Some Things they don’t tell you about being an Indie Author

I wish I could say that I thought long and hard before deciding to become an indie author but then I’d be lying.  I really did it as I do a lot of things in my life, on a whim.  I had a book, I had it edited and I really didn’t feel like spending a year shopping it around to publishers facing rejection after rejection.  So I paid for a cover, did some formatting and one last edit and then hit upload.  I don’t regret it, but here are some things I wish I had known before heading down this path.

1.) The money won’t start rolling in

Maybe it’s because I fell for the marketing by Amazon, Smashwords and a bunch of “got rich by publishing” authors but I honestly thought I’d be making sales daily.  I thought that I’d at least be getting ten sales a month.  After a few months of checking and rechecking stats daily I realized that this is not the case.  Even with as much marketing as I could manage sales trickled in at an average of one every six months.

 Speaking of marketing…

2.) It’s time consuming

Putting a book online seems so simple, just hit publish and wait for people to find it. The problem is that no one will find it without marketing.  Marketing is a job in itself, before I knew it I had no time to work on my other book because I was working so hard marketing my first one.  I also have a full time job to pay the bills, I was stressed out because my marketing wasn’t working, no one wanted my book and I didn’t have the money to keep pouring into it.

 On the topic of money…

On the subject of Money3.) It’s not cheap

Sure you can write a book, make a cheap cover in Microsoft paint and dump it online, a lot of people do this (just go to Smashwords homepage and hit refresh every minute to see the ‘books’ getting published there every second), but that will get you nowhere. If you want to sell you need to pay for a professional editor, cover designer and marketing person (or at least ads).  Without paying for at least one of those (preferably all three) it will take a lot of luck to start selling.

4.) Not all genres work as Indies

At least that’s what I tell myself. From what I see the best books to write if you want to make sales as an independent author are weird erotica novels.  When I say weird I don’t mean “50 Shades of Gray” I mean dinosaur robo sex weird.  The kind of stuff a professional publisher would never touch but that there is clearly a market for.

5.) Not selling does not mean you’re a bad author

Once again, this is what I keep telling myself. Getting traditionally published is vindicating, even if your book never sells well you can know that you were at least good enough for a large company to take a risk on you.  With independent books the only way you can know if you’re good is if people a.) buy your book and b.) Leave good reviews.  In the absence of both it’s hard to think you’re any good.  Even with friends and test readers telling you otherwise.  It can get discouraging, fast.

6.) The publishers are in it to make money 

Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, other indie e-publishers, are not letting you publish out of the goodness of their hearts.  There is a cost to them in terms of webhosting, database hosting, payment processors and with print on demand options there is a big cost in initial set up.  They also want to make money, and all this will impact your bottom line.  While a 70-90% royalty seems like a lot that’s still a big chunk going into the publisher’s pocket.

Now, it’s not nearly as much as in traditional publishing, but traditional publishers also outlay a lot more capital in terms of book design, edits, marketing etc. With independent publishing you need to outlay the capital (or time) for all that and the publisher will still take a good cut.  After taxes you’ll see around 60 cents to the dollar depending on where you live.  I try to offset that by selling direct but it doesn’t make much difference because I still need to pay for hosting.

Just remember, they aren’t doing this out of the goodness of their hearts.

7.) You don’t have total control 

I’m not going to talk about the fact that publishing vile content is not allowed on most platforms (content that is about child abuse or straight up hate speech), which some may argue is a violation of freedom of speech, I don’t really want to get into that.  My view is that it’s their platform; they are allowed to control what goes on it.  No I want to talk about how Amazon wants to keep you on their platform and how they will try to control what you do on other platforms.

To get the most of Amazon’s independent publishing you have to enroll in “KDP select” which gives your book better search standing, a bit of free marketing, and the ability to be used in some other amazon programs.  I believe you also get a higher royalty.  Sounds like a win / win right?  Well, not quite, as in order to enroll, your book must be exclusive to Amazon that means no selling at any other retailer or even selling it on your own.  Amazon withholds services until you give them more rights to your book (and they don’t even pay an advance).

I didn’t go that route as one of the reasons I chose to go independent was to have total control over my work.  That doesn’t mean they still don’t try to control your work.  I offered a Smashwords exclusive sale at one point, Amazon automatically price matched to it, their bots crawl the web and if your book is listed for a lower price somewhere else they will drop the price on Amazon to match.

While this sounds good for the consumer, it takes control away from the author.  I was pushing Smashwords with my sale because they don’t have DRM on the books they sell.  Amazon undermined that by changing the price of my book on their site.

8.) Read the resources out there

I wish I had spent more time reading the resources available on Smashwords about self-publishing, good marketing and best practices before I hit publish.  Amazon has good guides out there as well.  In my rush to publish I overlooked a lot of these and then played catch-up as best I could.  Had I read these, I might never have even attempted the self-publishing route. They are helpful and they don’t overly sugarcoat the uphill battle that it takes to actually make sales.

9.) Beware scammers

Everyone wants a piece of you when you self-publish.  As part of my drive to market I tried twitter, Facebook and free book giveaways.  I even gave people books in exchange for honest reviews.  Nothing really panned out (I never even got a review from the giveaways) but a lot of people sent me twitter DM’s about paid book marketing services, paid reviews, paid twitter followers and paid Facebook likes.  I could pay a lot of people a lot of money for a lot of fake stuff (followers, likes, reviews).  I never did, I understand marketing enough to know that none of that works.  The fact that they were out there tells me that someone (probably a lot of desperate authors) paid them for these fake services.  Beware, you will be approached, don’t be tempted.

10.) The medium favors volume over quality (and it’s shrinking)

Independent e-book publishing favors lower cost books that are around 50,000 words or less depending on the genre.  If you want to make money going this route you also need to publish a lot of books.  Some of the people I’ve seen who actually make $4000 a month are selling weird erotica novels at 20,000 words each with a new book every other month.  They are priced around the $2.99 range and sell pretty well. These authors have a small following that snatch up the newest book when it comes out, that means they don’t make a lot of sales past the release month.  It works for them but that’s not why I write.

In addition to this, the market as a whole is shrinking.  With more and more people trying to get rich quick by publishing a book there are fewer and fewer buyers looking in this market.  You have people look at very specific genres and people following specific authors and that’s really it.  The general public is still buying print books from major publishers.  There was a gold rush and it has dried up.  If you want to write in the classic sense then publishing in the classic sense is still the best option.


Having learned all these lessons the hard way is why I am going to try to get my current novel published the old fashioned way.  I have two other manuscripts that I’m undecided on, but for sure the one I’m finishing now will be shopped around before I publish it myself.  The independent publishing scene is just not for me, I don’t have enough time.  It has been an interesting, frustrating learning experience.  This is just my experience though, I know there are a lot of people out there who love it, a lot of people who found a following and are making a living as independent authors.  Don’t let my experience stop you, make your own choice.

That’s the best thing about independent publishing, it’s all your choice and you remain in control.  That’s the main thing that I don’t want to give up.

Feel free to let me know your experience reading or writing in the indie novel space in the comments.



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