A Self-Publishing Journey Which Debunks Conventional Wisdom

Author Shawn InmonI started my publishing journey three years ago — a fifty-something year-old realtor that hadn’t written anything in decades, but had a story to tell. Like so many others, I nearly fell into the orbit of a vanity press, a company that was thrilled to publish that story for me for around $5,000. Luckily, before I signed on the dotted line, I found Indies Unlimited and a few other worthwhile sites that showed me a different path. Now, three years later (I think publishing years should be like dog years and count at about a 7 to 1 ratio, don’t you?), I now find myself with the opportunity to write for IU. Who says dreams don’t come true?

Long before I ever wrote my first guest post for IU, I subscribed to the blog posts to make sure I didn’t miss any of them. If I had a question I needed answered, IU was always my first stop. Why? Because I had learned that I could trust the information. With so many publishing blogs, there’s an obvious slant, trying to recruit for some cause or belief, but not at IU. If they have a cause, it is to help us all be better writers and publishers.

I am anxious to join in that cause. When I was first getting started, long before I had sold my first thousand copies, a number of best selling indies were so kind to me – offering pointed advice, giving me a shove when I needed it, helping light the path ahead for me – that I always knew I wanted to repay them by paying it forward. That’s what I hope to do with my posts.

I am not planning on writing much about craft. There are a number of writers better suited for that than me, many of whom write regularly for IU.  I will tend to focus on that other stuff – what to do with your writing once you type “the end.”

As George Carlin is credited with saying, I like to “question everything.” I especially like to question Conventional Wisdom. CW may be true for many, or even most, but it’s rarely likely to apply to all of us. The only way I know of to truly question CW is to test it.

Here’s an example:

Conventional Wisdom maintains that “free” as a strategy is over, unless you are making the first book in a series free to funnel readers into the rest of the series. This idea came about when Amazon made substantial changes to the way they credited affiliate marketers for downloads in March of 2013.

Up to that point, I had used mega free runs (my own definition of a mega free run is 20,000+ downloads) to boost the algorithms of my books. It had worked like a charm, until that change. In January of 2013, I gave away 35,000 copies of my first book, then sold another 3,000 copies at full price in the trailing 30 days. After Amazon made the changes, I did another mega free run and it didn’t work. Even though I gave away another 30,000 books, I got very little sales bump from it – about 300 books in the trailing 30 days.

So, I quit trying to orchestrate free runs for about twelve months. Everyone was in agreement: Amazon has killed the golden goose of free giveaways. Then, in April of 2014, it occurred to me to try it again. I did another mega free run of my second book, which had never been free before. What I found surprised me. Although it didn’t match the boost I got previous to March of 2013, it came pretty close. I did another one in October of 2014 and it did even better. In fact, the “tail” of the bump seemed to have moved out to 60 days, instead of the 30 I had gotten previously.

Conventional Wisdom says, “Free is dead.” Shawn says, “Not for me, thanks.”

By the way, it’s tough to orchestrate a mega free run without a Bookbub ad. Not impossible, but tough. If you’re struggling to get accepted into the Bub, I wrote an earlier guest post about it here.

One last thing. It drives me crazy when authors tell me, “Here is how you have to do this.” Self publishing is such an individualized effort that I think there are very few universal truths. For instance, CW also says that Facebook has taken away your ability to reach your readers, so don’t spend much, if any, time there in 2015. For me, again, that’s not true. I have a thriving Facebook page where I interact with my readers every day. It’s the second most valuable tool in my promotional toolbox, trailing only my mailing list.

Because it irritates me when someone tells me I have to do something, you’ll probably never hear that from me. Instead, I prefer to say, “Here’s what is working (or not working) for me. Your mileage may vary.”

I look forward to challenging conventional wisdom, tilting at windmills, and maybe sharing some helpful information with you as we move forward.

Author: Shawn Inmon

Shawn Inmon is a full-time author who lives in the bucolic town of Seaview, Washington. He is married to his high school sweetheart, and they are privileged to share their home with two Chocolate Labs and a schizophrenic cat named Georgie. Shawn is the author of the twelve book Middle Falls Time Travel series, which has been produced in audio by Podium Publishing. He has eight other books, including travel books, romances, memoirs, and a collection of short stories. He promises to settle down and write in one genre. Someday. Learn more about Shawn on Facebook or his Author Central page

30 thoughts on “A Self-Publishing Journey Which Debunks Conventional Wisdom”

    1. I think that would make a great book title, don’t you? Something like “Harry Potter and the Curse of the Autocorrect.” Well, maybe not that one, exactly.

