Indypub: The Power of Patience


Writers in the NY publishing business have to plan for massively, surprisingly good things to happen.  Books really do sell, and the advance is big, and everything’s shiny for a while.  Things go downhill…and they need another big hit to keep going.  Lurching from advance to advance, writers with the NY publishers make a living.

As a writer in the independent publishing business, we have to plan for nothing much to happen on a daily basis.  However, secretly, we hope that things will be like the NY publishing business, and BAM! explode without any warning.  We want to plan on that.

At least, I do.

But what it comes down to is that an indy writer or publisher has to build their success one day at a time, one story at a time, one submission at a time, one book review at a time, one follower at a time, one comment at a time.

There are days when I go, “I don’t have enough tact for this.”

Here’s a pattern I’m starting to see:

At first, you’ll be surrounded by friends and family who want to see you succeed.  They may tell you they’re buying your books; they may not.  But your numbers will be higher than you had anticipated because of it.

Then things will go downhill so badly you have trouble giving books away for free.

Slowly, ever so slowly, things start to pick up.

–This isn’t just me, by the way.  Over and over, either people say nothing, or they report this pattern when they first start.

Is this bad?


Some people are born marketers.  Most writers aren’t.  While we would all like to shoot out the gate with all cylinders firing, like a Lamborghini at a horse race, we don’t have the know-how to do it as we’re starting out.  And some marketing things take time to set up, like “selling the first book in a series for free” when you haven’t written any of the books yet.  Or, “using my social media following to market my books” when you have 40 followers on Facebook and Twitter combined.

It takes time; it takes learning.  It takes 10,000 hours to get really good at marketing, and most of us don’t have that time already invested.  –That’s not to say we shouldn’t be trying to get better, just that we’re not pros.

It takes time to learn how to give away review copies.  It takes time to learn how to court book bloggers.  It takes time to keep pumping work into the pipeline, so you don’t fall too far off the front page on a website.  It takes time to invest in other people, and time to learn when those people aren’t investing in you back.  It takes time to say thank you, even when it makes you uncomfortable.

It takes time to research new marketing techniques, to set up and maintain a blog, to learn formatting, to tweak covers, to recover from Smashwords rejecting your NCX tables yet again, to realize you’ve made the same damned mistake in everything you’ve posted and you’ll have to submit again, which is going to wipe you out on the Premium catalog for yet another month.

You cannot post one novel and expect it to take off, no matter how good it is or how pretty the cover is.  You can hope, but you cannot expect.

Right now, here’s where I am with marketing:

  • Publisher website with a broken Google Analytics counter, at which I attempt to give away free stories on a weekly basis, with more or less success.
  • No letterhead, no business cards.
  • An application to register my DBA with the state of Colorado in the works.
  • An application for a sales tax licence on my desk.
  • An account on Goodreads with 168 friends.
  • A handful of published stories.
  • An account on Twitter with 2700 followers, most of whom I follow back.
  • An account on Facebook with 370 followers.
  • Reading slush for Apex Magazine and blogging there (but according to Analytics, I don’t get followers from there).
  • Emails and DMs out to likely book bloggers whenever I can find them.
  • Membership in Pikes Peak Writers, including talking at last year’s conference.
  • This blog (which I spent a LOT more time telling people about how to compete with me than I do convincing them to buy books, either mine or anyone else’s.  Why am I not doing book blogging?  Why?).  I get 50 hits on a really good day.
  • Three pen names and counting, which means starting over for each one of them, in some respects.

Some good, some bad, some “why the hell don’t you have that done already?!?”

I’ll get more into messing with price and giving things away later on, as I have specific paths for “give stuff away” to lead to “buy this in particular.”  But, as yet, I have no idea how to do it successfully.  Learning curve ahead.

I don’t want to sound down:  I’m finally at 2 copies (plus), average, for everything I have up as of the beginning of the month, and the month isn’t over yet.  I’m shooting for 5 per on non-novels, when I have about 30-35 things up…or approximately 7-8 months from now.

It is slow, my friends, and I’m losing more money on it than I make, and I’m learning that I have to spend more time looking for WFH jobs than I anticipated, or I’ll never make it, which makes it even slower.

I still say we’re right to get into this, and right to get into this now.  But it is not going to pay the bills on month 2 of the grand experiment, so don’t plan on it.



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  1. What puzzles me is why do you use so many pen names. I think it’s an old way of thinking you can’t use the same name when writing for different genres.

    • De

      Mostly: I don’t want kids inadvertantly reading my adult books. The Kitty name is there just to be cute, because she’s a character within a novel. I’ll probably use another one on a cozy, because cozy readers aren’t sf/f/h readers, most of the time.

  2. Good advice here. I run marathons, and I look at publishing as the same kind of endurance contest. Sometimes you just can’t keep going (writing/Marketing/paying bills) but you just have to push through that evil wall to get the rewards. I think you’ve written a good post for all those who think they’ll do a Hocking and will be crushed when they’re not rich by Christmas. Most of us have to be in it for the long haul.

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