth is a very good way to see sales-- as is networking. Community once again is needed if one isn't doing a lot of expensive ads.
In those six years, there have been ups and downs in sales. This summer, sales plummeted. I blamed it on not advertising. Experimentally, I moved all of my paranormal romances into the Kindle Unlimited subscription service for borrowing. They are still available for sale, but can only be at Amazon. Books in KU earn a small amount per page read. For some it works out to be a good deal. I am still uncertain whether it will for me, as again-- no advertising but I plan to do some.
The thing is many readers only want free books. You can see where that isn't going to make a car payment, least of all support the writer. Readers though see eBooks in particular as not having substance; so why not free. Some of that is encouraged by writer giveaways. These are done with the hope the reader will get a free sample and then buy books. I guess that works for some. There are also contests or places where readers are rewarded by gifts. These are all at the writers' discretion and always intended to go somewhere. There is another way to get free books.
In January of 2012, I had my first free days for my new book (Amazon let an author do that for a few days back then). I hadn't expected many would want it-- after all, not many had bought it in the week or so it'd been out. It had over a thousand takers. I was in shock. A few months later, I was in an Amazon forum for writers. At the time, I had more of my books out (previously written through many years). One women said she liked my books but would wait until they were free. Think about it for a minute. How would a writer make a living if all thought this way?
In those early years is when I learned of another way readers get books for free-- buy them and return them after reading or transferring them to their computer. This was happening to one book after another in one of my series. If someone hated a book and returned it, why would they buy the next one? One reason-- Amazon’s generous return policy. Now, if a reader does this too many times, Amazon will revoke their right to buy books. In the meantime, the writer is out the money, as these readers go on to another author with a new email.
I have long known that pirate sites are all over the Internet, most from outside the United States. They make themselves look professional and aboveboard to get subscribers. They are professional thieves but not aboveboard. If a reader stopped to think, they'd probably realize their books were not gotten legally (the sites admit (in the small print) they don't check if an offered book was legally acquired). A thinking reader might wonder if they'd get a virus or malware from such a site... a thinking reader.
Taking books (music and DVDs) that were not offered for free by the author is theft but probably not seen that way by the one going to a pirate site. I think the logic there goes to ‘there are free books out there - -why not this one?’ I also suspect they don’t think they are stealing because they don’t know all the cost that went into writing a book that to them doesn't feel real. No paper after all-- as if that's the most costly part of creating a book. Most indie books are fairly inexpensive. Why steal what costs less than a cup of coffee in many places?
Last week, I was following an author thread where someone was talking about their plummeting sales and their discovery that their best selling book was on a pirate site with reader reviews as to how much they loved getting it for free. Someone else wrote-- use Blasty. I had never heard of it and previously thought the only way to get books off such sites was to write the company and demand it-- which since most are in other countries-- can be fruitless.
Blasty finds the books and takes them down for the writer for a monthly fee. We signed up. It took a few days to find out there were over 7000 with more than 2000 reviews (which might've been as fake as the site) on some books that have had few legal sales or giveaways by me. After seeing how many places readers could get my books for free-- one that would only be $3.95 from a legal site-- I had only one consolation. Although my sales are way down, readership apparently is not...
The problem is that as fast as Blasty cn take down a book, it can be put back up-- one main reason for paying them to do it. I see it as something for those writers who must make a living as much as for myself. If all the writers, who could afford the $12.95 would do it, it might destroy those sites-- maybe. It is frustrating that is needs to be done, but so goes life. If you are a writer with books out there, check Blasty to see if yours are on unauthorized sites and get them off.
When someone takes a book for free that was never offered by the author, they might be forcing that writer back to a full-time job and no writing. For more than a few writers that I know, they are able to write full-time-- if their books aren't stolen. In my case, it means money does not go into the college account for my four grandchildren. That is how I use all profits from my books, as I see education as so key to a good life. Education is part of not only getting jobs but maybe learning to see beyond the short term to the long term for what an action costs or benefits.To understand that--
those supposedly free sites are not actually free!