We live in a binge consumption culture and the best-loved stories are often those that allow a deeper experience of character and world. Think of your favorite TV shows or books and you will likely find a few series in there!
Writing a series can also make you more money as a writer since you have more books for a reader to buy, you can turn them into boxsets in different formats, and it’s faster to write with characters you know well. In today’s show, Lindsay Buroker gives some great tips on how to effectively write series and make a full-time living from your fiction.
In the intro, Kobo Plus launches in Canada [KWL blog]; Spotify improves its discoverability of podcasts and announces a new show by Michele Obama [The Next Web]; Dean Wesley Smith explains why Brandon Sanderson’s Kickstarter is so significant in terms of selective rights licensing [Dean’s blog]; Replay of $0 to $1000 a month webinar with Nick Stephenson and my aha moment around read-through; my interview on audio and productivity on 21st Century Creative; and Map of the Impossible launches this week. The Mapwalker trilogy is complete!
This podcast is sponsored by Kobo Writing Life, which helps authors self-publish and reach readers in global markets through the Kobo eco-system. You can also subscribe to the Kobo Writing Life podcast for interviews with successful indie authors.
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.
- Where Lindsay’s writing career is after 10 years as an indie author
- How she writes 8 to 10 novels a year
- Book series and the read-through effect of series arcs
- Creating compelling characters
- Why background and goals matter for characters
- Pen names and the work involved
- Book launch processes and how Lindsay uses her Patreon
- Advertising, KU, and marketing a backlist
- What does the future of indie publishing hold?
- The importance of nurturing relationships with readers
You can find Lindsay Buroker at LindsayBuroker.com and on Twitter @GoblinWriter
Transcript of Interview with Lindsay Buroker
Joanna: Lindsay Buroker is an award-nominated internationally best-selling author of epic fantasy, urban fantasy, space opera, steampunk, and sci-fi romance with 79 books and counting across 2 pen names, 10 series, as well as, standalone and shorter works. She’s also the co-host of the ‘Six Figure Author’ podcast.
Welcome back, Lindsay.
Lindsay: Hey, Joanna, thanks for having me on. I think it’s my third time. And it’s good to be here. Good to talk to everyone.
Joanna: Yes, exactly. And in fact, that is my first question.
The last time you were on was in 2017 when we were in New Orleans and we did our hilarious co-writing project. And before that was way back in 2015, so I thought it was about time we did an update.
Give us a snapshot, what does your author life look like now and what has changed over the last few years?
Lindsay: I’m continuing to write a lot. As you mentioned, I have a lot of novels out there. I seem to get 8-10 novels out a year, 1 a month if they’re short, but sometimes later in series, they go much longer.
And I’m still writing the kind of stories I love, even if that means genre-hopping, and maybe you’re not quite as efficient as if you stuck and focus as far as building a fan base. But I really like to follow my muse and then worry about marketing afterward.
It’s been a couple of years, I think since I had a big series really stick and do well, and every now and then you get one that stays up there on its own. And you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s just going to always be like this going forward.’ But what I’ve had to realize is like, ‘No, you always have your fans that will follow you along but some series hit more to the zeitgeist or whatever than other ones do.’
I know you talk about comparisonitis on the show and comparing yourself with others. I’m at the point 10 years in now where I compare myself a lot with past successes. And I’m always like, ‘Okay, I got to figure out what I can do every year to not see the income drop.’
Fortunately been able to before flexible enough and play with KU, and that’s a thing to do to keep it up there. But I feel like a lot of authors just think, as long as you keep writing more books, you’ll make more money every year. And that was a trajectory the first five years or so. And then you kind of level off and it’s sort of, like…And now there’s so much more competition and so many books out there.
So, I’ve just been focusing on doing what I can to keep it at the same level. I know that I feel like I should be doing more. There’s so much to do. And I’m sure you feel the same way with all your nonfiction and your fiction going on. It’s a challenge. You never feel like you can just kick back and, ‘All right, I’ve got a big enough fan base now, I can just release the books and do nothing else.’
Joanna: That is true. We’ll come back to marketing. It’s so good that you say that, comparing to past success because, you’ll laugh at this, I had this hilarious tweet yesterday that said, ‘How many months did it take you to get known or to get to success?’ And I was like, ‘Dude, it’s been 14 years.’
Lindsay: You’re like, ‘3.7 months, and I was there, you can do it too.’
Joanna: This is the thing and I want people to appreciate that you’ve also been doing this a decade. But scarily, you’ve been doing this a decade and you have more than twice the number of books I do. So really, that is one of the questions I wanted to ask you about.
Just remind people, how long did that first novel take you?
Lindsay: Just about seven years of not continuous writing all the time. I wrote it, did a workshop, got stuck, hated the ending, let it go for a while, and then I’m always inspired by other people’s success. I got serious about it again and completely rewrote the second half of the book, and went through a workshop again.
