Adam Croft is an Indie author and a counterpoint to anyone who says you can’t make a living through Indie publishing. He’s sold more than 1.5 million books and once bumped J.K. Rowling off the USA Today bestseller list. His ‘Knight and Culverhouse’ thrillers have sold more than 250,000 copies worldwide, and his Kempston Hardwick mysteries have been adapted as audio dramas starring some of the biggest names in British TV.
He’s also published several books in his Indie Author Mindset series, a great tool for Indie authors.
In this episode we discuss the following:
- Professionalism as an Indie
- Business & Creative hats
- Kindle v’s Wide
- Bookbub, FB & Amazon Ads
- Vellum & formatting
- Pre-orders, discounting and other stategies
- Thinking longterm
- Never giving up
- Levelling up & aiming higher
- Launch Strategies
- Branding & Marketing
- Keywords, tags an keeping your website up to date
- and more…
You can find out more about Croft and his books here.
And don’t forget, if you haven’t subscribed to Author Success Magazine, you can check it out here.
Mel Adam Croft is an Indie author and a counterpoint to anyone who says you can’t make a living through Indie publishing. He’s sold more than 1.5 million books and once bumped J.K. Rowling off the USA Today bestseller list. His ‘Knight and Culverhouse’ thrillers have sold more than 250,000 copies worldwide, and his Kempston Hardwick mysteries have been adapted as audio dramas starring some of the biggest names in British TV. He’s also published several books in his Indie Author Mindset series, a great tool for Indie authors. Adam, tell us about your success.
Adam I think you covered it pretty succinctly there! I’ve been doing this for ten years now. It’s interesting that, as you say, people think you can’t make a living Indie publishing, when all the data points to the fact that, on the whole, Indie publishers sell more books and earn more money than traditionally published authors. Research last year showed that the average traditionally published author makes about A$16,000 a year. That’s remarkably low, and that’s for an author with a long sought-after publishing contract from one of the big houses! The misconception that Indie publishing is a fallback option is completely false. I turn down up to half a dozen publishing contracts a year – just by looking at them, I can see that they’re not going to earn me nearly as much as I can do myself. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be! I have had a traditional publishing contract, and tried to get out of it as quickly as I possibly could.
Mel I wanted to talk to you about taking control of your own career and owning the rights to your intellectual property.
Adam It’s vital, especially these days when things move so quickly. Handing over the rights to something for even a couple of years, let alone for life, is just barmy. There’s just no reason to do it, because things change so quickly and you need to be agile. That’s one of the problems with big publishers at the moment. They’re not agile. They’re still doing things the way they’ve been doing them for years.
That’s why I write a lot about mindset for Indie authors, because that’s what stays relevant. Mindset is the bones of the matter. It’s also something people skip over when they get too much into the detail of whether Facebook ads or BookBub ads are better, or whether it’s this new thing. There’s always new stuff coming out in this industry. Yes, you need to be able to be agile and respond to those things when they happen – but it’s not all about the details. Getting the basics in place first is crucial for anyone.
There’s a lot out there to confuse people. I don’t think I’d want to be starting out as an Indie author now – it’s much more difficult than it was when I first started. Back then there weren’t as many authors, the fields were much easier to plow through… There was really only Amazon and Apple out there as retailers, and some defunct providers like Sony, who no longer do eBooks. Facebook ads didn’t exist; Twitter was only a year or two old.
It was a completely different industry. But the basic prerequisites or success, and the way of thinking about things – those haven’t changed. Being an Indie author is not just being a writer. It’s being a businessperson, an administrator, a statistician. Those things all need focus in a modern world.
Mel In your latest book ‘The Indie Author Checklist’, you talk about the importance of finding your market.
Adam Yes. A lot of beginning writers try to work cross-genre, or write in markets that perhaps don’t strictly exist. There’s a reason why publishers so often turn those books down – because they can’t find an audience for them. The book does need to be good, and it does need to be targeted. It’s not the case that internet marketing will help you sell any old book. It doesn’t work like that.
I have struggled and still do struggle to sell a great number of my books. I’ve had three or four major successes, but I’ve written 20-odd books, and the others sell fairly modestly. It’s at the level now where it provides me a decent income, but those books alone, without the big successes, wouldn’t have propelled me to stardom or anything. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here doing this podcast.
Mel And we never know which book will be the one that takes off. For Adam it was ‘Her Last Tomorrow’, and it allowed him to pay off his mortgage. It’s really cool!
