Indie Publishing is Like Yoga

writing exercise stretching-498256_960_720Thank goodness we don’t have to do the Downward Facing Dog. No one wants to see me do that. What we do need, though, is flexibility. Flexibility in all things Indie: how we look at writing itself, how we market, what our covers look like, how long or short our blurbs are: everything.

Indie Publishing was easier four or five years ago. I published my first book in September of 2012. I sold 82 copies that first month, and was thrilled. As soon as I hit the 30-day cliff, though, that booked stopped selling. I sold two copies in a week. So, I did a free promo and gave away almost 25,000 copies. Total cost of that promo? Zero dollars. There was no Bookbub yet, and all the sites were just looking for free books to feature. I applied, they featured me, and the free downloads poured in.

However, it was what happened after the book came off free (priced at $4.99) that thrilled me. Thanks to Amazon’s friendly algorithms, that book sold 800 copies the last week of October. I was pretty sure I had this whole Indie Publishing thing licked. This was easy!

Then, things changed.

In the spring of 2013, Amazon made changes to the way they credited your book for free downloads. That post-freebie bump dissipated. Free runs were still great for generating sales through to other books, or building your platform, but that simple formula of Massive Free Run = Massive post-Free Run Sales was gone, apparently forever.

Things may never be that easy again.

About the same time, Facebook began to monetize our professional pages. The glory days of being able to post and have huge organic reach were mostly gone. Yes, I found ways to work around that, and rarely pay to boost a post, but it became a lot tougher.

These algorithm changes led most of us to want to establish a list that the changes couldn’t touch – our own mailing list. That became the major buzzword and focus for active indies: building a mailing list, either organically, or through contests, or through giving away a free book for signing up.

Then, Facebook ads became hot. People were reporting ROI of 300%, 400%, 500%. Others were reporting going broke trying to replicate those results.

That’s where a new breed was born, which is in full bloom today: gurus selling courses, telling you how to capitalize on the latest trends. How to Build Your Mailing List. How to Use Facebook Effectively. All will be revealed, for just a few hundred dollars. I get invited to watch podcast come-ons for these guys at least two or three times a week.

Today, the hottest trends I see are groups of authors banding together, publishing a box set and using the combined might of their mailing lists and an advertising budget to hit the USAT Bestseller lists. Or, joining together to use Instafreebie to build their mailing list at a mighty clip. Or, using Amazon Marketing Services ads. When those first launched, they were worse than useless. Today, many authors, including myself, are seeing nice returns on AMS ads.

None of these things touch on the upheaval that Kindle Unlimited has launched into the marketplace. An All-You-Can-Read buffet, for ten bucks a month. All it costs to participate is to give Amazon exclusivity on your eBooks. KU launched with the idea you would be paid for a read-through if someone read 10% of your book. Scammers arose from the scum, though, so Amazon switched it up, paying a little less than half a cent per page read. Each time KU changes, indie authors are left scrambling.

This small history lesson is to make a simple point: the only thing we can count on is change. Things change dramatically every year in Indie Publishing. It’s human nature to want to learn something, then be able to set it and forget it. I just want to learn one thing, do it well, then focus on my writing. A common plea, but one that is unlikely to ever be answered.

I’m happy with my return on my ads on AMS right now, but do I think that I’ve found the Holy Grail of Indie Publishing? Nope. I think I’m riding the current wave satisfactorily. I’ve also got a decent (3,000 person) mailing list built organically. That’s great, and it helps me launch books onto the Hot New Release list, but it’s certainly not the end-all of indie success.

How about reviews? Important, right? For a moment, I had that locked, too. I have a 200 person Advance Reader Team that agrees to leave honest reviews the week I publish a new book. Somewhere between 25% and 30% of them actually do. That means that each new book starts its life with 50+ reviews. That’s helpful, but ARC readers typically don’t purchase copies. Now Amazon is putting more and more weight on Verified Purchase Reviews.

The game changes again.

And that is my point. The game will always change. There is no set it and forget it marketing method that is good in perpetuity. All we can do is hang out in author groups, pay attention, read Indies Unlimited for new tips, and keep an open mind, always looking for the next new thing. We’ve gotta be flexible.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the next change is on its way.

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

12 thoughts on “Indie Publishing is Like Yoga”

  1. Excellent post, Shawn, and a good reminder for all of us. We would so love to find the set-it-and-forget-it magic potion; I think that’s the draw for all the scammy programs clogging up our in boxes. When I teach self-publishing, I make it clear to my students that there is no one, right way to promote their books; it’s an ever-changing landscape. The good news is that, as indies, we can change as quickly as the landscape does. It just requires work. (But what part about being an indie writer doesn’t?)

  2. Great post. Each change you mentioned certainly got everyone scrambling.

    Those of us who write a book a year and don’t do events, are always scrambling for something to say in our newsletters. That’s always a challenge. I worry a little about beta reader groups that rush out and do reviews because the reviews might go away if Amazon decides those people are friends (based on however they’ve been determining an author and a reviewer “know” each other).


    1. That’s always a possibility, but if that happens, I am no worse off than I was before. The positive thing about launching with a good number of reviews is that it opens up most advertising sites almost immediately, which allows us to take advantage of those friendlier algorithms we get in the first 3o days of publication.

  3. Great article, Shawn, but I think I missed every wave going. Bound to get it right one of these days so I’ll keep writing until it happens. 🙂

  4. A nice summation of the evolution of amazon over the last few years. Here are some things I noticed. First on my amazon book pages the “also read” ads disappeared this Christmas season and “sponsored ads” took up the space in the middle of my pages. Only in the last few weeks have the “also bought” reappeared below the sponsored ads. Second, more emphasis is on Amazon Worlds books. Third I have read in blogs and heard on podcasts that some book bundling by groups of indie authors are being pulled by amazon. And early Last year Amazon stopped running discount promotions on my createspace paperback books. So it is getting harder except for the amazon chosen few.

  5. How right you are, Shawn. The trouble I find is in getting my head round how the changes work. By the time I think I have that sussed, and am ready to dive in, the field has moved on and changed to something else. What I think I now understand is already old hat ans useless.
    I fear I may always lag behind in the marketing field at this rate because I’m neither a child of the cyber generation nor that way inclined. If it can’t be done with a quill and parchment, I don’t understand it.

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