Being a Successful Author — Magic or Work?

My guest blogger today is Sia McKye, a marketing/publicity expert. This is the follow-up to McKye’s article, “Getting Published: No Magic Wands or Treasure Maps.” KcKye writes:

As an author, nothing can be quite as exciting as receiving word you’ve sold your book and it’s going to be published.  You are over the moon and flying high.  Maybe even dreaming of the NYT Best Sellers List. Finally, you’re getting validation for all your work and hours of writing.  Everyone you know hears about it.  You’re discussing galleys, Arc covers, the artwork, blurbs, and author endorsements on your cover. Tossing terms around like Pub dates, Arc mailings, targeted print campaigns, web promotions and Reviews, library marketing, and author events.  Your book finally hits Barnes & Noble and you find yourself going in just to look at a book with your name on it. You take pictures.  You start being obsessed with Amazon figures on your book’s placement of the day or week.  You’ve got it made, right?

Keep in mind that just having your book in print doesn’t mean it will automatically sell-books don’t sell themselves, even if they are listed on Amazon–or on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. As a friend of mine recently reminded me:  “Over 195,000 new novels are published by traditional publishers in the U.S. every year. Of those, 70% sell fewer than 500 copies.”

Here’s another reason to aggressively market yourself and your books and the importance in building a reader base. 

Debuting authors are lucky enough to get a first print run of 10,000 for their book, depending upon the genre and your publisher’s confidence in your work (some can be as high as 20,000). You might think 10,000 is a big number until you start calculating book stores and Amazon.  It’s really a small run and it’s not going to hit the best sellers list with that number. If they sell only 500 copies or less, then the publisher eats the cost of having the other 9500 shipped back to them, at full cost, and made into pulp.  Publishers are not happy when this happens, but they have a contract with you, maybe for a three-book deal. Maybe they’ll recoup their losses on the second book?  If they don’t will they take another three books from you?  Or drop you like a hot potato?  Can you see where active promotion and publicity is vital? 

On the other hand, you’ve worked your butt off with marketing and promotion. You’ve built up name recognition on the Internet through Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, and Gather, MySpace and other social networks.  You’ve worked hard at blogging and building presence and attracting your consumers-readers.  You started this long before your book was even sold.  You continued even after your book was sold. You’ve written book reviews on books similar to yours, written anything and everything related to your books and also to you as a person.  You’ve made yourself a personality, with likes, dislikes, and interests.  In other words you’ve become a real person to your readers.  They see you share the same interests as they do, you chat with them. You build characters in your books; surely it isn’t that hard to project yourself to your readers?

Because your potential readers like you and have gotten to know you somewhat, they do name-dropping about their “good friend, the author.” 

“Oh yeah, I know Anna Campbell and she just released TEMPT THE DEVIL.  Highlanders, honey, you have to look for it.”

“I just read the best suspense/thriller recently, A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE, by my friend Pat Bertram.  We’re talking danger and a story of ordinary people becoming extraordinary to survive.  You’ve got to order it.”

“My good friend Judi Fennell wrote this cool series about sexy mermen and a kingdom under the sea. The first book is called IN OVER HER HEAD, you gotta read it!”

“Toni Blake is just the nicest person evah.  She writes some real sizzlers, we’re talkin’ hot and sexy.  She has a new one coming out called ONE RECKLESS SUMMER…”

It’s that simple and any debuting or popular author’s name can be slipped in there.  Why? Because you’ve worked hard to be assessable and real to your readers. Because once you knew your release date, you started building anticipation for your book. So now, your book is released and sells through at 80%, or 8000 books.  Your publisher is very happy and is patting him or herself for their ability to find talented writers.  They decide a second print run is good business. Because you’ve built a buzz you probably will do well on the second run. Your publisher decides for your next book (for a debuting author that can be as soon as two-three months later) to start out with a first print run of 25,000 and a much larger presence on the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble and more pressure for the staff to push your book.

