For New Indie Authors: What I Would Do if I Were Starting Today

| Posted in Book Marketing |


Sometimes when you give publishing and marketing advice on your blog, you get a little resistance from new self publishers. But you’ve been doing this for 3+ years. You have a fan base already. You have heaps of books out already, so you’re not a nobody. It’s way different for people starting now!

I’m not going to argue that it’s not different. There are more ebooks in the Kindle store than ever. The gaming-the-system tricks that might have worked in the past aren’t working now. For self published books, the blurbs, cover art, and sample chapters are, on average, more professional than they were a few years ago. It is harder to stand out.


There are a heck of a lot more readers willing to try novels by independent authors these days. There’s still a stigma toward self publishing, but it’s a much smaller stigma than it used to be. More blogs are willing to accept submissions from indie authors. Oh, and there are a lot more options for advertising your ebooks. When I got started, there was Kindle Nation Daily, and that was it. And I never did manage to break even with a KND ad. Today, you have everything from Bookbub (which can move a tremendous number of books in a day, if you can get accepted) to scads of smaller reader-centered blogs and mailing lists. Not all of them are great, but lots of them can help with sales and name recognition, at least a little.

I also keep coming across success stories from people who just started. Last year, I interviewed Sue London (historical romance) and Leeland Artra (epic fantasy) who both did extremely well right out of the gate. Just a couple of weeks ago, someone on Kboards was talking about how she made $50,000 and sold 100,000 in her first four months of publishing.

So it is possible to get started today and hit it big… or just gradually build up a fan base while writing and publishing what you love (this is all I’ve ever done).

What I would do if I were starting fresh today

This is actually not academic. For a handful of reasons, I’m going to launch a series under a pen name in another month or so. (I’m about 60,000 words into the first draft of the first book now.) Thus I’ve been thinking about what I’ll do. I listen to tons of podcasts and follow other people’s success stories, so I’ve heard a lot of the what’s-working-now stories over and over, and, of course, I have my own experiences to draw upon as well.

For the genre (more of a sub-genre) I’ll be writing in, it’s definitely niche. It’s less popular than epic fantasy and much less popular than contemporary/urban fantasy. In other words, I’ll be doing this for the love it it — and because I am frustrated by the lack of what I consider quality fiction that I really enjoy reading in that sub-genre. I’ll also be doing it in between writing novels under my regular name, so I won’t be going at this as gung-ho as someone who can publish a new novel every 4 weeks might. I’m not currently planning to disclose the new pen name to my current readers, other than a handful of folks I’ve come to know via Twitter and the EE chat room, people I know happen to like reading books in this sub-genre. I may make things more public later, but there’s a part of me that wants to stay incognito with this alter ego, at least in the beginning.

So essentially… I’ll be like most starting-out writers.

Here’s the plan:

