Been thinking about the various stages that an indie author goes through, and figured I’d try listing the ones that I’m seeing here. Also, the various business and marketing / promotional things that one might want to focus upon, when you’re within each of these stages.
A lot of new writers are here. Mostly, they’re in the midst of writing a book (or books). Some might be looking for agents, others might be prepping for their first books. This is probably the most intense period for learning, since whichever path you’re taking, there’s a lot to learn. For indie writers, there’s understanding formatting, figuring out editing (and the various stages and types of editing), understanding covers and cover designs within your genre and; yes, rather importantly, finding reliable suppliers. On top of all that, you still have to figure out your marketing plan and the kind of promotional opportunities (mostly unpaid) that you might want to devote time and energy towards.
For the most part, you’d be looking at social media promotions and developing your newsletter. As always my minimum web presence footprint holds (a social media account, a website and a mailing list); though at this point it’s always good to decide the kind of ‘brand’ (that is, the parts of you that you’re comfortable presenting to the public) you’re wielding. While it’s possible to change in the future, such change is often best done gradually.
Further to this, marking and highlighting the various kinds of places you want to / can promote your work in is necessary. You’ll want to set-up your budget and figure out where you want to spend it, how you want to launch and, of course, whatever career goals you might have and when you’d want to evaluate your progress.
Published / Launched!
You’ve launched! Which is pretty damn cool and you should take a moment to congratulate yourself. The vast majority of people never get this far. You have a book out and you’re running around, putting that marketing plan into place. You should have your book up in the various locations, you have minimum targets for sales and income to develop an audiobook or print, you’re posting your work in various free social media groups and maybe trading newsletter mentions or blurbs and sending out your e-mail to your various readers.
All great stuff!
But at this point, you’re probably wondering what’s next. And that’s fair.
The what next is you write the next book. Whether in that series (preferable normally) or in a new series.
In terms of promotional spend, you should be in the very low amounts (less than a $100). Maybe test out a little AMS (auto ads and a $1 a day budget), some group promotions. Giveaways to get more people onto your newsletter. With one book, you have nothing for someone who buys your book to go afterwards, so don’t spend much money.
Your job here, more than anything else, is writing the next book.
You’re now in the early stages of your publishing / indie author career. You’ve written and published at least 3, maybe even 4 or more books in a series. Now you’re ready to step up and push ahead with more focused promotions. With 3 books at the minimum, you can start making use of paid advertising tactics that were not viable before.
For example, you could be spending more on Amazon Marketing Services. advertisements. Increase that $1 budget to $5 a day. Hopefully by this time you’ve refined your understanding of the system a little, but you might also be playing around with things like category ads instead of just sponsored ads. You might be targeting your competitor names and brands, or using more generic keywords.
Facebook ads are becoming viable, though around 5 books in a series is generally better. Still, if you’re in a hot market with a lot of readers (romance / paranormal romance /ya), you might find Facebook ads quite viable even at 3. You can now start testing these.
Paid newsletter promos like ENT, Bookbarbarian, Bookbub are much more interesting. With a decent readthrough, you’ll be able to get your money back without an issue and get your book out to new readers. Permafree becomes an option (preferably with more than 3 books though, or in an on-going series).
You’re also now looking at more interesting statistics. What’s your readthrough rate? How many people are coming through from book 1 to 2? Two to three? etc. This will tell you how well you’re doing at keeping readers coming and what, if any, you might need to fix in your writing OR how you’re managing to pull people through the series (and reminding them!).
Audiobooks might start making sense if you’re making enough money (if you haven’t already started it above). Print and hardcover PoD. Maybe if you finish the series, you might start thinking going wide…
You’re early still, you still need to build your backlist but you can start working on promotions now.
You’re done. You finished – or are nearly finished! – your old series. You’re launching a new series. Maybe you decide to launch the new series while the old one is on-going to decrease the ‘slump’ in income, so that you have two good ‘on-going’ series. Maybe you don’t and keep writing only one because you’re a slow writer.
