I'm too busy with my plans for World Domination to constantly update my books on indie publishing, so I'm just giving you the up-to-the-time-of-this-post essential bits. If you want the explanations, justifications, caveats, data, and emotional reassurances that back up the Pro Tips, then check out my Indie Author Survival Guide (Second Edition) and For Love or Money. If you find information that conflicts between those books and this post... this post is my most recent experience.
(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 3-4 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) Launch in Kindle Unlimited - the extra visibility that borrowers give you is essential these days for a new author to get a leg up. Plus the Amazonian gods favor new releases, new authors, and Kindle Unlimited. Make this trifecta work for you.
3) Send out lots of review copies on Book #1 - your first book sells all your other books. Get the social proof on that book. Tap your author friends (in a similar genre) to hand out your book to their readers, do giveaways on library-thing or Goodreads, even set your first book free for a limited time and let Amazon find those hungry readers for you... anything other than pestering your family and fellow writers for reviews. Offer the second book in your series as an incentive to people to actually leave a review for the first book to get more reviews. Ideally, you want 10 reviews ready to go at launch.
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. Every 90 days is great. Every month is better (especially in romance) - that keeps something on the Hot New Releases list (hopefully), which lasts for 30days. Six months between releases is the longest you want to go. Look at your genre and see how frequently the top sellers release. If you have to have a longer-than-six-month-gap in between "sets of three" releases that's okay - three books will get you started, and while those are releasing, write the next set of three. 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) Make sure you link everything - the back of book #1 should have a link to your newsletter saying "subscribe to find out when book #2 releases!" Once book #2 releases, put a link in the back of book #1 to book #2, and direct book #2 readers again to your newsletter. Use SMARTurls so you don't go crazy.
6) Price Well - launch the first book of your new series at 99cents; get some early reviews on there by handing out review copies before launch; buy some ads for the first couple weeks at that 99cent price point. One strategy is to always price your new releases at 99cents then raise the price for your backlist. The idea being that you're rewarding loyal readers and, once you've won a reader over with one of your books, they're more likely to buy your backlist at full price. Another strategy is leave the first book perma99cents to serve as a loss-leader and price Books #2-infinity at full price. Either is good.
7) Use your 5 day free runs in Kindle Unlimited for Book #1- having a free book acts as fantastic marketing for your series. One option is to set the first book permafree, but my recent experiments show that perma99cents (first book 99cents in KU) with a 5 day free run every 90 days in Kindle Unlimited is your best option. Your book is free temporarily (buy ads to boost it!), it's cheap after the free run (in case people miss it), and you still stay on the "paid" page (rather than the "free" page) on Amazon which has more visibility.
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 review copies are marketing and 5 day free runs are marketing; also buying advertising at launch and during your free runs). 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).
IF YOU DO ALL THE ABOVE AND STILL AREN'T SELLING**
**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. (see my For Love or Money book for more on this.)
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.
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 success sooner rather than later. But one great advantage of self-publishing is the speed with which it moves! This allows you to fail faster... and pick yourself up, dust your boots off, and try again.
Write on, my friends!