3 Keys to Sustainable & Successful Indie Authorship

Scott Sigler
Scott Sigler

Note from Jane: I don’t usually run posts that feature or promote a single service or solution. Authors need to find partners who not only fit with them, but also fit with their work and their audience. In Scott Sigler’s case, I think he’s found an excellent partner that helps empower his long-term author career. Read this as a case study from Tay Nguyen in what a successful fit looks like, rather than as THE solution for every author. Now, without further ado …

These are very interesting times for the publishing industry: bookstore closures; the proliferation of e-books; the new legitimacy of self-publishing; the rise of Amazon, Google and Apple; the launch of new digital publishers … There are almost daily announcements and changes.

Scott Sigler‘s story presents an example of the new publishing paradigm. A New York Times best-selling author, Scott began giving away his unabridged content for free in podcast form in March 2005. By April 2007 he had garnered enough attention and followers to land a major five-book deal with Random House.

In 2009, despite his five-book deal with the world’s largest publisher, Scott decided to self-publish his own series. Why? The answer is simple and profound:

Amidst all the aforementioned turmoil in the publishing industry, he wanted more control over his own destiny.

His self-publishing model involves selling premium, signed, limited-edition hardcovers of each book through a pre-order process to raise money for book production. After the hardcovers are delivered, digital versions in major e-book and audiobook formats are made available for sale, along with merchandise.

Scott is closing in on seven years of weekly, free fiction. The remarkable result is that each book he self-publishes is profitable within 24 hours of launch. Read more about his process here at JA Konrath’s blog.

BackMyBook has been providing the technology to run Scott’s business since 2010. Here are the key lessons we’ve learned from a person that England’s The Independent dubbed the “Digital Dickens.”

1. Free Wins

In the age of the Internet, free should not be controversial. By far the most viable strategy for gaining and keeping devoted readers is to give away free content that they love. Scott gives away free, unabridged versions of every book he writes (even those published by Crown), and his sales continue to rise.

Giving content away does not reduce demand or negatively affect sales; it creates more demand and increases sales.

Free content is a lever for authors. It lets audiences choose a new author’s work instead of going with the tried-and-true major writers. People know they can try Option A for free, and if they don’t like it, then can go ahead and spend their money on Option B anyway. Free is a great method for aspiring, new or midlist authors to use on a regular basis that attracts new readers. Without new readers, you don’t get die-hard fans that want to buy everything you put out.

Many people reading this will argue that 99-cent e-books are just as effective, and they are probably right. With that in mind, however, don’t underestimate the goodwill you create by posting free content. It sends a message to readers: “My content is so good I can give it away and you will still come back and want to pay for it.”

2. Own Your Customers

When someone buys your book on Amazon they get an e-mail from Amazon, not from you. That e-mail encourages them to buy more books from other authors, not you. If Amazon decides to change their ranking or recommendation algorithms, all the hard work you’ve done to get that ranking may be for naught.

Authors should view Amazon as a means, not an end. The Kindle store is a great place to reach readers and market to them, but the goal should always be to bring readers back to your website and make them your customers and lifelong fans. Scott uses BackMyBook to sell his books and merchandise directly to his readers on his website. He has complete control over pricing and earns 85% versus 70%.

When Scott sells a book through our system, he is the one that has that customer information—not Amazon, and not us. He can go back to those fans over and over, letting them know about new stories. There are seven million products in Amazon’s store. There is really only one product in Scott’s store—Scott. Our system lets authors build a lifelong, direct relationship with their customers.

An added bonus of this strategy, when you own your customers, you are able to delight them. Everyone who purchases Scott’s latest hardcover book gets the e-book for free when it is available. When readers discovered typos in THE STARTER hardcover edition, we were able to immediately distribute free corrected e-book versions to anyone who had purchased a copy. This goodwill created lifelong fans and could not have been possible through a third-party retailer.

3. Be Accessible

Scott blogs and podcasts regularly on a weekly schedule, and interacts directly with his fans at every opportunity. He personally responds to every e-mail, tweets regularly, and when a fan engages regularly on Scott’s website, there’s a chance they may find themselves as a character in his next book. Believe me, when one of your favorite authors writes you into a novel, you become a lifelong fan. I happen to be the starting fullback on one of Scott’s Galactic Football League teams, so I am talking from experience!

Scott continually stays on the top of his readers’ minds by using the BackMyBook e-mail newsletter system to reach his readers directly twice a month. Because we integrate his e-commerce and e-marketing efforts, every time he sends an e-mail newsletter, we can see traffic and sales spike.

The digitalization of publishing is creating massive change. That change can be confusing and uncomfortable for many of the stakeholders, but it represents tremendous opportunity for authors who are willing to embrace it. As a businessman and an advocate for the author, I see opportunities for authors no matter their path, be it self-publishing, small press, or traditional publishing. There is no greater time to be an entrepreneurial author. Success will, as with any endeavor worth pursuing, require competence, hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to learn new skills. But authors don’t have to go it alone. There are many people and resources to help on this journey. If you can’t or haven’t found the right guide, send me an email.


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