Advanced Fiction Writing Blog

How Often Should Indie Authors Publish?

If you’re an indie author, how often should you publish? Is there such a thing as publishing too often? Can you “compete with yourself?”

Victoria posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

Hi, Randy,
Using the Snowflake design process, I have completed a YA fantasy novel and am in the last stages of structuring its sequel. I am not yet published and plan to do so independently. I can comfortably write and polish a full-length novel in four months, but I realize that four months is quite a narrow schedule for systematically releasing new novels. How closely together do you think is reasonable to release novels in the YA fantasy genre?

Thanks,
Victoria

Randy sez: If you’re an indie author, four months between releases is fine. Many indies publish more often that that, and it doesn’t hurt them. Most indies, in fact, think it helps.

This is the opposite of what most traditional publishers believe, at least those whose focus is getting paper editions into bookstores. In that case, they’re fighting with the problem of limited bookshelf space, and it’s certainly true that bookstores will have a problem with authors who publish very frequently.

So traditionally published authors have to worry about competing with themselves. Bookstores just don’t want to order copies of different books that are produced at the same time by the same author.

You can argue that this isn’t rational, because you aren’t really competing with yourself–you’re competing with the million other authors out there. Doesn’t matter. This is reality.

But most indies aren’t in brick-and-mortar bookstores. Most indies only sell online, and for them, the more often they publish, the better. Indies don’t worry about competing with themselves, because the online stores have unlimited shelf space.

If you read the January issue of my Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, you’ll remember my “Success Equation”, which goes like this:

Success = (Target Audience Size) x Quality x Discoverability x Production

You multiply the four terms on the right to determine your success.

That last term on the right, “Production,” is the number of books you publish per year.

All other things being equal, the higher your Production, the better.

So 3 books per year is excellent. If you can maintain the same Quality and produce 4 or 5 or 10 books per year, then all the better.

Good luck, Victoria! I’m glad the Snowflake Method has been helpful to you and I hope you have fun in your writing and build an audience who loves your work.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.

 

Want to Take a Thrill Ride With Me?

Do you like thrillers? I love them. Thrillers are the main category I read, and suspense is a major element of every book I write.

Thrill Ride boxed setMy suspense novel Double Vision has just been packaged up in a HUGE boxed set e-book with 7 other thrillers. The boxed set is titled “Thrill Ride” and it’s priced to fly.

99 cents for THOUSANDS of pages of oh-my-gosh white-knuckle entertainment.

If you’re a scaredy cat, this is where you stop reading and just walk away.

But if you like thrills and chills, come along with me on a rip-roaring Thrill Ride, because it’s pretty darn likely that several of these books are going to light your fire and keep you up into the wee hours.

 

Here’s a little about my comrades on the Thrill Ride and the books we’ve contributed:

Blind Justice cover

 

Blind Justice, a legal thriller by James Scott Bell, normally $4.99:  Did the devil kill Howie Patino’s wife? Howie thinks so. Jake Denney is Howie’s lawyer, and he’s got a problem. Because Howie told the cops the devil made him do it. And now Jake’s going to have a devil of a time winning this case—but first he’s got to escape his own inner demons.

 

 

Sidetracked cover

 

Sidetracked, a mystery-suspense by Brandilyn Collins, normally $4.99: Delanie Miller’s friend has been murdered, and the cops know who did it—the town simpleton. But Delanie knows they’re wrong and all she has to do to clear the innocent guy is to admit the lie she’s been hiding that will massively screw up her life if anyone finds out. Oh yeah, an easy choice—damned if you tell the truth, going to hell if you don’t.

 

 

Double Vision cover

 

Double Vision, a quantum suspense novel by Randy Ingermanson, normally $3.99:  Dillon Richard is a straight-arrow genius with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s never told a lie; never been kissed; never had a badass quantum computer that can break codes even the NSA can’t touch. Until now. Once he gets the computer working, everybody’s going to want a piece of Dillon: The mafia. The NSA. And his two beautiful co-workers, Rachel and Keryn. Who’ll get him first?

