Pen Name Launch: First Month Earnings $3043 (what worked and didn’t for marketing)

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales |


If you’ve been following the blog and Twitter, you may have heard me mention my pen name project. I haven’t shared the details with many people — mostly just my editor and beta readers — because I wanted to see if I could start from scratch today and do reasonably well as a “new author.”

I have a breakdown of sales and borrows farther down, but the quick summary is that I earned about $3043 in the first month, most of that coming from one book (but that book being bolstered by another free one). The book was priced at $3.99, participated in KDP Select (and therefore Kindle Unlimited), and received 638 sales and 683 borrows between October 17th and November 16th.

Note: I’m using the $1.33 October figure to calculate earnings from borrows. If that drops in November, it might knock off $100 or $200 from my earnings estimate here.

The multi-book launch strategy

I knew it would be hard gaining any momentum with just one book, so I planned from the beginning to launch with three, with the goal of putting out another novel (or at least a novella) each month after that. I wrote the rough drafts for the three novels this summer, but of course I was working on my own LB novels at the same time. By the time the pen name books were beta read and edited, it ended up being more of a launch with two novels with the third coming almost a month later (it went live on Friday night, November 14th, and had 79 sales and 59 borrows Sunday night when I tallied everything). But at least I had two books to work with from the start and that was key in gaining some momentum.

Here’s a look at what I tried for marketing, what worked and what didn’t, and what I didn’t bother with.

Pre Launch

I didn’t want to make a whole second persona that I would have to manage, so I didn’t sign up for any of the social media sites with the pen name. I did put up a website, using WordPress as the backbone, and started a mailing list with the sign-up form on the front page of the site. I put some samples chapters up on the blog, but I don’t think that did anything, since nobody knew the site existed yet.

So far all I’ve done on the blog is post release information. Honestly, because I already sink time into my posts here, that’s all I’m planning to do in the future.

Wattpad Experience

In the hope of finding some people who might review the first book when it launched, I made a Wattpad account for my pen name. I started posting chapters as soon as I had the rough draft finished (around July) and updated regularly to try and get some early fans. There were a handful of people who found it and followed along, but I never gained much traction on Wattpad. I had a few positive comments from the people who did read it, but part of the trouble, I believe, is that the novel has R-rated material in it, so I had to check the R-rated box. On Wattpad, users have to specifically checkmark that they’re looking for adult content in order to see it, and I don’t think they even see that option if they’re younger than 18 (perfectly understandable).

(For those who are wondering at the how and why the pen name came about, I got some backlash from readers last spring when I published Balanced on the Blade’s Edge, a steampunk romance which had a sex scene in it. Even though I haven’t exactly been a prude in my other novels, most of them are less detailed in that area. I decided to split things off and use the pen name to write stories that include more, ahem, naughty bits.)

I have heard of authors gaining a good-sized following when they have R-rated content on Wattpad (even though there’s a large user base of teenagers, I learned in an interview with a Wattpad representative that there are also some 20+ readers), but I should point out that I am writing in a small niche here. There are some voracious readers (i.e. the types of people who go through a book a day) in it, but it’s quite a limited pool of people overall. I wouldn’t have tried jumping into this niche at all if Amazon hadn’t finally made a subcategory for it about a year ago.

(I’m debating here whether to share the niche, but because I’m still incognito with the pen name, I think it would be pretty easy for curious people to go find me if I talked about it here. By the end of this post, you might be able to guess anyway, but I’m going to wait another month before going public, as I want to see how the “30 Day Cliff” and other things effect the pen name before muddying the waters as to where readers are coming from.)

I won’t say that Wattpad was a total waste of time, but it was pretty close, at least in this case. I ended up with two pre-launch mailing list signups, and I don’t think anyone commented more than twice over the course of the novel, so I didn’t feel we had enough of a relationship for me to send them private messages and ask if they would like review copies of the final book.

The other thing I did with the pen name was join Romance Divas, a forum where self-published and traditionally published authors hang out. I had a notion of maybe finding some readers there by chatting about the industry and including a link to the Wattpad chapters in my signature (with a promise of review copies for anyone who was interested), but I didn’t end up posting there that much, as it felt weird to chime in and give advice on self-publishing and marketing when I was, for all they knew, an utter nobody without any books out.

In short, very little that I did pre-launch mattered.

Launch Week

On October 11th, 2014, Book 1 went live for 99 cents at Amazon and for free at Smashwords and Kobo (I ticked the distribution box, so it would eventually end up at Barnes & Noble and Apple for free as well). I knew I was going to launch the rest of my books in KDP Select so I could take advantage of the way Kindle Unlimited borrows count as sales (for more details, see my earlier post on Kindle Unlimited: Why Ebooks Not Enrolled Are at a Disadvantage), so the only reason I was putting Book 1 in the other stores was so it would be made free on Amazon.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take for Amazon to price-match the first book to free, but I didn’t expect it to happen quickly. It’s generally been my experience that already-popular books get price-matched almost right away, whereas it can take much longer for books that aren’t selling.

I wasn’t planning to do any marketing whatsoever of Book 1, since there was little point until I had Book 2 out, and since it wasn’t as if I would make much money with it at 99 cents. But a few people found it within 24 hours of publication (okay, three) and apparently liked the 99-cent price tag enough to give it a try, even though it was by a new author. That got me a little excited (yeah, I know, it doesn’t take much), so I decided to see if I could find any place to advertise.

