Six Steps to Sustaining an Indie Career
By Scott Nicholson
(Scott Nicholson is author of the new mystery thriller Liquid Fear—available for 99 cents at Amazon, BN.com, and Smashwords—as well as The Skull Ring, The Red Church, Disintegration, Speed Dating with the Dead, and 20 other books. He resides at hauntedcomputer.com.)
I am not sure anyone yet knows how to sustain an indie career in the digital era, despite some people who have been self-publishing since the dinosaur days of paper.
The only ones who have careers are those who are already closing in on their indie million. If it all ended tomorrow, they could probably manage okay with some smart investing.
Those who are getting a decent income right now could see it go one of two ways. If it ended tomorrow, a solid percentage would immediately shift to giving their books away to “build audience,” even if a paying audience down the road seems unlikely. Those who quit their day jobs to go indie can probably find other jobs, and have a great story for the grandkids about when they were ‘real authors.” A few will continue to parlay indie success into a corporate career.
But even corporate careers are tough to sustain, with only a minority of lucky authors getting those third and fourth book deals and then building a long-term career. And, if the indie era collapsed, one would suspect those same factors would probably make an even more dramatic impact on publishers with much higher overheads.
While it’s difficult to predict how everything will turn out, your chances of surviving either way are best if you continue to run your writing like both an art and a business, like so:
- Continue to write, no matter what. Without products, you have no options.
- Expand your markets. You’re on Kindle. Great. So are a quarter-million other authors, and that number is expanding daily. So get on Nook, Smashwords, Kobo, and everywhere else, and try to develop sales at your own site—the only site where you will be guaranteed to maintain control and a suitable royalty.
- Consider diversifying your genres. You don’t know what the next trend will be. If you don’t find trends artistically satisfying, write what you like and hope the market catches up. While branding is helpful, it is also limiting. If you are prolific, consider a pen name—but a pen name is probably wasted on a one-shot, so unless you are going to establish the pen name as its own brand, avoid it.
- Pay attention to the markets. Try to anticipate and stay ahead of the curve, whether on pricing, content, covers, devices, or what readers want.
- Keep building your network. Having more friends makes writing more fun, but be careful you don’t spend more time tweeting than writing. As the digital revolution evolves, you might see new opportunities open that you hadn’t considered—everything from ad-supported e-books to shared-adventure stories.
- Take chances. In any evolutionary leap, a number of critters are left behind. Usually they are they ones who are slowest to adapt, often because they are following the herd, which means they are the last to get to the vital resources. Extinction is the result.
Most of all, enjoy it. A number of indie writers seem unhappy because they have expectations and are disappointed because they aren’t one of the indie lottery winners. Be grateful for this incredible opportunity. If this is as good as it ever gets, that’s still pretty darned good!