OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
We have all heard the stories of the mega-successful indie authors who earn hundreds of thousands per month and who get most of the mainstream press on self-publishing. But there are also a lot of indies quietly making a very good living at this game and today I am really excited to introduce you to one of them.
Lindsay Buroker is the author of The Emperor's Edge fantasy series as well as the Flashgold series and a number of stand alone books in the fantasy and steam-punk genres. Lindsay is also a full-time indie author as well as a prolific blogger. You can watch this interview on YouTube if you prefer video.
- Lindsay wrote for a number of years before she decided to get serious about it. She dreaded the agent process and indeed many agents had on their sites: don't send that fantasy novel/ George RR Martin book-a-like. Then Lindsay found Joe Konrath's blog and bought her first Kindle. She decided to self-publish and started in Dec 2010.
On writing and marketing
- After a number of books published in the Emperor's Edge series, Lindsay was contacted by an editor from Amazon's 47North publishing arm. They loved the books but also noticed Lindsay's platform. Her books were in the Top 100 in epic fantasy so they were selling consistently. She decided against going with Amazon because the books would have been exclusive to Amazon in ebook. That was a deal-killer as she wanted to ensure readers on all platforms could get the books. She is open to a traditional publishing deal but she is really happy with how it's going.
- Lindsay is writing full-time and making a decent living from her novels and there is a risk in moving to traditional publishing and losing some of that income. [I know that feeling as I have signed with an agent, so am holding back my third ARKANE novel to see if I get a publishing deal – although it could be out there earning money for me right now. I'm still conflicted about this!]
- On the change in fantasy and how it has become more mainstream. George RR Martin made the Forbes richest author list this year, as well as JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer (urban fantasy).
- Becoming a full-time author has been a slow and steady process for Lindsay. She was a full-time blogger and affiliate marketer before so she knows the importance of the mailing list and growing that over time. If you don't have your own mailing list, you MUST start one! Here's how. When Lindsay has a new book out, she sends an email out and that will send you up the charts if all your fans buy at once. This is a must-have secret weapon that many serious authors use. Lindsay also connects with people on her blog, twitter etc and builds her community from the back of her books. So make sure you invite people to sign up for your newsletter at the back of your book.
- The first book will always be hard to sell. You have to hustle and hand-sell to the first 1000 people. At that point, the Amazon algorithms start to pick you up. Then if the readers have enjoyed the book and signed up for your list, the numbers will improve. You can build a career if you keep putting out stories that people enjoy and slowly build a fanbase.
Amazon algorithms and pricing
- See the original interview here on algorithms at Lindsay's blog for the full post. Going back 18 months, the 99c price point differentiated indies and it was how John Locke, Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath etc started. But now it seems that Amazon are weighting the algorithm so 99c books are somehow worth less than books over $2.99 and those are in turn less than books at $7.99. You can still do well with a 99c book but you need to sell a lot more books than the original indie authors did. Nothing is certain but it seems the 99c price point might be over. [I certainly changed my prices to $2.99 after the algorithm change.] Indies have had this pricing advantage but now it seems that is over, although low prices are still important for selling in markets outside the US and UK.
- Lindsay now uses free and higher prices, so the first book in the Emperor's Edge book is free and the rest are $4.95. This makes it easier to promote as it's not a push marketing technique. You can do this by loading the book on Smashwords and setting it to free there and Amazon will price match at some point. Fantasy authors with lots in the series can definitely benefit from this pricing mechanism. This still leaves Lindsay making over $3 per book sold on multiple books selling hundreds of copies each, hence a full-time income, but it is still value to the reader. It adds up to $5000 – $10,000 per month. This is not rocket science!
The secret to making a full-time living as an indie author
- This is the secret. Put out great books and build your audience slowly and you can make it. Patience is required though! I mention my interview with Donald Maass a while back and he talked about an author needing 3-5 books before making a good living and the same is true for indies. Lindsay tries to write a book every 6 months but also puts out a shorter work in between to keep the income boosted. I congratulate Lindsay as there is now a fan-fic site for her books, twitter accounts started for her characters and a real community around them. I think this is a huge mark of success for any author!
International ebook sales
- Amazon recently announced their expansion into India for Kindle opening up the KDP back end to Indian authors as well as our books to the Indian market. Smashwords is popular with international readers because of the lower prices. Indie authors have an advantage here as we can move faster into these new markets and keep our prices low, therefore affordable in those markets.
- We talk about the other platforms and how sales compare across them all. Lindsay, like most indies, makes most money from Amazon. Her sales did jump after the first one in the series was free. There are new companies springing up every day now, but we still advocate going as direct as possible. Amazon KDP, Nook, Kobo and then Smashwords/BookBaby. Watch out for prices at these new companies as they are springing up everywhere. You can still do it yourself! Be wary in this crazy, fast-moving market.
- Lindsay mentions Podiobooks which is a place to download serialized ebooks. It seems to work if the first in a series is podcast this way. Lindsay did pay for a narrator. She has also tried a Kickstarter campaign to cover the costs. Lindsay mentions Nathan Lowell who built his fanbase entirely on Podiobooks. It's another way to stand out and there is less competition in the audio market. Check out the interviews with Scott Sigler, Tee Morris and Philippa Ballantine re podcasting fiction if you want more. We also mention ACX, an audio production company which is currently only for Americans.