Author Topic: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy  (Read 6611 times)  

Online sela

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Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« on: April 14, 2018, 01:14:53 PM »
So, folks around here know me as a romance author who has been writing for a living full-time since November 2013. I keep my pen name private to minimize any drama. Believe me, I've seen a lot of drama in the indie space and ain't nobody needs that! People in my romance mastermind group (closed to new members) know who I am, and that's good enough for me.

My books occasionally are bestsellers, on Amazon, iBooks and Smashwords, but I am not a big name romance author. I'm posting this as more evidence that it is possible today for an indie (aka self-published) author to make a good -- even great -- living. I've been making a six-figure income since November 2013, when I quit my day job and joined the self-employed indie author / publisher world. I like to call it my "yoga-pants lifestyle" because before I quit, I wore a woman's business suit every day of the work week and did the whole 8 - 5 commute to my mid-level professional job as a government analyst.

Recently, I had a lot of big life changes taking place, including a divorce (in progress and largely amicable), selling my house, moving across the country, finding a new home, and getting my two sons settled in.

I'm finally in my new home, have a dedicated purpose-built home office, and now have a year of indie publishing ahead of me.

Why I'm posting this? I haven't published a book in FIVE MONTHS! OMG!

My Q1 results are still just a hair under $10K a month but still work out to six-figures if I extrapolate to a full year.

Six years ago, I wrote down a five-year plan to become a full-time self-published author and quit my day job. I figured that if I could write a dozen romance novels, I could live off the income and then write whatever I wanted. While I read romance novels, I really wanted to write thrillers, or SFF. I read an article that women with graduate degrees who wrote romance novels had the best success in self-publishing, so I thought -- OKAY! SIGN ME UP!

I wrote a 3-book series of paranormal romance novels and self published them starting in June 2012. I released book 2 in July 2012 and book 3 in December 2012. I made just over $2200.



You can see how my sales were pretty dismal for the first few months. I did a lot of leg work, tried to find readers, sent out ARCs and by December, when I published book 3, I had better results, earning just under $1000 for the first time.



In early 2013, I looked around and decided to try the whole "write to market" approach. I picked books that where topping the romance charts at the time, like Fifty Shades of Grey, The Crossfire Series and then The Hacker Series and read the books, analyzed what readers liked and didn't like about them, and drafted a book that I felt fit in with that category. Steamy contemporary romance, in other words.

I figured that Fifty Shades had an audience of 100M readers, Crossfire had an audience of 10M readers. If I could even get 0.5% of the readership for Fifty, I'd be wildly successful.

I published Book 1 of that series in April of 2013. Here are the results:



In its first month, my book earned $16K and sold just under 5,000 copies. The retail price was $4.99 so I earned $3.49 for each copy sold.

I followed up that year with two more books in that series featuring the same couple and published a boxed set and in its first year, that series earned $161,726.61 on Amazon.



I followed it up with 8 more novels featuring the couple, 3 different boxed sets and 2 short stories in their world. So far, that series has made me over $800,000 on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, Smashwords and Audible combined. That's over $100K a year.

I've also written several other full-length books, including 2 more in the first paranormal series and two boxed sets and a short story as a lead magnet. Plus, I've written 3 other contemporary / new adult romance novels as standalone novels. Taken together, I've made over $1M since I started.

I am not a big name romance author! I don't currently have books in the top 100 in any category. I've never attended a convention or had a book signing. In fact, many of my books are in the 50K plus rank, but I have enough of them earning steadily that with frequent promotions, including Bookbubs, I am able to keep my revenues around the six-figure range even when going 5 months without a new release.

That was my goal -- to get a big enough backlist built of selling novels that I could live off it and try to break into thrillers, science fiction and high fantasy.

To that end, I've written book 1 of a 3 book thriller / romantic suspense series and will be releasing it in May. It is a crime thriller / serial killer thriller in which a duo comprised of an amateur sleuth / journalist teams up with an FBI special agent on leave to solve the cold case murder of a girl they both knew growing up, as well as several others by the same killer. There will be a very slow burn romance between the two lead characters, with no sex on or off screen, but they end up together so I will cross-categorize it as romantic suspense, serial killer, police procedural. Book 2 will be put on a long pre-order and released 60 days later and book 3, the same -- a long pre-order and release 60 days after that. I'm writing romance novels in between to keep my existing audience fed and happy.

I was going to write book 2 and book 3 back to back and release all three at once, but I decided against that. I have a new release coming out in my main romance series in May, but don't want to wait that long to release a book. That would mean I went 7 months without a release and EEEK! That feels far too long. While I am holding on in terms of revenues, they are slowly slipping. Only regular Bookbub and other promos have kept me afloat these past 5 months. I don't want to push even more since I am the sole support for myself and my two boys. I have to space out the thrillers and romance novels to try to keep my revenues up.

