Have you ever considered why some authors just seem to hit the ground running? Why does an abundance of sales come to some so easily, but with such difficulty to others? I have often found myself thinking about this. At times, I have watched the growth of some books and the descent of other books wondering, considering, asking myself why one book outsold another.
On one level, I suppose it’s fairly easy to find simple explanations for this. The book that sold was the better book, right? The one that hit number one must be the best book of all? No, I dispute that. I don’t think readers go for the “best” book. I think readers go for what tickles their fancy at any given time. For example, have you ever been in a record store? I’m sure you have. Now, musically, the classical music is the oldest, wisest and most beautiful music—but you came out with a Charlie Pride album, didn’t you? You know you did. Because Charlie was to your taste and Mozart is for old biddies.
So we could say the ascent of certain authors comes from the fact that they hit the ground running with the very product readers want. So, what do readers want? Let me run these points by you for consideration.
Dispute it all you want—and people do all the time—but readers pick up certain covers over other covers. Yes, every person has a vision for a “perfect” cover, but the readers will still buy what they want over the vision you want to present. Sometimes the two visions collide. The reader and the author are one. The fact is that simple Western covers emphasising the title and author name tend to sell better than complicated covers. Bold colors tend to sell better than washed-out colors. Blue skies tend to sell better than dark skies. The research shows the way to go with covers, so have you considered this?
Certain stories do sell better than others. This is true and undisputed by all. Lawmen, bounty hunters, and mountain men account for a huge amount of Western sales each month. Although our genre is known for its Indians, few Indian-centric Westerns sell. The action-to-drama ratio comes into play here, too. Readers like a good mix of action and drama. Try not to make the book wall-to-wall bloodletting, but don’t be afraid to put a few good doses of guns and grit to get the reader involved. Have you considered this?
Yes, the great behemoth. Marketing. How does one go about selling a book? Well, I can only tell you the formula I like to use with my clients. Cover, content, forewords, keywords, categories and advertising in that order. We work out the cover first, then we look at the selling material inside and outside the book, we add forewords, keywords, pick the right categories and then run advertising. It’s simple when described in these terms, but it’s actually a process like anything else, and it tends to work. The hit-to-flop ratio stands fairly high in favor of the hit. Have you considered using a formula like this?
It’s a tried and tested thing that a series always beats a stand-alone Western. This is mainly because it gives you extra bites of the cherry to make sales happen. For example, if the first book in a series doesn’t sell, you can back-sell the first through the launch of the second, and on, and on and on. Options for repackaging are also opened up—for example, Paul L. Thompson is on his eightieth Shorty Thompson story. There’s no doubt about it, a series is the way to go for longevity. Have you considered a series?
There are a few points for consideration regarding what might be needed to make your books successful. There’s no doubt that Westerns are popular at the moment and a long list of bestsellers came from the same place you are today. Mike Mackessy, C. Wayne Winkle, William H. Joiner, Robert Hanlon, Harvey Wood… the list is endless. Take a look at my considerations and see what you think. Can you make these work for you? Feel free to drop me a note below if you want to discuss any of them. I’m always happy to share what I know with authors.