skip to Main Content
Indie Author Pivots: Is It Time To Start Over?

Indie Author Pivots: Is it Time to Start Over?

In every indie author's life comes the time when you need to change what you've been doing, or how you do it. Today, the Alliance of Independent Authors AskALLi team is talking about starting over with covers, distribution outlets,  brand names, and other indie author pivots.

One of the best things about being an indie author is that you can always start again. You can fix up old books that are less than your best but equally significantly, you can make a drastic change–a creative pivot–and start again from scratch.

Book markets are in constant flux. New authors coming into our genre and nice all the time, doing new things. New trends emerge or old ones are given a new twist. Billionaire romance, vampire fiction, space opera are three examples in recent years. With every trend, every new cycle, we have an opportunity to try something new or start again.

Authors do smaller break outs and build new audiences all the time:

  • Finding a new content marketing niche that clicks and builds audiences
  • Using a new social media platform (looking at you, BookTok)
  • Experimenting with a new advertising method
  • Spotting an underserved niche and adapting accordingly

The list goes on. And then there are most drastic pivots, which we explore below. The point, though, is that you can always start over, but you'll do best when you absorb the lessons you've learned to date, and turn them into a cogent plan.

Sacha Black, Author and ALLi Blog Manager

Indie Author Pivots: Sacha Black on Starting A New Brand Name

While I have an established nonfiction brand under the Sacha Black name, I wanted to develop a new fiction brand that would be sustainable in terms of income and that I would find fun to write.

I came to writing as escapism from the day job and somewhere along the line, I'd lost a bit of that sparkle by turning it into a job. Novelists make up stuff and tell lies that look like truth for a living. What's more fun than that?

So when it came to making this pivot, my goal was threefold: find a genre that was fun to write;  write books readers wouldn't be able to put down; make enough money to show that this could be the start of a sustainable fiction brand for me.

Looking back to when I launched my first series, I could see I'd made many mistakes. I barely had a mailing list, didn't have a reader magnet for some time, and when I did create one, it wasn't enticing enough. I didn't plan the series direction in enough detail.
I had long breaks between books after inserting cliff hangers, and wrote myself into plot holes that took years to get out of. So when I say I made a lot of mistakes, truly, I made them all.
This time, I was determined to do things in the most strategic way possible.

Preparing to Pivot

I knew I wanted to find a market that had both commercial and creative potential, so I started with the market. I chose sapphic fantasy romance and I did all of the following marketing tasks before I wrote a word of the books.

  • I bought and read one of Alex Newton's K-Lytics reports, specifically on the fantasy romance market
  • I read many, many books, both those that were fantasy romance and also others that were sapphic.
  • I knew I wanted to begin with KU for this series, as I publish everything else wide so I spent a considerable amount of time researching Amazon. I mean weeks closely examining what was trending on the store, not just an afternoon here or there.
  • I picked out common tropes I found, as well as book lengths, styles of writing, pace, the amount of snark and other patterns in the writing
  • I studied common brand colours and book cover patterns
  • I read the reviews of lots of comparable (comp) titles to see what readers liked and didn't like overall in the genre
  • I collected a large quantity of comp books and authors—categorising them under various headings by various factors

Building Indie Author Business Infrastructure

I didn't want to have to manage a lot of back end things, so I decided on a minimum viable website and mailing list for my new author brand, Ruby Roe. I set up a new website, using the same themes and plugins I was used to: rubyroe.co.uk 
I set up my mailing list before launch and wrote not one, but two reader magnets.
I'd watched the kinds of things other romance authors do and followed a similar pattern. I wrote a prequel reader magnet showing the ‘meet cute' of the main characters and started using this to list build cold readers. And then wrote a bonus steamy epilogue for those readers who got to the end of the first book.
I created a short autoresponder sequence, enabling readers to get to know me and the books. For more on mailing lists, you can read ALLi's three-part guide:

I followed this advice closely.

Platforms + Marketing

I'd already decided I didn't want to have to manage multiple social media platforms and create content for them all. So I went with TikTok. One, because I don't mind being on camera, and two because it's the most LGBTQ+ friendly of all the platforms.

I posted on TikTok daily, using trending sounds, and tried to link the content to my book, though I also tried to have content that wasn't book related too. After three weeks of posting at least once a day, commenting on other TikToker's posts and replying to comments on my own posts, I hit 1000 followers and was able to get a link in my profile.

