Entering my third year as an indie, it is my responsibility to impart sage wisdom to the world. (Don’t blink, or you might miss it.) See the series introduction post for more on my saga. But for now, lesson #4 for 2012:
Be an inspired artist. But study what people are reading.
Okay. Straight up, this is a big, fat compromise. Live with it. If your goal as an Indie is to make money, penny-roll money, the shiny stuff, then you simply have to be a student of the market. What does this mean?
Being a student of what people are reading means more than reading a lot. It means more than browsing bookstores aimlessly while drinking a latte (although this can help). My favorite way to study the market includes a few blogs I follow combined with scouring the top 100 lists on the Amazon/Kindle store.
Granted, the best-selling books in the Kindle store tell me what people are buying, not necessarily reading. But (choke the artist in me with saw dust) this is really the most important statistic to track. Since 95% of indie authors today depend on ebooks for 95% of their profits (statistics fictional but true) I don’t need to keep track of brick and mortar sales.
Which books and which authors are finding explosive Kindle store success? What sorts of books are they and how are the authors selling them? Usually the cover and product description (plus a review or two) will be enough to tell you. If a particular title grabs your attention check out the free sample for the full picture.
Spending fifty hours doing this will ground you in reality (I can’t believe I’m promoting this! Reality, if only I could bend you to my will!). Then you will have total freedom to shove off into the ocean of muse-induced whimsy and artistic fantasy (while wearing the life preserver of Kindle store reality).
Write what you desire to write. Write who you are! Live free and die harder! When you finish the first draft, review your notes on the market. Equip your brain baby with the cultural training it will need to survive (ie. draw the attention of readers).
Consider this a crash course in the birds and bees of book-dom. If your baby is to mature and become a true book do you want to find it slumped in a dark alley with a empty bottle of Wild Turkey listing from its clammy hand!? Give your creative birth what it will need to thrive!
What does this mean? Well, readers have comfort zones. Your research has shown you were those are. Find the one nearest your passion and train your novel to stroke those readerly needs. (You can still be creative and unique, but you must provide readers a handhold.) Find the biggest name authors in the genre and check out their Amazon author profiles. What names are in their “readers have also enjoyed these authors” list?
These lists work as venn diagrams. Find the author profile with the closest variety of “also enjoyed authors” to your dream world. If that author is generating sufficient sales then study how they are reaching their readers. Then introduce those readers to their new favorite book.
***Standard Disclaimer: There are 3 brands of Indie:
- an artist expressing him/herself for the pure joy of it
- an artist or idealist who wishes to express an emotion or idea to the world
- an artist/entrepreneur who wishes to make a living as a writer
An indie can be one, two or all three of these. But knowing the composition is critical. I am all three of the above, but first and foremost I have to be #3, or I won’t be able to continue doing #2 and #1 full-time. Not all of the above applies to someone seeking #1 or #2. Man, this is sounding scatological, isn’t it?