Like many indie writers, I tried on and off for about ten years to gain the attention and interest of an agent or publisher. I had a few false starts and a whole lot of ignored query letters after years of grueling work. Thoroughly depressed, I almost gave up on writing and began to doubt I ever had an ounce of talent in me. My husband is the I.T. brawn of the family who had been following technological development in the book arena, and suggested I try e-publishing this past December. Going in, I wasn’t really sure how things would turn out, because I’d been programmed to believe that writers forced to invest in themselves are writers who weren’t good enough for a publisher to invest in them.
We studied what most successful writers have in common, identified two common themes (multiple titles and an extensive fan base) and used those to tailor a marketing plan that I’ve been told multiple times was nothing short of madness. The plan had two goals:
- Focus on exposure – not sales – for 2011.
- Make December 2011 the month when it all comes together.
I’m a fanatic writer, and I can write 30-60,000 words a month. I also had a list of about 65 projects I wanted to write, of which about 3 were completed and about 30 were in various stages of writing. So we decided to do what no one else had done yet: write as many books as I could this year and release them all for free in order to build a back list and fan base in the shortest amount of time possible. By the end of December, we’ll have released 10 books this year. We’ve been operating under the assumption that any sales we get before December are luck – they’re not part of the plan!
In December, we monetize our operations.
My December target: sell 10,000 books.
Below, I’ve included summaries by month of how we went from 20 sales a month to over 2400.
Note: the free downloads numbers are based on the downloads we could count. Several sites didn’t track downloads, so they’re an estimate on the conservative side.
I e-published my first novel, “Damian’s Oracle” from the War of Gods series, through Smashwords and Amazon and sat back to watch what happened. The manuscript that no agent or publisher would give the time of day went over well with readers. In fact, my readers loved it.
A woman who ran a website for free ebooks approached us about posting this book to her website, and we realized that there were tons of other places to do this as well. We identified about 12-15 websites, including Fiction Press, Feedbooks and OBooko, catering to free ebook readers and sent “Damian’s Oracle” to every site that would accept it.
Book Sales: about 20; Free Downloads: about 7000.
We released the second War of Gods book, “Damian’s Assassin,” and watched our free downloads soar to about 10,000 a month. Neither of these books was my best work, and among the tons of reader feedback I received were those that mentioned the books needed a little more work.
At the end of February, I realized two things: one, I wasn’t a failure just because no agent or publisher wanted me, and two, if I were serious about pursuing the indie path, I couldn’t do it alone.
Book Sales: about 30; Free Downloads: about 10,000.
I chose not to release a book and focused instead on building a team. I hunted down a freelance book editor named Christine LePorte and a blossoming cover artist named Dafeenah, who has since officially launched her indie author support efforts at Indie Designz.
My husband took over maintaining and optimizing my website. These three people freed me up to do what I do best: write and connect with readers. I began using Twitter and Facebook in earnest, set up Goodreads and Amazon author pages, and linked everything to my blog through RSS feeds. I joined a few self-published author groups and started participating on Kindle Boards and Nookboards.
Book Sales: about 30; Free Downloads: about 10,000.
I released “The Warlord’s Secret” and I joined a month long blogging challenge where the goal was to post 26 blog entries for the month. This solved the issue of us not having enough content on our website to draw in Google (search engine optimization tenet #1), and it gave my incoming readers insight into me and topics to discuss with me.
It also started the second most important tenet of SEO: creating back links, since I posted comments to about 5 other blogs daily. “The Warlord’s Secret” was good but not great, and my team was getting used to working together. I participated in my first Goodreads giveaway towards the end of this month and had 380 people sign up.
Book Sales: about 40; Free Downloads: about 12,000.
I released the first book in the Rhyn Trilogy, “Katie’s Hellion” when it happened: I started selling books and pulling in readers. This was the first month the editing, writing, and cover all flowed – and people noticed. The funny thing was I almost didn’t release this book.
