Indie Thoughts: Lessons from Heather Justesen

From Heather Justesen, who writes clean romance.

Two years ago I was working full-time for peanuts (seriously, it didn’t even cover the mortgage–and we didn’t live in a palace.) I quit to write full-time before I went completely insane. By December 2012 I had replaced my c-store income. By April 2013 I earned enough to pay ALL of our bills. Since then I’ve been the primary wage earner for our family, allowing my husband to close the business that was sucking all of the life out of him, and for us to move halfway across the country. He does bring in some money still, but even in my worst month we can pay all of the bills from my writing income. I’ve sold (real sales, not counting freebies) over 60K books in the past eighteen months. I’ve got audiobooks for most of my indie titles and I’m starting to see sales into bookstores. I would have to have one heck of an offer to even consider a traditional publisher’s contract. I’m very happy the way things are.

* * * *

Kevin, don’t lose hope. I have books that sell in the single digits every single month despite great reviews. And I have books in a different genre that sell really well every month (not blockbuster well, not top 100 well, but enough for us to get by on.) I didn’t do it with the first or second book, or the fourth book, I had nine books out before I started to make pay-the-bills money, and most of the money, even now that I have 18, comes from a single series. The others make very little [emphasis added]. Maybe give the genre a twist and try something a little different, but still in your general area of interest. Try a different genre that interests you, or just hang on and keep writing. Get feedback, learn more, and keep working at it. I wrote for nearly a decade before I had a book good enough to be in print (before Kindle really took off, or I had enough trust in myself to go it alone, so it was with a small press.) This is a craft, you can’t learn it overnight and success rarely comes overnight[emphasis added].

Having three books out making six figures a month is crazy good, and definitely not the norm, and yeah those kinds of numbers can be discouraging, but a lot of the other stories here show that it can come. Most people who persevere eventually start to make decent money in indie publishing if they’re doing everything else right. Your covers are pretty good, so try changing up the descriptions and see if that helps. And keep writing.

More on The Passive Voice.

A series, lots of product, and an audience that has been under-served for years.

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