From time to time I get an email – or a comment – from an Indie author who puts one book up for sale, has minimal sales, and then says: “Indie publishing doesn’t work. I think I’ll go back to trying to find a traditional publisher.”
Indie publishing is a long-term deal – as is/was traditional publishing. You can read about any number of trad pubbed authors who have put out a book a year for four, five, six or ten years, and who have gradually seen their readership grow and their backlist begin to sell.
Five to ten years. It has commonly taken that long, and more than one or two books. (Yes, there are people who hit the ground running and get mega sales with their first book, but those people are in the minority – no matter which way you’re leaning: trad or indie.) Generally, successful authors take time to build a career, adding one book after another like bricks in a wall.
So why is it that Indie authors think that things should be different? Why is it that they publish one book, do no promotion, have minimal sales and think: “Well, I tried, but I might as well give up. There are too many books out there; everybody is jumping on to the self-publishing bandwagon now. It’s too hard to compete.”
You’re actually in front in the Indie world, because you can publish as fast as you like. If you put in the hours, you can write and publish six books in a six months, rather than six years. Here are a few facts about Indie publishing.
1. Indie publishing changes day by day.
Amazon – still ‘the big guy’ – always has and always will experiment with various algorithms to see what works for its readers and what works for sales. They provide an awesome platform, but they’re not there for you. They’re in it for sales, and sales come from satisfied readers. KU (Kindle Unlimited) hit many Indie authors hard, when Amazon readers could sign up for unlimited borrows. Yet some authors saw this as an opportunity, and started publishing short reads or novellas especially for KU, because the amount they were paid for borrows exceeded the royalty on a 99c book.
As an Indie author, you learn to adapt. And you realise that you need to keep up with what’s happening and what others are doing, so you can go with the flow and make the most of ongoing opportunities. At the bottom of this post, I’m going to put links to some resources that will help you to stay informed about what’s going on and what works.
2. You need to keep writing and keep publishing.
If there’s one mantra that Indie writers quote, it’s “Butt in Chair”. You have got to write and publish consistently. Adopt the NaNoWriMo approach EVERY DAY. Just think of this: if you made every second month a NaNo month – aiming at 50,000 words – you could write a novel in a month, then spend a month on editing, polishing and publishing, organising a cover and a mailing list, and doing some basic work on a website and blog. Keep that up for a year and you have six books published. That’s a backlist to be proud of – and it used to take traditional authors six years to do that. If you want to write longer books, take six or eight weeks to write a book and a month to publish. One every three months and you still have four books in a year. That’s working on only 1667 words a day. Boost it to 2500 words and you have a 75,000 word book in a month.
Even if you can manage only 1000 words a day, you’ll have a 60,000 word book in two months.
That IS do-able.
3. You will do better with a series.
Most Indie writers do much, much better when they write a series. This is because readers who like your work go back to look for more in the same world or starring the same people. If you don’t want to write about the same people in book after book, notice that I said that a series can be the SAME WORLD. A series can, for example, feature stories about different people who live in the same apartment block – different people, different lives, different stories. They are tied together solely by the setting. You can also link books by focusing on a theme – romances built around characters that work in a restaurant, mysteries based on women in a craft group, and so on. Be creative and think of a way your books can be linked in this wa. (When readers buy one book, the rest of your books will show up in the ‘readers also bought…’ on your sales page.)
4. You need to keep on top of promotional strategies.
I know that the term ‘self promotion’ is enough to have some of you glaring at the screen. Self promotion, you think, that’s what I hate about Indie publishing. At least with a trad publisher they do all the work.
Think again. Trad publishers do very little to promote new authors. Their limited budget is spent on authors who can guarantee sales. In fact, trad publishers prefer authors who are proactive in getting their names out there.
Your biggest asset will be your growing list of titles. There’s nothing more important than BIC (butt in chair). However, you can spend a little time investigating how to build a list of readers, how to write a good book description/blurb, how to create a basic website or blog, and how to connect with your readers. You can find out about how to send out ARCs (advance review copies) and encourage reviews that will continue to boost your sales.
You don’t need to do a lot, but you do need to do a little.
What and how? Check out the links below. You’ll find out a lot of useful info.
5. You can be a Hybrid.
What’s a hybrid? An author who chooses to publish with both traditional publishers and on the Indie platform. Some authors start off with trad publishers and continue to write for them, while also publishing under a pseudonym as an Indie. Others have found that success in the Indie world attracts the attention of a trad publisher. They have then opted to sign a contract in order to reach other markets (without giving up the right to continue writing and publishing independently.)
I’m a hybrid myself. In the past six months I’ve written 2 children’s books and two readers’ theatre scripts, as well as several reading cards, for an educational publisher. I’ve also continued to write and publish as an Indie author.
Click on the link to Kristine Kathryn Rausch’s blog below. She talks about how she combines writing for a trad publisher with her Indie career – and about how much she has gained through being an Indie writer.
USEFUL LINKS FOR INDIES
Dean Wesley Smith’s Writing in Public. Dean is a writing machine, and has learned what works to continue to grow his opportunities and his income. His output is amazing, yet he doesn’t write huge amounts in one session. He DOES put in the hours. Read this post on Indie publishing for the long haul.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch Blog. Kris is Dean Wesley Smith’s wife. They run WMG publishing and both are extraordinarily prolific. While you don’t have to create a whole publishing company as they have, you can learn a lot from their blogs and their approach to Indie publishing. Read what Kathryn says about traditional and Indie publishing here, and why she is publishing a book a month for a specific series as an Indie.
Viola Rivard is an Indie author who did achieve considerable success early – and for those of you who are worried that you’ve ‘missed the boat’, she started only a year ago. Read her story here for a bit of inspiration.
The Self Publishing Podcast: Johnny, Sean and Dave. Excellent information. You can watch it live on YouTube or download the podcasts (I have subscribed via iTunes). Be warned: the boys occasionally drop the F-bomb. This doesn’t concern me greatly, but don’t say you weren’t warned. 🙂
The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast with Simon Whistler. Top info. Excellent podcast notes on the site, with relevant links. (This week’s podcast with Annie Bellet will show you how you can go quickly from selling very few books to finding sudden success if you just keep going!)
The Creative Penn Podcast with Joanna Penn. More useful info. Joanna has achieved success as an Indie and has interesting guests.
All three feature guests on their podcasts, and I’ve learned a lot from listening to them. There are other writing podcasts, but if you don’t want to be overhwhelmed, start with these three. You can download past podcasts.
I’ve mentioned this forum before, and it certainly deserves a place on this post. Go there to browse and read about other writers’ success and tactics. They have a bookmark feature so you can bookmark useful/motivational posts and come back to them. Go to KINDLEBOARDS and start with Writers’ Cafe.
Here’s just one of the posts that I’ve bookmarked on KBoards: Rosalind James’ “Quick and Dirty Marketing Plan”
This is the go-to place to learn all about writing for Kindle. You get down-to-earth, workable advice that is kept current. If you want to start somewhere, start here. It WILL cost you (a one-off payment that gets you lifetime membership) and then you can lurk, read, observe, join the private Facebook group, ask questions and learn from others. I joined several years ago, and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my Indie writing career. Read more here: Geoff Shaw’s KINDLING.
I have a whole bunch of other resources bookmarked, but the whole point of this is to give you a starting point and some inspiration/motivation without drowning you in information.
Off you go!