Indie Success: Hold On To Your Dreams
Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.
- Langston Hughes
I’m ashamed to admit this: I self-published my debut novel, In Leah’s Wake, not out of a burning desire to be an indie author, but in the hope of attracting a “real” publisher for my novel-in-progress. A few years earlier, In Leah’s Wake had been under contract with a small publisher. Weeks before my book launch, problems had emerged and the deal had fallen through. If I could sell 5,000 copies, I reasoned—far more than the average debut novelist—agents and editors would surely take notice. I had no idea what this enterprise might entail.
As the book had already been edited, I skipped that step, hired professionals to redesign the cover and interior and format the e-book, and quietly loaded my novel onto Amazon and Smashwords (an aggregator and distributor). Embarrassed, feeling like a wannabe, a phony, I told only my husband and children—not even my parents knew that I’d published.
Between October 2010 and March 2011, I sold just shy of 200 books. With sales declining, I realized I could do one of two things: swallow my pride and market my novel or watch my book die. That day, I posted my first blog and activated my Twitter account. Soon after, I hired a social media publicity firm. Over the next three months, we reorganized my blog, built my social networks, tweaked my bio and book blurb, created a book discussion guide and video trailer, and set up accounts on reader sites such as Goodreads and Library Thing.
In mid-May, I embarked on my first virtual blog tour. Blog tours are both wonderful and exhausting! Over a set period of time, typically two weeks to a month, authors appear on a series of blogs. Some bloggers will read and review your book; others ask for a guest post or an author interview. While blog tours rarely lead directly to sales, by introducing you to their followers bloggers become your evangelists, spreading news about your book.
Encouraged by the positive response, I branched out. I joined other authors in a Memorial Day blog hop: anyone who left a comment on our blogs received a free e-book and we gave a matching number of books to active-duty U.S. military personnel. I sponsored a contest through Author Buzz and gave away more books. Some authors see giveaways as lost sales. I see them as an opportunity to introduce my book to new readers and cultivate a fan base.
Once I realized that marketing doesn’t have to mean shameless self-promotion, I began to have fun. In June, I entered the Book Bundlz Book Club contest; in July, In Leah’s Wake was named the Book Bundlz 2011 Book Pick. I’ve sponsored contests and events, hosted dozens of authors and bloggers on my own site, and participated in blog hops. Last winter, I invited four friends to contribute a segment each to a serialized mystery story, loosely based on the In Leah’s Wake storyline. That event alone drew hundreds of enthusiastic followers. I’m currently hosting a flash blogging challenge; in September, I’ll host an online charity event.
Over the last few years, self-publishers have joined forces to create a thriving community. Like many authors, I actively co-promote by participating in or hosting group events—e.g., this week’s Dog Days of Summer Sale, with Rachel Thompson and Ann Charles. Rachel is a social media expert and Ann is so popular that her title turned up as a Jeopardy question. As a team, we promote across our own social networks, exponentially expanding our reach.
In May 2011, I sold 45 books. In June, as readers heard about In Leah’s Wake, sales picked up; soon, I was selling 3 and then 5 and then 10 books a day. In August, I discovered—to my shock and delight—that In Leah’s Wake had hit #6 on the Barnes and Noble Nook bestseller chart. Now, fifteen months after that first hesitant marketing step, I’ve sold 120,000 books.
Publishing is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. Watching my quiet literary novel climb the charts—a former agent once assured me I’d never sell 500 copies—has been exhilarating. Even now, I want to pinch myself to prove that it’s true. Not long ago, I felt like a failure. Now, I’m a regular blog guest, In Leah’s Wake was recently honored with an Indie Discovery Award for literary fiction, and I write regular posts for two magazines. Although I have not yet signed, like most successful indies I’ve been approached by numerous agents.
It’s not easy to put yourself out there, to risk failure and rejection. Believe me, I know. But I also know this: There’s something far worse than rejection: not taking a chance on yourself.
Langston Hughes said, “Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” If you’re thinking of going the indie route, I dare you to try. Hold on tight. It’s not easy. But with hard work and determination, you can make your dreams come true!