Indie publishing year in review – becoming a top 50 KDP author, signing a Spanish book deal, and more

I don’t often talk about my self-publishing adventure or my life as an indie author of paranormal romance books and the odd science fiction romance, but I thought that I would take a moment to talk about it as we head towards the final days of 2011, because other indies seem to be genuinely interested in it.

I get emails asking about my self-publishing story and I think I’ve spoken enough about it in the past on various blogs that most people know how I got to where I am today, so in this post I’m going to focus on 2011 only, with the odd flashback to 2010 and my life prior to the ebook boom, roaming the wastelands of the book publishing world in search of the mirage that was ebooks hitting the big time.

What happened in 2011?

2011 was the year that I would really begin my journey as an indie author. I didn’t really know it back at the end of 2010, at least not before that crazy Christmas week, and even then I didn’t have a clue as to just how things were going to change for me.

Prior to this year, I had been waiting for ebooks to make it big and for the world to sit up and take notice of them. I have been self-publishing my books since 2006, when I formed Alinar Publishing with fellow author Alexandra Marell / Candy Nicks. Our vision was to create a friendly umbrella company for a select few authors that we knew so we could publish our books on places like Fictionwise. The idea was that we would work as a cooperative, helping each other promote our books to a wider audience. Every year we heard that ebooks were going to make it big and every year we waited for it to happen. I sold well back in those days. Probably more books that most authors who were e-published. It’s nothing compared to what I sell now, or what most indie authors can. Times were hard, and they were difficult times to work through. There wasn’t a chance that a self-published author, or even most e-published ones, could live on their royalties. Of course, it’s a whole different world now for indie authors. It’s really not that difficult any more to make some money on your ebooks because there is now a platform and a market for them, and indie books are more widely accepted by review sites and readers.

To get a feel for why 2011 was going to be a monumental year for me, I need to go back to 2010 and a decision I made.

In July 2010, I sold a whopping 2000 books on Amazon. Considering that I had released nothing new for around a year because I had been pursuing finding an agent with a book I had been working on the previous year, this was impressive to me. That translated to around $2000 earned. I figured that I could just about scrape by on that and the royalties I received from Smashwords per quarter, and with new books coming out in August, October and November 2010 and then a steady flow after that, I would be able to survive with perhaps only a small amount of contracting as a web developer to top up my earnings. It would have been a definite drop from my £40,000 a year salary as a developer without the contracting but all of a sudden being a full-time writer was a possibility. I had always joked with my husband about staying at home and writing all day, and it was meant to be nothing more than something we would laugh over. It wasn’t supposed to become a reality. Sales went up and down, but by November I had crunched the figures a thousand times and decided that they were steady enough to provide a small income and that I could take a shot at it. If it all went wrong, I would go back to contracting and then eventually back into a full-time developer position.

So, in December I handed in my notice at the company I was working for in London. I was on a three month notice, so would have to wait it out until the end of February 2011 before I became a full-time indie author. I set aside what I could each month as a contingency fund to see me through the bleaker months. I am a realist after all. I don’t expect the ebook boom to last without a little backlash at some point. I’m still waiting for it to happen. I sit here every morning grabbing my daily sales figures, watching them like a hawk, and have done that since early 2010 when I first put my books on Amazon.

I don’t think anyone could have predicted what happened over the Christmas week in December 2010. Sales on Amazon tripled, and sales at other retailers I sell at via Smashwords also shot up. I think many indie authors on Amazon KDP were left gobsmacked by the sky-rocketing sales figures they were seeing and as we went into the New Year we were all left waiting for the bubble to burst. I know I was watching my figures wondering when they were going to return to normal.

Well, they didn’t. I went from selling around 2700 in November, to 4400 in December, and then 8300 in January 2011. It didn’t go down as I had expected. In February I came close to selling 10,000 books in one month on Amazon. Considering this was also the month where I was out of action for two weeks because of my ear operation, I was surprised to see the numbers still rising. I put it down to the fact that in January I released Love Immortal, a vampire romance novel, and in February Hunter’s Moon came out, which is the ninth book in my Vampires Realm series.

