Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

How to Stand Out as a Writer and Sell Your Work

Every week I receive emails from new authors ready to publish their books and they want to know how they can stand out and get noticed, and, well, sell a crap load of copies of their books.

That’s a tough question, and the answer is even tougher.

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I recently published a new book titled Inspired Writer: How to Create Magic with Your Words and I sold thousands of copies. It shot like a rocket up the rankings and became an Amazon #1 bestseller within just a couple days.

It sounds pretty cool until you realize I have a relatively popular blog, over 100,000 monthly readers, and I’ve been blogging for 10 years building said following, and Writer’s Digest recently listed Positive Writer on their Top Websites for Writers list for 2016. So you would be right to expect a new book of mine to sell quite a few copies at launch.

However, my stats pale in comparison to the likes of Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Jon Acuff, and Jeff Goins. When they publish books they don’t just become Amazon bestsellers, they become national bestsellers.

Pop goes my bubble.

Standing out as a writer is harder than it has ever been, you can create a brilliant blog with brilliant content, get the best profile photo shoot money can buy, and you can work 24hrs a day writing only what angels could ever hope to write.

And… can you hear that? It was a pin dropping.

You can’t hear it because there’s too much noise and because of so much noise people care less about new books, new music, and new media of any kind. In fact, even if you decide to give your book away for free you might still find it hard to reach over 100 people who will download it.

If you go over to my good friend Joe Buntings website Story Cartel you can download FOR FREE new books, if you’re willing to honestly review them. There are some damn good books on Joe’s site and I’ve used it for a couple of my own book launches.

If you go over to 8tracks you can listen to music all day long and never pay a cent.

I get offers from the New York Times almost daily on buying a cheap subscription and they keep giving me free access to content to get me to subscribe. Maybe I will, but I don’t need to because I have access to Google News and I can read more news for free in one day than I could ever dare to actually pay for in a lifetime.

So, what I am trying to say is that most people do not care about your new book and getting them to notice, much less care about it is a herculean task.

What’s even more challenging, as I pointed out above, is charging for your work. Writing, publishing and marketing a book is not free, with cover design, editing, formatting, and marketing etc… If done well, your book will cost you thousands if you self-publish, which most authors are now doing.

You’re not a corporation and you will probably put several of your much needed, food-on-the-table, paychecks into your book.

People do not care.

They’ve got to put food on the table too and as I pointed out, they can get their entertainment and news for free.

Asking even for 99cents is now considered too much to a lot of people, whereas a few years ago 99cents was a no-brainer. So you decide to undervalue your work and give it away for free, but people have so much free stuff to read, listen to, and watch already, so why should they click on your free work?

If what I am writing about here sounds like a nightmare scenario, it’s because it is. But, don’t worry, I’m going to tell you how we can start fixing it.

Last week, when I launched my new book, I sent out an email to a few friends asking if they would let their readers know about it. All of them were kind enough to do so, and likewise, I would do the same for them.

However, I received a reply from K.M. Weiland of Helping Writers Become Authors and she told me that she shared it and also purchased a copy.

When I read her message I kicked myself for not attaching a digital copy of the book to the original email. I told her that and she replied she was more than happy to purchase it because she wanted to read it and that it was a pleasure for her to help me out with an uptick in my Amazon rankings.

Her reply floored me! Seriously folks, how cool is that?

Recently, also with Katie, I did a group promotion where we offered our books for 99cents each and I purchased a copy from all of the authors who participated.

This is how you make a difference. All of us have to examine our own purchasing habits, especially for books. If we are not willing to spend money on books we want to read, whether they’re on promotion or not, then how can any of us expect anyone to purchase our work?

Does it mean others will do likewise in kind? Well, maybe, maybe not, but if it doesn’t start with us, who does it start with?

When I took my book off of promotion I received more than a handful of angry emails that my promotion time had been too short. In reality, most authors offer their book on promotion for 99cents for merely one day, but I offered it for a weekend and added the Monday.

I’m not defending my promotion; however, what I will say is this, if you’re an author and you’re not willing to spend money on a book you want to read, then I recommend you never publish any books that you want to sell. Yeah, I said it. And, I’ll tell you why.

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If even writers do not want to spend a few bucks on books that interest them, then how can we have the audacity to want to publish anything to sell?

What I am doing here is pointing out a very real problem that no one seems to want to address, and it’s the reason a lot of writers may never stand out and sell their work.

We have to start with our own consumption habits. Are we looking for cheap stuff, promotional stuff, or worse, are we looking for handouts?

Or, will we pay the price for something we care about?

It starts with you and me, we have the challenge of creating change and if we don’t do it, then we cannot, and should not, expect our audience to do it.

It’s tough.

Although, Weiland didn’t intend to, she inspired me to look in the mirror, make a unique purchase, and write this post.

There was a book I wanted to read and I was waiting for it to come out on paperback and instead, I went ahead and purchased the hardback. The author put a lot of time and energy into writing that book and he deserved for me to buy the hardback version and not wait for the cheaper one.

If I don’t purchase his hardback, then why should I expect anyone to purchase mine?

That’s my point. If we want to stand out as writers and charge for our work, we have to look in the mirror first.

This goes for all artists.

Think about it.

I’d love to hear your take on this, share your opinion in the comments.

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins
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  • Catherine North

    I completely agree, and well said! If you want someone else’s art, be prepared to pay for it. Otherwise we end up with a world where only the rich can afford to create anything.

  • Alicia Dean

    Excellent article. So true. We should support one another by purchasing books and, I’ll go a step further, reviewing and spreading the word to others via newsletters, Goodreads, Facebook, twitter, etc. Thanks for a great blog post!

