Lindsay Buroker is the bestselling author of Balanced on the Blade’s Edge and more than 20 other novels, novellas, and short stories. Today, Lindsay is ranked as one of the Top #100 bestselling Science Fiction authors on Amazon Kindle, and she’s earning a full-time income as an author. She works from home and loves it.
In this interview, Lindsay lets us in on her best tips for writing books that readers love, how to build your author platform, how to promote your book like a pro, how to become a master at marketing, and much more.
Lindsay has been writing stories since she was a little kid. Like most people, she was told, “You can’t make money as an author.”
She joined the Army out of high school and when she got out of the Army she studied computer science before becoming an indie author.
Lindsay always loved fantasy and she always wanted to write her own stuff. She started writing seriously after she couldn’t find enough of the types of books she wanted to read. That’s when she knew she had to write and publish a fantasy novel.
Her first novel took about seven years to finish. When she finished it in 2009 she put the book aside because she felt like she wouldn’t be able to find an agent for it.
Lindsay decided to write another novel and try to find an agent. About the time she finished her second novel Lindsay discovered JA Konrath’s blog. In that same month (late 2010) Lindsay got her first Kindle. That’s when she decided to try self-publishing.
She felt like self-publishing would be a lot better for her temperament because she’s not a very patient person. So the idea of sending out query letters and possibly getting rejected really didn’t appeal to her. The idea of skipping all that time waiting to see whether or not she would be accepted as an author was very exciting to Lindsay.
Making a Living Full-Time from Fiction
Lindsay didn’t make a lot of money in the beginning. In her first month Lindsay thinks she might have made $50. But she kept tinkering with it, because writing was exciting to her.
She was a professional blogger before she took the dive into self-publishing, so she wasn’t scared of the technical stuff. In the beginning Lindsay tried advertising and book blog tours. She also had enough interest from readers and sales in the beginning to keep her going.
Right now Lindsay has 20 books available on Amazon. Some of those books are novels, some of them are novellas, and some of them are short stories. The benefit to publishing so many titles quickly is that it keeps you in the front of readers minds every time you publish a new book. Writing novellas and short stories allows Lindsay to publish material while she’s working on longer books.
Every time you publish a new book your income increases. Every new book you publish is an entry point into your inventory for a new customer. That’s why publishing regularly is so important.
Lindsay was already making money from blogging when she decided to become a full-time self published author. Essentially she focused entirely on her fiction writing to the exclusion of everything else for about a year before she started seeing an income that replaced her old job.
When she started writing fiction she had a source of income from blogging that slowly diminished over time while she was concentrating on writing fiction. Lindsay was poor for about a year while she worked on building her author platform.
She was able to make a full-time income from fiction when she had four novels out as well as some novellas and short stories.
Self-Publishing in Ebook, Print, and Audio
Lindsay has e-books, paperback books, and audiobooks in her inventory on Amazon.
Selling Paperbacks as an Indie Author
Lindsay admits that she should have paperback copies for all of her novels on Amazon. She doesn’t because formatting a book for paperback takes a lot more time, and the profit margin on paperbacks is a lot smaller than e-books.
Lindsay doesn’t feel like she can charge $20 for a paperback book. She tries to make her paperback pricing is competitive as possible. That means she doesn’t make very much profit on every paperback sale.
Paperback books are mostly nice for book signings, and for people who email and ask if they can buy a paperback copy.
Lindsay tends to sell a lot of paperback books at Christmas because people like to give paperback books as gifts at Christmas time.
Lindsay got into audiobooks because she was looking for ways to get noticed by new fans. She heard a podcast with Nick Lowell who does a space opera series, and he explained how he built a fan base with audiobooks. That’s when Lindsay decided she should get into audiobooks as well.
She started by recording some of her books on audio for distribution as podiobooks. Podiobooks are audiobooks that are distributed through iTunes as podcasts. Generally, each episode of the podcast is a chapter. Because the books are distributed through iTunes people can get them free.
