A new indie writer’s image of success looks a lot like the thing in the picture above. Let’s add the year before the two showing:
So, starts out kinda empty. That’s reality for most everyone who doesn’t start with some sort of following.
In case it’s helpful, here’s how I got from the left to the right. The left side I titled Stumbling Onstage with No Script in an Empty Theater. The right is Beginning to Figure it Out.
I opened a KDP account and started writing my first novel. I’d been a writer for a long time, but not of prose fiction.
Sometime in July I published a book titled Surrender to Ecstasy. I know this because I sold a book in July. To myself.
I not only no longer have a copy of the cover, I don’t recall what it looked like. Here’s one of the many new ones I created because so many people told me the first one sucked.
In August I sold 6 books and 4 of them weren’t me or my friend. I had 2500ish page reads but didn’t see that because I was busy changing the title and redoing the cover.
I didn’t realize KDP was putting money in my bank account to the tune of $1.17 and not putting in the .09 from Japan or the $2.83 from the U.K. because the bank I picked to handle book business didn’t take foreign deposits.
I didn’t look at the reports page on KDP. I didn’t really know it existed. I was too busy writing book 2 and trying to figure out how to make a cover that didn’t look like shit and trying to separate the total bullshit advice from the makes sense advice.
Four months later I had sold 13 books and had about 5500 page reads. If that seems like a lot, I had one book that was a little over 300 KENP pages which is about 18 books. Some blowhard on Reddit informed me if my book fell below the 100k mark in ranking it was unsalvageable and I should move on. It fell a hell of a lot further than that. I think well below 500k.
DECEMBER 25TH, 2016
I published Desire for Bliss. This also isn’t the actual first cover.
It’s almost impossible not to sell a few books Christmas week and I sold 20 and had 7k page reads. So I did more business in a week than I had done in the previous 4 months. I took Surrender off KDP and republished it as Desire for Touch, book 1/3 of the “Desire for” series.
If there was momentum to take advantage of, I didn’t know how. I was exhausted trying to learn six different professions and still write a book, which was my actual job. I also wanted to explore more aspects of sexuality than were part of Ben and Avia’s relationship.
One of the characters in Bliss I wanted to write about was the homicide detective, Hunter Dane. I also wanted to follow what happened to Talia and do a new adult story using one of the lawyers. Vaguely, the themes were femdom, foot fetish, first time anxiety and PTSD.
Bliss is an exponentially better book than Touch. That’s because we get better. At least we do if we write seriously and not as a hobby or a social club exercise. You want to get better. You know you suck. You also know you have something to offer.
I still hadn’t found the KDP page with the sales and page reads. I didn’t look at the bank statements or balance.
But now I had two books and had discovered free book promotion. Figured out you were supposed to use those hashtags on Twitter. And something happened: I stopped having months where I didn’t sell anything.
I really liked, and still do, both these short stories. Anyway, I discovered Instafreebie (Now Prolific Works, iirc) and got a Facebook account (no idea what to do with it, but I friended or accepted friendship from everydamnbody). I started a mailing list with four names and put links to it at the end of the titles and was surprised when I got up to 50. Fifty!
Most people don’t join your newsletter so that meant like, maybe a couple hundred people read my books. Still not looking at KDP, still clueless about the bank. I wasn’t going to use any of the few dollars that might be in there, and I was still buried under being a graphic designer, a social media expert and writer.
You remember I was writing, right? So then this happened:
I had this picture and I loved the light/dark. The guy. I loved him. This is the first cover where I didn’t really struggle with anything but the font. I always knew what it would be: him. Hunter Dane.
I’ve spoken before about the writing, how the characters took over, how I could only finish it by telling myself I never had to publish it.
I launched it and did the few things I knew how to do and forgot about it. Except I’d joined GoodReads and some self-styled BDSM “expert” attacked the book and a lot of his followers …. followed.
So, him being completely FOS didn’t really help me feel better, esp because you aren’t supposed to correct their ignorant asses. But then someone posted this review on Amazon. And it didn’t matter what anyone else ever said. For me, Knees was a success. Because of this:
Its rare to read a m/m BDSM story and find so many truths. I read the book and heard the voices of my peers and my community. For those living in the kink culture, this sweet story of power, control and surrender echo’s our stories. Outstanding writing, I hope the author will continue to explore this genre as she has a gift.
I put it behind me and started a novella about Ben Hart’s early relationship with J.J. Johnson. I did put Knees in an Instafreebie giveaway.
I published Writing for Ben, which became Thank You for Your Submission, which I thought was kind of droll. Apparently now, so it went back to Writing for Ben. Yes, it’s BDSM and explicit. But it’s not smut. Thing is, it’s also not romance because nobody’s getting married at the end. So, I think it’s quite a good book and no one reads it.
So, where was I with the money?
Amazon got my attention, finally, about these royalties they couldn’t deposit and I finally looked at the bank account.
There was like, a couple hundred dollars in there. People were reading my books! Sweet!
I started Matchstick Men. Not because I thought Knees was some great success, but because Hunt and Cam were my Sherlock and John and I’d always wanted to write police procedurals. I felt like maybe I should finish the “Desire for” series, but no one seemed to really care.
SO HERE’S WHAT HAPPENED …
An absolutely lovely mm/bdsm author read Knees and liked it and recced it to some book bloggers (I always wondered how you got a book blogger to cover you) and one of the bloggers read it and liked it and put me in all these groups on Facebook (I had no idea there were these kinds of groups on FB) and suddenly I was publishing Matchstick Men and getting reviewed and my newsletter list was in the hundreds.
This, BTW, is the original Matchstick cover. Matchstick Men came out almost exactly twelve months after Desire for Touch. I’d spent a year writing. I’d also learned a crapton about graphics and programs and how to cheat ’cause I’ll never be able to Photoshop.
I learned more about marketing and social media-ing (not so good at that).
$500 A MONTH. And I had hardly any expenses. You ain’t gonna get rich that way, but you could make payments on a new car.
It scared the living crap out of me.
But then I had an epiphany. I had a series. I was writing Psychic Men, which would be book 5. People liked them. I mean, I liked them, so why did that surprise me?
What I had to do was find my audience. If I had all this support just from Twitter and FB and some amazing book Bloggers, aren’t there more people who’d like Hunter Dane and Camden Snow? So I set out to discover where I could take the money I’d made and invest it in advertising that wouldn’t sell my books to someone, but would tell them what they were.
I had 186,000 page reads and sold over 600 ebooks in June. Sylvia Day I’m not. But I am, in my own mind, a successful indie ebook author. Because I’m getting what will be for me a very substantial paycheck? Not exactly.
I produced a set of titles I’m proud of and people like. AT THE SAME TIME.
So I’m beginning to figure it out. I succeeded. Anything more is bonus time.
I wanted to tell you that. You who are new. Maybe it’ll help.
ADDENDUM: So I re-posted this today. Hunt&Cam4Ever will be 78 books when I get done writing this one. I started a new series with them that has no sex, just the investigations, Hunter Dane Investigations.
I did finish the Desire for… series. And I will shortly unpublish them and rewrite massively, maybe rebrand and publish again. Because the way we really learn to write is to write, and WOW ARE THEY BAD. They get better from title to title but … they have to be a lot better. I might go wide with them, I’ve never done that.
There are a lot of paths to success. A lot of definitions of that. Mine is mine. But one thing is true: you gotta write a good book. Or why bother at all?