Indie superstar turned publishing house darling Amanda Hocking was highly tactical when she set out to be successful at writing books.
She did field research – studying bookstore shelves. She did industry research, and studied sales data. She read the competition. According to a New York Times Magazine profile, she figured out that romance was “an evergreen when it came to popularity”, so, check, romance it is. She noticed, too, that paranormal elements helped lift books off the shelves. And so she set out to write vampire romances, and moved beyond into trolls, a wide open field that was pretty much hers alone.
Hocking is a good writer, but so are a lot of poor and unread people. She became a millionaire writer by adhering to the market as much as the muse.
Bella Andre is another millions-of-books-later indie author who applies market savvy to her art. For her, the breakthrough idea is that of the “series” – rather than trying to write, or sell, one-offs, she creates a series of books revolving around engaging characters. She learned the value of the “series” idea with her fifth book about the fictitious Sullivan family – that was when sales really popped for her. Her novel If You Were Mine became an immediate global bestseller, debuting in the Top 50 at all major eBook retailers.
The key really is that a series can gain followers who not only want to buy the next installment as soon as it’s out, if they happen to hit on the series midway it means multiple sales. Each book lives longer than it would have if it were published as a stand-alone.
Meanwhile, author Hugh Howey found his way to success by trying a number of options, measuring results and honing in on what seemed to be working best.
“It’s what publishers do: they take a chance on a handful of things, not knowing what will work and then pounce on anything that does,” says Howey. His most successful work, a series as it happens, is WOOL.
“It is quite different from my other books, both in content and tone. When I saw the reviews and sales, I turned my attention onto that series. Think of the old classic board game Battleship. You take wild guesses, but when you get a hit, you narrow your focus.”
Here are a few additional tips from these superstars:
Find your market. Howey suggests writing a lot of short pieces rather than put all your energy into a massive tome. “You’ll get more practice, develop more ideas, and plant more seeds. See what works. Have sequels in mind for everything you write. Experiment.”
Follow the market. Howey’s advice is, if you see a market exploding, try your hand. For example, on the heels of the Fifty Shades phenomenon erotica is booming. “If you are weighing between a romance and an erotica novel as you lay out a story, edge toward erotica.” In other words, while you are taking your scattergun approach, be sure to aim at a few big targets.
Dare to go where no publisher has gone before. Says Howey: “Be brave and bold with your writing. Try to stand apart. Mix genres. Do all the things publishers frown upon; you’re taking a much smaller risk than they dare.”
Measure, revise, perfect. Andre is a veteran writer but that doesn’t stop her from trying new things. “With every eBook, I’m constantly experimenting with new ideas, studying the results, and making adjustments,” she says. “All of this has enabled me to jump from the mid-list to bestseller lists around the world with my indie releases.”
Finally, Howey has a few last words of wisdom: “Above all, make sure you’re writing something you love. You can’t fool the reader if you can’t fool yourself. You have to dig your story, your characters, your settings. If you don’t, how can you expect anyone else to? So have fun. Write at least a little bit every day. Think of these as muscles you exercise. And if you’re having a blast, how can you lose?”
Find out more about Bella Andre here.
Find out more about Hugh Howey here.