Nicholas Sansbury Smith-bloghead

My editor at Simon451 compares the digital world of publishing to the wild west. And with the constant changing landscape, I agree. Things have never seemed different in the world of literature. Okay, I’ll admit, I’m a newbie when it comes to this writing game, but I’ve spent a year in the trenches sorting things out. The following is a combination of advice for new writers and the experiences I’ve had with both traditional and indie publishing.

The Life of an Indie…

Anyone with a computer and connection to the net can write a manuscript and publish it to Amazon within hours of finishing. Books with no marketing and no publisher can become bestsellers. Print on demand books can go on to be NYT bestsellers, like Wool by Hugh Howey. My editor is right. This landscape is truly the Wild West. Anything is possible. I didn’t have huge expectations when I published my first novel, The Biomass Revolution, and it’s a good thing I didn’t, because it didn’t do all that well. After watching other indie books blow Biomass out of the water I started researching. I read the blogs of best-selling authors. I watched trends on Amazon. I learned what an also-bought is. And I spent countless nights wondering what the hell I was doing wrong.

The game requires a bit of luck. It also requires a good editor, a great cover, and a good story.

After six months of research I launched my second self-published novel, Orbs. I attacked the marketing like a man possessed. I knew my second book was decent, and I wanted readers to discover it.

Backtracking to the poker example I decided I had to risk money to make money.

Almost a year later and with Simon and Schuster’s digital first imprint, Simon451 is prepping to launch Orbs II: Stranded with Orbs III: Redemption slated for March 25, 2015. Orbs has sold close to 30,000 copies and has topped the Amazon bestseller lists in several countries.

So you are probably wondering the same thing that hundreds of other people have asked me. What’s my secret?

 …publishing is a game of risk and reward, sometimes you just have to close your eyes and roll the dice.

Truth is, I have no magical secret that can turn your book into a bestseller. Like poker you can play your cards right and still end up losing. The game requires a bit of luck. It also requires a good editor, a great cover, and a good story.

I may not have a secret to share, but I can tell you how I marketed Orbs. Most of it’s geared around… bet you can guess…

If you guessed Amazon then contact me for a free eBook. Terms and conditions may apply.

Where was I? Oh, I began my marketing strategy by enrolling Orbs in KDP select and then launched the book at .99 cents. A week before I did that I enrolled Solar Storms, a short story prequel to Orbs in KDP and gave it away for free.

While Solar Storms was being downloaded for free, Orbs started selling at .99 cents. I gifted the book to readers that expressed interest on goodreads and facebook. Then I reached out to promotional websites like bookbub and ereadernewstoday. They emailed the book link to their subscribers at my discounted price, for a fee of course.

Sure there was more to it than that, but my strategy was simple. Backtracking to the poker example I decided I had to risk money to make money. Or in this case you have to be willing to give your work away for basically free in order to gain exposure. That’s not the case for all authors, but it’s a theme for indies like me who have no name recognition. Some writers might hate this strategy and think it devalues their work. I’m not a critic and won’t get into the debate. I just tell people what worked for me.

There’s an entire other side to the literary world that I’m not going to touch much on and that is the role of the agent. I consider myself the luckiest guy in the room after signing with my agent. He’s the best in my eyes. He fights for me, guides me in the right direction and honestly, he has better ideas about stories than I do.  Finding one isn’t easy, just keep in mind that agents are just like publishers and, I suppose, books. There are good ones and bad ones. Mine is the best.

Going Tradish

Remember how I said hire a good editor and cover artist? Yeah, well the one major difference I see with traditional publishing and indie publishing is the editing and access to designers/artists. The editor I hired for the indie version of Orbs was awesome. So was the cover artist. But with Simon451 I have access to a content editor and a team of copy editors. I could go on and on about how much I love working with all of them. My content editor is especially wonderful. She’s helped me breathe life into Orbs after Simon451 acquired the series. The story is more compelling and she helped me fix the issues we knew were there. The result was a remastered version that I’m proud to hand to my friends and family. Then we moved on to Orbs II: Stranded, launching on Oct. 7, 2014 (wink, wink). I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much that story changed from the first draft to the final draft, but behind all of it was my content editor. She helped me turn a decent book into a great book.

It’s too early to tell if the series does better with the tradish publisher than it did when I was the publisher, but my gut tells me it will. They believe in the story, and I believe in them.

I’ll leave you with the following question if you are considering making the jump from indie to tradish. Ask yourself if a publisher can do something for you that you can’t do for yourself. In my case the answer was simple. But in other cases it might not be so clear. Weigh the pros and the cons and in the end remember this… publishing is a game of risk and reward, sometimes you just have to close your eyes and roll the dice. After all, Stephen King says your editor is always right and mine says this is the wild west of publishing.


NICHOLAS SANSBURY SMITH is the author of Orbs, as well as several post-apocalyptic books and short stories. He worked for the State of Iowa for nearly 10 years before switching careers to focus on his one true passion—writing. When he isn’t daydreaming about the apocalypse he’s likely racing in triathlons around the Midwest. He lives in Des Moines with his family and several rescued animals. If you’d like to hear more about Nick’s books, you can join his spam free mailing list here: http://bit.ly/NicholasSansburySmith.