In March 2011, I became a full-time indie author. I had visions of just working a few hours a day on writing, as I had when working as a full-time web developer, but that just isn’t the way I work. I think I have worked around 8 to 11 hours a day since going full-time. That may seem crazy to some people, but it works for me and it allows me to do my writing and do everything else that I have set out to do in order to build my author platform. Believe me, even with that many hours put in each day, I am still behind on a multitude of things. March was also the month that I broke the 10k barrier of sales on Amazon.

I was receiving around $13,000 in royalties each month. I don’t tend to talk sales figures because I don’t like to feel I’m throwing it in people’s faces. I feel extremely fortunate that readers enjoy my books enough to keep buying them, and that all my hard work over the past five years as an indie author has begun to pay off. I try to tell myself that I have worked damned hard to achieve what I have and that I should probably be a little more proud of my achievements than I am. I know that some indie authors like to see how others more established than them are doing, so I hope this buoys them up and gives them a reason to keep pursuing their dream.

In March, I also made the decision to leave Alinar Publishing. It wasn’t an easy one to make because I had grown with the authors there but I felt it was time to focus on my own career so I could really make a go of it and wanted to move on. I don’t regret it. Life is too short for regrets. It was great while it lasted but it was also a lot of work and time for me that I felt was better spent on my own books and career. I no longer had the time to run another website. Not if I wanted to improve my own and do all the other things I had written down on my plan for the year, such as touring blogs with my books.

Settling in to life as a full-time indie author was hard at first. I remodelled my office, strove to find some harmony in working from home and headed to cafes whenever that wasn’t working, and often lost focus due to the internet. The internet is the bane of a writer. It sucks up your time and your productivity bombs.

In April I released my next book, Ascension, and kicked off my first official blog tour. I had done a few posts at blogs prior to this for my previous books, Love Immortal and Hunter’s Moon, but this was the first time I would be writing posts about my books, character interviews, and a ménage of other things all in a concentrated period. My blog tour basically lasted a year. I arranged dates throughout the entire year as I knew I would be releasing at least another three novels, one of which was the next book in a popular series of mine, Her Guardian Angel. I met some wonderful people at the book blogs and it was great working with them and getting to know them as I toured with each of my books, and touring their blogs again in 2012 is part of what I’m looking forward to most about the coming year.

It took me quite a while to find my balance as a full-time writer. I’m still not sure that I’ve found it but things began to improve in May, even though my sales figures had dipped again because I removed some books from sale in April.

In June, something incredible happened and I still smile whenever I think about it now. I received an email from a large Spanish publisher who were interested in translating some of my books. We discussed them all and they were quite settled on publishing my Her Angel series in Spanish. They had a few paranormal romance authors on their books already, such as Christine Feehan and Kresley Cole, and wanted my angel romances for the same imprint as the Christine Feehan books. I agreed and then we did the usual contract back and forth. I don’t have an agent at the moment, but I was lucky enough to have my friend Maria’s husband offer to take a look at the contract and his advice was invaluable.

We agreed on everything in the end and the first book, the anthology of my Her Angel novellas Her Dark Angel, Her Fallen Angel and Her Warrior Angel will be published in February 2012 with Booket. It’s very exciting not only because this is the first time I have received an advance from a publisher, but because I’ll get to see my heroes speaking Spanish and will see the books in large retail stores whenever I visit Barcelona and on top of that I designed the front cover image for the book too. I supplied a design idea for it when we were discussing the cover design they had come up with and they loved it.

So my life as an indie author was on the up. To celebrate the release of Her Guardian Angel at the very end of July, I put Her Dark Angel on offer at 99 cents on Amazon Kindle and some of the book blogs I had been working with were kind enough to promote the offer for me. Her Dark Angel sold 2000 copies in that first month, and went on to sell 3000 in the next two months. In total it sold close to 14,000 copies between January and November 2011 on Amazon Kindle, making it my best seller for the year and also pushing it into the best seller positions on Amazon. It was number 1 in paranormal romance on UK and US.

By the start of November and the release of Heart of Darkness, my sixth novel of the year, I had worked my way into the top 50 Amazon KDP authors and had sold over 100,000 books in 2011 under my two names of Felicity Heaton and F E Heaton. I hadn’t really considered how well I was doing before this point. I wasn’t thinking about my book sales in terms of the year. It was a monthly thing for me and I wasn’t adding up the figures as I went, rolling one month into the next. I wasn’t even keeping track of how well particular books were doing. My focus was on total daily sales and trying to keep those on track.

