Tag Archives: indie author

What I wish I’d known before publishing as an Indie Author

Amazon needs help to sell my books? What the…?

The Boy in the Burgundy Hood ghostly house

That’s the one thing I wish I’d known before I started writing, or at least publishing, as an independent writer – a question I was recently posed on Instagram.

As an indie author, we’re already set back by a lack of professional support and – all importantly – distribution. We’re not in the bookshops generally, or if we are it’s only through local relationships. Therefore online distribution is critical to us.

Like most indie writers, I started off trying to get published traditionally. I had interest from a few agents, and my book The City of Light was loved by a Children’s Rights manager in Random House and spent 6 months going up through their editorial hurdles – before finally being rejected on the basis of the market shrinking for that kind of fantasy (it was post Harry Potter, and gritty realism was in).

My big mistake

When I decided to publish independently, I thought it best to ‘go wide’, using both Amazon and Smashwords, who distribute to most the other online distributors (Apple, Nook etc). But that’s where I think I made my big mistake. Smashwords took much longer to format and produce, but my sales were pitiful everywhere except Amazon. It also meant that I couldn’t participate in Kindle Unlimited (KU).

The reason I can say with confidence that going exclusive to Amazon would have been better for me is that’s what I did with my second, current, series of The Ghosts of Alice. KU has been a third of my sales, and every time someone downloads it for KU it springs back up the sales ranks. I would almost certainly have done better with my first series by putting it exclusively in Amazon and running KU from the start.

Amazon needs help

But Amazon does need help to sell your book. Most importantly, it needs other people who read books like it to look at it and hopefully buy it. Then it can start throwing it across the path of readers who might be interested in it. I know this because, whilst I advertise with Amazon, only a fraction of the sales come from the advertising (there is a dashboard that tells me this). So Amazon must be placing my book as one of its suggestions once people buy or finish similar books, or elsewhere.

Whilst I can’t prove this, where else are these sales coming from? Some from my social media platform, for sure – but not that many. I suspect you can get a good idea whether your book is primed for Amazon algorithms by the list of ‘Customers who viewed / bought this also viewed’, or whatever it’s called at the moment. If they’re all in your genre, you’re probably doing well.

I know other authors who have had different journeys, and for whom Amazon has not been so great. There are many reasons not to go exclusive, especially in those countries where Amazon isn’t so dominant. But I wish I’d gone exclusive from day one.

Now, setting all that aside, and looking at the ethics and risk of throwing all your eggs in the basket of one quasi-monopolising tech giant… OK that one’s for another day.

Happy reading

My Publishing Journey – How I became an Indie Author

I was asked recently about which publishing route I took and why. So here’s a potted history of how I became an independently published writer – or ‘indie author’, as we’re increasingly known.

The City of Light signed copy

I’m an indie author, published entirely now on Amazon. I gave up my job to concentrate on writing a few years back. It was what I’ve always wanted to do, and besides publishing quite a bit of poetry, I knew I wanted to write novels. I submitted my first book, the young teen novel The City of Light, to agents and publishers. An agent reader’s report said it was a potential Harry Potter (can you imagine how I felt!?). A friend of a friend in the Children’s Rights department of Random House loved it and championed it through editorial teams – only for it to fail at the sales team, who in the post-Harry Potter world had moved on from contemporary fantasy to gritty realism.

The Boy in the Burgundy Hood - a ghost story with a difference

To be honest, I gave up for a couple of years until my sister-in-law suggested I go indie. I’ve never looked back. I’m no more of a control freak than the next person, but sending off to agents and publishers was about as dispiriting as it gets. There were lots of long waits and half-promises. Being in control of what and when I write and how and when I publish is great. The downside of course is lower sales – we’d all love distribution in bookshops throughout the world. But of all my colleagues who write and have been traditionally published, none have ended up with rosy sales figures. And most have had a pretty miserable time with their publisher’s demands and processes.

As far as tips are concerned, I did put a lot of time into publishing on multiple platforms – but always for a measly return. When I went exclusive on Amazon and signed up for Kindle Unlimited my sales rocketed. Sad, but true.

Let me know if you’ve had experience of the publishing world. And if you’re a reader, does whether a book is published independently or through traditional publishers affect your choice?

Guest Interview with US Author Hoang Chi Truong

Hoang Chi Truong

I first connected with Hoang Chi Truong, the author of Tigerfish, on social media. We quickly built up a rapport. I read Tigerfish and thought it was a beautifully told, often harrowing, memoir of Chi’s escape with her family from the Vietnam war to America. You can read my full review here. Chi interviewed me in the summer on her website and now I’m very pleased to return the favour. In this interview Chi tells me about her life as a refugee and how she came to write and independently publish Tigerfish. She speaks about her mission to promote her timely message of compassion for refugees.

Hi Chi, first can you tell us about why you decided to write your memoir Tigerfish?

