This article, written by Tawdra Kandle, is from the November 2023 edition of Nink, the monthly newsletter of Novelists, Inc. (NINC). Nink, which is packed each month with informative articles for career novelists, is a benefit of NINC membership.
It’s been a little less than a month since the NINC conference kicked off, and I have to admit that I’m still processing everything I learned.
While I was not able to be at every workshop, I attended quite a few—and more than that, I talked to many people, and I listened to so many smart folks at both the UnCon and the PostCon. Not surprising to me—or to anyone, probably—the two buzzword phrases of the conference were artificial intelligence and direct sales.
It’s all too easy to hear the newest catchphrase and think that it’s the answer to all of our marketing challenges. That’s especially true when we see others in our community succeeding using what’s new and shiny. I’ve been watching authors at the top of their game adding Shopify stores to their websites for well over a year, and I have to admit that it’s given me serious FOMO. The idea of being able to retain more of what my books earn and control a list of buyers is so enticing.
I listened with rapt attention to Steve Pieper’s presentation on building a website store, and I appreciated his honest assessment of how much time, energy, and money goes into the creation of a top-notch website store. Damon Courtney of BookFunnel added more expertise during his presentation, and Ines Johnson shared how she learned to make her direct sales page more alluring to readers. What they said made it very tempting to run home and sign up for all of the apps they recommended.
Luckily for me, I stayed in St. Pete Beach for an extra day to participate in the PostCon, a small group discussion of everything we learned at the conference. I was privileged to hear real reports on direct sales from authors who are actually doing it, who are building their stores and are on the ground, learning the ins and outs. The disclosure of how much money goes into running a direct sales store on a monthly basis made me wince, but still… you have to spend money to make money, right?
About a week later, I was listening to the Author Conference room on Clubhouse. (Side note: if you’re not on Clubhouse listening to some of the savviest authors in the business talk candidly about what they’re doing and why, you’re missing a free and accessible source of information that could help your career.) A question was asked about direct sales and all of the energy and money it requires. One of the authors who has done all of the work agreed that the initial investment of both money and time was substantial; she advised planning to be able to run the website store for a minimum of six months before it could be expected to turn a profit.
But it was the input from yet another author that caught my attention. She noted that she herself has a PayHip store which offers her some of the benefits of direct sales without requiring as much financial or energy outlay. She made a reasonable argument for not diving in headlong to something that might not be the right move at this particular point in her career.
What she said clicked with me, gelling a thought that had been knocking around in my head since just before the conference: not all advice and expertise is applicable or meant for all authors—and some of us are too quick to forget that. We want to believe that every teaching has the potential to be exactly what we need to level up, to give us the unicorn we’ve been trying to find.
Continuing to use direct sales as our example of this, even an author who is seeing phenomenal success might be wise to wait until she has a significant backlist before she tackles building a website store. On the other hand, I have a fairly large catalog of books, but I’m not in a position to afford the necessary initial output of funds to create an ambitious Shopify store. If I poured all of my resources into something like that, I could miss something better for me, something more suited to my particular time and place in publishing.
But I do have a PayHip store. I’ve used it for over six years, and over that time, I’ve learned quite a bit about maximizing my sales there. It doesn’t cost me anything in terms of monthly payments, and the ease of use is a tremendous benefit. I’m slowly but surely training my readers to go to the website store when I have a freebie to give away, or when I’m fulfilling a Kickstarter campaign, or if I want to release a super-special edition of a boxset.
I pondered this after listening to the Clubhouse session, considering some of the turns and choices I’ve made in my publishing career. I thought about how many times I did something—or stopped doing something—because I saw other authors making a similar choice and finding success. More often than not, I pivoted before I was ready, or before I had the necessary resources to make it work.
I might have thought this was only a Tawdra problem if I hadn’t had several conversations at the conference that told me otherwise. Other authors shared that they, too, have made shifts they can now see were not optimal for their careers. Most of them are coming to the same realization that I have, and they’re also hesitating before they jump onto the latest and greatest bandwagon. This is a positive development, I think; as a group, we’re remembering what it really means to be independent authors.
It means that we alone make the decisions that impact our books and our sales. We have the responsibility to look around at what’s available to us, to determine which new tools or ideas will work for our branding and our very particular situations. It is incumbent upon us to continue learning—conferences, both in-person and online, courses, and webinars are always a good idea—but we also should listen and watch with a discerning ear and eye.
This is something I’m keeping in mind as I review my notes from the conference. This year, I’m trying something new: I’m segmenting all of the actionable items I took from workshops into three different categories: Definitely Implement, Research First, and Maybe in the Future. Doing this has eased the pressure I often feel after standing in the firehose of information for four-plus days.
Tawdra Kandle is the USA Today bestselling author of over 130 romances that span genres from contemporary through paranormal. Her engaging and realistic characters bring readers back again and again to devour the steamy love stories she spins. She lives in central Florida with a husband, a mischievous pup, and too many cats.