Why the “throw-shit-at-a-wall” approach to publishing doesn’t (usually) work.

Now, I’ve been around the block for quite a while *angrily waves fist at young children on her lawn* and I’ve seen a lot of things in self publishing. A lot of good things. And also a lot of bad. Authors who go with the throw shit at a wall and see what sticks approach, well, I’m here to tell you why that approach rarely works.

It’s not like I can’t see the appeal. And I’ve seen it recommended on forums, social media and other places that new authors try a whole bunch of things and see what works for them. Inherently, it’s not bad advice. I can see where they’re coming from. But it still almost never works.

Because by “throwing shit at a wall” you’re not letting yourself become established.

I’ve been on author pages where the person’s written 10 or so books. And that’s awesome. It takes a hell of a lot of work to write 10 books.

Let’s pretend that these books belong to an author called Jane Doe. Of those ten books, you have:

  • 2 contemporary romances
  • 1 paranormal shifter romance
  • 2 cozy mysteries
  • 1 thriller
  • the first part of a fantasy series
  • 1 cookbook
  • 2 YA books

None of those books have a rank under 100k. Because this approach just doesn’t work. And I see it all. the. time. And I know that I don’t even see all of them, because a lot of people don’t want their thrillers and their contemporary romances under the same pen name, so they just use a different pen name with 1-2 books published for each.

Reason #1: You’re not mastering anything

I believe in the 95/5 rule. 5% of authors are making 95% of the money in any given genre. That 5% know their genre inside and out. Remember my post about analyzing covers? And if you’ve read Blurb Magic you know that I go through how different blurbs look in different genres.

If you’re publishing in multiple genres, you’re never going to get the kind of mastery of these arts that the 5% have. They know everything there is to know about their genre. Hell, you could give me a paranormal romance right now and I guarantee you it wouldn’t do nearly as well as my contemporary stuff, because I focus on contemporary romance. I don’t know what the trends in paranormal are. I don’t have the time to keep up with them. But I can tell you exactly what’s selling in contemporary, the latest trends for covers, how the blurbs are being formatted, what sub-niches are growing and what ones are starting to fade away, what new authors are starting to make a dent in the market and what promo places have the best mailing lists for contemporary romance.

You can tell yourself that you have the time to keep up with all this info in multiple genres, but frankly, you’re lying to yourself. Mastery of a niche. You are much, much better off focusing on one niche and absolutely mastering it than just putting things out there in two, three, four different niches and hoping something sticks. This is the kind of info that takes authors from being low-listers earning $100-$500 a month to full time authors making 5 figures a month, by the way.

Reason #2: You’re not writing fast enough

This one overlaps with reason #1 a little bit. When you’re writing in a certain niche, you’re going to have fans. And when you have fans, they will buy what you write.

If you’re writing in, say, three different niches and you can release one novel a month, that means your fans for each niche are going to have to wait three months between novels. Do you think they’re going to stick around when someone else who writes at the same speed as you and is focused on their one niche is writing one novel a month? No. Of course not. Plus that other person’s going to build a backlist quite a bit faster. So after six months, when they have six novels out, every time they get a new fan that fan has six books to buy to catch up on. Yours have two.

Of course this is assuming you’re running each niche on a different pen name. I’m not even talking about the people who run different genres on the same pen name, because that idea just makes the marketer in me want to scream. Brand yourself. Don’t stick a million different things on the same pen name. If you absolutely have to write both cozy mysteries and romance, choose a different pen name for each. You want people to think of you as “the cozy person”, not the “bunch of random books about different things” person.

I don’t care if you can write 10,000 words a day (I am jealous of you though, just FYI). Releasing a novel every week or so to rabid fans who can’t get enough of your work is still way better than releasing a novel a month in four different genres.

Reason #3: You’re not giving yourself time to be successful at something

Look at Jane Doe’s catalogue. She has ten books out, but no more than two in the same genre. How is that supposed to build a brand, build a following? What if she’d written ten books in one genre. She’d have learned a lot more, she’d be more likely to have a growing following, and she’d be more likely to be making decent money from writing. Things in this business, just like in life, they usually take time. Michael Jordan didn’t wake up one day and decide to be a great basketball player. But if he’d stopped after being rejected at the first 10 colleges he applied to and decided to take up baseball instead… well, do you think we’d know his name at all, let alone remember him as the greatest basketball player to ever live?

Just because something doesn’t make money after the first try doesn’t mean it won’t ever make money. If there are other authors selling well in the same genre, it means the money is there to be made.

 

It’s not that throwing shit at a wall will never work. It can work, and there are a few examples where people have gotten big doing it. And of course, if you’re writing something and no matter what you do it just doesn’t sell, there’s no problem with swapping genres to something you might find easier, or enjoy writing more, or that you think you’ll be able to sell better. But choose something, and give it a good go. You’ll increase your odds of success tenfold that way.

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Liv

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