Here is a view from the trenches about the state of indie publishing in 2019.
Recently, there was much ado about this post by Russell Blake which made the point, in short, you must hand over wads of cash to the various advertisers (mainly Amazon Advertising) or die.
I think there is place for more nuanced views in this space. I share the concern about over-reliance on advertising with Joanna Penn (who is my spirit animal).
So what is the state of indie publishing? Is it possible to make a living without turning your pockets inside out on behalf of advertisers?
Absolutely. I’m doing it.
However, one thing I agree on: you must do something, but whether it’s paid CPC ads, list ads, crosspromotion, running a successful Facebook reader group or something else doesn’t matter, but you can’t just do nothing.
People often say that in the hallowed days of 2011, you could just publish a book and be successful. Maybe. The operative in that sentence is “could”. Does it mean you can’t do this anymore? I think you still can, but it’s less common. And with that I mean that it was quite rare before and is even more rare nowadays.
It’s more crowded at the top of the charts. People who are there are pulling out all stops (financial stops) to stay there. New people enter all the time.
However. Big however. There is a pretty good living to be made away from focusing on the tops of the charts. I’m doing that, too.
Sell books, advertise less
Become a portfolio writer. A portfolio writer relies on deep series and low-barrier entry points for readers. This means a free or cheap book at the start of a series. A portfolio writer relies on driving their own traffic to their books, and is likely to a mailing list or some other means to reach readers away from platforms that control your access to them (Amazon, Facebook). It means building your own tribe.
But even if you are just starting out, you can have a measure of success with your first book without much advertising.
The pen name experiment
Earlier this year, I published a new book under an unknown pen name.* I didn’t tell anyone. So far, I haven’t used my own mailing list. I have used the Ebookaroo deals list, but anyone can do this, or you can do the equivalent of buying a $10-25 promotion on a list that gives good results for your genre.
The key elements:
Set your definition of “success” reasonably low, such as recovering the cost of the book’s production. The first book is your entry volume. It’s the second book in the series where you are going to make greater returns.
Have a well-edited book.
Make sure the cover is absolutely on-genre.
Join a few cross-promotion groups and participate. Make friends. It’s amazing what other authors will do for you.
There you go. No major ad money spent. I recovered the cost of production so far. I’ve just put the second volume on preorder.
In fact, I would go as far as to suggest that you can’t spend your way into a successful career. Throwing chunks of money at advertisers is not going to make a difference (except a negative one to your bank account!) if you have a book that doesn’t resonate.
Sadly, some of the recent posts, podcasts and discussions about the “you must advertise” mantra come with semi-recommendations of services that people use “to run their ads”, and these result in people scramble over each other to use the same service XYZ popular author uses.
Nope. Nope. Quit it right there. There is a name for posts like that. It’s called “infomercial”. You must advertise, not because it’s better for you, but because it makes the service money, the blogger will generate affiliate income for everyone who buys the course, or because you will end up buying the book on ads.
And that is the true state of indie publishing: loads of people after your money. Spend it wisely. Definitely don’t spend more than you earn.
* What is the pen name? I’ll make a seperate post about that later.