Posted On December 19, 2011 by Print This Post

Indy E-publishing with NYT Bestseller CJ Lyons

If you’re thinking of dipping your toe into the murky waters of Indy e-pubbing – you’re going to want to read this! Help me welcome CJ Lyons!

Advice on why and how to self e-publish your books from New York Times and USA Today bestseller CJ Lyons. CJ has had two indy e-published books appear on the USA Today list and one debut on the combined print/e-book New York Times list at #2. This book alone sold 230,000 copies in only two months and has sold in almost a dozen countries. In addition to her six traditionally published novels, CJ now has nine books self e-published with sales of almost half a million books in 2011 alone.

Part one explores the pitfalls of indy e-publishing. Part two explores the practical how-tos.

Part One: Start with Why

The publishing industry is in an era of upheaval, forcing many authors to flex their entrepreneur muscles, searching for new avenues of income and ways to keep their books in the public’s eye.

One way of doing this is to self e-publish your backlist or other books you hold the rights to.  With more and more readers embracing e-books and e-books becoming the fastest growing segment of publishing, the idea of cutting out the middle-men and keeping profits for ourselves is tempting.

Here are a few things to think about before walking the path of electronic self-publication:

Why self e-publish?

Like many authors, once I was firmly established with NYC publishers, I never thought about e-publishing or self-publishing, much less doing both!

But I found myself with four manuscripts that were all previously in the hands of NYC publishers but for a variety of reasons never made it to publication. Then I saw a blog by multi-published thriller author JA Konrath discussing his own experiment with electronic self-publishing.  His argument was logical, the numbers impressive, but I was still skeptical.

I wanted these books to find an audience but I didn’t want to tie them to contracts I might later regret, especially as these four novels were all romantic suspense/thrillers and my career has moved to more mainstream suspense/thriller.  In December, 2009, I decided to perform my own self-publishing experiment.

I realized I could use these books as promotional products as well as money-makers.  Since I was in control of when they were released, how long they were available, and what their price was, I had far greater freedom than I do with my traditionally published works.

In fact, this was the deciding factor for me—my personal ultimate why. My traditionally published books were being released about once a year. But my readers were demanding more books, faster.

What better way to keep my readers happy than to indy e-publish?

When I found my why: putting my readers first, the rest came easy. In fact, focusing on that one question every step of the way, “will this make my readers happy?” made every decision I faced a simple one.

Your “why” might vary. I’ve helped several authors to forge new careers in the indy e-pubbing world. Some were desperate to make money faster than they could with traditional publishing and their path ended up being very different than mine, because their why was different.

The same with others who were unpublished and simply interested in name recognition and building a readership, or those who wanted to hit a bestseller list and use their indy success to negotiate better traditional contracts.

Know your why and everything else falls into place.

Pitfall #1: Know Your Audience

Anyone deciding to self-publish should have a good grasp of their target audience.  You want to build an audience who will stay with you and help spread the word of your books–and that means making a promise to always deliver a high quality read.

In other words, just as in mainstream publishing, indy e-publishing is still ALL about the reader.

It’s not about clearing your closet of dusty manuscripts just because you can.  Unless you plan on giving your work away for free, your goal is to attract paying customers for future books.  The books you self e-publish need to be just as good as any book a NYC publisher is selling.

If you have a backlist you own the rights to, they’ve already been professionally edited, so you’re good to go.  Do be aware that publishers own the cover art, so you’ll need to create a new cover for your e-book.

Even if your why is to make money fast, ala John Locke, you need to understand the buying habits of your target audience. What price point earns you maximum profit (not sales, but actual profit)? What kind of books sell best at that price point? Does your target audience buy at that price point? How can you maximize profits?

Pitfall #2: Build Your Team

If you’re planning to release a book that hasn’t been previously published, make certain it is professionally edited.  The four books I chose for my initial experiment were all edited prior to self-publication–three by NYC editors (before their road to publication went astray) and one by a professional freelance editor.  Do not rely solely on your critique partners or your Great Aunt Martha who gushes to her bridge club about your writing!

Remember, not only are you competing against NYT bestsellers, you’re also selling a product to a consumer.  If you expect to win their hard earned money–and more importantly, their time, attention, and future sales loyalty–then you need to create a worthy product.

In addition to getting extensive feedback from my critique partners (all multi-published, awarding-winning bestselling authors) I also hire a cover artist and two editors (one developmental, one for copyedits) for each book I publish.

Which means planning to spend some money (or barter if you have friends who are professionals in these fields) as part of your initial start up plan.

Also, just like any business venture, you need to weigh the effect of indy publishing on your current business partnerships. Let your agent and publisher know of your plan. Address how your indy books will fit into your overall marketing scheme and brand building. Make sure you plan release dates and promotional efforts that will augment any traditionally published books you have coming out.

If done correctly, your indy e-books could be your best marketing tools!

My agent loved the idea of my e-pubbing when I presented it to her as a way for me to keep my readers happy while increasing name recognition between traditionally published books. She earns nothing from my direct e-sales, but represents these books for sub-right sales and during any negotiations with traditional publishers.

