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What Does It Take to Become a Full-Time Indie Author?

| Posted in Writing |

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A few months ago, I changed my Twitter bio from “indie fantasy/steampunk author” to “full-time indie fantasy/steampunk author.” Apparently a couple of people actually read that Twitter bio, because I’ve had questions about it.

–You really earn a living from your ebooks?
–How many books do you have to write to do that?
–Are you a bestseller?
–If not, how many do you have to sell?
–How do I sell that many books?

I’m going to try to answer some of those questions today, though before I get started, let me admit that I’m not really there yet, insofar as being confident that writing books is all I’ll ever need to do to pay the bills and eventually purchase a suitable super-villain lair.

I feel like I’m on the right path, but I currently rely heavily on Amazon for my income (sales in the Kindle Store make up about 85% of my earnings with Barnes & Noble accounting for 10% and Smashwords and partners making up the last 5%). If Amazon decided to cut its royalty rates tomorrow, giving indie authors 35% instead of 70% for instance, that would make a huge difference in my income. Or, if Amazon made a change in its algorithms to favor traditionally published authors over indies or some such, that could make a big difference too.

Because of that potential for volatility, and the fact that I’ve only been at this publishing thing for 18 months or so, I’m not going to make any claims that this is the definitive guide to quitting the day job and becoming a career writer. I’ll just share what I’ve been doing and what my grand plan is (yeah, I have a grand plan — what, you thought someone scoping out villain lairs wouldn’t?).

What I’ve done so far:

Write books, short stories, and novellas

Duh, I know, but it’s hard to get momentum going when you only have one or two books out. It usually takes more exposures to your work for readers to decide they’re fans. Also, when you’re working hard on promoting a book, you get more return on your effort if there’s a series people can go on to buy, rather than a single title.

In December of 2010, I started out with The Emperor’s Edge and, a month later, Encrypted, two loosely related fantasy novels I’d written but never shopped around to agents (word on the AgentQuery site was that nobody was particularly interested in secondary world fantasy).

Sales were slow at first (so you’re not alone if that sounds like you). I had some luck running an advertising campaign on Goodreads and giving away a free short story starring my Emperor’s Edge characters (though, at the time, I didn’t know how to get that free story into Amazon). What next? I wrote. A lot (by my standards anyway). I published the first Flash Gold adventure (a novella) that spring, the second EE book in June, another Flash Gold novella that summer, and the third EE book in November.

I had some good months last summer where I saw the potential of e-publishing and started to think I could do this for a living someday, but it wasn’t until Book 3 in my series came out that things really picked up and I started getting more sales and a bunch of fan mail too. (Very cool, by the way. Who woulda thunk self-published authors would get fan mail?)

So far in 2012, I’ve published a short story, a third Flash Gold novella, and, at the end of April, my fourth Emperor’s Edge book. The final numbers aren’t in for May yet, but, thanks to that new release, it’s going to be my best month ever. And by “ever,” I mean ever. I was self-employed before this, and made a pretty good living from my old job, but May will trump what I earned in my best months at the old job. I don’t know if the entire year will be my best ever, though I’d guess not (even though I’m writing a lot, I can’t put out a new release every month, and, once the core fans catch up with the series, sales naturally dwindle to match what the rest of the books in the series are doing). Still, I could see 2013 being pretty awesome if the trend continues.

The theme here is that I’m writing a lot and putting out something new, even if it’s just a short story, every couple of months. Can you make a living as an indie author if you’re only publishing one novel a year? Sure. It’s just going to take longer. Of course, if you’re one of those lucky (or was it unlucky?) writers with eight trunk novels ready to be published, it might take less long.

By the way, I’ve never been in the Amazon Top 100 (or in the Top 1000 for more than a couple of days), and I’m not particularly visible even in my sub-categories (epic fantasy/historical fantasy) in the Kindle Store. You don’t have to be an uber seller to make a living, though you have to, of course, have characters and/or plots that capture people’s imaginations and turn them into fans (not everyone has to like your books but enough people do so that you get good reviews and you word-of-mouth “advertising” from readers). If you have ten books priced at $4.99, and they sell 200 copies a month, you’re earning over $6,000 a month.

I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s easy to write ten books or sell 200 copies a month of a title (I would have rolled my eyes at such a comment 16 months ago), but, right now, the numbers tell us that making a living as an indie author is a lot more doable than making a living as a traditionally published author (where the per-book cut is a lot smaller). If you’re mid-list as an indie, and you have a stable of books that are doing moderately well, you’ve got it made in the short-term. If… you’re building your tribe along the way, you ought to have it made in the long-term too (more on that below).