If not for my editor, who gave me what could’ve been famous last words (“Trust me, Lizzy!”), I might’ve made one of the largest mistakes of the year by not releasing what has been my single most popular book.
The lesson here is to hire a team of people you can trust and who know the industry enough to advise you. I shifted my online activities from Twitter and others’ blogs to Goodreads and Facebook. We started a mailing list in May, too, and I began warning my fans that in December, only people on the mailing list would receive free ebooks once we began monetizing my books.
Book Sales: 468; Free Downloads: 15-17,000.
The sales continued to increase. People trickled in to sign up for our mailing list, and the amount of interaction and feedback I received from readers was incredible. I became active in a Facebook group for writers this month, where I made some awesome friends and found out just how far a little good will goes.
I participated in author interviews weekly for almost two months, starting in June, in an effort to gain some more exposure. Even though “Damian’s Oracle” and “Damian’s Assassin” (my first two books) weren’t professionally edited or had professional cover designs, they remained incredibly popular.
I made my release schedule for the rest of 2011 and decided I’d have these two revised by Christine and asked Dafeenah to start new covers for them. In addition, I’d release the third book in the series in early December before the holidays. I participated in my second Goodreads paperback book giveaway of “Katie’s Hellion” and had 998 people sign up.
Book Sales: 805; Free Downloads: 20,000.
I released “Maddy’s Oasis“. This has been my least popular book, but what I’ve found is that my fans are happy to tell me why. My sweet editor called it “good enough,” which was a gentle warning I didn’t listen to. So, while this book garnered me quite a bit of grief, it also became a conversation starter. That conversation normally started something like, ‘Lizzy, why?!’ But it helped me build those relationships with readers and understand more of what they wanted in a book and why.
Our mailing list more than doubled in July despite the general dislike of this book, and unique visitors to our site reached 200 a day. I became a regular contributor on Curiosity Quills, a website run by Eugene and Lisa, who are wonderful people set on reinventing the publishing industry model into something more dynamic and writer-friendly.
Also this month, we set up a campaign on Kickstarter to raise money for the editing of “Katie’s Hope,” the second Rhyn Trilogy book. In less than a week, my rabid fans had the editing funded. I took one gamble that I’m not sure will pay off: I hired a Spanish translator to translate “Katie’s Hellion.”
Book Sales: 1686; Free Downloads: skyrocketed past 35,000.
I released “Kiera’s Moon,” and my fans have loved it. I scaled back my online activities to focus more on interacting with my readers and was invited to the Indie Eclective, a group of 9 emerging indie authors passionate about their writing. I continued my contributions to Curiosity Quills. Our mailing list grew by about 33% this month, and we bumped up our SEO efforts in order to drive more search engine traffic to my website.
Our search engine referrals went from about 30 to over 100 daily this month while our daily unique visitor count went to at least 300. My husband started a series of articles on SEO tips for authors, while I worked with Christine and Dafeenah on a revision of “Damian’s Oracle” and the second book in the Rhyn Trilogy, “Katie’s Hope.” I also wrote a short story to contribute to a Halloween collection the Indie Eclective will be releasing in September.
Book Sales: 2458.
The revised “Damian’s Oracle” and “Katie’s Hope” will be released along with the Indie Eclective’s Halloween anthology.
I’ll release another book, as well as the Spanish translation of “Katie’s Hellion.”
The revised “Damian’s Assassin,” will be released.
The third War of Gods book, “Damian’s Immortal” will be released the first weekend. The last weekend in December, I’ll launch a new (yet unnamed) trilogy.
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned the target for December was 10,000 books.
In reading this, you probably went from skeptic to almost convinced I can do it. You’ll notice I didn’t get serious about pursuing the indie path until March, because I was afraid to believe in myself when the industry wouldn’t until I saw I really could do it. Thankfully, my husband did, or I never would’ve started.
It’s been an incredible experience so far, and this is only the beginning for me. Drop me a line in January, 2012, and I’ll happily update you as to whether or not I met my goals and what the next step is!