Good morning, Seekerville!!! I’m so incredibly honored to be here! Some people say they’ve made it when they land an agent, or a three book deal. Nope. Not me (though landing an agent was awesome and I wouldn’t turn that deal down). For me, it was being asked to post on Seekerville! I've dropped by to share about my journey with indie publishing! Here are ten things I've learned.
1. Make sure you’re ready
Is that very first manuscript ready right out of the gate? Probably not. But if you’ve been at this a while and have been doing well in contests, have an agent and have been going to pub board (or been turned down by them for reasons other than the writing itself), then maybe it’s time to consider going indie. If you’re not sure if your writing is good enough yet, then there’s a good chance it’s not. Take some time to learn your craft. Read. A lot. Many writers/mentors say it’s more important to read good (and some not-so-good) books than it is to read craft books. Many people will get more out of seeing the practical applications of what we’re trying to do than we will reading about it. Be don’t compare Mary Connealy’s 400th book (isn’t that about where she is by now?!) to your first. Even if your most recent manuscript is ready, go through old ones before publishing them. I have completed thirteen manuscripts and released #5, #10, #8 (CANDID Romance series), #7, #12, #13 (The Montevaro Monarchy series). I’ve got plans to release all but one of the others eventually, but some are going to need a lot of work to get there.
2. Get advice
Talk to friends and mentors in the business. You need to talk to someone who knows publishing, specifically indie publishing. At last year’s ACFW conference, I spent part of my time talking with trusted mentors about my “going indie” plan. One of them told me later she’d gone into our meeting asking God how to talk me out of it. By the time we left, she knew it wasn’t an impulsive “my agent can’t sell this ONE MANUSCRIPT” reaction. Rather, it was a well-reasoned, well-researched decision. She then asked what she could do to help.
All of us, traditionally or indie pubbed, need to keep learning about what works or doesn’t. With indie publishing*, it’s much easier to see what marketing strategy works with some immediacy. For instance, on April 21, I released the second book in my second series. On April 24, I had an ad scheduled with Ereader News Today (ENT) for my debut. It “went free” a day early in case Amazon glitched. The day of the ad, that novel and the first novel in the Montevaro series were free (the third Montevaro was up for preorder). I could watch, in nearly real time, how many people were downloading which book for free and what, if anything, that was doing to sales/preorders of the others. I’ll just say this here – the ad cost $30 to give away a free book. It was worth it.
The CBA world is a wonderful mix of not just competition but cooperation. The indie world is built even more on that cooperation. There are email lists and Facebook groups out there devoted solely to helping indies. One of the best groups is the Facebook group Christian Indie Authors** (CIA). You can often get answers in minutes. You can learn about KDP v. KDPS, Draft2Digital, etc. are and how they can affect your choices. There’s CBA indie heavyweights in the group (like Randy Ingermanson, who taught on indie at last year’s ACFW conference, and Traci Hilton, who is teaching this year).
4. Set up separate finances and budget
This varies by state. In my state, I’ve started with DbA (Doing Business As) and will likely upgrade to a corporation of some sort when it makes sense to do so financially. Registering my DbA of CANDID Publications cost about $7, and I was able to take that paperwork to the bank to open a checking and savings account specifically for my business. At the beginning, the money in the account came from our family finances as “seed money,” but it has quickly become self-sustaining. It will pay for all of my writing related expenses this year (and then some), and all of the payments I make (to ACFW for conference registration, the hotel, gas, paperback orders from CreateSpace, etc.) all go through that account.
When starting out, figure out your budget and stick to it. Indie can be done on a shoestring by learning to do things yourself or trading services. Almost everything but the writing itself can be hired out. It’s up to each author which things they want to learn and which to pay someone else to do. At the same time – know yourself and what you are and are not capable of. I do almost all of it all myself and trade out a couple things. Sometimes “good enough” has to be good enough. My covers won’t win any prizes, but I like them and they’re good enough for now. I want to get new ones made and have another really good proofreading pass done on the first few books. I put out the very best product I could with the funds I had.
As my husband reminds me Every. Single. Time. I mention money,consult a tax professional for more information.
5. Get Recommendations
If you are going to hire out some of the work, get recommendations from people you trust who have worked with those vendors. The CIA group keeps a running Rolodex of people that are recommended and those who aren’t. While there will always be a person or two who have a less than satisfactory experience with a vendor, knowing which ones to avoid is important.
