Telling tales or making sales? The author as entrepreneur

Telling tales or making sales? The author as entrepreneur

This is just me, thinking in pixels.

I don’t have an answer for you, or even advice.

I’m just pondering something, and I’ll be interested to see your response (if any).

In the traditionally published world, an author can just be an author.

It’s possible for someone to really want to simply tell a story.

They write a book, submit it to agents, get one who finds a publisher, and don’t have to be concerned about much else.

If the book is good, reasonably promoted, and the publisher finds it an audience, the author has focused on the writing.

Almost all of the advice I see for people who are independently publishing is how to get people to buy the book.

Not how to write it.

There is a sense to me that if you write a mediocre book and promote it extraordinarily well, you can be a successful author.

That’s obviously idealized on my part. Authors in the traditional publishing system certainly might have written a book in a way to get it selected by a publisher. The author might be consulted on non-writing issues (the cover, the layout). The author might have to do a lot of promotion outside the publisher’s efforts to get the book to sell.


I have a hard time picturing Hemingway or Capote figuring out how to get more user reviews and timing giveaways to move up the bestseller lists.

One of the clear strategies for indies: quantity.

When we hear about really successful authors using KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing), I notice they’ve often published ten books in a year or two.

Ten books!

Is it really because the bureaucracy of traditional publishing slowed the production so much that the author could have been writing a classic book every month or so if they had only gotten it together? Is it because of the publishers that we didn’t have fifty Rabbit Angstrom books from John Updike instead of six?

Now, I greatly admire Lester Dent who wrote most of the Doc Savage pulp adventures (under the house name* of Kenneth Robeson). I’m always impressed that Dent was writing an eighty or hundred page novel a month.

I suppose some people would equate pulp work like that with somebody publishing ten novels through KDP in a year, and that may be a legitimate comparison.

However, it just feels like all the advice is on gaming the system.

Do a free day. Put the book in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library**. Exchange reviews with other authors. Tweet. Comment here (and not there).

It suggests to me…that promotion is more important than product.

Now, certainly, the publishers have always thought like that…how to get the maximum sales through promotion.

They were paid to do that…so the authors didn’t have to do it.

Does it change writing? As promotion becomes more of a science, will really great books fail because their independently-publishing authors don’t know the rules? “You tweeted twice on a Tuesday? No wonder no one read your book, Mr. Twain.”

recently wrote in another blog I have (that apparently almost no one reads, but I have fun writing in it from time to time) about the movie, The Devil Inside.

It’s an inexpensive horror movie, picked up by a distributor for $1 million. In the opening weekend, it grossed $33.7 million in the USA.

“Yay!” you think, “a quality small movie found a distributor and reached the audience it deserved.”

Unfortunately, by pretty much every measure we have, the movie isn’t a good movie. It got overwhelmingly, practically historic, bad user reviews (and terrible reviews from professional critics, by the way).

More importantly, the box office has absolutely crashed, dropping an astounding 83% from the first week to the second.

People all over the movie industry are going to try to emulate that success. 🙂

After all, it’s easier to find bad movies than good ones…they are more common.  It you can make tens of millions of dollars with very low risk, that’s a good business model.

Okay, sure…you still want blockbusters. I don’t think Burger King is going to do The Devil Inside action figures, and merchandising makes a lot of money.

Is that the model for new authors, though?

Promotion over product…the book doesn’t have to be good, you just have to find that elusive formula that gets people to buy it…whether they like it or not?

I’m not good at promotion. I’ve had people tell me that I should be breaking up my books into a bunch of small books. I’d make more money with ten books each on one topic rather than one book with ten topics in it.

That’s probably true…but it doesn’t seem like as good a value for the reader.

In fact, I recently combined three of my books into one…at the same price for which I was selling each of the individual titles.

I go back and add more to books I’ve already written…because I want to give people more.

I’m certainly not saying I’m better than anybody else for doing that. I just want people to get value. I don’t want to have to spend time promoting ten different titles like that…I do want to concentrate on the writing.

I’ve had people ask me how to promote their books: I dunno.

This blog sells well. My latest book is selling better than I might have expected.

I don’t have anywhere near the sales as the successful independent authors that get into the news, though.

I congratulate them on that. Getting large numbers of sales like that is great! It’s not something I do well, but I’m impressed by other people doing it.