And that was actually not even my first novel. That was just the first one I finished and published. I had written other stuff and hadn’t gone through the polishing stage. So I was not on the ground running by any means.
Joanna: So that really is the question and you mentioned on one of your ‘Six-Figure Author’ podcast shows that your productivity really took off when you moved into plotting.
How did you go from 1 book in 7 years to 8 to 10 novels a year?
Lindsay: The first series I did was my ‘Emperor’s Edge’ fantasy series, and I didn’t outline…I was just a pantser. That’s how I enjoyed doing it.
I’ve since gone back and looked, I’m like, ‘Did I have a story Bible or any notes about the characters, what color hair people have and stuff?’ No. There were three sentences in my notes page. I was like, wow, I just thought I would remember everything, and it kind of works when you’re just on your first series because those characters had been in my head for a long time.
But I saw other people publishing more quickly. And I remember that it was actually the Self-Publishing Podcast guys were doing 5,000, 6000 words a day, and I think my first goal was 1,000 words a day, and then 3,000, and then I heard them doing that and I tried to do more.
Rachel Aaron had her 2K to 10K book and I was like, ‘Okay, I can do 10K a day if I really focus and want to.’ But it helped not just getting the words down but by outlining, it really sped up the editing process.
When I was pantsing it, I’d often kind of get my characters stuck. And then I’d have a whole section of deleted scenes, which is not a thing I have now. The fans are probably sad because I used to share those.
But now it’s just a lot more efficient because what I do is I just outline in chronological order, I don’t have any fancy system, kind of layout the basic framework of the story. I’m not doing dialogue or too much on theme, that comes to me as I’m writing. So I know that the character goes from A to B to C, and then they end up in F, whatever.
That has been helpful for me not getting stuck and having to rewrite scenes. And then a lot of it is just practice too. The first few novels, I think for everybody, you rewrite them like eight times. It’s just that’s how it is. You’re still kind of figuring out how to make the sentences the right way and you’re really thinking a lot about it.
And if you’re doing a workshop, everybody’s giving you feedback and you’re like, ‘I gotta change this and this and this.’ So outlining has helped and then, of course, just doing it a lot and making it a habit to work every day.
Joanna: How many hours a day do you write in order to get a novel a month?
Lindsay: I’m going anywhere from maybe 6,000 to 10,000 a day when I’m working on a first draft. And I try not to take many days off in there. I tend to take my time off between projects. That’s just really how I like to roll. I like everything fresh and still in my mind. It doesn’t take long for my brain to forget things.
So, even if it’s a longer novel that takes longer, then I start, like, ‘What happened in the first three chapters?’ I love to get it just down quickly for the first draft. And hours, I can do about 2,000 words an hour when I’m really focused. Sometimes I have to turn off the Wi-Fi so I don’t catch myself tabbing over to some chat or check something on Facebook.
But it’ll slow down when I’m doing dialogue, that just seems to take a little longer. And then when I’m doing more action, just it’s pretty, ‘Here’s a fight scene,’ for me, I write those more quickly. So it averages to about 2,000 words an hour.
And I take a lot of breaks during the day. It’s healthy, as I hear, to actually move your legs and butt and even if it’s just going to do the dishes or something. So it’s probably about 5 hours of writing if I’m on a 10,000-word day, but it can take all day to get there.
Sometimes I make it by 5:00. I’ll work like 9:00-ish to 5:00, breaks in the middle. And I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m really awesome. I can take my evening off,’ but it’s just as common for me to still be working in the evening because I don’t know, you let yourself wander off and do whatever.
And, of course, you know how much admin stuff there is too, especially when you’re releasing new books. Sometimes when it’s later in a series and you’re not releasing anything that month, those would be my most productive months because there are fewer people emailing.
Because whenever you have a new release, you get a lot more email from the readers and there’s less arranging things with the marketing. I mostly focus on that for the launch month of a new series, and then kind of back off, and just do the minimal stuff when I release new installments in the series.
Did I answer your question in there somewhere?
Joanna: Absolutely. I want to come back on plotting, because like you said, you do linear plotting, which I can see works for one book.
I’ve just written this book three, and it was exactly what you said, I got to this point, and I was like, ‘My timeline is just so screwed.’ And I wish I had had an idea about the end. I didn’t even know it was a three-book trilogy when I wrote the first book or even the second book.
And then the third book, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s a trilogy. And it should have this ending but boy, I could have made this easier on myself.’ And you write six-book, eight-book series, right?
How do you plot the series so that it satisfies readers and gets that read-through?
Lindsay: I think the one thing for me is, in the beginning, I tried to outline the first three books before I started writing and I found that I changed so much in book one as I was writing that those outlines, it was wasted time. I had to redo them. So, now I’m usually thinking about the next series while I’m still working on the last one. As writers, of course, we have the, what is it, shiny object or…
Joanna: Shiny object.
