How One Indie Author Reached Professional Sales with His First Book

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How One Indie Author Reached Professional Sales with His First Book

"I'd heard enough tales of the publishing industry to decide that I didn’t want to put in the effort of writing a book only to have it spend a decade or two being rejected. . . . Less than two months after being published, Torchship had earned enough to qualify for membership in my genre’s professional association."

 

Karl Gallagher-1

Karl Gallagher, author of Torchship

I’ve always enjoyed storytelling. Mostly I’ve expressed this through role-playing games, leading a table full of people through an adventure. Telling stories the old-fashioned way at a historical reenactment was another joy, though those were usually old Celtic myths rather than stories of my own. I’d heard enough tales of the publishing industry to decide that I didn’t want to put in the effort of writing a book only to have it spend a decade or two being rejected.

The ebook revolution changed my mind. I could write a story, and even if no publisher wanted it I could make it available for readers. In January 2013 I sat down on the couch, picked up a pen, and started writing a novel. Which meant working on the background first. I had characters and events lying around from previous work but a novel of my own would have to be in a new setting, not recycling someone else’s.

I had various writing experience to draw on for this—fanfic, RPG adventures, military operations orders and after action reports, engineering white papers, and grad school papers—but translating it into a working novel was a significant effort. Torchship has an episodic structure because it was easier to segment the plot into separate adventures than to create a single integrated plot.

Looking for help I found David Farland’s Million Dollar Outlines and later Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing. Outlines made me rethink my approach to parts of the book. I discarded the opening and wrote a new one to make the initial promises match what I would deliver. I used Resonance to polish the story, making sure I was aiming at the feelings of the stories I was inspired by without actually copying any of the elements directly. I also subscribed to the “Kick In the Pants” (now known as David's writing tips) newsletter. Sometimes I just needed it for the kick, as my writing output varies.

I finished the first draft of Torchship in 2014. After getting feedback from beta readers I added a few scenes to explain more of the setting and sent it off to the publishing house I thought it was the best fit for. Then I went back to writing—a sequel to Torchship, some short stories, and a few scenes from a fantasy novel that are sitting in the “someday” file.

The publisher sent a polite rejection note. I contemplated submitting it somewhere else but decided I’d rather self-publish then spend a year or three waiting on someone else’s decision. My wife has a sharp eye for typos. She spent many hours scrubbing my manuscript. An artist I knew through local science fiction conventions made a beautiful cover painting for the book. I set a target publication date of Thanksgiving 2015 to keep myself from endlessly polishing.

I attended David Farland’s workshop in Houston in October. The exercises focused on sharpening writing skills I was weak on. I used them to create more material for the sequel. Meeting other aspiring (and some successful) writers was very motivational and has given me some good people to network with.

The book went live on Amazon on December 9th. I promptly had to reload it a couple of times to fix problems with the internal graphics. Someone bought a copy then, even though no one outside of my house knew about this. I checked. That buyer went to New Releases Last 30 Days -> Science Fiction -> Hard SF -> Page 10 of 11. There’s some hungry readers out there, people.

After a few days of dithering over how to best announce it, I posted on Facebook and some other social media sites. Many friends shared my post, producing a big spike in initial sales and putting my book in the “Top 100” Amazon list in two categories. Some later spikes came from posting in a closed FB fan group and a couple of posts by bloggers promoting the book. Most sales came at a steady rate from people seeing it on the Amazon best seller list. The “Hot New Releases” list has a big impact. When Torchship aged off that list sales had a noticeable drop. The first week of delay probably cost me a hundred sales.

Less than two months after being published, Torchship had earned enough to qualify for membership in my genre’s professional association. The royalty checks still haven’t landed in my account but that’s a nice milestone to hit so early out of the gate. Earnings from Kindle Unlimited make up about a quarter of that, and they’re holding steady as the ebook sales numbers dwindle. Paperback sales are only a few percent of the total, but I don’t regret the work in learning to format the hardcopy book. It’s a lot of fun to wave around a copy of your book.

