Since I’ve started indie publishing, I’ve made some eye-opening discoveries. And I’ve learned some tough lessons, too.
When it was all about writing well in my mind, indie publishing was easy, fun, and exciting. I couldn’t wait. to get to the next book, short story, or whatever.
Then, reality set in, and I learned a dirty word.
That word, for me, is discoverability.
I fall solidly into the camp of stupidity that believed during the “Gold Rush” years of indie publishing, just writing a book and getting it on Amazon in the Kindle store would lead to fame, fortune (especially fortune), and being able to sit around in my underwear all day and make stuff up when I felt like it.
I don’t know why I believed that, but I did. I knew not thing one about discoverability, visibility, Amazon algorithms, and the sheer number of people who were going to be publishing whatever they could, as often as they could, for the same reasons I did. (Some of them, however, actually had a business strategy for their publishing ventures, and did some actual research into what they wanted to write, and now have actual sales which total into the thousands of units per month stratosphere. *Sigh*)
In the interim years – I first published back in like 2010 or 2011, I think – I’ve learned quite a bit. Actually, that’s a lie. I’ve learned a lot since about six months ago. I started reading KBoards, and seeing what authors doing what I want to do are doing. What I learned was both eye-opening and depressing.
First, there’s this thing called advertising. Just tossing something up on Amazon and letting your Facebook friends know doesn’t do much. But you can properly leverage Facebook ads and generate some interest that way. And you can also promo your book through places like BookBub and other eBook promotional sites. There’s a ton of ’em out there, and they all provide better results than clicking Publish on your KDP dashboard then waiting for the tsunami of dollars to crash into you.
Then, there’s having stuff people can read when they’re finished with your book. So, writing books that aren’t part of a series proves less successful for most indie authors than, say, publishing three or five books in the same series. (Note: Not serials, series. Big difference. Make sure you clearly label whichever you choose to do or you will meet the wrath of readers.) That way, readers finish your first book, and they can jump over to your next one. Or the previous one. Or whatever. They can consume like locusts hopping from stalk to stalk in a field, devouring all your work as quickly as their little reader-mouths can chew and swallow.
Oh, and I’ve learned readers don’t like stand-alone books as much. They want to get involved with your characters and follow them from book to book to book. Readers don’t care if you’re a great writer and have awesome books, if they’re not part of a series, you’re less likely (overall, not in every case) to get consistent readership.
Ask folks like Stephenie Meyer, George R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien’s heirs, Charlaine Harris, and that other chick – let’s see, what’s her name again? – 0h yeah, J. K. Rowling, whether writing in a series works or not.
So, seeing the success of stuff like Twilight, Harry Potter, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Lord of the Rings (for fifty years now!), and The Sookie Stackhouse books, do you think I got the idea to write in a series?
But! Good news, I have a series! Yes, I do. I started it without even realizing I had to have one to be successful as an indie. I started it back in 2007, and immediately had readers clamoring for a second. So I started the second. Now I’ve finished a second book but don’t have the first completed. UGH. And the one that used to be second is now going to be third. Oh, yeah, and that leads me to the branding issue.
What, I’ve not mentioned branding?
Well, that’s a thing. See, it’s not like it used to be. I can’t just go get a hot iron and stamp it on my book covers. That tends to cause fires, and when you do it with an eBook, it ruins computer monitors. So it’s a bad idea.
No, branding now means making your books all look recognizable, for each series you do. Your author name, literally the way it appears on the cover of the book, is part of branding. And then giving the book series a name and having a common appearance (not identical though) is key. Some authors come up with a logo for their series and for their author name. It really works.
And all of them, every one to a person, writes in series.
Well, no two of my covers look the same. No author branding for me, either. I chose typography that looked cool, not one I’d be able to use across all my stories and books. And I did my own covers, with varying degrees of success. Some turned out really nice. Others seemed like good ideas at the time, but…well.
Finally, as a last, killing blow to my dreams of fame and fortune by clicking Publish alone, came the dreaded Sales Blurb.
This is the thing you put up on your product page. Since we’re talking eBooks, here, that’s the book description. Turns out there are right ways and wrong ways to write sales blurbs, and I did some of them the wrong way. The very wrong way.
Well. How wonderful. So, the Lord, in His infinite wisdom, took His Mighty Spoon of Doom and scooped up a huge, heaping load of Crow, and shoved it down my throat. I swallowed as I read post after post after post, and author after author after author, saying you can’t just click Publish and fold your hands behind your head while the piles of money tumble out of the computer screen into your lap.
Sorry, kid, that’s not how this works.
I feel pretty dumb for thinking that way now. I really did have the hubris to believe readers would discover my work once it was out there and that would be my gravy train depot.
Still, I know a lot more now, but there are other aspects of this I haven’t touched on. One of those, and perhaps the key one for me, is sacrifice.
Which I will discuss next time. 🙂