Lindsay: …squirrels or something running along the trees. I don’t know. And that’s me and it’s really hard to just put that off.
I have to make little notes and start thinking about it though and let myself do that while I’m finishing the last thing. And so then I have some ideas when I’m sitting down to finally focus on that one, and I’ll outline the first book.
But before I even start doing that, I have to know how the series is going to end. It may be kind of nebulous but I feel like if you know what the final end scene is, which characters are involved, what you want to say in the end and there’s a lot of it evolves too, but I almost always know how the series is going to end when I start. And I find that helps me along the way. So I outline the first one.
And then there may be adventures inside stories that crop up that I get inspired to do that I didn’t originally plan. But as long as I know where I’m going, I find that I can get there. And that’s probably a thing of practice too.
My first series, though, I very much knew how it would end before it began. I don’t know if you did with yours, but I think it’s really helpful because I feel like sometimes you watch TV series and you can tell it’s really interesting, they’re opening all these loops.
I think Chris Fox was the one that talked about opening loops in a series and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is really interesting,’ but you realize as the final season comes, they didn’t have any idea how they were actually going to wrap it up and it ends up making it less satisfying ending that way.
Joanna: They really nail it in the pilot and then like you say, it kind of fizzles out.
I know many people listening, there still is a kind of debate in the community. It’s not really a debate but the sort of standalone versus story arc series versus episodic series. And at the Career Author Summit, I heard you speak about how the story arc series has readers buying every book, whereas the episodic series you might not get such sell-through. Could you expand on that?
Why is a story arc series so much better for that and why series in general for those people who just want to write stand-alones?
Lindsay: Series, obviously, with the marketing, you can afford to spend more on book one if you know you have seven more books and X number of people from your data shows you that they’re going to go on and buy it. So that’s one point, why do a series?
Also, if you know what the read-through is, maybe you’re getting the five, six in the series, you pretty much know when you launch book seven, before you even start writing it, you’re going to make at least this much money because that’s the trend. That’s what people have been doing.
That’s very comforting and helpful if you’re trying to become a full-time author, and you really don’t want such huge swings in your income. Because a lot of people release a new book and it goes way up, and then it sort of plummets while you’re working on the next book.
Fortunately, when you do get more of a backlist, at least I’ve found that right now my frontlist will be about half my income and my backlist will be about half my income in any given year. So that backlist helps keep things steady.
But if it’s your first series or your second series, that can really give you some confidence to know, ‘Okay, I can take three months to work on this next book, because I know I’ll make this much.’ So that’s my why series.
As far as episodic versus the bigger story arc, I’m not saying you can’t do either, and some genres really lend themselves more strongly to one than the other. You don’t see as many of the epic Battlestar Galactica five seasons to get back to earth stories in mysteries, where people expect a complete story in each novel.
But I find that with my own series, I’ve done both episodic and I’ve done the one sci-fi one I’m finishing up this summer, so everyone ends on a cliffhanger. It’s a complete story, but there’s obvious, there’s something that has to be resolved in the next book.
And I did sell-through. People might complain like, ‘Oh, again, they’re captured or kidnapped or whatever, again,’ but it works.
You have to balance that as an author, try to still give a complete installment that feels like a full novel, and doesn’t leave people grumpy, and there’s forward progress. But, boy, that keeps them reading.
And with the episodic stories, like a mystery as an example, I feel like most thrillers are also kind of…I’ve seen some three-book story arcs and stuff, but it’s more common, I think, to have a complete story in one. Not that that can’t work, obviously, it works for lots of people.
If that’s what your genre expects, that’s fine. But if you can seed in some of the things with the characters that we want to know more about this character, we’re really intrigued by them…I remember reading the Agent Pendergast books, I guess that’s more your genre, Preston & Child.
Joanna: Yes, I still read them.
Lindsay: Especially in the early ones, I think he wasn’t the POV character, but you’re really intrigued by this guy. And that got me into a genre I don’t usually read, I don’t want loving detail of smashing kneecaps and some of the things that are common in thrillers. But the characters got me and I wanted to know more about this guy. And so if you can sort of have some mysteries and some side characters or something your hero is actively trying to achieve.
I used in my talk, I talked about the series Monk from, I guess, probably 15 years ago now, where he had to leave the police force because his wife was murdered. And each one was an individual episode. There was a mystery to solve in each one.
But in the whole series, he was trying to find out who murdered his wife and that kept you watching, even if the individual stories were wrapped up. So I think if you can seed some of that into the episodic stories series, that it just keeps people reading.
Because otherwise, if everything is complete at the end of the book, maybe a little check out the next one, because they like you as an author, they like your voice but they also feel like, ‘Oh, that’s done, I feel satisfied. I can go read something else now.’
Joanna: It is really interesting because, of course, I’m in the thriller genre, and actually, this is really the first true trilogy I’ve written, as in one character arc completed in a specific way. No spoilers.