I’ve given away work for free

What else have I done that’s made a big difference? Last November, when I released Book 3, I started giving away the first book for free. That got a lot more people into the series, people who went on to pick up Books 2, 3, and 4. I also made the first Flash Gold novella free.

I’ve tried a lot when it comes to online promotion, everything from guest posts to book blog tours to contests to paid advertising, and nothing compares with having a free ebook in the major stores. Not only will people simply find it on their own, but it’s so much easier to promote something that’s free. If you do buy advertising (and I do from time to time), it’ll be the difference between selling 25 copies and getting 5,000 downloads (i.e. 5,000 new people exposed to your work), because people live in hope that they’ll find something good amongst the free offerings.

I’ve heard authors argue that most people who download free ebooks just collect them, like shiny pebbles on the beach, and that they never even bother to check them out. I say B.S. to that. I’d bet money that most people try the books they download; it’s just that they find most of them don’t pique their interest. Maybe they’ll download 50 or 100 ebooks and only find one where they want to read the whole thing. That’s fine. That just means you have to make sure your story is entertaining enough to be The One.

The power of the series:

I should mention here that, while giving away a free ebook can be huge, it’s key that the story be part of a series, or at least strongly related to the book(s) you’re trying to sell.

I just don’t see people having the same sorts of results when their free novel or short story isn’t related to the rest of their work. Oh, it might help a little, but not the way a Book 1 that ends on a cliffhanger will. (My first book admittedly doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but it does have a teaser epilogue to let folks know that there’s a lot more to come.)

Just to be clear here, the free ebook isn’t just about hooking people or tricking them into buying more books. It’s about good will too. It’s about letting people try your work for free, at no risk. It’s about starting your relationship with new readers off on a good foot. If they like the book, maybe they’ll buy the next one. Maybe they’ll share the free one with a friend. Maybe they’ll leave a nice review on Amazon. But if they don’t like it, they’ve lost nothing but a little of their time. You don’t get the resentful “I can’t believe I wasted $8 on this” kind of comments. If they’re disappointed, people are more likely to think, “Well, it was free; what did I expect?” But if they like it, they feel like they won a prize in a lottery.

This is why I plan to continue to give work away for free. It’s also why I don’t worry about it if my books appear on piracy sites (apparently they do now — I feel popular!).

Have you ever watched Neil Gaiman’s comments on piracy? It’s short. Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait.

Another point I want to make, for those who are thinking, “Oh, I’ll just make some old trunk story free because it’s too short to sell anyway,” or “I’ll just give away some sample chapters,” is that what you give away for free should be great. Great in your mind, anyway. Art is subjective after all, so one person’s great is another person’s garbage. But this is your chance to wow people and turn them into fans. Don’t save your best stuff for the readers willing to buy. Give away your best stuff, and people will buy the rest because what they got made them fall in love with your characters, or your world, or your masterful fight scenes, or the way you write twist endings.

The only way to get someone’s attention (and that’s what we’re all looking to do as new authors), and to make sure your free offering is the one out of 50 or 100 that someone actually reads, is to stand out. Give ‘em your best.

I’ve tried to cultivate a fan-base, or, as Seth Godin might call it, a tribe

I see a lot of indie authors trying to figure out exactly how Amazon’s algorithms work so they can find a way to take advantage of a loophole and get catapulted up the bestseller listings. To this ends, I’ve seen authors try to get a hundred people to buy their book in the same hour. I’ve seen them pay for 5-star reviews on Fiverr. I’ve seen them participate in massive book-tagging threads on forums. I’ve seen them go exclusive with Amazon in hopes of great rewards from KDP Select. I’ve seen… lots.

And, hey, I’m not above taking advantage of an opportunity myself, but I’ve always believed that any victories achieved through these sorts of tactics would be short-lived (and, in most cases, I’ve seen that to be true). That’s why I’m trying to focus on getting my work out there to the fans and not worrying about the other stuff.

Early on, I stumbled across Kevin Kelly’s “1000 True Fans” article. If you’re an indie anything, it’s a great read.

The gist is that you don’t have to be a mega seller. You just need X number of true fans (people who love your stuff and will buy everything you put out), and you’re assured that you can make a living at your art, so long as you to continue to produce quality material.

I believe, for an indie author, the number is probably around 10,000 rather than 1,000 (we only make a couple of dollars on a sale, after all). This is a large number, but, given that we can so easily get our work into Amazon, B&N, etc. where millions of eyeballs await, finding this many loyal readers isn’t infeasible, especially when you realize you can collect them over years, maybe even decades, so long as you’re in this for the long haul.