  • Write in a series — No surprise here. We’ve long talked about the power of a series to entice readers to come back for the next novel. I won’t have the same main characters in each novel (which may make things less of an auto-buy for readers), but they’ll at least be set in the same world, with former main characters popping up as side characters in other adventures.
  • Make each ebook a complete story — Serials have been very effective for authors (i.e. breaking up a larger work into six or eight episodes of 15,000-30,000 words and ending them with cliff-hangers, so readers are enticed to buy the next one), but I’m seeing a lot of reader resistance to these tactics nowadays. Even though the serial has a long history, people are seeing it as a marketing scheme now and leaving less than stellar reviews for authors who publisher shorter works with cliff-hangers. That doesn’t mean they can’t still work (the Kboards author I linked to above used a serial to get rolling), but my philosophy is to try and make people feel like they got a good deal when they bought one of my books, and telling a complete story is going to continue to be part of that strategy. (Yes, I’ve done cliff-hangers in the past, but rarely without wrapping up the main storyline for that piece and/or writing a full novel in the process.)
  • Write stories that are original but that also fit solidly into the expectations of my chosen sub-genre — This is something I’ve always struggled with as an author. Even though my novels aren’t exactly avant-garde, they never really fit into the formulas for any particular genre. My artistic side just always wants to be a little different. I plan to keep my quirks and originality in the new series (how not?), but I also, for once, want to write stories that do fit in with what else has been written in the genre.
  • Start with a 99-cent or free novella and a full-length novel ($2.99 or $3.99) — The “loss leader” novella will be designed to get people to check out the novel. Ideally, I’d start out with three full-length novels, making the first one cheap, and releasing them about 30 days apart, as that’s one of the big ways I see new authors building momentum quickly. But, I have other things I want to write at the same time, and my regular fantasy offerings are what pay the bills. This will be a side project, likely with negligible income for the first 6-12 months, and to expect otherwise would be delusional. (One of the things I think some new self-publishers struggle with is high expectations, possibly fueled by the success stories around the net.)
  • Make sure the cover is awesome and in line with other covers in the sub-genre — Because this category isn’t very big, there are few traditionally published books in it, so most of the offerings are self-published. There are some good covers, but there are a lot of hokey ones too. I hope to nail it with the cover, so it’ll draw eyes from the start. I’m probably going to hit up one of my current cover designers, but I may also try 99 Designs again (I did this for Balanced on the Blade’s Edge). Even though I had more misses than hits with the offerings there, there were a few very professional ones, and I liked being able to pick from numerous covers.
  • Give KDP Select a try for the first 90 days of new releases — I don’t think this is that important in anyone’s launch strategy, but it’s not something I’ve ever done, because the program requires exclusivity and because I already had readers at other stores when it came along. Since nobody knows about these books, nobody will be waiting for them; nobody will be disappointed when they don’t show up at Barnes & Noble and Kobo right away. I plan to try KDP Select to see if I make any money from the lending library and also to schedule countdown deals for promotions.
  • Bust my butt to get early reviews of the novella and first novel — This is one of the toughest things when you’re starting out and don’t have a fan base, so nobody’s buying the books yet. More reviews come with more sales, but getting those sales without reviews is next to impossible. When I released the first Emperor’s Edge book and Encrypted (my two early, pre-audience novels), I went to the various forums (Kboards, Nook Boards, and MobileRead) and posted the blurb and a link to the sample where it was allowed, then offered free review copies to anyone who was interested. Since I don’t want to make new forum accounts and new social media accounts for my pen name (I would if I weren’t already doing all of this for my regular name), this will be kind of tough. Gotta stay incognito, after all. My exception may be to make a Facebook fan page and spend $50 advertising on Facebook that I have some free review copies to give away. We’ll see! I will also ask for reviews in the backs of the books (I don’t always do this, but, all other things being equal, I always get more reviews on books when I do).
  • Buy advertising — Not every indie author has money to burn in the beginning, but since I’m not willing to do the social media game with the pen name, this is how I’m going to to try and build awareness of my books. (When starting a business — and this author thing really is a business these days — you generally need either time or money to make things happen early on. Some people spend a lot of time pimping their book creatively — quotations, giveaways, contests, etc., — on social media, and some people buy ads.) This is why those early reviews are super important. Not only are they social proof for potential buyers, but you often need XX number of reviews with a 4+ star average to qualify for sponsorships on the good reader blogs.
  • Approach book bloggers or sign up for a book blog tour — Even though this genre is super niche, I do know of some small book blogs that cover it. I honestly have never gotten much out of blog appearances in the past, except for links back to my site (useful for SEO and gradually getting more search engine traffic to your pages) and reviews. Reviews aren’t usually guaranteed, but they do sometimes happen if you send the blogger your book as part of your tour stop. Since reviews are, as I’ve already covered, super important, I’m planning to at least do a book tour for the first book in this series.
  • Start a mailing list — I don’t want to start a big website and a blog for this new persona — too much work for too little of a pay off (I do sell books as a result of my blogging efforts here, but I’ve generally found the WIBBOW rule to be in effect; Would I Be Better Off Writing… the next book instead of sinking time into blogging? Most likely, yes). I will, however, put up a static website (probably only a handful of pages) with information about the books and a prominently displayed newsletter sign-up form. I might offer a free short story that’s not available anywhere else as an incentive for people to sign up.

