Nadia Lee | NYT and USA Today Bestselling Author of Contemporary Romance » Three Qualities of Effective (and Possibly Successful) Indie Writers

Three Qualities of Effective (and Possibly Successful) Indie Writers

Originally posted on Babbling About Books and More in March 2011.

It’s so hard not to think of indie-pubbing (or self-publishing) as a quick way to make some big bucks when you read about how much money Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath have made from their endeavors. I even read somewhere that Amanda paid cash for a house…! So oh geez, self-publishing sounds almost like winning a jackpot, except the odds are so much better.


Self-publishing is really, really difficult. I’ve done it myself, self-publishing the contemporary romance Carnal Secrets last month. Though it may sound easy, it really wasn’t.

(For those of you wondering about A Happily Ever After of Her Own and Destiny Entwined, which are also on sale—they were originally freebies for my newsletter subscribers. Carnal Secrets was always meant for publication. So I don’t consider A Happily Ever After of Her Own or Destiny Entwined as something I’ve self-published as a business venture / product.)

From my observation and research, to be an effective (and possibly successful) indie author, you need three things:

  1. A cold heart
  2. The ability and willingness to take care of the business side of things
  3. Realistic expectations

So let’s look at each item:

1. A cold heart

Why a cold heart? Because you have to be objective about why you want to self-publish. Doing it because you’re angry that everyone in NY rejected you with a form R and you’re gonna make them sorry is not a good idea. That’s not how you make a big decision like this.

If you’re sure—REALLY SURE—that your writing is good, go for it. And do it only if you can produce a book that’s just as good as the ones that are published by the big boys.

It’s true that readers don’t care if a book is self-published or NY published. But they are unforgiving; nor do they forget authors who disappoint them. If your book doesn’t measure up, readers will create word of mouth — the kind you really don’t want. And it’ll hamper your ability to sell books in the future.

2. The ability and willingness to take care of business

A lot of writers I know tell me they just don’t want to deal with the business side of things. It does seem rather daunting to figure out break-even sales points, hire somebody for the cover, editing and file conversion, decide where to distribute and how much to charge, learn how to promote and create a system to track sales, profits and costs, etc. etc. etc.

But when you self-publish, you don’t have anybody doing those things for you. If you don’t do them—or learn how to do them yourself or hire somebody who can do them for you—you cannot self-publish.

Don’t skimp on covers or editing or file conversion because you don’t want to risk your money. If you aren’t willing to invest in your own book, why should any reader be expected to fork over money for it?

As I mentioned before, you want to put out a quality product. You don’t want your book cover to look homemade. Nor do you want your book to contain numerous errors that any competent freelance editor would’ve caught. (If you need a referral, contact me and I’ll be happy to provide you with one.) And you don’t want to publish an ebook with conversion errors so that it contains strange symbols and gibberish instead of punctuation marks and so on. (BTW—if you’re reasonably competent with HTML and CSS and have a Windows computer, you can learn how to convert ebooks. Get more info here.)

Again, this is a lot of work for one person, even if you outsource a big chunk of it. Read what Amanda Hocking has to say about the amount of work she needs to do as a self-published author:

3. Realistic Expectations

You’re not going to post your ebook on Kindle and wake up the next day with a million dollars in your bank account.  That’s just not gonna happen no matter what journalists who interview Amanda Hocking and JA Konrath, etc. make it sound like. (Those articles always make it sound soooo easy.)

JA Konrath started with a significant fan base he’d built from his NY publishing days. But it took him a year before he could make a good money (over $2k/month) from his self-published books.

I spoke with a successful indie writer who makes a good living from her self-published romance novels. (She doesn’t have any traditional NY or epub experience or any type of special platform or fame; she wished to remain anonymous for the purposes of this blog post.) She told me that for the first year and a half, she was making $200/month or less (sometimes a lot less). Then she finally started building a backlist and saw some real money coming in consistently (over $2k/month). Nine months later, she has eight titles out and is consistently making $10k/month. So it took her about two years of really hard work to reach this point.

Sadly, most self-published writers will not reach this point. Self-published author forums are full of people who are barely selling one book a day. But if you look at the people who are successful (the Konrath blog has tons of guest posts by such people), you’ll see a pattern: They write well, are business-savvy and work really hard).

Some of the points here may seem like a bit of a downer, but I wanted to let people know what they should consider, and for them to have realistic expectations about self-publishing. Though it’s a lot of work, it can also offer a fabulous opportunity—after all, you get to keep all your profits, and, when done right, you can make a very comfortable living.