One of the most common mistakes I see new authors making is focusing on capitalizing on their work too early. Until you have an audience that can sustain a fulltime income that you can live on, your top goal is to connect with new readers.

To win the game, so to speak, you need to sell so many books that a few dollars here and there no longer matters.

I’m very aware that a dollar per book over thousands of books equals thousands of dollars. You wrote a book and there’s no reason you shouldn’t make money. However, this can’t be your top priority. Making it your top priority is the best way to ensure it won’t happen.

When you’re evaluating a course of action, don’t begin with the question “what will make the most money?” Instead ask the question, “which course will help me genuinely connect with the most readers?”

Money aside, you write because you have important things to say. A little money just helps you to continue to do that. You need readers to hear the important things you have to write about. Don’t lose sight of the real reason writing is worthwhile.

If you connect with the readers, the money will follow easily enough.

One of the keys here is to genuinely connect with readers. Not all connections are made equal.

This is why you typically shouldn’t give your core products away for free. When people get things for free, they actually value them less.

I’ve helped authors run free giveaways on Amazon that net thousands of books downloaded. Literally thousands. That’s a win, right? Ultimately most of those campaigns netted zero new reviews. Normally these books would organically get about one review for every fifty books sold. So how is it that we could put thousands of new copies into circulation and get zero new reviews?

Well the answer is obvious. The people who downloaded them didn’t read them.

And that’s not so far-fetched. When you see something for free, and you trust the person offering it (Amazon in this case), why not grab it? Maybe you’ll read it later. Probably not, but you might as well have it, right? It’s free. There’s no downside to downloading it. My Kindle can hold more books than I will likely read in my lifetime. There are people and bots prowling those Amazon free giveaways, and just grabbing everything.

In this case, giving the book away for free actually decreases your level of genuine connection.

At the same time, there might be real opportunities to give things away for free to connect with new readers. Steal short sections from your own book and post them on your website. That may jumpstart some connections. Offer support resources as free downloads, like a discussion guide or bonus maps, that may spark some new connections.

In either case, “free or not free?” is no longer the driving question. The driving question is, “How can I best use this particular asset to connect with new readers?” Then we take the time to look at data and really think through it. Sometimes the best way to connect is to sell something at a competitive price, sometimes it’s giving something away for free.

Where are you putting profits in front of connections? Make the connections, and the profits will come ten-fold in the future.

Here are some common situations I see:

  • You want to sell books directly from your website, or maybe launch a book with a crowdfunding campaign, because you might make an extra dollar per book sold. You could be right, but are you giving up the advantage you might gain in the Amazon algorithm if you drove those same buyers to Amazon? Books that sell on Amazon eventually sell themselves, even if you make a little bit less per unit. On Amazon, you have potential to make organic connections with readers you didn’t previously know. However, in your own back yard, like your own website or Kickstarter, you’ll have to work for every new relationship. Very few people will just show up randomly. If you do choose to sell your books directly, how are you going to capture those readers and maximize that relationship to create new connections?
  • You don’t want to enroll your book in Kindle Unlimited (KU) because you’ll make less money per book sold. It’s true, as a publisher I make $1-$2 per book read in the KU program, compared to $4-6 if the same reader bought the e-book regularly. But those KU sales are largely readers I never would have connected with anyway. Are there some readers that would have bought the e-book for $9 but now get it as part of their subscription? Sure, a few. But there is way more potential to connect with readers who otherwise never would have picked up the book. The value of those connections supersedes the momentary loss (which I’m probably imagining anyway). Unlike a free giveaway, these KU readers do pay something for the book and they actually read it, resulting in a real algorithm boost and new reviews.
  • You overprice your book because you’re trying to break even in a few hundred copies sold. If you’re doing things right, your book should make money. But if you’re doing things right, you won’t have to worry about it. It takes thousands of books sold to begin to break out and build a real audience for your future work. At that point, it will no longer matter if you broke even in 300 books or 900 books sold.

Becoming an author is a long game. The goal isn’t to be wildly profitable with one book. The goal is to build a sustainable audience so that you can release lots of books and impact lots of people. If you keep that at the forefront of your thinking, you’ll make plenty of money to be able to pay your bills.

When you’re thinking about distributing your book, the question, “What will make the most money?” can’t be your priority. It can be on the list, just not at the top. The question you need to be asking is, “What can I do to connect my amazing work with the readers who will most appreciate it?”

If you accomplish that, the money will follow well enough. Even better, you’ll be maximizing your impact on the world. More people will be reading your inspired words, and that’s the real goal, right?

When you have a regular network of readers to whom you can release 1-2 books per year and earn an income, then you can start thinking about how best to capitalize on those connections. But until then, audience comes first. It’s the only way to get there.

Ready to connect with lots of readers? Check out my “Arche Year” course over at the Kingdom Writers Guild. For just $10 per month, you can access the full course. More than 25 lessons to help you build an author’s platform that really works.

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