Everybody’s making them.
New Year’s resolutions, declarations of gratitude, and affirmations inspired by the year ahead, and while I’ve never been one for making them, this year, heading into 2023…
It makes me want to do the same.
Maybe it’s because it’s been a long three years riding out the pandemic, and it feels exciting to finally, and generously, look forward.
Maybe because it feels like we’ve been given a new start.
Whatever it is, it’s motivated me to take a look back at 2022 and try to assess what I’ve accomplished, and more specifically, and for the purpose of this post, attempt to judge what I’ve achieved as a writer and debut author.
Obviously, at the very top of my list is how in June, and after twelve years of drafting and revising, I self-published my first novel, Sweet Baby Mine, a stand-alone work of literary fiction, and a gripping, psychological thriller that incorporates threads of mental illness, feminism, and the journey of self-discovery.
Getting it to this point was tough, though. Not only was it a labor of love, but it was a monumental feat of determination to which I learned a great deal along the way.
This post is my effort to share those lessons with other Indies or those writers who may be considering the Indie route. So, without further ado and in no particular order, I’ve listed them below:
Editors and Designers
First and foremost, I’d like give my take on the question of where best to spend your money prior to publication. Here’s my suggestion: developmental edits, and cover design. As far as I’m concerned, the developmental editor is your best friend. She’s the editor who is going to read your manuscript and give you the tough suggestions that will pull it into shape and ready it for publication—any form of publication. Your developmental editor is the one who—if she’s good—will rip it to shreds, lovingly, and tell you just how much potential it has should you follow her suggestions. Remember, she reads hundreds of manuscripts a year, she may even be writing one of her own, and she’s seen it all. She knows what attracts a reader as well as where that individual will stop reading and put your book down. She is your ally. I employed four developmental editors over the course of the twelve years I wrote Sweet Baby Mine. Each one was like taking a master’s course in creative writing. I learned more about the craft of writing than I ever imagined. I’ll never regret it.
Secondly, don’t skimp on cover design. The book cover is your readers’ first introduction to you and your story. Make it stand out. Don’t be afraid to go all out. Stun your reader. Make it legendary, state-of-the-art. Imagine what it would look like in a sea of book covers because that’s how potential readers will view it. Signing up for a book promotion? Your cover will be stuffed onto a page with many others, so how can you ensure readers will be drawn to it and it doesn’t get lost in the crowd?
Plus, don’t be afraid to work with your designer. Share our artistic ideas. Midway through Sweet Baby Mine, my main character, Ana Storm, discovers a yellow warbler caught inside a parking garage. Ana eventually frees the bird, and this scene provides the reader with the book’s greatest metaphor. Animal spiritualists believe when a warbler presents itself to us, it’s telling us we need to raise our voice, and this particular scene arrives at a moment in Ana’s life when she must realize her voice and change her ways. Before I even met my cover designer, I knew I wanted some form of the yellow warbler to be on the cover, and so our collaboration began with this simple idea. Really, sky’s the limit when it comes to designing your book’s cover, so go for it.
Pricing Is Everything
Once my e-book was live, and I’ll address only my e-book which I published through Amazon (I published the paperback through IngramSpark), I spent weeks toying with the price. I’d done my share of networking prior to publication, and I’d heard from many others about the best prices that would capture a reader’s attention. Honestly, there’s a whole science behind this, and it’s fascinating. However, what I hadn’t considered was what those price points would mean for me, specifically. It’s one thing for an Indie author with a string of books, or a series, or several series, or an Indie who already has a reader base, to find that sweet spot between the price that won’t deter a reader, but that’ll allow that author to make a bit of money. As a first-time, and a relatively unknown author, I learned very quickly I didn’t have that advantage.