The benefit of giving your book away on audio for free through iTunes is iTunes has a large audience, and if you get people interested in your book through the podcast you can direct them to sign up to your mailing list.
Audiobooks are a time intensive and expensive process, but they can definitely be worth it.
How Lindsay Markets Her Books
Lindsay has been a full-time fiction author for the last 3 ½ years. Her primary marketing strategy is to make the first book in her series free and promote it using whatever advertising strategy is working at the time.
BookBub, pixelofink.com, and ereadernews today.com are all sites that work well to promote books.
Of course the sites that deliver the best results are really hard to get into.
The key to being successful as an Indie author is keeping at it, and consistently releasing more books.
The best thing you can do is keep your name out there. Don’t let people forget about you. If you’re doing a series it probably takes 3 to 4 books before your audience really starts to settle in with the characters and become emotionally attached to them, so that they follow the characters to your next book with less emphasis on the story those characters are in.
Lindsay has had a lot of people tell her that they have recommended her books to friends, and you can’t beat word-of-mouth advertising.
If you only have one book and you submit it to different advertising websites like BookBub and the editorial staff rejects you, you’ll have to wait 90 days or six months before you can try to promote your book again.
Success doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes you just have to wait until the timing is right.
Start an Email Newsletter
One of the biggest factors in Lindsay’s success is her email newsletter. She has about 2,000 subscribers on her email list, and she tells them every time she puts a new book out.
Having 2,000 subscribers who like the way you write and would be interested in checking out a new book from you can give you a real leg up, when it comes to launching your book on Amazon and other platforms.
Having over 1,000 people buy your book within the first week really gives you a boost in Amazon’s algorithm, so that your book is able to be seen by a larger audience on Amazon.
The primary way Lindsay promotes her email list is to put a link to her website squeeze page in the back of all of her books.
In her email sequence she makes sure to include prizes and contests on occasion. You always want to give a potential subscriber a reason to subscribe beyond, “Hey can I have your email address so I can sell you more books?”
Another great thing about this strategy is when you release a new book in your series, and make the first book in your series free, it’s very easy for new readers to jump into your ecosystem.
Another benefit to selling a lot of copies in your first week is that you get on Amazon’s hot new releases, which put you on Amazon’s radar so that they end up promoting your book to people who they think might be interested. That’s when you can really climb the ranks of Amazon quickly.
Having an email list allows you to better control of your fate. Telling people who expressed interest in your work by signing up for your email list that you have a new book out allows you to have confidence that your core audience will be able to discover your book.
Lindsay has people who will buy everything she writes without signing up for the email list. But the truth is she doesn’t need to encourage these people to buy her work.
Email lists allow you to have a direct line to the customers who’ve bought from you in the past. They are an invaluable tool.
Email lists can be especially valuable if you’ve decided to write in a different genre where people don’t know you yet. You can tell your loyal fans that you’re releasing a new book in a different genre and encourage them to try it out.
That’s what Lindsay did with her urban fantasy novel last year. She released it on Amazon, set the price at $0.99 and emailed her list about it.
Not everyone who bought the book for $0.99 enjoyed it, but the initial spike in sales gained her visibility in the category on Amazon. It was well worth the occasional bad review to let her list know about that book.
Lindsay’s book did reasonably well in the sales rankings for the next two months.
It’s important to try and promote your list primarily to people who have read your work and like it. If you have an email list of people who haven’t purchased your book you don’t know whether they’re really your target customer or not, because you’re not sure of their taste when it comes to fiction their willing to buy.
A lot of people have tried to use iPad and Kindle giveaways to build their email list. This isn’t the best strategy because you aren’t building a list of paying customers who you’re sure like your work. You’re just building a list of people who want a free Kindle or iPad.
“You see authors with email list of 10,000 people but if they’re not interested in your writing, that list is not going to be profitable for you.” – Tom Corson Knowles
It’s important when you’re marketing to people that you try to market to your ideal customer. Lindsay has had a lot of requests from new authors to like their author page. The truth is she is not the best representative of their customer base, because she usually doesn’t like the genre of the author who is making the request.
