Look at this Post about eBook Sales and Writing Advice. Now Return to Me.

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Tobias Buckell pens a brilliant post about Survivorship bias. Or, to put it in his words: Survivorship bias: why 90% of the advice about writing is bullshit right now.

Read that. Then return, for I have more to add. First, those graphs? True of every online retailer on the internet. The graph is shaped differently depending upon the number/type of products offered and sold; the bigger the retailer, the more closely their sales data will resemble the Smashwords graphs Tobias provided in his article, but a long tail is where the majority of products, in this case ebook titles, lie. When I talk about over-saturation of the market, this is what I mean. That tail keeps getting longer and longer and longer… What impact do you think that has on the reader? What they want to buy? Or why?

Secondly, I say this with love: the best people who will offer “how to sell” advice are those who have access to industry-wide (or multi-store) data. Not only will they be able to show trends and buyer behavior, they can avoid anecdotal information or outliers in favor of a strong foundation built on common experiences. This is a more conservative approach to running a business and one I adhere to. I think “long-term” as opposed to short term gain.

Sales and marketing have always gone hand in hand and both rely on a lot of data. Without verified data, you’re getting a skewed view, and both sales and marketing suffer greatly as a result. You cannot have a proper view of selling eBooks if you’re only looking at your own data and the success stories. You need the full picture to fill in the blanks to know what’s normal (in a statistical sense) and what’s not. This will help you set expectations and (hopefully) end the discussions about quality and sales. If your ebook isn’t selling, it doesn’t mean your story is crap. It could be, but knowing what to expect sales-wise is important. Heck, it could even mean the difference between self-publishing or not.

There is a market for providing writing advice books and, as the newest iteration in this trend, tomes about selling ebooks, novels, and the like. I am happy for those who have done well in this area, but on the consumer side, I have no qualms saying: buyer beware. Be smart about what you’re applying to your business model. Look to the person’s background. See what they’ve done in the past. Do they have ecommerce experience? Do they know how Google Analytics works? How many clients have they worked for? Who were those clients and how much did they increase sales?

And, more importantly — why? Why did sales go up? When did they go back down? Was it just that store’s algorithm? The format you offered? When you released it?

With good data, you’ll get the answers to these questions and more. To me, having that data is more valuable than any advice book, because it’s a depiction of what’s actually happening as opposed to selling you a promise of what could happen.


Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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