The Midlist Indie Author With T. Thorn Coyle

How can you build a creative, sustainable career as a ‘mid-list’ indie author? How can you design a business that works for you and your books over the long term? T. Thorn Coyle explains more in this episode.

In the intro, BookVault bespoke printing options; Harper Collins partners with Eleven Labs for AI-narrated non-English audiobooks [Publishing Perspectives]; AI Publishing Formula Podcast; Brave New Bookshelf Podcast; “I’m not worried about AI, because I got my mojo working.” Stephen King;


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T. Thorn Coyle is the author of paranormal mystery, urban fantasy, alt history, epic fantasy, as well as nonfiction around magical practice. Their latest book is The Midlist Indie Author Mindset.

You can listen above or on your favorite podcast app or read the notes and links below. Here are the highlights and the full transcript is below. 

Show Notes

  • What does it mean to be a mid-list author?
  • How being weird can help you connect as more human
  • Finding your sense of weird and letting it shine in your work
  • Making marketing about connection and finding what works for you
  • Marketing for Kickstarter in a short-term promotional window
  • Tips for managing multiple Kickstarters per year
  • Keeping readers engaged with your newsletter and social media
  • Creating a tagline that portrays the message of your author business

You can find Thorn at, and the Kickstarter for The Midlist Indie Author Mindset here.

Transcript of Interview with Thorn Coyle

Joanna: T. Thorn Coyle is the author of paranormal mystery, urban fantasy, alt history, epic fantasy, as well as nonfiction around magical practice. Their latest book is The Midlist Indie Author Mindset. So welcome back to the show, Thorn.

Thorn: Thanks so much. It’s great to be back.

Joanna: Yes, I know. I had a look, and it’s been six years since you were last on the show.

Thorn: That’s a long time, especially in the indie publishing world.

Joanna: Yes. I mean, we’re old school, which probably means we met like a decade ago!

Thorn: Yes, probably.

Joanna: Which is so funny. So let’s assume people haven’t listened to our episode from six years ago, and also, things have moved on.

Tell us a bit more about you and how you got into writing and publishing.

Thorn: Well, I was one of those people, you know, I’ve written since I was a tiny child, probably age five or six. I wrote poetry, I did journalism as a teenager, wrote for tattoo magazines in the 80s and 90s, and really wanted to write fiction.

I would practice writing fiction, and then I finally just gave up. I was the classic, I would labor over a short story for a year, and I would stall out three quarters into a novel.

I loved writing nonfiction also. That was easier for me, less of a challenge. So I got my first nonfiction major traditional publishing contract 20 years ago. I sold a book to Penguin, and I gave up fiction and focused on nonfiction, and traveling the world, and teaching for two decades.

Then fiction came back. Some characters showed up in my head one day, and I started writing fiction, and I started studying craft. Then I started seriously indie publishing, I decided I didn’t want to go trad. My three first nonfiction books were all traditional published.

I didn’t want to go traditional for fiction because I saw the struggles my friends were having with traditional publishing and my own struggles with traditional publishing. I started seriously indie publishing in 2017, and here we are today. I’ve got a big catalog now, and I just keep going.

Joanna: So what is a big catalog to you?

Thorn: I have probably, including short story collections, probably 30 books, which for me is a big catalog. I know for other people, that’s a tiny catalog. It might even be more than 30 books now. I fail to keep track.

Joanna: I mean, it’s also funny because you sounded slightly apologetic about 30 books, and I do this too. It’s like, this is ridiculous because there are authors who write two books in their whole life!

Thorn: I know people like that. I certainly know a lot of traditional authors who only wrote a couple books. That’s great, it’s just a hard way to make a living.

Joanna: Yes, exactly. So let’s get into the book, so The Midlist Indie Author Mindset. I feel like this word “midlist” probably means more in the traditional publishing world. So why don’t we start with that.

What is the ‘mid-list,’ and why use that concept? What does it mean?