You should find people you know who like the type of book you’re writing.
It’s better to have a smaller more targeted list of buyers than a larger list of people who just want free stuff, because eventually you’re going to end up having to pay for your list of subscribers.
Having a smaller list of subscribers who buy your work will lead to a greater Return on Investment.
“Sometimes it is better to have 100 people who love what you do then thousands of people who just don’t care.” – Tom Corson Knowles.
“And it’s good not to underestimate what will 100 people can do if they’re really into your work.” – Lindsay Buroker
Lindsay’s Writing System
Lindsay has produced a lot of work in a relatively short period of time. She’s able to write fiction full time which of course helps explain part of her level of productivity.
But anyone is capable of procrastinating when it comes to writing. One simple tactic Lindsay uses is to set a timer on Google and commit to writing fiction 45 minutes at a time. During that block of time she doesn’t allow herself to do anything else. She’s not checking email or browsing social media. All she’s doing for 45 minutes is writing fiction.
Lindsay always knows what she’s going to write before she sits down to write. She doesn’t understand people who use writer’s block as an excuse not to write.
If she’s really stuck at a particular point in her story, she’ll get up and go for a walk or do some household chores. But as much is possible she doesn’t sit down to write fiction without having an idea of what she’s writing about.
Lindsay outlines every book she writes. Her outlines are basically chapter summaries. By outlining the entire book beforehand, she’s not starting with a blank page. It’s true that she usually deviates from her outline fairly quickly in the writing process, but having the outline there keeps her from getting really stuck in her writing.
Another thing Lindsay does that helps her productivity is that she writes fiction every day. Writing every day allows you to keep momentum going on your project. If you take big breaks when you’re writing fiction it will take you a while to get back up to speed every time you try to restart writing a novel.
Lindsay spends about a day outlining a book. She outlines the book in broad strokes by doing chapter summaries. Usually her book outlines are between 2,000 and 3,000 words.
Some people say they don’t like outlining because after they’ve outlined the novel it isn’t fun for them to write the book because they know what happens.
Lindsay really enjoys writing dialogue and she doesn’t usually outline the dialogue, so that’s a way she gets around the problem of being bored when writing from an outline.
Lindsay always has a list of three or four projects ahead that she wants to work on. When she’s done writing her current project she’ll immediately start working on the next one. There aren’t too many times that she doesn’t feel like writing. If you’re going to be a professional writer it’s got to be something you actually like to do.
It also helps when you get to the point as an indie author where you start making good money, because then you see every new book that you publish as money in the bank.
“For a lot of people that haven’t finished one book yet, just make yourself finish the first novel. Making it a habit to finish stuff is great, especially if you are thinking of making this what you do for a living. The more you write, the easier it comes. Keep the momentum up.” – Lindsay Buroker
The Phases of Writing
For Lindsay there are two distinct phases when it comes to writing fiction. There’s the writing phase and the editing phase, and they are distinctly separate.
The writing phase ends when you finish writing the first draft. Lindsay doesn’t edit her first draft until it’s complete. And she counts that finished draft as a completed novel. She puts that novel into its editing phase and starts working on writing another project.
One benefit of waiting to edit your project until it’s complete is that often, the end of your book will change in the process of writing your book. If you edit your book before it’s complete you may find that the book significantly changes as you finish it, and the work you’ve done editing the book is wasted time because it’s drastically different than when you edited those chapters.
When Lindsay is done with the writing phase of her current project she sends the manuscript to her beta readers unedited. She wants to make sure there’s a decent story there before she works on it.
She’ll go over the first draft of her manuscript once before she sends it to her beta readers just to make sure there aren’t any typos or things that don’t make sense.
After she gets feedback from her beta readers Lindsay will make the changes her beta readers suggest, if she agrees with them. There have been times Lindsay’s beta readers were right and she was wrong, but you have to have confidence in your own art.
