Polish-born British author James Calbraith condenses his experience of his first year as an indie author into five top tips that worked for him.
A year ago, I published my first novel, The Shadow of Black Wings. Since then, I have published a few more books; I have now sold 8000 copies of all my books put together. That’s sold – not given away – and not for peanuts, either; my average royalty on these was about $2 per book, pre-tax.
Now, in terms of commercial results, this isn’t an indie success story people like to read about: I’m not the next Hugh Howey, or J A Konrath; I am, however, quite satisfied with what I had achieved so far. This is, after all, my first year of publishing, and the genre I write is not a bestseller genre. If you are a starting self-published writer, you are probably constantly looking for advice on how to sell more books. I don’t know whether, in a world where some authors sell millions, a meagre 8,000 sales can interest anyone, but if it does, then sure, I can tell you how I did it.
What Worked for Me
In the beginning, I tried many things; I bought books, I read blogs, I studied business cases. Social media. Paid ads. Free ads. Blog posts. Blog tours. Guest posts. Short stories. Wattpad. Figment. Goodreads. Shelfari. You name it – I was there. Almost none of it mattered, in the end. In hindsight, if I look back at what I’m certain I did right over the last year, it can be summed in the following 5 points:
- Write a series of good books
- Prepare professional publishing package (formatting, cover, editing)
- Push the first book out with free and paid promos. Make sure you get what you paid for
- Keep writing and releasing books, pushing each release forward with a set of promotions
If I felt like creating some kind of rule out of it, I could do that; I could probably write a book about it, and try to hawk my method as the “Only True Way” to sell books. But that wouldn't feel right. Because what I did worked only for me. And I have no way of knowing for certain whether it would work for anyone else, or indeed whether it will continue to work for me; my books may stop selling at any moment, and I will remain just as clueless as I was a year ago.
What Will Work For You?
Things work differently for different people. For some, using Facebook or Twitter will be a path to success. For a chosen few, it will be a place like Wattpad or Figment where they may find their audience. Many authors swear by Goodreads.
Personally, neither of these did anything for me, and I count my time spent there as very much wasted. I guess I just don’t have the right kind of personality. But that doesn't mean I would go around dismissing any of these channels of publicity.
And conversely, my way of doing things may not suit others. Perhaps not everyone feels comfortable with releasing a book every few months, or with scouring the internet for the best places to buy advertising from.
As with every new, emerging business, the tales of true success are still few and far between. The statistical sample is far too little to make any assumptions. Nobody knows for certain what works, and what doesn't. I offer you my opinion of what worked for my sales – but I could be wrong; it may have been something completely different that I did at some point, and now don’t even remember. Or – very likely – it may have been pure chance; I may try to use hindsight to figure out what went right or wrong, but the truth is, I just don’t know.
Do What YOU Do Best
So while it may sound depressing and underwhelming for somebody who’s looking for a quick way to win in life’s lottery, there is a positive lesson to learn here: do whatever you feel like doing. Stick to what you do best; if something just doesn't seem to be working out for you, don’t push it. It may never work out, and you’ll only be wasting time.
But, if your book is out, and you’re prepared to spend some time and effort to present it to the world in a professional manner – I’m pretty confident it will start selling. And when it does, I’m sure deep down you’ll be as clueless as to how it happened as we all are.