I’m coming up on my one year anniversary for self-publishing. In that time, I’ve published four novels (I had two written coming into this, but I did manage to write two full novels this year as well), two novellas, and some shorter stories. I haven’t become a bestseller or some phenom that the traditional publishers are drooling over, but I believe I’ve done reasonably well.
May was the last month where I earned less than $1,000, and I’ve earned as much as $4,000 (November, thanks to the release of my most recent novel). Most recent months have been in the $2,500-$3,000 range (though October was quite a bit lower and showed me how quickly things can slow down if you haven’t had a new release for a while and you haven’t done any big promotional kicks).
This isn’t my sole source of income, but I find it encouraging to know that I could live off this income, if modestly done. Of course, I hope I’ll continue to acquire new fans and the sales numbers will grow as I write and release more books.
So, as I said, I’m not a huge success in the e-publishing world, but I know I’ve been fortunate enough to find what a lot of folks seek. What I hope is encouraging for many of you is that we’ve finally entered an age where it’s a) possible to make decent money self-publishing and b) possible to make that money without being a huge star.
The Secret to Success?
Every now and then someone asks me about “secrets.” As in, what’s the secret to making it as a self-published author?
This may be a disappointing answer, but the main thing I’ve figured out is that there’s no one thing. It’s a lot of plugging away and sticking with it.
I’ll list some of what I’ve learned here though. Please keep in mind that I’m still learning. At least one of the suggestions I have for you is something I failed to do myself (but will do when I’m ready to launch a new series).
In no particular order, a few “secrets”…
- It helps to be everywhere a reader could possibly stumble over you — You can read my recent post on author branding to see all the places I’ve made myself and/or my work available.
- Give something away for free — I’ve talked about this often before, but giving away a short story is the first thing I did that really made a difference. It starred the characters from the first novel I released, and I included an excerpt from the novel at the end. Lots of people have told me they went on to buy the novel after trying and enjoying the story. In all honesty, giving away an entire novel can work even better (especially a Book 1 in a series), but I wasn’t in a position to do that in the beginning (since I didn’t have other books in the series written yet).
- Think like a publisher — This is something I failed to do. Because I was trying to save money, I struggled to get cover art I really liked (if it didn’t wow me, how was it supposed to wow potential readers?). Also, I didn’t spend enough time thinking up a cool title for Book 1 and a cool series name for the whole thing. The title for the first book (which ultimately became the series title) was my working title and I never came up with something better. I should have brainstormed more and thought up an awesome series title that would stick in people’s heads. Something brandable. In short, I didn’t really think about the packaging and the presentation the way a publisher would. (Nothing is set in stone with POD printing and e-publishing, though, and I may yet rename that series!)
- Realize it’s a marathon, not a sprint — If you want to make a career out of self-publishing someday (or maybe you dream of leveraging your self-publishing success into a traditional publishing deal), you have to realize it’s something that will develop over years. Sure, I’ve done well in just one year, but I’ve also put out a lot of books. If I’d just had one or maybe two out after a year, I doubt I’d be selling more than a couple hundred books a month total. If you’re very prolific, you might be able to get things rolling more quickly than I have, but most people don’t write that fast. They’ve got day jobs and families. That doesn’t mean that they can’t succeed, just that it will take longer. Don’t get discouraged when you’re not a hit in the first month or even six months. In the year I’ve been doing this, I’ve chatted with many new authors on Twitter, and everyone starts out so excited and passionate when they first publish, but then I realize I haven’t heard from them in a while, and I check their tweets and their blog…and they’ve just faded away.
- Play around with price points — I have a whole podcast where I ramble about paperback and ebook pricing strategies, so I’ll direct you to that for when you have some free time, but, in short, change things up. Don’t feel you have to charge 99 cents because you’re an unknown author (there are lots of authors at your local Barnes & Noble that are unknown to you until you stumble across their books and try them), but don’t be afraid to try 99 cents, or even free, as part of a greater strategy either.
- Writing a series can help — I’ve always enjoyed reading series where you get to fall in love with characters and continue following their adventures, so I wasn’t thinking strategy when I started my series. I just always knew I wanted to do at least six books with my core set of characters. As it turns out, that has served me well. I see it serving a lot of other authors well too. Not everybody who picks up your first book is going to like it enough to go on to read the others, but some will, and some will enjoy things enough to go on and buy all the books in your series. Honestly, it’s not quite the same no-brainer for readers when you have unrelated books. Even if they liked the first, they may think the plot summaries of the others don’t sound as appealing. It’s characters that people get invested in. If you’re jumping around and writing in different genres, you’re really going to make it hard on yourself.
- Start a newsletter (AKA get your fans’ email addresses!) — I’ve already blogged about why authors should start mailing lists, so I’ll refer you to that post for details, but it’s extremely helpful to be able to contact your fans directly once you have a new book out. When you’re an indie author, Amazon isn’t going to make a big splash every time you have a new release out, so you’re on your own for building buzz. Having a list of folks that you can contact all at once will make it so you don’t have to start over with your marketing efforts every time.
- Write well and entertain folks — In the end, there’s only so much marketing we can do. You don’t have to please everyone, but you do have to please someone, and the more people who read your books and recommend them to others, the better you’re going to do in this business. Get your work professionally edited, but long before that, consider joining a writing workshop and taking classes or at least secure a good group of beta readers, folks who aren’t afraid to point out the boring parts. Ultimately, you have to put out a good product.
Thoughts? Any secrets you’d like to share?