So You Wanna Bank Your Books?

In my first two years as an aspiring author, I can’t count how many times an experienced Indie author told me I should “bank my books” if at all possible. They claimed if they could do it all over again, in other words to start fresh in their Indie careers, this is what they’d do and this is what they recommend we do… that is if we want to work smarter, not harder. Well, I’m not buying it… at least not what they’re trying to sell me. In retrospect, everything appears different. We tend to forget some things.

But what does banking your books mean? I googled it and couldn’t find it described or defined anywhere. But I’ve heard it a lot.

It refers to holding back your books until you can publish at least three in a row, one each month or one every two months, before Amazon’s dreaded cliff into obscurity sets in. This strategy capitalizes on the preferential treatment given by Amazon’s algorithm to recent sales over older sales. Since new releases may enjoy higher spikes in recent sales, they can achieve higher rankings for a limited time (until momentum is lost and sales drop).

Releasing one book after another allows an author to leverage momentum from Book 1 into sales for Book 2 and then sales for Book 3 (e.g., a book funnel). As readers clamor to buy up the three books in your series, the spike in sales will have an impact on the ranking for your entire series. Even more exciting, all three books will remain higher in Amazon’s rankings for a longer period of time as a result of these sales. Higher ranking means more visibility. More visibility increases your chances of being discovered by new readers and lead to more sales. In other words, you get more “bank” (cha-ching) per book.

I’m not arguing with this strategy. It is brilliant. And if you can wait as long as it would take you to finish three books (more is better, so four or five would be ideal), then go for it. You’re a stronger person than me.

For most new authors, this banking strategy is a catch-22. Most of us have full-time jobs and devote our limited free time to writing. The idea of waiting 2-3 years (maybe longer) before publishing doesn’t sit very well for a number of reasons.

As newbie authors, we just want to get something out there. First, we need to prove to ourselves that we can write, finish, and publish a book. The voices in our heads tell us: “You’ll never be an author. You don’t have what it takes.”

Like any new author, I want to hold the book in my hands. I need this. For any author, publishing the first book represents a huge psychological win. It justifies the constant sequestration and madwoman typing on my computer. I’m doing something. This is worth all the time and money I’ve invested. This is worth the relationships I’ve put on the back burner.

Many of us also perceive a need to prove to others that we’re not sitting on the couch and watching TV like everyone else. When we say we’re writing, we’re actually writing. Here’s the proof: we hand them our first book. After three years of not being able to produce a single book we’ve written, no one will believe us anymore. Worse, maybe we won’t be able to believe ourselves anymore. Where’s the proof?

But if we bank our books from the start, we may run into other problems… if we don’t publish as we write, we won’t build up an audience. Without an established audience and an email list, it will be challenging to drum up the sales even with a sequential release on Amazon. What good would such a brilliant strategy serve if we don’t have any readers beyond friends and family? In that case, I’m told my “also-boughts” will be ruined (if your friends and family don’t regularly buy books in your genre, your also-boughts might turn out to be gardening books; this can affect your sales). Okay, so now what?

I’ve built a new strategy for myself that will allow me 1) to meet my psychological need to “be an author”; 2) to get my book out there to friends and family and anyone who cares to read it; 3) to begin building my reader base; and 4) to simultaneously bank my books with a series launch on Amazon in 2019.  I’ve called it a soft launch, but it’s more like a smarter launch 🙂

My strategy capitalizes on a single truth about the Internet: You don’t exist at a retailer until you press publish. And that means you can get your book out there and bank them on Amazon and other retailers later.

Amazon doesn’t know that I’ve published my first book (maniacal laugh), a mystery novel called Bionic Bug. That’s because I’ve only published Bionic Bug on Kobo. For now.

Amazon holds the leading market share in the e-retail book market (79.6% in the U.S.). Kobo comes in a distant fourth in the U.S. (with 0.3%), but fares better in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. Okay, publishing on Kobo may sound like a pathetic launch strategy to you, but do the math. The bigger the market share your chosen retailer holds, the bigger fish you need to be to get to the top of the rankings. That means it might be easier for a new author to gain traction at Kobo than at Amazon.

In my first month, I’ve proven my strategy works.

rank
Release Day for Bionic Bug on January 18, 2018

I made my book available for pre-order for a few weeks leading up to my release day. Note: I don’t have an email list so I didn’t send any emails, but rather made my family, friends, and colleagues aware of its availability on social media (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn). On the day of its release, Bionic Bug made it onto the “Trending Now in Mystery and Suspense” alongside some pretty amazing neighbors. How many ebooks did I sell to get there?

9 ebooks. Yes, you heard that right (while I whimper from pain in the background). In the meantime, I’ve sold a whopping 15 ebooks in three countries (which I’m super proud of). Of course, I didn’t expect huge numbers, but double digits on day one would have been nice. And yes, I’ve fallen back down the charts for now.

What does this mean? If I do a promotion or engage in some marketing and sell 20 books on Kobo in a day, I might end up back at the top of the trending list. To get next to the likes of Lee Child and Ernest Cline on Amazon, I’d have to do much more than that.

Here’s the most important point. My book is out there and available if someone is interested in reading it. And that feels… unbelievably good to me as a new author. Now I can focus on writing Book Two, Project Gecko and Book Three (FYI, you just got the first ever sneak peek of its title and cover concept above).

I’ve only covered points 1 & 2 of my strategy above. In my next post, I’ll share my plan for how I plan to build my reader base while I wait to bank my books…

NOTE: As newbie authors, we encounter any number of challenges on our journey toward making a decent living from writing (or just getting the right audience to read our work). Within the Indie community, we are lucky to benefit from the wisdom and lessons learned from those who came before us. For the past 18 months, I’ve listened to about 10-12 hours of writing podcasts per week. If you want to get smart and devise the right strategy for your first books, I’d suggest listening to The Creative Penn, The Sell More Books Show, and the Self-Publishing Formula Podcast to name a few of my favorites.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

5 comments

  1. TammieLP says:

    This is an interesting strategy I haven’t considered. I am contemplating banking some books for a stream of steady releases next year, but missed the banking boat altogether on my earlier books (cruses!). I’m curious if you plan to use KDP Select when you do go to Amazon since that seems to be the strongest way to make banking REALLY work. If you do, are you concerned about how pulling your books from other retailers might affect your standing on these retailers if/when you’ve ridden the KDP Select train for 90 days?

    • natashabajema says:

      That’s a good question. I understand that KDP will give me the biggest bank, but I’m very much on the fence about it. I’m inclined to go wide from the start of my Indie career and building organically. But I’m giving myself 7 years to make a living at it, so your requirements might be different. I’m considering all options. I don’t anticipate that pulling out of Kobo (my only retailer) would have a great negative impact since I’m not pushing the book this year.

      • TammieLP says:

        I’m on the fence too about trying KDP Select for my next release(s). I’ve always been wide but I’m always curious about trying different strategies. Sounds like you’re approaching things well by being patient and having a plan. I was patient enough to not release my books until they were well edited, but didn’t have much of a plan….a situation I’m now trying to resolve. Best of luck!!

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