Lessons from an Indie Author

An impromptu holiday book photoshoot.

I’m not new to writing. I’m not new to marketing. I’m not an extrovert. I’m not a natural salesperson. My books aren’t listed in Amazon’s top 100. Not yet, anyway. But I’ve learned a few simple lessons that I see so many writers ignoring.

You don’t have to be a genius to know that one of the first rules of selling is to tell people that you have a product to sell in the first place. (And by sell, I mean sell. Don’t give your work away without compensation of some sort. If you don’t value you, they won’t value you.) If you’re an author that means you’ve probably got lots of books stored at your house. If you are a blogger, a poet, or content writer then talk about it!

Americans love to ask each other what we do for a living. Your first response should be that you are a writer and not that you are a teacher, accountant, waitress, or whatever you do to pay the bills. You are a writer first! That other thing you do is just a forty-hour a week side hustle to keep food in the fridge and the lights on.

I’ve discovered that despite the fact that I hate talking about myself, most people are fascinated that I write full-length, honest to God books. They immediately want to know what genre and if they sell. My answer is, of course, romance and yes they do. I then try to mention as casually as I can that they have won a few awards and that they are paranormal which is a very popular subgenre of romance.

Look what Santa left under the Christmas tee!

Then comes the next lesson, and that is, to make a sale you have to put the product in the hands of the customer. Authors, bloggers, writers…carry a copy of your book, business card, or promotional something with you at all times. If you are an author, at the very least you need an eyecatching bookmark. The bookmark or postcard-sized whatever should have your book cover and all your contact information on it. You want the person you’re chatting with to take it home with them.

As a woman who is never without her oversized purse, I’ve made it a habit of carrying my latest book with me everywhere I go. I have one of those large makeup bags that has never been used for makeup. Two of my books fit perfectly inside it. I also keep bookmarks and my business card in that bag.

This magical technique works for any writer. If you are still plugging away at your book, carry a business card with your social media contacts listed on it. If you’re a poet, a blogger, a content writer the same thing applies. Every time you meet someone, it is another opportunity for you to gain a follower or a fan. But they won’t remember your web address, the title of your book, or your name in some cases if they don’t have something physical to reference later.

Ho Ho Ho Santa says, “Give romance for the holidays.”

Yesterday a fellow author and I visited our local downtown shops. At first we were just killing time. Neither one of us had been very productive that morning at the coffee shop. But as we ducked in and out of the holiday-decorated stores, I began taking pictures of my books among the Christmas decorations. We chatted with the manager of one shop about the possibility of them creating a section in their store dedicated to books by local authors. We told strangers about our upcoming book signings. And, I walked away with a slew of early holiday promotional pictures I can use across my social media. All that potential possibility in such a short time because I carry my books with me!

A little over a month ago, I helped a friend with her yard sale. I talked about my books as I chatted with shoppers and made sales while sending others home with bookmarks.

I ran into a friend while I was leaving Goodwill last week. She’d been following my progress on Facebook and we spent ten minutes talking about my writing. We exchanged business cards and I know that eventually that encounter will pay-off in some way.

I went to support another author’s book signing last month and after mentioning that I too am an author to those who lingered to order drinks, I sold two of my own books because I carry them with me.

My latest book, just in time for Christmas and looking picture-perfect.

It’s not about being pushy or obnoxious when it comes to the topic of who you are and what you do. The lesson I’ve learned is a fundamental one and I hope you too will embrace it. And that is, dare to put your writing at the forefront of who you are. It’s a change in mindset that I’m talking about. Yes, you’re probably going to have to drag yourself out of bed to punch that damn time clock again today, but that’s not who you are. You’re a writer first. An author first. A blogger and a marketing guru first. Tell the world and yourself that narrative. Be brave. Own it!

Embrace that mindset and then the sales, followers, and readers will naturally come afterward.

The Hard Truths About Self-Publishing

You’ve written a great book. You’ve queried agents and publishers but have gotten no takers. Your beta readers love your book. You love your book. Even a few of your rejection letters declared it to be a good book but they just aren’t looking for (insert genre) at this time. So, do you sit on it and wait? Or do you jump into the world of self-publishing and become an indie author overnight.

Amazon has made publishing easy because they’ve changed the way books are seen and sold. But there’s a big financial catch. If you are going to go it alone, you’ll need to do your homework and prepare your bank account for the hit it’s going to suffer.

First, some backstory. I’ve always been an indie author. With my first book, I sent out query letters in hopes that I’d get that magical email that said, “Yes, please let us publish you!” After lots of rejections, I got that email. But then I learned how much control I’d be required to give up, so being the hardhead that I am, I turned to Amazon and self-published. That was back in 2010 when anyone with a professional cover, website, and social media skills could garner sales on Amazon.

Fast forward to today. It’s not so easy now. Books by indie authors are oftentimes indistinguishable from traditionally published books. The covers are professional, the writing is well-edited, and the formatting is up to industry standards. Self-published books are no longer a joke. They are a viable option. They win awards. They create buzz. And sometimes, they get noticed by traditional publishers. I call it the YouTube effect.

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Publish yourself. Retain control over your vision. Make lots of sales. Maybe get noticed by one of the big publishers. In all likelihood, only one of those four things is going to happen. You’re going to publish. And you’re going to watch your sales rise when your friends and family purchase your book…and then nothing, followed by a trickle of sales. Usually.

The hard truth is that you are competing against thousands of books published weekly, maybe daily. How do you stand out? Social media. Promotions. Word of mouth. Reviews. And a willingness to talk about your books with strangers—all the time, anywhere, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you or them.

I just ran the numbers for this year. Granted I am promoting a catalog of previously published works along with my newest releases, but damn! I’ve spent twice the amount I’d initially budgeted and it’s only September. My promotion cost includes; printed material (bookmarks, posters, handouts, business cards), Facebook and Amazon Advertisement, various promotional sites on the internet (many I’d never use again), and paid review services (which do not violate Amazon’s policies) for the books. Other staggering costs include; the editing of two books by a professional, purchased art for covers (thank the gods I have the skill set to design my own covers), proofs, and a physical book inventory for book signings. What’s not included are the smaller costs; folding table, tablecloth, frames and easels for posters, book display stand, rolling cart to safely transport the books, cost of gas to the event, and a 10×10 pop-up tent. Basically, I’m a walking bookstore at this point.

Without throwing figures around, let me just tell you that my book sales are only a quarter of what I’ve spent this year. And my experience is typical. Thank goodness I don’t write and publish with the goal of supporting myself. I doubt that will ever happen. No, I write these books and share them with readers because I love the stories. And I love to write.

So my writing friends, if you decide to become an indie author be aware that the professional editing and production costs are only a third of what you will spend. And check out the marketing page on my website for a list of free Facebook promotional groups for authors.

Facebook Ads

I’m all over Facebook these days. Running ads and making use of groups where I can tell the world about my books.

If you see one of these boosted posts, please share it. I always hear about someone or something going vial. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the Darkly Series became the next Game of Thrones? It has dragons, swords, and steamy love scenes. And with my books, you know you’ll get a satisfying ending!

All the books are free on Kindle UNLIMITED and the Kindle editions of the Darkly books are .99 cents up to 4.99. And my newest book, The Love of Gods is only 5.99 on Kindle.

You can find all of them on my Amazon Author page.

(I always wonder if purchasing ads with Facebook is cost effective. At least for the next few weeks, I’m betting that they are. I’ll be sure to report back at the end of this experiment.)