Eric Edstrom: It Worked, It Failed – Lessons Learned in Indie Publishing

Guest post by Eric Edstrom

On December 24th, 2011, I clicked “save and publish” on Amazon’s KDP platform to launch my very first novel, Undermountain. A few hours later the book appeared for sale on Amazon.

Relief and satisfaction washed through me. I had realized a life-long dream, a biggie from the bucket list. I had done it. I’d written and published a novel.

I relaxed and smiled. No more pages of edits to go through, no irritating “track changes” issues to deal with from an editor, no more “when will your little book be out?” questions from doubters.

I’ve done this twice since then. In January of 2012 I published a little non-fiction ebooklet about writing lyrics for the Nashville music scene. And on July 1st I released Afterlife, the sequel to Undermountain.

I don’t claim to be an expert. If anything, I’m an advanced beginner. But I do have enough experience to offer insights into what has and has not worked for me as an indie author.

1. Goodreads.

Although many authors fear Goodreads due to trolls torpedoing authors’ books, I’ve found a friendly and welcoming community there. I wouldn’t have half the reviews I have without them. There are a number of Goodreads groups (basically discussion forums) with dedicated topics for “Authors Requesting Reviews” or ARR. Join one, read the ARR rules, introduce yourself, offer up free copies, and be patient. And it’s pretty much a no brainer, give a free e-copy of your book to anyone who promises to review it. It worked!

2. Hiring editing and proofreading services.

I worked with two editors. The first one did an okay job, but mostly just pointed out that my book was crap. I rewrote a bunch of it and then worked with Joshua Essoe, who helped me beat it into shape. After that I hired a proofreader. Notice I’m not mentioning who did that. I should have done an extra proofreading round after that. It worked. Lesson learned: ask for references.

3. Sourcing cover art through Crowdspring.com.

This worked, but it made the cost higher due to Crowdspring’s listing fees. I listed a project there, set my price, and then waited for designers to submit concepts. I gave feedback and encouragement to some of them, and eventually chose the cover you see for Undermountain (which is awesome according to everyone). Since then I’ve worked directly with the artist on the sequels. It worked! Lesson learned: It’s cheaper to work with artists directly. Find unknowns on deviantart.com and conceptart.org.

4. Hiring services to prepare my manuscript to feed into Smashword’s infamous meatgrinder conversion software.

I did this for Undermountain because I was exhausted and couldn’t face reading Smashword’s style guide. I paid ebookartisandesign.com $50 to do it. It worked!

5. Preparing my manuscript for the meatgrinder myself for book 2.

It’s actually not that hard to do if you clear space in your calendar and mind to just do it. It worked!

6. Hire Createspace services to create the interior layout for the POD version of my book.

I got my POD book done and ready for sale. It worked . . . but I was extremely disappointed with the speed and quality of their service. Their mistakes added three weeks to the process.

7. Create the interior layout using Word for Mac.

I did a superior quality layout for my second book in about four hours by following a tutorial I found online. If you’ve done your own prepwork for the Smashwords meatgrinder, you have the perfect starting point, BTW. It worked!

8. Dictating the first draft.

Once I got over the idea that dictation wouldn’t work for me and just did it, I found that it was insanely fast and the quality was good. I wrote a blog post on this. It worked!

9. Reserving an editor time slot before the book has been written started.

I did this on my second book because I knew Joshua’s schedule was filling up. I treated this date the same way I would a deadline for any other editor. I worked backward from that to figure out my schedule. I worked forward from that date to figure out my launch date. As a result, I launched an awesome book on time. It totally worked!

10. Tweet spamming my book.

I couldn’t help myself at first. I was so proud of my book and thought all fifty-seven of my followers would rush to Amazon and buy it. I do tweet my buy links occasionally, but for the most part I’m trying to build relationships on twitter. I have no evidence that I’ve sold a single copy due to tweeting. Tweet spamming: Fail!

11. Being afraid to push my book.

I just got done saying I was a Twitter spammer, but in real life I wouldn’t bring it up with anyone. Fail! Lesson learned: You’re not selling your book so much as you are selling yourself. Some people are good at this, some are like me. I can say with 100% confidence that I never sold a book to someone who didn’t know it existed.

12. Advertising on Facebook.

Fail! I sold nothing. I’m not saying it couldn’t work, just that it didn’t work for me. Why? Because I had no idea what I was doing. Advertising is an skill, and to do it right you really need to A/B test everything and tweak headlines.

13. Amazon Select.

Fail! (for me) I gave away thousands of free ebooks. There was no post giveaway sales boost and I got only one review as a result (it was very positive, BTW). I think my absence from other platforms set back my growth there and my sales on the big A did not go down once I left the Select program.

14. Creating a printed version of my book to boost sales.

Fail! I’ve given away way more copies than I’ve sold of my POD book. From a return on time/investment standpoint, POD was not worth it for Undermountain. And yet . . . there is nothing in the world like holding that book. Now that I know how to do interior layout myself I will continue to do them. Lesson learned: when you hire your cover artist, make sure they agree to tweak final dimensions for the wrap-around cover and placement of back cover text, etc. The issue is that you won’t know the spine dimensions until you know how many pages the book will be. And you won’t know that until the book is finished and the interior layout is complete.

15. Create an awesome book trailer that will go viral, resulting in huge sales and movie options.

Fail! I did all the work on my awesome trailer myself. It was far more expensive than it had to be because I licensed stock video and sounds from istockphoto.com and pond5.com. I already owned Final Cut and had video editing experience, so at least that didn’t cost me extra. Lesson learned: having an awesome book trailer is its own reward.

16. Speaking to a bunch of eighth graders at a local school.

It worked! Many were very interested in buying my book. Lesson learned: Make sure your your POD book is ready. This may be different now, but not one of the 100+ kids in the audience owned an ereader at the time. Due to Createspace design services slowitude, I did not have any inventory on hand. Fail!

17. Ringing up sales by obsessively refreshing the KDP, Pubit, Smashwords, and Writing Life dashboards.

Fail! I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that this is ineffective. If it was, I would be the best-selling writer in the history of the world.

Guest Writer Bio: Eric Kent Edstrom is an author, songwriter, and guitarist. The first two volumes of The Undermountain Saga, Undermountain and Afterlife, are available in ebook and trade paperback from all online retailers. Eric lives in Wisconsin with his wife and daughter.

Twitter: @ekdstrom
Facebook: facebook.com/EricKentEdstrom
Web: ericedstrom.com

The greatest YA science fiction series about bigfoot of all time: The Undermountain Saga. Book 1: Undermountain and book 2: Afterlife. The final book will launch 24 December.

4 responses on “Eric Edstrom: It Worked, It Failed – Lessons Learned in Indie Publishing

  1. KylieQ

    I’m leaning more and more towards indie publishing so I’ve read your post with great interest. Hopefully if I go down that track, I can avoid some of your fails!

    By the way, that is one classy book trailer. I see what you mean about it being its own reward.

  2. Frank Morin

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m leaning more and more toward indie publishing, and hope to have at least one novel ready by the end of the year. I found this very insightful and useful. Much appreciated.

    Frank

  3. Eric

    I’d like to thank the Fictorians for inviting me to blog here. It was a fun topic to write about, and I learned a lot in the process. I didn’t know what I knew!

    I absolutely love the control I have as an indie, though it is a challenge explaining my choice to “civilians.” I find myself lecturing them on the state of the publishing industry. Lesson learned: readers don’t care if you earn 15% or 70% on every sale 🙂

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