How I Sold My First 10,000 Books

It’s been a crazy year and a half for one Amira K. Makansi. Since I began my journey as an author and a publisher in July of 2013, my co-authors and I have released two books and a novella, all set in the world of Okaria, a futuristic post-apocalyptic civilization. In early April we announced that we’d officially sold over 10,000 books, which is pretty. fucking. radical, especially for a few authors who had never been professionally published before we began.

Now, I generally dislike people who get to something of a place of authority and then feel compelled to get up on their soapbox and tell everyone exactly how they got there and why theirs is the only possible path to success, and why if you want to be like them you ought to do exactly as they did, and blah blah blah. I’m not going to do that. But seeing how as there are a lot of authors out there who would probably like to hit that milestone and haven’t, I’m going to share with you five things I did that I think were instrumental to MY ability to hit this goal. Mine personally. Not anyone else’s. I’m sure buttloads of other, vastly more successful authors out there have their own tips, their own paths, and it’s best to follow along with as many people as possible in order to find YOUR OWN path to success. Don’t just listen to me. I might not even be right.

Here are five things my co-authors and I did that helped us sell our first 10,000 books.

1. Write a good book. 

Notice I don’t say “write a great book”. This is because writing a great book, a groundbreaking, earth-shattering, life-changing novel, isn’t really necessary for selling books. What is necessary for book sales is writing a pretty good book. If you’re not getting the majority 4 and 5 star reviews, or your beta readers aren’t saying “I loved it!” “Awesome!” or “Really interesting!” you need to go back to the drawing board. But you don’t have to hear “This book changed my life,” or “I cried at the end,” or “This is the best book I’ve ever read,” in order to feel confident proceeding to the point of sale.

2. Make friends, and be very, very good to them.

When I was first starting out, I joined Twitter, started keeping this blog, and went to a writer’s conference near where I lived. These few things were absolutely essential to my success, because they were networking opportunities. Through these steps I met the people who are the bedrock of my writing network, who I can always count on to help spread the word, and who are every bit as determined and talented – maybe more – than I am. The key is that this isn’t a one-way street. I re-tweet and share their blog posts, tweet out news about upcoming publications of theirs, beta-read manuscripts and short stories for them, and have liked their Facebook pages and posts so I know how they’re doing both as writers and friends. I care about these friends, not just as assets but as human beings. Networking is absolutely critical as a writer, and in order to network effectively, you have to give, give, give your help, support, and empathy. You will build your core of friends and allies this way.

3. Give away free copies – and loads of them – in exchange for reviews.

As a debut author, no one really knows if your books are going to be any good. They could be utter shit. So it’s very difficult to convince people to read what you’ve written if they’re not already familiar with your writing. When we were leading up to the launch of The Sowing, I contacted as many people as I could on Twitter, people who seemed like they were as passionate about writing and reading as I was, and I offered to give them all free copies of the book in exchange for an honest review when the book was released. A lot of people obliged. Some didn’t. Even after the book was released, I kept offering, giving, asking, and probably 80% of people I offered accepted, and went on to write a review for us. We did book tours, which coordinate with readers and book bloggers to arrange review drives in exchange for yet more free copies. And this got us a bunch of pretty decent reviews. Not all of them were good – some were terrible – but the important thing is quantity. And this leads me to #3….

4. BookBub. 

BookBub is perhaps the single most powerful marketing tool in your toolbox as an author, whether traditionally published, hybrid, or indie. BookBub is really for readers more than for authors – it’s a subscription service where you can sign up to receive free or discounted books in genres of your choosing. The reason BookBub is so important for authors is because they have MILLIONS of subscribers. Because of this, though BookBub is extremely selective about who they choose to feature. You need to have a good number of good reviews, a good-looking package, and correct genre-targeting in order to be accepted. But when you do get accepted, the results are enormous. In December of 2013 The Sowing was accepted for its first BookBub feature. Prior to that we’d been selling maybe one or two books a day, but with BookBub we sold over 500 books in a single day and gained momentum that never really slowed down. Even long after our feature, in January/February/March of 2014, we were still selling between 5-10 copies per day, an exponential difference over what we had been doing before. BookBub is a game changer. Period. End of story.

5. Write more good books. 

Ever heard of an author who was a one-hit wonder? No? Me either. That’s because they don’t exist. Writers, unlike musicians or maybe even actors, can’t just hit one home run to solidify their fame. If you wrote a book – even if it was a really fucking awesome book – and then sat back and waited for the $$ to roll in, you have made a terrible mistake. Stop waiting, start writing. We sold 5,000 copies, mostly of The Sowing, after a year of release. And maybe we could have gotten to 10,000, too, but it would have taken about twice as long as it did if we hadn’t published The Reaping and The Prelude. And we’ve got The Harvest on the way. All of our books play off of each other, and they all support each other. If you want one book to sell more, write another. Always have something in the works. Always have a new idea in your back pocket. Always be creating.

So that’s what I’ve got. My tips and tricks leading up to the big 10,000 mark. Questions? Concerns? Want to call me out on my bullshit? Leave a note in the comments, and I’ll get back to you!