Why 10,000? Well, let’s say you have 10,000 true fans, 10,000 people who buy each novel you put out. If you publish two novels a year, each priced at $4.95, you will, under the current paradigm, make $60,000 a year. That’s a better-than-average income in most parts of the world.

Want more? That’s okay. It’ll probably happen. Remember, those 10,000 folks are your true fans, the ones who buy everything. You’ll end up with other people who will buy the books with such-and-such character in it or who will pick up a book or two just because they look interesting. You’ll end up selling far more than 20,000 books a year.

And, if Amazon stops listing self-published books tomorrow, your career isn’t in the toilet, because you’re smart and have collected the email addresses of your 10,000 true fans (see previous posts on the how and why of starting a mailing list). You can email them to let them know that you’ll now be selling your books from your site or you’ll be doing a Kickstarter campaign to finance the next book. Whatever. These folks have your back!

Remember way up at the beginning of the article where I said I was making a full-time income but wasn’t all that confident that I was permanently there yet? That’s because I don’t have 10,000 true fans yet. Based on my newsletter subscribers, I’d guess I have about a thousand. That’s an awesome number, but my plan (remember, too, that I mentioned a master plan) is to work toward getting that 10,000.

So, how does one acquire these 10,000 true fans?

Here’s what I’ve been doing and will continue to do:

  • I use the afterword of my ebooks to let readers know they can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and this blog. Also, I mention that I have a newsletter, and it’d rock if they signed up for it. The newsletter is key, because, as I said, it’s the one way I have of contacting my readers if chaos strikes in the self-publishing world (i.e. Amazon implodes).
  • I use Facebook as a place to interact with my readers (I don’t try to sell squat on Facebook; I post links to interviews, cut scenes, contests, etc. and sometimes throw up snippets of whatever scene or piece of dialogue I’m working on). What’s awesome is when people interact with each other here. I mentioned Seth Godin’s concept of a tribe. He’s written a whole book on the subject, but the idea is to be a leader of people with a common interest, goal, job, etc.. You can “lead” through your books, and, if you give people a place to interact, your books can be the connection that links folks who never would have met each other otherwise. Suddenly, you’ve created this thing, this entity, that’s greater than you are. Pretty cool, huh?
  • When a reader put together a fan forum for my books, I linked to it from my blog, and I try to remember to mention it in tweets and on Facebook now and then. Over there, folks can take conversations much further than they can on Facebook.
  • I not only have comments enabled on my blog, but I added the plug-in that allows nested comments (i.e. readers can reply to each others’ comments). Again, it’s about creating a community rather than standing on a pulpit and preaching. I hope to figure out more ways to use technology to encourage that community to grow in the future.
  • My focus may be on getting the next book written, but I’m often thinking about cool things I can do for my readers. As I write this, folks can enter a contest to design a hat for one of my more flamboyant characters. The winner will receive signed paperbacks and see his/her hat appear in the next book. On one of my character-interview blog posts, a reader mentioned that only one author she read did things like that. That stunned me. Really? Most authors aren’t doing that stuff? Well, there’s an easy way right there to stand out amongst your peers.

Yes, all this stuff takes time, but it pays off in the end. Most of us are never going to hit the publishing lottery (the $100,000 sales month or the 2-million-dollar book deal), but 10,000 fans? That’s a reasonable goal. I have a hunch, too, that the first thousand are the hardest to get and, after that, word-of-mouth will be on your side.

Thoughts? Please chime in below.

 

 

 

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Comments (80)

I think one of your great strengths has been that your books are in one main genre. It’s so much easier to brand your product. My main mistake has been putting up books in all sorts of different genres – kids, murder mysteries, sci-fi, even film scripts – under one author name. I’m learning that from now on I should divide things up under pen names. Your success is very inspiring – I hope you reach your goals!

Thanks, Pamila! It can be a lot to ask readers to jump genres to follow your work. Even in fantasy, there are people who will read historical stuff but not secondary world fantasy or urban fantasy but not epic.

Of course, at the end of the day, you have to write what you’re inspired to write and try to figure out a way to make it work. :)

Hi Pamila,

I also write film scripts, and have thought about selling them. I wrote a tv show with 13 episodes at 30 pgs each and thought about turning them into novellas just for the sake of doing something with them! I love the content and characters so much but I feel like people get bored when reading film scripts. Have you had any luck with selling scripts? I also had a hard time keeping the formatting correct when turning into an ebook.

Thanks! Keep up the writing!

