Being an indie author is like standing in line for the Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios. At first it's exciting. The line looks like the movie set and you think, “I’m here! I’m actually here.” Then an hour rolls by and you think, “I’m here … I’m still here?” As hour two approaches you wonder if you’ve wasted your time. Was it really worth it?
When you finally make hop on that ride it’s AWESOME! Better than you could’ve ever imagined. It was SO amazing you think, “I’ve gotta do this again!” When you walk back to the end of the line it hits you. Is it worth another wait?
Unfortunately, this scenario is all-too-similar to my experience in indie publishing. Because it’s hard. It’s immensely harder than I ever realized—doing everything on my own and feeling like a failure sometimes.
Don’t get me wrong, there were times I’ve been successful. Like when I launched my first novel, I sold almost 50 copies in 1 week. Or when I did a free promo for my devotional. After almost 90 days on the market it finally got some notice—shooting from #1758 in paid devotionals to #1 free devotional overnight.
Yet those were only fleeting successes, 4-7 days max. So far, there’s no afterboom. Not even a tiny little aftershock, just a sliver of a residue from the two perks I’ve experienced as an indie author. The devotional is down, but my glorious debut novel is consistently in the top 100 - 200 in its category, Christian Fantasy, thanks to Kindle Unlimited borrows. And hopefully they will only build from there.
After 9 months of indie authorship I still have times where I feel like throwing in the towel. But I know I can’t. Because indie publishing is the opposite of traditional publishing.
The Slow Build
Traditional publishing, the kind that gets you in brick-and-mortar stores or on NYT bestseller lists, is all about the first 90 days. They do everything they can to prepare for a big flashy book launch to sell as many copies in the first three months as possible. Why? Because that’s the best way to hit the bestseller lists, and then the book will sell itself. That’s why it takes 1-2 years to get a traditional book ready for market.
Indie publishing is the exact opposite. It takes time to build your audience, and there’s no one right way to do that. Many indies espouse writing more books, that 5-10 books on the market will up your readership. But I’ve seen tons of good reviews and endorsements do the same thing for a really good book. There’s also tons of theories out there about marketing your indie book that in my experience are simply trial-and-error. One strategy that works for a certain author may not work for my book.
The Tailor-made Path
Where does that leave someone like me, a debut indie author just trying to make her way? When it comes to my dreams, I don’t like wasting my time. I’ve discovered that I have to find my own path—one that I have to tailor-make for myself.
If something everyone does, like free FB marketing, doesn’t work for me, I research other avenues and move on. I don’t have the energy to keep beating my head against a wall hoping someone else’s “successful” method will eventually work for me. So how much time to I spend trying new methods? At least a month, as much time as I feel it takes to fully vet that marketing strategy.
Keep an Open Mind
Keep your options open, evaluate the results, and be honest with yourself. Truthfully, I really love the idea of free FB marketing to book groups. It’s easy and cheap. But I’ve tracked the clicks using booklinker.net, and found that at first I sold 2-3 books a week, but now get no traction. None. Will I still use the FB method? Yes, I’ll still experiment with different memes just to see if a new format makes the difference. But there’s no point spending hours a day on something that doesn’t work.
I like to say, “Don’t knock it till you try it,” but that doesn’t mean try everything. In the end, I think the best strategy is to keep an open mind, and do your research. Keep telling yourself, “Don’t give up,” even when you feel like throwing in the towel. It’s what we do when things get difficult that shows who we are really are on the inside.
Have you overcome something difficult recently? Do tell! We could use some inspiration over here.
Psalm 139 is one of my absolute favorite Bible passages for many different reasons. It’s a great passage about how much God knows me, how He made me, and how He has great plans for me. When I reread this passage recently, verse 12 struck me in a new light.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
–Psalm 139:11-12 (NIV)
How many times do I want to hide from God? When I mess up, aka sin, or just plain get it wrong. I always want to run and hide, but I never feel like I can. And now I know why it never works. In Bible college, my theology professor tried to explain it to me. There was one question on the test that I got wrong–and I didn’t understand why. He told me that we are always in God’s presence. There’s nowhere to hide. “For darkness is as light to you.” Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
If God is everywhere, even in my darkness, then it’s not really as dark as it seems. Is it? Of course it still hurts when things don’t go my way. Sometimes it really hurts. But instead of it being pitch black, maybe it’s really a charcoal gray with a light in the corner, waiting to burn away the darkness.
