Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Friday, June 03, 2011

Indie Publishing and Marketing

I recently wrote another blog for Voices of The Heart about indie (as in independent) publishing versus legacy (or traditional) publishing. It's a hugely popular subject at the moment. Authors struggling to find an audience and make a living at their craft see a handful of authors like J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking not only making a living but becoming rich on independently published books. Everyone wants to match their success, or at least be able to pay their bills. Or, even earn enough to pay for their writing-related expenses.

With each passing day, it seems like more and more established authors are hauling out their backlists or even previously unpublished books, blowing off the dust, and squirting them off to Amazon, Barnes & Nobles, and Smashwords to make a few bucks. Which makes it even harder for less well-known authors to find their audience as their books are literally submerged under a tsunami of books all in the same genre.

Answers are wishy-washy at best. All of us are mystified about what makes a reader buy one book over another. Read Konrath's blog if you don't believe me. He's experiemented with pricing, blurbs, covers, etc, and still can't quite decide what makes one of his books sell more than another. As for marketing, the most successful independent author out there, Amanda Hocking, is the first to admit she has no idea why her books took off and sold so well. She did shockingly little marketing (frankly, almost none).

As for me, after five small press/legacy published books that haven't quite paid for my writing expenses yet (dues to various writing organizations, paper, ink, that sort of thing), I went indie with one of my latest mysteries and am just as mystified as the others when I see that book, priced at a lowly $.99 outselling my five other books, combined. In fact, by the end of the year, it will have earned more money than I got for an advance for my mystery that isn't even out yet (due out in hardcover in 2012). That's if it continues to sell at the current rate. I'm not even assuming it may increase in sales, or adding in the second book I have coming out soon.

So what conclusions can we draw?
There has to be something....
  • Price. Price is a huge factor and it has nothing to do with any esoteric "artistic value to the reader". Get over that idea right now, it will only cause you to make terrible decisions. A lot more people are willing to buy a book at $.99 than at $7.00. It's the revenue stream that matters, not the individual unit price. Believe me. I know. To tempt readers, you need at least one book for $.99 as an "entry-book". (Think like drug pushers and you'll do just fine.)
  • Cover. You need a great cover. Or at least not an appallingly bad cover. Or a cover that looks like your 7-year-old daughter created it as she twirled around in a pink tutu. It should look professional.
  • Blurb. You need a great blurb. No errors. One that tempts and teases the reader. One that grabs and won't let a reader rest until they buy the book and find out what it's all about. Present the core of the conflict and make it pithy.
  • Marketing. To a large extent, marketing is a waste of your time. There are only a few things you can really do that make a difference. Here they are: get reviews for your book; participate in blogs that are NOT hard sells of your book--you need to provide something of interest that may be related to your book, but stop just talking about your book (for crying out loud); participate in some of the groups out there but not as a poster of excerpts, but as a real human with interesting ideas, opinions, etc; Twitter--but not about your book all the time.
         - You'll notice a theme under marketing: shut up about your book, already. What you're looking for is to build a social network and provide your friends and readers with interesting information. It can be related to your book, but if all you do is squirt excerpts out everywhere and post solely about your book, then people will tune you out. They'll have no reason to listen. As Konrath says: it's all about content. Give them something of value. I've seen a huge change in the success of my marketing strategy--such as it is--when I simply stopped chatting up my books all the time. In fact, I sold more books than ever during the month when I was off the 'net entirely and not doing any marketing whatsoever.
          - Note: My first month of sales beat the last year of sales for all of my five previous small-press books combined. Last month tripled that number. This is for ONE book. If my book remains at the same level of sales, by the end of the year I will have already earned what I got as an advance for my most recent legacy-published book. By the time that legacy-published book comes out in 2012, I'll have already earned TWICE that advance; and that is if the sales of my one book remain flat at the current level.
          - Sadly, success breeds success. If your book starts generating sales, that will generate more interest. More interest will generate more sales. This happens organically, on its own, and there's pretty much nothing you can do about it. Except...
  • Write. Your very best tool is writing the next book and publishing it at a reasonable price. No more than $2.99. Every author has reported that when they published a second (or subsequent) book, it created a jump in sales for all previous books. So your very, very BEST MARKETING tool is...the next book.
  • Subject Matter. One of the reasons a lot of folks go indie is because they have a book they couldn't sell elsewhere. Here's the really awkward, wince-inducing thing: if an editor mentioned something like --we're not sure who the audience would be and this genre/subject doesn't really sell... then you need to pause. A big reason why otherwise terrific books that have great covers, perfect blurbs, and a low price don't sell is because readers aren't particularly interested in the topic. Sometimes this is simply because the blurb or description of the story is uninteresting (remember to put the characters and their conflict first--readers connect with the characters--not some artistic or thematic concept-in-the-sky). Sometimes, you've really gone "too far out there" with the story, e.g. Praying Mantis - the story of an epileptic cat-man who is destroyed by love...with a woman who eats cats for breakfast. Literally. You know what I mean.
         - If you really intend to write for an audience as opposed to yourself, you have to consider your readers. They come first. They have to, because they're going to pay their money to read your cr*p. Don't make them regret it.
So that sums up much of what I've learned. For me, it's still a tough decision. I like the money I'm earning as an indie author, but I still want the validation and opportunity to work with other industry professionals (like editors I didn't buy) that legacy publishing brings to the table. And although I plan to have a second indie book out by July (A Rose Before Dying) I'm still fiddling with a manuscript that I may send to a legacy publisher. May.

I guess we'll see what happens.


Lavada Dee said...

Thanks for this very timely post of information Amy. I am in the process of writing a Christmas anthology and indie publishing it with my critique partner. We are both published but this is a new route for us. One we are finding challenging and motivating.


Amy said...

It's certainly challenging. And Motivating. Not to mention a LOT of work.

But ultimately, I think you'll be glad you did it, and you may find you reach a lot more readers.

Good luck--I understand Christmas anthologies really sell well.

Margaret Tanner said...

Great blog. You raised some very interesting and important points.
Thank you.


Stephanie Burkhart said...

Amy, great points and I think you've hit the nail on the head. More people are willing to buy at .99 than $7.00. I'm going through my short story archieve right now...


Laurie Ryan said...

What a great article, Amy. I especially take to heart your comments on promotion. I'm going to make some changes based on that. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. :)

Sonja Foust said...

Thanks for posting this! Great information.

Amy said...

I just hope someone finds it useful...