I think the whole idea of writing more is something that a lot of indies don’t take advantage of enough. It’s so easy to get caught up in the networking/marketing side of things instead. (I’ve struggled with this too.) One of the biggest advantages we have going for us is the ability to put out what we want, when we want, instead of sticking to a publisher’s schedule. We need to use it.

Thanks for another great post! It’s encouraging to know that you don’t have to be crazy popular like Hocking to make a living. :)

Definitely. I did tons of the promotional stuff in the beginning, and it’s not that those things are useless — every little review or blog appearance can help — but I don’t think anything has helped more than simply getting more work out there.

That’s definitely hard for folks with full schedules (day job, family, etc.), but I’ve met some moms (and dads) with careers and young kids who still manage to make it happen, so it must be possible. ;)

I had a fried tell me he’s only making $200 a month from his book. I said, great, write 20 more books.

This is a rock solid article, thank you.

Nice, Jordan. :) And $200/mo isn’t shabby at all, especially if he only has one book out!

Great article. Love the links, especially starting off with the super-villain lair.

BTW, do you have the name of the nested comments widget?

Authors gotta have writing lairs! :D

Now that I’m hunting around in my dashboard, I see that WordPress actually supports the nested comments now, no plug-in needed. It’s under Settings > Discussion (threaded/nested comments).

Thank you very much!

Thanks for sharing these tips, Lindsay! Much appreciated. ^_^ I’ve already been planning to focus on marketing once I have my one fantasy novel quartet finished—and even then, my definition of “focus on marketing” is probably a lot, er, lighter than a lot of folks’.

Personally, I’ve figured out a math formula that explains my sales/income rate across all vendors as I’ve added more titles for sale (most of them short stories). The formula’s intentionally figured low, so even consistent-with-average sales will end up higher than my estimate.

I’ve also figured out earnings goals for the next few years. Combine the two; and I’ve ended up with how many short stories, novellas, and novels I’ll need to produce to conceivably meet that goal.

In other words, I’ve done some fancy bookkeeping to make sure I’m driven to produce more than enough to hit my earnings goals. I’d have to have several utter flops and no good sellers to not hit my goals, with my production goals.

But that’s production. That isn’t marketing. When I do start marketing, I’ll be revisiting this post. ^_^

Thanks!

Haha, a numbers person! With more work out there, it sometimes happens that something ends up randomly taking off, or at least outperforming other titles, so maybe you’ll hit your goal earlier than calculated. ;)

That’s what I’m thinking!

And the weird thing is that I’m actually not a numbers person. I actually have dyscalculia (think dyslexia with numbers).

I am a patterns person, though. :)

How does the workload being a full-time indie author compare to a “normal” full-time job? Do you feel like the pace you’ve set is sustainable?

I’m not an author, so I really have no idea what’s standard. I know you put out books much faster than most authors – which I love as a fan! – but do you ever feel like you’re in danger of burning out?

One of the dangers of being self-employed and working from home is that you do catch yourself working at all hours of the day. A lot of times, even when I’m not actually writing, I’m thinking about writing (i.e. plotting the next scene), so I’d definitely say it consumes more of your life than a 40-hour-a-week job where you get to leave your work at the office.

I may try to work more set hours at some point (and not writing on weekends, heh), but I enjoy what I’m doing, and I have a hard time taking more than a couple of days off without wanting to get to work on the next story. I do make sure to schedule time to play. Funny how often adults forget that’s important. (Unless you’re a Sicarius. :P)

Heh, yes. He is probably not the best role model for a healthy work/life balance.

I’m like you in the “thinking about writing at all hours,” but I don’t really view that as work. Yes, okay, it’s work…but it’s fun work. In the end, that’s what propels us.

I haven’t been able to sell more than one or two copies of my first book and short stories, so I may be influenced by personal bitterness, but there are a few things I would add:

(1) Choose a genre that’s reasonably popular, or make sure you’re in the right market for the genre you /do/ write. For example, 25-55 year olds are more likely to have e-readers and disposable income than seniors and preteens. If you write literary-type novels, like me, you probably won’t find much success on Amazon. This is NOT to say that Amazon readers aren’t “serious” or literary novels are somehow better than genre novels; they’re just different tastes. I mean, you wouldn’t try to sell chopped liver in the food court at the mall, right? You just need to be conscious of whether the demographics you’re after are reached by your sales channels.

(2) Once you choose your genre, STICK to it. One of the main reasons I can’t get a career off the ground is because I keep hopping around. My first novel was a coming of age, my published short stories are historical romances, my current novel is a literary historical, and the short story in the works is a contemporary romance. I can’t help what I’m compelled to write, but I can’t expect to get any fans this way.