So is Torchship a success? I think so. I was braced for much lower sales. Most marketing advice for indie writers assumes you already have two or three books published. I was prepared to let Torchship be a “foundation building” book and focus on preparing the sequel for publication. Instead I’ve not just made back the expenses of publishing the book but made some profit. It won’t let me quit my day job any time soon but it’s a business, not a hobby.

The next steps are preparing the Torchship audiobook for publication (my wife has added Narrator and Sound Editor to her roles as Muse and Editor) and then the sequel novel. I’ve started on the third (and hopefully final) book in the series. After that I have some unrelated novels I want to write. I’ll be doing a bit more marketing effort when I release the next book, and avoid the most obvious errors. I expect to be writing professionally for a long time. I’m looking forward to a workshop at an upcoming SF convention and planning on more professional development to improve my skills.


Get Torchship on Amazon

Connect with Karl Gallagher on his writing blog, kelthavenpress.com

Karl Gallagher has earned engineering degrees from MIT and USC, controlled weather satellites for the Air Force, designed weather satellites for TRW, designed a rocketship for a start-up, and done systems engineering for a fighter plane. He is husband to Laura and father to Maggie, James, and dearly missed Alanna.

Karl has written white papers, engineering proposals, blog posts, fanfic, trade studies, rants, graduate school papers, RPG adventures, operations orders, forum flames, conference papers, short stories, after action reports, wargame rules, satires, and a sestina. Torchship is his first novel.


MyStoryDoctor Success Stories:

Each month we bring you a writing success story. Have one of your own you would like to share? Let us know you are interested in the comments.


Helpful Links:

Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland

Drawing on the Power of Resonance in Writing by David Farland

Writing Tip Newsletter

Live Writing Workshops

About the Author:

Profile photo of September C. Fawkes
Sometimes September C. Fawkes scares people with her enthusiasm for writing and reading. People may say she needs to get a social life. It'd be easier if her fictional one wasn't so interesting. September C. Fawkes graduated with an English degree with honors from Dixie State University, where she was the managing editor of The Southern Quill literary journal and had the pleasure of writing her thesis on Harry Potter. She was also able to complete an internship in which she wrote promotional pieces for events held in Southern Utah, like the National Cowboy Poetry Rodeo, and she participated in a creative open mic night, met some lovely people in a writers’ group, and worked as a tutor at the Writing Center. Her college experience, although demanding, was rewarding. She liked it enough to consider getting her M.F.A., and she got accepted into a couple of programs, but decided to pass on it. Since then, she has had the opportunity to work as an assistant for the New York Times bestselling author David Farland, and used to edit novels or proofread promotional pieces on the side. She once had the chance to meet J.K. Rowling in New York City. She has also presented and was a panelist at Salt Lake Comic Con. She has had poems, short fiction, and nonfiction published.

12 Comments

  1. Ben Reeder March 10, 2016 at 10:42 am

    It’s great to see more success stories out there. I like to think mine is one of those stories, as well. I went from working an entry level job to tripling my annual wage after my first year as a self-published author. Writing for a living has been the most liberating and terrifying thing I’ve ever done. It sounds like Karl is on a very similar path, and I hope he finds much more success as he goes forward with his writing!

    I’d love the opportunity to share my story with your readers as well.

    • Profile photo of September C. Fawkes
      September C. Fawkes March 15, 2016 at 8:50 am

      Great. Can you send me an email at kami_marynda[at]yahoo[dot]com? And I can let you know what we are looking for.

  2. […] on my site I’m sharing a writing success story for anyone who needs a […]

  3. Allen G. Bagby March 10, 2016 at 11:43 am

    I agonized over going the traditional route or going independent. Finally, after a lot of reading and thinking on the matter I decided to the Kindle and CreateSpace route. I published Blood & Soul in late June of 2013. I poured my heart into the book and when I clicked upload I had set my expectations low but felt I had indeed written a solid opener in the saga I called Creed of Kings. When it shot way up in the Top 100 of three categories I lost my mind …in a good way. I cannot tell you have gratifying that was. I STAYED in the Top 100 for almost 6 months. 5 star reviews from people who were NOT my friends on Amazon and Goodreads. It blew me away and affirmed my choice. Blood & Soul would probably still be sitting idle somewhere if I had not self-published.