Attempts at Advertising Book 1

If you’ve tried to buy advertising lately, you probably already know that there aren’t many places that will plug books with no reviews and on short notice. I was also limited by the fact that these books don’t fall neatly into any of the categories that book blog sites offer, so I stuck with sites that basically just say, “Yo, this stuff is free/99 cents today — go get it.”

That first weekend, I paid $5 each to bknights and genrepulse through Fiverr. Bknights has a site where he posts free and 99 cent ebooks, and GenrePulse (which has since moved off Fiverr, but still offers the same service) plugs your book through his Android and Kindle Fire aps. I had heard about these guys on Kboards.

I think I can attribute about 10 sales to each service (they went out a day apart). This was enough to get the book into the Top 100 for the subcategory. It currently takes a 9300 sales ranking to hit the #100 spot (that makes the category sound more popular than it is, but there are a ridiculous number of books in it that don’t belong there, and yes, it’s irritating).

I bought a couple more ads from places that accepted books but that had more of a delay. None of them went live until the book was free, something that happened after about six days.

Overall, I spent about $50. The only other site that gave me results worth mentioning was Ereader News Today, which currently allows you to plug a free book for a mere $15. This was a deal as I ended up getting over a thousand downloads that day from their site (even though the book ran with a big pile of other free books). I’m sure people publishing in more popular genres would get many thousands of downloads.

I should mention that the book got as high as 225 in the free list of its own accord when it first went free (before the ENT ad kicked in). I think that it helped that I had actually sold some copies at 99 cents before it went free. I also made sure to use the right keywords to have it listed in about five different subcategories, rather than the two Amazon gives you in the dashboard. (I admit I was a little nervous about adding those extra action-adventure types of categories, because even though the story surely qualifies, there are a lot more male readers browsing those other subcategories, and this was also clearly a romance. But overall, the experience has been positive, and I got some nice emails from male readers who probably would never have wandered over into the romance subcategory to look for it.)

As I write this now, Book 1 has dropped to 528 in the free store, but I have an ad coming up later in the month on My Romance Reads that may give it another nice boost. After that, I think I’m going to put the book back to 99 cents, rather than keeping it permanently free. Since the other books are in KU, I can play around with free or 99-cent days on them when sales start to fall.

How effective was permafree for selling copies of Book 2?

I published the second book in the series on the night of October 16th (I don’t think it went live until the 17th). The day before that, the first book went free, so that was nice timing. I immediately added a link to the second book at the end of the Amazon version of the free book. (Note: the afterwords also include an invitation to sign up for my pen name’s mailing list.)

I don’t think permafree is nearly as effective as it used to be (there are more free books out there now; thanks to KDP Select making it easier for authors to make books free; the lists aren’t displayed as prominently as they used to be; and KU subscribers can essentially get all the “free” books they want for their $10 a month, so there’s no reason for them to browse the free lists anymore), but it was instrumental for me in my launch of Book 2, which jumped into the Top 100 of its subcategory right at the beginning.

It hung out in the 60-100 range for the first week, then gradually improved to make it into the Top 20. It topped out at 8 or so, which was about a 1350 Amazon sales ranking. It’s been around 2000 for a couple of weeks now, thanks in large part to the borrows. On sales alone, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near the Top 20, so I’ll thank KU for the extra visibility (even as I loathe this aspect for all of my other books, which aren’t in KU and which don’t get their sales rankings artificially propped up by borrows).

The book has been out for 30 days now, so I’m expecting to see it drop in rankings, as a result of the 30 Day Cliff, which I mentioned before. Countless authors have noted that books seem to get a boost in visibility when they’re first published on Amazon, but then start a downward descent after being out for a month. This doesn’t hold true for every book — some have enough sales momentum behind them that they keep going — but it’s true in enough cases that just about every author on Kboards knows exactly what you’re talking about when you mention it.

Permafree when Book 2 has different characters from Book 1

Even though having Book 1 free definitely helped me sell Book 2, I should point out that it wasn’t as effective as I think it would have been if Book 1 had left some things unresolved and 2 had picked up with the same characters. I am writing in a series, but all of the books stand alone and feature different main characters. Outside of writing serials that follow the same heroes across the different installments, it’s tough to get around this with romance-centric novels, where readers expect the hero and heroine to get together in the end. If you continue on, you’re not really writing a romance anymore, not to the formula anyway.

You’ll see from my numbers (below) that a relatively small number of people went on to buy Book 2 compared to the number who downloaded Book 1.

I do think more people “hoard” freebies these days, since there are just so many of them out there, and don’t try them right away (or ever), but I do see a much higher buy-through ratio with my Emperor’s Edge series where Book 1 is free and Book 2 continues on with the same characters.

On the plus side, because each novel stands alone with its own characters, I can experiment in the future with making different books in the series free or discounted — something that didn’t make much sense with EE, since it would be confusing for new readers to start with Book 4. With this series, there would be some spoilers for someone starting in the middle (the old heroes and heroines stick around as side characters), but it’s not as if there’s any surprise about whether or not people are going to hook up in a romance anyway.

Okay, this post has gone on forever, so let me include the numbers, for those who like that kind of thing, and then I’ll sign off on this subject for another month (I’m planning to post another update before I share the pen name with my regular readers around Christmas).

