Friday, May 20, 2016

Reflections After 3 Years of Self-Publishing

So I was just sitting here thinking about my upcoming writing schedule (ie, the order in which I'm going to write the next few books, when they'll be released, etc.), and it suddenly occurred to me that I had just passed my 3-year self-publishing anniversary. Yep, it's been three years since I launched my scifi/fantasy writing career (some time around end of April/beginning of May - I don't remember exactly), and I have to say it's been a blast.

First of all, readers have been great. They have warmly embraced both me and my books with an enthusiasm that was unexpected but incredibly rewarding, as evidenced by the reception that my most recent release, Coronation, enjoyed:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #257 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Superhero
#1 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Fantasy > Superheroes
#1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Metaphysical & Visionary

Also, other writers have been extraordinarily helpful in terms of sharing their knowledge and experience. For just about any idea that occurs to me on the business side - marketing, using pen names, etc. - there's already another author who's tried it and has a wealth of information to share on the subject.

So, after three years of doing this, what exactly have I learned?  Quite a lot, to be honest - more than I could fit into a single blog post.  That being the case, I'll try to single out a few of the items I felt have been instrumental in my success.

1) Outsource What You Can (or Time is Money)
I'm a writer, so I always figure my focus should be on writing. That said, there really aren't enough hours in the day for me to do all the writing I'd like, so I'd prefer not to spend time doing other tasks that might be writing-related but are really outside my wheelhouse.

Take book covers, for instance.  There are some authors who do their own covers and are quite good at it.  I'm not one of them - a fact that I knew the second I started down this path and one that was never debated.  Moreover, I have no interest in learning this particular skill.  Frankly speaking, time is money, and my time is better spent being an author rather than trying to master the nuances of every skill relating to publishing.

In short, I think it's better to outsource as much as possible: editing, book covers, formatting, etc. Focus on the writing.

2) Write the Book That You Want to Write
When I first started writing, it wasn't with a goal in mind to become rich or famous (not that either of those have happened).  I did it because I had stories to tell and a burning desire to get them out there.  I'm just blessed in that my work resonated with readers and I was able to find an audience.  However, I'd like to think that I'd still be churning out books even if that wasn't the case.

Basically, writing provides a sort of personal fulfillment for me, probably in the same way that a professional athlete gets pleasure out of playing his particular sport.  Sure, it's great to "win," but at the heart of it all is a love for the game that makes you want to be a participant in the sport at any level.  That's the high I get out of writing.

However, to get to that point, I think you have to write the story that you want to write.  I know that a lot of writers are pursuing fame and fortune by trying to write to market - quite often in genres that they don't care for. I would think that has to be exceedingly difficult, akin to working a job you don't like.  I think you need to write the story that's burning a hole in you, even if it doesn't fit the standard categories or tropes.

By way of example, there's my Warden series.  I wanted to write a series about monsters - but not the typical ones that you find in most books (eg, vampires, zombies, etc.).  I wanted to write about creatures that don't get much air time for the most part:  wendigos, lamias, aswangs, blemmyes, revenants, and so on.  From a commercial standpoint, it's been my least successful series.  However, everything's relative; the books have actually sold thousands of copies and are indeed a profitable venture.  More to the point, I got to write the series I wanted to write - the one that I simply had to get out before it ate me alive.

In essence, I think you have to write the story that's eating you up, rather than the one you think is commercially viable. There's nothing that says you can't do both, but I think only one of them is actually a requirement.

3) Pursue all Revenue Streams
I always thought it was odd that some writers completely eschew putting their work in print and only pursue the ebook market.  To me, that's the same as everybody trying to live on Manhattan Island when the entire mainland is in sight and wide open.

Admittedly, most indies tend to sell more ebooks than print copies.  However, it costs almost nothing - nothing! - to make a print version.  And if print only earns you fifty bucks a month, well, that's fifty bucks you didn't have before.  Thus, I've never understood this deliberate stiff-arming of another revenue stream.  (Plus, since I grew up poor, I don't like to simply assume that everyone has access to some type of e-reader.  Therefore, by putting it in print, I'm at least making it possible for a reader to request my book through their local library.)

That said, I've been guilty of this same type of behavior myself.  I've known about audiobooks since I first started, but I've never made any effort to pursue that market.  I just didn't think it was worth the time, effort, or money.  However, it recently occurred to me that - if I'm really going to be in this writing business - then I needed to pursue all potential revenue sources. With that in  mind, I bit the bullet and made my first audiobook for Sensation, the first book in my Kid Sensation series.

The audiobook has been out for close to four weeks now, and I'm excited to report that I seem to have been dead wrong about audio. (And if you let my wife tell it, it's probably the only time I've ever admitted to being wrong about something, or been happy about it.)  Since its release, the audio version has sold almost 200 copies. (You can find the audiobook here.) Now, of course, I want to kick myself for waiting so long to move in this direction, and find myself over-eager to produce audio versions of everything else.

Anyway, those are just a few of the things I've learned after three years of putting my nose to the writing grindstone.  There are, naturally, quite a few other maxims to abide by, but - like so many other industries - this is a field that is constantly expanding and changing.  You have to stay nimble, and be willing to embrace change and accept challenges in order to continue to thrive.


  1. Thank you for for the blog - ended up here through Crowdfire - will definitely tweet it out. I may end up going the self-publishing route but have not heard many authors talk about their audio book adventures. I always figured that if your book did well in print, then someone bought it to produce an audio book. Would love to hear more about your experience with this.

    I work full-time and have a long commute(also have two young kids and trying to write when not sleeping), so sadly, my only 'reading' these days is through audio books. I miss holding a book in my hand, but it's better than nothing and I've been enjoying listening (except when the narrator is annoying). Pay extra for a good narrator - they can kill the book for any listener.

    Best of luck and thanks again!
    Kimberly Hayle (YA urban fantasy)

    1. Self-publishing has paid big dividends for me, and I'm far from the most successful indie on the block. I would urge you to give it serious consideration.

      As to audiobooks, I'm not sure that having a title that is doing well in print or as an ebook means that an audiobook producer will reach out to you. I think those guys are generally looking for those at the top of the bestseller lists. Thus - all other things being equal - even if you have a title that sold 50,000 copies last year, audiobook producers will probably have the person who sold a million, 500 thousand, 200 thousand or 100,000 ahead of you on their list of names. In essence, the fact that they haven't come calling doesn't necessarily mean anything. (Personally, I'm extremely happy with my audio sales.)

      Also, audiobooks can help drive ebook sales. For instance, the audiobook of my novel "Sensation" retails for $19.95. However, if you get the ebook (regular price $4.99), you can pick up the audiobook for just $1.99. That's less that $7 total for both versions, which is typically a better deal than a) the regular price of the audiobook, b) what you'd pay with many of the various discounts, or c) the cost of using a credit on Audible. (This is actually something I posted about on my blog a few months back.)

      In addition, producing audiobooks has allowed me to gain new fans (eg, a guy who's a trucker and says he only has time to "read" when he's on the road). And I second your comment about finding a good narrator; it is worth the investment. (Plus, many narrators have their own fans who will try a book solely because of who the narrator is.) Finally, I can relate to the difficult commute and trying to find a work-life balance. Hopefully you've found hit upon a methodology that allows you to continue to regularly advance the ball in terms of writing.


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