Friday, January 20, 2012

Six Indie Business Lessons Learned in 2011

I create articles about the writing process to share, but I also create them to have a lingering reminder of lessons I have learned. Here are the top six I learned from my first ten months.

#1 Professional covers are very important

Covers are important and it is worth spending the money to work with a great artist who's artistic vision appeals to you. When I started, my budget was non-existent (it's not uber existent now), but creating a professional looking cover was the one thing I knew I couldn't do all by myself in self-publishing.

I interviewed more than ten artists for the cover of Dating A Cougar. They were all talented cover artists and reasonably priced. I chose the one who wrote me back the nicest, most reasonable email because she just seemed like someone I could work well with. It's like your doctor though--you have to trust the doctor in order to follow his suggestions to get well. You have to trust your cover artist enough to believe in their vision for your book.

In March, my amazing cover artist made two covers for my first two books to be published. In May, the cover of Dating A Cougar was used in an article in Bloomberg Businessweek. Since then, we've done many more covers. To me, my artist is worth every penny I pay her. I hope we have another exciting year with our work.

#2 Editors are critical and necessary

Hire one. Don't think you can get by, just do this. Spend the money on a good editor. There are many out there who charge under $200 for an 80,000 word book.

For cost reasons, I didn't hire an editor on the first versions of Dating A Cougar and I'm still getting dings for it when people come across those old copies. It took me months to be able to afford one and my first meager earnings went into hiring him.

I have a great editor now. The next issue I face is what to do about not being a careful enough client. What I mean by that is my eye for detail has waned since leaving the corporate world. I make all his changes, and I mean ALL my editor's changes because I trust him. However, I am one of those writers whose needs would be better served by a fleet of editors whose life's work was cleaning up after me.

However, I cannot do that and cannot afford it on my own--yet. So editing is something I just have to keep working on. I'm getting better. My readers are generous souls and fortunately updates are possible in the Indie world.

#3 Diversify to find your widest reader base

Honestly, Amazon money feels like a paycheck once you start selling. It arrives fairly regularly and you know what you're getting a month and half in advance. However, Apple is my second highest channel. I can't imagine passing up the Apple money or the Apple fans. I love my Apple readers. It already irks me that they have wait longer to get my books and I've been working on solutions to reduce that time frame.

Plus at the end of the year, I put the books up at All Romance ebooks too. Now it's not Amazon or Apple, or maybe even Barnes and Noble, but in just two weeks in December I sold quite a few at ARe. Readers who buy from ARe are a guaranteed base of known romance readers who know what the books are when they are put up for sale on that site. Nobody tried Dating A Cougar there and wondered if it was a romance or not. My guess is that sales there are going to outdistance Kobo and Diesel sales unless something magical happens.

I'm not saying not to experiment with things like the KDP Select program, but if you're just starting out with your one and only book to date, you need to consider the effect of not diversifying and all the readers you might lose. 

#4 Say thank you to everyone (and I mean everyone)

Thank people for Tweeting and Re-tweeting you. Thank them ("Like" their comment) for responding to your posts on Facebook. Thank them for writing to you or for commenting on your blog. Thank people for mentioning you, for reading you, for good reviews, and even for bad reviews. Thank them for noticing you--period. Thank them even when you are not thankful because you should be thankful. Every link, every mention, every time someone says your name online, it contributes to sales.

And offer to help the ones whose work resonates with yours. It's all those things about win-win you learned at the office added to the rules for being polite your parents taught you. Just do it. Get in the professional habit of thanking people. It matters more than I tell you in the Indie world.

#5 Keep writing (that's it, just keep writing)

Keep writing in the face of adversity. An Indie author of YA books whom I consider my mentor told me that in the beginning of his writing career, bad reviews stopped him from writing. He told me he promised himself if people kept buying them, he would keep writing them. I remember this because every writer gets bad reviews. Check out your favorite big authors on your favorite book site. They have their share of negative reviews. I mention this because I also find writing in the midst of bad reviews is the hardest time to keep writing. Look up and read what other Indie authors say about bad reviews. Bookmark the posts or article links, or print them to a PDF and save them. My favorite is from John Locke. It continues to help me.

Keep writing the best book you can even when you are selling your other books because it is the smart thing to do. Any successful Indie author will tell you the same thing. Write a good book, make it professional, publish it, and then as soon as you can move on to writing the next one. If readers like your work, they will devour what you wrote and demand more. You will hear from them on your social media sites or via email asking for the next and the next and the next. Stay excited about what you are doing. Treat writing like it is your job and it will become your job if the book is good, not just an inspired hobby.

#6 Be patient about your earnings

My first sales were $35. Ten months, nine books published, and now I'm finally making a modest living and paying most of my bills with my earnings. I'm not drinking champagne and buying sports cars, but I'm also not getting dressed at seven to head to the office either. For me this is about perspective. People talk about Amanda Hocking or John Locke as if their success happened overnight. It didn't. They put in their writing time, wrote books that people bought, and worked hard to get where they are now. My guess is even the most amazing authors hit this point and were simply grateful about how good it is to be living the writer's life period. At seven in the morning, I'm getting a cup a coffee, checking emails, and talking to my readers on Facebook. Or I'm looking over what I wrote yesterday. Or writing madly trying to get out what I woke up thinking about. Everything beyond this point of my journey will feel extraordinary.

A writer friend shared that she made $27,000 in two weeks on her second book. Yet another is making on her sales of two books every month what I make on my nine. There is definitely magic in this business and it belongs to the readers much more than to writers. Finding your readers is a challenge. Keeping them interested is a challenge. And success is a combination of factors that makes your readers happy and willing to buy your future books. You have the find the right combination for you and your work.

And you have to be patient and keep writing new books while you work on selling existing ones.
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