Book 1 sales and free downloads (Oct 10th to Nov 17th):

Sales at 99 cents: 89

Free downloads at Amazon to date: 14950

Book 2 borrows and sales at $3.99 (Oct 17th to Nov 17th):

Oct: 166 sales, 139 borrows

Nov: 472 sales , 544 borrows

Book 3 borrows and sales at $3.99 (Nov 15th to Nov 17th):

79 sales, 59 borrows

Book 2 sales chart on Amazon, for those who are curious about the snapshot for the month:



A couple of extra notes

Books 1 and 2 have 50 reviews on Amazon now (and some on Goodreads as well), which I credit to making it clear in the back of the book that review copies were available to anyone who would post a review. I’ll likely take that out soon, since they have enough reviews now, but in the past, this is the kind of thing I would only put out to my mailing list. Since the pen name had two subscribers when I started, that seemed a little pointless. But I was more than happy to give away free copies to get some early reviews.

The mailing list is up to 58 subscribers (I sent out the first email on Saturday to announce Book 3).

I used my regular editor (who isn’t the cheapest out there), but I did go cheap on cover art, having someone make collages with stock photos. Even so, the covers are better than a lot of them in the subcategory. (This niche is probably one of the few out there where there’s still a lot of really awful cover art in the Top 100).

Closing thoughts

Overall, I think the pen name is off to a nice start. As I’ve been saying, it’s not a very popular genre, but there’s something to be said for the big-fish-small-pond tactic. There will doubtlessly be indies who start in 2015 and rock it by publishing in a big, popular genre, but I’m positive it’s easier to get noticed today if you can find a subcategory that you want to write in and that has some readers but that isn’t super competitive. (The Big 5 publisher presence is entirely non-existent in my subcategory, presumably because they don’t think it represents a big enough market to bother with.) I would guess that if my pen name established herself here, then later moved into a more popular category that was closely related to this one (so readers would cross over), she would find it much easier to get the sales necessary to rank there.

I’m going to stop talking about myself in third person now. Thanks for reading this beastly long post. Good luck with your own endeavors!

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Comments (99)

That’s fantastic Lindsay! Thank you for taking the time to share all the details about your pen name launch. I was glad you talked about editing and covers, since I was going to ask. 😉 Good luck for month two!

Thank you, Donna! Yeah, someone mentioned that I’m in the position to have money to spend on launching new books, and I just wanted to point out that I spent less on these than on my usual novels. The sales of Book 2 have basically paid for the cost of putting together 1, 2, and 3 at this point. It is true that some people come to the table with more to spend on a first book, but I see people make it all the time who start on a shoestring budget. (And I see people flop who spend $3k on their first book.)

What would you say caused those $3k books to tank? I’m planning on spending probably more than most first time writers on editing to produce as polished a book as possible, as I figure it has a better chance of doing well if it’s as high quality as possible. Did they not do enough promotion do you think?

One guy I specifically remember started out pretty well, but then jumped around to different genres instead of writing the logical follow-up book. Really, it’s tough to make headway with just one book out there. That’s kind of the landscape we’re in right now. A big part of succeeding is continuing to publish and not letting yourself get discouraged. I’d write 3 or 4 in one genre, probably in a series, before saying this isn’t working and trying something else.

It’s also tough if you’re in such a small niche that there’s not a lot of appeal.

I find it really interesting that the backlash against that scene in Balanced on the Blade’s Edge contributed to your decision to launch a new pen name. I saw those reviews on Amazon, and they really stuck out to me because I was surprised your fans who love books full of Maldynado’s escapades would take exception to that one scene in Balanced. O.o Is it just me, or is there a trend of fantasy authors who put romance/sensuality in their books getting a bad backlash from fantasy readers for that reason? I totally respect people’s preference not to read R-rated stuff, I’m just troubled by their tendency to buy a book they know probably has that content, then leave bad reviews for it being exactly what it claimed to be. I’ve seen this happen to your book and even to books clearly marketed as “fantasy romance.”

I can’t wait for you to tell us your new pen name, whenever you feel it’s the right time. My e-reader is ready.

Thank you, Cara! I’m hoping some current readers will enjoy checking out the new series.

I’m not sure about other authors’ experience in the genre, but maybe I should have put a “warning: there’s a sex scene in here” tag on Blade’s Edge. It just seems kind of crude to stick that in the product description. 😛

Hehe, it does seem awkward to have to wave a big banner over the book saying “WARNING: CONTAINS SPELUNKING IN HER CAVE.” On second thought, do that…and make Maldynado hold it…everyone will be too entertained to gripe about the content. ;D

@Kate Sparkes, I’m always amazed at this too! Some people love books full of violence toward fellow humans, or even stories that discuss non-romantic sexual situations, but run for the hills at the first description of pleasure between consenting adults. I find this hard to understand, but then, where we all draw our comfort zones is very individual. I don’t know what your market is so my two cents could be totally off base, but I do think it would be a bummer for you to have to censor your book because of what certain readers dislike. :(

I think I’m just going to have to put a disclaimer on mine like other romance authors and do what I can to convey “this is a book about all the cool stuff in the blurb and I made the creative judgement call that sex is a worthwhile addition,” and not “this book is just about sex.” It’s hard trying to write in a crossover genre like fantasy romance where you have two sets of expectations to fulfill.

