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

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Secret to Self-Publishing Success

Now THAT'S a click-bait title, if I ever saw one! #gome But I had to get your attention - you see, there's some valuable stuff here, and I don't want you to miss it.

I'm too busy with my plans for World Domination to write a book on this subject, so I'm just giving you the essential bits. If you want the explanations, justifications, caveats, data, and emotional reassurances that would fill out the rest of the book, then you'll have to wait until I have time to write all that (you can buy my Indie Author Survival Guide right now for some of it). Or you can take the leap of faith that I might actually know what I'm talking about and have the information right now. Just that simple.

(Motivation for the post: there has been so much change in the indie pub world lately, I want to get this out now. Plus, I see friends who have taken the leap but are giving up too soon, and I want to give you all the tools to succeed beyond that first jump into the indie publishing pond.)

Are you ready? Let's do this.

Step #0: Make sure your storytelling craft is ready. Usually this means 2-3 novels under your belt and a serious commitment to learning how to tell a story. If you're unusual (say a professional screenwriter who is now turning to novel writing) then you can get away with publishing your first novel. Maybe.

Step #0.5: Decide if these particular books you want to publish are for Love or Money (you can swap priorities next time around). If they are for Love, then doing everything below will enhance their ability to sell, but if you're in a niche market or your book doesn't have automatic appeal, your sales may still be low. Accept this now. If these books are for Money, research the market first - see what sells, understand why it sells, set genre parameters for yourself, then enjoy writing those books as much as you can. If you follow the steps below with market-targeted books, you can expect to sell something (how much will be up to a lot of x-factors I'm not going to dive into.)

Recipe For Success For Indie Published Books

1) Commit to writing a three book series - series sell. Period. Three is the minimum; have a contingency for expanding the series beyond the first three books, or have a follow-on series in the same world that will carry readers forward. (Romance does this a lot, having secondary characters be the main characters in follow-on novels.)

2) Publish book #1 and send out as many review copies as possible - your first book sells all your other books. Get the social proof on that book. Book bloggers, Netgalley, giveaways to readers... anything other than pestering your family and fellow writers for reviews.

3) Use pre-orders - have a pre-order for book #2 ready when book #1 goes live (and for heaven's sake, put the link in the back of your book). Pre-orders are the indie author's new best friend. I'm not going to tell you all the reasons why (see above) but it has to do with reader impulse buying and Amazon algorithm juicing. Just. Do. It.

4) Publish quickly - note that I didn't say "write quickly," although writing quickly is a keen skill. I recommend learning it. You can pre-write all three books before you publish - that's totally fine - but when you set out to start publishing, get the books out there. No more than the 90-day window for pre-orders between books. If you have to have a longer-than-90-day-gap in between "rounds" of releases that's okay - three books will get you started, and while those are releasing, write the next round. If you normally write 200k doorstop books, that might seem an impossible task. Consider writing shorter books... just make sure you're still doing Step #0 and not just chopping up novels to sell them off for parts.

5) When book #3 goes live, set book #1 to free - having a free book acts as a 24/7 marketing campaign for your series.

And that's pretty much it. (Hahahaha! Just kidding - there's WAY more to it than that. But these are the essentials that are easy to miss in all the minutia.)

Note that there's no mention of social media and very little mention of marketing (I would say getting review copies is marketing and having a free book is marketing). Things like having a great cover, having a well formatted book, having a well-written blurb (not to mention book)... these are all things you should already either know (or you can learn how to do that in my Indie Author Survival Guide).

**did you really do all the above? Because skipping a step can make a big difference.

1) Go back to Step #0 - is your craft really ready? One way to tell is if you've gotten lots (meaning more than 20) rave reviews from people you don't know - this is the single best indicator that the book simply hasn't gotten its legs yet, but will eventually move copies, once you complete the steps above. If not, it's possible the market is really small for that book (see middle grade, literary fiction, and poetry).

2) Go back to Step #0.5 - are these books for Love? Then they may sell or they may not, depending on how well they hit the market. By "hit the market" I mean books that readers are already looking for - you can write a book for Love but have it sell because you just happened to write something readers were already looking for. This is fabulous! But it doesn't mean that it sold because you wrote it for Love. It sold because it hit the market well. If your For Love books are not selling and you want to make money, then write the next round for Money. This isn't selling-out, and it's not easy. But it can be done... and I guarantee you will learn something about your craft and your business along the way. It's at least worth considering.

3) If you do all this, you're not selling, and you don't want to keep publishing books that don't sell, by all means quit... publishing. DON'T STOP WRITING. Because you love writing, yes? That's why you started down this path in the first place.

I'm asking you to take a leap of faith here... and if you want to disregard everything I have written here and do it differently... party on, my friend! I have a wild-and-woolly love for the adventurer with innovative ideas who wants to stubbornly carve their own path. I might resemble that person myself.

A huge part of the book business is faith. Faith-with-a-plan is what actually nets success, but notice that faith is the first part there. All the work of writing and publishing is front-loaded - you do all the effort before you have any idea if it's going to be successful. I'm giving you these essential bits to help you see that it takes time for that faith to pay off.

My hope is that these steps will give you a framework to operate within - so you don't give up too soon on making your indie dreams come true.

Write on, my friends.


  1. Right on, Susan! It takes time and many books to build a readership. Don't get discouraged, just keep doing what you love and creating the fiction only you can create, and it'll come. Also, folks, if you haven't read Susan's Indie Author Survival Guide, it is well worth it, whether you're new to publishing or you already have books out. Thank you, Susan!!

    1. Thank you for that sweet endorsement of the IASG! :) <3

  2. Thank you for always sharing all of your knowledge. It has made such a huge difference for me in my publishing journey. So grateful!

  3. Good advice Susan. Gotta know what your publishing dream is. I haven't taken the Indie pub plunge yet, still skittish and looking for that component of "faith."

    Have a good weekend.

  4. Great advice! I wish I had written ALL four books before publishing, but I got 3 done ahead of time :) I'm surprised I waited as long as I did! But I will definitely be writing more up front the next series, for sure.

  5. Lots of great stuff here. When I published originally, I was only planning to write one zombie book. Then I wrote another. Now I'm working on a third and possibly fourth. If I'd known I was going to do that many, I might've held off publishing the first one, but the main reason I've done sequels is that readers asked for them. Alas, the story of my life is doing what Susan says only after I've done the wrong thing:) I need to read this blog more.

  6. Nice post. Distinction between writing for Love or Money is a bit sad tho.. as a creative I can say that best option is to find balance. And it is possible. I've found it with design, lots of musicians do it and many writers (guy like R. Blake comes to mind or Joanna Penn etc).. Or Steven Pressfield, he clearly loves roman ancient times and all his fiction books are about it. And he's doing great. Even tho I don't think it is the hottest genre around..

  7. I also agree about the Indie Survival Guide. I recommend it to anyone who asks me about indie publishing!

    I've only written standalone books so far, but my next book is kind of a companion book to my first one. I'm trying something different!


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