All right, those are the big plans for now. Want to hear how it all goes? Bookmark my site and come back in a couple of months. (You can come back every week, if you like, but I plan to post some updates for Project Pen Name after I have the novella and novel out.) Also, if there’s anything else you’re sure I should check into, or if you just want to share your own experience, please leave a comment.

Thanks for reading!



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Comments (41)

I am starting now – the publishing phase. The finding-your-audience phase. The getting-the-book-up-without-errors phase. The right-cover phase.

All those awkward phases you’re done with.

Thanks for the road map. I wish I could find slow indie mainstream writers – I’m grateful there are so many indie writers of all kinds who share. It is a whole heck of a lot better than nothing, or just books and Writer’s Digest: other humans who’ve survived and are nice enough to share.

Thanks – for your memories. They will be bright lamps in my tunnel.

Thanks for commenting, Alicia. Things seem to get easier with each book. You get better at writing and making the stories come out, you know how to get the formatting/cover art/editing done, and you gradually start building an audience, so you’re not starting from scratch with each new release. Good luck on your journey. :)

Speaking as an author just out the gate; I’ve found your blog exceptionally helpful. There are a lot of unseen hurdles in trying to self publish. The fact you had to do it the ‘hard way’ just means you’re more aware of those pitfalls.
I’m excited for where indie publishing is headed. It’s gonna be an interesting ride for all of us!

Thank you for commenting, Anna. I always sigh enviously at the big success stories, but I’ve had a great journey, am able to do this for a living right now, and cannot complain one bit about the awesomeness of the readers who have found my work. Good luck with your own books!

Should be interesting! I’m sure you remember the C.S. Laskin/Charline Whitman fiasco last year. Sounds like you know how to avoid many of the problems she ran into when she tried a similar experiment.

I actually missed whatever that fiasco is, Greg. Do you have a link? (I see a guest post on the Book Designer blog that I’ll check out later.)

Ah, found it in the comments. Nobody’s hitting it out of the park in my little genre, so no such temptation. 😛

Thank you for this post, and I look forward to your updates! I will be launching my series later this year, and though I’m not new-new (I’ve published a novella and a novel) I still have no fan base and my series is in something like epic fantasy… or maybe it’s allegorical fantasy. It’s secondary world stuff, but doesn’t quite match the empire-level struggle typical of the genre (not in the early part of the series, at least). Although I plan to focus on my series until it’s done, I won’t be publishing super-fast because of kids, other work, etc.

Anyhow, I’m especially curious to see how Select goes for you. At the moment, I’m planning to start in all markets, but I’m on the fence about it.

It’ll be nice to be able to report back on Select, since I’ve never tried it before. I know it doesn’t come with the perks it once did, but I’ve heard from some people that they still find it useful.

Thanks for commenting!

Excellent post, as usual! As a newbie author, I’m very interested in seeing how your Project Pen Name goes.

That’s a solid to-do list. Thanks for that. I’m terrible at marketing. For instance, one time we had to sell candy bars to raise money fir the school choir. I didn’t want to ask anybody, so I ate the box and paid the $20. =) I gotta learn this stuff.

This little niche wouldn’t be vampires or werewolves, would it? Zombies? Cyberpunk? 😉

Seriously, I’m very curious to hear how this goes for you. I am close to finishing a weird western novel, my first, after some short story credits, so this feels very appropriate to where I’m at with my writing career right now.

I definitely appreciate your insights, and how you’re helping to pave the way for those that come after.

Thanks for commenting, Wilson. I’ll definitely post updates!

Hey, vampires and werewolves are popular! It’s too bad they’re not my thing. 😛 For the new project, cyberpunk and steampunk are probably pretty close as far as potential audience size goes, at least going by the top 20 charts at Amazon.

Lindsay, I’d be happy to beta read or review your new stuff (with suitable confidentiality).

Watch out for buying Facebook ads. Lots of evidence out there that they just get farmed out to 3rd world accounts.

I’ve had good success using eLance for cover artists. See

Thanks, Karen. I’ll likely to with one of my current artists. The main appeal with 99 Designs is to have numerous final or near-final options to pick from. Last time, I put a poll up and let readers pick their favorite, though I probably wouldn’t do that this time, since I’ll be staying all incognito and stuff. :)

Yes, Facebook is iffy, but it’s not expensive to experiment there. I’ll see how things go and report back!