+1 to the spelunking cave comment. 😉

I went to try to find your books, and quit after selecting 3 free books I know you didn’t write! I just have to wait until the big reveal! I’m one of those people who take every free book that speaks to me and puts the non-free books on my wish list, so I can purchase them when I have the money, and when I’m not buying the latest book of the series I began with a free book! (Yes, I’m looking at you, Lindsay!)

I guess I’m not as clever at I thought!

Awww, hope none of the downloads traumatized you. One person who went hunting said they downloaded some rather outré stuff while looking. 😛

Thanks for sharing this! I’m quite interested to find out what this mysterious category is. :)

It is a shame that you had backlash over a sex scene. People can handle violence and gore, but heaven forbid people have SEX. I’m actually worried about this in a book I just drafted, and will probably have to tone it down. It has led to an interesting experiment for you, though!

Yes, I’m actually glad I ended up exploring a pen name. It’s been quite freeing. Maybe some beta readers can advise on whether the sex scene works well in your story or sticks out. If you don’t have readers with previous expectations based on your other works, then you’d just be setting the expectations with the first book, if that makes sense. 😉

I’ve read books with very involved sex scenes in them and while it didn’t bother me personally I could see how it would bother some people. I think if there is enough descriptive lead up to it then it would be fine, if it happens quite suddenly you might find a few upset people! It also depends on the type of sex scenes and how often, I enjoy sex scenes when they’ve been tactfully placed and have quite a bit of meaning because in the right circumstances sex can be a beautiful thing. If it happens too often that it can become meaningless. I hope this helps! Again it would depend on the type of story you’re writing if it’s supposed to be a sexy book people would probably be disappointed with the lack of it. 😉

Thanks for the peek into your launch. I’ll be doing the same thing with the first three books of a mystery series soon so your experience is definitely helpful to me.
Btw, did you have any problem having a separate author page on Amazon? Once before when I asked them about using a pen name they said I couldn’t create a separate author page, that everything had to go under my main page. I know that other writers have gotten around this but I’m curious because I am considering another series that is way outside my usual genre and would like to establish a completely separate Amazon author page.
Anyway, thanks for sharing.

You can’t have multiple KDP accounts, but it’s supposed to be fine to have multiple Author Central accounts. Just with this last release, I made one for the pen name, because all of the books weren’t showing up if you clicked on the name. This let me claim them, write up a bio, and link the blog. I think that’s worth doing.

you can have multiple accounts but under different emails and password that are completely unrelated to your current account.

Example. say you have an account under
user name (scribble)
password (abc123)

you can create another as
user name (goldy)
password (lovebutterfLy) or something. Just trying to think of something easy of the top of my head.

So you can definitely have multiple accounts with unrelated details.

You can split one Author Central page into three totally separate pen name pages that don’t publically have anything to do with each other by claiming a book that isn’t under your current author name and it will say something like “This book isn’t written by you, is _____ ______ one of your pen names? If so, would you like to split your account to claim this book under the pen name?”

@Lindsay: Thank you so much for this info! I’ve been waiting very patiently for this specifically. What I think I got out of it is:

Niche in a popular genre (romance or thriller) with wide KW for subgenres, have three books ready to go almost at once (Liliana Nirvana Technique), and 99c/perma-free book one.

I’m curious to see how you fair after the 30 day cliff. What will you do when sales slump before you release the new name? Release another book in the series?

Sam, thanks for the Author Central tip. I didn’t know that one!

I’m going to try and get something new out for the pen name before Christmas, even though I have lots of my regular stuff to work on, hah. But yes, a lot of authors try to release once a month or once every 6 weeks to keep their names alive. So far my second book hasn’t taken a dive off that cliff, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before sales dwindle. It’s not that big of a category, so there must be limited readers. I’m hoping Book 3 will rise up and take its place and that I can get a fourth together soon!

As usual great information here. I’m about to start publishing some of my works in the very near future. I have been trying to read up on as many marketing tactics as I can. Do you think that having a second book ready to go shortly after launch helps? or is it better to wait for the first book to reach that 30 day cliff then releasing the second book? or would you recommend publishing everything as soon as it’s ready? I’ve seen all three approaches be successful, but not sure which I want to use for my first few ebooks.

I think it’s tough to make much headway if you just have one book out, unless you’re throwing a whole lot of effort into marketing it. For most people, their first book isn’t going to be a big hit and climb up the charts and appear on the new releases page, so the 30 Day Cliff probably doesn’t matter much. I’m positive it’s only because I had the permafree out there that my Book 2 made it onto the charts. I would probably do the same thing again and try to launch 2 or 3 at the same time. Some of the romance authors who have rocked it have published as many as 5 to start out with and then continued to publish one a month after that.

That said, if you do KDP Select, you do get some promotional options that might help you gain some traction early on and with just one book. I’ve heard of people using their free or 99-cent days early on to get some initial reviews that can help later with full-price sales. You would want to try and schedule some ads for those promo days.


I’ve always thought that the 30 Day Cliff resulted in books coming off of the new release lists. That’s an awful lot of visibility, since there are only 200 or so new books in popular subcategories like epic fantasy.

It could be, Jim! I wonder how many people browse those. I tend to only notice the Top 3 that show up off to the side of the Top 100 lists.

What a great experiment and article! Thanks for sharing your findings. I believe your experience is very encouraging. I look forward to reading further articles about your findings.

