Successful self-published authors share their top tips

We hear whispers that indie authors can make just as much as – if not more than – traditionally published authors. But who are these mythical indie authors, and how are they making it work?

C.J. Archer
C.J. Archer

 C.J. Archer

This former technical writer from Australia and mother of two young children is the author of 32 novels (mostly historical fantasy) and writes full time. Before self-publishing, she hoped to go the traditional route, and even secured an agent. They nearly landed a traditional publisher several times, but after two years, all four of her manuscripts were unsold, and the agent eventually terminated the relationship. By the time she decided to self-publish, Archer had about 10 completed manuscripts under her belt.

What made you then decide to pursue self-publishing? 

I hit my professional rock bottom. I’d been writing for 15 years, and I had won some contests here in Australia. I just felt like I was writing the best work I could and that still wasn’t getting me anywhere. I literally threw up my hands and said, that’s it. I quit. And I did quit, for all of a few weeks. I stopped submitting manuscripts for a little while. At that time, in 2010, the self-publishing movement was starting to make some waves. I started reading everything I could about it. The more I read, the more intrigued I was about the idea of it. About the freedom. When I first started, I wanted to test the waters. I wanted to put out some feelers; put out some old manuscripts and see what happened and do it anonymously. I didn’t tell anyone except my husband. But the plan was to keep submitting my current stuff to agents and publishers.

How did your experiment go? 

It went really well. I put out one book at the end of January 2011. Sales started happening straight away. It was a trickle, but I was blown away by the fact that complete strangers were buying my book and reading it. That gave me some courage to put out a couple more of my older manuscripts. Eventually, the sales kept mounting. I gave myself a whole year to make an income, and if I couldn’t make an income in that year, I would go and look for a “real” job.

That year passed, and I was making enough of an income to warrant me staying home and writing full time. I was making good “part-time job” money. After two years, I was making good “full-time job” income, better than I was earning as a technical writer. After year three, I was making over $100,000. The Watchmaker’s Daughter (book one in the Glass and Steele series) took me from a low six-figure to a high six-figure income this last financial year.

What is your writing process for getting these done so quickly?

I am now putting out four full-length novels a year. I work around my kids’ school hours. I write when they are at school; about four hours per day.  I also edit what I have written during that time while the words are fresh in my mind. I find that is probably the most important part of the process. That very first initial edit that is done on the day that I write those words. I aim for 3,000 words a day. I can write a first draft in about six weeks. I will spend another week at the end of the draft to do another edit. Then I let it sit for two months. Then I come back and do another edit. Once I am happy with that edit, I send it off to my editor and my beta readers. They generally get back to me in two to three weeks. I do another edit based on their suggestions. Then I get it ready to publish.

What do you do for marketing?

BookBub ads by far are a thousand times more successful. Absolutely worth the investment. Make sure you have a way readers can subscribe to your newsletter. The very first thing you need, after writing The End and before you have a page break, is a “Coming soon” link or a “You can now buy…” and then have a direct link to that book. Update that back matter as soon as that book is available. In that same area, have a sign up for your newsletter. Try to hook them that way. Every time I send out my newsletter I will get a few thousand pre-orders or purchases. I have about 7,000 on my list.

What’s your advice for those considering self-publishing?

Do your research. Research how to do it. Research other books in your genre and how they present themselves, do their covers, their price point, and read their blurbs. Read their reviews to see what readers like about that book. Write, not only the best book you can, but it has to be as good as the other books out there. And I include traditional publishing and self-publishing here. We are not the best judges of our writing. That is why I value my critique partners and my beta readers. Get that independent feedback somehow. Then put your head down and write the next book. There is no point marketing one book. Keep on writing, get as many books out as you can, as high-quality as you can, [and] as professional-looking as well.