In the first three months of sales, JK Rowling’s new novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, sold 1,500 copies. In the first three months of sales, my novel, The Geneva Decision, sold 3,242.
Isn’t that fun?
Neither number is a significant sales number, but it demonstrates how little is known about marketing debut novels in today’s Wild West of internet distribution.
Ms. Rowling’s book begins with a note about why she wrote it, “Unhappy is he whose fame makes his misfortunes famous. – Lucius Accius, Telephus”.
Many might speculate that the anonymous tweet sent to the press to expose the real author most likely came from someone with a financial interest in the 300,000 copies that sold immediately afterward, but the real lesson comes from why an unknown like me sold more than a ‘great’ author when we were both obscure.
By sorting Amazon reviews by “Newest First”, then selecting the last page, one finds a single review listed for April 15 and the next review on May 15 (both 5 stars, and the first one from an Amazon top reviewer).* Obviously, Ms. Rowling forgot to line up her minions for the launch.
What did I do for my launch that differed? I lined up fifteen people who liked the pre-release drafts and asked them to review it. Then, I didn’t do anything for a month. I still garnered more reviews than Cuckoo’s Calling. Once the holidays and vacations receded, I asked people all over the world to review my book.
For a while, I asked fans of Hunger Games to review my book. This had mixed results. Katniss fans either hated or loved my strong female protagonist, Pia Sabel, but none said ‘meh’. I found through trial and error that the character with whom readers equated my heroine was Lisbeth Salander. This struck me as odd because they come from opposite ends of the economic, physical, and social spectrum. But they do share an unrelenting interest in justice.
I then concentrated on those readers and kept plugging away, day after day, begging reviews.
The lesson is, unless you can rely on a huge surge from one anonymous tweet, book sales relies on daily work. Good reviews, bad reviews, meh-reviews, doesn’t matter as much as the asking.
I’m still waiting for someone to order 300,000 copies but until then, I’m going to continue using the methods that beat Ms. Rowling when we shared a level playing field.
You can help your favorite debut author by writing a review. As a matter of fact, if you’re so inclined, please review my books.
* The first problem with this unscientific method is that Amazon shows 64 pages of reviews when sorted by ‘most helpful’ and only 28 pages when sorted by newest.