Hi Lindsay

What a great post! I’ve been a fan of your blog for quite a while now and I’m always pleased when a new post lands in my mailbox.

Thank you for being so free and frank with your results – it really helps get a good picture of how things are for new authors right now (of course, you do have a big advantage over lots of writers just starting out – you know how to write!)

Thanks again for the blog and the Self Pub Roundtable podcast – it is definitely the most informative one out there (and along with Joanna Penn’s, my favourite).

Keep up the sterling work!


Thank you for the kind words, Eva! I’m glad you’re finding the blog helpful–and the podcast too!

I’d be interested to know if Amazon took a look at your other account and made the decision to price match based on that. It wouldn’t surprise me.

You’ve proven what I and many others have always known – Wattpad is useless.

I like the giving free Book 2’s for reviews.

Overall, I’d be interested in what you spent on all this. For I still think these results are different from most first time authors, both because of your skill and the money you have for covers (or did you put a homemade or premade on there?)

Guess we’ll never know…or at least not for some time, huh?

Cheap covers, Greg! Shutterstock cut and paste stuff. :) I think most of it can be chalked up to having the permafree and the second book available at the same time and being in a small enough category where it was possible to rank without a ridiculous number of sales. The permafree jumped up to the 1-5 position in the category on its own, since there wasn’t the crazy competition that there is in the big cats.

Lindsay – Sorry but I had to search. And I’m off to read the first book! Your covers are great – definitely a cut above the rest.

Don’t be too modest – I think it’s a great start.

Haha, thanks, Lisa!

Fantastic post.
What are you plans with the series (number of book, any audio plans, subliminal short story/novellas as an extension of the main books)?
And do you plan on continuing with the pen name anonymously or do you think you’ll eventually claim the name?

I always though keeping two “personas” would be hard to maintain in the long run.

I’d love to see a follow up post after you have a few more months (and books) under you belt.

I’m going to try and keep putting something out every month, but I’m sure it will sometimes be a novella instead of a full-length novel. No plans for paperback. I *might* try audio on one of them, even though I would die laughing at listening to a sex scene read out loud. 😛

I’m going to share the pen name publicly next month, but it’s not going to be everybody’s cup of tea, so after the initial announcement, I’ll probably just have a link on the side bar of my blog somewhere.

Great post, Lindsay, and great ideas on how to boost your new name’s career right from the beginning. Thanks for talking about Wattpad. I haven’t decided whether to take the plunge there yet. Everything I do that isn’t writing another book is potentially a waste of time – or at least that’s what a loud voice in my head says. Haha!

I, too, kept track of several advertising avenues that I tried in October. (I’m happy to post the link here if you or your readers want to read it, but I don’t want to be rude and post it without your request/permission. :) ) I was surprised at most of the results – places I didn’t have much hope for did well, and other places appeared to give me no sales at all. But my experiment was based on advertising book one before book two was even out yet.

Thanks again for sharing, and good luck!! :)

Go ahead and post it, Kitty! I’m always struggling to find places where you actually sell enough books for the price they ask to be worth it. Thanks!

Thanks, Lindsay! I hope this is helpful for you and others. It’ll be interesting to keep trying new things as I get more and more books in the series out. I’ll keep sharing information as I have it. :)

A few months ago when you first mentioned this idea I brought up the attempt by romance author C.S. Laskin to do this same thing.

Her main mistake was mixing the social channels, and that was discussed in this great post on The Book Designer, though mainly in the comments:

She also ran into some problems with covers, but I don’t think you will. If someone wanted to snoop out which books you’re putting the pen name on, visiting cover artist sites might be a good way to get a hint.

Other than that I don’t know how to explain these great sales other than great writing, good editing, good cover, and the knowledge of how to get a book positioned on Amazon so it’ll sell.

In other words, experience.

Very interesting. I’m curious if once people know it’s your pen name if sales will go up or remain the same.

I’m sure some of my regulars will try the new books, but it’s a pretty different market from steampunk/epic fantasy, so I’m not expecting a lot of crossover.

Thanks for the detailed info, Lindsay. All very interesting!

Congratulations on the successful launch of your pen name. Thank you for such an informative post. It is very helpful for us still starting out. I look forward to your big reveal next month!

“I didn’t end up posting there that much, as it felt weird to chime in and give advice on self-publishing and marketing when I was, for all they knew, an utter nobody without any books out.”

I’m sorry you haven’t posted there. It’s a friendly forum, with lots of helpful advice for reaching romance readers – and with your experience, you could certainly be contributing to the collective wisdom at Romance Divas. There are plenty of authors there with multiple pen names; I doubt anyone at RD would blink an eye if you said, “I’ve self-published and marketed a lot under a different pen name.”

Oh, I just noticed you said, “posted there that much.” Well, good, I hope you’ll continue to post there.

Very true, Dusk! I am up to 50 or 60 posts there and chime in on the self-publishing stuff from time to time. :)

Congrats, Lindsay and thanks for sharing your experience.

Thank you so much for this excellent chronicle of your pen name launch, aka starting from scratch :) Discoverability and constantly changing variables are such a challenge, this is wonderful feedback. Going to share with my Rom Promo Group. Wishing you big sales, Susannah

Thank you, Susannah!