Again, I’m just thinking about this. I suppose my main question is, “Does the traditional publishing model allow authors to just concentrate on the art, where independently published authors concentrate on the business?”

It’s funny, because my first thought would be that indie publishing is passion publishing…you want to get that one novel you’ve been writing for years out to the public, so people can read it. It seems, though, to be more about, “How can I make a living as a writer?” Nothing wrong with that…I think authors should be compensated for their work, and I like the idea of professional writers.

I’m just not sure that I like authors focusing on how to make sales, rather than how to tell tales.

What do you think?

* A “house name” is owned by the publisher, and several author may write using that name. “Kenneth Roberson” was an example of that

** The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) is a set of books from which eligible Amazon Prime members (who typically pay $79 a year to get free two-day shipping on many items) can borrow up to one a month for no additional cost

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

18 Responses to “Telling tales or making sales? The author as entrepreneur”

  1. Debi Says:

    Well speaking of bad movies. I heard our city is being used in the new film “Lincoln vs the Zombies’. Wrong use of our fair city’s historic scenery.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Debi!

      Could that be “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter”? If so, that’s a major movie…I think the budget is something like $70 million.

      If you don’t mind, which city?

  2. jo Says:

    i think the traditional publishing industry is too complex and i think it misses a lot of writing. the classics being turned out now will make it because they just will. but i think the way it is shaping up more good authors will get their material out there and i think that is a great thing. the old way of publishing was too much for me to tackle even tho I know i have good stuff. the new way seems much more doable. i love to write and i will write, and share no matter what. but ya know, if i could get paid, it sure would help out with life. and allow me to continue to stay home and write even after the children are gone. i don’t see that as a bad thing. i think it needed changed. a more direct route from writer to reader seems the way to go to me.

  3. Zebras Says:

    I think we readers are benefiting from the switch to direct publishing, because we are not having our content filtered by folks who have to fit that content into a package that is guaranteed to sell, or has to fit a certain size for printing purposes, etc. etc. Pre-Kindle I had really gotten fed up with the Romance selection (my favorite genre) at the bookstore. So many books by the same few authors, and they all seemed to have become cheap imitations of some best seller or another. As readers, though, we have a lot of work to do to apply our own filters to all the offerings we have now. If we don’t, we’ll become the naysayers that say all Indie or self-pubbed books are crap. I do wonder how the insane amount of free offerings is really helping this business. Bufo, when you announced your archives were about 2,000, I was close to that at the same time. Now, even though I only click on about 1/3 of the freebies offered, I’m over 10,000. In theory, I never have to buy another book in my lifetime. Not good for the publishing business.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      I agree, I think we benefit…and we have a cost.

      I have no doubt that there are books that I would love that would not get published under the traditional publishing model…and can, under the direct publishing (and I do love that term) model.

      However, that selection process is going to be key. It’s going to be crucial that “good books” can be discovered as easily as “mediocre ones” or we simply go to another type of filtering. Does an author being a huckster take away from the author being an author? I don’t know that…but that question does intrigue me.

      On your books: I had that many paperbooks, but I didn’t stop buying more. You having those 10,000 freebies doesn’t hurt the publishers…unless it means you won’t buy books that you would have bought otherwise.

  4. Gwen Says:

    Marketing has changed even with Traditional Publishing. An fairly new author still has to go out there and publicize their own book, often on their own dime. Some publishing houses won’t even consider a book if the author doesn’t already have a platform (ie. blog) with fans already in place.

    The days when an author just got to sit down and write are long gone, whether they choose a big house or go indie. It sucks and we all lose in one way or another.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Gwen!

      Yes, I’m sure that’s the case for low market share authors. However, I don’t think brand name authors have to hustle in the same way, and that’s cut out in the indie publishing model. There are people who have clearly made six figures in royalties with books in the Kindle store. If there royalties were that high at a tradpub, I think they don’t have to personally call a local talk show to get booked.

      Increasing availability (via internet in particular, even for paperbooks) means that a publisher may take chances on more books..but without necessarily making a bigger investment in marketing. That’s why it makes sense for them to look at people who already have a free (to the publisher) promotional channel.

