A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a book on Kindle that promised authors they could make a million dollars selling books on Amazon. A quick search yielded dozens of titles promising writers they can easily become best-selling authors, or promising to teach them how to write a best-selling book in 30 days. There are even books that tell people that publishing a book is “easy money” and good way to generate “passive income” because their published book will continue to bring in a steady income month after month without the author having to do anything at all!
I can already hear the grumbling and grinding of teeth from those of you who know how difficult it can be to write a book, much less publish and promote it. I’ve read many well-written, engaging books (self-published and traditionally published) that were simply phenomenal, but never reached best-seller status. The authors who wrote these books are still toiling away at 9-to-5 day jobs, waiting for their “million dollars” to roll in. They aren’t holding their breath.
I don’t know why I’m still fixated on these self-publishing books that fill writers’ heads with dubious promises and bad advice. I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Anyone who falls for those get-rich-quick promises deserves what they get.” It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who is only writing because they’ve been told it’s an easy money-making scheme. I do, however, feel very sorry for those writers who believe these books are going to help them achieve their life-long dreams. Most of these books that make flashy promises in the title are full of questionable advice, confusing ramblings about algorithms, and outright lies.
One of the things these books will promise you is that you can be a best-seller. Some specifically tell you how to hit the NYT list, while others will tell you what keywords to use so you can reach an obscure best-seller list on Amazon.
How do you become a NYT best-selling author? Well, according to some of these books, all you have to do is write a bunch of books and then release them strategically, utilizing your newsletter (with massive mailing list, of course) and free promotions to push your book right to the top! Easy, right? Not for me. Not for a lot of us. This method of becoming a best-seller only works (IF it works) for certain writers. For example, if you’re a novelist who writes standalone literary fiction, I don’t think this method will work for you. It’s not going to work for writers of historical fiction who spend hours upon hours meticulously researching. It won’t work for writers who have day jobs, children, or who value sleep because in order to write “a bunch of books” in a short period of time, you aren’t going to be able to do anything else but write! The advice in these books does not take into consideration those writers who take years to write one book. It doesn’t take into consideration feedback from beta readers, editing, or any of the other steps I would recommend before sending a book out into the world. Nope. This is strictly an assembly-line type of writing and publishing for short novellas that are part of a series. Sort of limiting, isn’t it?
The assembly-line publishing method isn’t going to work if you don’t have an audience. Most of these book-selling guides assume you already have a massive mailing list or blog following. They don’t tell you how difficult and time-consuming it can be to gain a huge following on your blog, or to grow your mailing list. You don’t make connections in the writing world overnight. All of this takes time. And even then, there is no guarantee that your book (or series of books) will reach best-seller status.
So, let’s tackle the subject of keywords. With the careful use keywords, it is possible to hit a best-seller list by only selling a few books. But how does that help you find new readers? Or generate enough income to quit your day job? While I would love to get the best-seller ribbon on Amazon (I would love it so much!), an even bigger dream of mine is to sell enough books that I can make a reasonable, steady income writing full time. Hitting a best-seller list from the sales of just a few books isn’t going to do that.
Another thing that really upsets me about these “how to be a best-selling author” books is the complete disregard for the craft of writing. Good writing takes time. While there are natural born storytellers out there who ooze talent, they still have to learn the craft. They still have to work hard. Writing is an art and a skill. In fact, it’s a complex, tangled collection of skills we learn and practice. For some of us, this takes years. We learn to write by reading often. Some of us learn by taking classes. Others learn by reading books about craft. We all hone our skills by practicing. I wrote millions of words before any of them were publishable.
Many of these books that talk about passive income and generating a steady stream of revenue are written by people who have never written a book prior to their how-to guide. How do they know their methods are going to work if they’ve never done it before? Besides, writing a how-to book is different from writing fiction. How can these people predict how long it should take a writer to complete a book or an entire series of books? To me, this is just a clear indication that these peddlers of poor advice don’t know the first thing about the craft of writing. And you know what else? They don’t care.
If I ever discover the magic formula to becoming an overnight-millionaire-author-sensation, I will be sure to let you know. Some self-published authors have reached the level of success we all dream of, though I’m sure they would tell you it wasn’t overnight. The fact is, it takes time to build a writing career. The best thing we can do is keep learning and keep writing. You never know – your next book might be the one that catapults you from struggling author to best-selling millionaire. People who don’t know you will say you’re an overnight sensation, but you’ll know the truth – that everything you achieved was through hard work, perseverance, and dedication to the craft. But you’ll never know where that next book will take you unless you write it. So, let’s get writing!