Firstly congratulations on such an amazing start. I just wanted to say for others here that Amazon do not let you set a cheaper price elsewhere. Relying on them to price match is not longer a recommended strategy. I (and many other authors I know) have received very strongly worded letters from the legal team saying they will unpublish your books. I didn’t even knowingly do it – Smashwords set a price at dollars when I entered Sterling. I know one author whose books have been unpublished by Amazon for repeat offences.

Hey, Jane!

As of right now, you shouldn’t have any trouble over having a book free elsewhere and then letting Amazon price match it. It’s not as if you wouldn’t simply make it free at Amazon, too, if that were an option. For any other price, yes, your warning is true. I’ve gotten emails from them because another store was slow to reset a price after a sale, so now I am careful to reset the Amazon price last.

Fascinating! Hypothesis of specialising sounds brilliant too (and it seems truth these days in many things!). Looking forward to future updates!

P.S. Did you buy a custom book cover design or a Premade Cover?

Thanks, Adrijus. I actually looked for a premade, but it’s a pretty small subgenre, so I didn’t find anything out there. Someone made the covers from scratch, using stock photos.

This post is pure gold. I’m thinking on doing the tree book launch, I hope next year. And your experience helps me to take some decisions. Thanks.

I’m always so grateful when indie-published authors are open and transparent about what they do, what works, and what doesn’t. They don’t have to, but for those of us who are new to indie-publishing, the information they share is priceless. Thanks so much for sharing this!

Dear Lindsay,

How are you? I am fine.

I really enjoyed reading this little experiment, although risking three books on it is not ‘little’ at all!

I’ve been wondering how well an author using a secret pen name could do right off the bat, and this makes me feel a little better.

‘We’ have been conditioned to believe that an author needs to have a personality out there on social media. Doing that under an assumed name seemed a little sketchy to me, especially if you’re really being someone you’re not (like pretending to be a guy when you’re a girl (although I really am a guy (or am I?)).

Congrats on your success, and I look forward to possibly reading your books without knowing it.


Thanks, Roland. Yeah, I would feel a little weird trying to make a whole separate personality for myself on the social media sites. I imagine it would just end up sounding like me anyway, and I would screw up by being logged into the wrong account and posting links to the wrong book… 😛

Like someone said above, this post is pure gold. You’re so kind to share your experience. Thank you.

Lindsay, you just proved that anyone can get started in the self-publishing industry, now, without any platform. This was really cool and encouraging to read! Thank you for sharing.

Well, did Amazon give her special treatment because it recognized her account? She’s a money-maker for the company, I’m sure they’d hate to hurt their sales potential with a little experiment.

“Hey Donny, what’s with Lindsey Buroker here?”

“Hmm, funny – looks like she’s trying to use a pen name, wonder why.”

“Well, whatever…but we better price-match that book real quick because with writing like that, we’ll get that Christmas bonus.”

“Frank, there are 1,284,798 books ahead of her that are waiting to get perma-free status…don’t you think that might not be fair?

“Donny, don’t be stupid.”

That’s a pretty ridiculous claim. Are you seriously suggesting that Amazon actually employs people to audit every single entry in their vast catalog?

I wish I was special to them, but I don’t make that much compared to those romance authors. 😛 I think the price-matching is done by bots and the bots just find their way more often to the pages of books that are selling, since there are more links via the charts and also-boughts.

My permafree book was selling at ‘jack shit’ levels (like two in week), and was price matched in one day.

There used to be a thread on Kboards called “Help me make my book perma-free” or something like that. It was full of desperate authors just hoping enough people would email amazon or click the ‘report a similar price’ button so Amazon would pick up on their book.

No, Amazon doesn’t just price match books. And I don’t believe there are bots just automatically checking. Oh, maybe the Top 100 or Top 500 charts, but not everything.

And guess what – if you’re a new author it’s highly, highly doubtful they’ll be checking you.

But if they run those pen-name book and then run it on Amazon, what name do you think will come up?

I’m sorry this experiment is flawed, and I’m sorry if that bothers people. But you want me to honestly believe that Amazon does not, and still does not know, that Lindsay Buroker is the author of whatever books we’re talking about?

That’s silly.

If I lower my price on B&N, my price on Amazon drops in hours to a day, and I’m definitely a nobody author where they are concerned.

It’s true that they could know who Lindsay is (unless she used a totally separate dashboard), but if they think permafree is so awesome for them, why wouldn’t they help make all first books permafree when an author wants that?

On the other hand, do any successful authors release good books to no sales? If so, how come Amazon isn’t propping those books up?

Hey, so here’s my two cents. I had so many problems getting permafree for my books that I just went straight to the wizard. I requested that Amazon price match in the contact us section of kdp. It literally works evertime and they price match in a day. It’s not because Lindsay is a cash-cow (she’s actually not a cow at all :-). But all you have to do is ask and stop trying to work the system. Kdp is very accomodating in that regard.

That said, I do wonder if Amazon grants Lindsay visibility due to her prior success. What do you think about that, Lindsay? Have you noticed more visibility based on your name or is your pen name genuinely a starting-from-scratch ordeal?

I had the same experience with KDP. I’m an author of two tween self-help books and several parenting books (I’m a school counselor). Basically my marketing strategy was to link the two tween self-help books on the last page of the two parenting books. The two parenting books were about 100 pages each and I made priced them FREE at Smashwords. I watched B&N and Kobo daily to see when they became ‘live’ on their site. As soon as they did, I emailed KDP on my dashboard under their Contact Us page. Within 12 hours, both parenting books were FREE (and they were listed at $4.99 each).

