Joanna Penn, ‘The Creative Penn’ has just launched a new series of free videos – you can sign up for free access to the series here. I don’t want to spoil the content for you, but if you’re keen to become an independent ‘authorpreneur’ (a fancy way of saying self-published author, and I rather like it), then I urge you to sign up – as ever with Joanna, the advice is indispensable and it’s delivered in her usual chatty, charming style.
The first video in the series covers “11 Ways to Make Money As An Indie Author” and, right out of the gate, JP lays bare her methods of accumulating what is now a highly impressive six-figure income – impressive enough for her to have been able to hire her own husband into the business! And that last word is key: “business”. As a savvy modern indie, Joanna makes it clear that she derives her income from more than one source, like a shrewd investor spreading their risk in the market with a portfolio approach.
Now, this all makes a great deal of sense to me because I’m lucky to straddle the two worlds of traditional publishing and indie publishing. The Wargaming Compendium was published by Pen & Sword, and I’m under contract to produce at least three more books for them; but I self-published Battlegames for five years and have plans to self-publish other work, and a great deal of what Joanna says chimes with my personal experience.
The key point I would make is this: even if you are traditionally published by a reputable publishing house, you really cannot rely upon them to market and promote your book in the way they might have done 20, 10, perhaps even 5 years ago. Because of the rise of the internet and increased competition with e-books and indie publishing, traditional publishing houses have shrunk – they simply don’t have the personnel or resources to dedicate to the promotion of individual titles any longer unless they think they have a guaranteed hit on their hands.
You could say I’ve been lucky. In my tiny niche of the marketplace, The Wargaming Compendium has done extremely well and sales are comfortably in the mid-thousands, which made it a “Best Seller” in various categories for a time. But actually, luck has nothing to do with it.
- Firstly, I wrote a damn fine book! I laboured with blood, sweat and tears to produce the magnum opus I had always dreamed of, and since I also designed the tome, I made sure that it was as visually appealing as I could possibly make it.
- Secondly, because of an administrative accident, Amazon was promoting the book for at least three years before I’d actually finished writing it. That showed the value of creating ‘teasers’ ad absurdum, and probably ad nauseam too!
- Thirdly, I’m very well known in the small world of historical wargaming. Outside that cosy coven, not so much. (I’m working on that.) Being invited to chat on podcasts from time to time provided more opportunities to engage with that audience (at some length, as listeners will know!).
- Fourthly, being the editor of a bi-monthly and now monthly magazine, that particular marketplace is familiar with me and has seen plenty of examples of my work over the last nine years. This could be seen as the equivalent of an indie author giving their work away for free, or nearly so, in order to gain exposure with their target audience. (Note that a traditionally published writer doesn’t have the option of testing the marketplace with giveaways in the way that an indie does, unless they get special permission from their publisher. If you’re a big-name novelist, you might be able to persuade your publisher to produce a ‘freebie’ giveaway of, say, the first chapter of your book in a national newspaper or as a mini-paperback next to the tills in bookshops. As a non-fiction mid-lister in an obscure subject, not so much.)
- Finally, I’ve been working with the internet since 1996, and social media since it first emerged in 2005-6, so I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way and have learned that having an engaged audience of people genuinely interested in what you’re doing is critical to success. In the world of sales, the key word is “referrals” – people who are happy to recommend your product or service by word of mouth. “Followers” are the internet equivalent, the people ready to evangelise what you do because they have grown to like and trust you. They are absolutely precious – never let them down! (Or be prepared to grovel if you do…)
To be a successful author these days – and, you might say, to be successful at anything – you need to embrace these realities. Gone are the days of a cosy lunch with your publisher at a swanky London club, to discuss your worldwide book tour and five-star accommodation arrangements. If you’re lucky, you might exchange a few emails and maybe a phone call or two. Nowadays, Pen & Sword is just one example of a publishing house that spells out in black and white the expectation that the author will participate in marketing their own book.
I consider myself lucky with Pen & Sword. They have a smart website, send out regular newsletters with special promotions and produce a smart catalogue every so often. My editor there is a lovely chap who is highly intelligent and an author in his own right. (Hello Philip Sidnell!)
But I’m itching to get back to self-publishing as soon as I can, in tandem with the trad published work. I am, in fact, what some people in the industry call a “hybrid”. It’s a lot of work, but there’s nothing more satisfying than knowing that whatever rewards emerge, they’re the result of the sweat of one’s own brow. And the flexibility is simply amazing: try something, and if it doesn’t work, try something different, or even try different things simultaneously to see what works best. Decisions can be made and the effects seen within hours, even minutes.
So, whether you land a publishing deal or decide to go it alone, your work doesn’t finish when you type “The End”. It really is just the beginning.