(3) If you’re going to give away free copies, make sure you’re giving copies to people who are interested in the type of book you’re offering. I’ve actually had more complaints than not over a freebie I gave out through LibraryThing, with one-stars from readers who like romances and thrillers, when my book was neither of those and was never intended to be. Then you get strange reviews that down-rate your book and then say, “Well written; not bad for YA.”

This is seriously an EPIC blog post, and very inspiring. It makes us authors who have only just started out and are seeing a few trickling sales feel a little happier.

Thanks for sharing Lindsay, and may those 10,000 fans arrive for you sooner than later :D

Masterful post, Lindsay! I was wondering, since you have both novels and novella’s out in series form, which one tends to do better? Or are they the same over time with differing growth rates? Doesn’t have to be specific, just a general idea would be fine.

I’m currently working on both, although the novella is moving faster – planned as series and am interested in what to expect as I move into things.

Thanks for an incredibly useful post :)

I’m actually interested in this question, too. I have an idea for a novella series. :)

My EE novels are my best sellers and, of course, earn the most because they’re at a higher price point than the novellas and short stories, but the Flash Gold adventures plug along, doing well enough that I’m going to keep writing them. I like having multiple projects going, and it’s nice that the shorter stories don’t take as long to write and edit.

If you eventually do a series of novellas, you can put them together in a collection to sell at novel prices (to take advantage of the 70% royalty rate for ebooks $2.99 and above). I’ll be doing that with Flash Gold 1-3 soon.

Good luck, Gene!

An omnibus is definitely part of the long term plan for the novella’s. Good tips and thanks, a little luck never hurts :)

See, I’m planning on going $2.99 for a novella, but we might be defining them differently. I know some folks use “novella” to refer to novelettes, too.

I have Flash Gold, but I’m intentionally saving it for the trip out of town. :)

I think the SFWA defines a novella as a story between 17.5-40k words, so that covers a lot of territory. I went $2.99 with Peacemaker because it’s 40k-ish and priced the shorter stories less expensively. Flash Gold is only 17-18k (I had that one for 99 cents before I switched it to free).

Of course, I try to keep things on the “this is a good deal” side. I’ve seen other authors do novelettes, and even short stories, for $2.99.

Okay, so we’re defining novella the same way, then. I’d thought you might be combining novella and novelette.

Your books are definitely on the “this is a good deal” side. I know I’ve gotten you on at least a half-dozen folks’ “to-read” list due to that free first book.

Once the whole series is out (and particularly if I get the paperbacks, like I’m planning), I have some other friends who’ll be willing to read the books—friends who will buy copies of their own if they like ‘em.

Oddly enough, I li, I’m the only one of my friends to have an e-reader, and that’s a Nook—and this despite the detail that I live in one of the most e-literate cities in the US, right now.

[...] I’m still on the right track.  Lindsay Buroker recently did an excellent blog post about what it takes to earn a full-time living as an indie author, and I’m already doing most of the stuff she suggests.  So long as I keep it up (and keep [...]

I think you are great, and a shining example of a self-made self-published success as an author. What I like is that you are goal oriented and that means you are constantly moving forward. Best of luck to you!

Lindsay, once more hit you have hit the nail on the head with this post. People constantly tout working the Amazon best seller lists and algorithms as a way to get noticed. Amazon certainly discusses it in their materials on publishing for Kindle. Granted, I’m a sampling of one, but in my case I find authors by stumbling across blogs, seeing the “people who bought this book also bought these books” in the listing for a particular Amazon title, and of course, word of mouth. I rarely if ever directly sift through the Amazon best seller lists. And yes, the other way I buy books is by being a member of an author’s tribe. Having those 10,000 fans seems a much more solid way of building success, because you are building a readership. You connect with people through social media, touch base with your fans, let them know what you are up to, and soft-sell your work, rather than hard-sell.

One thing I’m working on as an indie myself is narrowing my focus to one project for the time being, my serial, along with tie-in stories. My first two self-publications have both been stand alone short stories, but IMHO readers like to read more about characters and a world, and follow a larger story.

Thanks again for another great post.

It’s as down-to-earth and honest a post as I have seen a writer write about making a living writing. Thank you for sharing this!

I wonder if it is true that the first 1,000 fans are probably the hardest … and it gets a little easier from there. It would seem true as you have additional “ambassadors” working for you with word-of-mouth recommendations and there is the power of exponents in your favor … So maybe the 10,000 is not that far off once you hit a certain critical number?

Thanks for reading it, Nelson!