On the same note, after a month of my parenting books being FREE without a lot of sales for the tween self-help books, I got frustrated and changed the price at Smashwords to $4.99; waited a week then emailed KDP again asking them to remove the FREE pricing. Within a day, they emailed me back saying that both books were still marked as FREE at Apple and Kobo, and they wouldn’t be able to change the pricing.

So, it looks like once its FREE, they do stand by that pricing and their promise to stay as low or lower in cost to the other companies.

That’s been my experience with FREE and KDP.

Thanks, Elizabeth. I do think it would be tougher in a really competitive category, but permafree does still seem to have power to sell books in a series, especially if you throw a few ads behind it.

THANK YOU so much for sharing this.

I am currently writing a six-book series (contemp romance; I’m about to finish 1st draft of book 5), and have been fretting about how to launch it next year. I’m a nobody, so no readers waiting on my stuff.

I had been thinking about the permafree for the first book and Select for the next few. You’ve convinced me that is the best path, at least as it stands in late 2014.

But the advertising thing is bugging me, since I think that ENT has changed is policy about advertising anything that’s free. Looks like they now are screening–want to know the number of stars a book has on Amazon (I could be reading it wrong–I hope so–but they say they’ve changed their policies).

So if that’s the case, I wonder what other comparable advertising options there are if you’re starting out with a series like you did (and I plan to do ) when you have no reviews/few reviews at the outset?

Thanks again for sharing your experience!

I’d still try ENT, Jennifer. It doesn’t look like much has changed. Some genres are $20 now instead of $15 (for a free book). For reviews, they say, “Reader reviews While we do not have a minimum number of reviews that are required, we do look at the reviews to get an idea of how well the book has been received by those that have read it.”

In a popular genre like romance, you may be surprised by how many downloads a new book gets just because it’s free, especially if the cover is solid. You can also check out They’re more expensive, but obviously have the audience you’re looking for.

For getting those first few reviews, I made it clear in the afterword that I would give review copies of future books to anyone who showed me that they had reviewed one of my books.

Thank you (and sorry for a delayed response–I finished the first draft of Book 5 last night and started Book 6 today)!

Happy Thanksgiving!

So, basically the formula is:
a) Find an underserved subgenre
b) Create a series
c) Make the first book in the series perma-free
d) Make sure to have links to the rest of the books in the series on the last page of the perma-free book
e) Promote the free book like crazy


If I missed anything, please let me know. Also, can ou tell me your formula for finding underserved genres that are in demand but have little competition?

I don’t have a formula, Jamie. It just happened to be that I like to read books in this genre and noticed that it had readers but also that the offerings were limited (or of poor quality).

At one time, there was a list floating around of subcategories where it only took a ranking of 70,000 or some such to hit the Top 100. A search on Kboards might bring that up, but I’d really just suggest surfing around on Amazon in the categories where you could see yourself writing. See if some look less competitive than others. I had a good run in steampunk earlier in the year, because it was a relatively new category on Amazon and because it was (perhaps counterintuitively) listed under SF instead of Fantasy. Lots of books that should have been in it hadn’t been placed there yet.

There’s an author on Kboards who’s been rocking it in the “sea adventures” category, which was one of those on the list. One of my writing buddies had better luck putting her urban fantasy under women’s issues > fantasy instead of straight up urban fantasy.

Thanks! I gotta get a hold of that list!

I absolutely think anyone can still get started today and do well, employing a few marketing tactics such as are mentioned here.

I’m stunned at the people wanting to call your experiment flawed. I think when they have tried all the popular marketing tactics out there themselves and haven’t been able to make headway, they want to be suspicious of the tactics or of those who deliver them. The truth is that their writing isn’t good, and they just can’t see it.

Having a permafree book out there will absolutely work IF your writing is entertaining and people are really clicking with it. If it’s not and they don’t care about the plot or the characters, then that’s a customer who’s never going to try you again. Better make sure you’re ready before you start self-publishing.

This sounds like such an awesome start, Lindsay! Congratulations! Quick question: you talk about adding/removing things in the backs of your books. If you’re having a formatter, er, format them for you, how do you add/subtract things like you do?

Can’t wait to find out your pen name, and see who you really are. Well . . . you know what I mean. 😉

I just ask the person to update it for me, usually when I’m having the next one formatted. If there’s a lot involved, I’ll throw a tip in the tip jar.

Cool. Thanks for letting us know!

Hi Lindsay, thank you so much for sharing your experience, as a writer who will be publishing her first book next year, this is invaluable!

I had a bit of a dumb question if you don’t mind – if a book is enrolled in KDP Select, is publishing it on Wattpad allowed? I read somewhere that it would conflict with KDP Select’s T&C, or is just a chapter or two permissible?

Hey Celine,

You can’t have the entire novel up on Wattpad if you’re going to be exclusive with Amazon. I’ve *heard* that a 10% sample or some such is all right (same goes for putting up samples on your site), but you may find a more reliable source before going with that. 😉

Hi, all.

Without giving away the specific subcategory of Lindsay’s, can someone give some examples of subcategories at Amazon that have “some readers, but not a lot” and is there an easy-ish way to find them? Do they exist in other genres too? (Sorry if this is a stupid question.)