A word of warning for beginning writers: Sentence structure isn’t as important as story structure. The vocabulary you choose to use isn’t as important as the information you convey to the reader. Words are simply the tools to transmit your story into a reader’s head. This is hard to internalize when you’re writing your first novel and you want everything to be perfect. Wait until the story is good and then tinker if you want.
Jumpstart Your Writing Career
At the beginning of your indie publishing career, you’re really going off of passion. One of the things Lindsay did that really helped her finish her first few novels was to join a few writing workshops.
If you get into the right writing workshop it can function like a mastermind group and prod you to finish your books and make them available for publication.
You can get into a positive competition with people in your writing group, and the fact that they’re finishing work can spur you to finish your work.
Workshops and writer groups can also provide positive peer pressure if you’re submitting chapters to critique groups and you’re behind on submissions.
“Really anything you can do to connect with people who are where you are, and they’re making progress, is going to inspire you to keep going.” – Tom Corson Knowles
“Listening to podcasts can also be really motivating, especially if you don’t have any people locally.” – Lindsay Buroker
Listening to the Self-Publishing Podcast has inspired Lindsay to try to increase her daily work production.
You can check out our list of the best writer’s conferences to find a great event near you.
Finding Beta Readers
Another benefit of joining writing groups is that you can get early beta readers who can look at your work objectively and tell you if anything is wrong with it.
Lindsay has two beta readers who she’s been working with since the beginning of her writing career. She beta reads their work. And they beta read hers. She met them during an online writing workshop, and now they’re all successful indie published writers.
One of her friends tried to go the traditional publishing route, had an agent, but the agent couldn’t sell her manuscript. Lindsay’s friend decided to self publish and has been successful ever since. This just goes to show that traditional publishers aren’t always right about what’s going to sell.
Lindsay also has a second group of beta readers that she’s met through social media and forums. These people are really excited to see her new work even if it’s full of typos.
A woman set up a forum for Lindsay’s Emperor’s Edge series. Lindsay visits that form twice a week to socialize with her fans.
Whenever you can find people who enjoy your work but aren’t afraid to tell you when something is messed up that’s a good thing. Those people are hard to find.
How Writers Should Respond to Critiques
It’s important to have faith in your own vision for your story. Beta readers and customers are going to have all kinds of opinions about your work. You can listen to them, but always stay true to your vision of your story. Beta readers are human just like the rest of us, and the only way to know if they’re right is to publish the book and see what your customers say.
“There are two types of writers. There’s the writer who always thinks their work sucks and it’s never good enough. Then there’s the writer who, for whatever reason, always thinks their stuff is brilliant even if they never published a book.” – Lindsay Buroker
It’s important that you be open to feedback while at the same time you have confidence in your own work.
If you’re getting a critique from a writers group and 10 writers from the group all agree on the same thing, it’s probably something you want to address. If only one writer in that group doesn’t like something, it’s probably something you don’t have to worry about. You can certainly change it if you agree with that writer’s critique.
Just remember, you can’t please everyone.
How to Deal with Reviews on Amazon
Lindsay will usually look at the first 20 reviews of a new book she has published, just to get the initial feedback of the first readers. After that, she tends to ignore the reviews going forward, simply because you can drive yourself crazy worrying about every single review that you get.
You shouldn’t change a story based on your Amazon reviews. Lindsay will fix typos if a review mentions them, but she figures once a story has been published it’s out there for the market.
Lindsay has seen first-time authors hire an editor and change their book based on feedback. That can be good because publishing their first book is a learning experience. But it’s certainly not something you have to do.
Some of the best reviews on Amazon are three-star reviews from people who like your work but still have problems with it, and are willing to explain them in detail.
Often all a one star review means is that the book wasn’t for them. What you want to look for are the intelligent reviews that actually make coherent points as to how you could have improved your novel.
“At the end of the day, you’re not trying to make your books perfect. You’re just trying to make the fun stories that people can enjoy.” – Lindsay Buroker
Don’t let perfectionism prevent you from writing the next book.