I’ll have to see how things play out over the next year, but it does seem that many authors eventually reach a tipping point and gain momentum quickly. Of course, I’ll be tickled if I just keep getting a few more readers each month. They add up! :)

Great post and very informative! I do have to say something about the secret lair. Even though I absolutely love the Evil Castle Lair, it’s a little spendy, especially on my budget. Its got the really cool Wild Boar Feeding Arena after all. But, I’m gonna have to go for the ex al Qaeda cave for 18.50 per month for now. It does have the potty holes, so it will suffice until I get my fan base up there. :)

There’s nothing wrong with a Starter Lair. You can always upgrade when you have more funds and more evil minions to house. ;)

I went on your site looking for information for self-publishing authors, and ended up checking out your free book, Emperor’s Edge. I read it, loved it, and immediately bought the second in the series. So I find that your site has helped me twofold: giving me a concrete example of how an author uses a blog to make a sale and giving me a great new series to read. I appreciate what you are doing to help new authors navigate this new publishing terrain. I am sure I will be reading this blog regularly.

Ah, so the master plan is working? Good news. ;)

Thanks for checking out the blog (and the books!), Lilia. Good luck with your own endeavors!

Just finished Conspiracy and hope very much to see more of Yara: “you couldn’t hit a drunk possum stuffed in a sack” definite keeper. Master Plan is definitely working!

I can attest to being one of those on your list that got book one for free, then purchased two, three and four of Emperor’s Edge. Although, it was word of mouth that got me to download book one, being free at the time made it an easy decision to try it out.

Feel free to make one more hash mark on the true fans list. I immediately went to look for book four after the teaser at the end of three. And yes, the cliffhanger at the end of book four makes me believe you’ll fit right in at the evil lair.

Thanks for giving the books a try, Matthew!

Uhm, yes, that cliffhanger… If it’s any consolation, I’m not planning to do anything that wicked at the end of Book 5. Hm, now I better get back to writing, so folks won’t have to wait long!

I really hope that five does not end on a cliff hanger. Please do continue to write! I imagine you have quite a few impatient fans.

[...] from What Does It Take To Become a Full-Time Indie Author by Lindsay [...]

Found you through Gene’s treasures post (thank you, Gene!!). Such an interesting and educational post. I’m off to explore the rest of your site.

HI Lindsay,

Another great post!. It seems of late when I have a question in mind, I visit you and voila. I am trying to decide on the kdp select program. I do believe doing the freebie ia a wonderful way to build an audience. You are proof of that, but do you think they are the best route to go or just periodically do a book for free outside of that program. 90 days is like being engaged to someone you’re not sure about… Thanks for any input. Oh btw, the shopping cart thing we previously discussed, wp has a plug in.

Aron Joice

Hi, Lindsay, I love your blog and I refer a lot of student and client writers to it. Coming out of the legacy publishing world, I am loving the author-control of the new indie paradigm, and figuring out how to make it work is a creative challenge. You’re really doing a fine job of looking at the mechanics of how the market works for us instead of sitting back and waiting for that ‘build it and they will come’ myth to kick in.

I’ll send folks to this post in my next newsletter. Nice job of putting the pieces together!

Thanks for reading the blog and spreading the word, Mary!

Hi there! Came here from a SinC links email (re Amazon algorithms) & thought I’d stick around to read some more :) Read that before: volume is the key; a problem for me partially due to my slowness at writing, which itself is partially due to illness. But I see it took you 18 mos to get going, so that’s encouraging. I don’t have any trunk novels alas – just a couple of unfinished ones – and some short stories I’m looking at revamping into longer ones. And like a previous poster, I’m all over the map with genre (romance sweet and erotic, mystery, historical, paranormal) but I plan on using pseudonyms. Have already put out two shorts. Thx for the article and, btw, it should be a super *hero* lair, not a villain’s :)

I have been looking for mentors in the self-publishing world because I have three books published, but unfortunately I have been terrible at getting my name out there.

This was an incredibly helpful blog post, and I really appreciate you sharing your journey with the rest of us. :-)

As far as putting your book out there for free, did you just change the list price to the first one for free? Does Amazon even let you keep things for free like Smashwords? Was that single act enough to spur sales?

Also, did you register your books/novellas/short stories with the copyright office? For someone like me who’s not yet rolling in the dough, registering each and every short story could get expensive.

Again, thank you for your thoughts. They are encouraging and make me feel like I should be a little more patient. :-)

Alexis, you get five free days a quarter if you enroll in Amazon’s KDP Select (that’s a sure way to have your work out there for free), but I’m not a fan of limiting myself to one sales outlet, so never opted for that myself. I made my ebooks free at Smashwords (and, through them, iTunes/Barnes & Noble), and Amazon eventually price-matched.

