Today it’s a small anniversary for me as an author. A year ago, I published “Neglected Merge”, book one in the Neglected Merge trilogy. I don’t feel like celebrating since I see it as the beginning of my journey, not a significant milestone. Only after a year, do I feel like I have gained some understanding of what I have to do to move forward as an independently published author.
I don’t have any recipes to share, so in no way the things I mention here would apply to every indie author who has gathered courage and determination to put their work into the world. My words are limited to my personal experience and knowledge I got from communicating with other indie authors, mainly on Twitter.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that I’ve published my books exclusively on Amazon, while there are other platforms for authors. At first, I did it because I knew nothing about the self-publishing scene, but later, honestly, I didn’t see any added value to publishing widely. My experience tells me that it’s more important to establish marketing and promotion practices that will stimulate book sales, and simply putting your books everywhere will ensure solely availability, not sales.
So, here are some things that came as a surprise for me when I came to Amazon holding my manuscript in figuratively trembling hands with zero knowledge of what I was getting myself into.
1. No one is waiting for your book to grab and read it
And by this, I mean a lot of things. First of all, no one will “see” your release unless you don’t specifically announce that it’s coming to those who might be interested in reading it – or simply to support you. Your book will disappear in the wilderness among millions of other books and it will feel like it got sucked into the bottomless pit.
What surprised me the most was that I couldn’t find my book among any of the categories “new releases”. I scrolled and scrolled, but it simply wasn’t there. So deep is that pit. And then I saw that all those countless pages were listing “to be released” books.
So, don’t expect that even for a short while after release your book will be visible to Amazon visitors. It won’t. Unless you don’t set up a team who’d buy your book the moment it’s published and put the algorithms in motion. I have no idea, though, how many sales would place you somewhere where your book can get some visibility.
2. Even if you make some sales/ get free downloads, it doesn’t guarantee reviews
It was a bit of a shock in the beginning, but I overcame it quickly since there were only two options really: to give up or to accept the things as they are. I’ve chosen the second one and moved on with what I could get.
In the first year, almost five thousand copies of “Neglected Merge” have been downloaded for free. The result – it has 41 reviews/ratings on Amazon. And curiously, only a handful of them came from those free downloads.
Does it mean that it’s useless to offer your books for free? Some writers in the Writing Community on Twitter say that it is, and I see the logic in that opinion. But for me, again, it’s more like being limited in your options. In addition to all the obvious obstacles that indie authors face on their road to showing the readers their work, due to my location – far far away from my potential readers – I can’t use any book promotion options that require physical presence. So, I don’t plan to stop using a chance to give the readers a chance to download my book for free, even when I know that I won’t get any burst in reviews when I do so. Besides, having more than one book published proved to be a decent boost for sales of my other two books. During the last promotion when I offered book one for free, but two others with a discount, I got some sales.
3. Book promotion and marketing
This is really THE thing that 99% of indie authors mention as the most difficult part of being independently published. The most discouraging thing about it personally for me is that when I look back at the time and effort, I dedicate to promoting my books and compare it to the actual results – book sales, reviews – it feels that it’s simply not worth it. No matter how much time you spend spreading the word about your books, you can still find yourself at the starting point. Maybe it won’t be zero, but it most probably won’t be something to pay your bills with. Well, maybe, one tiny mobile phone bill. Once in a while.
4. It is NOT free.
Although the Amazon self-publishing website greets you with the line that it’s free to self-publish ebooks and paperbacks, it’s not exactly how it is in real life.
Well, Amazon isn’t lying. In truth, they offer all the tools to publish your book without paying a cent. You can use their software to format both ebooks and paperbacks, having downloaded that software for free. Amazon also offers a tool to make a cover for your book, either using their images or your own. It will also guide you through the process of images’ sizes, dimensions, etc. so your cover looks presentable in digital and paper formats. And here comes a big – no, huge! – BUT. And that “but” is about – have you scrolled the books on Amazon? Have you seen the covers of books there? One is more eye-catching than the next. Hot chicks demonstrating gorgeous bodies, brooding males with perfect sixpacks instead of a regular human being’s midriff. All surrounded by flames of fire, holding swords like it’s a continuation of their hands, or entwined in a passionate embrace. Who would look twice at your book with a pre-made cover designed using basic images?
5. There are millions of books on Amazon
And more get published every day. Indie publishing has opened a flood gate, and the flow of books published by authors all around the world will not stop. This means that without finding the ways that work for you in terms of marketing and promotion, you won’t get virtually anywhere.
Well, I guess all of it doesn’t sound encouraging or uplifting. It’s good that it’s only my experience and moreover, it hasn’t discouraged me from pursuing my dream. My dream to write my stories and share them with the world, irrespective of whether the world wants to read them or not, hasn’t been destroyed by the harsh reality.
The bottom line of making the decision to be an indie author is if it is truly important for you. If it surpasses in its significance other things in your life, so you are ready to dedicate a huge amount of your time, money, and effort to publish your books and trying to make them be seen by readers. As I see it, if ROI (return on investment) is vital to you, it’s wiser to make a serious business plan as writing gurus advise. Research the market, make calculations, etc.
But if you write the stories you can’t hold in your head and heart any longer, forget about the financial aspect of self-publishing.
P.S. And if you do stop thinking about money, it’s more likely that you’ll start earning it at some point.