Let me preface this by saying some of you (or perhaps a lot of you) will read this blog post and get angry at me, but I’m telling you all this from a place of empathy as a fellow indie author myself who goes through the same struggles. I’ve also had to find unique and creative ways to overcome them to give me the best chance of success. So with that out of the way, let the thrashing begin…
Lately, I’ve begun unfollowing a lot of indie authors for different reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t unfollow all of them because there are some that have genuinely great or funny things to post, while also being entertaining to engage with. However, those that I did unfollow were from when I created an author account on Twitter, never having used the platform before.
As a new writer and soon-to-be author, I didn’t really know where to begin, so I decided to build my platform doing follow-for-follows with fellow writers and indie authors. While this was exactly what I needed to start out on Twitter, I discovered quickly that this does not correlate to book sales, or even finding people remotely interested in what I was writing about. I was following a sea of people who were also trying to get noticed. When that becomes you’re entire following, it will only lead to disappointment and drama.
Which brings me to my topic today: The following behaviors won’t sell your books.
Follow-for-Follows (and Constant Complaining)
Writing a book is challenging and takes a lot of time. Everyone who has been through an actual rigorous publication process is astutely aware of this. A common trend among indie authors with 5,000-10,000 followers who are also following 5,000-10,000 other authors is they will often complain about being invisible or a lack of engagement. This leads to passive-aggressive posts like “I know nobody will read this, but…” or “It’s nice to see how many of my xxx followers actually see and engage with me…” You’re not owed anything from anyone, especially other authors who don’t give two fucks about your book or what you’re working on. They have their own shit to worry about. Yes, this is a harsh way to get this across, but I’m not sorry. I’m sick of it.
Complaining about a lack of engagement when the problem is your own fault is counterintuitive, and will usually lead to people unfollowing you because it’s a bummer to see in a Twitter feed. Pissing an moaning about how all of your followers owe you engagement is not going to magically get people to start commenting on your pity posts. You have no organic following, no readers interested in your work because you decided to devote all of your Twitter time to follow-for-follows instead of building more relationships with would-be readers (this usually happens off of Twitter. You know, ACTUAL marketing).
Relying Solely on Writers Lifts
New indie authors fall into a trap of thinking writers lifts do anything for them in the long run, but after a certain following, they’re not going to do anything except get even more writers/authors to follow you. Once again, this ties back into the diminishing returns with follow-for-follows. Here’s a bitter dose of reality: that author doing the lift, or starting a ‘post your work here’ thread doesn’t care about your book, nor do they care if your post gets seen. They’re doing this for engagement to appease the almighty Twitter algorithm, and desperate indie authors are ready to feed that engagement while getting lost in the noise, receiving nothing of value in return.
I’m not saying writers lifts are worthless. In fact, for a new writer on Twitter, they are incredibly valuable to get you started, but after you reach a certain level of other writers following you, that’s enough. It’s time to get yourself out there using other avenues so readers who are interested in your work can actually find you. If you have 20,000 authors constantly advertising their stuff on your feed, you’re not engaging with readers. You’re participating in this never-ending circle jerk of ‘if you post my book to your massive following of other authors and bots who don’t care, I’ll post your book to my same following of other authors and bots that likely don’t know I exist.’
Be honest, if you follow a lot of authors, how many times a day do you see a post about some tragic life event (be it eviction, illness, abuse, whatever…) that book sales are going to help fix. You may even see another author post a ‘go buy a book from this author to support them in their time of need.’
Yes, bad things happen in life, and they suck. However, your tragic backstory is not going to make your book worth the read, nor is it going to get anyone buying your book that will actually read it. I shake my head every time an author says they will buy someone else’s book, because I know it’s just a show of goodwill and not someone who will actually sit down and read it. Authors are busy, and if they are reading, I can guarantee they are reading books from successful authors so they can learn from the best to enhance their craft (this is what I do). You’ll be lucky to find an indie author that spent thousands of dollars on any kind of editing, much less writers who spent time in writer circles or beta reading sessions getting their work critiqued before it was slapped up on Amazon.
If your book is worth the read, and you’ve done everything you can to give your baby the best chance at success, the readers will come. They just need to be able to find you, but they aren’t going to give you the time of day out of sympathy. Everyone has a sob story, and on the internet, no one actually knows what’s real and what’s not.
