5 Valuable Insights for Self-Publishing Authors

On Throwback Thursday, we’re looking at excerpts from past posts on Live Write Thrive.

Today’s post is from 5 Things I Learned in My First Year of Self-Publishing. Interesting to note, I wrote this back in January 2013, but the 5 lessons learned are still as valuable and applicable today, in 2016.

After seeing my first few novels come out in print, published by traditional publishers, over the past three years, I decided to venture into the waters of self-publishing. When I launched my blog January 1, 2012, my aim was to explore self-publishing and glean insights from both professionals and authors involved in this brave new world.

The prospect of being in control of my marketing and promotion was at once exciting and daunting, and as I explored and experimented, often confused, disappointed, and frustrated, I was also wonderfully surprised by the many joys I experienced.

So here are just five key things I learned while marketing and promoting three novels I uploaded as ebooks onto various sites. I could give a list of a hundred, no doubt, but these are the points that really stand out to me, and I hope they will help you in your indie publishing journey.

My 5 Important Insights

1. There is no secret formula to success. I thought there had to be. I spoke to so many hugely successful indie authors last year hoping to find a common denominator and what I found were some threads of similarity, but not anything cut and dried. The face of indie publishing changes daily, maybe even hourly, and what worked one month doesn’t work the next. This led me to the conclusion that I also heard repeatedly by successful indie authors:

2. More important than anything: write a great book. Then write many more. I believe, from what I’ve seen and repeatedly heard across all frontsfrom authors to publisher to agents to publicistswrite a terrific book. Don’t scrimp on quality or editing. Put out the best work you can and only when it’s ready.

And realize if you want to be looked upon an an author and develop a fan base, you need to write more than one book. I hear people say at least five or six. But, reallywhy limit yourself or put a number out there?

As writers, we should be writing what’s in our hearts, what we’re excited about, and tell the stories we feel compelled to tell. Maybe that’s only one book. That’s okay if you feel you have only one story to tell, but it is harder to build a readership and fan base on one book alone. But don’t let that stop you.

3.  Amazon really is the place. I hate to say this, but it’s true. I’ve asked dozens of successful indie authors, many who make five figures a month in sales (net), and they pretty much all say the bulk of their income comes from Amazon sales and particularly using KDP Select. Again, things are changing daily, and Amazon is the perfect example.

A year ago authors could make much more money on Select, and then the algorithms were changed, and if you follow the buzz, there’s no telling from day to day how sales might go. Which speaks to my #1 point: there is no set secret to success.

But as much as I would like to put all my books on Nook, Sony, Kobo, Smashwords, etc., I found I had practically no sales at all on any of these sites although I marketed heavily. All my monthly income from sales comes from my Amazon Kindle sales. And these successful authors tell me it accounts for about 95-100% of their revenue. So until things change, I will stay with Amazon, but I don’t like many of their policies and predatory behavior. Hopefully that will soon change . . .

4. Marketing and promoting is hard work, and you have to be in it for the long haul. I knowyou don’t want to hear that and you have heard it before. Back in the day (well, still true today), it was a long haul landing an agent, sending out tons of queries and sample chapters, waiting, waiting, waiting, then waiting more while your agent sent out submissions, and years passed.

Now we live in the fast-food-frenzy mentality. We want it now. We want it yesterday. We want to throw our book up on Amazon and get 100,000 sales the first day. Ain’t gonna happen.

If we were so patient as to wait years to get an agent and get a book sold to a traditional publisher (who now probably won’t do anything to market and promote your book), can’t we use some of that patience to take the time to build an audience, get name recognition, develop a reputation for being a great author?

5. It’s all about connecting writer with reader. Think about it: Why do you write? Is it just to feel creative? Is it to make a ton of money? Maybe. I wrote a lot of posts last year about the need for success and how to look at “success” with a healthy perspective. But what I learned is that the best way for me to look at my writing career is to remember why I write. It’s to reach readers, to touch their hearts, maybe even change their lives (for the better).

Instead of obsessing over sales, I try to spend time engaging with my readers, savoring the wonderful reviews and praising comments they give me via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and other channels. It’s not about dollar signsor at least I feel it shouldn’t be.

Sure, we will get some bad reviewswe don’t write for every kind of reader, and some people are not going to like our books. But others love them. I remind myself to stop and really enjoy the feeling when a reader posts a review and says they were so moved by my novel that they are going to buy every book I’ve ever written and that I’m now their favorite author. Wow! What price tag can a writer put on that? None.

What key things have you learned from self-publishing? Or do you share the observations I made back in 2013? Which one stands out the most to you?

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  1. Great, hard-hitting summary!

    As to #3, do you still believe (mid-way through 2016) that “Amazon really is the place”?

    1. Yes, even more so today. Because of the benefits of Amazon’s Kindle programs, it makes the most sense. I’ve now put all my Westerns in KDP Select (exclusive) because I’m making thousands of dollars a month just from page reads (you get paid per page read when your book is in Select). And of course authors still say the bulk of their sales–and I would guess between 80-99%–come from Amazon. That’s the case for me. Eventually I may again put all my novels in Select but for now I want some of them available for iPad and Nook.

  2. Finally, someone has put into words what I was struggling to understand about myself and why I write. Just this week I was trying to explain to my writing group the need to be published, not really able to put it into words, knowing it was not just about fame and fortune, which I know is little more than a pipe dream. Thanks for the enlightenment!

  3. I agree that “Amazon really is the place.” I’ve put all my eggs in the Amazon basket and it hasn’t failed to disappoint. I’m confident Amazon’s programs and services will only improve in the future.

  4. Excellent advice as I write, edit, write some more…It interesting what you say about Amazon. I won’t forget!

  5. Thanks for this insight. It came at just the right time as I was just advised I should re-issue a mystery/thriller I published a long time ago as an e-book. This article had good specific advice as to the place to go with a “self published” novel.
    I will be posting some information as to the novel I want to republish, maybe with an excerpt, on my website within a few weeks. In the words of the old cliche, I hope I have not bitten off more than I can chew.

  6. This is great advice. I’m still trying to build my following on me blogs Camping with Kids and Adventures in Writing and my facebook author page. I’m very nervous about my understanding of how to self-publish a book/story and about how to market my work. I’m learning lots from your blog, though.

    1. Glad this all helps. There is a ton of info out there on how to publish, and following top blogs and resourcing their back posts is so helpful! Follow blogs like Jane Friedman’s and Joanna Penn’s (The Creative Pen), and well as Joel’s at The Book Designer. Start compiling a notebook of great posts and blog sites. Things change daily so it’s a lot to keep up with!

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