Facts change on the ground in the publishing industry faster than most people can track, especially in the last couple years. I try to keep on top of things, but being part of the Indelibles is extremely helpful with this – the collective knowledge of 25 active indie authors is a powerful thing. I highly encourage you to join an “author group” like the Indelibles (or form your own!). The power of the group isn’t just collective marketing or a brand name or having crazy successful authors that you get to chat with… it’s the information sharing and support that has the most value.
I’m sharing some of that insider knowledge with you today (more can be found on the Indelibles blog, where posts from our authors are a rich vein of publishing experience).
CAUTION: Opinions ahead. They’re mine. Feel free to disagree in the comments!
You have to publish fast to be a successful indie author.
This “well known fact” that isn’t really true comes from three factors: 1) an observation that a lot of indie successes have in fact put out books quickly (less than 6 months apart) and 2) at the beginning of the indie revolution, a lot of authors had trunk novels stored up, or backlists that were out of print, so they were able to put out titles quickly and gave the illusion that they were writing quickly and 3) putting out a new book is the best form of marketing there is. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to put out a book every 2 months in order to be successful. Readers are quite capable of waiting 6+months for the next book in a series they want to read. I have personal experience with this one, with 5 months and 7 months respectively between books in the Mindjack trilogy, but I’ve seen it in other authors too. It’s really all about the book itself, not the speed of publishing – I’ve seen an author go viral with one book. I’ve seen another author put out seven books in seven months and not sell. I’ve even seen an author who DID put out books quickly (and accustomed her fanbase to that) have to take a lengthy spell before the last book because she had a baby. Result? Book Six is currently #65 on the Fantasy list, doing just fine, thank you very much.
I write full-time (when my kids are in school) and it takes me 5-7 months to produce a novel in a state I’m willing to publish. I have a strict schedule and treat my writing like a job, with lots of butt-in-chair hours (although this last week I’ve been waylaid by a sick kid and days out of school – it varies). Everyone has their own pace/style/etc and they have to respect that. People that work full-time? People with babies? I don’t know how you find the time to write, but you do, and I’m in awe. Pitched battles are fought over how fast people can write without suffering “quality” issues.
Take a deep breath; write the best book you can; people will wait.
This book/series I’ve published isn’t selling; I’m DOOMED
Even in the trad-pub world, you could change pen names and try again. In the indie world, it’s even easier (penname change optional). People tend to think their books will define them as a writer, and you can quickly develop a reputation (if you’re successful) for being a “chick lit” writer or a “YA SF” writer. If you’re not successful, there’s less danger of that because, well, less people know about you. I’ve seen writers publish wildly divergent types of books (successfully) as indies. I’ve seen writers have their first string of books get a tepid response from the reading public, then turn around and write in a new genre and sell like mad. It’s all about the book (first) and author (second). The prototypical example of this is actually mega-indie-star Hugh Howey. He wrote the entire Molly Fyde series (YA SF space opera, which is fab BTW), but it didn’t get the recognition that it should have until he penned a small novelette named Wool (adult dystopian) that went viral.
If at first you don’t succeed… give thanks that you’re an indie author. It’s easier to reboot.
You have to publish a series to be a success.
TRUE and NOT TRUE.
This one is closer to being true. At least when you’re starting out, writing a series will help you establish a fanbase by regularly putting out titles and attracting the people that like them. But writing endlessly on a series that isn’t selling isn’t going to help you either. Then it’s best to try something different. I’ve seen authors cut short series that were selling poorly and successfully move on to writing more of series that were selling. I’ve seen other authors extend a series that was selling well, and it sold even better with each book. Fortunately or unfortunately, each new book/series will attract its own fans – you may have carry over from your other book’s fanbase or you may not.
There are no guarantees, but consistently giving fans stuff they like to read is a recipe for success.
There are too many self-pub books; mine will be lost in the pile!
There is no “pile” to be lost in. Readers aren’t going one-by-one through the Amazon Kindle list, looking for books they want to read. Books are discovered by word-of-mouth, a very effective means of bringing books to the attention of people that will enjoy them. Amazon’s search engines do an excellent job of pairing readers and books, all up and down the popularity spectrum, much better than B&N or Apple or Kobo. They do this with also-boughts and email campaigns and other machinations that are behind-the-scenes but very real. You don’t have to be on a bestseller list for Amazon’s search engines to market your books for you – but you do have to sell some books or get some reviews to feed the engines. I’ve seen books go viral within a week of publication (because they were in a hot genre, not because they had a bunch of twitter followers). I see good books sell almost immediately, without promotion, all the time.
A good book will rise out of the pile… make sure yours is one of those.
Paid ads are a waste of money.
TRUE and NOT TRUE.
Paid ads are just one way to market, but they can be very effective in exposing your book to new readers and boosting sales… but only if you choose wisely. The vast majority of ads for sale are ineffective. This is a case where the buyer has to extremely beware. In my experience, the only ads that pay for themselves are ones that have an email subscriber list – i.e. your book ad gets delivered right to the email boxes of people who have willingly signed up to get news about bargain books/deals-of-the-minute. These ads are most effective when you put your book temporarily on sale (keeping with the bargain expectations of these readers), but then you have to factor in the loss in revenue of your “normal” sales to see if it’s worth the cost. (Ads can also be effective at full-price). Occasionally trading revenue for sales/exposure is not a bad strategy, but be careful in evaluating how effective this is in gaining new fans. The least effective ads (generally) are postings on websites and facebook pages. I would carefully inquire with other authors to see what their recent experience is with a particular ad – this is one way the Indelibles rocks my socks. Between us, we experiment with ads, find the ones that work, and spread the word. CAUTION: just because an ad is successful for one book doesn’t mean it will be for another. Genre is important, as well as quality of the book/package. An ad is not a cure-all for a book that is not selling well, it simply exposes you to a potentially new set of readers.
Currently, there are only two ads that I recommend: BookBub and Digital Book Today’s New Release Ad. I’ve used both in the last couple weeks and both easily paid for themselves and brought in hundreds of new readers to my Mindjack series.
The above are my experiences. Please feel free to share yours in the comments!
(Or pose your own True/NotTrue questions… I may do more of this in the future.)