I can also thank my indy e-book success for my new contract with Minotaur Books. They saw potential for a series in BLIND FAITH, my NYT bestseller, and with our very first conversation we discussed how to integrate my indy publishing (no way am I going to stop that—it’s what is keeping my readers happy!) with their traditional publishing release of the new series. They’re even bringing the new books out very close together, despite their being hardcovers, something unheard of in NYC publishing even six months ago!

I have my readers to thank for a lot of this success and consider them an essential part of my team. Over 13,000 of them have signed up for my newsletter and many of them have gone on to join my Street Team Family. To see how this works, you can find more information here:

Pitfall #3: Patience, patience, patience

Success in indy e-publishing doesn’t happen overnight. In general, it takes several months to begin to build sales (usually 4-6) and having multiple titles (again, usually 4-6) out there to continue to drive that momentum.

If you’re unpublished, with no established readership, I would recommend waiting until you have two to three manuscripts polished and ready to go. Make sure they’re aimed at the same target audience in order to maximize their effectiveness.

Launch the first, making as big of splash as possible—consider pricing it as a loss-leader or even giving it away in exchange for folks signing up for your mailing list or utilize other techniques/social media to use it to build a readership.

Once you have some good reviews and your first book is gaining momentum, launch the second and third.

Don’t obsess over numbers—but do pay attention when something does drive sales. It might be a mention on a particular blog or you changing the price (sometimes raising the price is just as effective as lowering it, so don’t be afraid to experiment) or a good review.

Some authors have found success in buying blog ads/sponsorships. I haven’t. For me, concentrating on my readers via a newsletter has been much more cost effective. But when you’re starting out, definitely budget some time and money to try different approaches and see what avenue works best for your audience.

Pitfall #4: Keeping readers happy when there’s only 24 hours in a day

How best to grow a readership? More books. Correction. More books that they want.

I recently launched the third in the Hart and Drake medical suspense series based solely on readers requesting it. Within one day it was hitting the Amazon bestseller lists. I thought it would be the last in the series, but I’ve already had over a hundred letters asking for Book #4 and the third book, FACE TO FACE, has only been out a month, so yes, somehow I’m going to find time to write Book #4.

The same happened with my Shadow Ops series (if you’re a fan, Billy and Rose’s story is coming soon, I promise!) and my Lucy Guardino FBI Thriller series—which began as a standalone in SNAKE SKIN but so many fans begged for “More Lucy, please!” that a second book is coming out early 2012.

Now my biggest problem is finding time to write all these books in between my traditional publisher’s deadlines.

Knowing how fast you write and what other resources you have to keep readers engaged (back list books, short stories, etc) is vital when creating your business plan.

The pros and cons of indy e-publishing are a highly individual equation. If you’re already having trouble finding time to finish books (especially if you have deadlines to meet), then you might want to wait on indy e-publishing until you have rights back to your backlist and won’t have to worry about scheduling writing time.

If you aren’t already published or are published but interested in writing in a new genre (which entails building a new readership) then the time commitment indy e-publishing requires might be worth it for you.

Do understand that it is a business and treat it as such. That means keeping up with all aspects of the business, not just the fun part of telling a damn good story.

You’ll need to learn how to manage the money, both coming in and going out. How to read the terms of agreement so you don’t accidentally violate them. How to use social media and other resources to spread the word. Building a mailing list and maintaining it. Negotiating foreign rights (if you don’t have an agent), audio rights, and other sub-rights. How to work with freelance artists and buy stock art without infringing on copyright. How to hire editors. How to obtain your copyright and ISBN numbers—and do you even need them?

We’ll be talking more about these nuts and bolts in Part Two. In the meantime, has a collection of resources on entrepreneurship, the publishing business, and how to start your indy e-publishing career.

Questions? Post them in the comments and I’ll stop back!

Thanks for reading!



Ok..raise your hands. How many of you are thinking of self pubbing or already have?

Come back on Wednesday when CJ tells us the how-to’s of Indy Publishing.


Bio: As a pediatric ER doctor, New York Times Bestseller CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.

CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday).

Learn more about CJ’s Thrillers with Heart at and read her tips on publishing at

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32 Responses to “Indy E-publishing with NYT Bestseller CJ Lyons”

  1. Thanks for all the great information! All definitely food for thought and indie pub isn’t something to just jump into 🙂

    Posted by ChristineWarner | December 19, 2011, 5:39 am
    • Christine, you are exactly right! Just because the new tools make it easy to self-publish doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for an author to do.

      It all depends on your “why”–I am not a business person by nature so found it very overwhelming thinking of all the possible marketing, promo, book release strategies…until I found my *why*.

      Now, having that *why* gives me a measuring stick for each decision I make. I’ve blogged about this several times on No Rules, Just WRITE! and the guru of finding your “why” is Simon Sinek, so check him out if you’re interested.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | December 19, 2011, 8:12 am
  2. Hi CJ,

    Thanks so much for blogging with us again!

    For anyone considering self e-pubbing, this is a thought-provoking post. I was so thrilled for you when I saw you hit the NYTimes list. A tremendous accomplishment.