By the way, to hit the NYT best sellers list?  The book needs a first print run of at least 35,000.  Maybe Nora Roberts or Christine Feehan may get that type of run, but look at all the time they invested in marketing and promoting themselves and their books.  As a debuting author, you’re not going to get that with a first run.

This type of marketing/promotion also works for POD authors.  True, you don’t have to deal with print runs and costly returns, but if your books are in bookstores, the return cost are still a bite and one you as the author have to foot.  It’s smart business; again it’s your business, to have these books sell through.  You want to be successful and to do that you need a solid reader base as much as, or perhaps even more than, a traditionally published author.  Collecting dust is not the image of your books you want in the bookstore management’s eyes or your own, especially if you want them to continue to carry your books.  Shelf space is not a guarantee of sales any more than having a book with your name on it is. 

Stirring up publicity and marketing of yourself as an author and promoting your book, is many times, the least favorite task for an author. The point is if you want to be a success as an author then it’s going to take hard work. A third of your time is spent in writing the story and the rest is spent in selling it to a publisher and then promoting the book and yourself as an author. Building that all important reader base. It’s a necessary part of business.   

Writing is a business. The author is the proprietor of that business. Products have to be promoted to be a success. It’s as simple as that. Once we realize that, we put ourselves in the right mindset to be a success.

There are no magic wands, treasure maps of shortcuts, or guarantees to be a successful author or being published.

Just a dream and a lot of hard work.

18 Responses to “Being a Successful Author — Magic or Work?”

  1. Netti Says:

    well said! As a bookstore owner that is one way I tend to sell a new author to a customer “So and so is such a fantastic person with a great sense of humor, try this book I think you’ll really love it” Basically selling the author as opposed to the book itself. Works *almost* every time.

  2. James Rafferty Says:

    Hi Sia,

    It’s always interesting to get a pro’s perspective about a particular business and how it works. Thanks for that.

    One line in this post is particularly daunting: “A third of your time is spent in writing the story and the rest is spent in selling it to a publisher and then promoting the book and yourself as an author.”

    As aspiring writers, we tend to focus on writing itself, but my own experience tells me that the marketing and promotion side of writing is a key to getting your work out there to readers and can easily take up lots of time.

    I also liked the specific details you offered about print runs and what it takes to make the big time.

    Now, if I can get a few hours added to my day . . .

  3. ~Sia~ Says:

    James, being a marketing pro yourself, I knew you’d appreciate that. Yes, in today’s market, Promotion/Publicity is key to selling a good story.
    Some of the figures surprised me. I knew little about print runs. Oh, I knew what they were, but not what was needed to hit the top 15 spots on NYT Best seller list. I talked with a lot of pubbed authors about first runs. that was a surprise too.

  4. ceylanthewriter Says:

    That is great advice! Thanks so much for posting!


  5. Ken Coffman Says:

    Regardless of the path, it’s going to be a tough road. Our best characteristic is a stubborn refusal to give up. I will say, in my expereince, the harder I work, the more magic I see. Ha!

  6. Judi Fennell Says:


    To make it a career, it’s really a 24/7 job. But fun for the most part!

  7. Pat S. Says:

    Astonishing numbers, Sia, and one few writers are prepared to see. So many of us write in solitude and are such introverts; it’s hard to recognize we also have to put on on fancy hats and put ourselves out there for the world. Great article, and great advice. As Ken notes, it’s astonishing how often magic occurs when one works hard!

  8. Margay Says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with your assessments here, especially about the author being their own business manager and needing to promote themselves. And you can tell anyone that your friend, Margay Leah Justice, author of Nora’s Soul, told you that. (wink)

    Although I don’t always have time to comment (I’m deep into promo land myself these days and when not there, I’m writing, writing, writing), I just want to let you know that I am reading what you’ve written, Sia, and taking note. Very good stuff here. Thanks for sharing!

