Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Ch 7.5 True, Not True: Debunking Some Indie Publishing Myths

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

Ch 7.5 True, Not True: Debunking Some Indie Publishing Myths
Facts change on the ground in the publishing industry faster than most people can track, especially in the last couple years. Being part of the Indelibles helps me keep on top of things - the collective knowledge of 25 active indie authors is a powerful thing. Isn't just 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.

Which helps to see which "myths" are true and which are not.

You have to publish fast to be a successful indie author.
This "well known fact" comes from early indie authors who started out with a backlist, that they then published quickly. Or very fast writers who essentially created a quick backlist. (See more in Abundance vs. Scarcity about this.) It is true that putting out a new book is the best form of marketing, so these people who had backlists at the ready (or wrote quickly) had an advantage. 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 debuted at #65 on the Fantasy list, doing just fine, thank you very much.

I write full-time (when my kids are in school). For the first year or two of publishing, it took me 5-7 months to produce a novel in a state I was willing to publish. I'm getting faster as I get more disciplined and more experienced, but that's still a very reasonable time frame. And I spend lots of butt-in-chair hours. People who 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. I don't buy into the "quality" vs. "quantity" battles. They miss the point that you have to do both: write a lot and write well. And that when you write a lot, you learn how to write better. And faster.

If you want to increase your productivity, by all means, work on that. See Making the Donuts and Abundance vs. Scarcity and Training Your Intuition for ideas about how to go about it. I've definitely given this some thought, and here's my conclusion: you have to both trust your process and constantly be trying to improve it. It's a tension that someone who is open to learning will recognize. Be that writer.

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 indie rockstar Hugh Howey. He wrote the entire Molly Fyde series (YA space opera, which is fabulous), but it didn't get the recognition 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.
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 who will enjoy them most. Amazon's search engines do an excellent job of pairing readers and books, all up and down the popularity spectrum, much better than any of the other retailers. 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. Again, no guarantees, but if your book doesn't sell, it's not because it's lost in a gigantic electronic pile (see Why Is My Book Not Selling?)

A good book will rise out of the pile... make sure yours is one of those.

Paid ads are a waste of money.
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 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). 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 rock 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 three ads that I recommend: BookBub and Digital Book Today's New Release Ad and Pixel of Ink (which you can't purchase, only submit). Bookbub is famously selective, and getting more so. It's also difficult to get picked up by POI. Keep checking with friends to see which ads are worthwhile; it's constantly changing.

And don't always believe the "common wisdom" - often it has a grain of truth in it, but don't be afraid to try something no one has ever done before. That's one of the freedoms of indie, and until you start thinking outside the box, you may not realize all the implications of that. In the next chapter, we'll talk about innovative ways you can exploit all the rights you own as an indie author.

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)


  1. Thanks so much for all your wisdom on Indie publishing. They are so helpful!

  2. Fantastic insights, thank you so much for sharing!