Most of my thriller stuff is more in the James Bond area where each one is its own thing. It’s just the characters who continue between different books. But when you said that at the talk, I was like, ‘Of course, it makes more sense that people would go and buy the next one when there is a real cliffhanger.’
I think you’re right about fantasy. My husband, he’ll get one of these 12 audiobook series, and will basically spend 4 months listening to these, like, 4,000 hours of fantasy series.
Lindsay: Do you have to listen to it with him or…?
Joanna: No. God, no. No, but it is interesting that…And I did want to ask you about characters because you’ve written let’s say 79 books, and these are all fiction, right, you’ve only written fiction?
Joanna: So, creating characters. We have these characters that are main characters, but then we’re also creating these cast of other characters per books, per series.
What are your tips for creating original characters that are not cardboard cutout plot devices or is originality overrated when you have that many books?
Lindsay: I think that, for one thing, it’s after a while one of the challenges I find, so they all kind of have my sense of humor. So it’s a little hard to make them original from each other because they’re all…especially the main characters tend to be a little bit of me. So that’s certainly a challenge.
And then I find that giving them really defined goals in life, I almost always when I start a series, it starts with the character and what they want to achieve, versus thinking of the plot first and then putting the characters in it. And I think that makes it easier to give a really character-driven story.
I love to give them unique quirks, too. I have one of my pilots, he’s like this tough guy, really capable, has shot down all these enemies in his little biplane, but he’s super superstitious and he has his little wooden dragon figurine that he kisses every time before he goes into danger. And it’s just the kind of thing that makes that character memorable.
A side character in the current series I’m doing, it’s a contemporary fantasy, she’s from Thailand. And she came to America to pursue the American dream, and she started a food truck, and actually she makes magical weapons on the side, which is common, of course, when you come to America.
But her family’s poor and she wants to bring them over. And so her complete goal and everything that drives her, she wants to be able to buy a house and just bring everybody over. So that really gives her…just everything is about that for her and really helped define that character.
Sometimes too with characters, I will not always but I’ll have some actor or character in another show in mind. The pilot I mentioned was very much inspired by ‘Stargate SG-1’s’ Colonel O’Neil, and I could just kind of see his face and his sarcasm. And here, I’m bringing it into a fantasy world and it becomes my own character, eventually, but sometimes it can be helpful.
Authors are always supposed to say, ‘This is not resembling any person real or fictional.’ It’s such a lie. It’s so much easier if you kind of have at least the inspiration with a real person and they’re kind of quirky, too. They can kind of bring that in.
But just interesting traits and goals, I think, really helps distinguish them from other characters you’ve written or other characters that are common archetypes in the genre.
Joanna: And if we combine archetypes with the genre, say, for example, in my thrillers, it really is stuffing the bad guy and saving the world. That is the goal for every book. And often, like you said about space is getting home or saving the planet, or whatever.
So often the goal if you write a lot of books in the same genre, the goal is the same, but you talk there about the girl who wants to buy a house.
Does she also have another goal around saving the planet or something?
Lindsay: She’s kind of the side character, so she doesn’t have to save the planet, the main character has to do that.
A lot of times too when you have those kind of characters, they’re driven, why are they driven to do this? Was there something in their background? Did they come from a single-parent family and they want to make a better world for kids growing up today or something in their past, they were bullied and so now they want to fight justice?
Knowing that background can help define them. Because I think when you get a character that just saves the world and you’re like, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Because most of us want to save ourselves; we’re inherently selfish. Even altruism, usually, you’re giving to charity to feel good about yourself. So I think the characters are more honest if you really flesh out why this person is driven to do that.
Joanna: I think that’s fantastic. I want to ask you about your pen name. I know we’re jumping around. The listeners, I’m sure also are appreciating all these because you do so much, and I think it’s interesting.
You started this pen name a few years back now, and it is difficult to have a pen name. I have mainly Joanna Penn and JF Penn, and it’s hard to manage two brands.
Why did you start a pen name and any lessons learned for anyone else considering it?
Lindsay: It is very hard to do too and for people who aren’t as drastically different as you are with the nonfiction and the fiction, I’m kind of like, ‘Are you sure? Are you really sure you want to do this?’
Because that’s what I found is like you can start one, you have all this enthusiasm and you start a new series, maybe with that pen name. And the reason I did is that it was sort of the sex scenes versus more PG stuff that my fans were used to from me.
So I went and did sci-fi romance with the pen name and had all the naughty bits on the page. And it was definitely a lot more graphic. And some of my fans were like, ‘That’s cool, we want it all,’ and others were like, ‘Oh, yeah, I don’t want to read that. So that’s good that you started the pen name.’
But you do have to do the marketing. I had the social media for a while. I’ve since let it go fallow and if I started writing more series again, I’ll have to rev everything up. You start a mailing list for the pen-name books. So there’s a lot you have to do.
