Monday, December 19, 2011

Guest Post: Finding Success as an Independent Ebook Author

I met Lindsay Buroker (otherwise known as @goblinwriter) on Twitter and immediately took a liking to her hairy knees... Wait. *ahem* That came out wrong...

Lindsay's publishing story is one I admire and I asked her a while back if she'd be willing to give us some insight into her journey. Wonderful goblin - I mean, lady - that she is, she's offered something that just might change my mind on the whole self-publishing equation.

What about you?

Finding Success as an Independent Ebook Author

A couple of years ago, I was the sort to tilt my nose up and issue a haughty sniff at the idea of reading self-published fiction. Well, it might have been more of a snort of derision (I’m not ladylike enough for a good haughty sniff), but you get the idea. I certainly wasn’t thinking I’d end up publishing the stuff.


1) I got a Kindle.

2) I found out how easy it is to get one’s work into the Kindle Store (and the Nook, Ipad, Sony, etc, stores as well).

3) I found out you make a lot more on each sale if you publish your ebooks yourself (70% versus 25% of that 70% or about 17% total, not including an agent’s cut).

4) I found out how tedious and slow the traditional publishing process is. I’m not the most patient person, so the idea of playing Query-Go-Round did not appeal, nor did I want to wait months to find an agent (if I found an agent), more months to find a publisher (if I found a publisher), and more months before my first book was actually on a shelf somewhere (if the delivery truck didn’t get hijacked by bandits on the way… Okay, that probably wouldn’t happen, but the other ifs are valid).

For me, all those numbers added up in a way that said self-publishing made sense.

In November of 2010, I started my official “fantasy author” blog, and in December I published my first novel, a fantasy adventure called The Emperor’s Edge. (If you’re interested, you can try samples of any of my fantasy novels on my site.) I went on to publish three other novels in 2011 (one was already written, but I’ve penned two more in my Emperor’s Edge series as well), as well as some shorter works.

So, what’s happened since December, you ask? What is this “success” mentioned in the title? Well, I’m not selling a bazillion copies of my books like Amanda Hocking or John Locke, but I’m doing well. It took time to get things off the ground and to build up my blog and social media presence (tip for up-and-coming authors: start building your platform before you’re ready to release your first book), but I haven’t earned less than $1,500 a month since June, and most months have been in the $2,500 to $3,000 range. November was higher since I released a new book in my series. December is looking to be higher still, thanks to my first book appearing for free in Amazon (lots of people are getting into the series that way and trying the others).

The money is nice (hey, what author doesn’t dream of quitting the day job to write full time?), but what’s been even cooler (and, yes, I mean this) is seeing how many people are enjoying my books. Sure, there have been bad reviews, but there have been many more good reviews, and I’m touched with all of the enthused emails I’ve received. Someone made an RPG game setup based on my world, and someone else sent me my first piece of fan art the other day. In short, all the things I always assumed only happened to well-established authors who went the traditional route are happening for me. And, yes, I’m quite tickled with it all!

Does this mean I believe self-publishing is the wave of the future and that the traditional model is on its way out? Not necessarily, but I’m seeing a lot of evidence that it can be an alternate route to a traditional deal for those who decide they want that. Once you build up a fan base and prove you can sell, it’s easier to attract an agent and a publisher (and everyone I know of who’s gone this route has gotten a significantly better deal than typical debut authors are offered).

That said, it’s certainly not easy to “make it” as a self-published author.

I don’t personally think it’s more work than going the traditional route (I mean, everyone has to market and promote these days, right?), but it’s a different kind of work, and not all authors find the idea of investing in and controlling their own destinies appealing (hire my own editor…wha?). I’ve met lots of writers who would rather hand a manuscript off to an agent and say, “Here, this is your baby now.” I’m not sure that it actually works that way for anyone any more, but that’s the perception amongst many new authors.