6. If doing preorders, make sure the manuscript is nearly ready
Last summer, Amazon let indies do preorders up to 90 days before the release date. You do not have to have a finalized manuscript in order to set it up, but you do have to have a final version uploaded ten days ahead of time. And that tenth day? It’s at midnight that MORNING. So if it’s due the 10th, it’s really due at midnight the night of the 9th (which is also midnight the morning of the 10th). There are consequences if you fail to upload a final version, though they are limited to losing any preorders you have and not being able to do another preorder for a year.
If you are going to do a preorder (which can be a great way to build some momentum, especially if it’s the next book in a series), be sure you can have it done. Deadlines are a great way to kick it into high gear (ask me how my April was /roll eyes/), but at the same time, life happens. Which leads to…
7. Under promise and over deliver
Be careful not to over promise and not deliver. There were reasons for wanting the sixth book out in April, all of which were perfectly valid– and I made it. Barely. When I started this journey back in November, I planned to have the first two series release in about 7-8 weeks. I believe it was theoretically possible, however it didn’t happen. The first 3 books released on schedule, but the fourth came out in January and the fifth and sixth in late April. Being more vague, like “Spring” rather than “April,” can help.
8. Build a newsletter. Don’t spam.
“Everyone knows” newsletters are a great way to build your readership/sales. Studies show the greatest click-through rate comes from newsletters. That’s not to say everything else doesn’t add up, but your newsletter is targeted to people predisposed to want information about your releases. But don’t inundate. I was talking with someone recently who said she’d unsubscribed from the newsletter of a major CBA author because of the sheer number of newsletters. Some people do once a month or once a quarter. Others send only when they have news (that’s where I am right now). I announce preorders (with a special, limited time, price) to the newsletter list. I might also email if there’s a special sale going on and it’s been a while since the last newsletter.
9. Don’t fear permafree and pay to advertise
It seems counterproductive to make a book permanently free but it works. You’ll find a lot of people out there who say the heyday of permafree is over but a lot of people are still having huge success with it. The key is to know when to go permafree. The point is to have a “loss leader” – to give people the chance to try your books in the hopes that some of them will buy the rest in the series (and unrelated books as well).
One friend recently put book 1 in a series permafree. She then applied for, and paid for, a Book Bub ad. Book Bub, along with ENT, are newsletters. Every day they send an email to hundreds of thousands of users who have opted in to one genre or another. The price is based on which genre you pick and the size of that newsletter. Her husband about choked when she told him how much she was paying Book Bub to promote a free book. Now he’s asking when she can do it again. Because she made all of that money back in the first day or two and she’s been riding the crest of the wave ever since. It’s died down some, but trust me when I say it was more than worth it.
10. Be flexible
What works for me may not work for you. If you raise your price only to discover your sales (and income) have dropped dramatically...change it back. Permafree may not be the way to go for you. One of the beauties of being indie is finding what works for you and the ability to experiment with what that might be. Don’t be afraid to try something new!
Has it been easy? No. Have I made more money than I would have without going indie? Sure. Am I rich? Of course not. But I’d reached a point where, for many reasons, it was time to “fish or cut bait” with this thing. Would I change stuff? Sure. Do I regret going indie?
Not for a minute.
Writers - have you ever considering "going indie"? Readers - does it matter to you if you know the book is indie pub rather than from a traditional publisher as long as the writing/storytelling are good?
*There are literary agencies that offer indie pub services, where they do some of the work in exchange for a percentage. Those authors likely won’t have access to the real time data or have quite as much flexibility with pricing, etc. YMMV.
**To be admitted to the group, you have to be Christian (but not writing strictly CBA) + Indie (or considering it) + Author. You do need to be “sponsored” by an existing member to join, but just find one (like me!) to admit you.
Finding Mr. Write will be free May 6 only. It will probably be from 3-4am Eastern the 6th through early am the 7th.
And...Good Enough for a Princess will be free Thursday through Saturday.
Plus one commenter today, will win their choice of a Kindle copy of any other of Carol's books. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
When not writing about her imaginary friends, Carol Moncado hangs out with her family and a dog who weighs less than most hardback books. Her favorite activity is watching NCIS, unless Castle is on - or Girl Meets World (with her four kids, of course!). She believes peanut butter M&Ms are the perfect food and Dr. Pepper should come in an IV. If her kids, and dog, aren’t racing around her big backyard in Southwest Missouri, she’s teaching American Government at a community college. She's President of MozArks ACFW and can be found on Facebook, her website, and the InspyRomance blog.