Thorn: The reason I latched on to the concept of midlist—and you’re right, it does come from traditional publishing. So I’ll give a little background.

In traditional publishing, especially in like the 70s, 80s, and 90s, midlist authors were the bread-and-butter authors. They were middle class. They weren’t best sellers, but they put out books people enjoyed year after year after year. They were the backbone of a lot of publishing for a long time.

So the bestsellers financed the non-sellers, the poor sellers, but the midlist just kept going, writing books people enjoyed. That slowly faded away as traditional publishing changed. It became harder and harder to make a living as kind of a middle class, midlist author.

The other thing about midlist authors is they had a big catalog because they just kept publishing year after year, usually genre fiction of some sort or another. They built up a catalog that people enjoyed, that in traditional publishing is called a backlist. We still use that terminology, but it’s not really accurate for indie publishing.

In traditional publishing, frontlist is a brand-new book that they push for three months, that’s what that means. Backlist is everything else. So we can just call it our catalog because as indie authors, we can relaunch. We can do whatever we want with all those books. They’re not going to go away.

So I wanted to bring forth this concept of midlist into the indie world because so many people say, well, if I’m not making multiple six figures or seven figures, I’m a failure.

I believe it’s possible for a lot of people to find ways to make a decent middle class living as writers.

It’s a lot more attainable and sustainable than some of the tactics and techniques people use to grow to be multi-six, like high six-figure or seven-figure authors. It can feel discouraging, I think, to a lot of people when we see these success stories and think, well, I may as well win the lottery or get struck by lightning. That’s how unattainable it feels.

I realized in my own life, I had to curtail some of my ambitions because of life circumstances. I realized what I really wanted was a slow, sustainable build and a long, sustainable career. If I can do it, I think a lot of people can do it.

Joanna: Yes, absolutely. The problem is the midlist is it’s not a very sexy goal! It’s not very catchy like, you know, six figure, seven figure.

As you say, it’s more like the slow build, sustainable living, sustainable lifestyle, and things that actually give us a good life. Sometimes I feel like you have to be careful what you wish for. In the book, you talk a bit about your jet set lifestyle, you know, you used to travel a lot teaching. So what happened to that?

When did the romance disappear from that ‘jet set’ lifestyle?

Thorn: So it was around 12 years ago that I really stopped wanting to travel all the time. I was traveling all over the world constantly, like, sometimes twice a month I was on an airplane.

It was wonderful. I met amazing people, I saw amazing places, and I was getting paid to do it. Unbeknownst to me, my undiagnosed chronic illness was getting worse, so that was starting to happen.

Also, I was just burning out. I was burning out on having to be this public figure, even though it was in a small sphere. I was burning out on the travel. I’ll never forget, one time I came back from a trip, I crawled into bed, and said, “I’m done,” and I still had six months to a year’s worth of trips booked.

So I just had to get through that time and then recalibrate and figure out what to do. That’s when I did my major pivot. It also coincided when those characters showed up, and I started studying fiction again.

So yes, I burned out really badly, which I know a lot of people do and need to make career change. So I realized I still had those ambitions, and I took some of my ambitions into the indie writing sphere early on before I realized that was not going to be sustainable.

There were things people were doing that were all about the fast build. They were all about the spikes, you know, the huge income right away. I was trying to do that and failing, and I had to reassess and say, okay, what can I actually do? So I slowly figured it out for myself.

Joanna: Yes, and what do we want to do as well. It’s interesting that the characters came back at the point at which you said you’re kind of done with that life. So you opened up space in your mind for that.

I talked about this years ago when I made a decision to opt out of my career. I still had five more years of that IT consulting career, but I opted out of the career ladder. So I did what I needed to do to make the money and to do a good job for my boss, but I knew I was leaving.

That opened up the potential for what then came next. I feel like a lot of people don’t realize that you almost need to make the space, like for you, for the characters to come back.

