Ch-ch-ch-changes in Indie Publishing

publishing industry changes psychic-72085_960_720I received an email from another author recently, asking me if I could send him a link to a podcast I did on how to effectively leverage free days to promote your book. I had forgotten about that particular interview, but thanks to Google, it lives forever. After I found and listened to it, I knew I couldn’t send it to him. Almost everything I said at the time – the spring of 2014 – is wrong today.

Oh, it was true at the time, but in the ever-changing landscape of indie publishing, the advice I gave wouldn’t fly today.

I often get asked questions like, “What is the one thing I need to do to help people find my book?” My first thought is that there is no magic bean that will lead to discoverability. It’s a process. My second thought is, to quote the old REO Speedwagon song, you’ve got to roll with the changes. Amazon has constantly changed the way their algorithms work. One day, each free download equals one tenth of a sale and pushes you to incredible heights on the Pop List. The next, it doesn’t. One day, Kindle Unlimited is paying you every time someone downloads your book. The next, they are paying you by the page read. The only thing we can count on is change. If you don’t constantly revisit and revise your strategies, you’re liable to become the dinosaur that stumbles into the tar pits and can’t get out.

Before I published my first book in September of 2012, I was hanging out on Kboards and reading about the new technique of doing “free runs,” giving your book away in massive quantities, hoping to get a boost up the Amazon charts. In all my noob wisdom, I chimed in that I would never give away my book. I regurgitated the usual objections – I had too many hours, too much effort and money, invested in this book to just casually give away thousands of copies.

Four years later, I have given away more than 400,000 copies of my books.

Those initial objections are still true. I do put a lot of effort and money into my books, only to turn around give them away in such volume. However, doing so has given me a shot at a long-term writing career, because it has helped me build a platform. I had to learn to roll with the changes.

Here, in the late spring of 2016, what are the most accepted strategies to indie success? Build a newsletter by giving readers a free book for signing up. Write in series and consider making the first book of the series free to act as a funnel to the rest. Write and release a lot of books quickly to juice the algorithms. Six to nine months ago, Facebook ads were hot. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten from the FB ad groups I’m in, that road has gotten tougher. Things are changing again.

What are the keys to being flexible and changing strategies on the fly? I believe the two most important things are a commitment to staying current and a willingness to keep an open mind. Staying up-to-date isn’t difficult – subscribe to Indies Unlimited, spend a few minutes on Kboards, join already established Facebook groups or form your own group of like-minded authors, and find a few writing podcasts that speak to you. I spend 45 minutes to an hour every day tracking these sources. However, without a willingness to open your mind and accept ideas that were previously unacceptable, all the information in the world won’t help you.

Is it important to be Kreskin-like in your abilities to anticipate and jump on the next hot trend before the rest of the crowd does? I don’t think so. I faithfully listen to podcasts of people like Joanna Penn, who is the best person I know for predicting changes, both short and long term. I have a short list of people whose opinions have stood the test of time on Kboards. I have a small group of authors I belong to where we test various strategies and share our results among ourselves. Between all these sources, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what is up next in our business. My business mentor pounded the idiom, Always use the other guy’s brain, into me. It definitely applies in indie publishing.

I get the feeling, especially when I talk to newly published writers, that they want to put a system in place, then just follow it up the ladder to success. Set it and forget it, essentially. I’m sorry to say, there is no such system. As indies, we have a huge advantage over traditional publishers. We are small, nimble, and quick to react. Watching trad publishing try to change is like watching the Titanic in many ways. The captain can turn the wheel, but it takes a long time before the ship changes course. We need to exploit this, keep our eyes and mind open, and roll with the changes.

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

18 thoughts on “Ch-ch-ch-changes in Indie Publishing”

  1. Great post, Shawn, and the second one in the last hour that hammers home the need for a newsletter…which I don’t have. -sigh-

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Shawn. What I find most difficult is the juggling act. How to manage both the time to market and write, but then that is every writer’s challenge.

  3. I agree with everything you said, except for rushing to publish books that are “not yet ready for prime time.” I will compromise everywhere but there. Also, I think the jury is out on the rewards and benefits of newsletters–unless you’re a very popular author. Curious: Anyone having much success on that front?

    Thanks for the informative, up-to-date post, Shawn. As indie authors, we must learn to adapt to change, reassess our marketing plans, and adjust as necessary.

    Pinned & shared. 🙂

    1. I only send a newsletter when I have a new book coming out, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at my subscribers’ reactions each time I share that kind of news. The problem I have is getting people to sign up. :/

      1. Thanks, Lynne. That’s what I’ve heard from other authors, too. For now, I think I’ll just keep hitting all the blogs–my own included–to announce a new book. 🙂

      2. Hi Lynne. I completely understand your frustration in getting people to sign up for your newsletter. I’ve recently heard several credible sources say that blogging is no longer giving a worthwhile ROI, however, a monthly newsletter is a great relationship-building tool.

        It was suggested that I run a monthly contest where each time someone either likes my FB Author page or signs up for my newsletter, they are entered to win a free, signed copy of my book and a piece of “swag” appropriate to your book. In my case, as A part of Italy plays a big part in both my books, I’m giving away an art card depicting a scene from that region, with an authentic Calabrian recipe (in addition to a free book).

        I’d be happy to report back if this proves effective. Not a new idea, I know but it’s something doable and I can have fun with it.

      3. I’m 100% on that. What can I give to get people to sign up? The first book of the series is already free. I suppose I could give away the second.

        Say, that’s a good idea. Excuse me, I’ll get back to you…

    2. Thanks, Linda. I’m not sure where you saw any advice on publishing a book before it was truly ready, but it definitely wasn’t from me. As to newsletters, yes, I would day they are working. I have 2,400 organically obtained names on my list and they absolutely help launch each new book better than the previous one.

  4. Yes, I feel like things are always changing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up. I think the strategy of producing a lot of content on a regular basis is the only thing I’ve seen that works consistently well. And good content. Producing cruddy content doesn’t help.

    But, for everything else, I think you have to roll with the punches and give different things a try.

  5. I’ve come to view the indie-author community as a vast herd of cattle thirsty for discovery. We hear about a new promotion idea and a stampede ensues. By the time the herd arrives, the new idea watering-hole has been reduced to a dried-up mud pit. Then word of another idea comes and again the herd charges off, more desperate than ever.

    I think too many of us are reacting to the newest fad, which only helps to fuel these quick-changing market paradigms. We’ve become our own worst enemy that way, and too many of us are being taken advantage of by a cottage-industry of questionable promoters (something I’m glad people like Jason Ladd are addressing with IndieListers).

    I agree there’s no magic marketing bullet, but I think we need to be better educated. Resources like Indies Unlimited certainly helps.

  6. Excellent reminder, Shawn. I think we’d all love to “set it and forget it,” but that just isn’t going to stand up to the unpredictability of our business. Luckily, we’ve got tons of resources to draw from and to share. That quote, Always use the other guy’s brain, is a good one to remember. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We just have to be open to change, willing to try something new, and generously share with our cohorts. Beyond that, it’s all a crapshoot.

    1. Tui, you can click the blue “Kboards” at the top of the article and it will take you to a post introducing you to Kboards.

  7. I hate change. I just comfortable with doing something and then it’s off to something else!

    I’m with Lyn in trying to get people signing up for my newsletter. Still you have given me reasons to try again. I have a lot of short stories out as singles so will offer one of them Free!!!

    I’ve sort of settled into a twice yearly big boost for 5 or more days of books at 99cents. Seems to work.

    Thank you for all the ideas. I’m a slow writer too and finding time to do all the things people say I should is really tough. The dust builds up as it is!

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