Tuesday, March 24, 2015

My Journey as an Indie Author: The Story So Far

From TV news director to novelist, blogger and radio host. Two years ago I set out to reinvent myself.  What a trip it's been.

Okay, so I did what they tell you never to do:  I “quit the day job”—which in my case meant leaving a pretty good gig running a TV newsroom—in order to pursue a lifelong dream of writing fiction.  I’m sure that struck some people as being precipitous.  It wasn’t.  I had decided long ago, in consultation with my spouse, that when the time was right, and when we had a sufficient financial cushion in place, I would do this at least for a while.

I might have been tempted to wait and pad the nest egg further if not for a couple of developments that made me suspect the midnight chimes were about to sound.  For one, even though I was feeling fine, I began to have premonitions that my health was about to take a turn for the worse.  (Such feelings have served me well in the past.  I have been blogging about some of those.)  Second, waiting until retirement to do the writing I wanted to do began to seem like an increasingly long shot.  I could not help but notice that too many of my TV news colleagues weren’t making it to the finish line.


When I got word that yet another news director my age had died at work, that did it.  The lesson was clear:  a dream delayed could become a dream denied.  By April of 2013 I had closed the door, at least for the time being, on a 33-year career in TV news.  A month later I sat down to write my novel Messages.  It’s a crime story set in a news environment that also serves as an expos√© of TV news, showing how the industry came, for better or worse, to the place it’s at today.  The book has received excellent reader and critical reviews; one of the latter called it “masterful.”

I didn't even try to seek an agent or publisher at that time, for two reasons.  First, I knew that it could take years to pull that off, if such a thing were even possible at all for an unknown like me.  And I was not convinced that I had years at my disposal.  Second, I had a lot I wanted to say, and I didn’t want to wrestle with an editor, who would be concerned about book length and so on, for permission to say it.  So I decided to proceed immediately on my own, publishing Messages on Amazon.com for the Kindle the moment it was ready.  I've since learned that similar thinking motivates many other independent writers.  And there's a rising tide of non-indie authors who decide to leave their traditional publishers and go rogue.

Then came the next challenge:  finding an audience.  I was not prepared for the fact that this would be the bigger task.  I’ve since learned that even traditionally published first-time authors have to do a great deal of marketing on their own.  Independent authors always have to do all of it by themselves.  I was a babe in the woods.  Fortunately, other indie authors I met online stepped up with advice.  I took it.  (More on that below).

After a few weeks of stoking the marketing engine, I turned to my next project, a science fiction idea that had been bumping around in my noggin since I was 17.  By autumn  A Journal of the Crazy Year was finished.  Yes, forgive me, it is a zombie apocalypse novel.  But I found a way to inject some new ideas into a shopworn genre.  Among other things, the disease at the heart of the novel really could happen (honest—if you allow me the leeway of suggesting that a forgotten real-life pandemic that has struck twice before in human history could come back again in a much more virulent form).  The novel contains an intensely researched role-reversal concept related to mental health that has not, to my knowledge, been done before.  And I think the ending will take readers by surprise; it certainly had that effect on some of my reviewers.  I published the novel on Kindle, shoveled more coal into the marketing boiler's firebox, and then hit the keyboard to start my next project.

And then the trained derailed.  Remember those feelings of foreboding about my health?  They proved out.  Spectacularly.  I was diagnosed with, among other things, kidney cancer.  My writing and marketing stopped cold while my wife and I dealt with that.  There was an eight week period during which I did not know whether the length of time I had left on earth would be measured in days, months, or years.  But as it turned out, the cancer was contained.  The kidney had to come out, but life began to look less uncertain.  Of course, no one who’s ever had cancer ever emerges from its shadow.  I'll have to be closely monitored from now on.  And I still have to watch out for city buses, lightning, and whatnot, just like anyone else.

Once I recovered from the surgery, I spent a few weeks doubling down on the marketing efforts.  In the Kindle Countdown promotion that followed, Messages cracked the Top 100 in three of its categories (including humor, general humor, and crime fiction).  That did not suck.  In fact, it was tonic for the spirit.
 