It’s hard enough to do it all one person. So you have to think about do you really want to do that just to play with the algorithms and hope your also boughts aren’t polluted.
I’ve given up on this on this point on that because I write all over the place within sci-fi and fantasy. And that’s just how it is. There’s going to be spaceship books in my urban fantasy series in the also boughts because that’s what I wrote last.
Joanna: Would you do it again? Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch are good examples, right? They now have everything under one name. It’s very obvious by the covers, and your Ruby covers are obviously different to your spaceship covers. So, you know, what are your thoughts on it now?
If you were going to do it now or if you were going to fix it, would you put it all under one name?
Lindsay: I’m not sure because I have thought about that. I’m like, ‘Well, I’d sell a lot more of these books if I just claimed them under both names and had them on Amazon and easily findable.’
But they are enough racier…I mean, real romance authors and erotica authors would be like, ‘Oh my gosh. That’s not racy at all.’ But they’re so enough different from my usual that I even have a threesome book, which is tres risque for me under Ruby, and it’s like, I’m not sure.
So I don’t know. Maybe someday I will because I’d sell more of those because right now, I tend to forget about them because it’s been a couple of years since I did a new one. So I’ve considered it.
It’s not quite as drastic as like writing children’s fiction and erotica. It’s not that big of a gap. So it’s something I’m thinking about. I’m always debating things, like any good entrepreneur. ‘Should I do this or will I risk alienating people?’ So you have to decide.
Joanna: I think for people listening, this is a really big deal. So many people creating so many pen names, and yet, also listening to Dean and Kris who say that’s what they had to do of traditional publishing and they don’t believe it should be done.
And yes, we have the algorithms, but let’s face it, the way things are now, there are lots of ways to do series-specific marketing and stuff like that. So I don’t know, also, I’m kind of torn. I’m quite happy with the way I’ve done things. But on JF Penn, I’m thinking about doing some nonfiction under JF Penn. And also, I write across many sub-genres. So it is interesting.
That’s changed I think in the last five years that it used to be, yes, definitely should have another name.
Lindsay: It didn’t use to be that you had to build this giant platform for the readers and everything too, and have all these mailing lists. I think actually, what would change my mind is if Amazon with the Kindle Unlimited program, because my pen name is all in KU, I just wanted to keep it simpler. So that’s exclusive whereas I’m wide with a lot of stuff under my regular name.
But I usually have the most recent couple of series that I launched under my name in KU. And, right now, the way they have it is if something’s co-authored like if I put Lindsay Buroker and Ruby Lionsdrake, that would be a different entity as far as counting page reads and getting bonuses and things.
But if it all counted together, I’d be a little more tempted. But as it is now, I’d have to take Ruby’s name off completely as an author if I wanted to credit that and I usually get the bottom bonus. Now occasionally, I’ve gotten up higher, but it’s like, hmm, if I had more books in KU and could get more page reads under that name.
Joana: Something to think about. And certainly, Dean and Kris have done that is republish old work under their actual names. Well, let’s talk about the publishing process because, as you mentioned, there you have a mix. But you also have Patreon.
What is your publishing process like at the moment?
Lindsay: So right now, and it’s always a challenge, I know you’re wide with most stuff. And I also do not care to be exclusive and completely reliant on one platform. But at the same time, Amazon is the big…that you want to be aligned with them rather than against them, ideally, because they’re just such a behemoth and you get so many sales from them.
I found it was harder to launch and stick and keep something selling when I wasn’t in KU. So I think 2016, my ‘Fallen Empire’ series was the first thing…I had moved into sci-fi and I also launched my first thing into it KU exclusive with Amazon. I did it for about a year, as long as it took to finish the series. And that’s kind of still what I’m doing.
I definitely did get some pushback from my readers on the other platforms. Because when we started 10 years ago, KU and KDP Select weren’t even things. So I started building a fan base everywhere.
Patreon was a way for me to…what I do there is I release the arcs about two weeks early in ePUB and Mobi, so at least that’s an option for people who are on Kobo or Barnes & Noble and are frustrated that they have to wait for the series, understandably so, I would be too.
There are more steps so not everybody’s going to be willing to do it. Download from BookFunnel and load onto your e-reader. People tend to want it just to appear but there are some people that do that and they get the books early. And if I publish a short story or something, I’ll give it to them first.
So that’s become the place where people can get everything early. And I don’t do extra content there, I don’t necessarily or I don’t at all do like Patreon-only stories because I didn’t want it to be a whole bunch of extra work.
Every now and then, I remind people it exists. I don’t promote it a whole bunch. I think I’ve got about 350 people on there. So, it’s a good amount of people and it’s something where, if anything ever happened, I could always ramp that up and really put the focus there.
Like, if Amazon said, ‘Hey, today we’re only getting 30% for books instead of 70%,’ that I could look at that because I’m getting more than 90% that way.