Adam It is, yeah. But that’s my ninth book, and a lot of people have this preconception that there was this overnight success. At that point I’d been publishing for five years, and I’d earned very little from it. So it’s not quite as impressive as some of the headlines like to make out. It was a book that came along at the right time. I didn’t know at the time, but it’s changed my life completely.
Mel And you still don’t know where the first seven thousand sales of that book came from, do you?
Adam Not a clue. They came out of nowhere. This was back in early 2011, and it was easier back then to have an accidental success, which is difficult to do nowadays.
Mel Going back to writing to market – it leaves a bit of a bad taste in people’s mouths. But if you’re writing romance or thrillers, you want to make sure your books are recognizable to readers, don’t you?
Adam Yes. It’s not really about writing to market – there’s a subtle difference. It’s writing while being aware of whether there is a market. You shouldn’t look at what people are reading and think, “I’m going to write one of those.” It’s about writing what you want to write and publishing what you want to publish, but being aware that if there isn’t a market for your book, you can’t blame the market. It’s being aware of market forces.
I’ve done it completely accidentally. When I wrote ‘Her Last Tomorrow’, I didn’t even know what ‘psychological thriller’ meant. All I knew is that I was writing a crime novel from the point of view of the victim, rather than the investigator – getting inside the mind of the person who was most affected by it. And it turned out that apparently that’s a psychological thriller, and psychological thrillers are really huge! So you can hit things at the right time accidentally. It’s a case of being aware of what the market is, not reverse-engineering your book to what you think is popular. It’s being aware of whether it’s going to be popular, and setting your expectations accordingly.
Mel Even the tagline of ‘Her Last Tomorrow’ is intriguing – ‘Could you murder your wife to save your daughter?’
Adam Yes. I’ve thought a lot about what made ‘Her Last Tomorrow’ so successful so that I can try and replicate it. The concept is a part of that. ‘Tell Me I’m Wrong’ has overtaken ‘Her Last Tomorrow’ as my bestselling book, and it goes down the same lines.
A concept like ‘Could you murder your wife to save your daughter?’ speaks to everybody. It speaks to human instinct; it speaks directly to people, asking them a question. It gives the reader an impossible choice, which compels readers to pick up the book. I’ve done it a couple of times since, with a couple of different blurbs.
It’s not necessarily going to work for every book and every genre. Constructing that kind of blurb may not appeal to, say, sci-fi readers in the same way. But psychological thrillers have a wider audience. People respond to my ads and say, ‘I haven’t read a book in years but I was compelled by your hook.’ As another example, the tagline for ‘Tell Me I’m Wrong’ is ‘What if your husband was a serial killer?’ Again, that speaks to people. It’s about a domestic situation – most people have got a partner or a husband or a wife, so you start thinking, ‘What would I do if I was in that scenario?’
Mel You publish four to six books a year, so ideas are vital, aren’t they?
Adam Yes. Getting books published, getting material out there, is key for Indie authors – though not at the expense of quality, of course. For example, my first book took me two and a half years, for a 23,00-word novella. I started off very slow, but I’m getting the hang of it now. But yes, having lots of material is important. I make preorders available for my books, so people have the book land on their devices at midnight on the day of release. I wake up at 7.00am, 8.00am, and I’ll already have a couple of emails from readers who waited up to read it when it came out at midnight, and who have already finished it by the time I’ve woken up. I’d have to have another one ready by lunchtime to write quickly enough for readers! It’s not about writing enough. There is no such thing as enough; it’s not humanly possible. So it’s about writing as much as you can, as quickly as you can, without compromising quality.
Mel There are tools a writer can use to capitalize on that enthusiasm – like mailing lists.
Adam Yes. Mailing lists are absolutely key, for a number of reasons. Firstly, this is one of the only businesses in the world where you don’t have access to your own customers. In any other business, you would have direct contact with your customers. They would be coming directly to you; you would know who they are. Gatekeepers still exist in this industry. If you’re selling through Amazon or another retailer, that retailer has access to customer data and you don’t. Mailing lists enable you to get over that by having direct access to people. You can email them when you have a new book out. You can keep in touch with them. And at some point, retailers are going to cease to exist. Amazon might decide tomorrow to stop selling eBooks, and you need to have contingency plans.
Amazon also won’t necessarily tell people when you have a new book out. You need to be able to do that yourself! Mailing lists are also superb for selling your backlist. You might email them once a week with a story you’ve seen in the news that’s similar to your book, or with a bit of backstory about what influenced the book. People who’ve read it get extra depth and extra flavour, and people who haven’t read it get a little nudge to go and buy it.
