Back in 2009, I started writing Robot Awareness. I had a vision for it — once completed, I would start shopping it around to publishers. If no one bit, I would find a way to publish it myself. It’s a story I love, and I wanted to see it in print.
Sometime around 2013, I came across the book Wool. I read it and loved it, so much. But what fascinated me was how it was written and published – Hugh Howey completely published it himself. The more I read, and the more authors I learned were doing this, the more intrigued I became.
Self-publishing used to have the stigma attached to it that meant the author couldn’t get published by a traditional arm. It was a last resort of the unpublished desperate to see the work in print. Authors such as Howey, Michael Bunker, Nick Cole and Susan Kaye Quinn changed my mind. I saw how an author could have success on their own, without a publisher, and control every aspect of the work and how it’s presented.
The other side of that coin is that it’s a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time. An author needs to spend a lot of time marketing, and in a very specific way. I’ve found that tweets about your book being free work well – all others sound like mindless pandering. When I see a “buy my book” post, I typically ignore it. Authors who excessively post such tweets get unfollowed. So I knew that I couldn’t do that.
Build a subscriber base, I was told. That’s great and all, but in practice is difficult to start. Even with the promise of a free book, I couldn’t seem to get people to sign up. I have something like a dozen subscribers.
Robot Awareness: Part I did OK. In the first week, I sold about 30 books, and then it petered off quietly. A few friends bought it and a few curious onlookers. I released parts II and III to crickets; other than a couple of people who had read the first one.
When I released The Sand Runner, it made a decent splash too. I probably netted about a dozen sales in the first month or so. I’ve heard of people releasing books without any sales, so I consider this decent for an unknown author.
Both The Sand Runner and Robot Awareness: Part I made big splashes when they went free the first time – RA vaulted to as high as No. 13 in the Space Opera category on Amazon. Those led to some sales too, as some of the people went ahead and bought II and III right away. Those freebie pushes (which I did more recently, I’m afraid) have led to more sales. I seem to sell a book of some kind ever 3-5 days. My Kindle Unlimited reads have suddenly picked up, with an average of about 50 pages read a day (far better than the zippo I had been getting for months.
Obviously, at $0.99, those sales aren’t exactly raking it in. The adage I’ve heard amongst indie authors is that you need to continually come out with new works, and as you come out with new stuff your old stuff will sell more. The idea is that when a reader finds you and likes you, there is more for them to buy, bringing up your sales.
That seems to be the case. From my experience, so far, giving away one book for free has raised sales on the other parts. When all four parts are released, I think that will work even better. As other authors have told me, many readers won’t start a new series until the whole thing is out, to make sure they can read until the end.
Robot Awareness won’t be done with Part IV, which I hope to release before summer. Robot Awareness: The Inner Circle comes after that, which I plan to release in another four parts. I’ve written the first part of that story arc, but have three more in which to create. I’m pretty excited to think about writing new Robot Awareness, which I haven’t done in awhile as I caught up editing and polishing parts I had previously written.
Would I go back and do things differently, if I’d had it to do again? Yes. Initially I planned to have four different covers for each RA release; later I ended up just doing a color scheme change, but if I’d have thought about it from the beginning, I would have more consciously had four covers design from the start, that are different but connect together somehow. I would have tempered my enthusiasm in the beginning – I assumed everyone I knew and then some would buy my book. After all, it’s only a buck, right? But that was an expectation I probably shouldn’t have had. Indie publishing is a long game, and it takes a good body of work to make yourself stand out. It takes a long time to convince people to write reviews; most don’t want to do it, for some reason. Robot Awareness just got its 5th review (currently at 4.3 stars) and The Sand Runner has one 5-star. (If you like an author, nothing helps them more than leaving a nice review.) And in the writing itself, I would have written each part a little more deliberately – they divide up nicely as is, but I would have designed better cliffhangers had I planned to release RA as a serial in the first place. The Sand Runner, a series of short stories, and other serials I release in the future will not have that problem.
But one thing is for certain. I definitely wouldn’t stop indie publishing. Right now, it’s a hobby I’m paying to participate in. Even paying minimal costs for editing and cover help, it’s still a losing venture, money wise. And the realization that I need to put myself in the red further, paying for advertising, didn’t help. But I can write when I want, publish the stories I want to publish and get my work to readers. For me, that’s what it is really about.