5 Tips for Indie Authors (Guest Post by Michael R. Miller)
Michael Miller is the author of Battle Spire and the Dragon’s Blade trilogy. Since 2015 he has sold over 80,000 books and hit numerous Amazon bestselling charts, including the top 100 of all books on Amazon.com. He has also worked at Bloomsbury Publishing in their Digital Marketing department, and is a co-founder of the digital publisher Portal Books.
Michael is joining us here to talk about some of the things he wishes he’d known when starting out in self-publishing.
1 – Immerse Yourself in Industry Knowledge
Let’s face it: if you’re planning on publishing yourself, then you’re embarking on your own small business. It’s not for everyone, but if you like the ability to make decisions and take action quickly, then self-publishing can be fantastic. Think of yourself as the CEO of your own publishing company that only publishes your work.
Any good CEO should be informed and up to date on the industry they work in, and you’re no exception. It’s never been easier and you can do this fairly passively. Subscribing to Publishers Weekly and The Bookseller is a good idea (remember these costs can be expensed!) but these are highly traditional-publishing focused. While they don’t strictly apply to you as a self-published author, it’s still good to keep your finger on the pulse in trad.
In the indie space, there are a variety of podcasts out there that cover everything you need to know. Most are interview shows where topics are discussed in a casual manner. Not every episode will make you run off and change your marketing strategy but, as I say, it’s worthwhile to stay immersed in the landscape of publishing.
I would recommend checking out Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Show and The Bestseller Experiment. Dawson’s podcast is focused almost entirely on self-publishing whereas the Bestseller Experiment takes a more balanced approach. For us fantasy lovers, the Bestseller Experiment has interviews with some of the biggest names in the field from Joe Abercrombie to Brandon Sanderson and Garth Nix, thanks to host Mark Stay’s connections.
For a specific self-publishing orientated podcast on SFF, try Lindsay Buroker’s Sci-Fi Fantasy Marketing Podcast.
Listen to the podcasts on your commute to work, while you’re cleaning the house or cooking. I cannot urge you to do this enough. I meet so many authors both in the indie space and trad that don’t have a grasp of the industry and are therefore at the mercy of their agents, their publishers, or the ever-changing Amazon ecosystem.
Taking in all this information won’t change your career overnight, but you will find your knowledge and confidence in working in this space grows, making it that much more likely you’ll make it.
2 – You Can’t Do Everything
There’s a piece of writing advice I hear often which boils down to ‘play to your strengths’. In craft, this means a logically minded writer should focus on creating intricate worlds, magic systems and plots; whereas a writer who excels at creating compelling characters and the interplays between them should focus on that and keep their plots simple.
You’ll learn what you’re best at through writing a lot. With the business side, it’s the same thing.
In an ideal world you’d be a stats wizard, an ad-copy writing genius, a mailing list master and a social media guru. Never mind the myriad of advertising platforms you’d best become an expert in.
But you can’t be great at all of it. And you don’t have to be. If you’re not into social media, then don’t force yourself to go on there and post every day. I don’t. Would it be better if I did? Maybe… but I’d rather focus on other things. Sending out infrequent mailing lists feels better to me, and of the major advertising platforms (Facebook, Bookbub, Amazon) I’ve found Amazon works best for me, so that’s where I channel most of my time and energy.
So, don’t feel you have to do everything that’s out there. Take in the knowledge from tip #1, try things out and see what works for you. The most important thing is that you have time to keep writing!
3 – Meet Other Authors
Given there is so much out there, it can often feel overwhelming. Other indie authors in the same boat as you are the best people to turn to. I didn’t think it when starting out, but meeting other writers online and then being lucky enough to meet many of them face to face years later is what’s helped me the most. You can cut to the heart of what’s working well as a collective think tank, you can help promote each other’s books, you can learn which services out there are worth paying your hard-earned cash for. Moreover, you can just be a support group.
Start small. Join some writer groups for your genre on Facebook and start chatting. Include your book in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) and interact with the other authors in the competition on Twitter – that’s how I met many of the fantastic people I know now. Take the initiative and volunteer to organize a joint giveaway.
If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with local publishing/writing events, put yourself out there and meet people in real life. Get talking. It will not only help your understanding of what’s what and who’s who in the industry, but you will make friendships and contacts that will help your career, even if you can’t envision it at the time.
A lot of people think writing is a lonely, solitary job, but it doesn’t have to be.
4 – Just Focus on Your Own Numbers
If you are putting yourself out there, getting to know other writers and understanding what’s possible with self-publishing, then you’ll very quickly realize there is always a bigger fish. You’ll feel that your achievements aren’t enough; feel deflated that your launch didn’t go as well as someone else’s that week or month; be shocked at the size of their mailing list or how many times they’ve been invited to join Amazon Prime Reading. Some writers you know will be churning out a book every 2 months while you’ve been working on that same damned draft for 8.
It’s impossible to ignore it all, but the key thing to learn (eventually) is not to let it bother you (…so much). You don’t know how long it’s taken them to get where they are. You may have missed the Bookbub promotional email that accounts for their overnight meteoric rise. A certain ranking on the Kindle store one year doesn’t mean the same thing the next, nor even in a few months’ time as the competition shifts.
Sometimes a book with tons of reviews didn’t sell much better than yours; it just has a lot of reviews. Whatever that means. Maybe readers loved it more; maybe the Amazon or Goodreads gods didn’t block or remove as many reviews from their book. Sometimes we just don’t know. Often the people who have wild successes don’t really know why it happened either.
So, to the best of your ability, just keep an eye on your own sales numbers. Your own rankings day to day and month to month; your ad spend, your click and conversion rate, your progress on the book you are writing now. Keep beating yourself and soon people will be wondering how you did it too.
5 – You Don’t Just Have One Shot
I don’t mean the obvious thing here in that if you keep writing books, one day one book might take off. That’s true. But equally true is that just because a book you believe in didn’t take off immediately doesn’t mean it’s a dud.
Maybe the cover wasn’t right. Maybe the blurb isn’t grabbing enough attention. Maybe you needed a better proofreader. Perhaps when you launched you unwittingly did so amidst a flurry of releases from some of the biggest authors out there. Amazon might have gone through one of its infamous updates at the time and removed the ‘also boughts’ section for 2 weeks.
Any number of things could contribute to a book’s lack of success beyond the book simply being ‘bad’ or ‘not right for the market’ – although it’s deeply necessary to recognize when this may be the case as well.
If you believe strongly in the book, try again.
You have the power to do so. You can get that new cover, or return to the text and re-write scenes, trim the fat from the prose and tighten the dialogue. I did all of this and more AFTER my first series was complete. By the time you’ve written book 3, book 1 looks a bit shabby. Re-writes, fresh editing, fresh proofreading – all these things can be done, even years after release, and the book updated online with the push of a button.
In drastic situations you can just unpublish a book. Take it down and start completely from scratch. Often this can be the best way, as the book will return afresh to the Amazon algorithm for another bite at the apple.
Taking another swing certainly helped me, and I know it’s helped others too. Be persistent.
Michael Miller is the author of BATTLE SPIRE and the DRAGON’S BLADE trilogy.
The trilogy boxset is currently on sale for 99p/99c!