Indie publishing is a dynamic industry. Changes can—and do—happen daily. It's what makes self-publishing a challenge, but it is also what makes it so thrilling. If you find staying on the pulse of an ever-changing, fluid industry to be exhilarating, then you are right in your element. Becoming an independent, self-published author is a great way to have fun, generate additional streams of revenue and build a new career.
In 2008, I was writing for television on General Hospital: Night Shift. The future looked promising—until the show was unexpectedly canceled. By 2009, I was unemployed but still not worried. After all, I had mad skills. I was a Northwestern graduate and had done post-grad work at UCLA. I had years of work experience in various fields. Another job should be right around the corner, right?
By the time 2010 rolled around, I was worried. My unemployment had run out, my savings were a thing of the past and there were no jobs. Forget writing, I couldn't even get work as a temp. I was using credit cards to pay the bills and scrambling for whatever odd jobs I could snag.
Fortunately, I had also finished writing my first novel about a woman who was in the same boat I was, Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She's Dead. The protagonist, Mara, had lost her job and her unemployment was running out. To top it off, she was evicted from her apartment, banned from Beverly Hills, and her tarot cards were predicting her imminent demise. So, against her better judgment, Mara used a little magic to make her world right, and that decision set off a life-changing cascade of events.
Inspired by friends who were indie authors, I decided to take the plunge into the indie world, hoping that by taking control over my career, for better or worse, I would be bringing a little magic into my life as well. After all, what did I have to lose? Career-wise, I had hit rock bottom.
That decision set off a life-changing cascade of events.
I finished the last rewrite of Tillie in April 2011, set up my publishing account in May and launched the book in June, sending it to book bloggers for reviews and authors for book blurbs. Then, in July, I officially let the world know that Tillie was available.
The first few months, I basically made coffee money—$25, $18 and so on. It was better than nothing, but I had no idea how it was going to pay the bills. My credit cards were maxed out, and I was working for a film producer for free, hoping it would lead to a paying gig.
The next decision I made would launch my career.
I co-wrote a short story with a friend for a charity anthology she was editing. Every Witch Way But Wicked was launched in October, featuring a number of already established, indie authors. It was for a good cause, all proceeds went to charity, and I never expected anything to come of it.
I was wrong.
Suddenly, readers who bought the anthology and read our story wanted more. By the end of October, I was floored to find out I had sold 226 copies of Tillie. The ball was rolling, and it was only going to get better.
In November, I sold more than 900 copies of Tillie. In December, I sold over 1,000 copies. And then Amazon launched Amazon Select, so I jumped in. When it comes to indie publishing, it's the early risk-takers who tend to reap the most rewards.
Thanks to Select, my visibility shot up and suddenly, I was selling between 1,700 and 3,300 copies of Tillie every month. By the end of June 2012, I had sold over 18,000 books, and I was getting fan mail from around the world. Every day was like Christmas, and every new review was a brightly wrapped present. I crunched numbers, tracked algorithm changes, explored marketing options and discussed the business of indie publishing incessantly.
It wasn't long before I stopped looking for a day job to fall back on and embraced my new career as a full-time indie writer.
Being an indie has enabled me to meet and befriend a world of readers, form friendships with other indie writers, build a dedicated fan base, pay my bills, rent an office, get my daughter into a better school district, pay down my student loans and fund a retirement account. What started as an experiment ended up completely changing my life.
As of this writing, Tillie has consistently been in the top 20 of the U.S. genre bestseller lists for the last nine months, and on the U.K. Bestseller list for the last month.
If you have a passion for writing, if you're ready to treat your career as a business, if you love having total control over your work and are willing to take on the extra responsibilities being an indie entails, this is your time to shine.
For the first time in history, you have the ability to bypass the gatekeepers, carve out your own career, control your product and reach out to readers directly. And you have the support system—from book sites like Kirkus and book bloggers, to freelance artists and editors, to an extended online support system of fellow indies—to make your dream of being a professional writer a reality.
If you're on the fence, I urge you to jump in and give it a try. This is the best time to be an indie. Indie publishing is the wild, wild West of the modern-day era. There are no hard-and-fast rules, everything changes on a daily basis, and the scrub-brushy piece of land you stake out today could wind up being the Napa Valley of tomorrow.
(Originally published on kirkusreviews.com as "Christiana Miller: The Self-Publishing Bestseller on 'How I Did It'.")