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?

Melissa F. Miller
Melissa F. Miller

Melissa F. Miller

Melissa F. Miller, a former lawyer with an undergraduate degree in English literature (with concentrations in creative writing, poetry, and medieval literature), now spends her time home-schooling her three children and writing legal thrillers. She is a USA Today best-selling author of 16 novels, including the Sasha McCandless series and three novellas.

Why self-publishing?

The short answer is that I am a bit of a control freak. I home-school my children, and when my husband and I were practicing law, we had left big law firms to have our own two-person practice, so I like to be in charge. When I wrote the book in 2010, I was ready to start sending it out in 2011. This was when KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) was starting to take off. The other self-publishing platforms didn’t exist. It was KDP and CreateSpace. My husband sent me an article from some tech magazine that said, “So you wrote a book; why don’t you just self-publish it?” It was about using these technologies instead of going the traditional publishing route. I thought, this sort of fits my personality. 

Had you explored traditional publishing at all? 

Not really. I had joined Sisters in Crime and had gone to a conference and did pitch sessions for the first book I wrote, not the first one I self-published. That first book will never see the light of day; it is my drawer novel. I sort of dipped my toe in but never went that route.

What parts of the process do you do on your own, and what parts do you hire out? 

This has changed over time. I previously had the books formatted and the covers done through independent contractors. But my husband took a Photoshop class, and he bought the formatting software to format the print and eBooks (Vellum). We have a team of editors and proofers that are freelancers. So I pay for that. I have some marketing help, a virtual assistant [in addition to the] copy editors and proofreaders who I hire.

What is your book launch strategy?

My book launch strategy is really the preorder. The six to eight weeks leading up to a launch, I will get excitement going by posting excerpts and then, on the day the book is live, I will send my newsletter to folks and post on social media. When I can, I get a BookBub promotion on that first book. For me, having the first book [be] free is a great funnel into the series, and it seems to draw people through the entire series.

What are your sales now after an initial launch?

This varies depending on the series, but usually 5,000 to 10,000 copies in the first three months.

What does that translate into for you with annual income?

For the past couple of years, I have been making in the low six figures.

How many books do you typically put out each year? 

I try to release four books per year. In the beginning, I was still practicing law full time, so in those first couple years, my releases were very erratic. That’s one thing I learned the hard way. Once you develop an audience and you have a following, you have to keep feeding that. Especially if it is a series. In an ideal world, I would have my releases be very predictable.

If you could have done anything differently, what would that have been?

If I could have done anything differently, I would have mapped out the first couple of books in my first series and had a more predictable release schedule for the books.

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

There are so many blogs and books on self-publishing. I would read widely before you start. It’s a different skillset than writing, the publishing part of it, and I don’t think that everybody who is a talented, successful writer would enjoy self-publishing. Take everything you hear with a grain of salt, because things do change do quickly in self-publishing. The advice that worked when I first started was not the advice that was working two years ago, and it certainly is not the advice that is working now. Being willing to be able to adapt and change course is crucial.