What I Learned in My First Year of Indie Publishing

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It’s been over 15 months since The Six Train to Wisconsin was first published. About time to stop and think about everything that has happened to me since then.

When I first embarked on this indie journey, I had no idea how many emotional highs and lows I’d hit each week. Or day. Or hour.

Every moment felt so life of death for my book. You’re up, you’re down. Sales are happening, sales stop happening. You won an award, you didn’t place for an award. But a year later, I still am selling copies.

I’ve come to realize I have no direct control over sales. And sometimes they suck. And sometimes they soar.

It’s about balancing the writing and the promoting. And being okay with ranking dropping.

I’ve come to accept that there is no exact correlation between the effort you put into promo activities and actual sales happening. You can guestimate. If a sale happens the day after an event, maybe it’s related to that event. Or maybe they heard about it on Facebook, checked out your book trailer, and decided to try it. Or maybe one of your readers recommended it to them and it had nothing at all to do with your promo work.

There is no concrete way to trace how a sale happens. So there is no definitive way to say if a promotion tactic has succeeded or failed. Maybe it didn’t motivate a sale that day, but maybe it was part of several interactions that led to a sale further down the road.

That’s why it’s so important to have a marketing strategy. A long-term approach to promoting. It has to be about getting your name out there and creating discoverability. And believing that sales will flow from there.

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I am not the same girl who trembled at the thought of giving a speech. Sure, I still get nervous and I over-practice to compensate, but I am getting better and better at doing things I used to run from. It still tires me out—I’m not a natural extrovert. So “being on” saps my energy and I need a day or two hiding in my Kour cave to recover.

I have readers. People who enjoy my novel and reach out to me! People who really connect with my story and my characters. Beyond the sales figures and the review writers, there are people who I don’t know about reading and enjoying my story. That’s pretty cool. I just wish I had a way of knowing how many of them were out there. I suspect it could be thousands. Which is really awesome.

There are also readers who dislike my book. That hurts. But it also means they aren’t my target audience. They aren’t the people I wrote the book for. And so they aren’t going to like it. Sometimes a review reveals more about a reader than a book. What they dislike is usually exactly what my target readers like.

Mostly, I’ve learned to stay the course. To believe in my book and myself. And to hire a team of people I trust in completely. They make it so much easier to manage my indie publishing career.

 

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36 Responses to What I Learned in My First Year of Indie Publishing

  1. Some very good lessons learned, I’d say! 🙂

  2. Kourtney I think you are a remarkable lady who has shown great determination in your presentations which you have shared with us…. Good to be catching up with yourself..
    Feelings Like I am on a never ending train journey myself LOL as I go along the tracks of those I follow .. Its not always easy to keep up with a run-away-train to Wisconsin 🙂 xxxx
    Life is all about learning.. 🙂

    • Thanks Sue. 🙂 I think it’s important to pause and take stock of what you’ve done. You never realize how far you’ve come until you stop and look back to where you started. 🙂
      Aw, thanks for coming along with me. No it isn’t. 🙂

      Hugs,
      K

  3. Carrie Rubin says:

    I think you’ve done a fabulous job. You took the bull by the horns and went for it. (Please excuse the cliche!) I think marketing efforts pay off more when an author has more ‘product’ out. Having 3 or 4 books available entices readers who enjoyed one book to hunt down another.

    • Thanks. 🙂 LOL. What’s a cliche between friends? That’s true. My fear is that if I don’t build an audience now, I won’t have any money. 🙂 I find people have a tendency to buy the book and then share it with a dozen friends. Yay for more readers, but ouch to my back pocket.

  4. K. Lyn Wurth says:

    Kourtney, you continue to inspire this writer with your intelligence and commitment to your writing. Thanks, friend.

  5. Gwen Stephens says:

    This was so informative. A slew of interesting observations. I’d be curious to know if other indie authors would agree with your assessment.

