Indie Authors & Business Sense

By Jon F. Merz

The summer doldrums have set in. Each year around this time, I get tired of the blanket of humidity that threatens to suffocate and I dream about crisp autumn days and cool nights that warrant good jazz on the stereo, a stiff drink, and a blazing fire in the hearth. But we’ve still got a way to go before those days are here, so it’s time to make the best of the situation by checking out how my business is doing during these hot months.

I know a lot of indie authors. Blog posts like these tend to bump up friend requests on Facebook, Twitter, etc., which is always cool. One of the things I’ve noticed, though, is how few indie authors treat their career like the business it is.

On one hand, it’s understandable. Never before have writers been able to actually create a career for themselves without needing to rely on New York City publishing. And when new authors figure out they can make a living doing this, they often spend the first year or so amazed at the success they’re enjoying and lose focus on the business side of things. Because what writers now are is most definitely a business. As such, it’s critical that you keep checking out your various systems to make sure your success continues.

Look at last summer, for example. It was my first real summer doing the indie thing and around the end of June, the bottom fell out on the strong sales I’d been enjoying during the Spring. I was still selling well, but not nearly what I had been. With that in mind, I was determined not to see a repeat of the sales slump this year. How have I done so far? Excellently. My sales have actually gone up each month this summer. Needless to say, I’m very pleased about that.

Here are some of the steps I took to combat the summer sales slump:

1. New work: my philosophy now is that it is absolutely critical that indie writers increase their output as much as they are capable of doing. If you can successfully write something and get it out every month, then I think that goes a long way toward ensuring continued success. Not only does new work increase your virtual shelf space, it also spreads the heavy lifting across multiple titles (meaning that no one title has to sell a whole lot of copies in order for your income to remain steady or increase. The more titles you have, the fewer copies you need to sell of each in order to reach your income goals.)

2. Series: I’ve said this before, but I really believe that authors need to create a series. Having a series that sells well virtually guarantees that you have a ready audience for the next adventure you release in that series. And once you have one series, you can experiment and start new ones. Zombie Ryu is my latest series – and it’s episodic with a new adventure out each month.

3. Top sellers: I hope that you’re using a spreadsheet to track your sales (if not, for crying out loud develop one and use it religiously) and that you have access to previous month’s numbers. Over time, you’ll naturally see what titles sell better than others. If it happens to be a series, then it’s obviously a good idea to plan new releases for that series. You want to keep adding fuel to that fire that’s burning. More sales in that series are always important. My Lawson Vampire series is one of the primary income generators for me, so you can bet that I have new releases mapped out well ahead of time. I shoot to release four new Lawson adventures each year: one new novel, at least one novella, and at least two short stories. If you don’t have a series but a single standalone title that makes the most for you, is there any way to write a sequel or turn it into a series? If so, you can capitalize on the popularity of that title.

4. New stories: throughout the summer, there have been lots of topical news stories that savvy authors can use to help promote themselves – especially on Twitter, and especially without being blatant about it. What do I mean? Here’s one example I used recently: two weeks or so ago, the Olympics opened. NBC did a horrible job of covering it and then populated the broadcast with moronic commentary from Matt Lauer and Meredith Viera who seemed incapable of simply shutting their mouths. I took to Twitter and posted several tweets expressing my frustration with the broadcast. Tons of people re-tweeted my posts. And many more wandered over to my Twitter profile page. Guess what? Sales went up that night and for that entire weekend. As I’ve written previously, it’s vital that you maximize your selling power by creating your own Twitter background. That way, when people wander over to see who you are they see the book covers and you might just entice them to pick up some of your books. My Twitter profile background shows the first four books in my Lawson series – the same books that sold more that weekend. Coincidence? Maybe, but I don’t think so. And I was able to generate sales passively – that is to say I didn’t have to hit them over the head with a tweet pushing my latest book. I picked up a whole lot of new followers as well that weekend – and everyone who follows me gets a nice message inviting them to sign up for my free newsletter. And wouldn’t you know it, my newsletter subscription numbers went up that weekend as well. The point here is that there are new stories happening all the time that you can take advantage of to introduce yourself to new readers.

5. Holiday Season: We might still be in the midst of summer, but you’d better already be developing a plan to take advantage of the Christmas shopping season. E-readers will no doubt be the hot gift item this year, so what are you doing now to make sure your brand gets noticed by eager new readers? How will you interact with your new readers? Do you have a newsletter yet? How is your Facebook Fan Page? Your personal website? Take advantage of the lazy days of summer to get your entire business in shape now so that come the chaos of the holiday season, you’ll know all of your systems are firing exactly as they should be.

Like this post? Share it around with other indie authors!

GORUCK CHALLENGE UPDATE:

I’ve spent the last two weeks on vacation and then redecorating my sons’ bedrooms, so my regimen has been off slightly. That said, I did the first Insanity workout today (and it kicked my ass).

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