    Your friend,

    Sorry, couldn’t resist. 😉

  9. ~Sia~ Says:

    Pat, You’re so right. Too many think magic just happens, but it does take hard work.

    Publishers are very quiet about what their print runs are on books, especially debut books. Sometimes, even the authors don’t know their runs. They’re told that the *average* run for a book in this genre are xy and z. A persistent author can find out.

    Judi, nice to hear your perspective and that you see it as a career. Great mind set.

    NETTI, I’m so glad to see a bookstore owner weigh in with how they sell the finished book. You verify that author publicity is vital and show how that information is used to sell books. Thank you!

  10. ~Sia~ Says:

    Margay, you crack me up.

    And, PR/marketing people have authors name dropping, “My GOOD friend, Sia McKye, writes articles on promotion and publishing, you gotta read ’em.” lolol!

    Thanks for stopping by, Margay. I’ve had quite a few stop and read and send me private notes of appreciation. Which is very nice and I always appreciate it when you also take a moment to comment here too.

    Happy writing.

  11. Magdalena Scott Says:


    This is a great post! It would be good for writers’ families to read, because it helps explain why we are so tired…

  12. ~Sia~ Says:

    Why thank you Magdalena.

    I agree that families could benefit from a day in the life of a writer. Promotion doesn’t always have set 9-5 hours does it? Neither does writing. I laugh. sometimes, at people’s perceptions of how easy it is to be a writer, fiction or non-fiction.

  13. Katherine Firzlaff Says:

    Sia, I thought your article was very informative and interesting. However, I wonder if the print run you gave (35,000) to hit the New York Times Bestselling Lists was a typo or misprint. I know that Nora Roberts, Christine Feehan, and other New York Times Bestsellers have print runs in the hundreds of thousands range. Could you clarify this please? Thanks so much

  14. Aaron Lazar Says:

    Fantastic post, Sia. Pearls of wisdom were scattered throughout. I try hard to promote my favorite new authors on the platform I’ve already created for LeGarde Mysteries. It’s one of the best parts of the business – helping new writers get out there and get their due! Thanks for this, and enjoy the day. ;o)

  15. Anna Campbell Says:

    Sia, sorry I’m a bit late to the party! And thanks a million for the plug! I firmly believe nothing beats good old word of mouth. What wonderful advice on promotion! Actually speaking as a writer, I’ve really enjoyed getting to know a lot of members of the romance community since I sold. You’re a great bunch!

  16. siamckye Says:

    Hi, Katherine, thanks for stopping by. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you came on with a question.

    You’re right, Katherine, it should have read “… to [have a chance] to hit the NYT best sellers list? The book needs a [minimum] first print run of at least 35,000.” Followed by reprint runs.

    Print run of 10-20k is small and not likely to hit the the best sellers list on that run alone. But, suppose, for argument sake, it’s a sleeper and unexpectedly grabs the readers? Reprint runs can be issued to meet the demand. In such a case like that, could that book become a Best Seller? Yes.

    Thanks for the comment and the question.

    Yes, most of your established authors, such as Christine Feehan and Nora Roberts, have first print runs of over 100K. Authors that regularly hit the NYT Best Sellers list do have first print runs in the hundreds of thousands. It’s not always a set figure and not always a number that publishers disclose. They’re rather cagey about that end of business.

  17. siamckye Says:

    Thank you Aaron, I appreciate your comments.

    I agree. Giving back is always good karma. Getting a book published is many times discouraging to writers and it’s a lot of hard work. I like helping where I can. It’s good to see published authors willing to remember what it was like on the path to being published and reach out a hand. Thank you for remembering…

    ~Sia McKye~

  18. kat magendie Says:

    I sometimes say “be careful what I wish for…” because i know it’s all coming to hit me upside the head – however, this is what we all dream about, right? Yes! *smiling*…..still, can’t wait to get back to the writing!

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