Welcome to the Wild West of publishing, a land full of gunslingers and ranchers, farmers and rubes. That old money is around too, living on sprawling plantations, standing near the gates with a scowl as they clutch their shotguns, shouting Get off my land. They were the first, founded the towns, and their sense of ownership to that fact is fierce.
Indie publishing has grown, pushing the boundaries farther than we could have imagined, and new authors have spilled into the new land with a twinkle in their eye and a wagon full of hope.
I’m one of those new authors.
I staked my claim and built my house. I planted my crops and prayed for good fortune. I did my best to operate with a kind heart, all while breaking my back in the heat because I made a promise to myself that I would try. That I would do the absolute best I could. That I would leave myself with the undeniable certainty that I had done everything I could. Because I wanted to write. I wanted this to be my job. So I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
Last summer, my hard work paid off.
I wrote a book that broke out. It went viral very quickly, shooting me through the ranks on Amazon. My audience expanded by a thousand percent, nearly overnight. It was my 5th full length, published 2.5 years after my first. The next book did twice as well. The one after that performed amazingly in a market so saturated, even big-hitting old-schoolers could barely make rank.
In the last week, I’ve seen no less than three articles working to tear down the success of indie writers. They call us charlatans. They say that we’re cheaters, that our bestselling status isn’t real, it isn’t true. They say we’re publishing garbage. They say that we’re killing the book industry because we’ve jumped the Kindle Unlimited train.
To that I say simply: Fuck you.
I say it with a smile and bless-your-heart tone. I speak the words to ears that, for all their experience, have no idea the way that indie publishing currently works. They’re living in a land of delusion, a land where they’re the king, and because they’re king, they demand that things keep going the way they did before, sort of like the Oobleck of Dr. Seuss’ story. It was a demand that brought on a sticky goo that ultimately ruined the kingdom, a plague that only disappeared once the king uttered the words “I’m sorry.”
So let me tell you the truth about the other side, straight from a would-be charlatan.
Indie writers are entrepreneurs
Just like those pioneers of old, we are entrepreneurs. We walk into this with a spitfire attitude, ready to kick life in the teeth. We have grit and determination.
The ones who don’t have the attitude of an entrepreneur, or who have the attitude of a goldminer, either never publish or give up quickly. Because writing is hard. Running your own business is hard.
I’ve worked for the last twelve years with entrepreneurs as a web designer, specializing in ecommerce. I’ve seen businesses rise and thrive, rise and fall. If you build it, they will not just come. You have to work. You have to work harder than you’ve ever had to work before, and not everyone has that gene, that thirst — I could usually tell from the very first call who was going to be successful and who wasn’t.
Indie publishing is no different. You have to hire a designer to brand you. You have to have your covers designed. You need critique partners to help you and a handful of trusted beta readers. You need an amazing editor.
You need a team. You need the thirst. You need tenacity and determination. Because this is a business just like any other, except instead of selling a product, you’re selling your brand, your words.
When you’re an entrepreneur, you have to market.
Duh, right? Except here’s the thing: The best marketing tool an indie author has at their disposal is Amazon.
*cue horror music*
To the old plantation owner, this is the devil, the equivalent of having the know-it-all government come in and tell you how to run your land. It’s selling out. It’s messing up the market, because “Back in my day,” they say with a hand resting on their belt buckle, things were better. More pure. The Golden Age. And it’s all been wiped out by the locusts and rubes and that devil they call Amazon.
To the new farmer, this is our savior, the helping hand to help us find readers and achieve our goals. This is how we find success.
Cracking Amazon’s Top 100 isn’t easy.
Some indies go their entire career without reaching this goal. What does it take to crack it?
1) Smart marketing (Don’t do your cover reveal months in advance. Don’t set up a preorder months in advance. Price your books accordingly.)
2) A damn good cover. (If you’re not a graphic designer by trade, don’t do your own cover)
3) A damn good blurb. (This is the first taste of your writing. If it’s poorly written, the odds are slim that people will take a chance on your book)
4) A damn good book. (By someone besides you, your mom, best friend, and beta reader’s opinion)
So for these articles that say cracking Amazon top 100 doesn’t make you a bestseller, I say that’s not true anymore.
Let me give you some numbers.
Since I broke out in July, I have sold a total of 37,000 books and had over 31 million pages read in Kindle Unlimited, which is approximately 69,000 books.
So, please, tell me that I’m not a bestseller. My books typically stay in the top 100 for 4-6 weeks. How many traditional books do that? Tell me how bad Kindle Unlimited is for me, or you, or anyone for that matter. Tell me that I’m a fraud. Tell the approximate 106,000 readers who have read my books that I’m a charlatan.
Exclusivity is a choice.
No one has forced me to join Kindle Unlimited. It’s a choice I made because:
1) A NEW YORK TIMES or USA TODAY title will not feed my children.
2) Refusing exclusivity because of some personal feelings about monopolies will not get me new readers.
3) The other retailers don’t make me enough to buy one pair of shoes for my kids per month.
Here’s a number for you. A friend of mine released a book on all platforms, and the numbers for the month of her release worked out like this: It would take her 17.5 years to make what she made just in the month of October on Amazon. I’m not saying this is normal or an average, it’s just one woman’s experience. But that number is staggering, and this is the reason most Indies opt for being exclusive. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’d like to also note that many of the bigger authors probably generate about half of their income on other platforms, but to that, I say — take a look at my next point.
4) Being in Kindle Unlimited multiplies my income by about 60%. You read that right.
But none of this is a sure thing.
We all have to make choices for ourselves. No one can tell you what to do, just like you can’t tell me what to do. Make your choice and deal with those consequences. Leave everyone else to do the same.
Don’t blame me because your career isn’t doing as well as it used to.
Don’t blame Amazon because you aren’t making the money you used to.
Adapt or die.
Indie publishing is the Wild West. If you don’t bend, adapt, change, you’re going to get left behind. A year from now — hell, six months from now — everything will be different, and in the shifting landscape, you’ve got to be flexible. Standing still and screaming about the injustice of it all will not help you. It won’t save you. You’re sinking in the quicksand, and the more you thrash, the more you sink.
I don’t expect my success to last forever. In fact, I don’t expect it to last past the last book I published, and I hope I never lose that attitude. I hope I never stop being grateful. I hope I never become entitled.
KU will change again, and we’ll have to adapt again. The market will shift, and we’ll have to change. I’ll have to change, and I’m not afraid of it. It’ll be scary. It will be full of risk and second-guessing, but guess what? That’s being an entrepreneur.
So make your choice. Be comfortable and confident in that decision without berating the rest of us. Without challenging my success, my hard work. Don’t tell me I’m illegitimate because I didn’t do it like you did. I did it my way — you do it yours. Neither of us is right or wrong, so put your firearm down and save your bullets for a more worthy cause than tearing down the success of others.