“Even the darkness will not be dark to you.” That means even in the darkness God is with me, holding me tight. Telling me it’s going to be okay. When I stop trying to fix it and let him take over . . . it’s on, baby. He’s made a habit of transforming my blackest moment to charcoal gray, to light gray, to white as snow. In His own unfathomable, out-of-the-box way.
It’s still a process for me. Hey, I’m still learning, too. Learning to look for the light in the darkness. To watch and pray for it. And one day there will be no more darkness.
Here's a throwback post from my very first author event, the 2014 Marnatha book fest. Enjoy!
We all have a comfort zone don’t we? Some are just bigger than others. I confess, my zone of terror includes public speaking, sales, and bragging about myself. But that’s exactly what I had to do this weekend at my first author event. Now that I’ve lived to tell the tale, it’s time to pass along my survival secrets to you. Beware, some of them are surprising.
#1 Sometimes You Just Gotta Jump In
I know, sounds terrifying right? You better believe I was uber-nervous when my friend asked me to do a presentation on Angels in Young Adult Literature. My first author-related speaking engagement ever on a touchy subject like angels. Oh, my! When they announced me as the next speaker, I think a literal brood of butterflies on Redbull waged war in my stomach.
When I walked up there I took the mic and just started talking about angels. I even had my handy visual aids from Kronk to help me calm down. And somehow, praise the Lord, I made it through.
#2 Keep Going When the Going Gets Bumpy
I’ll be the first to admit, my presentation didn’t go as planned. The crowd consisted mostly of kids younger than the upper-age teens that my book targets. In the middle I tried to simplify my talk and ended up rambling off of my notes. Super abnormal! Usually when I get nervous I talk too fast and buzz right through my points in one fell swoop. But my off-note rambling ended up earning more head nods than anything else. I guess that means sometimes you just have to trust yourself.
#3 No Matter How Much You Prepare, You’re Gonna Get Blindsided
Not quite what you were expecting, eh? Me either! I got blindsided three times after my presentation. First, I never expected so many questions from the kids. They were really interested in angels and had their own thoughts to add. Some of them were so off-the-wall funny I was glad I ventured out of my comfort zone.
Then I got waylaid by a “suggestion” on angel theology. While I’m the first to admit I’m no theologian, I did go to Bible college so I know a thing or two about what the good book has to say. This “tip” on angelolgy was something I never heard before, something I never came across in all of my research. Then my husband made a good point. You can do all your research, know your facts cold, and still someone comes up with something that stumps you. It happens all the time in job interviews. The good thing about my left-field stump? I went home and researched. Now I’m better prepared for next time.
The biggest surprise came from the bishop of the church hosting the event. He asked if I could work my presentation into an article for his denomination’s newsletter. That’s right! My first author event ended up leading to my first byline outside of college and this blog! (Check out my upcoming events page for the Scribd of the full article.)
I’m not saying don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, because that’s silly. Of course you’ll be afraid. I’m saying do it anyway! No matter what happens you’ll gain experience. There were times it felt like I was crashing and burning, even failing. But that just means I’ll learn from my mistakes and do better next time. After all, no one does something exactly right the first time. It’s all about practice, baby!
Have you learned something you never thought you’d learn unless you left your comfort zone? I’d seriously love to hear all about it!
Barbara Hartzler is the debut author of The Nexis Secret—the story a girl with a gift to see the unseen world of angels. And the two secret societies vying for The Seer's allegiance. The Nexis Secret is inspired by Barbara’s college experiences and peppered with anecdotes from her teen missions trip to New York City. She’s always wanted to write, not necessarily about angels, but the idea was too good to pass up. As a former barista and graphic designer, she loves all things sparkly and purple and is always jonesing for a good cup of joe.