After listening to successful indie authors share advice at the recent Willamette Writer’s Conference, where I attended workshops about publishing, marketing, and book promotion, I felt more confident than ever that it is possible to build a fiction writing business without turning to a traditional publisher. Plenty of people are doing it right now—some of them earning a lot of money.
But being a writer no longer consists simply of writing. If seeing the words “fiction writing business” made you cringe, that’s a red flag. If you see yourself as a creative type with no interest in or inclination for any aspect of marketing, publishing, self-promotion, or business development, you will not succeed as an independent author. Your best bet is to shop your manuscript around to a traditional publisher.
However, if the idea of jumping into the chaos and unpredictability of today’s Wild West publishing world appeals to you, and you’re willing to tackle all of the challenges required to be an “authorpreneur,” then read on.
- If you want to succeed as an indie author, write a series. Publish the first book in your series online, and price it low ($2.99-4.99 is the suggested range for e-books, and some authors have seen sales skyrocket after dropping prices even lower, or offering books free for a limited time). Once you gain a following of loyal readers, then you can charge more for subsequent books and you will sell more of your first book as more people discover you. If you plan to publish just one novel and that’s it, you may be better off shopping around for a traditional publisher.
- If you want to succeed as an indie author, you must be a publisher and marketer too. Your tasks include: creating and rocking a 30-second pitch for your book, building a network of writing and publishing peers, researching and targeting your audience, having a website, blog, and social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc.), hiring an editor(s), cover designer, and proofreader, purchasing ISBN numbers for your books (you can do that via Bowker here), establishing a sole proprietorship or LLC. The list goes on. And on. And on. There are tons of people publishing guides on how to accomplish this. I like Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self Publishing, by Catherine Ryan Howard.
- If you want to succeed as an indie author, know that your success will come from selling e-books. Probably 85% of those e-books will be sold via Amazon. Sorry, people who hate Amazon. Maybe 5% of your e-book sales will come from all the other e-book vendors combined. Paperback sales will comprise the smallest slice of your sales, and they will come primarily from Amazon’s print-on-demand (POD) service, Createspace.
- If you want to succeed as an indie author, protect yourself from predators. Before you hire anyone to help you with publishing, editing, or marketing, check out Predators & Editors, Writer Beware, and the Alliance of Independent Authors for advice on avoiding scams and con artists.
- If you want to succeed as an indie author, remember that content is king. Writing and revising must be your biggest investment of time. Without new content, you have nothing to publish or promote. So be prepared to strictly budget your time for all the other tasks required of you as an indie author.
It’s all very daunting—but it is possible. Publishing is changing rapidly, and who knows how long these tips will even be relevant, but they work for many authors who have been able to quit their day jobs and turn to indie authorship full time. Good luck, and may you find gold in them thar hills.