So that is what I’m doing now, new series into KU to take advantage of how much easier it is to get borrows and sales, and how that kind of helps with visibility and sticking a little bit longer before books fall off into the tens of thousands of rankings or hundreds of thousands of rankings, I don’t know, there are millions now in the store too.
I’ve just found it’s easier. All the marketing you do in KU, especially like Amazon ads, everything seems to be more effective. It’s so expensive, the Amazon ads, but if you’re also getting the page reads and the sales, it seems to make it easier to come out on top with that money that you’re spending there.
Joana: Let’s talk about that then because marketing is the other side of things. Clearly, you are being prolific. So let’s just say writing and releasing novels regularly is a good idea. You’ve mentioned Amazon ads and also emails. Is that the main thing?
What are you doing in terms of other marketing?
Lindsay: I do Amazon ads, kind of reluctantly, just spending money there every month. I used to just do it around the launch. And last year, I did a couple of box sets that were in KU. And it made sense to spend quite a bit. I was paying like $100 a day on one box set, but it ended up making like $20,000 that month, so it totally made sense to spend that much then.
But I’m always a little bit reluctant because I’m not doing Amazon ads like in the U.K., Amazon, or the other stores yet. And it’s not that I’m against it, but I’m like, ‘Well, my income really hasn’t dropped off at all there.’
I’ve just built a fan base by publishing so much for long enough now and I still have a lot of book one frees in the series that are not in KU. And that tends to help everything, the new release has helped sell the old stuff.
I’m not a super fan of Amazon ads. I use them. It’s usually a pretty small percentage. I try to keep it around 5%, maybe 10% of total income in a launch month when I’m just trying to get people to get invested in a new series.
I tinker with Facebook ads on and off, tinker with BookBub, pay per click ads on and off. I haven’t really done more. I still do rely on regularly the sponsorship. I’ll run, especially on my backlist, that’s what I tend to do is, every once or twice a year, I’ll make something free if it’s not already free or I’ll drop the price or make the box set free that leads into the rest of the series. I’ll try to always get a BookBub sometimes I can, sometimes not, easier with wide books.
And then they’re kind of Bargain Booksy or Free Booksy. I still use those guys because I feel like you get a lot of downloads for the money compared to if you’re paying a for click on a free book. It really takes a lot to get 200 downloads whereas I can get a couple thousand.
And maybe the people are more likely to read-through that you’re getting on Amazon through AMS ads but I feel that I get a nice little bump every time I run those and people are reading through to the whole series. And it helps if you have a book one that ends as we were talking about in, not very complete and wrapped up but with a lot more questions.
So that’s still effective, for me, especially on the other platforms kind of having a free book one and I kind of cycle around, I have a couple of others always free. They’ve been on Wattpad and Scribd and everything, it’d be a real pain in the butt now to go yank it down everywhere to charge money for it.
But then I cycle with the other stuff and every time something’s been $4.99 for a while, then all of a sudden, it’s free, it gets like a fresh boost just from that. So just experimenting, doing all the things, I don’t feel like I’m particularly good at writing ad copy or getting the best conversion on those Amazon ads.
And every time I launch a new series, it’s a new chance to, like, ‘Well, let’s try this. I got some tips from this interview with David Gaughran and Mark Dawson.’ I signed up for the webinar as we’re recording this, you just had mentioned on a future podcast, Mark had a webinar, so I’m like, ‘All right, let me see what I can learn this time.’
I always try, but I’m not a real natural at the marketing and copywriting probably as many authors. So I’m glad that writing pretty quickly is a way of marketing in itself.
Joanna: I think this is really important for people listening. I don’t think people realize you are writing this many books per year. You have 79 books, and yet what you’re doing with marketing is you’re continuing to do marketing.
So it’s not like you just put the books up there and leave them, and I sometimes feel like sometimes people think if you have a lot of books, then they’ll sell just sell themselves.
What you’re talking about is essentially cycling through these series, making sure, presumably, pretty much all the time, something is being promoted on some platform.
Lindsay: Right. Probably every month, almost I’m like, ‘Okay, I haven’t done this one for a while. Let’s see if I can get some promos for this book one and try to get some new people into that.’ I do feel that same way too.
Like, somewhere was talking to someone and they were asking because it’s been more competitive, right, these last few years so, like, a lot of people are making less than they used to. And then, ‘Well, you’re writing more books and you’re not making more.’
I’m like, ‘Well, I’m staying at the same point, so that’s not too bad’ because it’s a really good place. And so I’m happy to be there and grateful for the readers that help keep me at that point.
But I feel like it’s really like any other job where you have to keep working and then you take some of the money you make, and you put it in investments so that someday you can retire if you want to. Maybe you don’t want to retire fully, but maybe you want to work less later on. And that’s something you can work towards.
