Indie Author Mitchell Hogan’s Amazon success story

A lifelong fan of fantasy and science fiction novels, Mitchell Hogan lives in Sydney and gave up his day job to follow his dream of ‘making stuff up’. A Crucible of Souls is his first novel as an indie author, and it’s just passed the 15,000-copy sales mark on Amazon.

ebookedit: Tell us a little about A Crucible of Souls, how you came to write it and how long it took you.

Mitch: A Crucible of Souls is my debut epic fantasy novel, and the first book in the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence. I self-published in July 2013, so it’s been just under eight months now. It’s about a traditional fantasy hero who finds the world he’s caught up in has disturbing depths … and the good guys don’t always win. It has sorcery, morally ambivalent characters, and though it’s partly a coming-of-age story there’s some dark and gritty content. It started out as a jumble of ideas and characters, then I came up with an overarching plot that could tie them all together. I wrote the first chapters a long, long time ago – over ten years! A few years ago I decided if I wanted to finish it, now was the time, and if I didn’t I’d always regret not doing so.

When I published and sales took off, I realised I’d be able to make a living from my writing if I worked at it. And that’s the dream. These days more authors than ever before are making a living from their writing. It’s a great time to be a writer!

e: So you had a raw draft for A Crucible of Souls; what did you do to change that draft into a fully-fledged novel ready for publication? Did you use professional editors?

M: I was lucky enough to make contact with both Stephanie Smith and Deonie Fiford who were at HarperVoyager Australia at the time. Both gave me feedback and encouragement, for which I’ll be forever grateful. Ultimately the lowdown was my manuscript wasn’t ready yet. I’d jumped in the deep end and decided to write what I love to read, epic fantasy, but my writing skills weren’t up to the task. I was learning quickly and wanted to improve, but I’d spent so much time on the novel and it still wasn’t working. So I decided I needed professional help. I went through a mentorship with the NSW Writers’ Centre and that was fantastic. My mentor opened my eyes to what I was doing wrong and what I was getting right, and with guidance I was able to revise my manuscript again and fix a whole lot of issues to do with pacing, plot, characterisation, etc. Then I paid for another structural edit. And when I decided to self-publish I paid for a copy edit and proofread (with Derek Prior). All of which I consider a must.

e: You published the ebook via the Kindle Direct Publishing platform and the print book on Amazon’s CreateSpace. Have you used any other publishing platforms?

M: I also went through Draft2Digital to get my ebook into B&N, iBookstore and Kobo. There are other distributors you can use, like Smashwords, but I went with D2D. Some authors seem to do well with these platforms but my sales weren’t great, especially compared to my Amazon sales. A few weeks ago I enrolled in KDP Select* to give it a try.
(* KDP Select is a program where indie authors give Amazon exclusive rights to sell there book for a period of time for increased royalties.)

e: You originally followed the traditional publishing path, but switched to self-publishing. Why was that?

M: This can be a polarising issue … and it’s a tough question, so I’ll do my best to explain my decision. A year ago I was submitting to traditional publishers and agents. I had no idea there was an ebook revolution and that more authors than ever before were making a living doing what they love. I wasn’t up to date on the industry and what was happening. Anyway, I kept getting rejections. I thought my book was good (who doesn’t!) so I was confused. I thought something must be wrong so I paid for a structural edit. The feedback I received was that it was a good book, but publishers weren’t looking for ‘good’, they were looking for ‘special’. A few other things pointed me towards self-publishing, so I did some research and decided I was more likely to make a living if I self-published than if I kept submitting to agents. I could get my work out there and let the readers decide if it was any good.

I realised that for a new author the choice isn’t to either go traditional or self-publish. You can’t choose to traditionally publish. I can’t call an agent and say ‘Congratulations, you’re now representing me, and I think we’ll have HarperVoyager publish my books.’ The choice is actually to self-publish or submit to the publishing industry. In the end I chose not to submit.

