Thursday, May 04, 2017

Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Master Publishing Plan?

By Jami Gold, @JamiGold

Part of the Indie Authors Series

After almost two years of posts, we’re finally winding down this Indie Publishing Paths series. Over the course of the series, we’ve covered a lot of information, focusing especially on the pros and cons for many of the decisions we face as indie authors.

As I’ve emphasized throughout this series, there’s no one right way to be successful as an indie author. Just because our favorite virtual mentor chooses one method to reach success doesn’t mean that method will work for us.
  • Our role models might have different goals or definitions of success from our own.
  • The publishing landscape constantly changes—from Amazon’s rules to reader expectations—so what worked six months ago might not work anymore.
It does us no good to blindly follow someone else’s strategy if we don’t understand it or know if it will help us reach our goals. We need those pros and cons to translate their methods to the current market or to something that might be a better match for what we want out of our publishing career.

To that end, we started by identifying our goals and priorities and walked through our options for the where, when, and how much of putting our book up for sale. We then explored our options for how best to hold onto our readers from book to book and dug deeper into the most effective method for keeping our readers: using a newsletter. We finished by walking through examples of how to match our goals to our plans for releasing our book, retaining readers, and utilizing our newsletters.

Today, I’m showing how we can pull all that information together into a master publishing plan by sharing an example of how a cohesive strategy can help us make those choices at each step.

Recap: Our Goals Affect Our Strategy

Over the last few posts of this series, I shared how I made my decisions—and specifically, how my goals led me to those choices—so others can see how to think through our options. Depending on your goals, you might want to make choices similar to mine—or you might want to use me as a “what not to do” example. *smile* There’s no wrong answer.

These were the goals I shared in January:
  • Prioritize Readers over Sales Income: This can be expressed by making decisions that aim for high availability and acquiring new readers.
  • Establish a Professional Reputation: This can be expressed by making decisions that mimic the quality and offerings of the best of traditional publishing (print versions, etc).
  • Think and Plan for the Long Term: This can be expressed by making decisions that ignore short-term gains or avoid burnout.
Today’s post is going to show more about what that long-term planning might look like when we come up with our big-picture publishing strategies. As I mentioned before, while my sales numbers aren’t anything to brag about, I’ve obviously thought a great deal about each of these choices. So simply following along as I share my thought process might help you clarify your own decisions for your indie publishing path. 

What Strategies Do You Think Will Work for Your Goals?

Back when I was first researching my indie publishing options, I analyzed the results of a survey Beverly Kendall conducted to dig into whether self-published authors who strive for professional quality find more success. Her survey results indicated that those who received professional editing and have a professional cover are more likely to earn more money. Duh, right?

But her survey revealed other surprising insights as well. In particular, her report delved into the six elements that help maximize income for self-published authors:
  • Write a series (or market loosely connected books as a series)
  • Make a series-related short story, novella, or the first novel free
  • Include excerpts of other stories, especially at the back of the freebie
  • Price novel-length books in the $2.99-$4.99 sweet spot
  • Build a backlist of quality stories
  • Don’t expect success overnight—think in years
I want to reiterate that what worked back in 2014 before might not be as effective anymore, but it’s likely that these elements still work to some extent just because they’re mostly common sense. So in 2015, I adopted these elements into my long term plan. And that meant I had to work backward from what I wanted to accomplish to plan all the steps leading up to that point.

What Does It Mean to Work Backward on Our Strategies?

Many times as we’re writing, we might find it easier to figure out our plot or character arcs if we think about how we want the story to end and work backward. The same idea can apply to our publishing strategy.

I knew I wanted to create a backlist quickly that would pull readers from one story to the next. So I came up with a “daisy chain” or “leap frog” plan. Basically, I always wanted the next book to be available for pre-order in the backmatter of the current release, so readers of each novel would be able to buy the next one right away.

I then worked backward to come up with specific answers to the options we’ve covered in several posts here. In addition to having several books mostly completed to release in that chain, my plan required me to:
  • offer a freebie to kick off the chain, but only after book two was set up for pre-order sales
  • fully edit the beginning of the second book in advance to include an excerpt at the end of the freebie
  • complete the cover and blurb of each book before the previous book’s release to include as promo in the backmatter
  • use redirect links to enable formatting of the backmatter before the next book’s pre-order sales pages were set up
  • use pre-orders so the next book could be available for purchase from the previous book’s backmatter
In other words, the next book needed a cover, blurb, and redirects to pre-order sales pages before the previous book was formatted so all of that could be in the backmatter. In addition, to set up a chain of releases to keep readers from one book to the next, I always had to work within Amazon’s 90-day pre-order window.

What Does a Pre-Order Daisy Chain Schedule Look Like?

