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Thursday, August 29, 2013

What I Learned in Two Years as an Indie Author

I abruptly realized the other day that Aug. 29 would mark my two year anniversary as an indie author.

It actually feels much longer. When I launched A Soul to Steal, my outside hope was that it would sell 1,000 copies and maybe garner 40 or 50 reviews on Amazon. It cleared that sales milestone after three months and went on to sell several times that. At last count, it has earned more than 200 reviews, the vast majority of which are four and five stars. On paper, at least, the novel has surpassed my wildest expectations, and I’ve been very touched by the fans who have contacted me during the past two years .

But these have also been two of the most challenging years of my life. Here’s the secret nobody tells you when you publish your own book – this shit will consume your life. It starts as a hobby, something you do on the side, but it ends up as a full-blown second career.

Don’t get me wrong: the ability to publish my own books is fantastic. I sat on A Soul to Steal for 10 bloody years. I didn’t bother trying to write another novel because I couldn’t see the point. If this wasn’t going to be published, why would the next one fare any better? Once I found I could publish my novel – and people actually liked it – it was like a dam opened up. Suddenly I wanted to do this all the time. I plotted not just sequels to the book I had put out, but whole other series of novels. I found that I loved writing novels. Really, truly loved it. It was challenging, yet immensely fulfilling. In short, it felt like something I was meant to do.

And therein lies the problem. As much as I love writing novels, I am not at the point – or even remotely close – where I can do it full-time. But that hasn’t stopped me from constantly trying to figure out a way to change that situation. Instead of being pleased with the success I’ve enjoyed so far, I’m constantly setting the bar higher. The result has been utterly demoralizing.

As a result, I’ve turned my once relatively stable existence into a roller coaster ride. Until recently (like say, two years ago), I did not consider myself a moody person. But after I published my book, my moods were often dominated by daily sales figures. If sales were up, I was on my way to a future career in novel writing. If they were down, I was a miserable failure. Unfortunately for my family, I became more difficult to live with. Instead of listening to my children’s stories about their day, I was internally debating if a new sales tactic would bring me more readers. I obsessed about what I should be doing to promote my novels.

The Internet helped feed this anxiety. I couldn’t stumble across a Web page without finding more advice on how to become a bestselling author. They told me some variation on the following: blog often, Tweet about your books, connect with readers on Facebook, join groups on Goodreads, host free days, do blog tours, talk to fellow authors on the Kindle forum boards and – oh, yeah – write more books. Individually, that’s all sound advice. Taken as a collective, however, it was difficult to see how I could accomplish all of these things and a) continue to hold down my very full-time job as a journalist, and b) be a decent husband and father.

For the first year, I tried doing all this and managed to publish a second novel, Band of Demons, with which I was very pleased. But as I headed into my second year as an indie author and I buckled down to write a third novel, I realized something had to give.

For the most part, that meant dropping most of the advice. I stopped the Facebook ads (they don’t work anymore), ceased reading the daily sales figures (weekly will do just fine), and became an infrequent blogger.  I abandoned my official “author” Twitter handle altogether (although you can find me on Twitter for my job at @abwashbureau.)

I wasn’t giving up, but getting back to basics. I focused on three things: being a good dad and husband; doing a good job at work; and writing more books. I still keep abreast of what’s happening with the industry and read about new strategies that are working (Kickstarter) and old ones that have failed (Free KDP Select days). I try new things, book dates with BookBub, and watch for opportunities.

But I try not to put the same amount of pressure on myself that I did when I first started. If the goal is to become a bestselling author, there’s no guarantee that will ever happen. Indeed, the odds are very much against me. But if the goal is to write novels that thousands of readers buy and enjoy, that’s already happening. And that is an amazing thing, something I didn’t think was even possible two years ago.

The very talented author Hugh Howey recently wrote that the key to success is to enjoy writing and keep your expectations low. It’s taken me two years to come to the same conclusion. After all, if you are really meant to do something, you should just do it, whether or not you are compensated for it.


  1. Hi Rob -- This is a wonderful post which should be shared widely. You've put into words many of the same conclusions that I've come to. The art of writing books is great, but the science of selling them can be all-consuming, and frankly, depressing. I have boiled my activities as an indie author down to just writing the books, really, because all the other stuff was draining me and making me a little crazy. The love of writing the book itself is what brought me here anyway, as I'm sure it did with you. Thanks for voicing some of the issues (with a lot of honesty) that modern-day indies face.

    1. Thanks so much, Emily. I read something from Bob Mayer yesterday where he had 10 points all writers should follow. Number 1 was, basically, "just write more books." Going to follow that advice and see what happens.

  2. Great post, Rob. I would love to re-publish your blog on Venture Galleries. If that's possible, please send me a word document to Thanks.