Posting Ads Where They Aren’t Wanted
Nothing pisses me off more than when an author posts a link to their book in my thread when I didn’t ask for it, and I’m sure a lot of you feel the same way about this. Finding a popular Twitter user and posting an ad to their shit is a surefire way to get your ass blocked and to alienate would-be readers who will see this as desperate and pathetic attempt to get noticed. Riding someone else’s coattails without merit is not how you’re going to get noticed—well, at least not in any positive way.
If you’re going to post advertisements for your book, they should be in spaces that are allocated for this purpose. You should also be spending at least SOME money on getting your book out there. I’ve participated in two physical book giveaways which cost me hundreds of dollars, but they were worth it to me because it got me more readers and reviews. I also hosted giveaways within those giveaways on my website where people who signed up for my news letter would get a chance to win a hardback version of my book with custom made book mark. It worked!
Sometimes that’s all you need to get your book in front of the right person, and sometimes that person may have a huge organic following themselves (actual influencers or popular figures). They may have also enjoyed your book so much they they share it with the people following them. Marketing yourself is going to cost money. If you’re selling your book, you’re not doing this as a hobby anymore, and if you want to be taken seriously as a published author, you better be putting the time, work and money into advertisement while not riding coattails or posting your shit where it doesn’t belong for free. It’s tacky! Don’t do it!
Things I’ve Learned That Might Help
I’m not going to claim I’m this huge success, or that I’m an endless font of knowledge when it comes to writing and publishing. However, I’ve found a bit of success with my first book, a growing ORGANIC following of readers, and consistent book sales. I average at least one to four book sales a day (this waxes and wanes depending on how active I am with my advertising), which isn’t a lot, but it’s not at all insignificant. It means there’s a lot of passive advertising going on, as well as word-of-mouth selling my books when I’m not actively marketing.
Find Your Niche
I also cater to a niche audience instead of trying to cast a wide net by stuffing as many overused, popular tropes into something as I can. If you want to write your story for the least common denominator in order to gain popularity, get in line. Everyone’s doing it. How many Dark Academia clones are there now after Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight? How many Twilight shifter knockoffs are there? How many thousands of ‘sexy’ big-dick fae books are trying to make their mark after SMJ’s ACOTAR? Sometimes they succeed, most of the time they fail.
If you have a specific thing you genuinely enjoy writing about that might not be popular, find an audience that enjoys that same niche and write for them. Which brings me to my next tip:
Write for Free
I know, I know. Everyone wants to be paid for their hard work, but guess what? If you think like that while starting an indie writing career, think again. Unless you’re a traditionally published author with teams of editors and marketing at your disposal, you’re going nowhere fast in the indie world unless you do something that sets you apart from the rest. Let’s face it, very few people are going to pick up a book for $2.99 + that a ‘nobody’ wrote. I lump myself into the ‘nobody’ category, because when I started, very few people know who the hell I was. I was a nobody, and to a certain degree, I still am. Am I going to wallow? Not at all. There’s work to be done.
So, I wrote stories for free using a niche people wanted to read that no one was writing in. I wrote these to not only get more of an audience, but also to hone my skills. I have a long way to go and a lot more to learn before I can be one of the greats (if I ever become ‘one of the greats’). A lot of you need that dose of humble pie if you’re going to have snowball’s chance in hell at succeeding. You’ll always be learning, and not everything you write will be gold.
Your writing may only be worth reading if it’s free. This does NOT mean you are worthless! On the contrary, it means you’re willing to put in the time to further your skill while also putting yourself in front of people at your most vulnerable. It’s terrifying and it comes with a lot of harsh lessons, but it’s going to be valuable to you in the future. And make no mistake, writing as a career is playing the long game. Only a fraction of a fraction of a percent of writers break out–even fewer than that break out after writing their first novel. Don’t think for a moment you’re going to be the next JKR. There’s a lot more than skill at play here, and sadly, most of it boils down to luck and timing.
Even traditionally published authors write for free. Just because someone was published once doesn’t mean their next book will be picked up by the same publisher (or anyone else). Most of the time, these stories are ‘trunked,’ never to see a printing press or an editor. They just sit there, and the author moves on, chasing another trend in the market.