    • Thanks. I doubt they would actually. 🙂 Each experience is so unique in the indie world. Some swear they know what generates their sales. I do not have solid enough data to feel comfortable making that assessment. If I saw 500 sales the day after an ad ran–that of course that would change my mind. 😉

  6. val says:

    Thanks, Kourtney. I’ll share your insightful comments w/my creative writing class. They will appreciate them as I do. Congrats all around! :- )

    • Glad you appreciate them. They are just my takeaways from the past 15 months. I’m sure other indie authors may have very different experiences and different takeaways. But I can only share my perspective on my journey. 🙂 Hugs!

  7. Arlene says:

    Kourtney, you’ve put in so much hard work and effort and it shows in your excellent story and in your marketing campaign. It does stink that there isn’t necessarily a direct connection between a presentation and the sales that follow but hopefully it will (literally) pay off in the long run. You’ve built a solid following who, I’m sure, are eagerly awaiting your next book. At least I know I am, so that’s one sale you can definitely count on :o)

    • Thanks Arlene! It’s one of the most frustrating things. Especially coming to this with a business background. I’m used to being able to do some statistical analysis and see the relationships between things. That’s my hope. LOL. I’m planning to start drafting Six Train’s sequel in the next week. Just have to finish rereading the book and finalize the outline first. 🙂 Aw, I really appreciate it. Hopefully, I can sign it in person and get to chat with you when it comes out! 🙂

  8. cup112278 says:

    Thanks for your insight! It helps new writers like myself to know what to expect!

  9. EllaDee says:

    You have accomplished much with your business like approach, not only with your only work but sharing so effectively and generously as you have done in this post, with others. It’s also a great way to know what you know. Wonderful words… “sometimes they suck. And sometimes they soar.” Regardless, you know you done your best, and you infor about discoverability is really valuable.

    • Thanks EllaDee. It was hard to switch to a business mindset on the book. It gave me a bit of insight into why publishers have to make the hard decisions. they have to worry about profits and a bottom line. Happy to share the journey and what I’ve learned. 🙂 Yes, and that definitely helps. I’ve given it all I’ve got. And I can be proud of each sale and reader. 🙂

  10. I totally understand what you mean about “being on” as exhausting. I’m not a natural extrovert, either, and I find that when I teach my writing classes to kids, I’m wiped out! And those are just kids. Imagine how I’d feel if I were running a course for adults!!

    Sounds like you learned a lot in a decent amount of time. I like how you’re always reviewing your work, Kourtney. You really don’t take anything for granted, or let anything slip through the cracks.

    • It’s very hard. And people tend to think I’m having fun when I’m doing events. I do enjoy meeting readers and bonding with them, but doing presentations and being entertaining is work. It’s not something that comes naturally to me. I think kids might be more exhausting because you really have to keep their attention. Adults are at least trained to sit still for a workshop. 😉

      Thanks. It’s funny, I think if I looked back at different times, I’d have different lessons to share. That’s why I wanted to wait a year and see what stood up. 🙂 I expect a lot of myself and my work. That’s one of my best and worst traits. 😉

  11. Kourtney, you really are an inspiration in terms of how to do it. If I ever go down this route, I’ll be re-reading lots of your posts. You also seem to have developed a good, philosophical attitude to the ups and downs, what works and what doesn’t – and what you can never know. Well done!

    • Aw thank you Andrea. 🙂 Yay. Glad to hear these are useful. 🙂 It took a year of repeatedly and dramatically throwing myself onto a fainting couch and sobbing (at least in my mind), to get here. Sometimes the worst has to happen and then you dust yourself off and you’re like really that’s it? Okay, I can deal with it all now. 🙂

  12. Lori D says:

    Wow, I can’t believe it’s been 15 months! I think I found your blog when you first published and did a blog tour. I’m not sure though.It was probably through JM. I bought your book and gave a good review. Your characters (Kai & Oliver) reminded me a bit of the struggling married couple I was writing about in my WIP, except, mind didn’t read minds. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned.

