3 Reasons Why You’re Giving Up
on Indie Publishing Too Soon

And 2 reasons why you SHOULD walk away.

I’m an old hand at indie publishing (11 years, last March), so I’m kinda puzzled by the attitude I keep stumbling over…well, everywhere.

Zulie Rane, in her Medium article, “5 Uber-Popular Passive Income Streams That Aren’t Worth the Hassle”, stated about indie publishing that:

I’m not picking on Zulie specifically, because I’ve seen the same “indie publishing isn’t worth it” attitude implied elsewhere on Medium. But hers is a succinctly stated example…and good for one other reason, that I’ll get to in a minute.

The same attitude proliferates outside Medium.

My brother-in-law, who published three great space opera novels, has turned to selling real estate because “indie publishing doesn’t work”.

And on many of the author groups I’m in, there is at least one post a week from a newer indie author, perplexed that they’re just not making as much money as they feel they should.

If you’re feeling discouraged by your indie sales, read on.

3 reasons you’re walking away too soon

It takes more than a few books to build a cash stream

It’s simple math. If you earn $2.09 from each $2.99 book you sell, then it takes, as Zulie pointed out, around 600 sales to make bankable money. But no one says you have to sell 600 of the same book.

An indie author’s backlist never goes out of print. The first title I self-published in 2011 is still selling steadily in 2022. It doesn’t sell many copies. Maybe two a month. But I have 120+ titles. Others sell better. Much better. And some don’t sell at all. But simple averaging explains why the more books you have in your backlist, the richer your cash stream grows.

Plus, there is a compounding effect when you have a decent backlist. Your reader base grows bigger, read-through on your series increases, you get better as writer and savvy at marketing your books. A residue from your marketing efforts accumulates. Sites with your podcast appearances, guest posts and comments, book blogger sites carrying reviews of your books stake out more online territory where new readers can find you with each book you put out.

When I start a new series, I don’t bother calculating sell through or worrying about sales trends until at least the fourth book in the series is released. Readers are wary about committing to a new series or new author unless they’re certain they’ll get to finish the series. They’ve been burned by too many traditional publishers dropping series after book one.

Many content writers talk about writing hundreds of posts and articles before earning decent money. There is a #30in30 challenge based upon Nicolas Cole’s Ship 30 for 30 movement, which stresses quantity. Why should this philosophy not apply to indie publishing, too?

Facebook has an author group with over 61,000 members. It’s called 20 Books to 50K. The philosophy is in the title. It takes at least 20 books to make serious cash, if not more.

How many books have you published, so far?

Indie sales are slumping right now

I explained this slump in “9 High Level Hacks to Preserve Your Indie Revenue in Our Current Hard Times

It’s not just you.

No one can predict which books will hit

Yeah, there’s been super-lucky outliers like Andy Weir, who’s first indie published title, The Martian, hit big. Everyone talks about Amanda Hocking and Adam Croft and Hugh Howey and their brilliant success.

Everyone talks about them because they’re outliers. They’re unusual.

You just don’t know when a book of yours might hit. The intimate little novel you knocked out quickly five years ago could get picked up by Hollywood. Or the book you write next year might be the one to break out.

Traditional publishing is shitty at predicting what books will hit with the readers. Indie publishing isn’t any better at it.

But indie publishing doesn’t have to be good at picking winners.

You don’t have to hit big to earn decent money. I’ve never been on any of the official best seller lists, but I’ve been supporting my family as a full-time writer since 2015. I could give you a list much longer than the outliers’, of authors making quietly making decent bank and paying their bills.

2 reasons you SHOULD walk

Indie Publishing is NOT passive income.

Back to Zulie’s example, above, and the point she did get right. If you’re looking for an income stream you can set and forget, indie publishing is not it.

You have to write a lot, build your backlist, build your reader platform, market like crazy, maintain all your books, network, keep up with the latest tech advances and the shifts in the industry (which sometimes feel as though they’re arriving weekly).

There’s nothing passive about indie publishing.

Don’t bother if you don’t love writing & publishing books

Given the incredibly hard work involved in building an indie publishing cash stream, there’s no point going into it unless you love writing books and enjoy the publishing process.

If you get into it just for the money, five books down the road you’ll hate yourself and the time you’ve wasted. 

Best to walk away right now.

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