Give it away and make a fortune

In the last Falling blog post I promised to talk about the economics of publishing a successful book/becoming a successful author. A lot of it involves giving something away for free, which sounds counter-intuitive, but bear with me...

A lot of the people I've seen who publish books duly send their website address along to a few casual acquaintances and then kind of sit back, mentioning it every now and then but mostly hoping for a fairy to wave a magic wand and turn their book into a success by some kind of social biochemistry.

It might have been a fair enough strategy a few decades ago but the ebooks era has wrought several negative changes.

First, you're not just competing with the proverbial Stephen Kings, J K Rowlings and other popular and established authors, you're competing against everyone who's ever been disciplined enough to 'think they have a book in them' and actually write it down but ignore all the work that contributes to a decent reading experience after that (re-writing that's done so carefully and so much it becomes tedious, decent cover design, etc).

I don't mean to disparage all the self-published authors the digital revolution has enabled, but you don't need me to tell you there are some grotesqueries out there, both within ebooks covers and on them...

Second, unless you are Stephen King and J K Rowling books really aren't a thing any more. We're more time-poor in this day and age than we ever have been, which partly explains why YA is so successful (ie because only kids and teenagers have time to read).

And even if we weren't, as a Gen Xer TV, the occasional movie and later home video were the only other media encroaching on my potential reading time when I was a kid. Generations since have had countless other ways to entertain themselves that are much more immersive and immediate and so much less work than books it's a wonder even King and Rowling can make a living anymore.

All of which gives any book release – including those from major publishers with all the resources the industry of today can muster behind them – an almost-insurmountable wall to climb unless it's by an author with a household name.

I believe that means your only chance is to get boosts from influencers of some sort. Having someone else with a platform talk about your book is the second best advertising you can get. The first, as anyone who works in marketing will tell you, is word of mouth.

Both of those principles mean getting Falling into as many hands as possible for free* is priority number one. If people like it, they'll talk about it. Average people on the street who like it will tell like-minded friends and you'll build your fanbase one reader at a time. And at the same time, if someone who's famous – or who knows people – likes it and talks about it, there's a big boost.

And at some stage when you hit some magic point, any following you get will build on and drive itself. How may of us eventually gave in and read The Da Vinci Code or went and saw Avatar simply because it's what everybody was talking about? Success breeds success.

People will start talking about and reading your book without you prompting them to because they'll hear about it from the cultural firmament. They'll look for it. They'll pay for it. Someone will put it on torrent sites and you'll miss out on sales as a result, but any artist should consider themselves lucky their work is sought-after enough for people to want to pirate it.

And if you get that big and popular, is it really going to hurt that much? For every illegal copy of The Shining someone downloads, Stephen King still makes a very comfortable living (every time they make or remake a movie based on his books, which Hollywood's again in the thrall of as I write these words, someone sends him another big fat cheque). For every torrented copy of a Star Wars or Marvel movie, they're still among the movies with the top five box office grosses of all time.

One last point. You might have noticed I talk about movies a lot in order to reference something cultural in relation to Falling. It's partly because movies are something we all know, and that's kind of the point – we don't all know what blockbuster books are out because blockbuster books don't make half the dent on pop culture movies do.

A lot of writers, when they're blogging or talking about their books, make jokes about their work being turned into movies or TV series you're supposed to think are throwaway or offhand. Don't believe an ounce of it – we'd nearly sell our souls for a Hollywood producer or studio to option our book and turn it into a movie or Netflix series.

Look at The Girl on the Train, A Wrinkle in Time, Crazy Rich Asians, Annihilation, Harry Potter and Ready Player One. In the latter two cases they had huge followings that were enough to make their authors fabulously successful both creatively and critically without movie tie-in lucre, but the rest were 'merely' New York Times bestsellers, which as I've tried to establish above isn't enough to make them household names. They only became so when they were adapted into movies, with all the attendant marketing advantages that offers.

In fact, although I don't know the economics involved without seeing Ernie Cline or Kevin Kwan's tax returns, I'd bet a large chunk of income for a name brand author is from studios buying rights and/or residuals. Stephen King is in a new phase of having semi-trailers full of Hollywood money backing up to his door to make new movies of all his books as we speak, just like he did throughout the 80s.

All of which means that while I can't speak for every other author out there, I'd be lying if I didn't say publishing Falling was partly an advertisement directed at movie and TV people.

All any author needs is a reader or fan who knows someone (or is someone, and because of my day job I know some of those someones), and suddenly a global movie release or event series on a streaming service is doing more effective advertising than you ever could on your own, hopefully being big and beloved enough to send flocks of readers to Amazon to buy your book in enough numbers that you can pay your mortgage off.


* Yes, free. It doesn't mater how cheap something is – and at US$2.99 I couldn't possibly have priced Falling any lower without it affecting assumptions about the quality.

If I sent it to 100 people and asked them to pay for it, maybe one would. As it is, I'll probably only get one out of every 100 to even look at or read it even though I've sent it to them for free, so I have to send it to a *lot* of people and potential influencers before it'll get any traction.

In fact, if you're reading these words and have looked at the rest of the website and think you might fancy Falling, let me know and I'll send it to you for free too.