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Hey, guys! This post will just bore the pants off of some of you, but I’ve been getting a lot of questions about indie publishing. I thought I’d post a few “must knows” here.
1. Series is king. You can do really well publishing stand-alone books (not that series books aren’t stand alone), but overall, series is where writers are finding the sales sweet spot, especially if you’re writing romance. It doesn’t have to be series in the sense that we have this story arc that evolves throughout the books. It can be books that can be read in any order that are tied by setting or some characteristic, like all books include the adult grandchildren of a crazy, retired CIA operative in a small Arkansas town. Like my Sugar Creek series.
2. There’s a lot of talk about Permafree not being effective anymore. For many of us, that’s simply not true. (Permafree is setting a book to free that stays free indefinitely, like my In Between.) Once you have at least three books in a series, try putting that first book free. It helps to have copy in the back and multiple places of Book One that nudge the reader on to book two. Include a sales link to book two, include a sample chapter to book two.
3. Get a good editor. Editors are like toilet paper–you get what you pay for. : ) (I mean, editors are like fine chocolate! Editors are like imported coffee!) If you need referrals for editors, I’ll be glad to help you there. I have a handful of editors I really, really believe in. It’s important to not only get someone with experience (lots of it), but to get someone who gets your voice and your goals for your books. Define some characteristics you need in an editor and stick to that. Straying from my list has not served me well, in indie or traditional publishing. For my list, I need someone who has a sense of humor, can handle a little edge, but make sure I’m not mean or crossing a line I’ve established, has years of experience, and gets ME. I also really prefer someone who has worked in traditional publishing and knows the rules we tend to stick to and the rules we just don’t care about anymore. This list is not for every writer. It’s just what’s worked for me.
4. Exclusivity is a personal choice. Some writers prefer to enroll their books in KDP Select, which means they gain some benefits by allowing Amazon to be the only seller to have access to their books. No iBooks, no Nook, no Kobo. This is one of those things you need to research and maybe even test the waters. I have yet to go exclusive for a number of reasons, but mostly because I want all my readers to have access and because I believe in iBooks and their potential. I have friends who are exclusive with Amazon, and some are doing well. As Nook becomes less and less of a contender, my opinion might change, but so far having my book available in all channels has really worked well for me. There are bigger, better, more successful indie writers who talk about this often, and I’d really suggest following them on a regular basis. Folks like Hugh Howey, JA Konrath, Marie Force, and The Passive Voice. Their opinions have evolved as KDP Select has evolved, and their input is pretty important.
5. Get a good cover designer. Unless you are a top level designer, don’t do the cover yourself. Also get feedback on your cover from folks you trust, absolutely trust, to give you an honest opinion. I promise on my Holstein Cow YA, that covers will make or break your book. They aren’t cheap, but they’re SO SO important. Ask around for referrals, and check out the designer’s portfolio. I “save” photos of covers I like on a Pinterest board and in a folder in my gmail. That way when it’s time to create my next cover, I usually have comp titles ready to go to better help define what I’m looking for or what I like. Pull up the Kindle best seller lists in your genre. What do those covers look like? What do they have or not have? One area that indie covers often fail is font. Get good ones that could be on any best selling book in a Barnes and Noble.
6. Once you get that Permafree book up, get a BookBub ad. There are other outlets to try as well, such as Ereader News Today and Pixel of Ink (I think they’re up and running again?), but BookBub is the best in getting the news of your free (or discounted) book into the hands of digital readers. BookBub is expensive, but when advertising a free book, I’ve always made my money back on the first day. (Advertising for a book that is more than .99 was not successful for me, but one attempt does not make for good data.)
7. Do your research. The cool thing about indie publishing is there is SO SO SO much information out there. The indie community is awesome about sharing what they learn and know. We want people to succeed and we want people to be informed. Get last year’s RWA conference recordings, which was FULL of classes on going indie. (Also great info that would transfer to traditional publishing.) Follow blogs of indie writers like James Scott Bell, Joanna Penn, etc. There are a handful of great podcasts out there. I really like Joanna’s podcast The Creative Penn. It’s so helpful and full of info–sometimes more than I can handle. Read some books by successful indie writers. One of my favorite books on indie publishing is The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing. Some of the info might be a little dated now (it only takes a few months), but it’s incredibly encouraging to read the success stories of these writers who have hit the NYT, hit the million dollar club, and/or were able to write full time and make a living. Write, Publish, and Repeat is good, as is The Indie Author Survival Guide and Let’s Get Digital. If you are not interested in any of the above and “just want to write,” then this probably isn’t the route for you. And that’s okay. Some days it’s not for me either.
8. Join a list-serv for indie fiction writers. I subscribe to one hosted by Marie Force, and it’s very informative to just lurk and a helpful resource for when I have a question of my own. I recommend leaving any list-servs that get negative, especially about traditional publishing or publishers. Traditional publishing is still a good choice for a lot of authors, and it drives me nuts to see that option immediately deemed stupid. It happens–it happens a lot.
9. Get Scrivener. Despite the huge fan club it has, I still don’t love it for word processing, but it’s very useful for formatting your indie book yourself. I also use a wonderful formatter who is AMAZING to work with–very kind, patient, prompt, and reasonable. Paul Salvette of BB eBooks is just the best. I can’t recommend him enough.
10. One of the encouraging things about indie publishing is the main thing that sells your book is the next book. So you can post selfies on Instagram all day, publish witty quotes on Facebook, tweet hilarious photos, hire the world’s best publicist. But your next book is the best “pusher” of your previous novels. And the more indie books you have, the better your income flow and readership.
11. Be encouraged that at some point, through trial and error, you will assemble your team. One of the biggest things indie converts miss about traditional publishing is not having a support system and their “team.” But eventually you find the right editors, the right cover designer or two, a few beta readers, a formatter if necessary, and those writing friends in the trenches who will listen to you whine while on deadline. I no longer have to worry about the possibility a devo editor who has never read YA, a copy editor who doesn’t have a sense of humor, or a middle aged man with no taste deciding my covers. Not that that’s ever happened. But you get to customize your team now until everyone aligns with you and your brand and just rocks at what they do. It took me at least a year, but I have my team, and they are keepers.
12. Take the time to write a good book. All of the above will be about as useful as a Kardashian without Botox if you haven’t made sure you are putting out the best product possible.