Thorn: Yes, and in the book, I talk about having a possibility mindset. That’s what you’re talking about.

Making space for what is possible, is really important.

It gets easy to just get on a hamster wheel and never just take a full breath and ponder, as you’ve said, what do I want? Not only what’s right for me and what’s sustainable or possible, but what does my heart want? What does my soul want? You know, what’s interesting to me?

So I always try to invoke curiosity. I’ve invoked curiosity around writing fiction, but over the years, I’ve learned also to invoke curiosity about running a business.

That was my huge mindset shift.

When I decided to get curious about business instead of treating it like a loathsome, horrible task, it changed everything for me.

Joanna: Well, let’s talk about that for a minute because I do remember having a conversation with you. I think we might even have talked about this on our last discussion on the show.

You’re a strong activist, you have very strong principles, and money and capitalism were just things that you kind of hated. So you were pushing away money. Tell us how you got over that and how you reconciled this?

Thorn: I still don’t like shareholder capitalism and the effects it has on the world, I can say that. For me, what I want to do is connect with people. That’s always been my task as a creative. That’s also my love as a business person.

So I need to run a sustainable business, and take interest in it, and figure out ways to engage with it in ways that are going to help me connect with people. That’s all my business is.

I run a publishing company that’s about connection.

So reframing that for myself, that it’s not about who gets the most toys, it’s about here’s the world we live in, and what are my options for connecting with people and trying to make the world a more enjoyable, less horror-ridden place.

The other thing is, I’m always a proponent of culture change. One of the best ways to bring about culture change is capturing people’s imaginations. So if I want to capture someone’s imagination through my stories, I have to figure out a way to reach them with those stories, so I have to figure out how to run a business. So I think that’s what helped me get curious.

Joanna: Yes, and I mean, to reach more readers, it’s better to have a bigger engine in your business. I also remember you saying to me, “If I make a ton of money, I can always give it all away to causes that I care about.”

So that I think it’s a really good reframe for people. It’s to accept that if you make more money as an author, it’s because you’re selling more books, and you’re reaching more people.

Thorn: Exactly, and people are excited about my books. People are excited about your books. People need fiction right now, and nonfiction too.

The world needs wonder. The world needs hope. If we can supply even a little bit of that for people, how awesome is that?

Joanna: Yes, and escapism as well. As we record this, I just binge watched the 3 Body Problem on Netflix, and I hadn’t read the book. As soon as the series finished, I was like, right, I’m buying the book.

I learned today that The Three-Body Problem trilogy and Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s book, which they use in the series and is in his book, went to number one on Amazon because everyone’s buying these books. I just thought that was brilliant, because again, it’s such a resonant story at this time in history.

Like you say, these stories have power, and they connect minds. It’s so powerful. I feel like sometimes we almost degrade writing fiction, like, oh, we should write something “more important” in inverted commas.

Thorn: That’s also the great divide between high literary fiction and what we call genre fiction. We think, oh, my cozy paranormal mysteries are not important. Well, actually, my cozy paranormal mysteries are my best sellers because people need that escapism.

People need some comfort, you know. So why isn’t comfort important? Why isn’t enjoyment important?

I recently talked with author Meg Elison, and she really talks a lot about the importance of pleasure in life. I agree with her, we need pleasure. We need joy. Everything can’t just be hard all the time because we won’t make it through.

Joanna: Yes, absolutely. For me, going to bed with a book is still a big pleasure. Sometimes I’m just so tired, and I go to bed in the afternoon, and I’ll read fiction. Other times I’ll read nonfiction. I read your book on the plane coming back from 20 Books Seville. It’s a great book.

I do want to come back to one point in the book. You say, “My readers love my work because I’m weird.” I talk about doubling down on being human, but I think it is easier said than done, especially in this world where there’s a lot of advice around chasing tropes, or writing to market, or any of this.

How can authors find their own particular kind of weird and have the confidence to let it out into their work?

Thorn: Well, first of all, what comes most naturally to you? That’s the main thing.