Anyway, that's an update on my indie author publisher business and career. I posted a while back when I hit $500K in revenues and so wanted to follow up with an update when I hit over $1M.

What helped? Top 10 tactics:

1. Understanding the market
2. Writing in series
3. Publishing regularly
4. Making boxed sets (collections)
5. Professional covers (on the cheap side - mine were primarily $99 each and I stuck with my main designer for all my books)
6. Professional edits (once I could afford it, but until then I used a family member to proofread - edits are about $600 - $800 per book)
7. Mailing list
8. Regular marketing (succeeded in getting regular Bookbubs which makes a big difference)
9. Used permafree and wide distribution coupled with Bookbubs and new releases as well as cycling into KU.
10. Took Mark Dawson's courses to learn how to use Facebook and AMS to market my books. REALLY HELPED!

What's in my future?

Hopefully, breaking into thrillers, and then I have an alien invasion 3 book series to write and a 3 book high fantasy series planned, the first book of which I have already written in a draft form. Those will be released starting later this year and into next year, spaced out with romance releases. Plus, I want to start a podcast where I interview successful indie author-publishers who make a living at this about their own paths to success. That will start later this year once I get back into the full swing of things. I planned on starting that sooner, but my life upheaval has prevented it.

This indie author gig is great if you can find a niche that works for you and that you love to write. If so, who needs traditional publishing? There has been a lot of negative press lately about book stuffers and scammers on Amazon. It can seem disheartening for those of us who aren't into the whole black hat/grey hat publisher approach, that focuses more on hacking Amazon loopholes versus being an author doing what we love.

Don't be disheartened. Keep your eye on the prize.

While it's true that Amazon as a marketplace and the indie author-publisher space has changed since I started in June 2012, I still believe that it's possible to focus on being an author-author, being true to your own vision whilst understanding the market you love, and not succumbing to the grey-hat or black-hat scammer approaches to succeed. You don't need to remain in the top 100 books to succeed if you have enough relatively successful books in your backlist.

If you're just starting out or if you've been writing for a while without the kind of success you'd like, consider writing to market (as in understanding a market you'd like to write in and have read in and trying to fulfil those readers). Write in series if possible. Write as often as you can. I wrote 18 novels, 4 novellas and 3 short stories over 6 years, which works out to 3 - 4 novels plus collections and shorter works a year. 

It can be done. Not everyone will succeed who tries. For those who want a career as an indie author-publisher, if you have a plan and implement it, not giving up when things don't first succeed, and if you keep trying to understand the market and master marketing, you have a chance!









« Last Edit: April 14, 2018, 01:20:40 PM by sela »

Offline It's A Mystery

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2018, 01:18:04 PM »
Amazing. Thank you so much for posting.

Offline Jeff Tanyard

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #2 on: April 14, 2018, 01:25:54 PM »
Thanks for sharing, sela.  And congratulations.  :)
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Offline GP Hudson

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #3 on: April 14, 2018, 01:27:01 PM »
Great post, Sela. Thanks for sharing.


Offline T E Scott Writer

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2018, 01:31:59 PM »
I love hearing these kinds of stories.  How brave of you to change genre too, best of luck with the scifi (all the best people write it  ;D ;D ;D)

T E Scott

Offline ketosis

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2018, 01:38:02 PM »
Great post!  What do you mean when you say wide distribution but cycling into KU?  Do you release KU to start, then go wide after three months?  I have a romance pen name, as well as my regular name, and I've been contemplating taking my main romance trilogy wide next month.  I've had two Bookbubs in the far past, and they both resulted in my biggest months ever.  The first book has always done well with any free runs, and thinking of permafree in also hopes of getting another Bookbub.  I'm starting to feel as if KU isn't doing as much for me as it once did.

Offline ThirdWish

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2018, 02:26:16 PM »
Thanks for posting. Very inspiring :-)

Offline PermaStudent

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2018, 02:33:47 PM »
Thank you so much for this post.  :)

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Offline Nicholas Erik

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #8 on: April 14, 2018, 02:52:36 PM »
Thanks, Sela, and congrats on passing the $1m milestone.

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Offline Indiecognito

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2018, 02:53:04 PM »
Thanks for this, Sela, and congratulations on all your success!

Question: If you had one piece of advice for AMS users, what would it be? I'm still fidgeting, I've taken Dawson's course, and I have some decent results but am still wondering if the simple fix would be to tweak more, more often. Would love to hear your thoughts.

Offline DrewMcGunn

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #10 on: April 14, 2018, 03:08:13 PM »
Thanks for sharing your success. It's nice to know that hard work and an attention to detail, coupled with a strong understanding of who your market is, can pay off.