    • Me neither. Feels like yesterday and like 10 years ago at the same time. 🙂 I ❤ JM! Thank you so much for buying it and reviewing it! It really helps. That's really cool. Yeah, I have an absolute need for some supernatural element in everything I write. I don't think I could write anything realistic. Though it might be a challenge to take up at some point. 🙂

      Glad to share my takeaways. It was a cool post to write too. Made me really look back on things and realize how far I'd come. Hugs!

  13. Aquileana says:

    What a joyride… I loved your post, dear Kourt… Once again I feel that the writing process (thus the personal experiences linked to it) speak out loud about many other things… Maybe Life itself…Accepting challenges and growing up somehow to become more confident…
    I am happy to know that you have achieved great things all throughout the fact of writing “The Six Train”…
    I wish you even more good things coming across your path ahead!.
    Love, Aquileana 😀

    • Thank you! I think you can find life lessons in most things. It’s just about stopping to extract them. 🙂 I definitely grew as a human being because of everything I was called upon to do for Six Train. Leaping outside my comfort zone on a regular basis expanded it. Aw, thank you so much! Fingers crossed.

      Hugs,
      Kourtney

  14. TBM says:

    Oh I hate it when the sales suck. It’s such a bad feeling. But I focus on the fact that each sale adds up. Each one is a victory. I have to give myself a lot of pep talks.

    • It is. They do and each one is. But sometimes it’s just not fun putting so much effort in and getting so little return. Yeah, same here. And try to shift perspective from sales to readers. 🙂

  15. jmmcdowell says:

    I’ve read some articles that echo what Carrie said—even if it doesn’t feel like the marketing is clearly helping the first book, the following books build from it. There are plenty of readers who simply won’t pick up the first book by an author because they want a ready supply of additional books. So they wait until Book 2 or 3 is out and then go on to buy them all. Talk about delayed satisfaction for the authors! 🙂

    You’re a wonderful writer, and The Six Train is a great story. It’s been my pleasure to recommend both your blog and book to my friends, family, and fellow bloggers. And I’m very happy that some of them have done the same!

    I think when your next book come out, the process will be less exhausting because the learning curve will be behind you. But I have a sneaking suspicion you’ll still go full speed ahead on the promotions. 😉

    The road to a successful writing career is long and hard. But my money’s on you!

    • I think it’s helping just not to the level I wished it had. Or rather the effort I put in is not showing up in the sale numbers.

      Thanks. I really appreciate all your help in Six Train’s success! You’ve done so much to get the word out and to help readers discover my book!

      LOL. Some of what I’ve learned will carry over, but I have to now forge a following in the YA world, where I have a completely different writing style and voice. My savings isn’t what it once was, so I’ll probably do more regional events and not travel nearly as much.

      It is. And it’s incredibly uncertain. It’s awesome to have your support. 🙂

  16. Very insightful takeaways, Kourtney. Thanks for sharing your journey, here and elsewhere. I’ve loved watching you move forward in your career from afar – with a couple of groovy meet ups in person! Wishing you continually more success. 🙂

    • Thanks August! It’s been an honor to watch your journey as well–from thrillers to radio talk show host–you do it all and do it so well! Thanks. I hope our paths cross again soon! Big Hugs, K

  17. Mayumi-H says:

    These are great thought processes and triumphs to always keep in mind, Kourtney, no matter if we’re writing and self-publishing a first or fiftieth novel. Heck, I like what this says about everything we do that challenges our spirits!

    • Aw thank you Mayumi. Pursuing this dream has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s forced me to confront so many of my limitations and push through or at least nudge them up. I’ve grown as a writer, a small business owner, a promoter, and a person. I feel more confident and more able to handle things than ever before. It’s been a great great journey and I’m so thankful to have you cheering me on and supporting me. Big Hugs, Kourtney

  18. Pete Denton says:

    You’ve certainly been on a journey over the last year or so. Great lessons learned and thanks for sharing. Helps other indie writers understand what they’re letting themselves in for when they embark on their journey.

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