I was doing okay with sales beforehand and had quite a few reviews for the books (every little bit you can do along the way seems to help), but I definitely saw a big boost when The Emperor’s Edge went free, and I’ve continued to promote the free novel on the various social media sites.

Some people do the copyright thing just to feel they have their bases covered, but the chances of someone trying to steal your work are pretty slim.

Good luck!

This post has so succinctly and beautifully put together all my hopes and aspirations for my self-publishing goals. That you so much for putting this together and writing it. It emphasizes everything I had envisioned for myself once I get started, and confirms everything I was hoping to accomplish. Reading this article filled me with so much hope for my future as a writer and made me want to do nothing more than just sit my butt down and get back to writing, writing, writing as soon as I finish this comment.

Awesome job. Thank you so much. I love it!

Hah, succinct isn’t a word I see below my posts very often, but I’m glad to help and inspire. Good luck with your own work, LS!

[...] this post by Lindsay Buroker came to my attention through one of Gene Lempp‘s fantastic Blog Treasure [...]

Nice one, Lindsay; just the advice I need as an idie kindle author. Have signed up to your newsletter. Best of luck achieving your first 10,000!
Jack…

[...] more of this thought provoking article here: What Does It Take to Become a Full-Time Indie Author? | Lindsay Buroker. [...]

[...] Author Lindsay Buroker, What Does It Take to Become a Full Time Indie Author? [...]

Lindsay:

What a thoughtful, well written post. Such an exciting new world we live in as writers.

I come originally from the television world, which is why I’m used to writing quickly and so can get work out faster than some. So far, I’m publishing mostly shorts and novelettes, but plan a few mystery novellas and a novel soon.

You and Neil Gaiman(!) have opened my eyes to the concept of “free.” That’s very powerful and I’ll be doing it soon.

Than you for your wonderfully informative blog, and my best wishes for your continued success in getting to your 10,000!

Thanks, Thom! Good luck with the novellas and novel! :)

Another new true fan to attest that your master plan is working. Except that after downloading the freebie EE1, I didn’t even have to read it to go buy the rest of the series. That was accomplished by reading the first few pages to know I’d get hooked, then reading this great post and wanting to support your efforts.

Please do use my email address to add me to your newsletter list. I’m sure by the time you’ve finished EE5, I’ll be ready to buy that one too. BEST of luck with getting a good living out of this plan.

Thanks for the support, Barb! I added you to the newsletter subscribers. :)

[...] series out first!). [Editorial note: things continued to go well for Lindsay, as she announced in What Does It Take to Become a Full-Time Indie Author. Congrats, [...]

[...] example, fantasy writer and indie author Lindsay Buroker feels that giving away some of her work for free has helped her to become a successful full-time indie author: Last November, when I released Book [...]

[...] Buroker presents What Does It Take to Become a Full-Time Indie Author? posted at Lindsay Buroker — Fantasy Author, saying, “I’m 18 months into my [...]

[...] What Does It Take to Become a Full-Time Indie Author? [...]

I have a question. I have a four book urban fantasy series with a small press that sells for $4.99 in ebook. Since my publisher does not do free giveaways, I put out three shorts in an ebook, featuring my series’ lead characters. I’m giving them free on my blog and on my current blog tour. I was told not to do the Kindle select program by friends and instead offer the e-shorts at 99 cents. You mentioned how important it was to have freebies on the major retail sites. How can I do this, if Amazon and B&N demand a price point of at least 99 cents? I heard of putting it on other sites for free and Amazon will price match, but I’m afraid of the book being pulled. Any ideas or advice?

Hey Denise,

I read a lot of blogs by self-published authors and I’ve never heard of anyone doing this having their book pulled. The exact wording of the princing page at Amazon is “if your Digital Book is available through another sales channel for free, we may also make it available for free.” It is an Amazon requirement that the price always be equal or lower than every other sales channel. In fact, giving away your short on your blog would count since you’re effectively selling them for a price of $0, though its unlikely that Amazon will find out.

The most popular option is to put it up on smashwords and have someone tip off Amazon.

Great post. I think all the princilples outlined are good advice for ANY author. No matter which distribution channel an author selects (traditional vs. indie), we are all after the same thing- loyal fans and a steady base. Awesome work!