We often make the mistake that what comes most naturally to us, and what we really love and feels easier for us, isn’t important. We think it’s too ordinary, but what’s ordinary for us, is extraordinary for something else. It feels ordinary to us because it’s just part of us.

When we allow that voice to come forward, people respond to it because they’re like, “Oh, that’s an authentic voice. You’re not putting something on. You’re actually connecting with me, and I’m connecting with these characters.”

So I’ll give you an example. I had been writing my alt history and kind of more serious urban fantasy, and I was in the middle of writing my epic action-adventure trilogy, and I needed a break. I had got a concussion and a brain injury.

I started writing my cozy paranormal mysteries, which are just bonkers. I did a Kickstarter for them, and I was very nervous because I thought, wow, this is really different and people aren’t going to like it.

People came out of the woodwork to back that Kickstarter. My first reader for the cozy mysteries said, “Well, you know, cozy readers tend to be more traditional. They’re not going to be into the fact that you have bisexual characters and transgender characters and all this stuff.” I thought, you know what — 

I’m just going to market this as cozy mysteries for freaks and geeks, because I like cozy mysteries, and I’m weird.

Clearly, now I realize, oh, other people who are weird also want the comfort of cozy mysteries. They’re not all traditional readers, you know.

So I was told very clearly, cozy readers are traditional. I said, I don’t care, these are the books I want to write. Lo and behold, they found readers. It might take a little more time, which is why I talk about the slow build in the book. It might take more time, but you’re going to find your readers.

Joanna: I do want to comment on this, because you’re a super strong person, and you’re very clear on your freaks and geeks side and your visual brand.

Let’s just speak to the people who might not be that strong in their knowledge of what their weird is. So what about people who don’t have that strong sense of “what is my weird?” How do we find that? How do we tap into that?

Thorn: Again, you mentioned earlier, making space. If we make space for ourselves and listen to our heart and what’s most interesting to us, rather than listening to the clamoring voices trying to tell us what we should be doing, that’s the first way through.

It’s just to pause, go for a walk, meditate, ponder for a while, and think, what am I actually drawn to? Not what the marketers are telling me I should be drawn to. That’s how to find ourselves and find our path forward, I think.

It just starts with listening and making space to listen.

Joanna: Yes, and it is really hard. I mean, the world is super noisy. You could just spend your time endlessly scrolling whichever social media it is, or doom reading the news, or whatever, and then your brain is full of all those things that it thinks that it should be interested in. So where do you find it? I mean, maybe it is in the books you read when nobody’s watching?

Thorn: Yes, yes. I think that’s brilliant. What are your so-called guilty pleasures? Then put all that in your writing.

Joanna: I mean, it’s interesting, because I mentioned the 3 Body Problem again. So I say I don’t read sci-fi, because I’m like, I’m not into aliens. Then watching the 3 Body Problem, I don’t know why I didn’t realize this before, it’s not about the aliens. It’s about the humans.

Thorn: It always is.

Joanna: It always is. The thing is, I really like reading horror. People are like, oh, why do you like horror? And I’m like, well, it’s not about the monsters, it’s about the humans. It’s all just exactly the same, isn’t it?

Thorn: We’re all just trying to make sense of the world in our own way. It doesn’t matter what genre it comes through. I think the joy of writing is we get to figure out the world. We either get to try to figure out the world we live in already, or we try to figure out what world we want to live in.

Joanna: Yes, and write that into whatever alt-world you’re doing. It is interesting. Well, let’s come to the marketing because you said in the book—

“I figured out how I market, not how other people market.”

That has a similar sense of finding your own path. So just talk about some of the things you tried but failed on, and what does work for you?

Thorn: Well, I’ll go back to that word “connection.” Figuring out that for me marketing is about connection was helpful.

