So, you want to be a successful indie author, but wonder if you can make decent money at it. You know that a few big-name writers do, but they write secular romance. You write fiction from a Christian worldview, or Catholic nonfiction. Can you make more than pin money?
Yes, if you are willing to learn and to work hard. My first year as a Indie Catholic Author (not counting the year when I mostly gave away my writing), I made about $12,000 in book sales and royalties. While I can’t guarantee that you will make that much (or even that I will do that well my second year), I can tell you how I maximized my profits.
First, let’s look at what a typical author makes annually. According to the latest Digital Book World Survey:
- Half of the writers – traditional and independent – earned $1,000– $2,999 or less.
- Traditionally published authors made a median income of $3,000-4,999.
- Self-published authors made a median of $500-999.
- Hybrid authors – who have published both ways – made a median of $7,500-9,999.
Now, let’s look at some strategies to help you exceed those numbers.
Find your audience
The most important thing you can do to become a successful indie author is to identify and connect with your book’s audience. We now have a global market of readers. That means that unless you write about something extremely obscure–like Lord Brideshead’s hobby of collecting matchboxes, for example–there is probably an audience for your book.
I write about Catholic spirituality for those who are serious about their faith. This is hardly a hot market! Yet I made about twelve times the median income for self-published authors my first year. In fact, I passed the annual median in my first month of being published. And I am convinced a large audience for that first book (Trusting God with St. Therese) still exists. I just have to connect with them.
However, within the genre of Catholic spirituality, I did several things to help me choose a book that would sell:
- I started a blog and built up an email list.
- I chose a subject I was excited about.
- I wrote from personal experience, sharing my struggles.
- I combined two topics popular among Catholics (St. Therese and trusting God)
Blogging is much easier for nonfiction than fiction writers. My first musings about trusting God were on my blog, Contemplative Homeschool. They began to establish me as an authority on my subject.
If you write fiction, try to find a subject you can blog about that would interest your book’s audience. Some writers make the mistake of blogging for other writers, rather than for readers. Use blogs like this one for that purpose. On your own blog, you need to connect with people who want to read books like yours.
Use a service like mailchimp to share your posts with subscribers. In order to build your subscriber list, offer a free chapter of your book, an exclusive short story, or another incentive. Make your signup form obvious. I started offering a free PDF that combined several posts on prayer, and added a pop-up signup box to my blog, in January 2014. My subscriber list began to rise steadily.
Always focus your efforts to connect with readers on your blog. Other social media should be secondary. You don’t own Facebook (unless Mark Zuckerberg is reading this ). They constantly make it harder for your “friends” to read your posts. You have little control over any social media platform. Your blog – especially if it’s a self-hosted blog – is in your hands. No one can take your audience away from you.
Studies show that the people on your subscriber list are many times more likely to buy your books than those you are connected with on social media. Put your efforts where they will help you most.
I use Facebook a lot, because that’s where most Catholics on the internet hang out. It helps me expand my reach. I also find it good for support groups. Indie Catholic Authors is on Google+. The Catholics on Google+ are largely a different crowd than those on Facebook. I chose Google+ for our community for SEO.
But no matter where I am online, I always try to get people back to my blog.
I began blogging in November 2012. In July 2013 I published my first ebook, which was only 1600 words. I wanted to offer it free, but I also wanted it to be on Amazon. So I uploaded it both to KDP and to Smashwords. On Amazon, I put the lowest price allowed $.99. I sold 1000 copies in the three months before Amazon price-matched the book. To this day, Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life is in the top 5 free ebooks in the Catholicism category and the top 10 in the Religion and Spirituality category.
Besides the unexpected money, this short ebook helped expand my reach. Thousands of people all over the world have read it. I included a link to my blog. After I published Trusting God with St. Therese, I updated the free ebook to include the introduction to it, with a buy link.
So, the lesson here is to build your audience with free material.
Guest posts and columns
At the beginning, I encourage you to link to your blog in comments on others’ blogs or in social media threads. Find a blog with a large audience that overlaps with yours and become active there.
I started commenting at SpiritualDirection.com at the beginning of 2014. I linked to a post I had done on the same subject as the article I was reading. Dan Burke, the owner of the site, read my post. In June 2014, he invited me to be a columnist.
SpiritualDirection.com is the largest Catholic spirituality blog on the internet. Well over 30,000 people subscribe (although at that time it was closer to 20,000).
I published Trusting God with St. Therese in July 2014. I had about 800 subscribers. My first post at SpiritualDirection went up a month later. It was carried on several other sites afterwards. I sold about 20 ebooks and gained many new subscribers. Today my subscriber list is over 1700.
Guest posts are also a good way to share someone else’s audience. If you and another blogger can swap guest posts, you can both gain. Of course, if the blogger you are swapping with only has 100 subscribers, your gain will be a handful at most.
Formats and distribution
Part of connecting with your audience is making it easy for them to find and buy your books. Authors are always debating whether or not their ebooks should be exclusive to Amazon. Being part of what is called KDP Select gives you higher royalties, an easier way of putting your ebook on sale, and other benefits. But, of course, it makes you dependent on one retailer.
I start each of my books in KDP Select. Your commitment is only for 90 days. Make sure you try a promotion during that time to see how it works. My first promotion for Trusting God with St. Therese was very successful. I still have that book in KDP Select. About 70% of my profits have been from the ebook.
For A Spiritual Growth Plan for Your Choleric Child, I found that my audience prefers paperback. I have made a paperback version for each book through Createspace. Probably 70% of the profits of this book so far (released in May) have been paperback. I just took it out of KDP Select and began distributing the ebook more widely through Draft2Digital.
Trusting God with St. Therese was released as an audiobook in April, which has made about $300 in royalties so far. I split these with my narrator. I used ACX for the audiobook and highly recommend it. Although sales have been modest, I do see an uptick when I run a promotion on my ebook.
Issue your book in all formats, if possible. I probably won’t do audiobooks for my Spiritual Growth Plan series, because the book lists and lesson plans that are an important part of the book aren’t suited to that format. But I do plan an audiobook for my third book, which was just released, Is Centering Prayer Catholic?
Most of the work is done when you complete the ebook. Paperbacks are essential for anyone writing nonfiction or speaking at events. Audiobooks give readers one more way to find you and offer a comeback for those who say, “Your book looks great, but I don’t have time to read.”
In part 2, we’ll look at quality issues that effect your sales. Part 3 will focus on marketing.
Connie Rossini gives whole families practical help to grow in holiness. She is the author of Trusting God with St. Therese and the free ebook Five Lessons from the Carmelite Saints That Will Change Your Life. She writes a spirituality column for The Prairie Catholic of the Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota, and blogs at Contemplative Homeschool. She is also a columnist for SpiritualDirection.com. Her posts have appeared on Catholic Lane and elsewhere. She owns the Google+ Community Indie Catholic Authors. Connie and her husband Dan have four young sons.