Mel When I signed up to Adam’s mailing list, I got sent two books straight away. That’s a great hook, isn’t it?
Adam Yes, and it’s nothing new. It’s a case of looking at what businesses do in other sectors and deciding whether it can apply to you. Sending free books is the equivalent of that guy who stands in the supermarket and says, “Would you like to try this new sausage we’ve got?” It’s giving people a little taste of what the books are about. There are a lot of books out there, and readers stick to what they know and love. So giving someone a couple of short stories or a couple of books makes them more likely to buy the rest.
Mel That’s what helpful about your ‘Indie Author Checklist’ – it’s a reminder of what we should be doing and the tools we can use.
Adam The feedback I got was that it was a kick up the backside – a shove into the next gear. There’s a lot to remember in this industry. I mention in the book that several times I’ve forgotten to do basic things at critical stages of book launches. It’s an easy go-to guide that gives you a new angle on things and new ways to success, rather than something to follow religiously so you’ll be successful.
Mel You started out with trial-and-error too. You just kept trying things, and it’s your energy that’s gotten you to where you are.
Adam I guess so. I love doing this job and I wouldn’t do anything else. I’ve always written in my spare time. My dream was always to earn enough money from writing that I didn’t need to do anything else and could spend my days writing. Of course it doesn’t work out like that – sometimes I don’t write for weeks on end because there’s so much other stuff that needs doing. But this is still my job, I still love it, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. So I’ve always been determined to make a success of it.
Maybe that’s the mindset you need. You need to want it.
Mel I’m going to stick my neck out and say that if you want it and take advice on Indie publishing, you will have some level of success, because the structures that are in place put us on a level playing field with traditional publishers.
Adam The facts are fairly simple. If you’ve got a book and you shop it around to agents and publishers, even with a decent book you’ve got a one percent chance of it being published. If you write and independently publish a book, you will sell copies. Guaranteed, someone will buy your book. Statistically speaking, someone will buy it.
Already you have a guarantee of some level of success – you will be a published author and you will sell copies. Whether you sell enough to make a full-time living of it is largely down to you. It’s not something that will just happen, and it’s not something you can make happen by spending an hour or two a week on it. It requires applied effort and a lot of time. The growth curve isn’t a straight line. You’ll be putting in 16-hour days for four or five years. You feel like you’re making no progress for a long time – and then at some point the reward kicks in and pays off.
Mel Let’s talk about book launches. One thing you stress in your Indie Author Mindset series is that we’re here for the long game.
Adam Yes. Book launches used to be an important thing, because if you put out a book with a big publisher you had to sell lots of copies in the first few weeks, otherwise the book came off the shelves to make room for the next big thing. But books don’t have a shelf life now. They’re available in perpetuity. I’ve got books that are ten years old that still sell copies every day. You can always do some marketing and spike the sales all over again.
It’s no longer the case that a book sells well at launch and then dies off, so launches aren’t as important anymore. I don’t do massive launch marketing at all. My marketing budget will go to new books that I think have marketable hooks and will be successful, or to the first books in my series so that I can funnel readers through. Readers buying every book in a ten-book series is where you really get your success.
Mel You sometimes throw £1000 a day at your marketing budget, don’t you?
Adam I have done, but only if I make back more than I’m spending. I never throw £1000 at something experimentally. I always start off with £10 or £20, and if that £10 or £20 brings me back £30 or £40, then I’ll increase the spending incrementally and see if it carries on paying back. If it does, I’ll obviously keep spending more – doubling £10 is lovely, and doubling £1000 is nicer. But there are times when I spend very little on advertising, because for whatever reason I’m not getting a return from it. Maybe the ad’s been running for a little while and needs refreshing. It depends.
That’s the beauty of this. You can be flexible, and chop and change depending on the results you see day to day. I can see what I’ve spent on ads today right on my computer, and I can see if there are sales coming in from those.
Mel You’ve also talked in the past about writing through Scrivener and publishing through Vellum. Vellum’s always been a formatting place of choice, hasn’t it?
Adam It’s a beautiful piece of software. You can just pull your books into it and it’ll create beautiful-looking eBooks and paperbacks, and large print editions now as well. The learning curve for the software is also very small. It’s literally the work of a couple of clicks of a button to get a book out there. But it’s very powerful, and has some fantastic hidden features under the bonnet. If anyone reading this has been using Vellum for a little while and feels comfortable with it, I’d very much recommend going to their website and looking at some of their more advanced features.
