Is there a point of critical mass in marketing a book when it begins to sell itself?

At the beginning of September I made a pledge to myself to cut back on marketing, step up my writing, and see what effect this had on my sales. So how did I do?

Well, I wasn’t completely successful in terms of writing. A trip, a cold, several sets of papers to grade became useful excuses not to write, but I did write 2,000 more words, and have 5 chapters of “Uneasy Spirits,” my sequel to Maids of Misfortune, completed. More importantly, I am much more engaged in the process of writing. For those of you who have read my earlier posts, you know that I wrote the first draft of Maids of Misfortune 20 years before I actually published it. Well, I also outlined the plot of “Uneasy Spirits” many years ago, so it has taken me awhile to reacquaint myself with that plot. (This is a good point for outlines-without that outline I suspect much of the plot would have been lost to me in those intervening years.) While I haven’t written a lot this month, I have spent hours each day fleshing out existing characters, creating new ones, researching historical details, deciding where in the San Francisco of 1879 everyone was living, and getting excited about  being back in that world, creating again. Time well spent.

Time I now had because I stuck to my plan to limit the amount of time I spent marketing. I only checked my list of updated blog postings on GoogleReads in the early mornings and late evenings. I still commented on posts occasionally-finding that particularly early in the morning I might find a posting that had been made overnight where I could be one of the first commentators. I also wrote to a few bookstores in San Francisco about selling my book, and I now have an offer from a San Francisco store, M is for Mystery, to sell Maids of Misfortune on consignment at their booth at the Bouchercon conference this month, which I will be attending.

However, what I didn’t do this past month was obsessively check all the reader sites (like GoodReads and Kindle Boards) and writer sites (like Absolute Write) every day, looking for a reason to comment. I rarely tweeted or updated facebook, and I didn’t post on my blog, The Front Parlor, at all. And yet my sales numbers went up.

In August, I sold on average 11 books a day, for a total of 332 books sold. In September, when I limited my marketing endeavors, I sold on average 13 books a day, with a total of 441 books sold.

Why do I think this happened (less marketing, more sales?) Well, one reason is that 75% of the books I sold, were sold on Kindle, and this has kept me continuously at number one in the historical mystery best-seller list on Kindle. So, if a person is looking for an historical mystery on Kindle, they can’t help but discover my book. In addition, since I continue to have a 85-90 % sell through rate (ie if a customer clicks on my product page they go on to buy the book), finding my book seems to mean they will buy it, which keeps it at the top of the list of best sellers. Which means that it continues to be found-without me doing any additional marketing. The question becomes, does this mean the book now will simply sell itself?

If the market for my book was limited, the answer would be no. For example, if all the people who liked historical mysteries, and owned Kindles, were a finite number, eventually that market would be saturated, and my sales would begin to drop. However, since by most accounts, ebooks are the fastest growing sector of books, and Kindle still has about 90% of ebook sales, then the potential market for my book should continue to rise as well. If so, the answer to my question should be yes. My sales should at least remain steady, and perhaps actually rise, without any additional marketing on my behalf.

Does this mean I am going to abandon all marketing? Of course not. For example, Amazon ended the discount on my print book this month (heaven only knows why), and my print sales dipped. So, I will continue work to keep my name and my book out there on the internet, and I will accelerate my foray into bookstores, albeit in a very targeted manner. (Once again I am struck by the benefits of being a self-published author. If traditionally published, with the book having been out for over ten months, unsold copies of my book would have been sent back to the publisher, and it would be way too late for me to try to enter the bookstore market.)

But more importantly, I now have the confidence to focus the bulk of my energies on completing the next book and writing some additional short stories, and one of the clear lessons I have learned from authors like JA Konrath, is that the most successful marketing strategy is expanded content. Besides, despite the constant refrain that to be a successful author you need to be a successful marketer, writing stories is why I became involved in this endeavor in the first place.

So what do you think? Can a ebook and pod book, by a self-published author, get to the point where it sells itself?

  • I would say yes, there does become a critical mass. Look at Zoe Winters. She has multiple books out and has said multiple times that it’s her backlist which keeps her in business. Readers find one book they like and go back for more. So you’re doing excellent for having one book out. When Uneasy Spirits comes out, I bet you’ll have a rise in sales from the first book, too.

  • I would say yes. My two best selling books, I write non-fiction, took over a year to begin to sell. Now they sell 30+ copies a month. Nothing to write home about really and certainly not in your range of sales. However, those two books are paying all the costs of running my website and e-newsletter, have paid for all the costs of getting my other books into print and are making a dent in the college bill for my oldest daughter.

    The two books are different though. One I just ignored out of frustration when my marketing efforts seemed to produce nothing and it eventually just started selling. The other I stayed with but anytime I stop the marketing efforts, the sales drop to about half of what sales are when I plug away.

    Like you, the 900 lb. gorilla known as Amazon has dropped the discounts for my two best selling books. No idea why and initially it did have an impact but sales recovered after a couple of weeks.

    I wish I truly knew the answer to your question. I have good ideas for two new non-fiction books that should reach a broader market than my current books but don’t have the time to finish the research and get serious about writing.

    Thanks for sharing your insights with us.

  • Fabulous news on your book sales! I just discovered this site and am really ispired by all my fellow indie publishers. I really do feel we’re riding the crest of a new wave in publishing and did the right thing by avoiding the traditional route. =) xx

  • I began selling with Kindle at the end of August. I have never published before. Sept. sales were slow, but then I got a few reviews and the books have taken on a life of their own. I am so new to this that I haven’t learned all the marketing secrets. It seems, according to Amazon, that once a reader buys one of my books they come back and buy them all. I sold 200+ in Oct. between Kindle and Barnes and Noble. I don’t have any books in print, yet, but am uploading them this week. I’m curious to see if the print books will sell as well as the E-Books do.

  • I am at the beginning of the journey that you are on. At the moment I am writing the first of six planned novels in a series. I write in fantasy fiction and from what I have seen, it is often only by the second, third or fourth book that an author really takes off.

    I guess that it is a case of attrition, I know that when I first come across a book that I find interesting, one of the first things I do is look to see what other books the author has written. I guess that you will find the same will happen to you once you get your second book published.

    I just hope that the same will happen for me when my turn comes.

  • Love this post and think that yes, eventually, after 11 year online with 13 publishedhow to titles on book writing, self-publishing and book marketing, they practically market themselves.

    A little update I wrote for my LInkedin writing group. “How I Built my Book and Business Sales with Linkedin and my Blog.” My results?
    an increase in opt-in subscribers by 57% in last few months. A leap in sales too to over $2000 last month and much more…

    Just thought some of would like this info.

    • Judy,
      I just downloaded “How I Built my Book and Business Sales with Linkedin and my Blog.” Can’t wait to get started.
      Thanks for the info.

  • R.E. Glad you got my blog piece on how I built my book sales and business with Linkedin. If you are so inclined, you can get my more than weekly gems by email when you join my site at

  • You’ve worked the marketing and it has paid off. Congratulations. How that worked might be the million-dollar question. As you suggest, did people simply find the book through tags or interest or browsing, or did they see your advertising and blog posts? In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter much, as the book sales (and your happiness at being read for your work and you as the author).

    My novel, THE VILLAGE WIT, began to sell (print and e-book) after a couple of months, with extensive marketing via blogging, Facebook, etc, but little paid adverts on traffic-heavy review sites. And a couple reviews helped (I think). Nonetheless, sales have been steady and the next book will have get at least a good look by those who enjoyed the first book.

    Good luck to all. Keep on writing; keep up with your promotions.