I hit another milestone. December of 2013 was my best sales month ever. I sold (as of 10:29 on New Year’s Eve) 2,173 eBooks this month. Hell, I even sold 7 print copies. Along the way, I’ve always stressed the importance of setting milestones. I’ve blogged about a few of mine along the way. Since I seriously started spending time doing this indie author thing with my free time (instead of sinking time into the voids of video games or television), I’ve chimed in at the following milestones: my first 100 eBook sales in a month, my first 300 eBook sales in a month, and when I first reached 1,000 total eBook sales.
Growing as an independent author has been a very exciting journey. And no, as much as I want to write that it’s also been a grind, I can’t do that. I can’t justify saying it. Because I love every aspect of the work that goes into being a modern independent author. That means the writing, yes, but it also means the revising, editing, formatting, marketing, cover design, blogging, participation in forums, signing up to new channels and websites, etc. The list of things we must do as independent authors is never ending at times. But if you go down the list of things you have to do to be successful as in indie author, and find yourself saying you love every one of them, then you already have in your grasp the most important thing you need in order to sell 2,000 eBooks in a month: True love for what you do. I’ll talk a little bit more about that, and some of the other things that have been a big part of this milestone for me.
1. Love the Process
As I wrote already, I absolutely love the process. First and foremost, I love writing itself. And I’m getting closer to the point when I see myself as a real storyteller, and not a writer. Maybe they’re the same thing, and throw author in there too, and you can call them all synonyms. But there’s a part of me now that’s in touch with the fact that I love to tell stories, and I’m really getting good at doing it how I want to. And there are endless stories. Endless. And they come in every flavor and genre. That means I’m not going to run out of things to write about. As for the rest of the process, if you see the stuff that comes along with being a successful indie as a chore, you probably won’t do so well. Maybe you will. Some authors have their first book take off, and the algorithms do all the work. They’re instant, overnight bestsellers. But most authors I know put in a lot of hard work. The thing is, if you love the process, then you love the hard work. It’s a constant learning curve, and being open to it is crucial. Maybe you need to learn a new program like Sigil or Scrivener or Calibre. Maybe you need to tap into a writer’s forum and participate with other indie writers (KB Cafe I’m looking at you). Or maybe you need to figure out how to get the word out about your damned books. Whatever the chore du jour is, it has to feel enjoyable. Otherwise, why are you doing it? Certainly it’s not to get rich quick. Authors who sell books for .99 cents a pop only make 35% royalties. That means those 2,000 books don’t add up to much if it’s all coming from .99 cents sales. But the good news is, if you love the process, the earnings are a motivator, but not the reason itself. They’re the things along the way that let you know you’re doing the right thing, encouraging you to keep at it. You have to be productive and resourceful to have success, and if you love every part of the journey, you’ll find yourself being that much more productive, positive about your prospects, and resourceful.
2. Leaving the Anger and Fear Behind
As you start to write and publish books, you’ll soon learn the sting of your critics. They’ll say things like, “this could have used a professional edit,” or “this story had a super thin plot and no character development.” Some people will eventually write essays on why your books are horrible. I’ve experienced this. And at first, it’s frustrating as hell. But, as time goes on, it becomes your teacher. If you let it. Now, I’m at a point where I’m grateful for every review I get. I even thank them in the comments section on Amazon. I wasn’t always that way, but now, I see it for what it is—subjective. Art is subjective, no matter what kind you’re talking about. Art meant for entertainment, like music, books, and films, is highly subjective. The movie you love, I might hate with a passion. Maybe I had a bad day when I saw it. The book you hated, I loved. Maybe you had a completely different perspective from the author, and his style didn’t jive with your preferences. Any way you slice it, someone is going to come along and cut up your work. But the most important thing to remember is, as pointed out in the first part of this post, if you love the process, it means you have an endless supply of stories to tell. And if you have a hundred stories, who cares if one bombs in the eyes of the critics and naysayers? You simply move on to the next story. And who knows—I’ve found more often than not, for each negative attack I get on a story, I’ll get an e-mail from someone who absolutely loves it. And over time, it has proven to me the fickle nature of criticism. And the subjectivity of art. So yea, some reviews can be learned from, and others are complete trash. The most important thing is not to avoid feeling the pain that they cause you—you’re a writer, not a robot—but to see clearly what reviews are. Yes, they matter a great deal. But, if you are improving your craft, telling more interesting stories, and tapping into some different audiences, then you have nothing to fear from the critics. You succeed because of your failures. Keep that in mind. If you don’t, you’re not growing.