But yes, if that was true, publishers wouldn’t have to publish any more books, because they’ve got tens of thousands of titles in their catalog. They’d just be pocketing millions of dollars every year. But that’s not really how it works.
It’s always easier to sell the new stuff. And you have to keep working to keep the backlist selling and, hopefully, if your new stuff is good enough, it brings readers to try the older books. So I’m okay with how it is right now.
If I can keep it at that level, I think I’m doing pretty good. But it is very hard to continuously keep it on an upward trajectory.
Joanna: I agree. And I actually think it was the advent of KU, where some people made more money the first couple of years of KU. But certainly, those of us who weren’t in KU saw a big drop that year and a lot of us who are wide saw that drop.
But as you say, this is the reality of a lot of the market. So perhaps it’s just, as you say, there are more people but also, I think it’s a lot to do with the U.S. market being saturated.
And what I’d encourage people to think is the rest of the world is really not got going yet and what’s kind of exciting, as excited as you can be about the pandemic, is places like France, and Italy, and Spain, and these different markets that have been really resistant to digital are suddenly picking up because so many readers have had to go digital during this time.
It may be that we’re gifted with a massive influx of new readers from all over the world after this period and that bringing in new readers actually almost refreshes the audience as such, that might happen.
Lindsay: I think so. And I feel like once you go e-reader, you tend not to go back. I was that way when I first got my Kindle. I was like, ‘I’m only going to use this when I travel. It’s handy for traveling. I don’t have to take five books with me on an airplane.’ Now I hardly ever buy anything.
Sometimes those nonfiction books that I want for my shelf, I’ll buy physically, but almost everything I just buy on the Kindle. So we’ll see. I think that it may help turn some of those people that were like, ‘No, I like to smell the pages,’ into e-reader fans.
And we are positioned pretty well. We have been with the pandemic a lot better than a lot of industries. I haven’t seen my income go down, even though the new series that I was hoping would do really well just has done okay. I feel like my backlist has really been selling well.
I don’t know if that’s just a reflection of more people reading or some of those box sets I did last year that sold a lot or had a lot of KU reads kind of directed people into my other stuff. I feel really fortunate that we can be super flexible with the pricing too.
I don’t know if traditional publishing is going to start…they run sales, of course, they do the BookBubs and you’ll see their stuff for $1.99. But right now, as we’re recording this, they still seem to like their $14.99 e-books and $9.99 e-books. So that’s kind of been our advantage all along is that we can make really good money on a $3.99 or a $4.99 e-book.
Joanna: Absolutely. You and I met on Twitter like a decade ago, and in fact, you still use the same picture on your Skype that I’m looking at right now. Your little goblin.
Lindsay: I use Skype once a year. Yeah, my little goblin.
Joanna: There aren’t too many of us, I think, who’ve been around so long. And I tend to think that you and I will still be around in another decade. We don’t show any signs of doing much else.
What do you think we’ll see, any thoughts on what you’re excited about or what is going to change? And how are we going to make it another decade?
Lindsay: I don’t know what else I would do for a living. So this really suits me that I can write my books from my home, do my marketing online on my computer. I don’t have to talk to anyone except the very occasional podcast talk. So it’s great.
I feel like there are other things I could do. I’ve learned enough about internet marketing. But this is great. It’s always been my dream job to write my own story, so I will continue doing that.
What will the next decade bring? I’m horrible at prediction stuff. I feel like we might see something push back to the PPC ads. I feel like it’s so hard already right now to really make that work since e-books are so inexpensive. You almost need a series, or you need a book that you’re selling for $9.99, a box set or something.
So I don’t know if we’ll see pushback with that or if maybe readers on Amazon might start to get banner blind to that stuff, and they just will be less effective, and there’ll be some new thing that comes along.
I’ve never forgotten early on when I started publishing books, I came across Kevin Kelly’s article on ‘1,000 True Fans’ and the concept of just kind of building your tribe one person at a time. And if you could get that many people, some of them will tell other people and you’ll have less, casual fans too.
But I feel like that was very important to me in the beginning. And I feel like sometimes we lose track of that. We’re always trying to get new readers by all this advertising on Amazon, and I see people sometimes kind of lose focus of the fans they already have.
I try to not let myself do that. I just sent out a bunch of bonus scenes and a free short story with the new series I’m doing and somebody emailed back and they were like, ‘Wow, that’s so awesome. No author has ever sent me a free e-book.’ And I was like, ‘Really?’
Joanna: Boy, get on some more email lists!
Lindsay: Yeah, I don’t know, maybe they’re thinking traditionally published and stuff, but I think even though I have to do it, really cultivating the people that you can get and making sure to continue to make them feel like they’re your best customers, they’re the proven people that go out and buy your book at new releases.
And it’s a little less daunting too I think if you’re just thinking, ‘All right, just one fan at a time, I’m going to build a fan base and I’m going to treat them really well,’ instead of always just…And you always have to try to get new people in too because things happen. People pass away or people’s tastes change.
