Despite the huge popularity of series, psychological suspense author Maggie James is finding her own way to success writing stand-alone novels. In this week’s episode, Maggie talks to us from Thailand where she is living the nomadic writer’s dream about how she went from accountant to full-time writer and what it was like to receive the call from Amazon.
Maggie James worked as an accountant for many years, but it had always been her lifelong aspiration to become a novelist. So in 2010, she turned in her resignation and set out to travel for a year while writing her first book His Kidnapper’s Shoes, a story about a man who discovers that the woman he knows as his mother is actually his kidnapper.
Maggie published His Kidnapper’s Shoes on Amazon in 2013, and since then has added three more novels and one novella of psychological suspense. In December of 2014, she took the plunge and started writing full-time and hasn’t looked back since. Earlier this year, she signed a contract with Lake Union, an Amazon Publishing imprint, to re-publish His Kidnapper’s Shoes (due out November 2016) and for her next book Burning Obsession. She is currently in Thailand living out her dream as a nomadic novelist.
When a representative from Amazon called out of the blue expressing interest in her work, even though she did her due diligence and spoke to other Lake Union authors before signing the contract, there was no question in her mind that she would say yes.
Amazon has all the data, she says, meaning they can push a book in a huge way that a single indie author can’t. They also move more quickly than traditional publishers. Typical traditional contracts often take 18 to 24 months to release a book onto the market. Maggie is currently working with her editor at Amazon to improve His Kidnapper’s Shoes, and it will be out within a few months.
They’ve been an absolute joy to work with, she says. She has nothing but praise for the good people at Lake Union. In fact, Maggie’s been so delighted with her editor, that she’s requested her for future Lake Union projects, and she’s also hired her to re-edit her other indie-published books. By the end of 2016, all of her books will have been professionally edited, something she wasn’t able to afford previously, but she feels it’s absolutely worth the investment.
“I think it’s up to every author to put out a book that’s as polished and is professional as possible.”
Slow Burn Marketing
Maggie says that her marketing skills are not her strongest suit; however, she has taken notes from Mark Dawson and Nick Stephenson and done quite well with it.
To offer potential readers a “taster” of her style of fiction, Maggie wrote a novella called Blackwater Lake that she’s made perma-free. Since its publication date in September 2015, she’s had over 120,000 downloads exposing her work to loads more readers than before.
Maggie also has her fourth novel The Second Captive on offer as a lead magnet for new subscribers. She happily reports that it has exploded her mailing list.
Another thing she does that’s a bit unusual is she offers other authors’ books for free in her newsletters that she thinks her readers will enjoy (with the author’s permission, of course). Her readers enjoy getting turned on to new authors, and the authors are able to pick up new readers.
“It’s about treating your readers like people you’d like to be friends with and making sure you’re useful to them and give them something of value.”
Advice to New Authors
There’s still a stigma, Maggie laments, that self-published books are inferior to traditional published books, so it’s essential that individual indie publishers strive to make sure the books that they publish are of the very best quality. To give anything less would be disrespectful to readers.
So be as professional as possible in every sense. Invest in an editor as soon as you can, or at least a good proofreader. Invest in the best cover you can. Get your website and mailing list set up early on. Just be professional. Operate in every way you would expect a traditional author would behave.
- Write what you feel good about. With everyone in the indie space touting the almost-can’t-miss-success of writing series, it might be discouraging to stand-alone book authors. Maggie herself has examined her work with an eye for series, but the type of fiction she writes doesn’t lend itself well to series, which is fine by her. She’s rather passionate about getting into a fresh new story for each book, and so that’s what works for her.
- Set goals and track them. Maggie sets a daily word count and tracks her progress on a spreadsheet, a strategy she finds very motivating.
- Set up passive marketing funnels. In Maggie’s case, she’s set up two: a perma-free novella and a lead magnet novel. Once you’ve got something like that set up, there’s not too much you have to do to tend to it. Maggie says she will probably change the free novel she has currently on offer eventually, but otherwise both books are out there in the world quietly and automatically attracting readers to her brand. Consider giving away a novella or even a short story to attract new readers in the same way.
- Embrace the “slow burn” mentality. Authors are regaled daily in the indie publishing space with tales of overnight success, but Maggie points out that most people aren’t ready to be thrust suddenly into the limelight. She herself has enjoyed the slow and steady growth of her career and encourages other authors to do the same. It gives an author time to grow and mature into their role as a publisher and be able to effectively meet the demands and expectations of their audience. So it’s understandable to keep one eye to the skies for that lightning strike in case it might come, but as long as you focus each day on building your business up one book at a time, one fan at a time, you will be fine.
For more tips on getting started, check out Maggie’s non-fiction book for new authors: Write Your Novel! From Getting Started to First Draft
Maggie is doing wonderfully with her stand-alone books despite the trend towards writing series. What current “conventional” wisdom in the indie space are you ignoring in favor of something else, and how is going?
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