 

 

The Blade cover

 

 

The Blade, a terrorism thriller by Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore, normally $3.99:  Las Vegas is going to be destroyed by a nuclear bomb unless the casinos pay a king’s ransom to the terrorist holding Sin City hostage. A wild and crazy mix of Biblical artifacts, Nazi caves, a delusional televangelist, and nukes. This is suspense on speed.

 

 

The Roswell Conspiracy

 

The Roswell Conspiracy, a conspiracy thriller by Boyd Morrison, normally $4.99: And you thought you knew what happened at Roswell. In this lightning-fast thriller with over 170 5-star reviews on Amazon, Boyd Morrison unveils the truth about the mysterious alien object that’s the missing link in a doomsday weapon pointed at the heart of America. The action just never stops. Can you believe this author has a Ph.D.  in engineering, goes bungee jumping to relax, and is a Jeopardy! Champion?

 

 

The Killing Rain

 

The Killing Rain, a serial killer novel, by P.J. Parrish. Florida detective Louis Kincaid’s date goes slightly awry when his lady friend’s ex-husband and son go missing. Detective Kincaid soon finds himself hip-deep in murder, mayhem, and a human trafficking scheme.

 

 

 

Desecration

 

Desecration, a psychic murder suspense, by J.F. Penn, normally $2.99: It’s not every day that a young, beautiful pregnant London aristocrat gets murdered and ritually mutilated upstairs during a swanky party at the Royal College of Surgeons. Detective Sergeant Jamie Brooke is called in on the case, and she reluctantly teams up with a sexy psychic named Blake Daniel. The killer is going to strike again and the clock is ticking, ticking, ticking. This is the book I’m reading right now and I’m loving it.

 

 

The Call

 

The Call, a supernatural thriller, by Kat Covelle, normally $4.99: So you’re a geeky loser and you’re driving on the Golden Gate Bridge and you spot a beautiful woman about to jump to her death. Naturally, you stop and try to save her. So it comes as a bit of a surprise to find out she’s a demon intent on tossing you off the bridge. That ought to be the end of your miserable existence, but just before you die, you make a deal with your guardian angel to save your life in exchange for going on a supernatural quest to save the world. Heard this one before? I didn’t think so.

 

By my calculation, that adds up to more than $30 worth of e-books, packed into one giant package for 99 cents.

If that’s not a deal, I’m a munchkin.

I like buying 99 cent boxed sets because I figure I can’t lose. I’m bound to like several of the books, and I’m certain to discover some new talent I never heard of before. I always assume going in that not all the books will be my cup of tea. Doesn’t matter. Even if ONLY ONE of them lights my fire, at 99 cents that’s still a bargain.

Where To Get Thrill Ride

Tragically, this deal was available for only a few months, as boxed sets often are. It went on sale in July, 2014, and my publisher removed it from sale at the end of October, 2014.

 

My New Book on the Snowflake Method

The cover art for my book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.Why are so many writers around the world using my Snowflake Method to write their first drafts?

Because it works!

Let’s be clear that different writers are different.

Some writers thrive on the “seat-of-the-pants” method. Stephen King is a pantser. So is Anne Lamott.  They write great fiction and SOTP works for them.

Some writers work from a highly detailed outline—a synopsis that may be 50 to 100 pages. Robert Ludlum was famous for his long outlines.  He was a great writer and outlining worked marvelously for him.

But some writers love the Snowflake Method—a series of steps in which you start with the germ of a story idea and build it out bit by bit.  Some writers’ brains are wired to work this way.  And many of them write great fiction.

About the Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method doesn’t make you more creative. You already are incredibly creative.

The Snowflake Method just suggests where to apply your creativity next.  It makes Snowflakers more efficient in writing their first draft.

