how I got my first 1,000 readers

During the 4 years I spent researching, writing, and rewriting The Girl from Oto, I underwent a transformation. Attracting 1,000 readers was not part of my plan in the beginning. All I wanted was to write the story that had taken hold of my imagination and would not leave me alone. I loved immersing myself in research and watching the characters come to life. I treasured every minute of stitching together their adventures. But when it came time to hire an editor, send the manuscript to beta readers, and begin the difficult task of major revisions, I arrived at an impasse.

What was I doing? Would anyone ever actually read this book? Why was I spending hundreds of hours writing and rewriting a story that nobody other than my family and friends would likely read? I deliberated for a while and then made my decision: I was going all in. I wasn’t just writing a story for myself and a few others. I was writing a story for everyone. I wanted the book to have fans that were people I didn’t know. I wanted it to be good enough so readers had trouble putting it down. I wanted people to wish the story hadn’t ended, to wonder what was going to happen next.

So I went all in. I joined the Alliance of Independent Authors and discovered a community of supportive and knowledgable people. I invested in Nick Stephenson’s “Your First 10K Readers” marketing course, and with Nick’s help I started developing an author platform, a social media presence, and a “reader magnet” e-mail subscription funnel. My mailing list was under 25 people for the first solid year. Now it’s at 950 and growing (a big shout out to Paula Wynne’s BookHub promotions and Chris Brookes‘ Authors to Authors promotion for getting it there). I launched The Girl from Oto with 8 reviews on Amazon and now have more than 40 reviews there, all of them 4- and 5-star. (Over on Goodreads—which is notoriously more critical than Amazon—it’s a slightly less rosy story, but the average of my nearly 50 ratings is still above a 4.)

This has all been a ton of work with a steep learning curve. But here’s the bottom line: with the help of countless other indie authors, I have navigated the challenges of publishing, marketing, and promotion without completely losing my sh*t.

Moreover, people I don’t know are actually reading my book.

Here’s the proof. Yesterday (tax time!), when I tallied up my sales since launch day on Sept. 21, 2016, I realized that I’ve sold about 800 copies of the book, I’ve given away a hundred more, and I’ve had nearly 100,000 thousand pages read through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program (1000 pages read pays me about the same as selling one book). I can now say with confidence that I’ve reached my first 1,000 readers. And I’m closing in on my first 1,000 sales.

1,000 readers—oh my!!! Photo by Paul Gilmore

There aren’t a lot of solid stats out there about the average earnings for independent authors. The number 200 pops up a lot, though. Supposedly the average indie author only sells 200 copies of a book. If that’s true, I’ve succeeded on a level that most self-published authors never achieve. (Here is Data Guy’s Author Earnings Report for 2016 if you want to geek out on publishing data.)

While most self-published books have very few readers and make very little money, there’s a growing list of writers who are making a living at this. At the top are a few indie authors who rake in millions of dollars (50 Shades of Grey, anyone?). But there’s also a growing “mid-list” of authors who are not household names, nor do they want to be. They are writing lots of books, however, and making enough money to support their families and send kids to college. I’m not aiming to be one of the run-away successes, outliers like Hugh Howey (Wool) or Andy Weir (The Martian). But that mid-list? It not only sounds good to me, it sounds attainable.

This is huge. It’s something to truly celebrate. I went from thinking I would write The Girl from Oto for myself and my community to turning it into a book that has attracted 1,000 readers—and actually makes income. Excuse me while I get up and do a happy dance.

Ok, I’m back. A bit winded and a bit more contemplative now. The truth is, this is a long game and I have much farther to go. I need to publish at least two more books in the next several years to have a shot at making not only a decent income from fiction writing but a profit, too. There are a lot of indie authors churning out multiple books per year, but the books I’m writing are long and research-based, and I’m new to this.

The real impediment to writing faster is the fact that writing is just a small part of this job. Publishing, marketing, and promotion take up a huge chunk of time. Someday I hope to have a virtual assistant to help me with these tasks so I can write and publish more books in less time. And though I occasionally suffer the same self-doubt as any other author, I now have the gift of hindsight. Having that first book under my belt gives me the confidence to know I can do it, because I already have.

But this isn’t even the best part. The best part is hearing people tell me what they loved about The Girl from Oto. That the story transported them to another world, that the characters drew them in, that they stayed up too late finishing it, that they didn’t want it to end. That’s just what I was hoping for. As I write the sequel, Mira’s Way, I think about those readers. I want to keep the magic going for them and do this story justice. It’s not over yet—and I can’t wait to see what happens next. In case you’re wondering, yes, there is a third book in the works. That’s right, folks, it’s a trilogy!

Hopefully by the time I launch Mira’s Way I’ll have reached my next milestone: 10,000 readers. It’s a fantastic goal to have. It propels me forward even on the most difficult days. Early on, I remember a seasoned indie author telling me to celebrate every small success, every milestone, and to keep reminding myself that this is a long game. So that’s what I’m doing. Celebrating my first 1,000 readers—and looking forward to reaching many more.

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Amy Maroney

I'm a writer living in the Pacific Northwest with my husband and daughters. It took 4 years to write and publish my first novel, The Girl from Oto. Before that I was a writer and editor of nonfiction. This blog charts my progress as an independent author navigating the fog-shrouded switchbacks of "authorpreneurship." Come along for the ride...I hope what I've learned along the way can help you, too!

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