Most of the time there really is no answer. I’ve now put out – indie – a couple dozen short stories, a few collections and half a dozen novels. Nothing – nothing – in the world can explain what sells and what doesn’t. If someone can come up with a good formula to explain it, the person will become a millionaire overnight.
The surprises are not just in the negative. My son, Robert Hoyt, has now made enough money off a trunk short story — Bite One, which features vampire shopping carts, (yes, you DID read that right. Vampire shopping carts. Yes, I AM the sane one in this family) — to rival some of the traditional publisher advances for novels. Most of the sales are to England, and every time we think that surely everyone with an e-reader in Great Britain owns a copy of this story, it starts selling again.
I also have a friend whose fifth indie-released novel, after a year and a half of being out and available, suddenly made eight thousand dollars (just about) and then went back to selling in the hundreds of dollars.
I think most of the reason for that is that the ebook market is so wide and so widely distributed that there is no way of guessing it, and also because the main form of promotion that works is word of mouth, it all depends on your breaking into “pockets” of people who will like the story.
I’m not sure, for instance, what it is with Robert’s story, except that it must be a joke we don’t get yet.
Of course no author ever complains of unexpected sales. They might be as puzzled as I am about the continuing sales of Magician’s Throne and Dragon’s Blood – two minor, early short stories that, in retrospect, are incredibly flawed – but they won’t complain.
However, if you have ten or twenty short stories, or novels, or whatever it is you produce out there, and you’re selling maybe a copy a month, you’re going to worry. And if you keep working and working and the sales don’t improve, I imagine the experience will be as deadening as what I went through with traditional publishing in the “bad old days.”
Which is why I’m going to give you some tips that should help improve your ability to sell.
Mind you, this isn’t guaranteed. I – of course – do all of this, and yet, sometimes things don’t sell that I expect to sell, and things sell that leave me baffled. (Of course, I do all of this now, I haven’t gone back to fix the early stuff.)
However, if you follow these things they should improve your sales. They seem to improve mine.
First, and most important and I can’t repeat this enough: the best way to improve the sales of any one story is to have more than one story out there.
Look, remember what I said about the market being so huge and the only effective way of promoting your book being word of mouth?