How Publishing Really Works: From an Indie Writer’s Point-of-View
Everyday I’m in my writing chair by seven a.m. and reading yesterday’s output. I do my editing as I read, so that, by the time my book is written, it is in final draft form, not first draft. After the daily edits, I begin my writing (cup of coffee number two). I generally try to get down about 2,000 words for the day. Unlike all the “write 10,000 words an hour books,” I violate one of their cardinal rules in that I also research as I write. Why? Because I have found that research so often flows into another plot twist or follow-through that I hadn’t been thinking on my own.
So I Google this or that as I go, and I download eBooks that provide background I need as I go (I write legal thrillers, so there’s always something new for me to be learning about forensic chemistry or DNA banking or cyberdata or some other cutting-edge manner of evidence acquisition). I can scan an ebook in about fifteen minutes to nail down the particular area I want to include in my book. Borrowing the book on my Kindle Unlimited account costs me nothing. By the time I’m ready to move from spectography to facial recognition software I have maybe thirty minutes invested and no dollars, which makes my reseach all but free. This was all impossible before Google and KU and these repositories make for much more fun and accurate writing.
My 2000 words take me all of about two to three hours and I’m done writing for the day. My books are targeted for 80,000 words so my calendar for finishing the final draft is forty days. This means that I can put out about nine novels a year. Yes, nine. Unlike tradpub’s goal of a book a year for its top-drawer writers, I don’t have to wait weeks and weeks for editing, re-editing, proofing, cover art, and the like. It takes me at most one week to accomplish all these things when my final draft is finished. By then I’m 20,000 words into my next book.
Editing takes my editor five days. I receive the book back in Word markup and it takes me about three hours to revise as advised. Then the book is proofed by software I’m subscribed to, and at the same time my cover artist is finalizing the cover. Covers are an incredibly important part of book sales, so I have searched around until I found the perfect artist for my novels. It takes him about four days (he works days at his FT “real” job) to get a finished product back to me. All told, moving my book from final draft to ready-to-publish inventory takes one week. My wife then reads the final item one last time and makes her suggestions, which I follow. She’s a common-sense reader and gives me common-sense feedback. This is an important step. She does her read-through and makes her notes for me concomitant to the days when the cover is being done, so there’s no delaying the process for my wife’s read. I format the ebook for publication using Vellum; formatting takes less than the ten minutes, including the addition of front- and back-matter, which mostly is copied and pasted from earlier books. Then we’re ready to put the book up for sale.
I put one copy of the book up on book funnel and send an email to my mailing list select group, which is a group of about 150 of the most active participants on my mailing list (8000 strong and counting) and I ask the 150 to please download the freebie from book funnel. If they want, they will review it on Amazon when I send them the second email in a day or two announcing publication. My participation from this group is about 70%. Which means that within a matter of a week or so from first publication my books will have anywhere from 50-100 reader reviews.
Publishing my book on KDP takes less than an hour. Publishing my book on Createspace takes even less. Now my electronic book and my paperback are both up for sale. Once they are, I announce the publication to my full mailing list. My book is not discounted during any of this. It usually will hit the Amazon Top Twenty for legal thrillers within about 24 hours and copies start moving out the door as the Amazon algos take over.
Compare this to what you know about how tradpub works. Compared to those “real” writers, we’re living and writing and publishing in two different worlds. Two months after publication, Amazon pays me my first month’s 70% of sales. Tradpub writers get something like 15% maybe a year after publication. Most of those brothers and sisters have day jobs. I don’t–not since I started DIY on Amazon.
After I’ve finished up my 2-3 hours of writing every day, I spend maybe an hour a day doing marketing. This consists of checking my Facebook ads for cost-per-click values, and maybe applying for a Bookbub or buying a Bargain Booksy listing. I don’t do much more marketing anymore. My name is pretty well known among my genre, my niche, and my books fly out the door accordingly.
Tradpub can’t compete with me. If I don’t like how a book is moving in the market, I’ll rewrite the blurb or tweak the cover. Fifteen minutes tops on blurb re-dos. Cover change-ups are rare; my artist and I pretty much know what will move books and we put that into practice with each book. I don’t mess much with keywords anymore; I used to; now that’s refined down to what works best for me.
I have an assistant. She runs my author’s Facebook pages. This consists of daily posts of this or that article about books or publishing, and consists of interacting with readers, which I also do through reader emails I get every day. Everyone’s inquiry or complaint or compliment gets a response. She gets paid for two hours of effort a day and she’s excellent. She also does occasional newsletters to the mailing list but I really don’t paper those readers like every week or two weeks, like some writers do. I hate signing up for stuff and getting victimized by some over-the-top seller and I know my readers do too. But every now and then we’ll give away a free book just to say thanks or talk about a day at the beach–something personal that I hope connects.
That’s my process. The results are astonishing. At one time I was a pretty well known trial lawyer and handled some pretty impressive clients. I never, however, earned as much as I do now with my books. I sell about 10,000 books a month and gather in about 7 million page reads a month, and I’m only just starting my third year. This year I will earn in the mid-to-upper six figures.
Thank you, Amazon. Thank you, Bookbub. I got into this in January of 2014 as a way to supplement my Social Security. Even after forty years of law practice I hadn’t managed to save very much for retirement. But there was also a time in there of a complete medical disability which required me to shut down my law practice for two years and basically start over in my sixties. Savings were depleted by this. So remaking myself into a thriller writer has been a godsend and I am very grateful. I try to pass this along by helping other writers with their questions about marketing, etc., keeping in mind that as JAK says this is not a zero-sum game. The fact that I sell a book doesn’t mean that you won’t. We will both sell if we have what readers want to read.
While my methods and run-times differ dramatically from tradpub, both those writers and I must reach the same goal: we must write books that readers want to read. There is no secret ingredient, nothing that can be learned or taught.
You either write books that readers want to read, or you don’t.