Sharing My Lessons Learned

I've been a self-published indie author since 2012, and I thought I would share some of my main lessons learned from six years in the business. I've still got a lot to learn and don't pretend to be an expert, but there have been some decisions I would reconsider, if I had the chance. The three following suggestions would have saved me a significant amount of time and effort if I had acted on them from the start.

If you've decided to write a novel, my first tip would be to start your writing career with a stand-alone book. Although I enjoyed writing my trilogy, from a sales and exposure standpoint, I think starting with a stand-alone novel has advantages. As a reader, I understand the reluctance to buy the first book of a trilogy by an unknown author who has yet to publish the second and third books of the trilogy. Honestly, there's a good chance books two and three will never get published, and that's a hard sell to a prospective reader. Plus, there's always the rationale of "I'll wait until all three books are done before I start reading."

Your first novel can be part of a series, if you desire, but until your second book is finished, market your book as stand-alone, to avoid giving readers an opportunity to pass over your novel. My book sales increased after I published the final book of The Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy (Warlock & Wyrm). In retrospect, this makes sense.  Prior to completing the trilogy, I was essentially trying to market and sell an unfinished product while promoting Crimson & Cream and Mirrors & Mist.

My next strong suggestion (which is universally agreed-upon) is to hire a professional editor.  I know everyone tells you to do this, but I also understand the desire to think that if you really buckle down, you can edit your book yourself (and save money). I'm a professional engineer by day, and have written and edited hundreds of technical documents, so I thought I had the skills needed to edit my novel.

Although the first edition of Crimson & Cream was practically error free; the value a professional editor brings goes far beyond fixing typos. As proof, the screenshot below shows the Goodreads ratings of my self-edited first edition (on the top), and the second edition (bottom), which was edited by the fantastic R. J. Blain. As you can see, the editing process increased the rating of my book by over a full star. That's tangible evidence of the value of a professional editor.

The third suggestion I have is to advertise your book with Amazon Marketing Services (AMS). I've experimented with all sorts of book promotions, but I noticed a distinct uptick in sales and author rank after I began running ads via AMS. To be honest, AMS is a complicated system, and there is a learning curve to figuring out how best to use it. If you're not careful, you can spend more money than you earn. I've posted previously on my AMS experiences, if you're interested in learning more.

The graph below shows the full history of my Amazon Author Rank. The yellow highlight marks the date when I started advertising with AMS (June 2017). This date was four months before I released  the final book of The Oxbow Kingdom Trilogy (Warlock & Wyrm).

As you can see from the graph above, my Author Rank stabilized after advertising with AMS, and has yet to dip as far as in my pre-AMS days. My pages read on Kindle Unlimited also showed a significant increase once I started using AMS to promote my books.

There is plenty of other good advice (keep writing, don't spread yourself too thin, network with other writers), but the three suggestions I listed here come from my personal experience, with data to back them up. If you have questions, or lessons to share, please let me know.

Also, I'm running book sales again this month. You can find Crimson & Cream on sale for 99 cents starting today (May 16). If you've already read it, please recommend my epic fantasy to a friend.