He followed the now familiar route of offering his first novel Natural Causes on Amazon as a ‘loss leader’ without charge. Buyers were encouraged to pay £2.99 ($5) for the follow-up novel.
He stumbled on the ‘funnel’ strategy now being used by many authors. Buyers went on an email list and were followed up. Repeat buyers were transferred to a ‘friends’ list. They got personalised attention, special offers, discounts, and lots of love. That’s how John Locke sold his first million ebooks and it worked for Oswald too. He had already sold or given away 350,000 novels when Penguin offered him a contract for Natural Causes plus two sequels.
Amanda Hocking took a similar approach in 2011 when she signed a four-book deal with St Martin’s Press. The 27-year old writer had sold over one million copies of her self-promoted vampire romances, using Goodreads, Kindleboards, Facebook, Twitter, and her own blog. In just eleven months between April 2010 and March 2011 she had built a big fan base.
St Martin’s Press bought, in effect, not her books but her fan club.
A new publishing paradigm
Hocking's $2 million contract shook the paradigms of the publishing industry. It was virtually the first time a major imprint had signed a self-publishing author. Until then, self-published fiction had born the stigma of the vanity press. No credible reviewer would look at a Lulu or AuthorHouse novel. No bricks and mortar bookshop would stock it. No book club would list it. But Hocking set a precedent.
Today’s profit-squeezed publishers are more likely to be swayed by the size of the author’s following than by the intrinsic quality of their work. Fans are a guarantee of future sales.
Cynics have likened this policy to the old adage: banks loan money only to those who don’t need it. But it’s good news for those self-publishers, already moderately successful, who have reached a plateau in their writing lives - and a dilemma. By manic effort, they’ve built a reader base, sales record, popular blog and a back-list of profitable titles. What do they do now?
They wanted to be an author and they find they’ve become a huckster. And they don’t like it.
What does a writer do who doesn’t want to hustle – just write?
It’s a growing worry for many authors, and it will get worse. On Saturday, I will be back with the second installment of this two-part series where we can talk about the actual pitch. See you then.
Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, judges the Writers’ Village story competition and is a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He has been a successful commercial author for 42 years. A wealth of further ideas for writing fiction that sells can be found in his free 14-part story course at: Writers-Village.org/Academy-intro