Actually, you helped me with this years ago. We were at some conference, and you said, “Oh, Thorn is great at content marketing.” I went, “I am?” I had no clue because I was just doing what I was doing. It was natural to me. Then I went, oh, okay, that’s content marketing. I post what’s interesting, it’s still related to my world, and that’s how I market.

The things that didn’t work for me were early on. First of all, I didn’t have a big enough catalog to do advertising for, but everyone said you have to do advertising. So I was taking the Amazon ads and Facebook ads classes, and they didn’t work for me. Turns out all that advice at the time was really only useful for people in Kindle Unlimited, but they weren’t telling me that.

The other thing that never worked for me were like, Facebook group takeovers, newsletter swaps, because I don’t write the kind of urban fantasy these other people are writing. So doing a newsletter swap isn’t going to really work because I don’t know if your readers are going to really like my books.

Now, I eventually figured out that certain kinds of advertising works for that. Like if I did a free first in series and did the paid newsletters, I wasn’t trying to target other people’s readers, I was just targeting people who said, oh, we want urban fantasy, or we want cozy mystery.

I don’t have to bring my entire catalog to these people. I’m bringing them one series. Then if they find the rest of my catalog, that’s great.

The other thing that didn’t work for me was that spike marketing. Trying to do promo stacking and get the big spikes and hitlist and all that, it was never going to work for me. That was all feeding the beast. Even for the writers that was working for, I don’t think it was a long-term strategy.

So I had to figure out my long-term strategy, which was, how do I connect with my readers? Well, I do that through my newsletter. I do that through how I use social media. I do that now through things like Kickstarter.

So, over the last eight years, I’ve built up enough goodwill with my readers that they are so happy to share my stuff now. It also means when I do any paid advertising, I’m strategic about it, and it works. I’m not just throwing spaghetti at a wall.

Joanna: Interesting. You said the spike marketing hasn’t worked for you, but Kickstarter is a short-term promotional window. So how are you doing that?

What kind of marketing are you doing within the three weeks this Kickstarter will run?

Thorn: That is a great point. So spike marketing for wide retailers didn’t work for me. Spike marketing for direct sales does work for me. So I’ve built up all this goodwill through how I use my newsletter and how I connect on social media, so whenever I go to run a Kickstarter, people are like, “We are sharing your Kickstarter everywhere. We’re so excited that you’re doing this. We’re backing you up just because we like your work.”

So I do market those, but I do it in the regular ways I do everything else. I use my social media platforms and send out notices in my newsletter. I don’t do anything special for my Kickstarter. It all is organic for me.

Joanna: It just has a time limit. So you’re basically just sending out some newsletters, and obviously, you’ve been doing some podcast interviews like this one.

Are you running any paid ads for your Kickstarter?

Have you found them useful?

Thorn: I spend like $20 on each campaign.

Joanna: That doesn’t count!

Thorn: So I don’t I don’t do paid marketing. Some people do. I don’t, and my Kickstarter campaigns all do really well.

Joanna: So how many Kickstarter campaigns have you done now?

Thorn: This one will be my ninth.

Joanna: Okay. So what’s the kind of tempo? Because obviously we’re talking here about the life that people want to live and designing your business around that.

What’s the tempo of your Kickstarters in a year? How do you manage the different releases?

Thorn: I do three a year, and three years seems to work for me. I thought I was going to do four this year, and it was way too much. Partially because I ran a big-for-me Kickstarter campaign last year that brought in like twenty-five grand. Since I’m doing it all myself, it was big.

I had trouble with my printer, so it took a lot longer to fulfill than I wanted. So I’m like, okay, I need to take the fourth Kickstarter off my plate this year because everything just got backed up business-wise.

Three a year works for me because this is my full-time job. For people I know who it’s their part-time job, they run one a year. It’s a great way to make money for covers, pay for editors, and build a new audience.

This is the other thing I love about Kickstarter. About half of my backers come directly from Kickstarter, which is awesome. Then about half come from my world.

