Things I Do Wrong in Indie Publishing
To start off, this isn’t really a complaint post or a rant post. I think it could risk coming across as a “I’m more artistic than those other authors who have more commercial success and that’s why I’m not as financially successful” sour grapes ramble if I’m not careful … but the thing is, I don’t really think artistry is something you can objectively judge, and the choices I make as a writer are a lot less about what I consider to be “high art” (in fact, most of my books are not anywhere near what I would consider to be high art.) and more about things I just happen to like because, well, I like them.
Anyway … when you start writing, no matter what you’re writing, you are very much unlikely to make a large amount of money on your first book, or your first three books, even. It’s not at all unusual for an author to need to build up a decent backlist of published titles in order to make a consistent profit. I’ve been lucky to always stay in the black. I feel bad even bringing up my finances in a negative way because I do make a consistent profit which wavers from $400-900 a month, depending on advertising and release schedules. There are many, many indie (and even traditionally published authors) out there who don’t make that, who would love to make that, and the fact that I’ve been able to even see that level of profit doing something I love as much as I love writing is a major blessing.
That said, I’m six years and 29 books in (If I counted right. I kind of lost track after a certain number of publications), and I don’t make enough money to support my family. Sometimes I like to pretend that if things were in some way different, if I devoted more time or more money for advertising into my career, I’d be making a lot more money and I could do this full time professionally (I currently am supported by my husband’s military pension income and a part time day job), but honestly, a 29 book back list and six years to develop a reader following probably means that my platform is missing something that it needs to be financially stable … and it’s probably the choices I have chosen to make as far as what and how I write.
That isn’t changing.
I’ve tried a few times to adjust what I write to make something I think might be the secret sauce to financial success, but my Heidi-ness creeps in. I tried to write a romcom a little over a year ago, and every word was like pulling teeth.
So here are some things I don’t do but should (or do but shouldn’t) which, if financial success as an author is your ultimate goal, you should probably do the opposite of.
I do not market research my books. In fact, sometimes I go out of the way to do the opposite. The conventional (and probably right) wisdom is that if you’re going to write in a subgenre, you should read all you can in that subgenre, especially the best sellers, so that you understand the tropes and can write a story that really appeals to the core audience that likes that subgenre. Generally speaking, I will not read books that are similar to the ones I am writing while I’m writing them because I don’t WANT to be influenced by them. I’ll often start writing a series after having read one small indie title in the same subgenre and my attitude is more about doing it “my way” than replicating things that I thought worked or that I know that audience is craving. Because of this, my books are very much “my” books first and whatever subgenre they are second, which can make it hard to find an audience.
I can’t stick to a subgenre for more than a few books without getting bored. While there are some authors who can jump around from subgenre to subgenre and be followed simply on the basis of their name recognition, the majority of successful indies I know stay within a more limited market. My portfolio really defies classification. While I have a small following who will say things to the extent of “I don’t usually like this new subgenre you tried, but I decided to read it anyway because I’ve liked your other books” I know that’s a leap of faith that not every reader is willing to take with an author. A person might find me through my middle grade but then balk when they get a whiff of the heavier topics in some of my older audience books … they might squee over my fairy tale romance then kind of blink weirdly when they find out I’m writing superheroes. They might adore the slick aesthetic of my steampunk books but then get overwhelmed by the intense, magic-heavy world building of my epic fantasy.
My business/work ethic is a mess. Seriously. I keep trying to make myself better at this. I try to track the advertising venues I use. I try to remember to post regularly … and I’m pretty good at marketing as far as the word of mouth, organic interactions go. I can run a social media page … but actually remembering to set up Amazon Ads (AMS) … trying to keep myself on a constant newsletter schedule. All those incredibly boring tasks that I know I SHOULD do but then I get online and I’m like, “You know what’s also marketing? POSTING CAT PICTURES!” and I post cat pictures instead of putting together a carefully researched AMS campaign with keywords and a killer tagline. I’m also very bad at the hard sale and picky about who I market with and I would just so much rather be chill than Type A.
The thing is, I do author coaching, so you might be asking why am I author coaching when I can’t get past that hurdle of making a living off my writing.
Mainly because authors write for different reasons. One part of my mentoring process is delving into what the important goals are for that particular writer. What do they hope (or need) to achieve in order to consider themselves successful?
And there is NOTHING wrong with having a financial goal for your writing. Not everyone can afford the time and mental effort it takes to create book after book and put them through the admittedly strenuous process of getting them publication ready unless they are also getting a financial benefit out of it.
That said, unless you happen to be a lightning strike writer whose passion project manages to land right when it is the thing people are unwittingly craving--or if you really love writing in a subgenre with a proven market and are willing to stick it out feeding that market--or if you have the business acumen and/or the finances to hire a marketing assistant--it might not be as easy as you hope. Part of my process is also helping authors decide whether that financial goal is worth perhaps drastically changing the sort of book they put out.
I don’t know how many authors I’ve watched struggle writing passion projects that they love but nobody reads who take off once they switch to writing to market or enter a more profitable subgenre. There’s nothing wrong with that. Writing is a career as much as an art form. That said, not everyone wants to do that. I certainly don’t. I LIKE playing with my Steampunk gadgets then jumping into dragons then circling around to superheroes even if it leaves a lot of my audience going, “Huh? What?”
I also acknowledge that, like I said at the top of my post, while I am not confident in the numbers I am making as far as profit goes, they are still pie in the sky numbers for a lot of indies who feel lucky to sell a handful of books a month. I may not be able to coach authors into making “quit your day job” numbers, but how to engage a base and set up a basic platform? I have six years of experience with that, and I can get you on your feet if you are completely lost in the indie weeds.