If you publish your current project and start working on your next project right away it can help you distance yourself from whatever comment you’re getting on the book you just published.
When you’re first starting out, focus on the good reviews. Keep yourself motivated and inspired. Don’t look for reasons to bring yourself down.
The human brain is a strange organ. We tend to remember the two negative reviews much more than we remember the 50 positive reviews we received. Do whatever you can to keep things in perspective. Print out your fan mail and put it on the fridge.
Lindsay saves almost every email that is sent to her just in case she has to go back and remember all the positive things people have said about her work.
It’s important to write the story that you want to write at the end of the day. If you’re writing the story you want it’s much easier to be enthusiastic when problems arise. Also, if you don’t like what you’re writing, why are you writing it? Life is too short to write something that you don’t like.
If you think the feedback about your work can help you improve, that’s great. Take what you can from it and keep writing your stories.
Living the Successful Author Lifestyle
Lindsay has been self-employed for quite a few years now. She prefers it that way because she can make her own schedule. It’s nice to be able to choose when you want to work. It’s nice to be able to choose when your weekend is. There’ve been a number of times when Lindsay has decided to take a day off in the middle of the week to do something, when there aren’t so many people around, because they’re all at their 9-to-5 jobs.
Lindsay tends to work in the afternoons and evenings. Lindsay also likes to travel, and the nice thing about writing is that you can do it from anywhere. She has done a number of road trips around the western half of the US. She’ll stay in one place for a couple of days to get some writing done and then move on.
Advice for Aspiring Authors
Keep writing every day. If you can find a half hour or an hour a day to write, that’s enough to get you started. If you can write 500 to 1,000 words a day you’ll have enough words for the rough draft of your novel in a few months. We all have to start somewhere.
Lindsay thinks it’s really important to get feedback before you publish your first book. It’s so easy now to self publish that some people might publish too soon.
She’s glad that she didn’t hear about self-publishing until after she’d sold some short stories and been active in critique group for a couple years.
She had enough experience to write a first novel that drew readers in and caused them to want to buy more of her books.
If your first book doesn’t get a lot of good feedback you may just want to scrap it and try something else. But don’t give up. Writing, like any art, improves with practice.
Some people will disagree about how and whether to use writer workshops. But Lindsay thinks writer workshops are great because you’re actually getting feedback from other writers. And other writers are some of the most critical people you will find. So if you can get them to like your story chances are you will be able to find customers to like your story as well.
Keep writing. And don’t publish until you think you’re ready.
People and Resources Mentioned in This Interview
JA Konrath – inspired Lindsay to take the dive into self-publishing.
Nathan Lowell – inspired Lindsay to get into audiobooks.
Self Publishing Podcast – motivates Lindy to keep going. When you approach the self-publishing podcast guys, you can mention that Tom was on their podcast.
Dean Wesley Smith – a prolific writer who inspires Lindsay to maximize the number of words she can write in a day.
https://www.goodreads.com/list/tag/podiobooks – a list on Goodreads for the best audiobooks released in podcast format on iTunes.
Self-publishing podcast – a podcast where three writers talk about self-publishing.
Auto responders to help you build your email list
Mail chimp – an autoresponder with a starter plan that allows you to have up to 2000 subscribers free.
Aweber – an autoresponder with a 30 day free trial.
1000 fans – an article about how to make a living as an artist with 1000 true fans.
Critters.org – a forum of science fiction and fantasy writers.
Book Promotion Sites Worth Pursuing
https://www.bookbub.com/home/ – one of the biggest book promotion sites around.
http://www.pixelofink.com/ – another good book promotion site.
http://ereadernewstoday.com/ – another good book promotion site.
Connect with Lindsay Buroker
http://lindsayburoker.com/ – Lindsay Buroker’s website
Connect with Lindsay Buroker on twitter – Lindsay is big on twitter and will usually reply to tweets faster than she answers email.