Usually I write about stuff I see in a Facebook group. This post is a reaction to some stuff I saw over in a LinkedIn post.
A friend of mine has stuck out on her own indie writing journey. She’s a marketing professional who replied to a post by another marketing professional about indie authors looking for advice. I weighed in with an interesting factoid from an episode of The Creative Penn (which I touched on in The Five Year Journey). The average indie writer will probably not see consistent sales until at least their fourth or fifth book. It takes this long to build a backlist for readers to discover after they finish the first book.
This means when you first get going you’re probably not going to be able to quit the day job. Yeah, it sucks to admit this but I’m not going to sugar coat this (See Half the Battle is Showing Up). Earning money from your art is tough. Earning a living from your art is even tougher. Many of us fantasize of leaving the day job and writing full time. And people do it. Joanna Penn did it. I met E.J. Stevens at an author expo a few years ago, she did it. It takes some planning and doing things like adjusting your lifestyle and paying off your debts. I’m still working a day job, full disclosure, so if you want advice on leaving your day job Joanna is probably a better source than I am. If you’re in the critical first phases where you’re thinking of getting started going indie, read on.
The Publicist Conundrum
When I first published The Trip, I had one of my filmmaking cohorts (who happened to be a musician) tell he he’d just hired a publicist. I needed a publicist, he said. My first thought at the time was I have one book, I’m making a few bucks a month, why on earth do I need a publicist? He pushed hard, telling me the publicist would take care of getting my name out there and would have media contacts and the like. So I did some research.
The fees I saw all started around $500. Consistently. Most had a six month to year long contract with a client, meaning I’d be locked in with this person for up to a year. Let’s do a little math here.
Twelve months at $500 per month comes out to $6000. That’s a lot of money. It’s going out regardless of whether you move books or not. Factor in the fact that to consider this really successful, you need to what, make three or four times what you spent (business majors chime in here)? I don’t know about you, but I don’t know any indies making that kind of money off their first book. Maybe there are, but…
It really wasn’t a tough choice for me. When it would come up I’d just say I’d think about it. I think someday it may make sense and I will need a publicist, but I’m just not there yet and it’s going to be a while.
In The Meantime – Plan A
The result of this was most – nigh, all the work of getting my name out there fell squarely on my shoulders. I’m the one responsible for building my audience, I’ve got to suck it up and figure out how I’m going to do that one a shoestring budget. It’s possible. Totally possible. There are two things you need to remember:
- This will not be easy
- This will not be quick
Back in Focusing Your Project I talked about the project management formula regarding time, quality and budget. I’ve made the decision to focus on quality; yes, this means things take time. I get that. I accept that. I can deal with it taking a while to write a book as long as the end result is good and I’m not spending much to bring it to market.
I also thought long and hard about ways I could self-promote. I listed some of these back in The Indie’s Social Marketing Toolkit. A lot of those tools are still around and they’re still useful, I’d definitely check out the post for a deeper dive into the topic.
On a Filmmaking Stuff podcast Jason Brubaker mentioned an indie should probably spend 20% of their time creating and 80% of their time marketing. I don’t know if I’d quite break it up like that, but once you get to market it’s true. You will spend a significant chunk of time getting your name out there. Know it. Accept it. Do it. You can.
Spending Money to Make Money
When I balked at the cost of a publicist my cohort replied, “Sometimes you have to spend money to make money.” There is some truth to this but successful business people (at least the ones I know) tend to be on the stingy side with their business spending.
On your first couple books, I think you’d be better off doing the publicity on your own or having your friends/family help you. Put the money into two things:
- The best editor you can afford
- The best cover you can afford
These are the two things I really think you shouldn’t bend on in the early days. Get the best editor and cover artist you can find. Pay them. And go from there until you start seeing consistent sales. A well-told story, professionally edited with an eye-catching cover will sell. Good stories transcend time and new readers are always coming up. In the early days focus on building an audience.
From what I’ve personally seen I think there’s a lot of truth to the five book theory. When I first went to GraniteCon with one book,I got barely any traffic. With two books it was a little better. With three there was a noticeable uptick. I’m hoping I can get two more books out before I go again; it’s ambitious but I’d like to try. I think customers like having a variety of things to choose from…but not so many it gets overwhelming.
There Will Be A Time and Place
Before I get angry comments from publicists saying I don’t appreciate your work, I do. I spend a lot of time with marketing departments in my day job. I understand how tough it is and I think the fee for a good publicist is fair. That being said I think a new writer needs to focus on core tasks first: mastering the craft, building an audience, and getting off the ground first.
How about you? What are your thoughts?