It's been about a year since I posted anything on my blog, and in looking back at my previous posts, my first thought is... WOW. How much changes over your indie author journey.
Recently, I've hit the following milestones:
Quadrupled preorders from debut to next book release.
While I have well more than 1,000 subscribers on my mailing list, I officially have 100 subscribers that have gone out of their way to opt-in to my list (not through group promos such as Bookfunnel giveaways).
I hit 125 Amazon reviews averaging 4.3+ stars on my first book.
My Amazon ads are finally working and have been garnering me daily preorders over the last week.
Finished my first novella (reader magnet) of 30,000 words in 3 weeks, including full edits, a beta read, plotting, formatting, and the actual writing of it. Compare that to my first novel, which took me 11 years to write.
My successes are starting to compound. Although it's still too early to project exactly what will happen in 2023., this is a far cry from what I saw when I first published Stormfire in 2019. What's ironic is that this same book, repackaged and remarketed, is generating so much more success than it did in 2019.
So what happened between then and now?
I used to think that successful indie authors used a "magic unicorn" ingredient that allowed them to grow huge followings and sell tons of books. But it's just not true. In an earlier 2021 post, I mentioned for most authors, when you hit the "publish" button, it's going to be very anticlimactic. If you're anything like me, you might get crickets for your first book... and your second... and your third.
But that can all change with your next book. Here are the biggest lessons I learned after I turned three-years-old (as an indie!):
(1) You're not going to know what the heck you're doing in the beginning, and that's okay.
I made so many mistakes in my early years. I sent poorly written emails that flagged my email provider's unsubscribe/spam flags. My book artwork was gaudy. My covers were beautiful but not exactly marketable to my specific niche. My email tone of voice yelled of "NEWBIE" from the mountains instead of professional author. Looking back, I'm embarrassed by a lot of the emails I sent to my very forgiving list.
Three years later, my subscriber list is rapidly growing. People are reaching out to me frantically saying they want to remain on my mailing list and no, I shouldn't unsubscribe them. I even recently had a dear reader friend tell me my marketing has vastly improved since my early days.
If you want to succeed at this, you have to be willing to fall flat on your face, over and over; you have to be willing to embarrass yourself and go for long periods of time with little to no success. What you're really doing is learning and growing. It's the same mindset of learning to ride a bike. You didn't learn within your first day of trying. Why should you with running a writer business?
Never stop learning marketing, honing your voice, and studying new skills. Go out of your way to take courses and learn about marketing - both from writers and from general business marketers. Subscribe to the mailing lists of successful indie authors in your niche. And keep sending the emails (at a reasonable frequency), because you're going to eventually find your natural brand voice.
(2) One of the best things you can do to market your book is to write a helluva marketable book.
When I was first published, I was kind of arrogant in that I thought I knew all there was to know about writing. After all, I'd been studying the craft off and on for fifteen years...
But I had a huge problem.
I wasn't writing what the market wanted. I was writing what I knew to write. And it just wasn't clicking with readers. Specifically, since Sarah J Maas has generally been huge, I was reading her and other trad-published romantic fantasy writers, yet I was trying to market indie epic fantasy. As a result, the sales and follows just weren't there.
Did you know that individual fantasy niches can be vastly different? Did you know that romantic fantasy isn't epic fantasy isn't dark fantasy isn't coming of age? Do you know the difference between sword and sorcery and high fantasy? I didn't for many years.
You've got to get very clear on the niche you're marketing. "Fantasy" isn't enough.
You get clear on your niche by studying your primary market - for me, that's the Amazon indie fantasy market. You have to study what the successful indie authors are doing. What indie and trad fantasy authors do in terms of marketing is vastly different. Are you clear on these differences? Are you spending time studying them?
I have several indie authors I closely follow. I notice when their reviews skyrocket, how they write their blurbs, the kind of artwork they use for their books. I analyze what's making each of these elements successful, and I look for common themes that I can then apply to my own series. I'm subscribed to successful author mailing lists so I get a clear idea of how to professionally write an email, and I have very clear purpose behind every email I send out now.
And for goodness sake, don't make the huge mistake I did for three years - you've got to read books in your niche. My arrogance told me for a long time that I didn't need to read other authors (or that I didn't have time), and that it was okay to just focus on my own writing.
Don't do this. As Stephen King said, you have to read a lot to be a successful writer. After three years of being a rebel, I look back and see it's totally true. If your book is mediocre or un-marketable, you can throw all the money you want at advertising, but it's just not going to catch fire.
This year, two specific books really helped things "click" for me - Ryan Cahill's Of Blood and Fire and Michael Wisehart's The White Tower. Both are excellent books. If I hadn't read them, I would still be floundering not knowing how to write a successful epic fantasy or the blurb on my Amazon listing pages. Because of these and other successful indie epic fantasies I've read, the Stormfire (2023) reviews have surpassed the Stormfire (2019) ratings, and my Amazon book blurb is essentially selling itself via my AMS ads. It's an exhilarating feeling, seeing your efforts finally coming to fruition.
