Lessons Learned From Bestselling Indie Authors On Writing And Book Marketing

I’m currently in the rewrites for my fourth novel, Desecration, which is a departure from my ARKANE series and more of a crime thriller with dark themes.

fountain penI think I’m starting to find my voice as an author as well as becoming more honest with myself and less self-censoring in what I write.

But some things don’t change – like the self-doubt that gnaws away at confidence and the fear of being judged.

What helps me is hearing from writers who are a few steps ahead on the journey, and recently, I read Behind The Story: Interviews From 20 Self-Published Authors Who Made It Big, edited by Denise Kim Wy.

There are a lot of ‘How To’ books out there on self-publishing and marketing but I liked this book as it is more of a companion book of interviews with some of the top selling indie authors on writing and marketing. Here are some quotes I found interesting and that resonated with me.

On writing and editing

“I wish I’d started writing earlier in life. I put it off because I was scared of it. I should have 30 books written by now, not a dozen. I measure my years and my progress by the works I complete and deliver to readers. I’m working on what should be my fourth novel of 2012. That feels like success to me.”

Hugh Howey, bestselling author of the Wool series which has sold 500,000+ copies. Sold print only rights in Jan 2013.

Doubt is something all writers deal with at one time or another. Actually, I’m pretty sure all writers deal with it on a continual basis. Will my readers like this new book? Will they want to read this new series? Will they think I’ve lost my mind? Is this going to kill my career? (Writers, as you can probably guess, are highly neurotic.)

Elisabeth Naughton, USA TODAY Bestselling Author of sexy romantic adventures and paranormal novels

Regarding my first novel,I wish I’d invested more in editing it before releasing it. I had no idea it would resonate with readers as it did, and I think there’s more I could have done to improve it.

Darcie Chan is the author of The Mill River Recluse, a self-published debut novel that has become a word-of-mouth e-book sensation. With over 650,000 copies sold, The Mill River Recluse appeared on the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists for more than 28 weeks

On book marketing and promotion

My best marketing strategy is giving my readers what they want: more good books. So writing the next book is my primary marketing strategy.

CJ Lyons, NY Times and USA Today bestselling author of Thrillers With Heart

If it doesn’t have an awesome, eye-catching, starkly colored cover, you’re screwed because no one will see it and no one will know you exist.

Heather Killough-Walden, New York Times and USA Today Bestselling author of the Big Bad Wolf series, The Kings series, and The October Trilogy.

When I started selling really well, I didn’t set up an emailing list, for readers to sign up to get announcements when I had new books coming out. That was something important I didn’t do, and lost potential readers learning about future books.

Victorine E. Lieske, NY Times bestselling author of ‘Not What She Seems’

* If you haven’t set up a mailing list yet, read this article for how to do it.

behind the storyYou can find Behind the Story Interviews From 20 Self-Published Authors Who Made it BIG on Amazon here

What do you think of the advice above and what specific advice has helped you the most on your journey as a writer – on writing or book marketing? Please share in the comments below.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Vidalia_11


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  1. says

    JF, when I was telling people that I started writing novels, I was told that the best writers in the world were accomplished writers when they were children and many were already published and many had a source of income from writing when they were at high school levels. Hearing it did not discourage me. And it was more than ten years ago. I am still typing along to get paid.

    I had conquered my excuses.
    1). Typing. With a home computer I can take my time and I do not worry about ribbons and wasted paper. I am trying to save up for a tablet or a palm with wifi (Internet) and android to write my novels so thumb typing might be my future when away from a desktop home computer keyboard.
    2). Grammar or self-editing. It was many years, but reading and re-reading is second nature to me today. I can just write it. I prefer to be adept at editing than the constant choice of getting professional help, so it means persistently learning and re-learning rules and looking it up.
    3). I decided to please me first. I can finish the novel. When I try to write it to please readers, I tend not to be so motivated in finishing it.
    4). I look at my writing career as my Social Security. I put in the time today so I can have a source of income during my retirement age of 62 to 70 and beyond. I have ten years to collect from my Social Security so waiting on selling a novel for income (starting today) is not so bad.

    It was very motivational. TY! What would be an example of a “dark theme”?

    • says

      the “best writers in the world were accomplished writers when they were children”
      That is definitely a load of crap :) One of those myths that stops most people expressing themselves and stifles real voices. I think we can only get deeper into our writing as we begin to know ourselves … so well done for writing more and I agree on the social security angle. My husband calls me “Plan A” these days – financially more secure to have assets for the long-term than putting money into the bank :)

      Dark themes in my mind are things that are on the edge of horror, taking thriller and crime a little bit further. So I am tackling body modification, use of corpses in art, body snatching, teratology (genetic mutations) and of course, murder …

      • says

        “when I was telling people that I started writing novels, I was told that the best writers in the world were accomplished writers when they were children and many were already published and many had a source of income from writing when they were at high school levels”

        Where do people come up with this garbage, and why do they say it to someone who’s just shared with them the precious news that they are writing???? Did they feel this would be the best way to encourage a friend?????