  1. “For me, again, that’s not true. I have a thriving Facebook page where I interact with my readers every day.”

    Great to have you aboard, Shawn.

    I used you as an example of someone who does Facebook the right way. (Note that I didn’t use myself.) The key is that you’re interacting. That means your readers are commenting and liking your posts and you’re responding to comments. FB sees the readers interacting and shows it to more readers. A virtuous cycle. But what gets the cycle started is that you’re interacting with your readers in ways different than “buy my book.”

    1. Thank you, Al. Whatever success I’ve had on FB has been trial and error. Mostly, I’ve just tried to keep in mind, “What would I want if I was interacting with an author on FB.” That seems to work best.

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head, Shawn. The only Universal Truth is that there are no such things as universal truths. There are Rules of Thumb but as we know, both rules and thumbs are made for breaking, and thumbs come in many different shapes and sizes. And how right you are about IU being a wonderful source of good, solid, reliable information. In addition to all that, the views and comments of other writers offer valuable individual insights which help with the development of one’s perspective. IU is better than the Yukon for writers.

  3. Words of wisdom, especially your thesis of ‘different strokes for different folks.’ We all have different experiences, and should never fall into the trap of thinking there’s only one way.

    1. I agree – our books, and thus our readership – are unique. Why would we think there’s only one path to success?

  4. Thanks for the great, informative post, Shawn.
    I also checked out your BookBub ‘How To’. You confirmed my suspicions that my covers might be holding me back. I’m working to address that situation right now.


    1. I think that at least part of the time, it’s not about whether a cover is “good” or not, but about what Bookbub thinks will fit their readership the best. With the Bub being the big dog in book promotions right now, though, it’s at least possible that it is worth redesigning a cover in an attempt to get in. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Thanks for the great info. I read your article all the way through with my head bobbing in agreement. I feel fortunate to have the Indies Unlimited website and I appreciate you sharing your information with me.

  6. Shawn, great post. I think as authors we have to walk a very fine line between cliche and innovation. Conventional wisdom, as far as it goes, is based on past experience so is often useful for helping us avoid pitfalls, but as you say, may not always carry forward into the future. It pays not to be reckless and charge off on our own when there is a ton of good information online (mostly here at IU!), but on the other hand we don’t want to write mediocre crap just because it’s safe. We can use the mistakes of others to springboard our own work into the stratosphere, then–as you say–give back to those coming up behind us. That’s the indie way! Thanks for sharing your story.

  7. Great post Shawn. I think, after my own experiences and that of many I have heard from, that there is no such thing as “wisdom” when it comes to selling books. A few savvy people are able to stay with all the changes but most of us don’t have that ability. We just chug along doing the best we can.

    1. In a further coincidence, my wife says there’s no such thing as wisdom when it comes from me. 😉

  8. Great post, Shawn. The most important thing for self publishers is to find what works for them. Trying what others has done is a good start, but not the definitive answer. It’s nice you’ve found your way. We’re glad to have you here at IU.

  9. Shawn, I agree with you about giveaways. I know few authors who’ve had any luck with FREE unless it was tied to the titan of booksellers–BookBub. I’m trying to formulate my own marketing plans. If I come up with the next best idea to sliced bread, I’ll let everyone know! LOL.

    I try to make my FB page interesting and engaging. Most of the articles I share each week are IU posts. Need I say more?

    1. Linda, because Bookbub limits how often it will advertise for you – every six months per book, every thirty days per author – I am trying to formulate a plan that will function as a “Bookbub-less Free Promo.” It will run in March and I’m going to see if I can grab 20,000 downloads without benefit of a Bub ad. Honestly, I’m not sure I can, but by staggering the other sites over a five day period, I’m going to give it a shot. I’ll report back sometime in March as to the success or failure.

  10. Brilliant. Thank you. Am over 50. I have been writing stories, poetry, songs, self-help articles since I was a kid, but have never gotten around to publishing – or monetizing -anything I have written. You inspire me to tweak my life a bit.

    Thank you, Shawn. 🙂


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