I’d definitely recommend it. On the face of it, it’s not a cheap piece of software. I think it’s $150 or $200, but you can do so much with it. And if you’re paying someone to format your book – which you should be doing, rather than just uploading the Word document – then you’ll be paying close to that for one or two books anyway. If you’re going to be writing long-term and producing at least a couple of books, then it’s a very sensible investment.
Mel I’m always surprised that people quibble about those small amounts of money.
Adam It’s the same as any other career. If you went into another business, you’d have to rent premises, get a professional sign for the front, produce leaflets and flyers, pay for insurance… You’d be spending tens of thousands of dollars before you even open the doors. It applies to other areas too – if you want to become a lawyer, you have to pay through the nose to go to law school. If we want a modicum of success, we have to invest beforehand. Writing is no different from anything else. But for some reason, people think that you can design your own cover, upload a Word document, and become a bestseller. It’s a very romantic idea, but it doesn’t work like that. You have to invest.
When I talk about spending money on publishing, I’m thinking of the services that are required – things like editing, proofreading, cover design, things to make it more professional. What you should never do is pay a company that says, “Give is some money and we’ll publish your book.” The actual publishing of the book is completely free everywhere.
Self-publishing or Indie publishing isn’t an alternative to traditional publishing in the way people think it is. It’s not a different way of doing things – it’s the same way of doing things, except you’re running the publishing company. You have to do the same things a publishing company does. It’s not about cutting corners, and you’ve got to keep levelling up. The industry keeps levelling up. It keeps getting bigger and better, and new things always come along. You need to stay ahead of the curve.
Mel Let’s talk about some of those changes. Audio is huge at the moment, and you talk about Findaway Voices in your ‘Indie Author Checklist’.
Adam I joke all the time that ever since I can remember there have been people who go around in December and tout what to expect in the publishing industry in the coming year, and audiobooks are always touted as the next big thing. It’s never happened – but I think they just might be right for 2019. I’m seeing big increases in audio sales. Even if it doesn’t become the next ‘big thing’, it’s always increasing and it’s always a sensible investment to get an audio version of your books.
I think a lot of the stagnation in the audio market early on was because the only retailers were Audible and iTunes, and neither of them had effective marketing channels or allowed you to set your own prices. It was all a bit bizarre, but now Findaway Voices has come out, Kobo are doing audiobooks too – the market is opening up massively. Later this year, Kobo is releasing a new version of the dashboard that allows you to upload audiobooks directly through Kobo Writing Life. It’s getting much more accessible for authors, and for listeners as well.
One of the things that really winds me up about Amazon is they’ve got these incredible things like Whispersync – amazing technology – and they don’t talk about it. Most authors don’t even know what it is, never mind their customers. As you say, if you own the Kindle version of a book, you can get the Whispersync add-on for very little extra, and it synchronises. If you go to bed at night and finish halfway through a chapter in the Kindle version, you can get in the car the next morning, pop the audiobook on, and it will start playing exactly where you stopped reading the night before. You go back to your Kindle, and it will have skipped the part you listened to. It’s a phenomenal bit of technology, and it’s opening books up so they’re not necessarily a two-dimensional experience of text on a page. We can experience the same book in a number of different ways. There are some very exciting ways in which that could open up in the future.
Mel That’s why we need to maintain control of our rights and careers – because we don’t know where it’s going in the future.
Adam Right. It’s about one of those horrible business words – products. I can write a novel, and you might think that’s one product to sell, but you’ve also got the eBook, paperback, audiobook, large print edition… There are various ways of pulling more products out of one book, and if you’re writing nonfiction it’s even bigger than that. It’s not as simple as saying one book is one product.
Mel You also have a podcast, ‘Partners in Crime.’
Adam Yes, with my co-host Robert Dawes. It’s something I really enjoy doing, and another way of opening up my career. It’s not something that makes money, but it’s another angle on what I do. I enjoy entertaining crime readers in that way, and helping other authors. I’ve also got a Facebook group called Indie Author Mindset. There are about 700 or 800 authors in there now, all helping each other and giving feedback and advice and marketing tips. It’s all part of it for me – different strings in my bow, different things I enjoy doing.
You’ve got to focus on the important things. You’re got to know what you’re good at, and know what other people are better at it. That comes in with things like admin and cover design, too. It’s about letting people do what they’re good at, so you can focus on what you’re best at – writing books