I think the sales figures don’t just show my hard work and the benefit of new releases, but they reflect the increase in ebook sales in general too. In the whole of 2010, I sold 22,000 books at Amazon. Bearing in mind that I didn’t have my entire backlist of books added until summer 2010, I thought this figure was rather good. If December ends up like November, then I have experienced around a 550% increase in my book sales this year on Amazon alone. According to people like Bowker, ebook market share has increased by 10% this year. If a 10% increase in market share, plus the amount of hours I put into promotion, marketing and writing, and the steady number of releases I put out, equals a 550% increase in sales, then I think I shall probably do the same again next year! I only wish I could break into the Apple and BN market more. At the moment, around 79% of my book sales come from Amazon, and 21% come from other retailers. Around 10% of that is Apple, and probably around 5% is BN. I put the low BN numbers down to the fact that as a UK indie author, I can’t use their Pubit! scheme and that they promote Pubit! books more than they promote books from Smashwords etc.

But I digress.

In November, Forbidden Blood was nominated as Best PNR Vampire Romance 2011 at The Romance Reviews. I couldn’t compete with the authors I was up against, but was honoured to see my book there alongside Lara Adrian, J R Ward and Gena Showalter. It’s at this point I began to feel that I really was close to making it and living the dream I’d had about being an author. I adore those authors, and Christine Feehan. They are some of the top paranormal romance authors and it was thrilling to see my book there competing with theirs, and it will be thrilling to see my book in Spanish bookstores next to Christine Feehan next year.

As we head towards the New Year, I do feel as though I’m on the verge of making it. I have big plans for next year, for the next few years in fact, and will continue to pursue my dream and do all I can to make it happen. I’m realistic. I’ve never had fantastic luck like some people and a lot of making it big in publishing is luck. That isn’t going to stop me. With a lot of hard work and effort, good old fashioned elbow grease, I feel I can achieve anything that I put my mind to or set my heart on. I’m never one to back down from a challenge, so I’ll be striding into 2012 with my head held high and determined to beat the system and snatch a shot at my dreams.

What I’m taking away from 2011 isn’t about book sales or royalties though. It’s the sense that I can make it, that I have what it takes and I write books that people want to read and even fall in love with. That knowledge inspires me and gives me the strength to keep going, to keep pushing and keep trying. What I’m taking away from 2011 are all the kind words people have sent to me, whether it’s in emails, on Facebook or Twitter, or in reviews for my books. It’s all the laughs I’ve shared with the people I’ve met on Facebook. All the friendship offered to me by bloggers around the world who have taken a moment out of their busy schedules to host me on their blog or help me promote my books. I’m taking away the kindness I was shown by everyone I met, the appreciation and praise for my books, as that’s what gave me the most pleasure this year and that’s what will keep me writing in 2012 and for a long time to come. Being an author isn’t about book sales and royalties. I spent four years without much of those, but kept going because of the people I met and the love they showed my books. I write because I want to reach readers, not make a fast buck. I want to give something to people, a world full of possibilities and romance, and fantastic heroines and heroes they can fall in love with. I am thankful to everyone who has read my books, and doubly thankful to those who took a few minutes to let me know they had enjoyed them. I am grateful for all the friends I made in 2011, and I’m looking forward to stepping into 2012 with you all at my side.

If you’re an indie author with a question, or anyone with a question, feel free to leave it in the comments section and I’ll reply to you as soon as possible.

About Felicity Heaton

I'm a NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY best-selling author writing passionate paranormal romance books as Felicity Heaton and F E Heaton. In my books I create detailed worlds, twisting plots, mind-blowing action, intense emotion and heart-stopping romances with leading men that vary from dark deadly vampires to sexy shape-shifters and wicked werewolves, to sinful angels and hot demons! If you're a fan of paranormal romance authors Lara Adrian, Larissa Ione, Kresley Cole, J R Ward, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Gena Showalter and Christine Feehan then you will love my books too.

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