But I think if you really focus on giving a lot to people who really have proven that they love you and, well, they love your books anyway, I don’t know if they love me personally, I think that’s going to have to be the focus as it continues to be more competitive as these AIs you’re talking about start writing thrillers and epic fantasy, really connecting with your people by giving them what they love.
I don’t necessarily share a lot personally about what I’m doing. Every now and again, they get a dog picture or something, but I just try to give them the stories that they enjoy. So I think that’s what we’re going to have to do going forward is probably only going to get more competitive.
Your people that really love your voice and the way you write, and they’re very maybe similar taste to you, they’re out there. You just have to do all this other stuff to find them. But once you find them, nurturing them, and trying to keep them on board, I think that that’s always going to be the way to have a solid career and to know that you have somebody to buy the next book that you put out.
Joanna: I think you’re right. And as you said, when we started a decade ago, that personal brand and building it up slowly was the thing. And a lot of us have been talking about selling direct in Patreon as part of that and we can do audio now through Findaway Voices and stuff like that.
So I agree, I think there’ll be more and more development of direct channels to customers that bypass the various platforms and that will build the brand that gives us more revenue. But there will be no vanity metrics. So you won’t make bestseller lists if you’re just selling direct, but you’ll have a lot more money in your pocket and you’ll satisfy your fans.
It is definitely interesting, but I agree with you. I think that is a big thing.
And just before we go, we’re almost out of time, but I wanted to just ask you quickly about the ‘Six Figure Author’ podcast, I wanted to direct people to that so because clearly, you spend most of your time writing and doing your fiction.
How does the podcast fit into your author career?
Lindsay: It’s just something since the beginning I’ve really liked. I don’t know if you call it giving back or teaching or just sharing what you’re learning. And sometimes you learn things better yourself too when you start to teach and articulate to others.
We talked about before hitting record that we like interviewing people who know more than we do, especially in certain areas because we can ask them all the questions we want to ask them. So it’s a way to sort of a little bit networking.
It’s easier to ask later if you’re known in the self-publishing industry, it’s probably easier for me to go out and say, like, ‘Hey, anybody want to promote my new release and I’ll do the same too?’ I don’t do a lot of that because I’m not that crazy on the newsletter swaps and that sort of thing. Not that they don’t work, it’s just not something I enjoy, but it’s easier if you have a voice and you’ve been helping people, people want to help you. So there’s that aspect of it.
And then there’s just if you have like videos or blog posts you’ve done…I used to blog. I kind of dropped that off when I started doing the podcast. You’re saying everything you have to say every week, it’s hard to come up with blog posts too.
But then when people email and ask questions, which I know you get more than I do because you’re even more out there with podcasting and all the nonfiction books, then, you know, you’re just, like, ‘Well, hey, I already answered this question in this episode, please go check it out. Everything I have to say is on that.’
So it’s a way to talk to a lot of people and help more people versus just email one-on-one, and it takes a lot of time to do those one-on-one exchanges, and nobody else gets the same answer, the benefit of that answer unless you go make a blog post out of it or something. So it’s just something I enjoy doing for now.
I don’t know if I’ll always do it because it doesn’t really tie into me selling my fiction, but it’s something that I like being a part of the community in a small way since when you work from home, you don’t see people, especially right now. You don’t get to go, like, to the Starbucks or whatever. So it’s a way to at least kind of establish relationships among your peers that otherwise wouldn’t know that you exist.
Joanna: And also, I know you’re an introvert and I’m an introvert, and it was hilarious when all the introverts went to New Orleans. But we managed, but it’s also another way for people like us to actually have conversations and make friends without actually having to spend much time together.
Lindsay: Yes, definitely. I’ve met so many people. I do a couple of conferences a year usually, and I listen to everybody’s podcast, and I’ve seen as a listener of podcasts how much it makes you want to support that person and how much more likely you are to mention them versus somebody else if somebody asked your recommendation.
So I certainly see the value of it for many… there are many things, many, many reasons to do it, if you’re interested in it and many, kind of, intangible benefits.
Joana: Definitely. So that is the ‘Six Figure Author.’
Where else can people find you and your books online?
Lindsay: If you just google Lindsay Buroker, my website will come up or if you’re an Amazon person, everything’s there. I’m on the other bookstores with most of my series too. So that’s about it.
Twitter and Facebook are the two social media I actually regularly do. Although, I don’t post anything on my personal Facebook. It’s like I did an author page because that actually sells books that lets me communicate with the readers and keep them informed for my own personal updates like three times a year, I don’t know. So I might not respond to a friend request because I don’t really use that side of it.
Joanna: No, I don’t either. Yeah, brilliant. Well, thanks so much, Lindsay. That was fantastic.
Lindsay: All right. Thanks for having me. And happy writing, everybody.
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Author: Joanna Penn