Either way, you’ve got a new series coming out. You’re going to have to start the process again, of getting people excited, of hinting and offering new chapters and other options to get people into the new series. Your various promotional tools come in play here, from newsletters to social media, to push people onto this new series.
Remember, each new series only sees a fraction of people from the old series coming over. So you’re going to have to get everything – cover to blurb – right. But this time, it’s easier, because you have that experience, you know what to look for. You might still be learning, but it’s nowhere near as hard as it was before.
You’re also on the verge of moving onto the next stage.
Did you put your old series to bed? Is it finished now? Have you finished more than one series? At this point in an indie author’s career, having multiple series means they have a hefty backlist. And having multiple series – and hopefully the income that comes from that – means you have a lot more options.
Are you looking at translations? Audiobooks? Maybe even Kickstarters for deluxe editions of your old work? Are you perhaps considering moving wide with your works and putting them up on other platforms? How about testing out subscription options or working with something like an app? Comics? A TV/movie deal?
Not all of it will be viable, but you’ve got money and some fame. But there’s also something else – how are you driving readers from one series to the next? Do you have a way? Do you have automations in your e-mail newsletter, constant mentions of your backlist? Are you looking for opportunities to bundle your work together with other authors?
Can you give away more books or sell them to others or somehow pull these books into new audiences? Have you changed your covers so that you can target a new audience, as one audience gets tired of your old work?
How are you balancing your time taking care of old series to new? Sometimes, old series just never sell. Should you try to fix it (because the covers are wrong?) or is it because there’s just no market? Or no easily accessible market?
You can spend a lot of time dealing with old series, at this stage. Balancing it all is important, but the effects of advertising and promoting even a bestselling series, if you have the systems in place to drive readers to other pieces of work, can be significant.
Don’t forget it.
The six figure walk
Now we’re coming up to the point where only a small percentage of earning authors hit. Maybe 5%, maybe even less. If you hit six figures a year, you’re probably in a very, very small minority (whether it’s revenue or net income). Even smaller percentage if it’s your net income / take home pay.
At this point, you should know the difference between the two things, why it’s important and you might / should be meeting and talking to other authors who are doing the same. Obviously, not always necessary and there are some rather infamous authors who never network and do really well, but for the majority, networking and learning from your peers is going to be important.
You might be showing up to conventions like NinC and 20books and Inkercon. You might be hobnobbing with the speakers or the people who speak with the speakers. Chances are, if you start going, soon enough you’ll meet many of the big names. You might even start getting things like personal contacts for people in ACX and Kobo and Amazon and the like.
Now, the game is maintaining this level of income. You’re going to be doing much of the same thing as before but more. Translations might no longer be something you’re just thinking about but is part of your regular publishing plan. You will be tweaking your automations, your advertising, your social media game. Other product types (comics, games, merchandise) are things you will play around with on the regular.
You might be managing multiple old series and be considering how to expand your income further. Maybe you look at co-authoring. You’re also possibly teetering on burnout.
You’ve made it. Now you’re just going to have to keep floating.
Seven figures a year (US$ to be clear). You’re in a very small minority. It’s growing, but the number is still tiny and probably around three figures a year. Maybe not even that many. In most cases, you’re well known in your genre or sub-genre, a ‘name’ that everyone can recognise. No doubt about it, you’re a major player and might even be asked to be a Guest of Honor at various events.
Movie deals, agent contracts, six figure deals with publishing houses? All likely already happening. You probably have one or two series that anyone in your genre knows and they’re likely mentioned immediately. You might be inking deals for translations rather than doing them yourself, or both.
Realistically, you’re a tiny publishing house. If you don’t have employees or contractors helping you, you should. And at this point, there’s not much more for me to say. 🙂 You know what you’re doing, it’s just a matter of doing more of it and doing it better.
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