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?

Chuck Barrett
Chuck Barrett

Chuck Barrett

Retired air-traffic controller and award-winning author Chuck Barrett currently has six thriller novels out. He speaks and teaches at conferences, festivals, and writers’ groups, and he is the author of Publishing Unchained: An Off-Beat Guide to Independent Publishing. He spends his days writing, marketing, and enjoying the Colorado outdoors.

What made you decide to self-publish? 

A good bit of why I chose the self-publishing route was the industry itself at the time. It was the worst year the publishing industry had seen in over 60 years, and the traditional option was, well, not much of an option. The majors were not buying. Rejections from agents came almost faster than I could send them. I did not want to wait until the market turned around, so I explored my self-publishing options. My first two books were under the imprint of a small publisher. I scrutinized everything she did to see how she did all of it. I didn’t have a good enough handle when my second book was coming out to jump out on my own. I kept doing my homework and felt I was ready by the time my third novel was ready, so I took the big step and ventured out on my own.

What do you enjoy most about self-publishing?

There is a satisfaction knowing that I am not only doing the creative writing involved in writing thrillers but that I am also wearing the hats of cover designer, interior designer, marketer, promoter, and all the other hats needed to make the business side successful. I started the self-publishing out of necessity but actually found it enjoyable. Sure, there are things that seem tedious at times, but now that I’ve acquired so much experience publishing books, I find that it’s fun.

When did you start seeing traction for your books?

With each book I added, the total number of sales went up. The third book made a big difference. Series are easier to sell because people get invested in the characters, and once they get invested, they want to keep reading to see what happens. I started getting a steady income. When my fourth book, Blown, came out, it was a standalone (the first in a series), and everything changed. I started running Facebook ads, and I did NetGalley for the first time. I had about 60 reviews from NetGalley going into my release. I sent emails to all those people with the link thanking them for the review on release day, and this was the first day they could post a review on Amazon. I got a bunch of reviews that day. For that first year, I was making about $3,000/month on just Blown.

Tell me more about your beta readers.

With the first book, I made the mistake of having friends read it. They didn’t want to hurt my feelings. I now have a good little cadre of beta readers (all volunteer). They range from retired Special Forces, English teacher, newspaper editor to my wife. I also have a few subject matter experts, since I have no military or law enforcement background; I have a U.S. Marshal, and I have a cop. These guys make sure that things aren’t wrong, and they give me vernacular. When you are looking for beta readers, you need to find people who want to volunteer their time and people who genuinely want to see you have a better book.

What do you do to build your newsletter subscribers?

I recently started using an automation chain for new subscribers. I use my first book, Savannah Project, as my lead magnet, and inside the book is a link to sign up for my newsletter. When someone signs up for the newsletter, it starts the series of automated emails that go out every few days that include free downloads, information about each book, and other personal insights about the books. What has happened is when each automation goes out about the different books, sales of that book go up.

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

Understand going into it that it is a lot of work. It takes a lot of time. It takes a total commitment. Readers expect a certain level of professionalism, from your editing to your product to your cover. There are right ways to do it and wrong ways to do it, and sloppy is wrong. The writing is a reflection of you as the author, and the product is a reflection of you as a publisher. You don’t want to put a bad product on the market. When people see it that first time, if they are turned off, they are not coming back.