What I saw was a huge surge in physical paper and hardback preorders. So much so, that by the time launch day arrived, 58% of preorder and launch day sales were paperbacks.

This is a very different trend than what I've typically seen before. While I can sell up to 30% of orders as paperbacks for my nonfiction, I'm told even that is high when looking at the patterns across most indie authors.

I paid for a book tour on Instagram that lasted a week. There were issues with the UK postal system, which made getting physical copies to book reviewers very tricky. So I sent digital ones, this did lower the quality of the social photos though.

I used tropes in the marketing both in post images and also in videos and blurbs. This made it considerably easier to point at a trope and say “this is what the book is about”. Reader's get tropes. They're quick, hooky and catnip. Don't be afraid to use them to help explain and market your books.

Other Marketing Aspects

I spent a considerable amount of time pitching for reviewers. This was an uphill slog as a new author with no credentials to show. It was one of the most time-consuming aspects, but I did end up with some. The book tour helped a little too. ALLi has a guide on how to get your first 50 reviews, which you can find in our bookstore or access for free if you're a member.

I ran a pre-order incentive for anyone who pre-ordered the book, regardless of format. All they had to do was send pre-order proof to a dedicated email address. This had an autoresponder set up so the goodies were sent automatically, reducing my workload.

The pre-order incentive included:

  • a sneak peek at chapters 1-3
  • the ability to sign up for the prequel
  • entry into a giveaway to receive a signed
  • personalised hardback, stickers, bookmarks,
  • a Chance coin featured in the book itself
  • access to the playlist I listened to while writing
  • a Pinterest mood board for the book.

I saw an immediate increase in pre-orders every time I promoted this incentive, which I did through graphics on Instagram, in my mailing list and through a couple of videos on TikTok.

It goes without saying, but I made sure the book cover was as to-market as possible. I also hunted for genre-specific Facebook groups and review platforms.


If you'd like more detail about what I did, I highly recommend the podcast episode/blog post I wrote. But in terms of spend, I spent £814 getting the book to publication. This includes the cover, edits, book tour and any marketing spend up until I started running AMS ads.

By the end of launch day, I'd already made it into the black. Between Amazon and the physical preorders on Ingram Spark, I made more than £814 I'd spent. The book launched on February 10th and as of the 19th, it's still holding its rank in the US between 5290 and 8500. And a similar ranking in the UK. While ranks are not always indicative of income, it is indicative of the fact it is still earning. Not enough to pay off a mortgage anytime soon. But certainly enough to show considerable potential for the rest of the series. If I have five books or a dozen at this level (or higher), it would be a lovely sustainable income from fiction.

So I guess I'd better get on with finishing book 2!

Find out more about Sacha's nonfiction on SachaBlack.co.uk and more about her experience of adopting a new pen name and series on her author podcast. Her new fiction brandname  is at RubyRoe.co.uk

Rachel McLean, Author

Indie Author Pivots: Rachel McLean on Thinking about Readers

In January 2020, I'd been publishing for just over two years and had eight books out but was only getting a few sales a day, despite working hard on my marketing, covers, etc. I was working as a freelance technical writer and it was making me miserable. So I decided it was the time to make my writing career viable. I had to identify a way to write books readers wanted to read, as well as continuing to enjoy it myself. I looked at what other successful British indies were doing and what the kindle chart was looking like in the UK and decided to pivot from writing genre-mashup thrillers to police procedurals.

Q. What did you do? What tactics or marketing methods did you use to help make the pivot successful?

I'd already put a lot of work into learning marketing and believed I knew what I was doing. So I used the skills I'd already learned: making sure my covers were on-genre, writing compelling blurbs and using ads to build an audience and train Amazon to recommend my books to new readers. I spent a lot of time honing the blurb for the first book in my new series and getting the cover right, then started with Facebook ads, moving to Bookbub and Amazon ads over time to get my also-boughts pinned down. The book started making a profit while it was still on preorder. By December 2020, I had three books out in the series and was able to go full time.

Q. What was your biggest takeaway from this pivot?

Write books readers want to read. Yes, it's important to write what you love (I love writing my books) but if you're going to sell books, you need to think about readers too.

