50 Reasons Why My Debut Novel Sold 10,000 Copies! (PT 1)

10,000 copies sold!

10,000! Man, oh man. It has taken me a while to soak that number in. That’s 5 figures! Before starting this journey, I’d dreamed of us selling 10,000 copies of my debut novel Sellout, but for it to actually happen? Especially as an indie? Wowzers! “Proud daddy” is the best way to describe this new sensation. Not many authors, including traditionally published, see that number in a book’s lifetime. Sellout took three years.

In today’s topsy-turvy book publishing environment, I’ve yet to find a statistic that has compiled average sales data for an indie/self-published print book and its electronic version, probably because ebooks are still the new kids on the block. One statistic that’s floated around for years says a self-published book only sells about 100 – 150 copies in its lifetime; however, I’ve heard some experts says that statistic applies to authors of vanity publishers like Authorhouse or Trafford, AKA rip-off artists (the authors themselves are primarily the buyers of their own books).  Today, authors have wider distribution and the ability to drop ebooks to as low as $0.99, so maybe average lifetime sales are much higher than 150 copies.


Because more  authors are doing it themselves, an avalanche of books has flooded the market in millions.  Since it’s hard to break out from the crowd—especially of millions—maybe average lifetime sales are still as low as 150, or even lower, despite the fact that e-books have provided another way for authors to sell.

Who knows?

Regardless, I’m confident that it’s pretty ding-dong hard–dare I say “rare”–for an indie to sell 10,000 copies of one book, let alone a debut novel. Yet, we did it!

Yup, proud daddy here (sniff, sniff).

Hey, how about I show you all the things that led to 10,000 copies sold, fifty of ’em to be exact? Cool? Cool.

I didn’t want this blog to be so long it could tear blood vessels in your eyeballs, so I decided to break it up in four parts:

6/3 – 6/4:  Before Launch

6/5: After launch (pocket-burning)

6/6: After launch (free to low-cost)

6/7: Misc

Before launch

1. LLC formation: The Pantheon Collective is its own entity. It has an Employment Identification Number and pays taxes. Being “legit” forces a business to strive for a higher standard in practices like bookkeeping, sales management and tax accounting, to ultimately, the finished product—your book! In other words, this ain’t no hobby! If you look at this book publishing thing as some fly-by pastime, you probably won’t sell many books.

2. Merging skillsets with two other authorsOmar is a Fortune-500 minded individual with extensive experience in marketing; Stephanie is the “backbone” and behind-the-scenes organizer, skilled in editing, typesetting, and bookkeeping; and I’m the “veteran” with multiple publishing credits and was once under contract with a literary agent. Our “areas of expertise” are tailor-made for a publishing company. And as authors, we’re not only the “presidents,” we’re “clients,” too.

3. Marketing plan: Who will buy your book? What do they look like? What age group? Where can you find them? Everyone won’t read your book. Not targeting a particular group is like throwing darts at a swarm of flies, hoping to stick one. Omar drafted the SELLOUT marketing plan.

4. Constant blogging: How will people know about you and your upcoming debut novel? You blog about it! That’s exactly what I did, long before book launch (almost six months prior). Not only did the blogs consist of SELLOUT updates (finishing edits, frustrations, deadlines, etc), they also included information about TPC as a whole.

5. Professional cover:  IMPORTANT! Marion Designs has crafted dozens of book covers for traditional publishers, which is why we hired him. He works with individual authors, small publishing houses and the “big dawgs.” A cover for an indie/self-published book should be the same quality as a book from Random House or Simon & Schuster. Yes, it’s expensive, but crucial!

6. Professional editing: ALSO IMPORTANT! Note the word “professional,” not Aunt Pam because she’s good with grammar. I suggest a developmental or content edit (for character development, scene structure, polishing dialogue, etc) and proofreading. Skipping these two steps begs for one-star reviews and readers demanding a refund while possibly cussing you out. Another expensive investment, but necessary (note I mentioned “investment,” not expense). SELLOUT actually received two professional edits and two proofreads.

7. Partner critique of book: Both partners read SELLOUT and gave their two cents. Based on their recommendations, I changed the plot a bit, strengthening the story with more tension/conflict. Stephanie made her suggestions while editing the book.

8. Three times promotional power:  Not only did I blog about the details of our first upcoming novel and TPC operations, but so did Steph and Omar! We expressed how things were going with the book from our point-of-views, which gave an interesting insight from several vantage points, specifically from the author (me), editor (Stephanie), and marketing expert (Omar). We became our own street team!