        Go for it, Daniel. And hear, hear, Joanna. Myths, myths and more myths. There is no “typical” publishing journey. I hereby reserve the right to be a late bloomer as a novelist. 😉

        • says

          When my father, a General Surgeon and a Family Physician now living in retirement, examined me back in fifth-grade so I could try out for a basketball team; he reacted with: you will never be a surgeon. You still have your nervous twitches in your hands, since a baby. He agreed to allow me to play basketball. And he later told me that I should be more concerned with striving for a career using my mind instead of my body because I was going to grow short and I had every childhood sickness known-to-man on 1960, which could reoccur during my adult ages, so my chances of a successful career was limited. I managed to survive even though I was expected to die before I turned 25. Writing gives me a chance in my fifties and beyond to have a source of income in my elderly years, since my sicknesses prevented me from ever earning my college degree and having the long-term career.

      • says

        TY on the “dark themes”, at this time, I am writing the simple murder and who did it. But I do watch the serial killers on movies and I was a regular viewer of Profiler the TV Show, which dealt with more than a normal murder. The F.B.I. angle got me to watch it, a special task force to investigate violent crimes.

        I just submitted a super hero romance novelette for publication with multiple-executions and decapitations so it might be in the category along with Urban Fantasy.

        I live it all my life. The intentional discouragement from family and friends, and they were told back then that you will never get Danny to stop writing because he is writing for children. And when they were told that they meant writing novels, the response was even more so with writing novels. He probably wanted to write those since he was a child. And they were right. I was encouraged to submit short stories to magazines since I was in second-grade by home room teachers at a private school so I can see how someone at a young age could have a head start on the rest who finally decided to pursue a life-long dream at middle-age.

        I always looked at writing the novels for my old age to have something to do.

    • says

      I believe authors write when they are moved by a passion to write. Although I have been “writing” all my life,none of it led to a novel until recently. I wrote for my own entertainment, pleasure, sharing educational experiences, etc. My novel came about when I least expected it. I was passionate about my research into Abraham Clark, and ancestor and signer of the Declaration of Independence. I was just going to write a few notes, which then was going to be a short story, but ended up being a 400+ page novel. I am already working on my second novel. Authors are not identified necessarily in their youth….only in the “youth” of their passion to tell a story!

  2. says

    Hi Joanna,
    I’m surprised you have feelings of self-doubt and the fear of being judged. You are awesome and you created a great resource for indie writers. Good luck with finishing the work on Desecration

    • says

      Thanks Grigory, you’re very sweet! I think all writers suffer from these doubts and fears, it’s completely normal! The more I write here though, the more I am able to push my boundaries in terms of what I can share and how I cope with reactions.

  3. says

    The best advice I’ve gotten was straight from you Joanna and is echoed in CJ Lyons’ quote, “My best marketing strategy is giving my readers what they want: more good books. So writing the next book is my primary marketing strategy.” It’s far too easy to get caught up chasing followers and likes and forget my first love, writing!

  4. says

    The best advice I’ve received as a writer came from my husband who said to write because I simply love to write and have a story begging to get out. This point of view gets me past alot of angst!

  5. says

    I love reading back stories about the things people experience on their journey to achieving their dreams. For as long as I can remember I wrote for other people – employers, community organizations, nonprofits, you name it. It honestly never occurred to me to put anything out into the world with my own name on it! I believe it was the 4th or 5th writer’s conference here in Maui, and having volunteered for each one I’d made friends with many of the author/speakers and publishers. During a break one day I happened to comment to one of the authors those fateful words, “One day I would like to be a writer.” She looked at me like I’d just sprouted a second head and then laughed. She told me I was already a writer, the world was just waiting for me to figure out what I had to say. Wow!

  6. says

    I love this advice. I’m writing part two in my Jaylen and Jessica series and I keep wondering if my readers will like what I want to put out there. I want to add more and more scenes just so I can have the book the way I would want to read it. Perfect.

    Thanks, Joanna.

  7. says

    Great post. Some good advice in it as well as the comments. What Hugh Howey said is how I’ve been feeling lately. What I’ve learned in my first yr of writing is that I never knew what a roller-coaster ride of crazy emotions it would turn out to be. A writer must always remember why they write and if you forget, take a step back and find that reason again. Best advice I’ve heard is writing the next book. It’s the getting to that point that is the journey-good or bad. Self-doubt on my left shoulder, but just got to do it. Thanks for posting the link about a mailing list.

  8. says

    The first thing I wanted to be as a child was a writer. (Then I wanted play centerfield for the Cincinnati Reds.) As a teenager, I turned my attention to filmmaking and decided that was the best path for me, but in college I took a creative writing class. I wrote long rambling short stories and really like the professor a great deal, but he said I shouldn’t be a writer and I stupidly listened.

    Between life and that advice, I didn’t write another piece of fiction for nearly 20 years, but there was that thing in the background that told me I was a writer. I dabbled, jumping in and out of writing for about 10 years and then it hit me; I wanted to be a writer and life was passing me by. Three years ago, I wrote my first novel. It wasn’t that good, but I learned a great deal. In late 2011, I decided I wasn’t getting any younger.

    I setup a quota and writing schedule and decided to get published. Over the next year and a half, I got 11 short stories published on a variety of website and even got paid for one. I don’t always make my schedule or my quota, but I’m not far off.

    As I wrote the stories, I also started on a novel and now have that sequel to that one in the works. (The first book is with an editor now.)

    So, I live by this question:

    Do I want to be a ________________ or do I want to be a writer?
    (you can fill in the blank with whatever you want, good or bad — TV watcher, race walker, couch potato, etc.)

    There are many times I sit down to distract myself with anything but writing, but the question gets asked and I’m back to writing.

    Don’t listen to the naysayer, write.


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