3. Market yourself
There are a ton of places to market your eBooks nowadays. A lot of them are garbage. Here are the ones that still seem to hold their weight: Bookbub, Pixel of Ink, EReader News Today, and Kindle Books and Tips. The problem with a lot of these higher tier book marketing services is the difficulty in accessing them. It’s downright impossible when you’re just starting out. I wrote about how I couldn’t get into Bookbub, and I thought I never would be able to. Then, when I finally got in, I wrote about how awesome they are. And since then, I’ve used them again. But in between, I had to keep writing. I couldn’t just stall out and wait on one book to start taking off, and for its reviews to climb. If you get stuck on promoting one book, and waiting for its acclaim to equal the acceptance of Bookbub, you’ll never keep your momentum going. You have to love the whole process, and that means that when you’re done writing one book, you don’t dally. It’s off to start the next one. Right away. No seriously, stop reading this and go open your word processor. But in all honesty, some other things you can do are: have a social media presence (Facebook, Twitter), get involved in a writing community (KB Cafe), do giveaways through BookLikes, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. Create a damned mailing list using Mailchimp, or a WordPress plugin. Put links to your other books and mailing list in your eBooks. For god’s sake have a website. Post to it once in a while. Sometimes I don’t post anything in a month. Sometimes I post two or three times in a month. Write about writing. And anything else you want to. E-mail your mailing list when you have new releases. I’ll say this to the chagrin of many other authors—comment on reviews. Thank them, even the ones who leave you bad reviews. Try to say something you learned from their review, even though it’s impossible sometimes. And don’t be afraid to address reviewers who misinform your audience. Politely correct them. Create kickass covers and blurbs. Learn how to show them off on social media. Connect and collaborate with other authors in whatever ways you see your talents being useful. Don’t stop writing.
4. Mix it Up
Again, many will tell you not to do this. I did it though, and I wrote about it earlier here. Try writing in different genres. Try writing in different voices. Try writing in different styles. Try writing with different formatting. Try writing a serial novel. Try writing a short. Don’t get stuck on one thing. For me, this is half just so I don’t become bored. Part of why I write is so I can enter totally different universes. If I was always stuck in one universe, like my Darkin universe, for example, I’d go nuts. Do I love that universe? Yes. But not enough to only write in it. And switching gears makes things fresh. It can also spur sales. It might just even give you some crossover readers. It has for me. I’ve had people follow my books, one to the next, and like them all, despite that they’re all totally different (style, formatting, genre, the whole nine). So it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re screwing your momentum. I’ve dabbled thus far in realistic fiction, science-fiction, dystopian, horror, fantasy, mystery…on and on and on. But I want more. And so I switch up the tense—I just finished my novel The Rain and wrote it in first-person present tense and as a girl. Both of those were pretty big challenges for me. I learned and grew from taking them. I advise you to do the same. If you’re always writing in third person omniscient, mix it up. Try second person. No seriously, that’d be interesting. Make it a choose-your-own-adventure.
Keep your milestones in mind. Start with whatever seems realistic, or maybe just out of reach. For me, 100 sales seemed impossible. I did it though. And I kept on plugging along. There are absolute ups and downs. I can’t pretend like just because I hit a 2,000 sale month that every month will be that good from now on. No way. I have to be open to the ups and downs, to the journey. But that doesn’t mean I can’t set a milestone. And your milestone doesn’t have to do anything with sales. It can be to finish your first book. I’ll say this after just finishing my fifth book—it gets a lot easier. I can’t speak for someone who puts the metaphorical pen down (keyboard), because I’ve never done that. Maybe it is just as hard if you stop writing and then come back to it. But if you finish that first book, or novella, or short story, then keep on going. There’s momentum in what you’re doing. Make your milestone. Carve it on your face. Just above your lips. Look at it when you get out of the shower. But no, really, don’t do that.
6. Sell on All the Major Channels
When one of my first indie author inspirations let me do a blog post on her website I almost peed my pants. Lindsay Buroker let me do a guest post (at my own request—she was by no means seeking me out). And what did I write about? The greatness of KDP Select. Exclusivity with Amazon. Why? Because at the time, I felt like it worked. And maybe it still does work in a big way for some. In fact, I’m sure it does. But even as I posted to her blog about it, she was opining belief in the opposite stratagem—she believed writers should sell wherever they can. And now, having grown a little in my understanding of some things, I believe in what she says. I currently sell on Google Play, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and iTunes. And I have audiobooks on Audible. All channels. The only one I think worth considering that I’m not on is Sony’s Bookstore, but I haven’t done the research on that one yet. And all I know is I’ve had some decent sales months on non-Amazon venues. On Barnes and Noble and iTunes this past month, I had well over 400 sales. I’d say that’s worth the extra exposure and the drop in exclusivity. And if you do leave KDP Select, don’t forget to use permafree. Do a Google search: How do I make my book permafree? Also, make print editions of your books. Trust me, it seems like a pain in the butt (and it is, but we love it), but it helps. Use Createspace and have them linked to your Amazon books.
Read constantly. Multiple things at once if you can handle it. Instead of watching TV before bed, listen to an audiobook through your iPhone as it lies on your pillow. Reading is one of the main ways to improve writing. Go find a book. Now…
For me, it’s a key to productivity. If I don’t feel good about my body, it follows to my mind. And my mind is where I brew up my stories. Whatever you do, take care of yourself in some way. I run every day, and love the freeing feeling I get from it. In the past, it’s been weight-lifting and sports. Make it consistent. Make a commitment to your body. No matter what you do, make it consistent.
That about wraps up my feelings on what’s most important in order to reach this milestone. I know I’m leaving things out. But there’s always the next milestone post to remember what they were…