By this time in five years, I expect it to be over five million.
By this time in twenty years, I expect it to be...well, really, really, REALLY doggone high. ;)
Breakout vs. Slow Boil
Guys, it's important to understand something about writing: the one book breakout is RARE. It almost never happens. Of course, we see lots of them, so we think it's the goal to shoot for. It's not. Most writers who only produce one book will sell a few hundred copies, maybe a few thousand over the years. More marketing will only very rarely cause a breakout.
If you have one book to write, one story to tell, then write it, get it up there, and do a little free time marketing. Don't expect big sales; expect a trickle. I basically don't market my work, yet get steady sales. I have two or three more books and a serial coming out this year, though. And will have more coming out next year. And more the year after that. Once I have a few more books out, I'll start focusing a little more on the marketing. But I need enough product to make it worthwhile first - you don't spend time and money advertising your new hardware store when you have one tool on the shelf, right? Same is true for books.
The goal for a professional writer trying to make a living shouldn't be to get a breakout on any one book. That's impossible to predict and cannot be engineered. You can't make Twilight happen. Sometimes it just does. If it happens to you, I am thrilled for you. I'm not going to plan my career around it, though, and I don't think you should, either.
Instead, the goal for writers who want careers (which I am differentiating from those who just want to write a book and publish it - a fine goal, but not going to make a living) should be to slowly, over time, build a fanbase. You build readers who love your work. You build connections to those readers. You inform those readers when your next story is available, and they support you financially. This sort of organic growth takes time. Years. Many, many books. But that's the key to making a living at writing: write a LOT, write WELL, CONNECT with readers, and build a group of people who like your work enough to buy it as soon as you release it.
I'm on BV Larson's mailing list. A few times a year, he sends out emails to everyone on his list announcing a new book. Like many other people on his list, I buy the new book within minutes of receiving the email. (They are fun, not deep, SF&F books). I usually read the book that day, maybe running into the next. But I buy pretty consistently. I am one of his "10,000 fans", the folks who will consistently buy what he produces as soon as he lets us know.
Mailing Lists Connect Us With Readers
A mailing list is a great way to connect with readers. You can sign up for mine here!
But treat the mailing list with care. You have to ensure what you're offering in any email you send is something interesting, relevant, and of value to your readers. I named the list "Readers First!" to remind myself of that - that the list is about the readers, not about me. It's not about my cool new blog post. It's not about research I did on the industry. It's about readers, folks who enjoyed my work and want to hear about more of it when it comes out.
Present the reader with well-designed, high quality emails. Look like a professional. Those emails should be your "business best" work. Keep them short and to the point: show respect for your readers by not wasting their time. Those emails are a way to maintain contact with readers, so make yourself available as well. Create means to do two-way contact through those mails, even if it's something as simple as inviting your readers to email you. If they do, respond, even if it's brief.
We want to build connections, to create doors that open both ways for our readers. For all MY readers who are reading this post: thank you. You're the reason I keep writing, and I appreciate each one of you.