Writing is a great hobby. I enjoy the research which precedes writing and I like the actual process of pounding the keys on my laptop and assembling words in order to tell a story. While writing isn’t a hobby like golf or tennis where a match ends with a score and a winner, I still like to measure results.

After I wrote my first book back in 2008, I spent a couple of fruitless years in pursuit of a literary agent. In 2010, a friend pointed me toward Smashwords. From there, I stumbled upon Amazon’s self-publishing apparatus. I was pretty excited when my book, The War Widow, went “live” and I sold my first few copies! Very few. Between August and the end of 2010, I sold a grand total of 26 copies!

With the release of my second book, Berlin Calling, in August 2012 my book-selling fortunes changed. I purchased a Kirkus Review—not cheap, but as it turned out the most critical investment of my nascent literary career. The review was favorable and gave my work credibility with readers which, as a self-published author, had been lacking previously. Sales jumped—relatively speaking. We’re not talking best seller figures here of course, but sales rose from 64 copies of one title in 2011 to more than 300 on two titles over the last four months of 2012. The following year, I added a third title, Wade’s War, and finished the year with sales of more than 5,000 copies, the majority of which were Berlin Calling.

What are the takeaways from my early experience with selling books?

1) It really helps if the writing and the story are good.
2) The title matters.
3) The cover matters.
4) Reviews help—a lot!

The Kirkus Review was instrumental in getting people to notice my book, but so was the excellent cover designed by graphic artist Nat Shane. People really do judge books by their covers, so it pays to invest in a good one. If you believe in your writing, invest in it. Weigh the benefits of spending a couple of hundred dollars to get a good cover. Find an editor and spend a couple of hundred dollars to eliminate grammatical, typographical and continuity errors. Reach out to local book reviewers and give them a chance to become fans.

Writing is a great hobby. Sharing your writing with others makes it even better.