Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Indieversary: A reflection on the last couple of years.

Here's a long post where I share my experience as indie author...

Two years ago—April 20, 2009—I uploaded a couple of novels to Amazon's CreateSpace program, which provides print-on-demand paperbacks and lists the books on Amazon. Along the way, CreateSpace suggested I upload them to “Kindle” also. I had no idea what a Kindle was, but apparently it was another place you could make your books available to readers, so I went ahead and did that.

The books were Dominion and Helix, both science fiction novels.

At the time, none of this seemed like a big deal. I expected nothing, but I figured that even if a few people bought my books, that would be neat. I pretty much forgot about them and moved on. I was still focused on getting traditionally published, because everybody knew that self-publishing was no way to make a living.

In the summer of 2009, I wrote Jenny Pox. I shopped it around in the fall, but didn't get any bites from New York. However, in this process (and I know I've told this part before, here and there) I did hire Scott Nicholson to edit the “partial” or first five chapters. He advised me to look more closely at this Kindle thing, if the traditional publishing route didn't work out.

That was advice I should have taken more seriously a lot sooner, but I didn't. By 2010, it was back to the old familiar despondence—despite writing and improving my craft continuously for the past couple of decades (since I was about six or seven, actually), it seemed I wasn't writing anything the world wanted to read.

In June 2010, I got a deposit from Amazon. Apparently, Helix had started to sell on Kindle, all on its own and with no help from me. I finally took Scott's advice and looked at this Kindle thing more closely. I uploaded Jenny Pox to see what would happen.

I didn't know how to go about promoting a book, so I went to the Amazon forums. There, someone mentioned a place called Kindleboards. I visited that forum, started hanging out in the Writers' Cafe, and learned everything about being an indie author.

At Kindleboards, people sometimes shared their sales numbers, and I read about authors like David Dalglish and David McAfee, who were selling more than a thousand books a month as indies. This convinced me to really dive in—query book review bloggers about Jenny Pox, get active on social media, and kind of see what everyone was doing to promote their books. I was just hoping to make enough to pay a few bills, and ease some of the financial strain I was feeling.

From there, amazing things happened. A lot of the book bloggers loved my little book, and I was stunned. While the publishing industry had given me the idea, over several years, that nobody was interested in my work, I was not only reaching readers, I was suddenly getting positive reviews left and right. And the book was starting to sell. I couldn't believe it.

The next big jump came from trading excerpts. Amanda Hocking, who was already a top-selling indie but not yet the huge star she is today, offered to excerpt it in her novel Ascend, just because she liked it. I was thrilled to the point of nearly passing out. Later, I also traded excerpts with Stacey Wallace Benefiel and Vicki Keire (as fully blabbed about in my earlier post, “How I Became Part of a Girl Gang”). Valmore Daniels and I also traded excerpts, between Helix and Forbidden the Stars, two books set in the same era of “future history.”

It turns out that trading excerpts with others in your genre is a great way to reach more readers.

Now, I'm not making a fortune, but I am making more than what my day job as a proofreader pays me. Becoming a full-time writer is no longer a matter of “if” but “when.” It only took 12 years from the day I graduated with my English degree. I had almost given up hope for that to ever happen, and then everything kind of fell into my lap.

The best part is hearing from readers—by email, Twitter or Facebook, I get at least a few messages a week from people who enjoyed one of my books enough to tell me about it, just random people out there in the word who found my work and enjoyed it. That's a huge change from thinking that maybe I was wasting my life away writing stories nobody wanted to read.

The next best part is the loss of anxiety. Writing a new novel, I don't have to worry about how I will publish it or whether anyone will read it, or whether I'm wasting time with self-indulgence. I know that each book will find its audience in time. Now that I have an outlet, it's so easy to write every day. That weight has been lifted forever.

I learned, happily, that being an indie author is all about community. I have a community of indie authors to whom I can turn for advice, support, and encouragement, and I'm happy to share what little I know when I can. Another critical community is that of the book bloggers—people like Darkeva, the Bewitched Bookworms, Michelle from Indie Paranormal Reviews, The Slowest Bookworm (who, despite her name, always seems to be the first one to read my new books), Jenny from Supernatural Snark, Lynn from Red Adept Reviews, Kim at Caffeinated Diva, and many others. Not only have they written great reviews, but they've brought enthusiasm and support in a variety of ways.

In the indie world, there are no traditional gatekeepers—an editor is someone you hire for a flat fee, like a cover artist. Book bloggers are the gatekeepers for us. They'll promote your books if they like them, but also let people know if your quality of work is poor—so if you're an indie author, be sure to get that manuscript edited and polished before uploading!

So, this is technically my two-year indieversary, but I didn't really wake up and “embrace the indie” until around August 2010. And the most amazing things have happened since then. What's the point of this long, rambling post? Maybe it's that, if you really love something, you should stick with it, no matter what happens. Even if things seem hopeless, the universe might be cooking up some great surprises for you, and they might be right around the corner...

Thanks for reading.


  1. Apart from making one book bloggers heart glow, I really do hope this post gives many new indie authors the encouragement to keep at it.

    I really enjoyed reading this and congratulations on your Two Year Indiversary!

    PS First to read your books and first to comment ... I'm not stalking you. Honest!

  2. Get. Out. We have the same indieversary! Kick ass. Cheers to realizing we're not wasting our time, Brutha! May you get to your "when" of being a full-time writer sooner than later.

  3. What an awesome post! I absolutely love reading success stories like yours because it encourages the rest of us to keep going. Your words of wisdom are much appreciated JL. I can't believe the amount of hard work you've put into your blogs, covers, etc. You deserve every bit of success you've had - you've spent years building up to this and it just goes to show it's the readers who count. A great book will always find an audience. I am very intrigued by the synopsis of Jenny Pox - it sounds amazing and I'm actually planning to buy a kindle just so I can read it! Much love, Tani x

  4. Thanks, Karen! I know you're stalking me a little, but that's okay :)

    Stacey - I didn't realize that! How cool!

  5. Thanks, Tani, I'm glad you liked the post :)

  6. Congrats, JL! May you sell a million more books in the coming years.

  7. Wow. Inspiring post. I am just starting out with my books indie published (about a year back) and on kindle (since Xmas) and am getting some sales. Nothing stellar but its encouraging to hear how someone a bit further on has seen results.
    Well done.

  8. Very inspiring post for a noob like myself. I am curious though, why did you opt for a partial edit vs a full one? Is that a common practice?

  9. Congratulation --I wish you many years of success!

  10. Very inspiring post, glad you downloaded to kindle. Just finished Tommy Nightmare and am looking forward the next installment in the Jenny Pox series.

  11. Thanks for this post, JL. It makes a difference to me. And, congrats on your indieversary!


  13. Hello JL - I downloaded Jenny Pox and began reading it last night, it's the first book of yours I have gotten and I am really enjoying it. Just wanted to drop by and say hello and tell you thank you for this post. I find it very inspiring to read about success with indie publishing, as that is the route I believe I will take when my book is finished. Take care!

  14. Rock on JL Bryan's Dad! Or soon to be Grandad, I should say! What a great thing to say.

    Happy Indieversary, Jeff and Stacey. I have a terrible urge to prank you both, because that's how I show I care. But maybe the sentiment's enough :D Also, I'm starting Helix. Congrats again!