Today I want to chat about something so many writers dwell on (whether we admit it or not), which is our desire to be Best-Selling Authors.
I earned that fancy title some time back when my novel Extracted debuted on the top of Amazon’s best-selling books list. But in reality, it hasn’t done much for me. That’s the truth.
To be completely honest, it was a bit of a disappointment.
Because we, as authors, have this notion that some title or award or sales threshold will give us legitimacy as an author. That simply isn’t the case. In the more recent months, I’ve had multiple books release and my income has gone from ‘kindergartner allowance’ to ‘holy crap this is my full-time JOB’ numbers. And it had less than nothing to do with titles, awards, or any of those things so many of us twist ourselves up in knots about. We keep thinking to ourselves that if we can just hit this list or that or win such and such award, that we will finally be a success. Then when we DO achieve those milestones, we’re often left feeling sort of blah about the whole thing. As if by earning that magical title of best-selling author winged unicorns will fly free from our buttholes and suddenly everything will be champagne and caviar, but what we really get is, “When are they going to make your book a movie?” or some variation of that where once again we begin to question our own worthiness.
So what are we striving for, if not to be a best-seller? Legitimacy? Success? What does that even mean?
While I am a huge advocate of not comparing our success or journey to that of any other authors, I want to point out what ‘success’ can really look like for an author. Don’t be too surprised when ‘success’ starts to look an awful lot like ‘hard work’ because that’s exactly what it is.
To do this, I’m going to be using author Bella Forrest as an example.
Firstly, why Bella?
Well, she’s the #1 ranked YA/Teen author on Amazon and is a best-selling author in her own right. She may not be a household name like say, JK Rowling, but she’s probably had just as much ‘success’ as a writer. She’s smart, savvy, self-published, and she has pretty much set the bar for being a kick ass business woman to boot.
I sat down today and took a hard look at her numbers. Bella (which is her pen name. She’s fiercely guarded her privacy IRL and you will never find a photo of her on any of her media outlets) has been indie publishing her Shades of A Vampire series since 2013. Now, to date, she has 29 books in that series (and a few spin-offs to boot). Each book is right around 290-310 pages long, and has a themed cover and excellent reviews, which tells me a few things. Firstly, it tells me that she is using a good editor to polish her work. Secondly, it tells me that she writes CONSTANTLY. For the first year her books came out a few months apart, but now they seem to release once a month or so. To do this level of writing, she must average somewhere around 5K words a day, 5 days a week. I know, that sounds like a TON, but if it’s your full-time job, it’s definitely doable. But again, that isn’t where she began. This is a snapshot of her now, three years and 29 books later.
She has a presence on the big 4 social media sites, being Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, in addition to a very professional website. However, she doesn’t spend ALL her time on any of them. She posts once a day to once every other day. She has a large newsletter/mailing list, which is absolutely a huge part of her success. She has over 98K likes on her main Facebook page (which she pays to promote regularly) and has over 4K twitter followers. She has loyal, ravenous fans, and she knows exactly how to connect with them (spoiler alert, it’s through her website and mailing list).
She has all the hallmarks of a ‘successful’ indie author. She produces quality books quickly and markets them effectively. She has spent years building her brand and her audience, and yet, she hasn’t slowed down. For all her success, she still puts out book after book, still works every day to create and maintain her author brand. So when you ask me what success looks like, I immediately point to her.
To prove just how much those things matter, I can tell you she’s sold well over a million copies and that every single one of those 29 books is in the Amazon top 1K, most in the top 500 overall. The first book is $0.99 but was free for a period, as a price promotion to drive sales to the rest of the series, which is a wildly successful tactic. The other books are all $3.99 each.To put that in sales perspective, I’m going to crunch some quick number estimates and what I wind up with is this: she is probably clearing close to $500,000, or better, a month. HOLY SHIT. (these numbers could be WAY off, but I based them on average daily sales estimates based on sales rank of each book times 70% (which is what Amazon pays on cover price at 2.99 or higher books) times 30 days in a month). If this is even in the ballpark, this is a mind-boggling number. especially in an industry where many ‘successful’ authors clear only $10-20K annually.
Her print books are POD, which means while you won’t see them on shelf in B&N (which is another one of those sort of weird ‘legitimacy’ things authors strive for) you can order them on Amazon. She also sells via indie bookstores and her website.
Which brings me to another thing she does. ALL her books are KU, that is, exclusively sold on Amazon. And let’s be real, Amazon loves Amazon, so books sold in KU get more of a marketing push through their system than non-KU books. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but it seems to work for her.
Seeing things like this inspire me so much. Because it makes me realize that ‘success’ doesn’t have to be defined in any one way, it can simply be achieved by doing something you love and doing it well. And thank heavens for authors like her who show us that sort of road map every day. I will probably never make money like that or have movies made or whatever, but that’s OK. We all have our own paths and we each make our own roads. What I see when I look at her is that anything is possible with hard work. And I’m so thankful for that.
I say all this today because what I want you to realize is that it’s not the titles, awards, or even income that makes you a successful writer. By doing what you love, every single day, you are a success. Whether the world knows your name or you have a dozen movies or make a fortune–or not–those things don’t decide what your value is. You decide what your value is. For me, every single fan letter I receive, every excited post I see about someone reading and loving my books, those are what makes me feel like a success.