Before resuming work on novel number three, I started a blog, The Bashful Bloviator, which I had been intending to do.  And then it was time for my next move.

One of the items on my “to do” list was to try my hand at radio, which had been my first love in college.  In the second year of my sabbatical, the opportunity presented itself.  I took a gig as a host on PowerTalk 1210, a start-up news/talk station in Tucson, and have been having a blast.  My blog fits in with it really well, and it’s growing at a respectable rate.

The only fly in the ointment is that I’ve had to decrease the amount of time I spend on that third novel.  But it’s 99.99 percent complete.  I may seek a traditional publisher for that one, depending on the outcome of my next round of medical tests and on how my next promotion for Journal goes.

Meanwhile, in preparing the print version of a Journal of the Crazy Year, I decided to do something that the big boys and girls do.  Instead of putting it out the moment the edition was ready, I submitted it to some respected review outfits, and delayed publication to wait for the results, in hopes that I could add some nice quotes for the cover.  I spent the next five months on pins and needles.  I knew I could write TV news—a closet full of professional awards attested to that.  But how about science fiction?  This was blue sky for me. 

But when the reviews came in, they were fabulous.  Kirkus Reviews actually compared me to Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors.  Publishers Weekly not only gave me a good review, but awarded one of its coveted starred reviews, and called the novel  “a fascinating read all the way to its chilly, barely hopeful conclusion."

Wow.

With that kind of encouragement, I hired an acquaintance of mine, Rachel Anderson, who’s a professional publicist and whose rates are really reasonable.  She booked me on some radio interviews.  The highlight of those was Coast to Coast AM, where I got to speak to a national late-night radio audience of roughly three million people for nearly two hours on the subject of whether a zombie apocalypse could really happen (it could) and whether society might already be sliding toward the madness contemplated in the book (it might).  What a blast!  And yes, for those indie authors out there who might be wondering—such publicity does help sales.

Nor has the publicity train stopped.  One thing that works in my favor as a former TV news cat is that I’m known within that industry.  Broadcasting and Cable magazine just did a feature on former TV news directors who’ve gone off the deep end taken up new careers, and it featured my doin’s.  I’ve also written several articles recently for a major TV news industry trade site.  The advantage of writing for sites other than your own, of course, that it gets your name out there.  One of my trade missives in particular, The Job Application Darwin Awards, has been a hit.  And the beauty if it is that the piece contains a link to my blog, which in turn has links to my novels.  (You can find a summary of all the press exposure I’ve had recently here and a list of articles I’ve written for other websites, newspapers and magazines here.) 

So, two years down the road, what advice can I give other indie authors?

One, remember that you are doing this for self-expression and personal fulfillment, not for money.  If you truly are a writer, then you have to write.  Call it a hobby, call it a compulsion, call it a blessing, call it a curse, whatever:  you can’t duck it.  So write, but keep your financial goals modest, especially at first.  Very modest.  The name of the game in the beginning is exposure, not $$$.  I read recently that the vast majority of novels, whether published independently or by a traditional house, sell less than 100 copies in the first year and 5000 in a lifetime.  My sales are a bit above average by that measure, mainly because I’ve pumped some money into marketing.  And reviews have, for the most part, been great.  But I’m not in danger of making it to the New York Times bestseller list any time soon.  It’s a work in progress.

I recommend publishing with Kindle and joining their exclusive program.  This gives you marketing opportunities you can’t get otherwise.  Set a reasonable price (my sci-fi sells for $3.99 when it’s not on special, which is typical).

Second, make use of social media.  Tweet early and often.  Create an author page on Facebook.  Post in relevant Facebook groups.  Consider writing a blog if you have the time (all of the above comes from advice others gave me).  Talk one on one via social media with other authors.  In the process of doing that, find out who’s available to do reviews in return for a free copy.  (That list changes often but one good point of contact is Julie’s Book Review, which also is a group page you should consider joining.  Another good point of contact and a source for great advice is Carolyn Howard-Johnson’s author page and newsletter.)

