Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The eBook Market Visualized


People sometimes ask me why I don’t sell my books, though, truth be told, few people know or care that I write books. Still, those that do have asked me that question. I tell them that these days self-publishing is a big business, and you need to invest lots of money, if you want to have a ghost of a chance of making money in it. And unless you approach it systematically as a business – identifying the markets that move the most product and can produce a competitive product rapidly and relentlessly, you probably are not going to make money no matter how much you spend. Essentially you must be a business person first and a writer second – if at all. You can always hire ghost writers to produce the books you want, as long as you know just what sells.

In my imagination I picture the ebook market of Amazon, and other ebook retailers, as a vast marsh covered with reeds as far as the eye can see. Each reed is a book. Millions of them. The money that flows through this marsh can be seen as water. Let’s cross this marsh.

At the fringe of this marsh, the ground is hard and dry, the reeds brown. These are the books that people write for themselves, with either very limited appeal for one reason or another. And as a result, no money in the shape of water has reached them. They’ve never sold a copy. We push on, and eventually the ground becomes moist. You don’t see any water, but the reeds are thick and green. These are the books that have sold a few to a dozen or two copies, mostly to relatives, friends, and a few explorers of this wilderness of books. They may not be much better than the dead reads, but their authors come from big families, or have a lot of friends. In both of these cases there are no doubt true gems of books, but they are lost in the millions of reeds.

We walk on, and on, through these millions of reeds. Slowly the ground grows softer and eventually, there’s a little pool of water in our footprints. We’ve reached that part of the marsh where the reeds are books that have sold a hundred copies. These are the books of writers who have persisted, gotten better at writing, and have become more savvy in the trade. They may be on to something. Or not.

A few steps further and now there’s a thin sheen of water over the surface. We’ve reached the part of the marsh where books have sold maybe 500 copies. I’ve seen it reported that the average book sells 250 copies, so these books can probably considered success, if modest ones. They’re not paying many bills, and may not have earned out their publisher’s investment in covers, editors, and advertising. But they’re in business, anyway.

Just a step or two further, the water’s up to our ankles, but we can push on no further, as we have come to the shore of a swiftly flowing river. This rushing river is very narrow, but deep, the reeds submerged beneath the rushing water. We’ve reached the best sellers, awash in money from purchases and page views on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. The reeds under this surface are selling five, ten or more copies a day, earning their authors thousands of dollars a year. These are the books that the avid ebooks readers favor, and consume one after another.

Now we take to the air, like a bird. And looking down, we see not one of these narrow rivers winding through the broad flat marsh, but several dozen, perhaps. These rivers are the genres, or sub-genres that the avid ebook readers crave, and we can divide the marsh into sectors – romance, fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, etc. And through these sectors, several of these narrow rivers flow. If you can discover the formula of these best selling books, replicate it, and then bring it to the attention of the avid readers, you too could plant your reed of a book in the riverbed of these swiftly flowing streams, and make a lot of money. It’s almost that simple. But I have a feeling that it takes a little magic as well – either in the writing, and/or the blurb, and/or the cover, and/or the advertising to make it happen. And probably just pure luck as well. But you have to reach the banks of those rivers and plant your reed before all that can happen.

Unless you were born with a rare gift – the books you want to write match the books the avid readers in your genre want to read – and luck follows you like a dog you’ve raised from a puppy, writing books that sell well will be hard work. A job that demands a lot of hours, but doesn’t pay you a wage every two weeks. The rewards may be great, but so are the risks.

I cheat. I write the books I want. I don’t do any market research. I don’t spend any money on my covers, editing, or advertising. So, viewed as commercial products, you’ll find my books where the soil is merely moist. But because I give them away, my books perform as if they were a step or two or three away from those rushing streams. I was born with a rare gift. I’m not ambitious. Whereas most authors feel that selling books is essential to their self-image as an author. I’m able to embrace my amateur status and not discount my talent because I don’t sell my books for money. As a result there are some 40,000 of my stories on thousands of people’s devices these days.

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