Joanna: Yes, from your audience. So when I do Spear of Destiny, it will be my first fiction Kickstarter. I’ve done two nonfiction. well memoir and then the writing nonfiction. I’m doing it under the same name.

This will be my first thriller, and I feel like I’m going to have to have really low expectations because I’ve spent the last 12 years training my fiction readers to buy eBooks on Amazon, basically. Do you feel like if you start with fiction, particularly where that’s where a lot of our readers come from—

Does it take a while to retrain your readers to want other things?

Thorn: No, my readers love Kickstarter. I mean, some of them are confused by it, especially some of my older readers, and I have to do a minor amount of hand holding. But, no.

If I do a regular book launch on wide retailers, maybe a couple people will share it, maybe some people will buy it if I don’t do actual advertising. My Kickstarters, people know it’s time limited. It’s an event, and they’re excited to participate, so it spreads.

My readers do my marketing for me. Then the Kickstarter algorithm kicks in, and it does my marketing for me. It’s actually much easier for me than launching something into the void on Amazon or Apple.

Joanna: I’m quite excited to see how it goes.

I do want to ask you, because you’ve mentioned your chronic illness, brain injury, and you talk about health issues in your book. When we do a Kickstarter, you’ve got the Kickstarter timing. What happens if then something happens in your health that you just can’t do it? Or like you said, things get backed up?

How are you managing your health issues with the ups and downs of being an author?

Thorn: Well, it might seem strange to talk about health issues in a business book, but it felt important to me because everyone has something going on in their life. That is why I love this question.

I pad a lot of time into my fulfillment. I make this mistake all the time where I set out my year’s goals when I’m feeling good, and then when I’m not feeling good, I have to deal with those goals, and I have to reassess them and pivot and rewrite my production schedule. I do it all the time.

Joanna: Yes, me too.

Thorn: With Kickstarter, I’ve learned to build in extra time for fulfillment. So if you think it’s going to take two months to fulfill, tell people you’ll fulfill in three to four months. If you think you’re going to fulfill in four months, tell people you’re going to fulfill in six months.

Just add in space, give yourself grace, and then if you fulfill early, that’s awesome.

With the campaign I just finished fulfilling, I just told people, “Hey, here’s what’s happening with the printer. I’m having these issues. We’re working on it.”

I just kept in communication, and people were very kind and happy just to be communicated with. So I was about a month behind in fulfillment, which is not the end of the world.

Joanna: Yes, these are books at the end of the day.

Thorn: Yes, seriously. So just communicate with people. First, build in extra space and time, build in a buffer. Then communicate clearly. People are very happy to be supportive. Most people want to be kind.

Joanna: Yes, I agree. So just coming back to your newsletter because you talked there about communication, and earlier you talked about it as the fundamental aspect of your marketing.

What do you do in your newsletter? What do you send out to people?

Because I feel like this is something that many authors struggle with.

Thorn: So, I used to barely use my newsletter. Coming out of traditional publishing, I never used a newsletter. I think that’s changed now.

I send out a weekly missive about what I’m thinking about. I post a photo I take on one of my walks and just whatever thoughts I have. Then at the end of this 300-word missive, I do a line break and a small ad of, you know, “Here’s my latest podcast I’m on,” or “Here’s this book that is on sale or has just launched,” or “Here’s my Kickstarter.”

So people come back week after week, and they know what they’re going to get from me is just some thoughts from Thorn. Enough people like that, that some people actually pay me for it even though it’s a free newsletter.

Joanna: That’s on Substack?

Thorn: I was on Substack for three years. I just recently switched to Beehiiv.

Joanna: Because of the Nazis?!

Thorn: Yes, because of the Nazis. I mean, it’s unfortunate that Substack decided to make those choices. I think Substack is still a better platform, but Beehiiv is getting there rapidly. So I have great hope.

So that’s another thing I changed. I used to try to be on ConvertKit and do all the automated sequences that everyone said were best practices for newsletters. Those work for a lot of people—oh, segment your email list, do these sequences.