    Now I am writing the next book Out of Oblivion. I’d have already finished if I could write full time. It is rather epic. But, I know if my “little” book can garner enough attention to stay in the TOP 100 for almost 6 months, then I have got a reasonable chance for bigger success.

    Thank you for your inspiring story.

    • Justin March 11, 2016 at 3:12 pm

      Thank you for your comment. I’m now in that same boat. My first novel is finished, and I’ve done work on the other two books in my trilogy. I have been debating for years now on traditional vs self-publishing. Thanks to your story, I just might take the plunge and self-publish as well. I don’t expect to make a career out of this, but I do think I have a good opening novel for my trilogy. Do you have any advice on how you did your marketing? Or was it solely word of mouth?

      • Allen G. Bagby March 12, 2016 at 2:26 pm

        Thanks for the reply! I will assume you’ve studied the craft of story telling …subscribing to “Kick in the Pants” and David’s other books and other teachers. Square one is you MUST write a great story. All the marketing in the world will not help if your story sux, no hard feelings.

        I hired a professional editor AND a pro proof reader and then a genius (literally) friend read the manuscript and found still more errors.

        And I hired a pro to make the book cover.

        I also spent a lot of money on a book trailer, original score from an award-winning composer and GREAT graphics. In retrospect I might reconsider making a book trailer. But here it is. Warning – it is awesome!: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LHJhmLs9mvM
        …but don’t think it actually sold many books for me. Which puzzles me greatly. It only got 675 views. I’ve seen HORRIBLE book trailers with 25K views …still a mystery to me.

        So. Grab them with a great book cover, don’t give them any speed bumps with bad editing (the self-pubbed author’s Achilles Heal), and then give them a great story.

        With that in place read two or three highly rated book marketing books like “Kindle Book Publishing Made (Stupidly) Easy ” by Michael Rogan. This was the most down to earth book I read. It gives you an easy to follow step-by-step approach. It’s all in there. There may be other books out by now that are similar and just as good. Read the reviews and determine which one suits you.

        I can recommend an editor and he can guide you through all the technicalities of uploading to Kindle and CreateSpace. His advice and help was invaluable. My editor was not only a line-by-line editor he also critiqued my story and helped me make it better. And he was a fan of fantasy fiction. But, he will ask for a sample of your work. He has to do that because there are so many awful writers out there and he has to pick and choose.

        • Justin March 14, 2016 at 10:57 am

          Interesting. So, what was your initial investment, if you don’t mind giving out that information? How long did it take you to make it back?

          And yes, I would like the name of your editor.

          I do believe I have a great story, as does my reading group. The time for dilly-dallying is over. Time to publish. 🙂

          • Allen G. Bagby March 14, 2016 at 4:25 pm

            You might think this odd, but I did not keep up with the investment. I spent a lot of money (for me) in several areas. I THINK I broken even if I compare editing, proofreading, original score for book trailer, book cover and the cost of Scrivener etc. What about the value of my time. It would be hard to tabulate an exact amount.

            I don’t expect the early stages of my writing life to pay for itself. My main focus was to make dent in the universe, establish some ground, get some readers and build an email list. I believe I have done that …for now.

            I made several hefty car payments with the money I made on Amazon.

            Here’s a link to my editor’s webpage. Tell him I gave him your info.

            Good luck. Let me know when you’re ready to publish. And, if I can, I will read and review your book.

          • Allen G. Bagby March 14, 2016 at 4:28 pm
  4. Denae Christine March 13, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Congrats, Karl! It’s been a long-time dream of mine to attend one of David Farland’s workshops. I wonder how that networking may have affected the results of your publishing?
    No “success” story for me, yet, but I’m working on it. I took the indie author route for my YA fantasy trilogy Royal Deception, and my second book just came out. I have found many other indie published books I enjoy, and I’m hoping more and more readers continue realizing the value of the non-trad-published book.

  5. […] In other news, I was interviewed about the background of Torchship. And for anyone interested in the business side of self-publishing I told my story at Dave Farland’s writing advice site. […]

  6. […] How One Indie Author Reached Professional Sales with His First Book […]

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