Study, study, study the market - and write to market. Write what you love, yes - but make sure there's a clear overlap with what the market is actually looking for. If you don't want to do this, that's okay... but expect that sales might not be great. On the other hand, if you write the very book the market's looking for, you won't need to worry about spending thousands on advertising.
(3) Take care of your reader followers.
Lately, one of the biggest blessings in both my business and my life is my readership, specifically the subscribers on my Epic Legends mailing list. I've had a ton of signups for the Stormfire (2023) ARC, shining reviews, and so many words of encouragement. I've had people go out of their way telling me they want to stay on my mailing list.
Readers, especially those who stick with indie authors, are some of the most loyal followers out there, in my opinion. Customers of a digital product you buy off Amazon just don't hangout with you on your mailing list the same way. Even if you're hearing crickets for an extended period of time, rest assured your subscribers are digesting everything you're writing in your emails.
With that said, be intentional with what you send out. Be respectful of their time. Respond to every single message that comes in. And take care of your list.
When I send out emails, I try to have a clear purpose behind them - am I just sending out weekly emails so I can participate in Bookfunnel group promos? While group promos are currently essential for my listbuilding, my mailing list isn't a dumping ground for these promos. Additionally, when I do author cross promos now, I am a lot more intentional with who I am featuring. If they're not a good fit for my list, regardless of how big their list is, I won't feature them.
I don't info dump my readers with too much about my life. I try to keep my emails as concise as I can, while giving them just enough to know about the more interesting tidbits about my life. Simpler is always better. I'm on some author mailing lists where each email is a novel in itself. Don't do this. It's overwhelming. Strive to have one - or one major - call to action in each of your emails. Personally, as a consumer, I don't want more than 2 book promos featured in an email or I get overwhelmed or apathetic, and don't click at all.
I reward my readers with bonuses and gifts. e.g. I am gifting my mailing list - new and existing members - with The Morrow Fall novella. I've been neurotic about making every single word and line in this book as great as it can be. I treat my books with the highest level of standards so my followers don't feel like just getting cheap trash from me. If you're going to put something out under your name, don't you want it to be as excellent as you can make it?
Additionally, I reward my followers for preordering a book by giving them bonuses. This is something I'm likely going to keep up with for the long haul. I think loyal customers should get rewarded for buying your book early - you're rewarding them for being a loyal follower, and in some cases, a super fan. Don't they deserve that?
Lastly, I try to build a clear cut culture on my list. For me, it's a culture of "epicness" and "family." I am intentional about making them feel like they are my fam, and I remind them of it all the time. As an example, I use the "first name" feature in my email list provider and pepper their first name through the body of my emails so they feel like I'm speaking directly to them. It's a small thing, but I do think it makes a big difference.
Take care of your list, and they'll take care of you. Your followers are one of the greatest blessings of being an indie author.
Two wrap up, what's important is that you keep picking yourself back up, no matter your results. So often, I see first-time indie authors over-posting all over Instagram about their books. They're so excited. They are like me when I was preparing for publication. And then they get crickets, not understanding that either 1) they did not write to market 2) building a following takes a lot of time and effort. And they get discouraged, sometimes vanishing forever.
I totally get this, because I was one of them. I fell into two distinct depressions during my first three years of being an author - the first time after publishing Queen, and the second time after publishing Fifth Kingdom. The first one dragged on for nearly a year and was one of the lowest points of my life. I had been expecting far more success than I'd received, and it felt like watching a 15 year dream amount to nothing. The lack of success I saw after Queen (2020) led to a slew of panic attacks, a resurgence of an eating disorder, 20lbs of weight gain, and severe anxiety.
But here's the thing. I kept pushing on, sometimes getting sidetracked by other projects like my Bye Forever, Anxiety podcast - my way of floundering through life trying to figure out my true purpose. The more I studied the market, the stronger my writing and marketing skills became - to the point where I'm finally seeing results.
When you keep on going, no matter your sales or subscribes, and make it your sole purpose to succeed at this no matter what, you will grow.
Being an author is absolutely not for the faint of heart. If you want to be prone to depressions and nights of hanging out alone with a tub of Magnus ice cream, then this is the perfect career for that. You're going to have to grow thick skin and push through the valleys, and the cruel one star reviews. Learn through it all, so that you get to a point where you understand why you aren't succeeding, and what you need to do to change that.
Finally, for those of you who are fellow believers, God will provision you. Follow His voice, strive to obey, and write what He tells you would please Him - even if it means cutting off A LOT of darling branches that aren't bearing fruit.