Advice For Indies


Recently, I was asked what advice I would give to new indie authors.  I had a whole list that I sent and then I got to thinking about it.

The first thing really should have been:  Ask how much the person giving advice is making…

Harsh sounding, I know, but facts speak pretty loud.  I’ve have gotten some great advice and some crappy advice.  Most of my great advice came from people like Liz Schulte, who is living off her book sales.  Most of the crappy stuff has come from authors that I later discovered were lucky to be getting monthly royalty checks from anywhere.

So here were my suggestions:

1.  Diversify – Amazon is great, but it isn’t the end all, be all.  I make several hundred a month from different sites: Kobo, Nook, iBooks, and most recently, Tolino.  I make some off Google Play every month, but not enough to get excited about and since switching some of my books from Smashwords distributing to Draft2Digital, I began making sales on Page Foundry (Inktera).  I still use Smashwords, but I’m also using Draft2Digital and there’s a process to what gets distributed through which site.

2.  Advertise – I set aside a specific amount each month for advertising.  Some months, like this one, I didn’t use the entire budget, which is great, because next month I am planning on spending a bundle and I won’t have to chip in extra.  However, I do advertise every month or I do blog tours.  That’s a lie, I don’t do blog tours, I don’t enjoy them.  But you can spend your advertising budget on them and it is money well spent.

3.  Respond to fans, not reviews – There is an unwritten rule that writers do not respond to reviews (especially bad ones), but it goes deeper than that.  Recently, I have discovered that at least one writer has been going through their reviews to get people signed up for their newsletter (I know because I was contacted by the writer through Goodreads).  If I wanted to sign-up for the newsletter, I would have… but I didn’t.  If a fan messages you, great.  If they don’t, don’t start begging for their attention.  Honestly, I found it creepy.

4.  Get Swag & Have Giveaways – I have found that almost everyone likes a giveaway (except me, when I’m running them… I want everyone to be a winner).  So, I started keeping coffee mugs, magnets, bookmarks, etc in stock and I give these away to people.  I have had people tell me their mug is at work.  They love the bookmark, it is such a great quote and the perfect gift for a reader!  They have all the magnets organized in a special spot on their fridge.  Not only are you making the people that buy your books happy, but it’s cheap advertising.  (My mother and mother-in-law both have iPhone cases with their favorite book covers on them)  I also give them away when people buy the physical books from me.  Someone who is reading all the Dreams novels and buying them from me directly, gets swag.

5.  Unless you are a graphic designer, HIRE a cover artist:  Homemade covers are never appealing.  It doesn’t matter that you paint like Rembrandt, it isn’t going to look very good.  Pre-made covers are wonderful, sometimes.  My cover artist, Angela Fristoe of Covered Creatively, has some beautiful pre-mades, but none of them are suited to my books.  So I pay her to design “Me-eccentric” covers.  Also, shop around for cover artists… They have portfolios for a reason, look at them.  Don’t hire a cover artist that isn’t going to be able to achieve what you want.  Angela has made my cover creating life amazing by having a sixth sense… Her ideas are always better than mine.  Also, it’s okay to take their advice, sometimes what you have pictured is good and what they give you instead is great.  It’s also okay to tell them they missed it by a mile.

6.  Editors – Not every editor is going to catch every mistake in your 75,000 word novel.  That’s a lot of words and things will slip through the cracks.  However, they are editors for a reason.  If your editor isn’t improving your book, fire them.  But most importantly, use one!  I’ve had some bad luck with editors and am currently having everything re-edited by Frankie Sutton.  However, editors are look cover artists, they have areas where they excel and areas where they fall short.  If an editor claims to be great at Sci-Fi, but not mysteries, don’t send your mysteries to them (I’ve had editors reject the Dreams novels because they were “too gory” or “cast aspersions on women” and I’ve had to go in search of a different editor, so I realize it isn’t a great process, but it is a necessary one).

7.  Bad reviews are actually good – Sounds counterintuitive, I know, but it isn’t.  Bad reviews prove that real people are reading your book.  I don’t care how good a book is, someone is going to hate it.  Need proof?  Go read the reviews for your absolute favorite book of all time.

8.  Bloggers Matter – You may not realize it, but book bloggers have fans.  I read every post put out by Maria D. at Queen of all She Reads.  I don’t read every book she reviews, actually, I read less than 10% of them, she reads a lot of romance and I don’t, but I like her writing style.  So, each morning, as I’m checking my inbox, I take a few moments to see what book she has just read and reviewed.  I may have zero interest in the book, but I am interested in her opinion of the book.  Oddly, we are reciprocating fans, she likes my books, I like her reviews…

9.  Check your blurb/jacket copy before you release it – I cannot stress this enough.  In the last couple of weeks, I have nixed reading a handful of books because the blurb had serious spelling errors (or missing words) in it, a few were even put out by publishing companies.  It’s less than a thousand words and it is the one thing that can be proofed by everyone you know. Write it up and send it to your buddies, your family, your writers’ group, hell, post it on Facebook and ask for feedback!

10.  This is not a “Get Rich Quick Scheme” – Hell, it’s not even a get rich scheme.  Writing is work.  If you don’t put in the work, your book is going to suck.  I personally know a great example of this:  Someone I know wrote a handful of books and published them.  One month, a few years ago, she suddenly made over $2000 in a month… but only for one month.  She’s doing good to earn a royalty check every month again.  Here’s why:  She draws her covers by hand, does not use an editor, doesn’t advertise, and hasn’t put much effort into writing more books.  The old adage of “You have to spend money to make money” definitely applies to indies.  If you won’t spend the money, you aren’t going to make it.  Also, every book you release, increases your chances of picking up more readers, thereby earning you more money.  In a world of cheap ebooks with lots of variety, those that are making money are the ones that have put the effort in – They’ve bought advertisements, they’ve paid people to design covers, they have paid editors, they are working on the next book, they are active on social media, and they understand that it writing doesn’t begin with a first line and end at The End.  Being in an indie is about so much more than writing a book.  (I average 68 hours a week “working” whether that is writing the next book, preparing blog posts, answering fan mail, posting on Facebook or Twitter, checking out advertising sites, looking at book blogs, designing swag items, contacting my editors and cover designers, or searching for a blog tour company that might work for a book or series of books…)

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