Truth bomb: there are dozens of wildly successful authors in the writing community willing to tell—or sell—you the secret to their indie publishing success.
I am not one of them.
Not because I’m hoarding my indie secrets like gold or anything. I’m simply not wildly successful by any traditional measurement.
Over the past eighteen months, I’ve committed some of the most common and pointless indie publishing mistakes. I’ve flubbed covers, releases, and advertising. But I’m still here, and I’m still happy. And today, I’ll tell you how you can avoid all my mistakes, and why it’s okay if you don’t.
Indie Publishing Best Practices
Recognizing that there are as many paths to winning in indie publishing as there are definitions of success, there are best practices and practices you want to avoid. I’m not talking little (though important) things like don’t use too many fonts on your covers, but macro level stuff. Big picture stuff.
Research everything, especially your target market and genre. The cold, hard truth is that there are badly-written stories that sell gobs and oodles of books, and wonderful, sensitive, well-written stories that linger in the sad ranks. You don’t have to be in the Top 100 to be successful, but if you want to make back your initial investment, you have to write stories that people want to read.
There is a plethora of information on the web about indie publishing. It’s on private forums, public websites, and in Facebook groups. (You’ve joined All The Kissing, right?) If you look in the right places, you can find everything from thoughts on tropes to advertising how-tos to the best editors for your price-per-word. It’s all out there, and much of it is low cost or free.
Ultimately, there is no teacher as brutal and direct as experience, but you can hedge your bets by taking the time to learn the ins and outs of this business before you devote hours and hours and hours to, say, three novels, a novella, and a collection of shorts that aren’t written to market. #notbitter
Ask for help. This is critical, and it’s the part of indie publishing I struggle with most. It’s never easy to expose your vulnerable bits, but it is so important to have a collection of experienced people you can reach out to. If you’re super shy, like me, there are ways to do this anonymously. During your research phase (which really never ends), you should make the effort to join a lot of author networks. There are some great ones out there! Now is not the time to lurk. Authors are awesome—especially romance authors—and many are ecstatic to help you troubleshoot any aspect of the process.
You must find a safe, knowledgeable place to workshop your blurb and cover.
Until you hit it big enough to attract a gaggle of rabid readers who’ll one-click anything you write, your cover and blurb are the way you’ll attract sales. You need expert opinions, even if you choose to wantonly disregard them. Don’t go asking horror writers—or your mom…unless she writes romance—for advice on your erotica cover. Not unless you’re ready to fill out a bingo card of condescending comments from haters who have no idea how life-affirming and amazing our genre is.
The same is true of your blurb. You’ve been in your book for months. You know all its little quirks, subtleties, and secrets. I can almost guarantee the blurb you wrote for it does not convey what you think it does. You’re too close to the work. Put fresh eyes on it.
One final bit here: there are cruel people out there. They usually don’t last very long in communities, but fluffers will do as much damage to your prospects as mean girls. Be wary of anyone who tells you your work is perfect.
Learn to separate your self-worth from the reception of your work. This one step will save you so much heartache and angst, and really, it applies to trads, indies, and everyone in between. Someone will love your story, and someone will hate it. You’re writing for the person who loves it.
Everyone deals with criticism differently. You can be an author who ignores bad reviews or an author who tries to glean something of substance from them, but you must not be an author who internalizes them. A one-star review is not a reflection of your personal value, and, very often, it’s not even a reflection of your writing, but of the reviewer. Do a shot, find an orgasm, have a mini-breakdown, and then get back to your keyboard, because you’re fabulous.
Be wary of anyone with all the answers. The indie publishing business moves and changes fast. There are people who’ve had enormous successes in the past and rolled those successes into coaching careers, programs, and systems “every successful writer needs.” I am not saying that there aren’t some really excellent programs out there. There are, but be cautious. Use your brilliant writer brain to protect your bank account.
Things that worked a year ago, or even six months ago, may not work the same way now.
Make sure the people who want to sell you success are still successful at selling books and not just programs. And don’t forget that if your guru exists to interpret a scary system, it’s not always in their best interest to teach you that system’s language. Indie publishing can be overwhelming. You have to be a marketer, social media expert, graphic designer, personal assistant, and accountant. The idea that someone can hand you success for $XXX is so tempting. Just be savvy. Get references. And for goodness sake, don’t jump into something like that until you’re ready. Which brings us to the final “do.”
Give yourself the time and space to reach success in your own way. Whether your path is writing a perfectly marketed rock star romance series that launches in the top ten with a 5k newsletter list, or flying completely by the seat of your pants and sinking hundreds of dollars into publishing off-genre standalones, give yourself permission to learn from each of your experiences and understand that your own success may not happen overnight or look the way you expected it to.
And definitely don’t let anyone else’s success diminish your own wins, no matter how small they seem side by side. Maybe your first book was awful. Maybe you’ve destroyed your pen name by killing your heroine’s dog or writing a three-sentence epilogue (*raises hand and whispers* Don’t kill the dog).
The beauty of being an indie is that you have complete control over all aspects of your authorship.
Start a new pen. Start a new series. Keep writing! Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks and, above all, don’t be afraid to fail. It’s not so bad down here. XOXO.
Additional suggestions include:
- Learn how to research categories on Amazon to figure out what niches are hot, what covers sell (indie, not trad), and what genres are supersaturated.
- Learn how to write better, faster to make the most out of Amazon’s algorithms. Investigate sprinting.
- Visibility is the key: research different techniques for boosting yours—newsletter swaps, newsletter ads, loss leaders, guest blogging, bloggers, social media, and advertising (AMS, Bookbub, and Facebook).
- When deciding on a pen, really take your time to make sure it’s effective, and for the love of Aphrodite, stay away from first and last names that are overused or already attached to well-known indies in your genre. (I’m so sorry, Penny. I love your work.)
- Just because people are selling premade covers doesn’t mean those covers are good for you or your genre. Know what you need in a cover before you buy. Conversely, write a book for a great cover you’ve already purchased. And if you want to do your own covers, make dang sure you’ve got mad skills with typography and a photo editing program. The days of amateur-looking covers selling well are over.
- Use caution when selecting editors and proofers. As an indie, you have to be very careful about where you’re spending your money. Don’t commit to spending a thousand dollars on editing unless you’ve done due diligence investigating the editor in question. Most will give you a sample. And you’ll know when you find The One.
- Pay attention to the veteran indies. Recognize that many of today’s most successful indies have two things in common. 1) They started publishing years ago and have established readers (see Mariana Zapata, whose newest stand-alone—Luna and the Lie—rocketed to number one in the entire Amazon store last month). 2) They are flippin’ rocks in the storm. They don’t give up. No one knew exactly what this business was going to look like five years ago, and no one knows exactly what it’ll look like in ten. Stay flexible and watch the people who’ve been through all the incarnations of Kindle Unlimited.