It’s not Easy Being Indie

Often I read articles or blog posts about independent eBook authors who’re making it big, selling 100,000 or more eBooks in less than a year, receiving six-figure offers from major publishers, or landing movie deals. My spirits are lifted and hopes rekindled by such news. However, I quickly remind myself that for every one of these fortunate (and, no doubt, hard-working) authors who are hitting the Big Time, there are thousands of others who are refreshing their Kindle Data Publishing dashboards every few minutes and wondering why their sales numbers haven’t changed in days.

 Truth be told, I’ve spent most of my self-publishing time on neither end of that sales spectrum (though I admit to being a numbers checker). So I thought I’d offer a glimpse of what middle ground looks like. 

I’ve written three humor books and one short collection of, I’m almost (but not quite) ashamed to admit, bathroom humor essays. What began as a silly newspaper column grew into a full-time obsession when I wrote my first book, Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road. I didn’t set out to become a humorist. But I don’t need to tell you what happens to plans. Right? 

Initially, I didn’t fully appreciate my book market size and competition. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are a few statistics: According to Amazon’s category listing details, as of today, there are 18,223 humor books available on Kindle. In the past ninety days, 2,939 of those titles were added to the Kindle store.

 For my eBooks to simply maintain their rankings, I must constantly outsell the new titles coming on board. This means that every time Tina Fey, Chelsea Handler, Ellen DeGeneres, or Jenny McCarthy releases a new book, my books lose whatever position and ranking they’ve previously built. I wish these famous folks would just be content with their awards, TV shows, and stage appearances. But, sadly (for me), they’re not.

 Flipping through the TV channels last night, I paused to catch a glimpse of an Oprah rerun. There sat Jenny McCarthy, looking all gorgeous and well-rehearsed as she discussed her latest release with the Queen of Book Marketing. I folded my arms and tried my best not to be a “hater” (or a “hate her”). Humorists like me don’t get invitations to promote our books on Oprah. We get asked to provide free speeches at ladies’ garden club luncheons.

 Oh, sure, I once garnered mild interest from a top-tier literary agent. But in the end, the woman said my “platform” wasn’t big enough. I wanted to say, “Oh, yeah? Well, my caboose is!” But I doubt that would have helped my case.

What the agent was telling me was this; I didn’t perform stand-up comedy, and I lacked my own radio and television show. My material was good, but without a blog like Snooky’s (Okay, her name wasn’t tossed out—but I got the drift.), this businesswoman feared I’d be a tough sell. Most likely, she was right.

 After that exciting but big miss, I forgot about agents and dared to publish my own work.

 Some suggest my paperback books have sold well, for an “unknown” author. Sales figures have been less than stellar, though, if you ask me. Nonetheless, in 2010, I decided to release Driving, my first book, in eBook format. With no previous formatting knowledge, I followed the Kindle and Smashwords publishing guidelines to make my book available through multiple outlets. I had no idea what to expect, but I figured I had nothing to lose . . . other than maybe a little despair.

 To my surprise and delight, readers found me!

 I’m not entirely sure how this happened. I did no advertising, other than on my own website (which was getting all of  three hits per day). The only people who seemed to be visiting my blog were ones offering to enhance male performance. My family (excluding my husband) and most of my friends paid zero attention to what I’d written and even less to how they might help me spread word of my books. 

It wasn’t until I received my first sales report from Smashwords that I realized Driving was selling overseas. Through Smashwords’ distribution arrangement with Apple, the book was selling in the U.K. and Canada! How were these audiences finding me? They weren’t visiting my website or blog, to be sure. I could see the number of visits posted on each site. Something else was leading readers to my work. But what?

 I wondered what might happen if I did a little advertising.

 Some research led me to Kindle Nation Daily, Daily Cheap Reads, The Frugal eReader, Red Adept Reviews, and Kindleboards.com, where I tested the waters with various sponsorship ads and banners. Over the next four months, I rotated my books’ exposures through these channels. Each ad produced a bump in sales, followed by a tapering off. But the lift was enough to get my books off the ground and into their Amazon categories’ top 100 lists.

One year after the eBook launch of Driving, this title is currently #167 in Amazon’s Kindle humor category. (That is among all 18,223 titles.) Today the book is sitting at #21 in Amazon’s Kindle humor essays listings and #8 in humor/parenting.  