What I have learned is that if you choose to self-publish, and you do it well, you can get to the point where you’re writing for a living more quickly than with the traditional route (both because you can publish more quickly and because you make more per book sale). Self-publishing isn’t necessarily for everybody, but it’s become a viable alternative to the traditional (and, let’s face it, slow) publishing system.

If you’re interested in hearing more of my blathering (scintillating stuff, I know), you can find me at Savvy Self-Publishing and on the afore mentioned author blog. If you’re a fantasy fan, or just want to take a peep at my work, you can try one of my free fantasy short stories at Smashwords (all e-reader formats, including PDFS, are available there). Thanks for reading!

Your Turn: Do you have any questions for Lindsay, or have you decided to go the self-publish route? If so, can you tell us why?


  1. I love those success stories. Guess you see a 'but' coming and here it goes: I think in many cases it's what gives false hope. Those success stories creates expectations and if those expectations are not met, less success authors will stomp their foot saying, 'But so and so did well, so must I!.'

    Only a small percentage of self-published authors will be able to give up their day job, for the majority it's a fight to sell their books. It's down to genre, market and the most important: how well is the book written/edited?

  2. I agree completely, Stella. But I think you've nailed it: It's being able to objectively measure your books chance of success in this market. The audience, the product, the marketing - everything.

    That's always been what held me back because I know I'm not an objective observer of my work. Hence no indie publishing for me. Yet...

  3. I love these stories. Self-publishing is hard work, but it sounds like you're making it work for you.

    Congratulations, and the best of luck for the future.

  4. Thanks for posting this, Aimee!

    @Stella There are success stories out there for authors who went the traditional route--tales of bidding wars for manuscripts and high six-figure advances--but I don't think that means everyone querying agents expects that to happen.

    You are right in that few people get to quit their day jobs, but I'd argue that persistence, talent, and the ability to put out novels quickly have more to do with making it than market conditions or what genre you write in (I certainly don't write in a popular one. I'm probably not that talented either, but I've got those other two things :P).

    @Aimee Do you ever read Michael Stackpole's blog? I wouldn't dream of trying to twist your arm (unless it was with my hairy knees, hmm), but he's written some interesting posts on the changes in the traditional biz. I found his November interview on Adventures in SF Publishing Podcast quite illuminating:

    @Christine Thank you!

  5. Lindsay, I do think that genre is a big factor in selling books. If you write for YA, Crime Thriller, chick lit, even Sci-Fi does well on the e-book market, you'll be fine. Writing pulp fiction always helps. It has always sold well and probably will always sell well.

    In a good year I manage two books, but they're not in the popular genres.

    As for trad. publishing: plenty of authors suffer the same; editors are only humans, they just can't predict the future.

  6. Aimee: yes. It's exaclty that: know your market, know your chandes, be willing or able to accept you might fail.

    I have self-published two books: humorous short stories (sold about 3500 since March) and paranormal romantic comedy (sold about 150 since June). I'm bringing out a sequel to the novel next month. I'm willing to accept it's not as popular than I thought. People who read it, loved it, but the paranormal not being vampires, werewolves or shape shifters and the comedy in it: not a chance. I'm sure it would be a perfect romantic comedy on screen, but the book just won't sell. So even if I wrote five more books of it in a year.

  7. Great post! I like the angle that self-publishing can open the door to traditional publishing; I read earlier that someone else thought it would be the other way around. I think it just goes to show that, like you point out, one is not better--the writer has to make the choice about what is going to work better for them.

  8. Thanks for introducing us to Lindsay, Aimee. I intend to faithfully follow her self publishing blog from now on.

    Lindsay, your learnings make sense and sound like others I've heard around the blogosphere. I'm leaning towards publishing my first book (when it's ready) but haven't completely decided yet. Thanks for sharing your thoughts - they're very useful for people like me who are yet to make the decision about which way to go! :-)

  9. Err, that should have said 'leaning toward SELF publishing'. :-)

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