Even in the best of times, the indie author’s journey is often a roller coaster fraught with high highs and low lows. There’s the ecstatic sweetness of creative discovery and invention and the joy of self-publication. And then there’s the common disappointment of lower-than-expected sales or those bewildering one-star reviews that defy human decency.
The writer’s journey has never been easy. Every writer—even bestselling authors—will face days when the reasons to quit feel more compelling than the reasons to carry on. And today, in addition to the ordinary creative and business challenges faced by indie authors, authors must operate during a raging global pandemic and amid polarizing politics that rip at the very fabric of social cohesion.
No one would be wrong to wonder whether we’re living in a dystopia. It’s a tough time to be a human, let alone an indie author.
But fret not. Sure as winter’s barren branches eventually give way to spring’s vibrant renewal, this winter of discontent, too, shall pass. Here are 10 tips to help indie authors persevere toward the brighter future to come:
1. Choose a sustainable pace. A career as an indie author is a marathon, not a sprint. If an indie author is feeling burned out, it’s a clue to slow down and find a healthier, more sustainable pace.
2. Think long-term. Consider how every action taken today will have consequences that ripple far into the future. Short-term stumbles, mistakes, and disappointments are inevitable. In fact, these small failures are gifts because they help light the way toward better paths.
3. Know that writers are important. The writer’s work product—intricately woven words in book form—is important to the future of humankind. Books help readers make their way through life. Whether the writer is writing a contemporary romance novel or a treatise on astrophysics, these books have the power to bring comfort, joy, and understanding to readers so badly in need of each.
4. Dream expansive dreams. Ambition is necessary for achievement. Often attributed to Salvador Dali is the saying “Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” To make expansive dreams more achievable, break the dream down into smaller, more easily achievable components. Celebrate each small achievement along the way as the bigger dream nears reality.
5. Focus on reader satisfaction over sales. Sales are an inadequate measure of success; they are a byproduct of success, not the cause. Measure success by the level of reader delight. Writers who consistently bring their readers to emotionally satisfying extremes earn more five-star reviews and build a loyal readership organically over time. Great indie careers are made one happy reader at a time, because happy readers drive more readership through word of mouth.
6. Focus on craft above marketing. Many authors make the mistake of prioritizing marketing over craft. That’s backward. By focusing on craft first and marketing second, the indie author will produce better books. Better books generate more enthusiastic word of mouth, the most effective advertising. Better books also yield higher ROI on marketing spending.
7. Practice radical time management. Authors’ unique contribution to the world is their original writing. Successful indie authors organize their days to maximize writing time and minimize time spent on tasks that can be more efficiently outsourced to others. Write more. With every word written, a good writer becomes a better writer, and a great writer becomes a greater writer.
8. Honor best practices. There’s no magic bullet for success. Instead, authors should focus on implementing and fine-tuning the dozens of best practices that bring incremental advantages for discoverability, desirability, and reader satisfaction. These advantages compound over time to grow author brand, platform, and sales. Most authors do a poor job of implementing best practices. For example, e-book preorders are proven to significantly increase a book’s sales in the first year after publication, yet, according to recent Smashwords data, 85% of indie authors didn’t take advantage of preorders for their last book launches. The 15% who did implement this essential best practice likely earned an outsize sales advantage over those who didn’t.
9. Write for the love of writing. When writers write for the love of writing, every word, sentence, and paragraph they complete nourishes their souls. The writers who write for the love of writing are the ones who will persevere beyond the inevitable obstacles and long after the quick-buck writers have given up.
10. Never quit. The only way to fail as an indie author is to give up and stop publishing. If an indie author continues writing and publishing through the good times and bad, they will never fail.
Mark Coker is the founder of the e-book distributor Smashwords.