Also, thanks for the offer to beta read, even when you don’t know what it’ll be, muhahah. I have a couple of readers lined up, but I’ll let you know if I could use more eyes. Thanks!

Very helpful post. I’m gearing up for a 2015 publication date so I’ll be following your progress with great curiosity. I’m glad you’re trying out a nice genre. I wish you great success.

I’m super excited for your experiment! I’m also dying to ask if it’s SF and if I can read it, but I understand wanting to keep your experiment as separate as you can, just to see what happens.

I’m gearing up to release a title this fall, hopefully. *crossing fingers* So it’ll be fun launching my experiment while you launch yours. 😀 Go team-indie-experiment, go!

I do have a question that you might be able to answer without giving away specifics, though. I’m curious about why you’re choosing “Write stories that are original but that also fit solidly into the expectations of my chosen sub-genre” as a goal. Why do you want to go more mainstream/follow more genre expectations? Being that one of my top reasons for choosing to read indies is that they branch out of genre norms, I’m curious as to your reasons. Is there evidence on the k-boards to suggest that indies make more money sticking within the norms? Or is it more a personal experiment to see what happens when you specifically try to do that?

Laura, it’s just sooo much easier to market and sell books that fit into the genre formula, especially on Amazon where the main way to gain visibility is to appear in a category Top 100 list. If your blurb doesn’t sound like what’s expected for that category, it’s less of a coup to be there, because people looking for X type of story may just pass you by.

I know editors and agents always talk about wanting to see original stuff, but all the werewolves, vampires, and zombies dominating the Top 100 in urban fantasy (this is just one example) suggest readers like what they’re familiar with. It’s not that you can’t do well writing the kinds of stories you want, but it’s just easier, especially when it comes to online marketing, when you can position yourself solidly in a category. It’s a struggle when you can’t find a category where your stuff really fits.

In this case, I happen to want to write the kind of formulaic thing and try to do it better than a lot of what’s out there in this niche. I suppose I should say “more to my tastes” instead of “better than,” but I know I’m not the only one frustrated by the offerings out there. 😉

Ah, thanks for the info from the writer/publishing perspective.

As an aspiring author, I hadn’t thought about how stories that to fit into a genre’s expected formula would make it easier to market and more successful in gaining readers.

I too am writing because I feel like I can write a specific type of novel “better” (- same way you used that word!), and, thus, am spending my evenings doing so.

Good luck and thank you for all your writing, marketing, etc tips!


Aah yeah. Okay, that makes sense.

Good luck! And thanks for answering 😀

Thanks, Lindsay! I’ll be checking back to see how it goes. May you have great success!

I’ve been making my checklist but I kind of put blog tours at the bottom in the appendix somewhere. I wasn’t sure about blog tour ROIs for a new publisher like myself. But I hear you re: series, mailing list, and those hard-to-get reviews. Thank you for the tips!

Thanks for the helpful advice!

And I’m very curious how Project Pen Name will go. Good luck and keep us posted, please. :)

Cool! Will there be a way for fans of yours to follow you, if we ARE interested in seeing your new work, and don’t mind the… ah… tonal shift? Or are you preferring to do this with as much of a clean division as possible, w/o telling people your new name?

Heya, Jenn. Thanks for the interest. I’m sure I’ll share the name eventually, and maybe mention it earlier through email to people who ask. I’ll wait until I have something out there to read first though. :)

Hm, will you disclose your penname someday? Because I haven’t read anything of yours I haven’t liked and I don’t mind a tonal shift.
But I’m glad you posted this, because I’m a newbie. (One book out, one in November-ish) So any marketing advice is good, because marketing doesn’t like me and I don’t like it!

I’m not very good at keeping secrets, so I’m sure it will come out unless it’s a complete flop and I bury the pen name under a boulder for all eternity. 😀

[…] Buroker on Lindsay Buroker For New Indie Authors: What I Would Do if I Were Starting Today “Sometimes when you give publishing and marketing advice on your blog, you get a little […]

As for me, if I was starting out today, I would look at what the majority are doing – and do the complete opposite! Perhaps not always the complete opposite. But I would do things that the competition is not doing.