Drew McGunn

Offline Mark Dawson

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #11 on: April 14, 2018, 03:51:47 PM »
Great post. Kudos. So pleased for you.

Offline Becca Mills

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #12 on: April 14, 2018, 04:13:49 PM »
Thanks for sharing, sela! I hope your thriller/romantic suspense books hit it out of the park. :)

Offline dianapersaud

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #13 on: April 14, 2018, 05:16:45 PM »
Thank you, Sela. Your posts are always helpful and a great morale booster.

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Offline kw3000

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #14 on: April 14, 2018, 05:23:14 PM »
*adopts whiny voice* bbbbuuuuuuuuuttttttt Seeeeelllllllaaaaaaa...that all sounds like real, actual hard work. *folds arms* I don't wanna. Aw, shucks... *kicks at the dirt*  :'(

(just kidding, thank you for all of your advice  8))

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Offline Usedtoposthere

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #15 on: April 14, 2018, 06:02:46 PM »

It can be done. Not everyone will succeed who tries. For those who want a career as an indie author-publisher, if you have a plan and implement it, not giving up when things don't first succeed, and if you keep trying to understand the market and master marketing, you have a chance!

Very true. Congratulations on your milestone. Great post!

Offline MelanieCellier

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #16 on: April 14, 2018, 06:31:13 PM »
Congrats, Sela! Just out of curiosity, will you be starting new pen names for your various new genres?

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Offline levolal

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #17 on: April 14, 2018, 06:40:43 PM »
Woah, I can't even imagine writing 8 novels featuring the same couple. It is hard to do 3 novels for one couple for me. Very interesting post. Thanks for taking the time to write it out! Writing to market is both the easiest and hardest thing. For those of us who consider ourselves "above" the market (in terms of liking 'classier' books), it can be frustrating. But if I gotta churn out the millionth badboy romance novel for a fraction of the pie... well, I'll build a bridge and jog over it!

Offline VLH

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #18 on: April 14, 2018, 06:49:05 PM »
Just awesome. Thank you for sharing. :)

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Offline KinkyCat

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #19 on: April 14, 2018, 06:52:20 PM »
I can vouch for Sela's method.  I didn't quite break the six digit mark last year, but doing the same as she did (publish regularly & write to market) got me that far.
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Offline Usedtoposthere

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #20 on: April 14, 2018, 06:57:58 PM »
Woah, I can't even imagine writing 8 novels featuring the same couple. It is hard to do 3 novels for one couple for me. Very interesting post. Thanks for taking the time to write it out! Writing to market is both the easiest and hardest thing. For those of us who consider ourselves "above" the market (in terms of liking 'classier' books), it can be frustrating. But if I gotta churn out the millionth badboy romance novel for a fraction of the pie... well, I'll build a bridge and jog over it!
Writing to market and writing to trend are two different things. You don't have to write to trend in order to write to market.

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #21 on: April 14, 2018, 07:56:29 PM »
Congratulations, Sela.

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #22 on: April 14, 2018, 08:05:26 PM »
Very encouraging post! Thank you!

Sometimes it's hard to stay focused on the big picture rather than counting the words and minutes in between... this helps!
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Offline Secret Pen Pal

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #23 on: April 14, 2018, 08:30:59 PM »
Inspiring. Thanks and congrats!

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Re: Six-Figure Backlist Write to Market Strategy
« Reply #24 on: April 14, 2018, 09:26:38 PM »
Great post!  What do you mean when you say wide distribution but cycling into KU?  Do you release KU to start, then go wide after three months?  I have a romance pen name, as well as my regular name, and I've been contemplating taking my main romance trilogy wide next month.  I've had two Bookbubs in the far past, and they both resulted in my biggest months ever.  The first book has always done well with any free runs, and thinking of permafree in also hopes of getting another Bookbub.  I'm starting to feel as if KU isn't doing as much for me as it once did.

I have never released in KU before but I will with the thriller series, the SF and the High Fantasy since they will all be under new pen names and I will be starting from scratch.

What I have done is release wide and wait until the tail starts to dive on iBooks (which is my second biggest market) and then put the books in KU for a 90-day term. Then I take them wide again and try for a Bookbub. If successful, I keep the book / series out for whatever time it takes, which is usually 30 days or so, for the Bookbub. When the Bookbub boost dies out, I will put the books back in KU for another 90 days. My steamy contemporary romance series does well wide, especially on iBooks, but my paranormal romance doesn't seem to ever gain traction. I tend to pull it once or twice a year for Bookbubs but keep it in KU the rest of the time.

KU works well for some -- just look at Mark Dawson's recent experience putting his books in. He's killing it!

If you can time it right so that you get a Bookbub soon after you take your books out of KU, you can get good results and gain traction as Bookbub has a big audience on those non-Amazon markets. Good luck!