Why a Career Isn’t Built on One Book

You say you’ve just self-published a book? Congratulations! All your hard work has finally paid off and now your content is available in print (and ebook too, right?). That’s fantastic. Be proud of yourself. Throw a party.

Now stop celebrating and get back to work.

If your goal in writing that book was just to see your name in print, or to get a story out of your head, then you’ve succeeded. But if you want to make self-publishing a career, or even a profitable sideline, one book is not enough. You need to get your second book finished as soon as possible. And then your third.

Why every author needs multiple books

Unless your name is Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell, you shouldn’t expect to “make it” as an author based on a single foray into publishing. The rest of us have to take the long road. On the other hand, there are lots of advantages to having multiple books on the market:

It’s simple math: More books means more search results, more reviews, more opportunities for readings and blog tours, and more things to tweet and blog about. If your books are for sale on Amazon, it also gives you more weight in Amazon’s recommendation engine.

There’s no way around this: Established authors have more credibility in the marketplace. Think about your own book browsing, whether your tastes run to how-to books or tense thrillers. Do you give more consideration to the author with one book on the shelves or the author with ten?

If you’re writing an epic fantasy trilogy or something similar, consider this: Your potential readers will want some assurance that their investment in your story is not wasted. Once Parts II and III of your masterpiece reach the market, it should be a lot easier to sell Part I.

Audience loyalty
No matter how great your first book is, eventually you will tap out your market. More books will bring those readers back, either to find out what happens next or to find out what else you have to share. And that’s when readers become fans.

More revenue
Back to the basic math: More books equal more income streams. Even when the sales of individual books slow down (as, eventually, they all do), having multiple books in the market means your profits can keep adding up.

What to write: Ways to keep the pot boiling

If you put everything you had into your first book, it might seem impossible to repeat the feat. Consider these ways to maintain your published output:

Write a series
If your first book was a novel, consider a sequel, prequel, spinoff, or an all-new story set in the same fictional universe. If you write nonfiction, think of new angles for approaching the same topic, or ways to bring your unique approach to new topics.

Think small
A book doesn’t have to be large. Consider publishing novellas or short stories as ebook “singles” at a bargain price, then combining them into printed collections. Or you can take a long story and serialize it, publishing a little bit at a time. Then you can reissue the whole thing in a single volume after the serial ends. This approach was commonplace in the nineteenth century (Dickens and Dumas were masters of the form), and it’s making a comeback in the ebook world.

Team up with other writers to create your own anthology around a theme, genre, or concept. That’s one more book credit for you. And associating your name with others exposes your work to people who might not otherwise discover you.

Leveraging your backlist

Once you have several books in the marketplace, you can make your backlist of older books work for you in new ways.

  • Consider discounting the price of your first book, or even giving it away for free. This can tempt new readers to sample your writing at low risk, and make them more willing to buy the rest of your work.
  • Use similar design or packaging across all your books to establish a brand. That way, readers who know you from one title can quickly spot your other books while browsing.
  • Promote your backlist books shortly before releasing a new book to help create buzz. Or promote them shortly after releasing a new book, so readers who have just discovered you can stock up.

Yes, more books means more work: more writing, more layout, and more marketing. But it also means that you’re building momentum in a way one book cannot. And if you do it right, you can ride that wave to greater success as an author.


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