9. Book cover vote: After Marion Designs finished the covers, he gave us four choices, all five-star quality, industry standard, and hot! But instead of the three of us voting on them, we posted the covers on the TPC website and made a Choose My Book Cover announcement on social media and our individual mailing lists. The voting lasted for several days, which allowed hundreds of new visitors to our page, who, by the way, now knew about this book called SELLOUT about to drop.

10. Mailing list: We already had our individual list of emails, but when visitors would post comments on our blogs, we added more. We compiled emails into several distribution groups, later used mainly for announcing upcoming book signings and information on autographed copies. We now post most of our announcements on social media.

11. Video interviews: What better way to know more about the person behind the book than video? We completed several author interviews and check-ins, then posted them on YouTube. Video engages human senses in a way text can’t. I even posted a video of me holding the hard copy proof of SELLOUT for the first time, looking and feeling like a proud new daddy!

12. Networking: As TPC, we attended industry-related conferences, such as the Self-Publishing Symposium in New York in March 2010. It was like a TPC coming out party. This allowed us to build more bridges with industry professionals like editors from major publishing houses and best-selling authors while learning tips on how to run a successful independent publishing business. Students of the game we are!

13. Read Indie Publishing Books:  Trying to cover all the steps of book publishing (digital and print) wrecks the cranial nerves. ISBNs, distributors, print book formatting, e-book formatting, printers, typesetting, book sizes, covers, front matter, back matter—yikes! Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual and Aaron Shepard’s Aiming for Amazon helped ease the “pain.”

14. Reputable printer: In 2010, e-books weren’t as popular as today, so we initially focused on print only. But which printer? We chose Lightning Source (LSI), a unit owned by Ingram Content Group (which is the world’s largest distributor of books). Traditional and small publishers use LSI, and since they have Print on Demand technology and distribute through Amazon, B&N, international retailers, and visible from brick-and-border bookstore databases, it was a no-brainer.

15. Websites: We had four websites already “revved up” (mine, Steph’s, Omar’s under his pseudonym Qwantu Amaru, and the TPC main website). SELLOUT sneaked its way in each of them, including the cover. On the TPC page, we also added a ton of resources to assist other aspiring authors as we learned the process of indie publishing in real-time, like helpful links, tips, and templates for business and marketing plans. Remember, not only were we trying to build momentum for SELLOUT, we were telling the world about our author collective as well.

16. Well written:  I’ve been soaking up the fundamentals for years, including the nuts and bolts of writing novels (creating a hook, character point of views, adding tension, tone, setting a scene, etc). Around 1999, I transitioned my hobby to a more business-like venture. I subscribed to writer-related newsletters and magazines like Writer’s Digest, attended umpteen conferences, and took college courses on writing. I’m no expert, and I can never learn enough, but SELLOUT wouldn’t have been nearly as good if I hadn’t studied the craft and developed my scribe skills. Best believe I’m going to bury my head in books like The Elements of Style for my next novel TANGLED WEB.

17. Online Writers Groups: I’ve been an active member of several Yahoo writer groups for years, a few as far back as 2000. Writers.net was probably the first online group that taught me the most about the business of writing, such as soliciting literary agents via query letters. Now, I’m more involved in social media writer groups, particularly on Linked-in and Facebook. The cool thing? You hear from authors who’ve been there, done that. You also learn tips and tricks that can make you a better writer and promoter while avoiding costly mistakes. I wouldn’t have known about Lightning Source, Smashwords, or BookBub (more on these two later) if not for the writers in these groups. Every now and then Dan Poynter, the self-publishing Yoda of our time, pops in the Self Publishing Yahoo group. (end)

Final note: As you can see, it’s a good idea to promote the books before you launch it. Too many times, I’ve read a post from an author who asks a group, “I just published my book. Now, what do I do?” If you just can’t wait to read all 50 reasons in a 5-day blog, hit me up at james_wil_lew@yahoo.com and I’ll send a PDF copy with all of them included.

Next up:  After Launch (pocket-burning).

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One Response to 50 Reasons Why My Debut Novel Sold 10,000 Copies! (PT 1)

  1. Sakenia Pough says:

    This is awesome, now I am going to email asking for all fifty. Thank you again, you have answered so many questions.

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