As an indie, I prefer to make these stories that are either too short or may not be published open to the public. I post stories and experiments for free on my website, and yeah–they are not for everyone, and I’ve worked hard on them. Maybe one day with enough of an audience, I can turn these freebees into a Patreon project to support my writing. The key is, getting as many readers as I can before I can think of monetizing anything. I’ve eaten my share of humble pie, and I know not everything I write is worth money. Just because you work hard on something, doesn’t mean people are going to buy it. I suck at drawing, and I could spend days drawing the upper body of a man, trying to get every detail I can. However, it still sucks and just because I put in days of work doesn’t mean I can sell it. You need to think of your writing the same way, and yes, many of you have a long way to go before you write something that’s worth the money.
Of course anything can be worth something to the right person, but there’s a difference between 2 people buying your book every 5 months or 2 people buying your book every day/week. If you have something that a lot of people would gladly pay money for, then you’re well on your way, but you may need to write a lot of things for free before you get to that point.
Market Yourself (The right way)
Book promo’s, author websites, giveaways, Facebook ads, sending books out to review bloggers that are receiving them, finding message boards in your niche that allow advertising… the ways to market yourself are just about as varied as it comes. Sometimes they work, many times, they won’t. I remember pouring about $100 into Amazon for advertising and it only generating one sale; however, when I used Meta and adjusted my targeted audience and keywords, my sales went up after spending the same amount of money.
I’ve paid postage fees sending my books out to bloggers who requested them after spending entire weekends personalizing and sending countless emails (many of which got no response). I’ve paid hundreds of dollars for Goodreads giveaways (which was a mixed bag that I don’t think is particularly worth the money) and hundreds more to buy physical copies of books and postage, packaging, etc… I’ve participated in LibraryThing’s giveaways which was free, and actually a lot better.
I’ve posted on message boards, reddit, other websites, anywhere free that allowed for advertising. Hell, I even write these blogs to increase my website’s visibility on search engines because visibility = sales! I spend hours a day either writing free stories, working on publication for my upcoming book, and working on marketing—all while working a full-time job. I rarely get weekends off, not if I want to achieve what I want.
Granted, not everyone is in the position I am to put in the amount of time I do. You may have made certain choices in your life that were more important to you than a writing career (children for example). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with putting these more important aspects of your life first (in fact, you most certainly should), but you also need to realize that you get back what you put in, regardless if you’re a mother of three or a single guy with time and money. Circumstances don’t matter. This world owes you nothing, and if you don’t have the time to truly invest in your writing career, you’ll get just as much in return. So, it’s up to you to determine what you want out of writing, and if you can’t make the investment, be it time for traditional publishing or time and money for self-publishing, stick with writing as a hobby.
Have a Positive Attitude, But Be Realistic
Remember when I mentioned Reddit earlier? If you ever want to see the most delusional, doe-eyed newbie writers with the biggest, most unrealistic expectations about to get their dreams crushed by how things ACTUALLY work in this business, go read some of those posts.
While winning the lottery is technically possible, chances are pretty good you never will. Is that pessimistic? No, it’s common sense and simple statistics. In the same way you likely won’t win the lottery, you also won’t become an overnight success. Does it happen? Of course, but it’s on par with winning the lottery. Everyone thinks THEIR book is the one that will get a movie deal and make them rich, when in reality—no, it’s not. People who get movie deals for their books (even if they are God-awful money-grabs) usually have huge followings or popularity (think Alex Aster), but those of us without millions of TikTok followers likely won’t register on anyone’s radar. Publishers and producers know they can make money from a popular figure on social media, and ‘if you ain’t got it, you ain’t gettin’ a deal nowadays.’ Plain and simple.
If you are writing as a hobby, absolutely none of this applies to you. If you’re writing hoping to make a career you can live off of, you’re going to have to do a whole lot more than just write. You need to advocate for yourself, grow your readers organically, market in a smart and efficient way, believe in YOURSELF enough to accept criticism and grow your craft without giving up after your first failure.
Indie authors also need to stop thinking a 10,000 + follower count with a 1:1 following to follower ratio on Twitter means jack shit to your overall bottom line. The writing community is there to help you build a foundation and get started, it’s not there as a sole means of support and marketing for YOUR writing. Whining and Tweeting stupid questions for attention and engagement isn’t going to do a career any good.