Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Business of Being Indie

Today, my friend bestselling indie author Lizzy Ford is here to talk about the business side of self publishing, but first of all can I draw your attention to the side of my blog? Kismet got a name change & a cover change!

Every once in awhile, someone asks me for advice on how to be a successful indie author. By successful, they usually mean profitable, if not profitable enough to write full time. My top tips for how to convert a hobby into a job are below. Warning: they are not for the meek at heart!

1. Make a plan.

This is the most crucial part of the business side, and the most overlooked. A lot of authors who consult with me want to know how to make money. Now. When I ask them what their strategic plan is for the business side of self-publishing, I receive silence in response. The truth of the matter is this: you are an artist and a businessperson. Those who are successful acknowledge this truth and spend time creating goals and a plan.

How do you do this? It starts with sitting down and asking yourself a few questions:

Where do you want to be in one year? Five years? Ten years?
How many books do you want to have self-published?
How large do you feel your fan base needs to be in order to sell enough books to make a stable income?
What books/series do you want to grow over the long term?
What else do you want to have accomplished (eg, awards, contests, other benchmarks)?

Define your goals and expectations. Next, figure out how you’ll reach them by creating a task list and smaller objectives that you want to meet.

For example:

Your first goal: In five years, you want to have a series of five books completed.
Your first objective: Release the first book within 6-12 months with a fan base waiting for it.
Your immediate-term task list:

Set a daily writing goal that will support your objective. (Either word count or designated length of time.)
Be honest about the expenses: determine as far in advance as possible how much your cover, editing, formatting, and marketing will cost. Plan how to minimize expenses and pay for them.
Create a marketing plan to promote the first book. You can include things like this:
o Pre-release: Schedule excerpts, cover reveal, buttons for bloggers, other teasers. Approach bloggers about reading/reviewing ARCs.
o Release: Blog tours, release parties, giveaways, ads. If you’re a new author, considering approaching a more established author in your genre to co-release with.
o Post release (30+ days): plan out quarterly ads and identify additional bloggers to review the book.
Set up your online platform (social media and Good reads accounts, website/blog, etc.) to support the initial creation of a fan base. If you already have this, then read on.
Make a goal of gaining fans/followers, such as 10 a day/week. A few tips:
o Twitter: identify the leading sellers in your genre, and look at who is following/talking to them. Reach out to those fans. Don’t ask them to read your book – just engage them.
o Facebook: A targeted FB ad is invaluable, if set up correctly.
o Website: participate in blog hops to pull readers to your website. Have something for them there: a free short story/flash fiction piece, etc.
Engage your fans for 30 minutes a day and reach out to new fans. Cultivate a community. DON’T SPAM!

2. The two things you need to be successful.

To guarantee long-term economic stability in the form of royalties income, you need the following:

Things for people to buy
People to buy them

Translation: a backlist and a fan base. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? This point costs you nothing but time and effort. How aggressively you work towards them is based on your goals. For those who view self-publishing as a hobby, there’s a lot more flexibility with this one. You have the benefit of time to create both.

For those who view writing as source of stable income, you’re probably looking for a lot more depth here! I’ve listed a few ideas you can take to help catalyze the creation of both.

Most importantly, set your physical writing goal, and meet it. Every. Single. Day.
Write short stories associated to your books, perhaps on secondary characters; prequels; new adventures. Self-publish them between novel releases.
Got a drawer full of stories you couldn’t get published? Pull them out, rewrite/revise, and self-publish them. There’s a market for every kind of book. The days of being forced to write formulaic stories to appease agents/big publishers is over.

Fan base:
Nothing brings in people like something free. Set one of the short stories you wrote to permanent free. Free works best when you have at least two items for readers to buy out.
Include links to your other books/short stories and your social media in the back of EVERYTHING you self-publish. Include an “Also by Author Name” with links to your books in the respective stores.
Keep engaging your readers between releases. We do this by having giveaways on my Facebook fan page. Use social media and Goodreads to your advantage. They are free platforms to engage readers. Create quizzes, scavenger hunts, etc., to keep your readers interested.

3. Maintain perspective.

A lot of people (including me) freak out when sales go down and assume that this means the end of writing as we know it. We start throwing money after ads, like gamblers in Vegas throw more money into machines, just to feel that sensation of being on top again. This is a knee-jerk reaction – don’t do it! If you decide to buy ads or change your marketing strategy, make thoughtful decisions, not desperate ones.

When sales go down, don’t panic. Remember:

Sales are cyclic. There will be spikes and dips. I repeat, SALES WILL GO DOWN, and it’s okay!
By remaining focused on your plan, your dips will get shallower over time.

What do to when sales go down:

Increase reader engagement
Release something new, even if it’s a short story
Stay focused on your two tenets: backlist and fan base
Stay the course with your plan
Adjust your marketing strategy, if needed

4. Build a financial foundation.

By this, I mean a diversified income stream. Book royalties alone will grow as your backlist does, but I personally am terrified of placing all my eggs in one bucket. Having watched the economy tank, I think there are a few different ways to build up different income streams, while you’re also growing your backlist, fan base and royalties income. There are many ways to do this. Some simple ideas:

Affiliate programs: Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords all offer affiliate programs. Tag your books and the books of other authors you’re feature on your website with your affiliate links every time you post, tweet, and otherwise share them
Advertising on your website. Sign up for BlogAds.com as a host or offer up ads manually.
Google Ads. Google posts random ads based on the content of our website. Whenever people click on them, you get a percentage.
If you have a self-publishing related skill (designing covers, copyediting, formatting), build up a side business as a secondary source of income.

I hope these tips help. I’m a huge fan of putting in the grueling hours needed to create a solid foundation. It’s easy to grow your business, once the foundation is there.

About Lizzy

Lizzy Ford is the author of over seventeen novels written for young adult and adult paranormal romance readers, to include the internationally bestselling Rhyn Trilogy, Witchling Trilogy and the War of Gods series. Considered a freak of nature by her peers for the ability to write and release a commercial quality novel in under a month, Lizzy has focused on keeping her readers happy by producing brilliant, gritty romances that remind people why true love is a trial worth enduring.


  1. The cover is lovely, Beth, and since the book is the first of a series I like the title. It gives the reader something to look forward to: the next book.

    Great advice from Lizzy. Thank you. I'm going to save your information because my sales sure could use a lift. :)

  2. Great advice, Lizzy. Thanks for sharing all of this.

    Beth, the new cover is gorgeous! I love it!

  3. I love the hands on advice and nice new cover. :)

  4. Thank you for hosting me, Beth! :-) Awesome new cover, by the way! :-D

  5. Beth thanks for this guest post - a lot of food for thought. Hope you are having a good week.

  6. This is great business advice, thanks!

    Also (as you know), I think the cover is gorgeous and very fitting. :)

  7. Lizzy's plan and marketing tips are terrific! There were a lot of things I didn't know. I guess I'd like to have 5-6 books done in 5 years, but I won't rush anything -- that would be too stressful and would compromise the quality of the writing.

  8. These are such great tips! The idea of writing shorter stories related to your main stories, including your same characters, is such a great idea.