      I guess it’s just that sense that I get that new authors are often…well, the thought is that a book succeeds or not on its promotion. That was always true, in a way, but with an advance (again, I know that wouldn’t apply to an unknown first-timer), that feels different to me.

      I think e-publishing is definitely a net plus at this point…there are great novels that the author has had rejected many times and that the author has had for years.

      My concern is if books are written specifically for a quick buck, and nothing more. The investment in putting a book out there in e-book form is so much less, I’m afraid that will happen more often…

  5. Common Sense Says:

    I think promotion has become more important for everyone and not just books, movies and music as well. There are just so many more entertainments competing for attention these days.

    I also think good promotion won’t get you there unless you have a quality product to begin with. Like your movie example, it may get the initial attention, but word of mouth will kill it if the quality is bad.

    I think you’re correct with the quantity aspect as well. Just like music, when I discover someone new that I really like, I want to get everything by that author or musician. Nothing is more disappointing than to discover that there is only one album or one book. When I got my first Kindle and discovered indie authors, I found a terrific book. I wanted more by that author and was disappointed that there wasn’t any more. When I contacted the author, he said that he had a new book in a different series coming out soon. That book was also great but then that was it. There have been no new books, blog posts, no nothing from that author since. That author totally missed the boat by not providing a consistent stream of new books. Even the blockbuster authors get that. It’s why Janet Evonovich is so popular. Fortunately, I’ve since found other, similar, books to read, but would still really like more from that author.

    Other things that really help are a great cover and a great product description. I can’t tell you how many free or cheap books I skipped because the product descriptiion was all reviews or was poorly written. With all the free books, I’ll skip over books with poor covers too, there are just too many to go through to waste the time.

    I’m up to around 5,000 ebooks now, more than I can read in a lifetime, and I read about 100 books a year. I do still get books that sound interesting, but all authors are now competing with my To Be Read list, as well as all of the other new books out there. As for traditionally published books, why would I want to spend $10 or $20 for one book when I can get 10 or 20 books that are just as good for the same price? Not just indie books, but sales, deals of the day, and backlists that are offered for a reasonable price. I do have one mainstream author that I love. For him, I check out the ebook from the library.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Common!

      Your desire for multiple books is fascinating to me. If all buyers were like you, it would mean that no author should publish a first novel unless they had, say, ten novels already written.

      When Janet Evanovich first published, she would only have had one novel. At that point, I’m taking what you said to mean you would have looked for more books, not found them, and been disappointed.

      To me, I would expect most authors to write a book, and if that book was successful, be able to write more books. I think the model suggested by your comment requires that they be hobbyist authors: that they don’t make a living from writing, since they can take the time to write ten books without having sold one.

      The music business has had an evolution, certainly, I’ve read people commenting about it before. The idea now is to have one mega-album, and the company doesn’t care if you are dead in the water after that. They make their money on the first one, so they’ll over-expose people to sell that one, rather than trying to develop artists that will be around for years.

      We also see it in movies, when they make several movies at the same time (or at least, commit several movies). A big reason for that is that the salary demands of the actors go up if the movie is a success…so it’s cheaper to lock them in before the movie hits.

      Covers don’t interest me much, but as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very visually-oriented. A generic cover doesn’t discourage me at all.

      However, I do agree: a poorly-written book description can be a negative. “Learn grammar fast!” is going to mean I don’t want your book (since it’s grammatically incorrect). I also want a book description to, you know, describe the book. 🙂 I’m not impressed with something that says, “The best book you’ll read all year!” That doesn’t really tell me anything.

      Interesting thoughts, as always!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Common!

      I also wanted to talk a bit more about The Devil Inside as an example.

      While the movie was apparently bad, it’s release was a huge success. There aren’t many movies that will gross 40 million dollars more than their budgets this year…and I would guess the advertising budget was relatively low.

      business people will see that as a success…and that…concerns me for publishing. There have certainly been “instant books” (I recall one about the American Olympic hockey team beating the Russians that came out within a day or two, I think). That seems different from the risk of figuring out “quick cash” books that may not be of lasting value.

      I would hope that the majority of writers write for the love of it, certainly, and that may be true.

  6. shuggie Says:

    Very interesting discussion.

    I’m not sure how many authors are just in it for the money. I think most just want to get their books out there. Sadly I do think they do take short-cuts in terms of really working on the quality but I don’t think that’s a money issue so much as the fact that there’s no-one getting them to re-write etc.