Most fiction readers don’t care what you did in your previous life (your bio and past career doesn’t mean all that much to them). All they care about is whether the story you’re telling them right now is a good one. Therefore, the lower the price, the more attractive the book, and I discovered $.99 for my e-book was my sweet spot. I’ve had many writer friends try to convince me that my story is worth more than $.99, that I’m worth more than $.99. Here’s what I say about this. I want to get my book in as many readers’ hands as I can because this leads to even more sales—and more reader reviews. This is also what initiates that word-of-mouth marketing we’re all hoping to receive, but if readers aren’t willing to buy my book at $4.99, or $2.99, or even $1.99, then that’s never going to happen for me. Neither will I get my message out into the world. Which leads to my next lesson.
Free Is Your Friend
I’ve given away thousands of e-books of my novel Sweet Baby Mine (yes, you read that right. Thousands. I utilize all five free days Amazon provides every three months in their KDP Select program for authors). Again, writer friends have also frowned on this strategy, believing it’s beneath an author to give so many books away, that writers demean themselves by making their work available for free. Again, here are my thoughts on this.
When I was in high school, my friends and I attended a lot of rock concerts. At the time (Ok, I’m dating myself here), the U.S. was much less polarized than it is now, and Southern Rock bands were very popular. During a particular performance by the Marshall Tucker Band, every teenager who had a ticket and entered the arena to see the show that night was given a free album recorded by the pop singer Phoebe Snow. She was hardly southern rock, and she was still a relative unknown, but we all went home with her music. The point being that after that night, we all knew who she was. The music industry took a huge financial risk by handing out her album for free and hoping a certain percentage of the kids in the audience (and every audience where they gave away her album that year) would enjoy her music and want to buy more of it in the future.
Ergo, this is the strategy I’ve decided to apply to my career as an author. Oh, and if you’re questioning my decision, saying to yourself, “but she’s not making a profit,” here’s my husband the economist’s viewpoint on this: 30% of nothing, is nothing. If a reader won’t buy my e-book at $9.99, I’m not going to make a profit. Period.
One last thought on this idea. Written Word Media recently ran an article on the business of being an Indie in 2023 and updated it in 2024. I've included the updated version. Check it out:
Market. Market. Market.
Readers can’t read your novel if they can’t find it. Don’t set it and forget it. Don’t publish it and think you’ve crossed the finish line. Advertising your book is not that difficult, and the options are endless. Stack up those promos, sign up for reader reviews, or register for a virtual book tour. I worked with Kelly Lacey and Love Books Tours and found her to be amazing! You can also learn how to run Amazon ads, Facebook Ads, and BookBub ads, although BookBub ads can be expensive, and if you’re at all hesitant to step into the advertising pool, I wouldn’t start there. Once you learn the ins and outs, however, you can eventually bid high and budget low and keep the cost down while still getting your book seen by potential readers.
Don’t want to spend the cash? Approach reviewers and bloggers yourself. There are plenty of websites with listings. Here are the three I’ve used:
When you find book bloggers in your genre, shoot them a polite email and ask if they’d be willing to read your novel. Other freebies include promoting your author bio. Many sites provide this service for free such as Awesomebookpromotion.com, Pretty-hot.com, and Bookreadermagazine.com. You can also create a newsletter, write your own blog, or guest blog on someone else’s blog. While marketing online has been my chosen method since the pandemic, there are plenty of book promotion methods that can be done in person as well such as readings, signings, and author talks.
Take Risks with Your Writing
Don’t fear the negative reviews. We all get them. Don’t worry that you’ve written a story that others won’t like because the flip side is someone else is out there waiting to fall in love with it. So, experiment, take chances, put your protagonist through the wringer. The farther you push your MC from her goal, the more riveting the story becomes, and the more your reader will enjoy the ride and leave you those coveted five-star reviews because your story spoke to them. Or DM you just to say how much they loved your book. Or want you to know it’s given them a new way of looking at life, or love, or loss. And that feels amazing.
While self-publishing is not for everyone, the ever-changing world of traditional publishing has become more and more challenging for every author to navigate, whether you’re publishing your work Trad or Indie. It can only help to have a better understanding of the authorial tools available to you should you decide to go the Indie route.
It’s not easy, but neither path is, and with a little ingenuity and a determined mind-set, it’s more than possible to produce a book that readers will buy—and read.