When I was growing up I wanted to be an archaeologist. Imagine the surprise 10-year-old me would feel if she knew that I grew up to be an Indie Romance Author.
Of course, that’s not all I am. I spend my days on campus as a postgrad student and teaching assistant. But when that road ends so does the scholarship that sustains me, and possibly the freedom that comes from not working a 9-5. I was faced with a dilemma. How can I do what I want, when I want, and make a living?
I’d toyed with the idea of writing romance for a long time. While still in high school I started to write my first one (about an archaeologist). It was a natural progression. I’d begun reading romance from a young age, an inheritance from my mother, and her mother. The genre was irresistible and I surrendered to it with all the romantic idealism and yearning a teenage girl can muster — which is an awful lot.
While my undergrad years taught me to broaden my reading horizons in ways that made me an infinitely better writer, wiser about the human condition, romances continue to compel my reader’s heart. There is something about happily ever after that soothes the ache of living.
There were other aborted attempts since that first foray, but crossing the threshold between romance reader and writer continued to elude me. Until now.
In the last six months I’ve published four books. So what changed?
I’m going to be honest here. I went to a session about how to write and sell erotica online. Now, I don’t write erotica, but it seemed logical that many of the principles would transfer to romance writing, particularly since I write very sexy romance (what’s the difference?).
There were some valuable takeaways from that session, and I’ve learned a lot since then. So here are my Top 5 tips if you are starting out as an Indie Romance Writer.
- Use a pseudonym. It will liberate your writing
- Start small. My first book was only 12,000 words
- Write a series, and in book 1 include the hero and heroine featuring in book 2
- Build an email list so you can let readers know about your new releases
- Publish to Amazon Kindle because they dominate the market
Use a pseudonym
Humans are judgmental. We form opinions about everything, even if we aren’t prepared to say them out loud. If you read romance then you’ve felt that judgmental gaze. Many romance readers are still in the closet.
If it’s hard for people to admit they read romance, how much harder it is to admit you write romance? Sexy, erotic romance.
The stigma casts a shadow over the writing process. Every time you type a sentence, a little voice asks, what if someone I know reads this? My colleagues. My friends. My kids. Their teachers.
They censor you.
But there is a solution. Open a new document. Type your title. Then, underneath, type the name of your secret romance-writer-self. The one that’s not afraid of discovery, who shall not be censored. Who might blush as s/he writes, but doesn’t hesitate over the keys.
In this industry, this is a smart, safe, common thing to do.
A pseudonym liberates you.
Erotica has a higher price point than other short works. You can write 3,000 words and charge a couple of dollars. Thousands of people are doing this. More power to them. But you can’t develop a romantic relationship — the kind that romance readers expect, emotional as well as physical — with so few words.
That doesn’t mean you have to write a 50,000-word novel either. My first book, Bare in the Bar, was only 12,000 words. I felt that was the minimum I could write for the $2.99 price-point that Kindle required if I wanted 70 per cent royalty instead of only 35 per cent.
I wrote it in a weekend. 7,000 words on Saturday, 5,000 on Sunday. (Editing took several more days.) It was an experiment. To see just how quickly I could write a saleable novella. If it was feasible around my other commitments. If I could pack it into a tiny amount of dedicated time, like NaNoWriMo.
Yes, I sacrificed in some areas. The plot could be stronger. The ratio of story to intimacy is low. I rely on ‘telling’ to flesh out backstory and characterisation a little more than I should. But you know what? I’m damn proud of it anyway. Because it signified a tangible accomplishment, and it opened my eyes to the possibilities of publishing romance online.
Despite the flaws, it’s still a quality book. As of writing this, it averages 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon (from 19 reviews) and 4.2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads (from 46 ratings). Reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
A common thread in those reviews was that readers wished the story was longer, and as my journey evolves so does my word count. My next two books, Caging Ash and Wolf Down, were 20,000 words. I’m thinking about expanding Bare in the Bar to match them. And now I’m writing a new, full-length novel because they generally sell better than novellas. But I worked up to this.
Sometimes, starting small lets you do just that. Start.
Write a series
Writing a series is an excellent strategy to earn loyal readers. I frequently read a book then immediately buy the rest of the series. (Case in point: Nalini Singh’s fabulous Psy/Changeling series. Best ever.)
So I came up with a simple concept that aligned with current paranormal romance trends (romance readers generally know what’s selling because we’re buying it). I called it Shifter Town. Here’s a series description I wrote for Smashwords:
Rosewood, Tennessee, or Shifter Town as the locals call it, has the biggest population of shifters co-existing with humans in the country. Lions, bears, wolves, you name it, and this town has it. Along with more than its fair share of alphas. They’re the lawmen, bartenders, construction workers. Ever met an alpha librarian? In Shifter Town you will. These hot, unforgettable men find their mates in the women of Rosewood, some willingly and some less so, but always in a story worth telling, in this sexy new series by Novalee Swan.
When you publish as an indie author it can be hard to find readers. Hell, it’s hard in traditional publishing. Be strategic. Ensure that whoever reads your first book wants your second one as well. Is desperate for it. The best way to do that is to tempt them. In romance, you do it with secondary characters who are begging for their own story.
A few tension-filled scenes between these characters is catnip for romance readers.
Build an email list
Building an email list of readers is critically important. At the end of Bare in the Bar I included a synopsis for Caging Ash (book 2) before I’d even written it, and a subscription form where readers could provide their email address to be alerted when it was available. (There are plenty of blog articles that explain how to set one up.)
I began getting subscribers straight away. Not many at first, but between books 2 and 3 in the series I wrote Ride, a free story to give away to anyone who subscribed. I included the synopsis and cover in the back matter of all my books, and subscriptions increased.
Now, whenever I release a new book I send my subscribers an email. Many of them buy a copy and some write reviews, both of which helps new readers find my books.
After four books and six months, I’ve got several hundred subscribers and the list grows every week.
Publish on Kindle
I love my iPad and usually buy my books from iBooks for convenience. But Amazon is the biggest book retailer in the world and Kindle, their ebook store, has over 50 per cent market share. It only makes sense to start here.
That’s not to say don’t publish anywhere else; diversification is important. But it’s time consuming. It wasn’t until after my third book that I investigated other platforms to sell, like ibooks and Smashwords (the latter manages distribution to multiple retailers on your behalf). I’ve yet to get their sales reports, but I’m looking forward to comparing them with my Kindle sales.
Kindle Direct Publishing is also easy to use and is the foremost DIY self-publishing platform. It’s free (apart from the cut they take if you sell a book), you retain copyright and Kindle’s gatekeepers let anyone publish.
In a global market, Kindle is the strongest contender.
So those are my top five tips for starting out as an Indie Romance Author. They helped set me on the right track, though I’m still learning. There are new things I’m going to try: pre-orders, Goodreads giveaways, new strategies to build my mailing list, guest blogging and blog tours… I have plans. But all in good time.
Stay tuned to hear more, and here’s what I want you to remember. I’m not suggesting that being an Indie Romance Author is easy. It’s not. But don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
Indie Romance Author