That marketing never worked for me, ever. So it made putting out my newsletter a chore. I said, I’m going to stop paying for this, I’m going to go to this free service, and I’m going to strip it down and say, here’s what I’m doing. Every week, I’m going to send out thoughts with a tiny ad.

That was a huge shift for me. I started that just over three years ago, and people responded. People love the newsletter, people share the newsletter on social media, people reply, people send me long, thoughtful comments. So, again, it was figuring out how marketing worked for me.

Joanna: That’s interesting, because I do have two newsletter lists. Actually, when you were talking there, I realized that’s what I do on this show. My introduction includes the things I’m thinking about.

Many people are still listening to your interview, but some people did just come for the introduction. So that’s actually exactly what you just said. You’re doing it in writing, I’m doing it with talking.

Thorn: Yes, and I just let it be simple. It’s like, okay, here’s 300 words. I can write that in 15-20 minutes. Here’s a photo. It works for me, and it works for my readers.

Joanna: It’s just being human. It’s a connection, like you said. I think this is the point we talked about earlier, everyone’s quite smart these days around seeing through when things are a gimmick or they’re not real. I still think that being human and the human connection is important.

So, let’s come to social media. Again, I think we used to exchange things on Twitter when it was Twitter. A lot of people have moved on from some platforms.

I know you’re a super ethical person, so what are you doing with social media now?

Thorn: Well, first of all, we just all have to figure it out. We live in this world, and I am not judging people who are on various platforms.

Losing Twitter was a great loss. Twitter was actually my favorite platform. I’ve tried to get off of Facebook ever since I’ve been on it, but people won’t leave Facebook. Maybe they will eventually, but that has not been my experience.

Joanna: When we all die. When the old people die.

Thorn: Yes, when all the old people die. So, very simply, I only use my public Facebook page. I don’t use my private page, except to track a few author groups. I do one post, same post, Facebook and Instagram, every morning. Usually it’s a photo and a thought.

I’m on Mastodon, which strangely enough, Mastodon has no algorithm. It is my best place to get marketing traction because people know I’m showing up, making posts, even if it’s just one simple post a day.

Then when I post something marketing-related, it gets shared. I get more shares on Mastodon than anywhere else, even though it has no algorithm. Then I’m on Bluesky, which frankly, is useless to me.

Joanna: I did try and get on Threads, and it went toxic so fast.

Thorn: Threads is horrific. The comments. I’m like, oh, my gosh, the comments on Threads are awful.

Joanna: It’s like all the toxicity from Twitter ended up on Threads.

Thorn: Yes, it did. It did.

My social media strategy is very simple. I do one simple post a day. Then I try to remember to occasionally do a marketing post.

Then when I’m running a Kickstarter, though, I do a more marketing-related post pretty much every day during my Kickstarter.

Since I’m not doing that constantly, people seem supportive of it. They’re not always getting bombarded by “buy my book” from me. So they’re really happy to support when I’m running a Kickstarter. They’re really happy to do things like share my newsletter when I post my newsletter on social media, things like that.

Joanna: Again, you bring in the things you care about, and sometimes that is about protests, or art, or tattoos, or gender issues. I mean, you do just share quite all over the place, I think.

Thorn: I do. I try to be uplifting as much as possible. If I’m posting about something difficult, I always try to have a call to action that people can actually do. I’m not just on there complaining.

My rule for public discourse is I try to be signal and not noise. There’s too much noise out there. So what is my signal that I’m trying to put out to reach people?

Yes, my presence can feel all over the map, and I have felt that about myself. Like, you know, buy my books, but I’m also talking about magic, but here’s a flower that I saw on my walk, then here is this social justice thing that’s happening. But truly, that’s all me, and that is all in my books, too.

Joanna: That’s the point I was trying to make. I didn’t mean you were all over the place. I meant— You talk about all the things that go into your books.

