5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Going Indie

15 Oct

Like a lot of people, when I jumped into the world of indie publishing, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I knew how to write and edit, and I’d gotten a lot of positive feedback from people who knew what they were talking about. Publishing an e-book through Amazon’s KDP program and setting up a paperback through Createspace seemed easy enough, far easier than the cycle of queries and rejections I’d been on for the years leading up to my decision to go indie.

Take Back Tomorrow CoverSo I released my first book, Take Back Tomorrow. And I waited for the sales to roll in. People who knew me bought the book. And they even read it. And they told their friends about it. In the first three months, I sold around 40 copies. Off to a good start, I told myself. And then, at around 42 sales, everything dried up.

So I moved on, getting my next book ready to go; this one was a novella. When I released it, it had maybe 5 downloads the first week. And not many after that.

And it was at that point that I thought, “Maybe I need a web site…”

Now, with 2 novels and 2 novellas out there and one more that I’m getting ready to release, I’ve finally figured out a thing or two about marketing. Not that I’m enjoying wild success or anything…but at least I’ve learned a few things that I wish I’d known back then. So, in an effort to help others who are jumping in with both feet, here are a few things that I wish I’d known when I started.

1. You Need a Web Site. Readers need a place to find you. There are lots of options for setting up a web site pretty inexpensively. At the very least, you should have a static page with your book covers and blurbs and links to the places where your book is available. If you’re more ambitious, you can set up a blog, which I think is a good idea: the more content you have available online, the greater the chance that people looking for your kind of writing will find you.

2. Give It Away Now. When I first learned about Amazon’s Kindle Select program, where you can make your book free for 5 days each quarter and earn 0 royalties on the books you give away, I thought, “No way!” The point is to sell books, not give them away. But I slowly became a convert. Most indie writers are unknowns, and people aren’t always willing to risk even 3 or 4 dollars on an unknown writer. They are, however, willing to risk 0 dollars. Yes, there’s some debate as to whether readers actually value those free books, but I’ve found that if I use some of the free book promo sites around my free days, there’s a little bump in sales that follows. Also, after giving away between 100 and 5000 books in a couple of days (results vary widely), there’s usually been a little trickle of reader reviews that have followed, and those were well worth all the freebies. Another strategy having to do with free books is to make the first book in a series permanently free to hook your readers.

3. Your Book Needs Reviews. As I mentioned above, readers don’t know you. Unless the elusive, magical thing called “word of mouth” has kicked in for you, they’re not likely to trust your blurb that the book you’re selling is the greatest thing ever. Contact bloggers and book reviewers; send them free copies of your book in exchange for honest reviews. Most book bloggers have a huge To-Be-Read list, so it’s tough to get them to commit, but if you contact enough of them, you’re likely to land a few reviews. Even if the people who follow their blogs don’t actually buy your book, just having those reviews and star ratings on Amazon should help others decide to give your book a chance.

4. It Pays to Advertise. You may have warm fuzzy feelings about your book, and you may know in your heart that it’s the best thing ever, but all your good feelings won’t generate sales. This is a business, and there’s a LOT of competition. Life would be so much easier if there weren’t so many people with the same dream as you, but that’s not the way of it. So, while your book should be able to stand on its own merits and attract readers across the universe just because of its glorious vibes, that’s not likely to happen. Drop a few bucks on an ad or two, maybe on Facebook, maybe a guaranteed spot on one of the Free Book promo sites. Try to get your book featured at Book Bub (but be willing to pay a lot for it). Note: the ads won’t always pay for themselves in generated sales, but it’s worth trying.

5. It’s All About Community. If all you’re doing is shouting “Buy my book!” from the rooftops, you’ll likely find that there are a bunch of other people on other rooftops and that your shouts are drowning each other out. Instead, it’s helpful to work on making connections with other writers and readers. Look at the groups on Goodreads, join a writers’ community at Google+, read other people’s blogs and offer comments and advice. If people start seeing your name and seeing you’re generous and thoughtful, they may mention you or your book in their posts, may reference your blog posts in their own, may even buy your book or review it next time it’s offered free or at a bargain.

And here’s the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard about indie publishing, so important that it’s not getting a number.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Cliche? Maybe. But true. You’re not likely to set the publishing industry on fire with the release of your book. But if you work at it, connect with others, write another book and another one after that, chances are you will develop a readership–not one that may ever set anything on fire, but small successes? There’s a good chance.

What things have you learned about this business that you wish you’d known when you started?

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7 Responses to “5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Going Indie”

  1. Amy Simonson October 15, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    I just attended a writer’s conference where 2 agents discussed self and digital publishing and they both advised most of what you’re saying here–especially the “give it away now” spiel. I had the same response you did–why give it away when I’m trying to make money?–but I hear what they/you’re saying. Good luck with your latest book.

  2. PK Hrezo October 15, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

    Thanks for the great insight Richard. I’m about to indie debut myself and feeling overwhelmed but taking it with a grain of salt. I know I’ll keep writing either way.
    These are great tips to remember so I’m bookmarking this page!

  3. Scott Marmorstein October 27, 2013 at 5:58 am #

    I have yet to read “Take Back Tomorrow” although I have it on my Kindle now. And I have really enjoyed “Strictly Analog”, but am still not finished reading it. Just wanted to get that out of the way.

    Thanks for some of the tips for me, a fellow indie author. I haven’t put *any* effort into promoting my work beyond assigning some free days. I’m very slowly getting more books together, and sales have been way low. So you’ve been very helpful and I truly appreciate it. Thanks for the awesome post!

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