Here’s what that release schedule for my first four books looked like:
  • In Advance: Have a “base” of three novels completed to create a backlist and one story to use as a freebie.
  • In Advance: Hold back releases long enough to get the first novel and the freebie ready to sell (covers, formatting, etc.) and the other novels close (i.e., they can be polished and formatted within their 90-day window).
  • Day 1: Set up first novel for pre-order 90 days out.
  • Day 5: Offer freebie for sale with cover, excerpt, and buy links for the first novel in the backmatter.
  • Day 6-85: Finish editing, cover design, etc. for second novel, and set up for pre-order with a 90-day window.
  • Day 75-80: Submit final draft of first novel with blurb, cover, and buy links for the second novel in the backmatter.
  • Day 90: First novel releases.
  • Day 86-170: Finish editing, cover design, etc. for third novel, and set up for pre-order with a 90-day window.
  • Day 160-165: Submit final draft of second novel with blurb, cover, and buy links for the third novel in the backmatter.
  • Day 175: Second novel releases.
  • Day 171-255: If I was ready with a fourth novel by this time, I could have kept the chain going, but I was ready to collapse. *smile*
  • Day 245-250: Submit final draft of third novel with blurb, cover, and buy links for a potential fourth novel in the backmatter.
  • Day 260: Third novel releases.
As I didn’t have the fourth novel ready for pre-orders, the links in the backmatter of the third novel were initially redirected to a landing page on my site with a “coming soon” message. Just last week, I got the pre-order set up, and those year-old links in the back of the third novel now seamlessly direct to the pre-order sales pages. I love redirects. *smile*

The Pros and Cons of a Daisy Chain Release Schedule

The benefits of this daisy-chain plan are that it creates a quick-ish backlist while making the most of Amazon’s algorithms for slow writers. In addition, it creates a sales funnel of four products with a place to send our freebie readers right away and sets up a whole series of books for readers to jump to from one story to the next, helping create a committed readership.

Obviously, this plan won’t work for everyone. It requires several books to be written in advance (unless we are are a fast writer), and it takes money to get those books ready to go before any royalties are paid. However, with planning and advance preparation, this plan can work.

Going back to the six bullet points of success, I figure I’m not doing too badly:
Yes, I really am this much of an over-thinker and planner in normal life (yet I write by the seat of my pants—go figure). The amazing thing is that other than delays on this most recent novel due to health issues, that plan all worked. It about killed slow-writer me, but it worked. And no one can say I didn’t think things through. *smile*

Our Goals Direct Our Plans

I hope these last few “Master Plan” posts have shown how knowing our goals can help us navigate all the decisions we have to make as an indie author. Just those three goals I listed above have kept me on track through my debates of what to do, and the “long term thinking” goal especially helped me come up with this big-picture strategy for my master publishing plan.

Remember that we each have different priorities, so you might follow my thought process and decide to do the opposite—and that’s okay. As I’ve tried to point out, there are pros and cons for every situation. There are many ways to be successful as an indie author, so we each have to find the right approach for the goals we set to reach our definition of success.

We don’t want to blindly follow what a successful author did because their choices might not be right for our goals. Hopefully, learning the what and the why behind my choices will help others apply their goals to the options and find their measure of success.

Next month, we’ll wrap up the series with a master list of all the posts and options. Until then, let me know if you have any questions.

After escaping Area 51 armed only with a ukulele, Jami Gold moved to Arizona and decided to become a writer, where she could put her talent for making up stuff to good use. Fortunately, her muse, an arrogant male who delights in causing her to sound as insane as possible, rewards her with unique and rich story ideas.

Fueled by chocolate, she writes paranormal romance and urban fantasy tales that range from dark to humorous, but one thing remains the same: Normal need not apply. Just ask her family—and zombie cat.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

About Stone-Cold Heart, the latest release in the Mythos Legacy series:

A gargoyle betrayed by his soldiers…

After centuries of stone-cold death, Garrett discovers his legion has deserted him. Without their help, he’ll succumb to eternal sleep once more unless he can trick the woman who woke him into trusting him with her soul.

A combat veteran scarred inside and out…

Her last night in Afghanistan, Raquel Guerrero’s team fell victim to a suicide bomber, killing everyone but her. Now, despite her determination to never again let anyone close, her sense of duty compels her to help an endangered warrior survive.

Trust isn’t in their vocabularies…

A tentative truce frees them to investigate his regiment’s abandonment—and unleashes passionate temptations. But when the truth is uncovered, Garrett and Raquel’s fragile bond—and the healing power of love—might be the only thing that keeps them alive.