Having said that, there are benefits to both sides. And I believe the most successful authors these days have one foot in both camps: hybrid authors. Now, if I want to submit to the publishing industry I’ve got a professional product that needs little to no work and has a history of sales. I’ll have leverage.

e: You have an Amazon author profile page and your own website. Do these generate a lot of interest?

M: My Amazon author page has a few comments but not many. You can’t find out from Amazon how many visits your page has had though, so it’s hard to tell how effective it is. I will say it’s one area traditional publishers let themselves down on. There are a lot of authors with either no author page or the bare minimum of information.

Over the last six months my own website’s averaged around 70 visits per day (excluding spam and spiders) with 1.8 page views per visit. I think that’s pretty good for only having one book out. Plenty of readers have commented there as well. I tried to make my website look professional, but I cobbled it together myself so it has some rough edges.

e: What other tools and tricks have you used to promote your book? What’s worked for you and what hasn’t?

M: When A Crucible of Souls was first released I had an author interview and my book featured in flurriesofwords.blogspot.com.au. I don’t have any information on their visitor stats, so I can’t say how effective it was. Other than that I did no promotion! I thought sales would be low, and it wouldn’t be until I had a few books out that I’d gain some momentum. When sales took off virtually straight away I was shocked. It was only when they started trailing off I thought about other promotions. I submitted to Bookbub multiple times before I was selected for a spot in October 2013. In hindsight I should have waited until I had a few more books out for the flow-on sale effect, but it wasn’t too bad. My estimate is I sold an extra 300 books in a few days (at $2.99). Bookbub has worked wonders for some authors, and I think it’s the best promotion option out there at the moment if you can afford it. Apart from releasing another book that is!

e: You have some great Amazon reader reviews and star ratings and Goodreads reviews for your work. Did you solicit any reviews or did these just happen?

M: I gave out a few advance copies of the book, but only one reader posted a review. I warned friends and family away from leaving reviews as I didn’t want to get painted/tainted by the fake-review brush. The reviews just started accumulating organically. My very first reviewer on Amazon gave me 4 stars and it’s still my ‘most helpful’ review. Very soon I’ll be doing a Goodreads giveaway so hopefully that will be a bit of promotion and bring in more reviews.

e: The sales figures for A Crucible of Souls are amazing. Do you know the split between ebook and print book sales?

M: I do … I’ve kept a daily tally and I have spreadsheets and everything! My print books are 1.6% of total sales. I knew print wasn’t that viable as a self-published author, but I thought there were compelling reasons to also do a print-on-demand (POD) version. Plus I wanted print books for myself and to give to family and friends! The problem with my book is that it’s 550 pages. With CreateSpace’s expanded distribution (so bookstores can order your books) I have to price at US$23.99 to make $2 myself.

I’m also looking into how I can notify bookstores about my book and persuade them to order print copies. Bookstores are wary of self-published authors so it will be a challenge.

e: What would be your one ‘must do’ piece of advice for aspiring indie authors?

M: Be professional and remember there’s writing and the business of writing. If you want to be successful you need to get good at both. Have your books edited, get good covers, work on your blurbs, treat your books as a product you want readers to pay for. If you don’t do it, there are hundreds of authors that are and you’ll be left behind.

e: Has the success of A Crucible of Souls led to any other offers?

M: I’ve had audiobook producers contact me regarding audio rights, all of which I’ve declined at this stage. A New York agency offered me representation, which I also declined based on their contract (interminable agency clause … no, thanks). A Russian publisher recently queried regarding Russian translation rights.

I also recorded a podcast with Michael J Sullivan, which I hope will be out soon, and I’ve been contacted about doing a couple of other podcasts but I’m not sure when/if they’ll be happening.

e: What are you working on now?

M: Far too much! I’m revising A Crucible of Souls (which has been shortlisted for the 2013 Aurealis Awards as is, but I want to get it in the best shape I can). I’m also revising the second book in my series, Blood of Innocents, which I hope to publish in May 2014. And I’m writing a science fiction novel, while brainstorming ideas for the third and final book in my fantasy series.

A Crucible of Souls by Mitchell Hogan is available as an ebook and print book via Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E4KZKS4