I have a respectable measure of success as a self-publisher with over 800,000 copies of my books sold worldwide. The main reason is that I have implemented 50 to 100 ideas to market my books that 99 percent of authors haven’t done.

A great quotation I want to share that I just came across.

“Books work as an art form (and an economic one) because they are primarily the work of an individual.”
— Seth Godin

In short, if you want to create your books being a great economic form (making you at least $100,000 a year in pretax profits), do unique (individual) things that other authors are not doing. A good place to start is to stay away from social media and utilize at least 25 unique marketing ideas that are much more powerful than social media. That is what I have done and will continue to do.

Ernie J. Zelinski
The Prosperity Guy
“Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
(Over 200,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working’
(Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

Thank you for commenting, Ernie, and congratulations on your success.

I think this could work (sometimes it takes a knack to figure out which of the complete-opposite-of-what-the-majority-of-people-are-doing ideas have potential and which are a waste of time), and I also think it can work to emulate what the successful are doing, especially if they’ve done it recently.

I think where a lot of people falter is in taking ALL of the advice they find online without checking to see if the source is actually where they’d like to be. I see a lot of people giving advice on forums who have good intentions but seem to be repeating what they’ve heard rather than speaking of personal experience.

How ’bout another interview on my blog—appear as an incognito author who’s delving into a super-niche endeavor?

Maybe a “Guess the Author” interview—with all my other interviews as the guessable field??

Perhaps some other wild, attractive idea???

Plus, you get to write the Answers and the Questions :-)

Thanks for the invitation, Alexander! I’ll definitely keep this in mind. I want to get a couple of titles out there (the novel and novella at least) before I worry about plugging the new stuff.

Great post as always, Lindsay. You always have the “little guy” in mind! Question though–how many reviews, in your opinion, is ideal before starting serious promotion? Pretend it’s not Bookbub or anything where, as you said, you need XX number of views to qualify for a spot.

On a bit more personal note, may I ask how you avoid being overwhelmed by all you must do as an indie author? You seem to accomplish so much! Just curious.

So exciting about your new projects. I wish you the best of luck!

Hi Ilana,

I’d try to shoot for 5-10 reviews (most good, heh) before funneling a lot of people to a book’s sales page. If it’s your first book and you don’t have any readers lined up yet, that can take a while, but it’s probably better to start writing the second book than to spend a lot of effort getting people to a page where there aren’t any reviews.

As for the overwhelmed thing, I try to focus on the writing and then work on the promo and such whenever there’s time. I get behind on email and don’t always get blog posts up, but I think the most important thing is to keep the books coming out on a regular basis. The writing is my favorite part anyway. 😛

Thanks for taking the time to reply to all these queries, Lindsay (mine and other people’s). As usual, you are made of awesome. :-)

Hi Lindsay,

Great post, with very helpful information. Thanks for all the detail you included here.

I have a question: do you only offer advance review copies in ebook format, or do you do print as well? If you do print, how do you prepare them? Do you send out a pdf, or do you have ARCs printed somewhere?


Hi Diane,

I don’t do much with paperbacks — so far, I’ve only bothered making them for my biggest series. They’re just not a big money maker for me. I send out eARCs to reviewers. If I were to do paperbacks ARCs and mail them out, I’d have to hold off on publishing a novel that’s ready to go to make sure they actually arrived in advance. 😉 It would also be an added expense (buying and shipping the paperbacks).

This isn’t to say it can’t be done. I know people who make their paperbacks on CreateSpace and have everything (ebook and print) ready to go at the same time. For myself, I’m ansty and just want to publish the book for everyone as soon as it’s ready.

Good luck!

Great post, Lindsay. Thanks!

And, like a lot of other readers, I’m now very curious as to what this new project will be…

[…] happens when an established self-publishing author starts over from scratch. What advice would she give […]

[…] For New Indie Authors: What I Would Do if I Were Starting Today […]

This post really helped me formulate a marketing plan. Thank you for sharing this, Lindsay.

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