Last week, Kristen Lamb wrote a killer-good post about self-publishing. Literally. Five Mistakes KILLING Self-Published Authors. She hits several nails (five, to be exact) right on the head and points out the most common mistakes we indie authors make. But I know that some people have a knee-jerk reaction any time anyone points out the things that they are potentially doing wrong. Therefore, I would like to translate this article for those who only like to hear positive messages….
Instead of looking at Kristen’s points from the point of view of mistakes indie authors are making, here are five of the things indie authors are or should be doing right to kick ass in this crazy and ever-changing thing we call the publishing world.
Best Practice #1 – Kick-ass indie authors cross all their I’s and dot all their T’s before they click “Publish”.
The most successful and well-reviewed indie authors I know spend so much time on each book they write before they let it loose on the world. They stress over minor details, they vet the story through friends and through knowledgeable beta-readers who are part of the business. They hire professional editors of the highest caliber AND they listen to what they have to say. The most successful indie authors are not vain. They do not rest on their laurels or argue changes and suggestions made by editors or friends. They listen, they look, they evaluate and re-evaluate.
This doesn’t just apply to individual books either. It’s a universal concept. It’s reading craft books, then rereading them. It’s following all the steps in Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, no matter how long it takes or how painful it feels at times. It’s going to craft sessions at writer’s conferences, signing up for online writing classes, and best of all, driving two and a half hours to sit through a day-long workshop on self-editing live and in person, where questions can be asked and input can be received (yes, I did that in 2013).
The bottom line is that successful indie authors work their butts off. Somewhere between having an inferiority complex and being a perfectionist, they are driven to make damn sure and certain that every word of every paragraph of every page they publish is the best it can possibly be and has been given the thumbs up by people whose opinion matters.
Best Practice #2 – Kick-ass indie authors treat their writing like a business.
Let me tell you, getting royalty checks is fun. Getting 1099s at the end of the year is…interesting. Realizing that you owe Uncle Sam a painful chunk of that money is not fun. In fact, it can be like being slapped in the face with a brick if you’re not ready for it. The good news is that writing isn’t a hobby anymore. The bad news is that writing isn’t a hobby anymore.
A lot of planning and organization goes into running a small business, which is what an indie author is, essentially, doing, whether they know it or not. Businesses have employees and they outsource work. Successful indie authors understand that hiring professional cover designers and real, professional editors is an essential part of running the business. Think of it as your business contracting out work to professionals and adding valuable employees to the payroll.
Ah, but it goes beyond that. Successful indie authors hire support staff. 2013 marks the year that this little indie author hired a CPA and a publicist. Because I know that my part in this company is as the founder and Chief Creative Officer, but not the bookkeeper or the marketing department.
Businesses don’t run on hopes and dreams. Businesses run on capital and investment. Well-run businesses thrive on a return of investment. It’s not a hobby anymore!
Best Practice #3 – Kick-ass indie authors have a marketing strategy.
As Kristen Lamb says, publishing does not operate on the principle of “if we write it, they will come”. Successful indie authors are able to keep everything in perspective. They know that advances in self-publishing mean that there are millions of books out there in competition with our own. They know that the chances of winning the lottery without buying a ticket are nil.
There are a lot of methods for marketing books that work really well. Book tour companies, Promo sites like BookBub and Story Finds. Participating in author collectives and professional organizations. These things are helpful, but we all know that luck is a major force in discoverability. Successful indie authors make their own luck by leaving no stone unturned, no avenue unexplored, and by constantly searching for the next big thing. Promo ideas that worked last month might not be effective anymore next month. I’ve seen that happen time and time again.
That’s why I hired a publicist (some people also refer to them as virtual assistants). Anne does all this work for me so that I can just write. I hired her because I trust her. I pay her what she’s worth because she gets me results. I have an uncomfortable feeling that marketing company scams for indie authors could be the next big problem.
Best Practice #4 – Kick-ass indie authors understand what FREE is and what it isn’t.
Take it from my own personal experience, offering a book for free now doesn’t do what it did a year and a half ago. Readers aren’t, like “OMG! Free books! Yay!” as much as they were at first. Now they’re more, like, “Okay, I’m looking for a new author to get into. What’s the most risk-free way to do that? Hmm, this book is free and has a lot of good reviews. Let’s try it.”
Successful indie authors understand that freebies are the gateway drugs. They are the hook that gets readers to come back and BUY the rest of your books. They understand that offering the only book you’ve ever written for free is giving it up for nothing, while offering a series-leader for free is called “the first hit is free”.
Best Practice #5 – Kick-ass indie authors have only just begun to publish
In her post, Kristen stated that it takes a minimum of three books before an author starts to gain traction. Actually, according to a recent article published in the Romance Writers of America’s magazine, Romance Writer’s Report, that number was more like 8-10! One author even mentioned that she didn’t really “hit” until she’d published over 40 books! There are no one-hit wonders in publishing, not anymore.
Successful indie authors are those crazy folks who have so many stories in them they would have to live to be 126 in order to get all the stories written. They are the ones who are driven from the inside to tell a story and then another and then another. If you ask them what they’re working on, they will always have an answer. Two answers. Three dozen answers!
On top of that, successful indie authors are not genre-chasers, but they may very well be genre-sluts (as I recently heard someone put it). I’ve written historical romance so far, but I will be publishing sci-fi this coming summer, and dystopian semi-erotica sometime after that, and I’ve got a spiffy idea for a time-travel/historical series after that. Not to mention the inspirational romance I’ve got on the backburner. Why so many genres? BECAUSE I JUST HAVE TO WRITE THEM!!!
At the same time, I know I don’t have a lick of paranormal new adult romance in me. Nope. Nor am I much of a romantic suspense kind of gal. But I sat down a few months ago and wrote out the titles of all of the books I HAVE to write for which I know the title and could write you a one-paragraph summary. Twenty-three books, people! And I’ve come up with at least three or four more since then.
The bottom line: I will never run out of books to write. I will never not write them because some contract says I can’t or because my publisher wants me to write something else. I will continue to write and I will continue to publish what I write whether I hit the New York Times bestseller list or whether I only ever sell a handful of copies. Intuition says that I’ll come closer to the former than the latter because I have no intention of giving up.
So there you have it! Kristen Lamb’s principles translated for those who only like to hear positive messages and not suggestions of what they’re doing wrong. Because the bottom line is that you CAN do this! You CAN be a success at this, make a living at this, and build a life on this! The publishing industry has changed and changed for good. If you play your cards right and treat your writing like a business, you will succeed.