Like you are political, and your books are political. So if people don’t want to do politics then, you know, they’re not your person, but people who love your politics will love your books. So I think that’s what I was trying to get at. You are very, I hate the word authentic, but you are pretty authentic.

Thorn: I can’t not be, which is why I just had to figure it out for myself. What’s interesting to me is at this point in the indie author world, I’m hearing this from a lot more people.

A lot of people right now are reassessing how they’ve been marketing, and what they’ve been writing, and what they want their careers to look like.

I think as a whole in the indie author world, we’re taking a step back right now and saying, how do we want to move forward? For me, it always just had to be, be myself.

When I first started publishing fiction, everyone said you need to do it under a pen name because you’re going to pollute your Amazon also-boughts. I’m like, I don’t care. I have spent decades building up goodwill with people with my name. I’m just going to write fiction under this name.

Well, lo and behold, Amazon also-boughts quickly went away. The Amazon algorithm changes every six months to a year.

Joanna: I think it changes every week.

Thorn: Probably. So people have figured out, oh, we can’t just chase the algorithm anymore. It doesn’t work long term.

So, I came up with a tagline for my author business, and it’s, “Magic is real, and justice is worth fighting for.” So people know that’s what they’re going to get from me, no matter what I’m writing or talking about. A sense of magic and a sense of justice.

Joanna: A lot of people want a tagline. I have tried, and I think I’ve even asked you about this before as well. I still don’t have a tagline. So I mean—

Did it take you a long time to get to that tagline, or has it always been very clear for you?

Thorn: It took me a little while, but it didn’t take me that long. I just, again, paused and assessed and said, what do I think my through line is? What are the strongest threads in my work? What are the strongest threads I want to put out in the world? That’s where it came from.

So, for you, I think you’re really interested in human emotion. I think you’re obviously interested in the shadow. You’re interested in what makes us tick.

I think that also includes your author stuff. Your author books, over time, I think have grown to include more and more of your interest in human psychology and philosophy.

Joanna: Maybe that’s part of it. You know, we’re talking as two people who’ve been doing this a while now, and I feel like that’s another thing.

Also around your book and talking about the slow growth, look, some of this stuff takes time. None of this appears overnight. I get people sometimes that are trying to figure all this out, and they haven’t even finished their first book yet.

Thorn: Yes. Yes.

Joanna: So patience, I guess.

Thorn: Patience, and patience is hard. Every new writer wants to be an overnight success. The thing I’ll tell you is I’ve seen people who have been overnight successes and that puts a lot of pressure on the work.

I think it makes it harder to build a long-term career for most people. You know, you start thinking, what if my next book isn’t as good? What if people don’t like it? Instead of just giving yourself the freedom.

Frankly, no one knowing who you are is a huge boon to your creativity because you can do whatever you want and find your voice over time and slowly build an audience over time.

Kristine Kathryn Rusch says we build our career one reader at a time. I think doubling down on that is helpful. I don’t have to reach 100,000 people or even 1000 people. I want to reach one person. That’s where it starts.

Joanna: Absolutely. Now there are loads of great tips and things in the book. It’s really meaty. It’s got lots in it.

Tell people about the Kickstarter, where they can find it, and when it’s running.

Thorn: So the Kickstarter launches April 16, and it will run through the first part of May. I will have some checklists for midlist mindset changes. I will have some coaching options for people who really want to say, “Hey, how do I shift my mindset around this stuff? I’m struggling with this area of my writer business.”

So it’s not going to be coaching around like specifics on marketing, it’s all going to be mindset coaching. Then of course, I’ll have the eBooks and print books and maybe some other surprises.

Joanna: Fantastic.

Where else can people find you online?


Joanna: Brilliant. Well, thanks so much for your time, Thorn. That was great.

Thorn: Thanks again for having me back on the show.

The post The Midlist Indie Author With T. Thorn Coyle first appeared on The Creative Penn.

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Author: Joanna Penn

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  • April 30, 2024