Today marks my one year Indie-Versary!

Pub Speak: A Writer’s Dictionary of Publishing Terms was first published on March 30, 2011. The next day I uploaded Effie At the Wedding, and over the next few months published my middle grade mystery and a few other shorts, including a sequel to Effie.

In that year, I’ve also been published in a traditional anthology and an indie anthology. I’ve also secured a new agent (huzzah!) and come back to blogging with some renewed enthusiasm.

Being an indie author has changed in just the short time since I’ve started. KDP Select changed the way that people organized and used free days to promote their books, and also begged the questions — Long term, what does exclusivity mean for your sales? Does the short term benefit outweigh any long term plans?

Book bloggers have become inundated with reading material, making it more difficult for some authors to find reviews and forcing some bloggers to close their once-open doors to books from indie authors.

Readers are also becoming inundated with free and low-cost material, worrying some that buying books will become a thing of the past. (I don’t think this is true – I buy books all the time. Though I did just delete some freebies that I’ve now decided I don’t have time to read.)

On the bright side, the stigma of self-publishing continues to change as more traditional authors upload their backlists, and as people who see it as a get-rich-quick scheme slowly peter out.

Most important to me personally, are the things I’ve learned this past year:

1.) Things are going to change. When I started, there were so few free books price matched on Amazon that getting several thousand downloads was a piece of cake. As more authors use KDP Select, it seems that the power of free is just not quite as powerful. For example, Effie at the Wedding has been price matched at Amazon UK (which, I should mention, has always had a lower download rate for me than that of their US counterpart) for several months, and it seems that the number of free downloads (aka “freeloads” on the Kindleboards) continue to decline:

Amazon UK Free Downloads:

December: 839
January: 1795 (First full month)
February: 1480
March: 1050

[I should also mention that I don’t publicize the free UK download of Effie, except perhaps a few tweets the first month.]

I’ve also noticed that sales of the sequel are slowing, perhaps because people no longer have time to read everything they download and/or because I’m not reaching as many of the right people. Recent KDP Select price matches have also resulted in fewer downloads than earlier price match campaigns. Granted, there are a lot of factors that could be at work here, but it seems to me that free isn’t what it used to be, in the same way that 99 cents worked to boost some before I started, but is no longer the draw it once was.

Future thought – While I will continue to offer books on a rotating schedule for free download (and if you haven’t picked up The Engine Driver, I would do so while it’s still free on Amazon US and Barnes and Noble), it seems that just as much effort must be made in order to publicize a free book as to publicize a book which you’re offering for sale. If that’s the case, then I wonder if it doesn’t make more sense to use the (potentially diminishing) power of free less frequently, and focus on a more solid, long-term way to market. It seems that filling Kindles with books that people might want to read no longer seems like a strategy for building a real fan base, and I’d much rather have 1,000 readers that are excited and love my books, versus 1,000,000 readers that will probably never get around to actually reading them.

2.) Just like traditional publishing, you need a little luck. – Like the traditionally published book who is chosen for a high-priced marketing campaign behind closed doors, the indie author prays for that email from Amazon that says they’re part of the Kindle Daily Deal. (Or maybe the Nook Daily Find, though I find it a bit troubling that in the last paragraph, I used “Kindles” as synonymous with “ereaders” in the way that “Kleenex” has become nearly synonymous with any tissue.)

So far, I haven’t stumbled upon the way to catch the Kindle merchandising team’s attention, other than having a book that is “ready” for the big leagues (great cover, great story, great reviews, good solid ranking, priced around or above $3.99). I don’t think anybody’s tried haiku though, so here we go:

Hello Jeff Bezos!
KDD + my ebook
= awesomeness.

(Three mathematical symbols in one poem if you count the factorial, four if you count the period as a decimal. Booyah!)

Future thought – Luck isn’t completely the right word, I suppose, because it implies that there’s no work involved in catching the right attention. Though I am tempted to go on a “KDD or Bust Haiku Campaign,” I’m thinking my agent would prefer that I spend my writing time elsewhere(!) What do you think — can someone make themselves ‘luckier?’

3.) I Can’t Plan Too Far Ahead. – I started a campaign for Luminary with the intention of having the book ready within a month. But as I continued to ready it for publication, I realized that the book just needed much more work… so it’s been pushed back, and back… and back. Maybe other authors can start their campaigns earlier, but I realized that I simply can’t start marketing until the final cover is on the book and it’s already uploaded.

Future thought – Simply stated, I can’t get too far ahead of myself. I’m not comfortable putting out work that I don’t think is ready, and so getting too ahead of myself in the marketing is only embarrassing when I have to push the book back.

4.) When It Stops Being Fun, Don’t Do It. – I used to worry that if I stopped marketing, everything I did would come to a screeching, grinding halt and I would have to start pushing this boulder eight times as hard to get it started up again. But you know what? When you’re not having fun doing it, it shows. And it’s not helpful. So I’ve learned to stop doing whichever it is I’m doing – marketing, revising, drafting – if I find that it’s getting negative energy instead of positive. That’s not to say that I just stop working, but that I take a break and focus on a different area. Something that will renew my enthusiasm for all areas of the project. (Sometimes it’s another form of creative expression – sewing, painting… for me, it all comes together in some way.)

Likewise, though I value the Kindleboards as a great source of information and invaluable to the new indie author, I found that there were times I had to step back from them as well. Sometimes, it’s because I’m disappointed with a recent marketing effort, and it’s hard to read pages of everybody else’s success. (Ugly truth… but probably pretty common.) Sometimes, it’s because I’m noticing that I’m spending too much time reading/researching about what worked for others and not working on something of my own. And sometimes, it’s because I’m reading too many posts about other people who are disappointed in a recent marketing campaign or things which we have no control over, and I just need to keep my own positive feelings going. Basically, the same way I feel about certain shows is the same way I feel about forums – when I come away feeling more drained than inspired, it’s time to take a break! (All that said – it is a community full of really knowledgeable indies, and it seems that people that start there have a much steeper learning curve than those that are not seeking advice.)

Future thought – I will continue to lurk/participate on the Kindleboards, but also try to balance the amount of experimentation I do for myself in regards to all aspects of my writing. I think that what I’ve learned marketing will definitely help with any traditional success I may have (::crosses fingers::) as well as with my indie stuff. But keeping it fun is important — it’s work, but it’s work that I do because I enjoy it.

Final thought – In this next year, I shall endeavor to keep the fun in my work, learn as much as I possibly can, and experiment as much as possible.

Do you have any advice for the coming year?

"A surprising gem." -- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Chicken Wants a Nap is available at Amazon, Barnes & NobleTarget and your favorite independent bookstore!

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