Great post. I’m waiting (for 8 more weeks..ugh) to hear back from a publisher, but in the meantime am making a contingency plan for self-publishing. I’ve been thinking of the giveaway as a promo, but aren’t sure what to do. Although there is a backstory for my characters, it doesn’t end well. So I’m thinking of a novella using the characters, but the first book is about the characters coming together. Would it be weird to giveaway a story that occurs after the first book? Anyway, this is a great post. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Congrats on being able to write full-time. I’ve been trying to go to part-time at my day job, but the thing holding me back is actually my day job. They have to hire someone to take over my full-time slot and they have been dragging their heels. >:(

Like you, I’m not a runaway bestseller, although my first book has been in the top 100, and the second book in the top 200s before, but overall, my sales fluctuate between excellent and mediocre. That’s what is so scary. What if they settle at mediocre? It’s been two years though, and I feel like the only way I can improve my sales is by writing more books, and in order to increase my output, I need more time to write.

This is an excellent post and a great insight into your most vulnerable hopes and dreams. I really appreciate what you’ve done for the writing community here.

I’ve recently made the same decision: I always wanted to be a writer, so it’s now or never. I’m not as far down the path but I’ve made a similar long-range plan and I’ve run the numbers.

My most controversial post so far has been about those numbers: “On Writing 5: Cash is Good”. I layout one of many scenarios for investment and cash flow. And obviously, as you pointed out, the real cash is in the back list.

Thanks again for sharing your journey.

Peace, Seeley

So glad Julia filling in for PG directed us to this post! This came at the end of school and birthdays for my kids and I missed it somehow.

All of this information is really useful, especially the reminder of your post on how to set up a newsletter. I put a newsletter plug in at the end of the book that I just got up on Amazon, but the web page it pointed it to was, um, pretty bare. I’m working on that! But the newsletter is what I will add today. Thanks!

So useful, Lindsay. Thank you for this long, detailed, and very generous helping of advice!

Came here through The Passive Voice, and I’m glad I did. Now I have to stick around and read what else you’ve got on here!

Have you figured out how to get Amazon to promote your books? For example, I published the next book in a series and asked Amazon to send an email to all those who had purchased the other books in the series. They declined.

Odd. They benefit as do I.

Love your thoughts. I’m regenerated.

Haha, that’s ballsy of you to write Amazon, Jacqui! It’s all automatic, I think, or a large part of it is. They make recommendations based on what’s already selling well, figuring that higher sales indicate a greater likelihood that people will buy and enjoy the books.

On the one hand, that really sucks when you’re trying to break in, because you don’t get any love; on the other hand, once you’ve driven a lot of people there to buy your books, it’s awesome that Amazon starts promoting them (for free) for you.

Hehe. Well said. The series is seven books. The first six show up in a row under “customers who bought… also bought…” Then there’s the last one–no where to be seen.

The trials and tribulations of a wanna be NYT Best Seller…

That’s a start! It means the people who read the first book are going on to buy the others. What you hope to one day see is your book in the also-boughts for some famous authors in your genre/niche. ;)

[...] Yeah, it may cause me to lose a lot of current and future readers but if you think about it, only the most dedicated fans of your work will visit your website anyway. Lindsay recently blogged about the 10,000 true fans an artist needs to make a living in What Does It Take to Become a Full-Time Indie Author? [...]

I’ve been thinking about self-publishing off and on for a while now. Thank you so much for this article! I’m leaning more towards it, but I think I’d like to finish a few more longer pieces before starting to put things out there. It seems like having multiple works available is pretty critical to gaining traction.

Hi Linday, thanks for such an inspirational post–it really cheered me up. Just got my first statement of sales from my publisher (I published co-operatively) and am rather disappointed. I did reasonably well on print books, but my e-books seemed really low, which surprised me as I had been around the 20,000-25,000 rank mark on Amazon UK for nearly 2 weeks and had been in the top 100 historical fantasy (between 40-99) numerous times. I’d also been around the 80,000 rank on US and Germany.
I actually sold more books at signings here in town than online it would seem! Such a shame…I’ve had really good reviews, too.
I think you are right, though, having a number of related items out does make a difference, so I am plowing ahead with part two of my book and getting some of those short stories out of ‘the trunk’. (Unfortunately have to retype them all, they aren’t on modern media…sob!)
All the best with your writing. Great blog!

Great post, but your maths as to how many books you need to sell per month to be earning $6,000 is off. It’s 2,000 because 6000 / (4.99 x 0.7) = 1718.

If you’re referring to this line, “If you have ten books priced at $4.99, and they sell 200 copies a month, you’re earning over $6,000 a month,” then I’m not sure what you mean. 10 books selling 200 copies a month is 2000 books a month. And, as you confirmed, that brings you over $6,000 a month.

I am the wife of a very talented writer…this information was very helpful as I have decided to take on helping promote and try to get more sales….I would appreciate any information you could give to help me with it as I have just come into the business of promoting an author. Thank you

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