Which Facebook groups should you join?  I belong to about three dozen.  Start with this one:  Authors.  Then sign up for The Indie Author Promotion Page.   Facebook will then suggest more group pages like them for you (look on the right side of your Facebook screen).  Sign up for any and all that seem worthwhile.  Then post away.  (Make sure you read the posting rules, which vary from group to group.)

Third, take advantage of the Kindle Countdown deals.  I have done several, setting my price at 99 cents, and have been pleased with the results reach time. 

Consider investing in some advertising to get the word out about your Countdown Deals.  Note:  don’t expect to make money in that scenario.  It’s possible to do so, but remember that for beginners especially, it’s about getting the word out and building a fan base.  At the bottom of this page is a list of book advertising services that I have used and considered worthwhile.  Rates vary, and some are free.

Should you do free giveaway days on Amazon?  From what I’ve read, returns on those have diminished greatly.  Some say it’s still a great tool if you are trying to build an audience for subsequent works, especially if you’re writing a series.  They can also help generate reviews, which are necessary before some advertisers will accept your book.

Which brings me to my last point.  Don’t let negative reviews crush your spirit.  Trolls are out there.  They’re a force of nature that have to be dealt with.  Don’t make the mistake of striking back at them.  Take it in stride and keep the faith.

What’s next for me?  Well, now that my sabbatical is up, I’m thinking about getting back into the job market (the radio gig, while fun, is not full time).  I’ve started that process.  I’ll be looking at a number of possibilities.  Hopefully with employment stats looking better all the time the search will be productive.

But the writing will continue, and I’m very excited about project #3.  It’s a sci-fi horror novel set in very deep space—think “Arthur C. Clarke meets Stephen King meets Alien.”  While on a unique space voyage—of a kind you've never before seen written about in a novel, portrayed in a movie, or showcased on television—a group of astronauts, scientists and observers will encounter some of the worst and most personal horrors imaginable.  When I first started out, I wasn’t sure how it was going to end, but the characters finally decided.  No, I’m not kidding.  One thing I've learned from my social media networking is that many authors (I'm one of them) don't write so much as they take dictation.  It's the only way we can cope with the voices in our heads.  If you think that sounds crazy, I won't argue with you.  I don't really believe my characters are alive.  But try telling them that.

I have had a blast doing this.  Not everyone is in a position to do it the precise way I did.  A lot of people write their books during their off hours, while holding down a full time job.  My full time job provided little down time but it did allow me and the wife to save up for this sabbatical.  Plus, she works and was, as I said, kind enough to be supportive.  And we have no kids, which helps.  In any case, I had to do this.  Grand success in a financial sense may or may not await down the road.  But the personal satisfaction I’ve gained isn’t just great, it was utterly necessary for me.  When, God forbid, I find myself giving my Bucket List its final review, the “try your hand at fiction” box will be marked off.  My life would not have been complete otherwise.

Good writing.  Best of luck to you!  And by the way, I am always interested in hearing feedback or talking about writing.  Friend me or contact me here.

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Post Script:  As I type this, I am near the end of Day Three of a 7-day Kindle Countdown promotion for my sci-fi novel.  I’m proud to report that the novel has cracked the Top 100 in the Amazon rankings in its categories, and at this of moment has reached #35 in post-apocalytic sci-fi. Considering there are north of 3.3 million ebooks on Amazon, I don't consider that to be too shabby, especially for a guy who started from scratch two years ago.


You can find out more about me via my author’s website at www.forrestcarr.com.  I also invite you to check out and follow my blog, The Bashful Bloviator.


List of sites that will help you promote Kindle Countdown deals or free giveaways
(Note:  rates and policies vary.  Some have minimum review score requirements and/or content restrictions.)


(note:  can be bundled with Book Gorilla)














© 2015 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.



2 comments:

  1. What a pleasure it is to see a professional and indie author taking charge of their own writing career, Forrest. Thank hyou for the shoutout.
    Best,
    Carolyn Howard-Johnson
    Multi Award-Winning Author of the HowToDoItFrugally series for writers including the second editions of the Frugal Book Promoter (http://bit.ly/FrugalBookPromo and The Frugal Editor (http://bit.ly/FrugalEditorKind )The latter is e-book only.for the time being.

    ReplyDelete