With all the stories of authors trading in legacy contracts to publish independently, you might wonder why I’m heading in the opposite direction.
My story is sadly typical. I won awards that led to representation, which then led to interest by New York publishers. Second Chance Grill and Treasure Me received oodles of compliments from editors but nary an offer. Was I writing women’s fiction or romance? Editors couldn’t decide, and their indecision led to lots of frustration on my part. By the time I’d begun The Tree of Everlasting Knowledge, my critique partners were suggesting the indie route.
In 2011, I began publishing independently. I didn’t have money to invest in a splashy debut—at the time I was a single mother raising four teenagers. I jumped in with full knowledge that an undercapitalized business had little chance of breaking even for years, especially since I was more focused on building a well-received backlist than pushing any one book. I plugged along. With each new release the reviews were good, my readership continued to grow, and, well, I loved writing fiction. I still do.
Last year, two events occurred that, in retrospect, would hugely impact my career. In January, Toby Neal kindly asked if I’d write one of the debut novellas for her new Lei Crime KindleWorld. I love Toby—she’s the epitome of a good karma author—and jumped at the chance.
Writing The Shell Keeper and The Shell Seeker for KindleWorlds provided my first contact with Amazon’s editorial team. I came away from the
experience thoroughly impressed with editor Sean Fitzgerald (he’s also an author) and the level of respect and encouragement Amazon extends to writers. I began telling my husband, “If a traditional contract ever comes my way, I’d love to sign with Amazon’s women’s fiction imprint.”
The second event?
Some backstory: in 2013 – 2014, BookBub promotions for my Liberty Series produced a startling effect. Whenever I ran a second promotion for a book, sales exceeded the first go-round. This isn’t a normal outcome. Most books see the biggest sales during the initial promotion. Reruns typically produce lower sales. Which makes sense in the general scheme of things.
Only the Liberty books were experiencing the opposite effect.
By mid-2015, these growing sales prompted the decision to sink several thousand dollars into a redesign of the cover art for both Liberty and my new series, Heavenscribe. Kathy Meis, a fellow Charlestonian and president of Bublish, introduced me to the wildly talented Christopher Berge of Berge Design. As luck would have it, Chris lives about a mile from my home in Mount Pleasant.
Throughout the summer, Chris finished the designs—five for the Liberty series, ten for Heavenscribe. In October, I secured a 99-cent BookBub for Second Chance Grill. The promotion exceeded my wildest expectations. Even after the book re-listed at $3.99, sales across the series remained strong.
In November I received out-of-the-blue mail from an editor at Amazon’s Lake Union imprint. Would I submit a new series proposal for their consideration? I wasn’t sure if I needed representation, and turned to author Steena Holmes for advice. Steena has successfully managed a hybrid career for several years, a circumstance that boggles the mind since she’s also knee-deep in the parenting years—a real juggle for any writer.
Thanks to Steena, I signed with Pamela Harty of The Knight Agency. Although I was in the middle of writing the Heavenscribe books, I dropped everything to begin developing plots and characters for a fictional town in Ohio. In 2017, Amazon will release the first two books in the series.
What does the future hold? Obviously I hope the new series takes off, and I’ll find the time (and energy) to write in three series over the coming years.
This is my personal, best-case scenario: a hybrid career provides more even cash flow. Like most indie authors, I’ve veered between huge promotion months and times when I’m deep in the writing cave. There’s a second consideration that holds as much influence as hard, cold cash. I like Amazon’s editorial team. I like them a lot. They’re enthusiastic, approachable—the kind of people with whom I’d love to work for many years to come.
No two authors “make it” in quite the same way. If you’re still waiting for someone to sprinkle fairy dust on your head, here are a few suggestions I believe made the difference in my career:
Take all advice with a grain of salt. Sinking money into every new promotional venue that pops up won’t guarantee sales. Choose carefully, and take the time to analyze ROI. Keep in mind that some advertising, like Facebook ads, tends to reap greater benefits if you stick to it for several weeks.
Writing always comes first. I can’t tell you the number of low sales months I endured in the first years of indie publishing because I
was busy writing the next book. Get your backlist built. Strive to make each new release better than the last. The more well-received books on the shelf, the faster you’ll reach profitability.
Build your mailing list. The number of authors I run across that still haven’t begun a mailing list astonishes. Open an account at MailChimp or one of the other sites. Give away a novella or short story if people sign up. Participate in Facebook parties, and ask readers to sign up. Mention your mailing list when you respond to fan mail and ask readers . . . you get the idea.
Get reviews posted on Amazon and other sites. Contact book blogs for review. Ask readers directly. Don’t ask your mother to review, and never participate in shady review trading schemes. You need honest reviews written by strangers who’ve actually read your work. You need a lot of reviews. Get crackin’.
Branding matters. Next on my to-do list? An overhaul of my author website. If you’re pinching pennies, use a free blog—but do spend cash for the best cover art you can afford. Books first, and then website. Or do both immediately if you’re rolling in dough.
Connect with readers, and stay connected. Add back matter to your book with an email where readers may contact you (also add your mailing list sign up). Start a private reader group, or participate in Goodreads groups. “Friend” readers you meet during Facebook parties. If a reader sends a tweet, send a reply. Ask your local librarian for book clubs in your area, and offer to do a reading. Better yet, ask if you may visit each group.
Get involved. Writing is a solitary career, and you’ll miss out on opportunities if you don’t connect with other writers. Join a local writers group. Jump on board The Alliance of Independent Authors or another online, international group.
Do you have other tips or suggestions to add? Many thanks in advance for leaving a comment below.