Bestselling thriller writer Scott Nicholson first entered the self-publishing field in 2010, after a six-book deal with a traditional publishing house, and has never looked back. Since then, he’s published over 20 novels, sold books to Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer and 47North, and has overseen the translation of his work into a dozen different languages. This week, I talk to Scott about his journey and the importance of diversifying your publishing business for long-term success.
Like many writers, Scott started out young, with a Super Peanuts story in the 6th grade, graduating to the high school newspaper, moving sideways to a rock band for a while, then back to journalism, and eventually to his first love: fiction. He worked hard, collecting 105 rejections before selling his first story. Eventually, he sold a six-book series to Kensington. Modest sales, however, led to the inevitable “death spiral” of smaller orders, and he was not picked up for more books.
It was a disappointing outcome, but everything changed at the end of 2009, when Scott discovered Amazon’s KDP program. He wasted no time securing the rights to his books back, and started publishing them as he continued to look for an agent to represent his unsold manuscripts. Pretty soon, Scott realized that self-publishing was a viable business, and that he could sell his books better than an agent could.
He released his books as the rights reverted back to him, and began to bundle his short stories into narrow genre collections like fantasy, science fiction, psychological horror, and supernatural horror.
All the while, Scott has been consistently producing new books. Even though he’s a bestselling thriller writer, his work spans many different genres. Scott’s After series, a post-apocalyptic story about what happens after the Earth is scorched by massive solar storms, is particularly popular, and he’s just released the sixth title in that series: After: Red Scare (AFTER post-apocalyptic series, Book 5).
Since his first ebook publication in 2010, Scott has since built up a considerable catalog of titles both self-published and published by big publishers, as well as collaborations with other writers, and boxed sets. He’s also expanded his worldwide reach by aggressively pursuing foreign translations through revenue-sharing deals with translators and proofers.
The publishing industry will always be changing and evolving, and Scott predicts that ebooks prices will inevitably go down and profits will shrink, and that authors will have to find other ways to monetize their work, perhaps through product placement and ads. It only makes sense, then, that writers work to expand their brand as much as they can, from pursuing foreign translations (although Scott suspects that Amazon will soon have an ACX-styled platform in the future that will facilitate this much easier), to going with a big publisher, to making their books available in audio.
Although he has a solid business mindset when it comes to his writing, Scott stresses that he’s still an artist. A lot of his project choices have less to do with market and business-strategic considerations, and more to do with what he has to say as an artist and what kinds of stories he wants to write, and he feels that’s really why readers follow him. They want something that’s genuinely Scott Nicholson, and he tries to stay true to that.
As far as the business side of things goes, Scott admits that he is not very data-driven, but prefers to keep a general feel for his business by keeping track of monthly trends instead of getting caught up in daily numbers. “I want to live a life that’s relaxing and enjoyable,” he says, “and that’s kind of how I live my life. It’s not data-driven, it’s emotional-driven.”
On series: “All good series don’t quite end. You know, the characters keep living their lives unless you end the world…and then everybody hates you.”
On writer’s block: “In journalism, if you have writer’s block, it’s called unemployment.”
On the limitations of agents: “When you look at it, the agents only have a few dozen customers, and I’ve got millions.”
On being a publisher: “I quickly realized, when you enter this business, your job isn’t writing books — your job is selling books.”
On business strategies in indie publishing: “We’re inventing this, so we get to do whatever we want.”
On the value of persistence: “If you stick around, you get noticed. So that’s the other thing. The system works for you. Stick around long enough, and things happen that — you know, somebody picks you up or promotes you, some ad site will pick you up. So just stay in the game.”
- Translate your books into foreign languages to maximize your brand. Scott has done this by building teams in each country. He does a royalty share, paying 20% to translators, and 5% to proofers. That way, he says, everyone is invested in the success of the book. He has found his translators through foreign publishers, meeting foreign writers on social media, and through translation sites. In the future, he anticipates that Amazon will make this process easier and more accessible to writers through an ACX-styled platform for foreign language translations, so keep an eye out!
- Seek out other writers for boxed sets. Scott Nicholson, J.A. Konrath, and Blake Crouch were one of the first ones to do a multi-author box set back in early 2012, and it resulted in wild success: they hit #1 within hours and gave away over 70,000 copies of their books in three days. Scott points out an untapped market is putting together boxed sets with similar authors in foreign markets and hopes to do that in the future.
- Use KDP’s pre-order option to set production deadlines and reader expectations. By doing this, Scott publishes a book about every three months, keeping his readership happy. He also points out that pre-orders are great for series.
- Collaborate. Whether it’s on a novel or contributing to a box set, collaborating with other authors allows you to share networks and expose you to a whole new audience while simultaneously building your brand. A win-win!
What strategies do you employ as an indie author/publisher to diversify your business, and which ones do you feel are most important to the success of your business?
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