Despite my book sales success, I have not sold 100,000 eBooks. Nobody has offered me a movie deal. Playboy hasn’t asked me to pose nude, either. (And if they do, the answer is “ARE YOU CRAZY?”) Oprah doesn’t, and likely never will, know that I exist. But thousands of readers do. And I am humbled and sufficiently awed by that knowledge.   

Personal success is measured not by how much of the journey remains ahead of us but rather by the distance we’ve already traveled. The stamina required for completing a book, the courage it takes to publish your own work, the faith that’s needed to believe what others don’t, and the fortitude necessary to stay the course are all accomplishments to celebrate. In between hitting the refresh button, of course.

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13 Comments

Filed under books, entertainment, film and TV, humor, Kindle, opinion, publishing, Thoughts, Uncategorized, women, writing

13 responses to “It’s not Easy Being Indie

  1. Yeah, I know what you mean.

    I just released my first ebook (a short story) and I have similar feelings. It’s only been up for several weeks and for a short story that was just released, it’s doing fairly well, but I’m still self-conscious. I know logically that an unknown author wouldn’t sell really well right off, but like you said, checking Amazon to find out your sales haven’t moved in a few days does still strike against morale.

    I still plan to keep writing and release more. I’m sure that if I work hard at it, eventually I’ll do fairly well. But it is hard to be patient.

    I hope you continue to have success releasing ebooks and I wanted to thank you for this post. It made me realize I’m not alone in my doubts and it made me feel better after I’ve read it. Thank you.

  2. Jim Bronyaur

    This is such a well written, down to earth post. I commend you for all you’ve done and that you’re still writing, you’re still out there enjoying the ride.

    I guess at the end of the day, the whole point of being a writer is to write.

    🙂

    -jb

  3. Your post is spot-on–and fun to read.
    I’d say you’re an Indie success.

  4. Great post! I’m only at the start of my indie journey, but hearing stories like this is very inspirational (especially during the summer sales doldrums).

  5. Thanks for the heads up on a couple more places to check out, apart from Kindleboards, Kindle Nation Daily and Red Adept… This is a great post. I’ve just relaunched a book after my publisher went bust – this time indie all the way, and I’m glad to say that a week in, it’s not all terrible…(although the kdp dashboard is disgustingly compelling). Found you from Kindleboards btw…

  6. Great post, and I know exactly what you mean. My sales are lower than yours, and still I’m very grateful that I have as many readers as I have. Probably over 2,000 next month. I always try to remember that this time, last year, I doubted I could get 200 people to read my stuff for free.
    I write in a niche that isn’t attractive for traditional publishers. So going indie was the only option. I never regretted it a single day.

    No, it’s not that easy, but neither is waiting for months or years for an agent, and then for that agent to sell your book to a publisher, with all the agony and self doubt involved. And most of the time for peanuts.

    Isn’t it all worth it when you get that raving email from a reader who really liked your book?

  7. totallyskewed

    Yes, it’s a wonderful ride–regardless of where it leads. We write because, through our words and stories, we long to make sense of our world and to connect with others. No specific sales figures are required to achieve that end.

    Keep the faith. Believe in your work. And let The Universe deliver your books to those who most need them.

  8. Loved your essay! It made my day. I wish you much continued success.

    (I came over from the Kindle Boards)

  9. Thanks for the excellent, timely post. I used to write a parenting/humor column (in my past life) as well, and am planning on compiling it into something sellable after I finish my current projects. I was totally scoping you out the other day under that category, and FWIW, I was very proud of you as a fellow KB author. Keep writing, keep publishing, your sales will grow. Erma Bombeck sure as heck never quit & she’s still outselling us from the grave. Thanks for the peek into your experience. If you do want to shell out for publicity a la Oprah, I’m sure the “ways” are out there is you can raise the “means.”

  10. I’m impressed that you managed to start getting readers by the unorthodox marketing tactic of “not doing anything at all”. I’m pretty sure that’s a strategy that I could incorporate into my busy schedule.

  11. elaine saloka

    I enjoyed your article. Thank you for sharing your experience with others. I am a very new indie author. This time in my life just wanting to take it full circle. After working for years in banking, opted for early retirement and decided to throw my hat into this ring. With just a dash of creative spunk and the rest sheer insanity, only time will tell. Thank you for your words of honesty and wisdom.

  12. E-publishing has invigorated my writing. My hand is sore, I’m writing so much these days! So my sales aren’t great–at least now I have a goal besides getting rejection emails. I can put my books out, and if they find their way to a few people … it beats the heck out of the suspended animation purgatory of my computer’s hard drive!

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