There is no one method that works for everybody.  The Snowflake is the method that has worked Xtremely well for me.  And it’s been thrilling to hear from so many writers around the world who say that the Snowflake works for them too.  The Snowflake page on this web site has been viewed more than 4 million times.  Every month, it gets about 50,000 more page views.

Several years ago, I heard from a writer in Nigeria who had visited my site that January and got inspired. By July she had written her manuscript (about Nigerian scammers), got an agent, and sold her novel to Hyperion. A couple of years later, that novel won the Africa Commonwealth Prize.

Your mileage will vary, of course. Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani brought a ton of talent, drive, and creativity to the table. The Snowflake Method gave her a simple path to follow to get her story written. But she had to walk that path.  You have to walk your own path, and it won’t be easy.  But the Snowflake Method is designed to guide you along the way, to shorten the path.

My New E-Book

I’ve been working really hard for months on a new e-book solely dedicated to the Snowflake Method, and I did something different this time.

I wrote the e-book as a story—about a young writer with a dream to write a novel.

All her life, she’s been doing what other people tell her to do, putting off her dream and being practical.

Now she’s tired of doing what other people want.

She wants to follow her dream.

But she doesn’t know how to get started.

She needs a little direction, so she decides to go to a writing conference.

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 1. You’ll see right away that this story is quirky, zany, and over the top.  As you get into it, I hope you’ll find that it goes deep into the art of story.

You’ll see that the story itself practices what it preaches.  In the chapter on Disasters, there’s a disaster.  In the chapter on the Moral Premise, there’s a Moral Premise.  The chapter on Reactive Scenes is a Reactive Scene.

My goal is to make learning simple and easy, by showing you a real live example of how it’s done.

Excerpt from “How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method”:

Chapter 1:  The Impractical Dream

Goldilocks had always wanted to write a novel.

She learned to read before she went to kindergarten.

In grade school, she always had her nose in a book.

In junior high, the other kids thought she was weird, because she actually liked reading those dusty old novels in literature class.

All through high school, Goldilocks dreamed of writing a book of her own someday.

But when she went to college, her parents persuaded her to study something practical.

Goldilocks hated practical, and secretly she kept reading novels. But she was a very obedient girl, so she did what her parents told her. She got a very practical degree in marketing.

After college, she got a job that bored her to tears—but at least it was practical.

Then she got married, and within a few years, she had two children, a girl and then a boy. She quit her job to devote full time to them.

As the children grew, Goldilocks took great joy in introducing them to the stories she had loved as a child.

When her son went off to kindergarten, Goldilocks thought about looking for a job. But her resume now had a seven-year hole in it, and her practical skills were long out of date.

The only jobs Goldilocks could qualify for were minimum wage.

She suddenly realized that being practical had made her horribly unhappy.

On a whim, Goldilocks decided to do the one thing she had always wanted more than anything else—she was finally going to write a novel.

She didn’t care if it was impractical.

She didn’t care if nobody would ever read her novel.

She was going to do it just because she wanted to.

For the first time in years, she was going to do something just for herself.

And nobody was going to stop her.

* * *

About the Book

The cover art for my book How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method.The first 18 chapters of the book are the story of how Goldilocks takes her dream from a wispy idea all the way to a very concrete plan for her story that she can write right now.

The 19th chapter is a quick summary of the Snowflake Method.

Chapter 20 shows the complete Snowflake document  which I used to write the book. A Snowflake about the Snowflake! Very meta.

I’ve just released this e-book on all the major retailers.

Amazon has a cool new tool that suggests the price that will earn me the most money. They suggested that I price the book at $5.49. But I rejected that suggestion.

My goal right now is to get my book into the hands of lots of writers, so I’ve slashed the introductory price to $2.99.

See the e-book on Amazon$2.99

See the e-book on Barnes & Noble$2.99

See the e-book on Apple iTunes$2.99

See the e-book on Kobo$2.99

See the e-book on Smashwords$2.99 (any electronic format, including PDF)

Please note:  Prices outside the US may not be exactly $2.99, but I’ve done all in my power to get them as close as possible to that price on as many retailers as possible.