Hello Steve, thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my author journey as a Vietnamese refugee in America on your blog. I’ll retrace my steps to publishing Tigerfish for your readers and perhaps afterwards they might consider sharing their own stories of struggle so others won’t feel they’re alone.

I wrote Tigerfish for my children in 1992, with the sole purpose of preserving our family history. I never intended it for public consumption. However, the Syrian refugee crisis in 2011 changed my mind. I published Tigerfish in 2017 as I felt I had a moral obligation to speak up for the Syrians from the perspective of a former refugee.


I felt that, as I’d received my US legal status as a teenager to achieve my American Dream, I now had to use my voice to raise awareness of what it means to be a refugee. I wanted to appeal to readers to have compassion for the plight of refugees, like others did for my family. With this new mission, I dusted off my manuscript and decided to self-publish TigerFish.

Recently, I received a request for an electronic file of TigerFish on behalf of a student with a print-disability at Santiago Canyon Community College, California. My book is going to be converted to an accessible, unencrypted format for his History class! I reread this request several times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Two years ago I would never have imagined this as a remote possibility for a first-time, independent author like myself.

Can you tell us what it was like to be a refugee?

I was born in Vietnam to a high ranking military officer and lived a protected and privileged life, but all that disappeared when we fled from political persecution. As refugees, we were conflicted between our overwhelming gratitude to be in America and our struggle with our suppressed and delayed grief, anxieties, and survivor’s guilt. We didn’t have the luxury of grieving for the siblings, relatives, friends, country, and culture we left behind. Instead, we forged on stoically to learn the language, excel in school, and better ourselves economically. Our family suffered discrimination, racism, and assaults but we persisted, convincing ourselves it was the cost of freedom.

Thank you for sharing that Chi, it’s very insightful and moving. Can you tell us about how you became an Indie Author?

I had a steep learning curve going from Chief of Emergency Response Mapping to being an independently published author. I was now a team of one, assembling editors, cover designers, formatters, beta and advanced readers, proofreaders, and a launch team. I relied on online resources as I designed a website and created a social media platform to share my story with my modest following. In the end, my debt is to the online indie author community and my social media followers who made my publishing dream come true. I can’t pay it forward enough to all the generous friends and writers for their support.

After publication how did you let the world know about Tigerfish and its key messages?

I used a number of ways to connect with readers and promoters including:

Press Release:  Before I launched Tigerfish I crafted emails, ready to send them to local radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, schools, libraries and bookstores. I persisted with the Sacramento Bee until Stephen Magagnini featured my story Vietnam’ documentary opens old wounds, offers new lessons for Sacramento author when my book became timely and relevant to the U.S. Administration’s Travel Bans in 2017 and the Vietnam War Series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novak. My recommendation when contacting the press is to emphasize how relevant your book is and why it’s important to feature your story.

Social Media:  I made online friends through social media, learning by trial and error. These friends became my most ardent and enduring supporters and promoters. I didn’t consider myself an extrovert and had to put on a brave face on various platforms. I always stayed accurate and authentic with my audience.

Blogging:  Before I published Tigerfish, I blogged about Minimalism to share my journey from my  first day sitting down to work on my book to its launch date and thereafter. I chose Minimalism as a subject to create an online following because at the time I couldn’t focus on my author’s job working from home until I’d minimized my household tasks. I shared my tips with readers. This process gave me the inner calm to dedicate 12 hours a day to reach my goal of publishing by May 2017.

Community Engagement:  The initial emails and phone calls brought immediate support from libraries, schools, and indie bookstores. Word of mouth brought more speaking engagements with colleges, rotary clubs, churches, book clubs, and nursing homes. Over the past 20 months, I’ve presented to an audience of one just as respectfully and enthusiastically as to 122 people. I’ve welcomed requests to write to me with follow-up questions.

Hoang Chi Truong Map

Most of all, I’ve been grateful that readers have valued my message of empathy and compassion to refugees. I hope I’ve helped to humanize instead of demonize millions of helpless and vulnerable people fleeing violence, hunger, and persecution.

That’s very inspiring, Chi. What are you working on now?

I’m currently living in Northern California with my husband, and we’re empty nesters of two grown children. While I continue to speak at libraries and book clubs I’m working on my next book, a continuation of TigerFish with a hopeful publication date of Summer 2020.

Thank you so much for your time, Chi, and for sharing your amazing story. Lastly, where can readers find out more about you and your book?

You can find out more about Tigerfish here:

Paperback: https://www.chibeingchi.com/about-my-book-tigerfish/

Kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/TigerFish-Vietnamese-Colonels-Daughter-America-ebook/dp/B071YMS2GS/

Audiobook: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hoang-Chi-Truong/e/B071H73G6V/

And you can find out more about me here:

Website: www.ChiBeingChi.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ChiBeingChi

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/chismith/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hoangchitruong.author/

Facebook: https://facebook.com/beingchi

And finally, here are my PBS (Public Broadcast Station) interviews:
Valley PBS