Amazon | iTunes | GooglePlay | B&N | Kobo | Additional Retailers


  1. Brilliant post. Thank you! I think that sometimes having a plan (any plan) is good way to start, if the plan is wrong, then you can change it, but if you have no idea, you end up stumbling around doing things at random. The rough plan I came up with is broadly similar to yours, so I feel a bit more reassured now.

    1. Hi Rhoda,

      Exactly! No plan survives first contact with...reality. LOL! But a plan that gives us a direction ensures that any adjustments we have to make will at least keep us heading toward the right goal. :)

  2. I really enjoy the schedule from someone who has been there and done that. It's really cool. Thanks.

  3. Hmm your point that we can't just assume that what our favorite virtual mentors do will work for us, made me ponder a bit. I've heard from many sources that we should establish a professional reputation (get professional editing, cover design, etc.), and this was one of your three goals too. I felt like it was a basic author responsibility to do this as well, but recently I've been thinking a lot about privilege (I have many friends who are into social justice and activism.) Not all authors can afford to pay for editing/ designing; some authors can't afford even Fiverr's cheaper prices. Telling someone to just save is probably not helpful to an author who lives on minimum wage or barely above this income.

    Faced with this financial situation where one cannot rely on Fiverr, the best I can think of, would be for the author to do as many beta reader exchanges and maybe proofreader exchanges with other writers. And maybe design a cover using free methods (like the one using MS word that you showed me a long time ago), or to trade services with a friend who can design covers well. E.g. By beta reading for this friend.

    So unless this hypothetical author does traditional publishing, their self-published book would likely look less professional (in cover design and editing) than a book published by an author who is able to afford the funds. I'm thinking about the privilege of socio-economic status here, that some authors really are disadvantaged compared to others due to their financial situation.

    Thus, I'm thinking: Can financially disadvantaged self-published authors establish a professional reputation? Or do they have to rely on traditional publishing to do that? Or, if they work hard to do the best they can on editing and cover designing, using the free methods I described above, could this be called "professional," or not? If not, would this author be "not doing the best they can/ skimping on the quality/ not being a responsible author"?

    I'm still reflecting a lot on this issue, but I would at least sympathize with these authors. I definitely wouldn't call them lazy as some people might. :/ (I don't think you would call them lazy, but some others might!)

    Btw just to clarify, I'm not saying this in a resentful way, I'm just thinking about how we should view self-published works by authors who really cannot pay for editing and cover designing. My friends involved in social justice work have really influenced my thinking, as you can see. ^_^

    P.S. Just want to add as a personal opinion that it's not the end of the world either if the author's book is not professional in editing and/ or cover design. I have friends in that financial situation, and I genuinely enjoyed their work nevertheless. Of course, I'm probably biased being their friend, but being able to write a story that others can love and appreciate, is still something to be proud of. :)

    1. Hi Sieran,

      That's an interesting point about what it takes to establish a professional reputation--especially for someone who isn't privileged by a traditional deal or funds for hiring professionals.

      Honestly, not every service provider is good enough to deserve a "professional" label, whether we're talking about cover artists or editors...or plumbers. LOL! So just as much as hiring someone doesn't guarantee good results, not hiring someone doesn't guarantee bad results.

      In other words, as you said, I think someone can reach professional-level quality with their books without hiring people to help. I'm all about results (in this case the quality of the book) and less concerned about the methods used to reach those results.

      So how do we define quality--or high-enough quality? Personally, I think a book should be at a quality level that respects the author's readers--the requirements of which might vary depending on the author's target market. :)

      Lately, I've found myself getting (and enjoying) several stories from the "good enough" category. Their blurbs are marginal and their covers are blah, but what matters to me is the story inside. If an author put in enough of an effort that the reviews aren't littered with "tons of typos" type of comments, I'll still get a book if it sounds interesting--whether they hired someone to reach that point is somewhat irrelevant. :)

      Do I view those authors as professional as an author with a stunning cover and shining blurb? No. But they were professional enough to put in the time, money, or effort to make their book "good enough" to respect readers, and that meant they still got a reader...from me, at least. LOL!

      So just as there's a "good enough" for books, maybe there's a "professional enough" for authors? Thanks for bringing up that thought-provoking point!

    2. Thanks for your answer, Jami! :)

      I really like these points you made:

      "Their blurbs are marginal and their covers are blah, but what matters to me is the story inside. If an author put in enough of an effort that the reviews aren't littered with "tons of typos" type of comments, I'll still get a book if it sounds interesting--whether they hired someone to reach that point is somewhat irrelevant. :)"

      " But they were professional enough to put in the time, money, or effort to make their book "good enough" to respect readers"

      Hmm, maybe I should think in terms of the amount of effort they put in. And that this effort may not be tied to money.

      And yeah, I've seen books with boring covers but a great story inside, as well as books with a stunning cover but unimpressive content...