Will There Be A Paper Edition?

Yes, there will be a paper edition very soon. I’ve submitted it to Amazon’s CreateSpace service and I’ve jumped through all the hoops. I’ve ordered the proofs of the paper edition, and they should be arriving shortly. It will take me a day or two to check through them, and then there’ll be a short delay to complete the process. I hope the paper version will be done within about a week. Paper costs more than electrons. At 233 pages, the book will have to be priced at $9.99. I’ll let you know when it’s ready.

The Death of “Self-Publishing”

It’s time to just say it. “Self-publishing” is dead. I’m not talking about the act of self-publishing a book. I’m talking about the phrase itself. “Self-publishing” now means two different things that are miles apart. It’s time to kill this useless phrase.

Barbara posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:

I am confused by all the different terms in current publishing. Like “indie publishers,” “traditional publishers,” “ebooks,” “ebook indie publications,” “small presses” “small publishers,” “independent publishers,” “print on demand,” “hybrid authors” and whatever it is that Amazon does.

I am former Washington, DC newspaper reporter writing a novel about the newspaper business. Though I have finished a first draft and am working one revisions, I am not quite ready to submit a manuscript yet. But I need to know what all these terms mean and how to go about deciding where I belong. Thanks always for your great blog and for answering my question.

Randy sez: Let’s start with the most confusing term of all—“self publishing.” This used to have a single meaning. But in recent years, it’s come to mean two massively different things:

  • Vanity publishing
  • Indie publishing

Let’s look at these and define them clearly.

Vanity Publishing

“Vanity publishing” means that you pay somebody to publish your work. You typically pay them a flat fee and with that money, they then hire editors, proofreaders, typesetters, graphic designers, marketers, and whatever else. They take care of the printing, warehousing, shipping, distribution, sales, etc. If there are any profits, they distribute them to you, usually taking a cut.

In vanity publishing, you do the writing and you take all the financial risk. The vanity publisher does all the other work and takes none of the risk. The profits can be divided up various ways.

It should be obvious that vanity publishing is wide open to abuse. When you are fronting the money and taking all the financial risk, the vanity publisher has little incentive to keep costs down or do a good job or give you a fair shake.

It is possible for a vanity publisher to give you a fair deal, but most professional authors, editors, and agents will tell you that vanity publishing is almost always a terrible deal for an author. David Gaughran does a great job of explaining why on his blog, so I’m just going to refer you to him. Here’s one of his articles to get you started.

Indie Publishing

“Indie publishing” means that you act as your own independent publisher. You write your book. Then you do all the tasks that a publisher would typically do, or else you find a specialist who can do the ones you can’t. These tasks are:

  • Editing
  • Proofreading
  • Cover design
  • Typesetting (for print books) or formatting (for e-books)

Indie authors often do all of the above themselves. Then they upload their finished book files to the various online retailers—Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, etc. Or they may work with a distributor, such as Smashwords, who will deal with some or all of the retailers.

The key thing here is that the author gets a large percentage of the money—typically between 35% and 70% of the retail price of the book. The indie author takes all the financial risk and gets most of the rewards, so she has a high incentive to keep costs down and do a good job.

As it turns out, indie publishing can be a great deal for authors. The very best-paid indie authors are earning millions of dollars per year, and a surprising number are earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. For a superb analysis of how much indie authors can earn, see the Author Earnings web site run by Hugh Howey.

Why “Self-Publishing” is Useless

“Self-publishing” used to mean essentially the same thing as “vanity publishing” and very few professional authors would have anything to do with it.

In recent years, “self-publishing” has also come to mean “indie publishing,” and a great many professional authors are doing it very successfully.

It ought to be obvious that “self-publishing” is a term that is too ambiguous to be useful. It needs to be thrown away.

We have two other perfectly good terms we can use instead: “vanity publishing” and “indie publishing.” So use whichever is appropriate, and nobody will be confused.

