What makes online bestsellers?

Before I begin, I want to stress that I am no authority on bestsellers. Not by far. I haven’t had much success with traditional publishing and its only been a few days since I’ve put up my first book on Amazon. But it has been an experience. After uploading my book, I’ve been surfing (read boondoggling) to see if there are any magic beans for promoting ebooks published exclusively online.
I haven’t found any.
a pcb from my carFree – that is. There’s a flood of free advice and sure-shot formulas but the bottom line is if you want to promote it, you need to hire specialists in the field who do this work. And that doesn’t jell with me. If I wanted to pay for promoting my book, I’d have gone with the dozen vanity press guys that still won’t leave me alone for actual print production – at a very reasonable rate that is. And some of them have very persuasive plans. Why O’ why would you want to stoop to that. Is life really that sad otherwise?
I am old fashioned. And too old to change my ways and learn new tricks. And I don’t want to. It would be a sacrilege to writers I admire and aspire to become in terms of the work they produced. If I’m not good enough for normal print publishing then I need to work at it and become good enough. Writing too is a skill and like other skill, you get better with practice and perseverance. Selling myself short to feed my ego is both pedantic and undermines the work of those who came before me.
home-made macro zoomSo my advice to those who want to go this way. Go ahead and upload your book. Reach out to those you can and let them know about it. If it’s any good, it will bubble up to the top, slowly but surely. But don’t forget, there are other factors too, those usually clubbed together with the word ‘luck’. Of those, timing is the most important. Writing about trending stuff will give you those extra brownie points and help you find readers faster. Genre also works like that. Mass-idiocy skips a generation. Kids who grow up in either generation will stick to the genres they read, if at all they do, throughout their lives. Writing period pieces would need a lot of readers who actually believe in that period to boost up your sales. You would also need to be able to reach those readers, which can be a task without those professional promoters.
I read on a writer’s blog that it took his ebook two years before he started noticing sales. He didn’t know why since he did nothing extra that could account for it. He was happy of course, but dumbfounded. I guess this would be that timing thing. Maybe it was his book’s time. Reviews, covers, reputation – all these help but if that’s all there was to it, then a lot of writers would be perpetually best-sellers. I think all this may help you get noticed but in the end it’s the quality of the work itself which decides whether it sells or not.
To be fair, I am sure many online services can help with some sales. Readers who are undecided or hovering over the half-way mark between buying or not buying can be nudged over by slick advertising but I don’t think it will help much in the long run. It may help a writer get noticed and maybe make it easier for his next work to find readers but by itself it can account for only a few percentage points of sales. The quality of the work would still need to be the primary force that brings in the buyers.
Or, wait for it – drum-roll please – you can write scandalous and controversial books. These are a sure-shot way to increase sales. I know several writers who have got away with it in the past and now seem to do nothing but capitalize on similar themes. People love scandals and will pay through their teeth for controversies as long as it doesn’t include them.
Happy writing.

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