It’s not a stupid question at all. I’m interested, too.

Great post and very useful. Plus, I finally figured the pen name out and am feeling ridiculously proud of myself for that miniscule feat. More than that, I feel grateful to you for sharing your knowledge and experiences, and wish you all the best – in both author names!

Very interesting info, Lindsay. I use a pen name for my new adult romance, though it’s not secret. I love having a pen name. Even though my YA author name and NA author name are linked in my website and blog, it provides teens a guideline. 18+ for NA. I feel good about that, even though so far my romances haven’t been super-high heat levels!

This is such bullshit. None of it is true.

Grumpy ole troll much? Why would she lie about her results?? What’s in it for her? Hate to troll a troll and your opinion certainly does matter, but simply stating that it’s all BS doesn’t add to the discussion at all.

Please explain why you disagree with her and that would be more warranted. Is it from personal xp that you disagree or are there other reasons?

Think I have found your alter ego. The challenge of searching the thousands of books recently published on Amazon was interesting. But shame on you for keeping your loyal fans waiting on your other publications. Although I still can’t believe the pace at which you are able to write and publish books. Please keep this up.
I look forward to finding out if I’m right.

Thanks for sharing your results Lindsay, this is pure gold. I’m hoping to launch my first book in the next few months, and it’s easy to look at what the successful authors are doing and think the reason for their success is that they’ve been established for a while. It’s great to know you can still grow from nothing if you have a quality book. Thank you!

Thanks for checking out the post, Daniel. I’m going to write an update in another week or so. Good luck with your first book!

Dear Lindsay,
THANK YOU so much for this ultravaluable info!
I’m extremely interested in the multitude of launch and marketing techniques, especially for beginners.
BUT one thing I missed:
You wanted to start a new pen name from scratch; but did you use your already existing pool of Beta readers for your new pen name? Did you use Beta readers at all?
Thanks again for this gold information.

Congratulations! Sounds like a winning promotion strategy…

I’m finding it very difficult to promote book with pen name.

I know that is a stupid start by me but some may find it valuable.

See if you can go through it…

Thanks for this very informative post Lindsay!

I toyed with the idea of a pen name originally, but in the end I went with my own name.

My first fiction book was released in 2013, and first month sales were 300 at £2.99 – I couldn’t believe it. But I think it was just beginner’s luck, sales go up and down all the time. I started to think maybe it was the norm- but the two years show that you will have good months and not so good. I just keep writing the next book.

Wish you all the best with yours!

Thank you so much for this thorough guide. It’s so useful for newbies like me wanting some hard numbers before making any decisions.

Thanks a lot for the post.Really thank you! Want more.

The gem of the post was at the end: the smaller but demanding genre, just as Chris Fox wrote in his “Market to Publish” book.
In your opinion, which are profitable, in demand but not so saturated subcategories right now in the fantasy genre? My guess is that probably urban fantasy and superheroes but I’m not very sure.

Urban fantasy is super saturated, but I do see indies doing well with new series in it right now, regardless. We had someone on our podcast rocking it with retold fairy tales. Steampunk and Arthurian aren’t that competitive, but I don’t see many people selling tons in them either.

I’m curious if you’ve tried Wattpad since, or think it is viable at all these days?

hi lindsy
i want to know that, how many ebooks do single author publish on kindle?

However many they can write. 😀 I know authors who publish once a year and others who publish once a month.

Sorry Greg, but I think it’s silly to believe that Amazon is hand-checking books before deciding which ones to make free. There are millions of ebooks in the Kindle Store. It’s even sillier to think that my name means anything to them. Most of my books will sell less than 200 copies this month. That’s peanuts to them and peanuts compared to what a lot of other authors are making.

Actually, Lindsay, I believe the exact opposite, and with good reason. I work in an office with over three million client accounts (KDP only has about 300k authors). Each account usually has several products, totalling over 11 million products (KDP only has about 3 million books).

These are all virtual Internet products, so customers are constantly calling in to have changes made to their sites and other various net-based products. Some of these changes are simple, like keyword changes, phone number changes, etc. Some of the changes are extreme, like a full site redesign or totally new copy added to the site.

Regardless of the change, every detail of every change has to be made by a department (but that’s our own job on KDP, updating our priducts).

Then it comes to my department where every detail of every change has to be checked against the customer request, verified as completed, and then edited for accuracy to be sure the change was made exactly right.

The department that makes the changes for the customers is about 30 people (but authors DIY).

My department that checks every change for accuracy and completion us only about 5 people. For 11 million products.

Not everyone wants to make changes every day on every product, but each of us 5 monitor and edit about 100 to 150 products and all of their changes every weekday.

If you think KDP uses bots, your probably very wrong.

(I’ll also put this up on KB and see what that sparks lol)

Do you know the names of all of those customers? Do you know when a change comes in for User ABC (out of your millions) that they immediately have a higher priority because of how many units they have sold, as common knowledge within your company?

Can customers change these items themselves through a web portal, or are they required to contact you to do it for them?

Consider that Amazon is much more than ebooks. So when you say that KDP only has three million items, that may be true, but that is a small slice of the pie.

I second Lindsay here. It’s absolutely ridiculous to assume that there are actual employees within Amazon monitoring every author that has a book published through them.

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