  • Patrick

    Ah Grasshopper, what I see is your willingness to grow. The Bee stings only those who fear. I buy many books, some worthless, some never to be opened again. Very rarely the Muse’s Handbook to Higher Consciousness appears, but occasionally, every few years a diamond in the coal mine of offerings does happen. So I say use Wisdom and Love in all your doings, even purchasing books. Your work is appreciated !… Pat O’ Day

  • Bruce Pittman

    Right on, Bryan! This is a great kick in the pants for us writers. Treat others like we want to be treated. Thanks!

  • Ayodeji Awosika

    Hey Bryan,

    I’m with you 100% on this. Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is people trying to create flagship courses without ever purchasing one. If you’re not the type of investment minded person who would buy a $300-2000 course what makes you think you can create one?

    Writers suffer from delusion more than people in other professions. The ones who live in reality succeed.

    Off to share this!

  • Truth. And well-said.
    And I hope it also follows that however much a person has always bought books, will be the type of return he gets when he sells. 😉 Becaue I have thousands, all bought before they were 99 cents online….
    Going now to post in my sidebar a list of books I’ve bought, whether I’ve read them yet, or not. 😉

  • K.M. Weiland

    Great thoughts here, Bryan! And thanks for the very kind words. I hope you sell a gazillion copies!

  • Louisa Cornell

    I agree completely! I am fortunate in the romance genre as we tend to buy each others books and promote each others books a great deal. And like you, I have certain authors for whom only a hardback will do. It is how I started reading their books and the hardbooks look so nice on my bookshelves. I am afraid I am a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to physical books. I LOVE them! I love the way they look on my shelves. I love holding them. But, I will always support my fellow authors. I am a big believer in paying it forward and Karma!

    • Ah yes, Karma. 🙂 Always looking to get Karma on my side.

    • Absolutely. I’m a romance writer too and have been touched by how supportive authors are to each other. I will always buy a book from a fellow author if it’s one I want to read, and if I enjoy it (which I usually do) I will do my best to find time to post a short review. Every little helps.

  • Marisa

    I like buying books. Especially the physical kind you can hold in your hands. I guess I grew up with physical books and I still prefer them to e-books. I think part of the problem with free and 99 cent e-books is that it’s created this anticipation of being able to get digital stuff for free, and a sense that they aren’t as valuable as physical books that you can see in a bookshop. It’s a really good point that you make. We don’t pay for things because there is so much out there for free. I feel that nowadays the personal connection is such a big deal because people are willing to take that extra step and spend money when they feel like they ‘know’ an author. It doesn’t mean you have to spend all day chatting with people on FB; but even just small things, like interacting with people via blog comments and online communities; and also probably the willingness to be open and vulnerable in posts such as this one here.

    I think part of the trouble for me, both in the writing and general entrepreneurial world, is that people feel they need to present an image of being successful and ‘already there’, in order to win more interest, followers, and sales. For me, that can make me less likely to purchase their stuff, if I know that there are other similar offerings out there that cover much the same ground. If I know that someone isn’t already fully established, I’m more likely to join their groups/communities, as there’s a feeling of being able to support a worthy cause, and also a feeling that you won’t be lost in the herd of ‘fans’, but will be a valuable member of a community where there’s still the possibility of people getting to know each other somewhat. As an early-stages writer and entrepreneur, I also feel I have more in common with someone who isn’t fully established, and so the issues that they’re working on and talking about will often be more relevant to my own.

    • I agree, Marisa. Your comment is actually quite thought provoking. I think being yourself and being real is more valuable in today’s market, than portraying someone who has “made it.”

  • Great article. I think of this often, if I want someone to buy what I have I need to help them out as well. With that said, I love lining my book shelves with books of all kinds however because of my physical challenges I tend to get e books so I can read longer and enjoy more. I can’t hold a physical book as long as I can my kindle, and with kindle I can change the font which means I read more and enjoy more… Id say that’s a win win, for both author and me.

    AS they say Write on!

    • I say that’s a win-win too! Actually, I agree about the font change, as I get older my eyes aren’t as good as they used to be and appreciate that I can increase the font size in my Kindle reader.

  • N K

    Great article! I was told the same thing in a writing workshop I once attended. If aspiring authors themselves don’t buy books and support other writers, then how can they expect to sell thier own books?

  • bernadette

    So funny to read this today; I got the original Promotion to buy the ebook email; downloaded the sample, liked That and bought the ebook, partly because the book Was “inspirational” and partly because I wanted to support the book’s sales. After reading this article you’ve written here, it makes pursuing writing even more daunting. Sigh. :~/ The idea of pouring money into self-publishing is not appealing.
    However. It does not kill off my writer’s heart at all. I just like the act of writing. I get frustrated when I try to purposely work on craft/skills/editing/rewriting; and plan to keep your new book on my kindle “shelf” to open to “any” page to rekindle energy when discouraged.

    • I think the key is to get back to creating for the sake of creating and what will come will come. Create because you love to create.

      • bernadette

        Yes, Exactly ;~) . That Little Daunting Thought was let go, like your book recommends, part of my Embraced Flaws titled Unnecessary Worries. Thanks for responding!

  • Elisabeth

    I have believed for some time now that offering copies for free hurts authors as a whole. While some authors have enough work to make giving out free copies a feasible tactic, for most authors with only a few books this is a hard marketing option. I also have found that the free books I have usually go unread and the books I chose to purchase are always read, and usually reviewed as well. Since the majority of authors don’t make a large paycheck, where are we heading giving our work away for free. I think it helps Amazon sales more than our visibility. One exception – I do believe in the power of giving free copies to libraries.