Q. What advice would you give to other authors wanting to make a similar pivot?

If you want to make a living from your writing (and not all authors do), you need to think about readers and what they respond to. That includes understanding what it is about your genre readers love, and what elements of a book will keep them coming back for more. It's also crucial to understand your market – who your comps are, what readers are talking about and what's going up or down. I constantly keep track of the crime charts so I can adjust my marketing and keep selling books. I'd also strongly advise using your newsletter and social media to build a relationship with your audience. I have thousands of dedicated fans who buy every book on pre-order now but it took work to get there – and is really rewarding. I send out an email every week and get lots of engagement.

Find more from Rachel on her Facebook, Rachel McLean Writes, Twitter @rachelmcwrites or website rachelmcwrites.com

Tom Fowler

Indie Author Pivots: Tom Fowler on Going Wide

I went from KU (exclusive) to wide in the summer of 2020. Basically, I'd been getting more disenchanted with the exclusivity requirement, especially as it pertains to libraries. Once the pages-read revenue started to slip, I realized the cons of KU outweighed the pros for me, and I took my entire catalog (nine mystery novels and a few box sets at the time) wide.

Q. What did you do? What tactics or marketing methods did you use to help make the pivot successful?

On any platform, obscurity is the enemy. If you move from KU to wide, you're basically a brand-new author on Apple, B&N, Kobo, and Google Play. The best way to overcome this is with a big blast of visibility.
While I was still in KU, I got a BookBub featured deal for one of my mysteries. I emailed them and asked if I could send the wide links once I had them. They were happy to include them. I also scheduled promos with a few other sites which support all the stores (BookDoggy, Freebooksy, Ereader News Today, Book Adrenaline, and Book Rebel). This gave my catalog a big initial push on the other storefronts.
Depending on your genre, a BookBub deal can be VERY expensive. If it's not in your budget, try stacking the other promos. I also setup newsletter swaps with other wide authors, which is always a good free promo tactic.

Q. What was your biggest takeaway from this pivot?

That it takes time to build a wide audience. Even with the initial surge, readers needed time to read that first free book, like it enough to decide to get others in the series, and then make those purchases. It wasn't an overnight process. But it did happen, and I've never made less wide than I did while in KU.

Q. What advice would you give to other authors wanting to make a similar pivot?

Plan it out. I really didn't. I was frustrated with a few aspects of KU, had a BookBub in hand, and decided to make the change.
I also did this in the early months of a global pandemic. There were a hundred ways it could've blown up in my face. While it didn't, learn from me and take the time to make a plan.
Anyone who wants to make this switch should take the time to line up promos, swaps, and other ways of getting the word out there about their books on the non-Amazon storefronts. Also, make sure you tell anyone who's salty about your books leaving KU how they're available for free in libraries. It's a great market and one sadly forbidden under KU's exclusivity clause.

Find out more about Tom mystery and thriller novels on his website, Facebook, and Instagram

Author Lynn Nanos

Indie Author Pivots: Lynn Nanos on Changing Covers

I published my book, Breakdown: A Clinician's Experience in a Broken System of Emergency Psychiatry, in October 2018. Earlier that year, I hired an illustrator to illustrate the cover of my book. I wanted something original, with a disheveled homeless man and a police car. 
A few weeks in, the work that the illustrator produced wasn't satisfactory. My instincts were telling me that something was not right. So, I submitted her work to worldwide artists on Upwork, which is an online freelancing company that matches freelancers to clients. I began looking for a new illustrator through Upwork, and hoped that a freelancer would fix her work. Within in just a few hours, artists informed me that not only is the first illustrator's work “bad,” but that it was stolen. They submitted the website address, which proved this. I was shocked.
I fired the illustrator when I realized that she wasn't creating something new, as I had asked for. I had to start over with a new illustrator. 
My biggest take-away from the pivot was to trust my gut. If something feels off, it probably is. Although I lost a little money that I had already paid her, I certainly didn't pay her the full amount. 
My advice to other authors is to make sure that your illustrator present high-quality samples of work and references. I made the mistake of signing the contract in a rush because the price was low and I was on a tight budget. But I didn't check her references. 
My new cover art worked out well. I've gotten lots of compliments on it.
Find out more about Lynn's nonfiction on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Latest advice, news, ratings, tools and trends.

Back To Top
×Close search