Let’s remember that there are some other publishing options. Let’s look at those.

Traditional Publishing

“Traditional publishing” means that you work with a publishing company that puts up all of the money to publish your book. They pay you some money upfront as an “advance” in exchange for the rights to publish your book for a certain length of time. They also pay for all the editing, proofreading, typesetting or formatting, printing, warehousing, sales, and distribution. They collect all the money earned and pay you a percentage as royalties.

In traditional publishing, you do all the writing and the publisher does all the other work and takes all the financial risk. You split the rewards with them.

What’s not to like with this arrangement?

Let’s be clear that this can be a great deal for authors. Until very recently, most of the really famous authors worked with traditional publishers and made great boatloads of money. There are a couple of thousand authors currently doing very well under this system.

The problem is that in recent years, the deal has gotten substantially worse for authors. Here are some of the friction points that authors have:

  • Advances have gotten smaller.
  • Authors are expected to do all or most of the marketing.
  • Royalties on e-books are low—typically 25% of the wholesale price of the book, which works out to about 12.5% of the retail price. This is very much lower than the 35% to 70% earned by indie authors.
  • Many publishers require option clauses that lock in an author to working with the publisher on the next book.
  • Many publishers require no-compete clauses that prevent an author from working with another publisher (or from indie-publishing) during a certain window of time.
  • Traditional publishing takes a long time to move a book from concept to final published book. It may take a year or two or longer.
  • Traditional publishers often can’t handle all the books that an author can write, and this is a huge problem if there are option clauses or no-compete clauses in place.
  • Traditional publishers decide what will be published and what won’t, and this often feels arbitrary and unfair to authors.
  • Traditional publishers hold all the high cards in negotiating.

There are probably other friction points, but these are the most glaring. These are the reasons why so any professional authors have simply walked away from traditional publishing and gone indie—they believe they’re better off on their own. These are the reasons why so many indie authors have refused contracts offered by traditional publishers.

Some authors use the term “legacy publishing” to refer to traditional publishing.

Hybrid Authors

“Hybrid author” is a term coined by Bob Mayer. It means an author who chooses to publish some books with traditional publishers and some books as an indie author.

Hybrid authors are looking for the best of both worlds, and this can be a reasonable choice. I’m a hybrid author, because I have some books still in print with traditional publishers, while all my current projects are in indie publishing.

Small Publishers

“Small publishers” are traditional publishers that are small—typically just a few employees. Small publishers often give better royalties on e-books. They may give more attention to new authors. I’ve worked with a small publisher, and it can be a sensible option.

Small publishers seem to be fading as more authors go indie.

E-books and Print-On-Demand

E-books are electronic books that are sold and delivered electronically. In some categories of fiction, most of the books sold are e-books.

“Print-on-demand” books are paper books that are printed and sold only when a customer orders a copy. Traditionally, publishers printed thousands of books in a large print run and then warehoused the books. This kept the cost per copy low, but if the books didn’t sell, that was a problem. The unit cost of a print-on-demand book is fairly high, but the risk is zero because you don’t print it until you’ve sold it.

Amazon has made it easy for indie authors to create and sell e-books and print-on-demand books. You can upload your e-book at kdp.amazon.com. You can upload your print-on-demand book at createspace.com.

Numerous other online retailers let you upload and sell e-books, including Barnes & Noble (at nookpress.com), Smashwords (at Smashwords.com), Apple (at itunesconnect.apple.com), Kobo (at kobobooks.com).

The publishing world is changing fast. Traditional publishing used to be the only game in town for authors who wanted a fair shake financially. Now indie publishing is an exciting option. Indie publishing gives authors some negotiating power with traditional publishers, because now they have the power to walk away.

Barbara, I hope that answers your questions. I won’t tell you what you should do, because every author is different. But now you know what your major options are. Good luck!

 

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer the ones I can, but no guarantees. There are only so many hours in the day.