    I also think that there’s a lot of talk about how to market your book because it’s an element you can more easily control. Not that people don’t care about honing their writing skills necessarily but that even if they do they might still not find an audience.

    As a reader I am bewildered by the choice of indie-/self-published work. There was a time when cheap/free would have been enough but now its not. I go by either established authors I know, or recommendations from people I trust (not just reviews on Amazon etc). I could easily download more books than I’ll ever read and for me personally that’s not the way to go.

  7. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I’ve not found any gems in the indie fiction selections I’ve tried. My biggest complaint about so many of the indie books is lack of editing. Spell check and grammar check are not good substitutes for having another human being read the book and help you find mistakes. But a good editor does more than proofread. A good editor can tell you if your characters are inconsistent or unrealistic; where your plot needs to be tightened; how to make your description come to life. They can find obvious factual errors. (Like peonies don’t bloom in September in the northern hemisphere.)

    I’m suspicious of the first dozen reviews of most books and moreso for the indie books. I figure they are written by friends and family. I always download a sample before buying, and I have yet to find a sample that made me want to read more.

    When the books are free instead of listed for .99, I’ll download the whole book instead of a sample, but most times, it only takes me a few pages before I realize that the writer has no clue how to write. Unfortunately, I guess my free download counts as a purchase even if I delete it after reading less than the first chapter, so maybe I should rethink that strategy.

    I can’t think of any indie fiction book that I’ve actually read all the way through.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I’ve read a few. One of the best books I’ve read on a Kindle is still In Her Name, which was the first novel I read on one, I believe:

      In Her Name (Omnibus Edition)

      I notice that it is also in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (available to eligible Prime members). I’d recommend it for people looking for a good “borrow”. However, as you can see in my review of it, I do have some content warnings.

      I’d also enjoyed (and thought it was well edited) David Derrico’s The Twiller:

      Not for everybody, just because it is goofy. 🙂

      An editor can be incredibly important, and it’s worth noting that editing services are likely to be increasingly available (at a cost) outside traditional publishing…

  8. vrwl Says:

    This article ties directly in with your thoughts today…

    Sounds like the author was getting bogged down with the publishing duties.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, vrwl!

      I’ve done a few posts about Hocking…this may be a particularly relevant one:

      Hocking was, I think, the first of the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing…then DTP, Digital Text Platform) authors to get extensive media coverage for success.

      When the author signed with a traditional publisher, that was a very interesting development. One of the questions: are indies indies by choice, or do they do it because they haven’t broken into traditional publishing? Clearly, some bestselling tradpub authors have published independently in the Kindle store, so that’s not always the answer. Still, when Hocking signed, it invalidated a narrative for some people.

  9. Phylis M Ledesma Says:

    I would say either way, you are making sales. Be as creative as you want, people like that. But don’t worry about losing sales because I believe your blog is very interesting and I am quite sure the other subscribers do as well.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Phylis!

      Thanks for the kind words!

      Oh, I’m not worried about increasing my own sales, personally. Sure, more money would be nice, but I’m very pleased with how I’m doing now.

      I’m more concerned that new authors may overly focus on the sales and the short term.

  10. Man in the Middle Says:

    I’ve been downloading all the free new Ebooks offered me daily by’s email for over a year, figuring sooner or later the stream of free offerings of new books will have to dry up. Thus far, if anything, it continues to increase. If I weren’t retired, I wouldn’t have time even to consider what all is now offered daily, let alone read any of it.

    One unintended side-effect for authors is that I’m no longer willing to spend even $1-3 for an impulse book purchase. I simply have too many free books already in my queue to even think of PAYING for a book I’m not already sure I want.

    One thing I AM still willing to pay for is an Omnibus of multiple related books, such as the “In Her Name” series you mentioned, after enjoying a free first volume, especially when the Omnibus is more economical than buying each volume separately.

    I’d also highly recommend authors categorize their Kindle books accurately in the Amazon category listing. I recently noticed several with no category listing at all, and only the most generic category even in the eReaderIQ Email listing them. I’m specifically shopping only for wholesome books in specific categories, so making it hard for me to know whether your book can pass my filters makes it less likely these days that I’ll even give it a glance.

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