Kevin Tumlinson is a thriller and speculative fiction author. He’s also the Director of Marketing at Draft2Digital, one of the leading automated self-publishing services companies.
Kevin wrote his first book at the age of five. The reaction he got for it sparked a lifelong interest in writing. By age 12 he was writing professionally for local papers. He published his first book in 2008 and has been working in the self-publishing industry ever since.
Indie Publishing Strategies for Long-Term Success
This was a great interview. We talked about the benefits of indie publishing, indie publishing strategy, how to use indie publishing to get a traditional book contract (if you want), and the importance of changing your strategy if it’s not achieving your goals.
Kevin got into self-publishing after realizing that his traditional publishing contract would cause him to lose money. So he pulled back from that situation, lost the rights to that book for four years, and decided to publish another one instead.
He looked at self-publishing options because he wanted more control over his work. The sales for his first book were pretty low because people hadn’t yet adopted the ebook as something they could read. Kevin actually got more print sales for his book then ebook sales.
When Kevin first explored self-publishing he was working in television, and his dream was to create a book that could be turned into a movie or TV show. Because he lost the rights to the first book he worked on, he didn’t want to put himself in a position where he could lose those rights again, especially if what he was writing got sold to Hollywood.
The Benefits of Self-Publishing
Kevin really liked the idea that once he created his book and self published it, he would have complete control over what he did with the book itself. In particular, he liked the idea that he could control the price, and distribute the book in any way that made sense to him.
One of the benefits of self-publishing is that 100% of the book’s success rests on your shoulders. Once you accept that 100% of your success is up to you, you’re much more likely to succeed because you understand the level of commitment you need, and you’re mentally prepared to take the right actions in the right quantities to assure your success.
Another benefit of indie publishing is that you come to understand the value of what the publishing company is truly offering. Understanding the value of the different elements that a publishing company brings to the table gives you a better negotiating position because you’re more informed.
Indie publishing also teaches authors the value of marketing. Marketing is a very valuable skill. It separates successful authors from unsuccessful ones.
When you go the indie publishing route you learn more faster. You’re also able to adjust marketing strategies more easily because you don’t have to check with anyone.
Traditional Publishing Vs. Indie Publishing
When you sign a traditional publishing contract you give away the rights to your story in order to get the book distributed. That means the publishing company has at least some say in what you do with the content you’ve written in the future. It also means that the publisher is most likely entitled to some sort of cut if your story is made into a TV show or movie.
The theory behind getting traditionally published is that the publishing company will help you with some overhead in terms of creating and marketing of the book once it’s done. The truth is that a publishing company will help you with some initial overhead and might help you with the marketing, but in the end the author is responsible for most of the marketing activity anyway. And as an author’s career goes on, the publishing company takes less and less responsibility for helping the author with promoting the book.
So if you’re going to be doing the majority of work anyway it makes sense that you get the majority of the profit and keep your rights intact.
How to Use Indie Publishing to Get a Traditional Publishing Contract
If you really want a traditional publishing contract you can still pursue that in this new world. It’s often easier for someone to get a traditional book contract if they’ve built an author platform by indie publishing their work and getting readers, before they approach agents and publishers.
Publishers really only care about the bottom line. If you can prove to them that you already have an audience to sell to they’ll be much more interested in buying your book because you’ve proven that you have an audience to sell to.
Indie Publishing and the Power of the Minimum Viable Product
When self-publishing, what you want to do is create your minimum viable product. A Minimum viable product means you get your book to your audience as quickly as possible while making it the highest quality product you can using the resources you have.
There are some people who are resistant to the idea of publishing a book before it’s pristine and perfect. The truth is you’re never going to have a perfect book. Every run of the traditionally published book has at least one copy with at least one typo or some other kind of error.
When you indie publish you’re getting your product to the audience faster. This means you get feedback from the audience faster. It also means you can adjust what you’re doing faster if you need to.
Knowledge is your most important asset when it comes to any business you are in. With indie publishing you get educated much quicker than if you were to get a traditional publishing contract and start your career that way.
Indie Publishing and the Power of Community
Another huge benefit of indie publishing is the community of authors that exists. The business of selling books is unlike any other. Despite what some would have you believe selling books is not a competitive business, especially on the indie publishing side.
When you go to the grocery store and buy a particular brand of additional you’re more likely to stick with that brand than to try a new brand. The fact that you like John Grisham doesn’t mean that you’re only going to buy John Grisham books.
When you’re publishing and marketing a new indie book, your best resources are going to be the authors who have come before you in the indie publishing space. Indie authors for the most part are approachable and they want to help new people. You can often contact them directly from their website. If you ask them a polite question often you will get a polite response with information that will help you be successful.
Be Willing to Change Course If Necessary
It’s important to realize that every author is different. What works for one author may not work for another. If you’ve released a few books and you’re not getting the sales that you’d like, look at what you’re doing and see if changing your approach might lead to different results.
If you’re not selling many books you’re not losing much by changing the way you do things. Some people are very successful using KDP select. Others are more successful by choosing to build a wide author platform.
The great thing about being an indie author is that almost nothing you do has to be permanent. Kevin once uploaded the wrong content file for a book that he published. He was able to fix that problem within 24 hours and contact the people who have downloaded the wrong version to help them update it. He was stressed the day it took to fix it but there were no lasting affects on his career.
Amazon Exclusive vs. Publishing Wide
Kevin suggests that new authors publish exclusively on Amazon for their first three books or so. Right now (April 2017) when you make your books exclusive to Amazon you have to do it 90 days at a time. When you go exclusive to Amazon you have a built-in group of readers for your book. You can give away the book for five days free, you can also put your book in Kindle Unlimited which allows subscribers to download your book for free while paying you more money than you would get for selling your book in many cases (as long as the person who downloads your book reads your book).
This strategy gives you visibility you would not otherwise have as a new indie author.
Kevin suggests that while you’re book is exclusive to Amazon you market beyond your Amazon readership so that you can build up anticipation in other markets.
Once you have an established readership and you have a backlist of several books consider releasing your early books to other markets. This allows you to get the benefit of being exclusive to Amazon while at the same time getting the most readers for your work over time.
The Importance of Thinking Long-Term and Writing More Than One Book
There are some authors who are successful just by publishing one book. In those cases it’s usually because they’re an expert in some field and the book is a sort of business card to get them booked as a speaker or consultant.
If you want to be a professional author the most important thing you can do after you write your first book is to write your second. Having a large backlist is a marketing tool in and of itself.
Just think about it. If you’re a fan of romance are you more likely to buy the book from the author who has published their first book or the author who has 40 books published?
Chances are unless you know the one book author you’re more likely to buy a book from the romance author who has 40 books out. The 40 book author has more points of entry for a reader. That means it’s more likely that you will pick up their book on your own and it’s more likely that the book will be recommended to you by someone you know who’s read it. The more content you have out in the world the easier it is to be discovered.
Links and Resources Mentioned in the Interview
http://www.draft2digital.com — and automated publishing platform that helps you distribute your books to many online booksellers. If you use draft to digital they take 10% of your royalties.
http://kevintumlinson.com — The website for all things Kevin Tumlison
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