I’m just stopping by to offer sincere thanks to those who came before me and offered indie author advice on this forum, especially Ximera Gray, AW Exley, Blayde, Alec Hutson, and of course: Michael J Sullivan. There are others who have been active and helpful over the last few years and I apologize for having forgotten your names.
This is a summary of things I learned on this forum, followed by my results:
SALES FUNNEL. The idea is that a single book on Amazon is hard to market, and even when you do sell it’s just a single sale. But several books creates a funnel that drives readers to the next book. I waited until I was ready to publish 2 books, which I published 30 days apart. This definitely worked: sales and net profit both jumped with the release of my second book. It’s not required–notably Alec Hutson was successful with his standalone Crimson Queen before Silver Sorceress came out–but Alec’s work is exceptional, the rest of us are probably better off with a sales funnel.
AMS (Amazon) ads. Alec Hutson once posted in detail about his ad process and I tried to copy everything he did from day one, including a frightening budget ($10/day…imagine spending this and not selling books? I was terrified). In my first 30 days, I barely broke even and wondered if I was picking the wrong keywords or there was something else wrong. I lowered my bids by copying my campaign and choosing the suggested bids, which in many cases were lower than what I had them set at, then eliminating some high-cost keywords but it was still lackluster. I believe what was needed was 1) MORE REVIEWS and 2) the sales funnel: book 2 came out, in the 3 weeks that followed all of my ad campaigns are profitable.
Wattpad reader conversion. I have 5k followers but I have been slow and neglectful of my WIP for the last 6 months as I make it through the indie publishing process. Nevertheless about 20 people came to Amazon to preorder Age of Asango: Book 1 at .99, which is way more than I expected. Nearly the same number rated or reviewed me on GoodReads. But, this is a disappointment: only one single Wattpad reader had an Amazon account with sufficient sales history to leave a review. Several users contacted me saying that had tried and it wouldn’t go through. Long story short: your Wattpad readers probably can’t leave you Amazon reviews EVEN IF THEY BUY YOUR BOOK, which is crazy.
SOCIAL MEDIA. It was common advice on here that I need to be somewhat active on social media somewhere, and/or start a mailing list. I did start a mailing list but only a couple of people (literally) signed up, so I very reluctantly joined Twitter, Instagram, and finally Facebook (in that order). Twitter turns out to be a nice place to meet other authors, and a terrible place to try to market your books, but I did find a bookblogger who reviewed my books (yay!). My YA epic fantasy audience is DEFINITELY on Instagram and Facebook, and aside from AMS ads this has been my most successful marketing campaigns. I used data from my Amazon keyword campaigns to target readers on Instagram and Facebook, and I post content that doesn’t feel like ads (like my wife put together an artistic #Bookstagram tableau with my book at the center, and she also made a video of paperbacks 1 and 2 just looking like cool books). For every $10 on FB/IG promos I do I get 3-4X that in sales jumps; it’s hard to say for sure that it’s the social media and not the Amazon keyword ads but I’m pretty sure it’s both.
REDDIT. Both Michael J Sullivan and Alec Hutson are popular authors on Reddit, with frequent mentions and lots of participation. This was even harder for me to get into than social media–I’m sorry, I’m just REALLY not social–but it has over 400k members (!!!) so I think it’s worthwhile. I post a self-promo on the Fantasy subreddit every 14 days, I posted my .99 sales promo on there when I had a pre-Book 2 sale (this is allowed), and I DM’ed a Redditor directly after he posted a book review I liked and he agreed to post a review of my work to the Fantasy subreddit. That’s a literally terrifying prospect but he always messaged me to say he skimmed through and my grammar and editing appear excellent so he’s looking forward to his mid-December review.
EDITING, EDITING, EDITING. Oh, to be dyslexic and a writer–I don’t know how bad your editing cycles are but I assure you mine are probably worse. I did professional developmental editing and worked with my personal network for 3 rounds of copy editing. It was arduous, but you CANNOT skip this: readers haaate a book that seems subpar and it will hurt your reviews and reception.
INDIE VS TRAD / TRADE / TRADITIONAL. This is a never-ending debate and there is no answer that fits everyone, but when I originally joined this forum it was to get advice on querying. I chose not to query. Complex choice, but here I was seeing other authors paying their bills with writing, while many trad published authors were warning writers with fresh deals not to quit their day jobs. I have read many, many interviews with authors like Cassandra Claire and Brandon Sanderson who spent many, many years getting published / waiting to earn out advances and start seeing regular income. It seems like if you CAN succeed as an indie author, it’s not going to hurt you to do this with your debut book and it might even help you. Most recently I’ve come to learn about Josiah Bancroft, author of The Books of Babel / Senlin Ascends, who received a deal from Orbit after achieving success on the first two of his books. I believe if your work is EXCEPTIONALLY good publishers will still want your series even if it’s been self-published, and if your books are not exceptional the sad truth is you weren’t likely to earn out an advance and really profit with a trade publisher so … do what seems best for you. I’d still love to have the right agent some day.
Things I did that DID NOT come from this forum or were contrary to advice received here include a huge investment in cover art (no regrets, especially given the success of my Instagram/Facebook marketing), Goodreads Giveaway (I HAVE REGRETS - do NOT do this), and starting my own publishing press (LLC), which Michael J Sullivan had talked about but I probably did it way sooner than it was necessary.
Book 1 was published Oct 19, Book 2 was published Nov 17, so my results are VERY early. If the last two weeks are representative of the next two weeks, I will profit significantly in December. My author ranking is in the top 20k (17.6), my books are teetering in the top 10k for book 1 and 20-30k for book 2. These are good rankings.
I was also in the Top 100 New Releases in Epic Fantasy, I’m in the top 100 for a couple of sub-categories off and on (these update hourly), and most importantly: I’m earning a lot more than I spend each day on ads, even though I’m trying really hard to be generous with ads to grow my audience in preparation for book 3.
I am happy, and it looks like if this continues, which is never guaranteed, I will not have to return to full time teaching next fall. I’m already not working as I care for little people while my wife works, and due to daycare expenses I don’t need to earn much to justify staying home–there’s a good chance I’ll hit that financial target in December, which is WAY sooner than I thought I would.
So seriously: THANK YOU EVERYONE. To those of you on your own indie author journey, it doesn’t happen any faster than traditional publishing if you’re doing it right and really listening to others. I’m happy to answer any questions, but I’m still learning all of this myself.