A fan recently messaged us asking what specific things we did to make it as far as we have in the indie publishing world.
This question came at the heel of finding out that Hugh Howey and ‘Data Guy’ googled us to determine if our imprint, Daring Books, is indie, when culminating data for the July Author Earnings Report, because NINE of our books ranked high enough to be included and draw their attention. I have to admit to squeeling a bit at that.
What we’ve discovered lately is that there are a growing number of indie authors making in the 6-figure income range, including many of our friends. We’re out-earning most of our traditionally published peers, even authors you might recognize more than ours.
Last January (2013) we made a few hundred dollars in royalties, mostly from the ten books I had with a small publisher.
In February 2013 we formed Daring Books, LLC and published Seduced by Innocence, then Seduced by Pain. We went from a few hundred dollars to almost $10,000 in income. This April we hit our highest monthly earnings at $30,000. IN ONE MONTH! Earlier this year we also bought back the rights to all of our books and now we are 100% published through our own imprint.
How did we do it?
That’s a simple question with a complicated answer. I’ll do my best to answer that in one blog post.
1. Owning our own books was key.
We couldn’t have reached this level of success (and growing) if we were still published with someone else. We control our price points, our launch dates, our marketing plan, our genre choices, our cover art, everything! It’s been that flexibility that has allowed us to take risks and do things even small publishers might not do.
However, I have to add a caveat to this. In order for this to be effective, we had to learn a LOT. We have studied design, cover art and formatting- not just from a technical or artistic perspective, but from a marketing angle. What book covers sell the best? Capture the reader’s attention the most for this genre? What appeals to the widest audience? Every week, sometimes every day, we study bestseller lists, tracking what’s selling and what’s not, trying to analyze and understand why.
We read blogs on design and study new techniques. We spend a huge amount of time on this. HUGE.
We also learned marketing. I worked for a marketing firm for a time and then we started our own until we transitioned to full time authors. Once again we look at bestseller lists and books that are addictively selling to the masses. We analyze their pre-launch marketing, post-launch marketing, genre, style of prose, price point, cover, EVERYTHING. We read articles and books and we talk and think constantly about ways to be innovative.
Which leads me to my second point.
2. Innovations. BEING DARING!
We chose our publishing name for a reason. We believe in taking risks, in being daring, with genre choices, with marketing choices, with length and style of books. We’ve written stand alone full length books, serials, cliff-hanger trilogies and we’ve written in genres for all ages, all the while studying what works, what doesn’t and what we love doing the best.
We are fortunate that we enjoy writing in a variety of genres so we can explore a lot of different styles of writing.
We also got in early on programs that might have seemed risky at first (KDP Select, free days, perma-free, advertising on BookBub) but that paid off. We’re still doing that. Which is why we’ve enrolled most of our books in Amazon’s new KindleUnlimited program. Will it work? We don’t know, but we’ve made our career based on taking chances and trying new things, so we’re going to try it.
You can’t copy what worked for someone six months ago. The main reason we’ve been successful is that we have a lot of books out, we write fast and we’re not afraid to do something no one’s doing, or try something that’s new and scary.
3. Write FAST and WELL and FIND YOUR NICHE
This is tricky. Everyone has their own writing style and speed. We happen to be pretty fast and we edit well and have a great team to help us. Over the last few years we’ve put out a 6 book children’s series, a YA trilogy, a new adult paranormal romance series, a new adult sexy mystery trilogy and a stand-alone contemporary romance, as well as several short stories and collections.
Throughout this process, we’ve discovered that what we thought we’d write (epic fantasy) isn’t what we actually love writing at this time (sexy mystery). We’ve taken two of the most popular genres right now (mystery and edgy, sexy literature) and combined them into a niche market of SEXY MYSTERY. And we’re branding the shit out of it, complete with our own stamp on our sexy mystery books. We’ve found that many readers who love it hot, also love a good mystery. We touch on taboo themes, explore the dark, push boundaries. Our books aren’t for the faint of heart. We swear and get naughty and take you to places that aren’t always comfortable.
And WE LOVE IT. So do most of our fans.
So, find your niche and OWN THAT SHIT!
4. Build a solid team or be the team you need, and do it RIGHT.
We started just the two of us doing everything. We had to. We were broke. We learned it all and are rigorous with every detail of our books, from cover to formatting to editing to marketing. Does that mean we never have typos or never make mistakes? HA! I wish. But it means we are always working to improve everything we do.
Now we have built a fantastic team to help us, our key player being our publicist Anne Chaconas of Badass Marketing. She is like my second brain. I’m pretty sure she has our brains bugged, as well as our house. She’s beyond genius and I can honestly say she’s a better marketer than I am. And I don’t say that lightly. She’s helping us take our game to the next level.
But even with her, we still study everything and analyze everything. And also, we never forget the main objective, which is to write a great story. So we never stop studying the craft and art of writing. We strive always to improve. We know we can always be better and we never give ourselves an easy out to mediocrity. Our goal always is to be better than we were, to push ourselves further in our craft, to be the very best we can be.
Another part of that team building is your fans. We LOVE our fans. Seriously, we heart them so hard, and we look for as many ways to tell them that as we can. We have real relationships with them, a KK Minion Army where we engage even more intimately with them, we do giveaways and special things for them and we interact on Facebook, Twitter and our website. Our fans are the reason we can do this full time and we will NEVER EVER forget that!
5. This is a business, not just an art
I’d say the biggest thing to remember is that when you self-publish, you become a business owner. We take this very seriously. We wear many hats and have had to become experts at many things. (If you have money starting out, you can hire experts to wear those hats, but you still need to know what works and know what you want and need.)
Too many authors get personally wrapped up in the business choices of cover art, story etc. We get it, it’s your baby. These are our babies too. But once we write the story, we put on a different hat and it’s no longer about coddling our beautiful creation, it’s about stripping it down and making it a marketable product. It’s about knowing what will sell and how to sell it. It may sound crass and commercial, but we aren’t in the business of writing books for free. Why can’t we love what we do AND make a decent living at it?
I’m not sure why there’s this idea that artists and authors and those in creative jobs should ‘suffer’ for our art. That we should hold to this higher calling where money doesn’t matter. It does matter. We have three kids to feed and clothe and care for, not to mention ourselves. We have 24 hours in a day and if we didn’t make money doing this, we couldn’t do it, at least not to this level. We are not ashamed of wanting to make a good living, and we take our business seriously so that we can do that. I may like a certain cover for our book, but if it’s not right for the genre and marketing, we won’t use it. Period. I don’t let my personal feelings get in the way of marketing choices. But in the end, I also love the choices we make and am proud of them, so we aren’t selling out for cash, but we aren’t coddling our sentiment at the expense of our career either.
I hope this makes sense.
At the end of the day, we could write in a lot of genres, but we are branding ourselves in a nitch market that not only appeals to us, but also sells the best of any books we’ve written. While I love writing children’s books, they don’t sell. So I can’t write them right now. But I couldn’t write books I didn’t love, so we are still writing from our hearts. We are still writing books we believe in and are passionate about.
I hope this helps answer the question our fan asked. It’s a lot of work, but it’s the best job in the world. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments and we’ll reply to everyone. Thanks for taking the time to read this. We wish you all the best success in your endeavors. And remember, be DARING!