    Good luck on your future e-pubbing. Sounds like you have a wonderful plan in place.


    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | December 19, 2011, 5:41 am
    • Thanks, Tracey! It was a stunning moment for me–I don’t think my feet hit the ground the entire six weeks BLIND FAITH stayed on the list.

      That was only a few months ago, but already things have changed so much that I’m not sure I could replicate the feat using the same tools…that’s another thing about indy publishing, be prepared for a wild and constantly changing ride!

      Posted by CJ Lyons | December 19, 2011, 8:14 am
  3. I have one book coming out 2/12 but am considering self-pubbing the novella I completed during NaNo. Thanks for the good info. Your article has definately helped me start thinking about this seriously.

    Posted by Juliette Springs | December 19, 2011, 8:11 am
    • Juliette, if your goal is to promote your 2012 release, then make sure that novella is targeted to the same audience and time the release to help pre-sales of your book.

      You want that novella to be the appetizer so folks are drooling, wanting more, by the time the book is out.

      Best of luck,

      Posted by CJ Lyons | December 19, 2011, 8:16 am
  4. Thanks for a very timely blog, C.J.! I’m going to pass this link on to my RWA chapter – several of the members are looking into self-publishing and this has LOTS of good info for them!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | December 19, 2011, 8:26 am
    • Thanks, Becke! It’s the wild west out there right now, so they need to arm themselves with all the knowledge they can beforehand…and be prepared to have fun taking charge of their future (my favorite part of it all).

      Take care,

      Posted by CJ Lyons | December 19, 2011, 8:31 am
  5. Good morning, CJ –

    We’ve missed you around RU so thanks for today’s fabulous post. Although to some people considering self-publishing, it may seem obvious, I think taking a hard look at the “why” of self-pubbing is brilliant. That will tell so many writers if they should be considering the process in the first place and what they expect out of it of they do.

    Happy Monday, CJ!


    Posted by Kelsey Browning | December 19, 2011, 9:21 am
    • Thanks, Kelsey! ALways glad to be back on RU!

      I’ve actually begun using this philosophy for all of my business decisions–it just takes such a weight off my shoulders asking one simple question instead of trying to weigh all the options at once.

      Posted by CJ Lyons | December 19, 2011, 12:57 pm
  6. Hi CJ,

    I’m glad you mentioned the cost of self-publishing. Readers expect the same quality and don’t like to be disappointed.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | December 19, 2011, 10:02 am
  7. You’re awesome as always, darling! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with the rest of us. Have a wonderful holiday season! xoxo

    Posted by Jenna Bennett | December 19, 2011, 10:04 am
  8. Morning CJ!

    I’m hoping this isn’t a stupid question =) but is there any difference between self-pubbing, indy pubbing and e-pubbing? some people seem to use the words interchangeably, some not so much!

    Great having you here again, and brilliant post as always – can’t wait to see what we learn in part two!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | December 19, 2011, 10:07 am
    • Great question, Carrie!

      Many folks do use the terms interchangeably, but here’s how I use them:

      e-publishing can be done by anyone and simply means producing a book in any e-format whether a pdf you place on your website to a kindle or epub version produced by a publishing house or author

      self-publishing means different things to different folks, but for so long it was associated with vanity publishing (paying a company to print your books) that many folks prefer the term “indy” publishing

      indy publishing is the author taking control of all aspects of the publication process, building a team to fulfill editorial, cover design, promotional efforts, and distribution

      Which of course means the author learning a whole lot more about the publishing biz than any of us ever dreamed!

      Hope that helps,

      Posted by CJ Lyons | December 19, 2011, 1:04 pm
  9. Thanks for the post C.J.

    I’ve stuck my foot in the stream with backlist and two books that had been edited but books I negotiated to get the right back after my publisher made a decision to go POD and epub. I figured, hey, I can do that myself.

    It’s really been an eye opener learning what my fan base was more interested in.

    The one BIG thing I love about this is the ability to make changes. One book that was practically dead with my paranormal pen name, I simply retitled the book, got a new cover and used my romance name. Now book clubs are inviting me for discussions and the book is doing much better.

    Now I’m making a REAL marketing plan for the next year. It keeps me encouraged when I read about authors having success with this new venue. Thanks for sharing.


    Posted by Dyanne Davis | December 19, 2011, 10:50 am
  10. Wise words, CJ! I’m beyond thrilled for you — best wishes for your continued (and well-deserved) success.

    Posted by Kathleen Long | December 19, 2011, 11:00 am
  11. Hi CJ. Welcome back. What I love about your story is how you’ve successfully integrated your indy and traditionally published books and made it all work together to build your brand. I guess I’m not of the mindset that it has to be one or the other and your experience seems to reflect that.

    Thanks for a great post. I’m looking forward to part 2!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | December 19, 2011, 12:28 pm
  12. Thanks CJ, I have my listening ears on!…
    I’ve been edging closer and closer to the epub world and every morsel of advice is so greatly appreciated.
    Heading over to NoRules now, and I’ll be back tomorrow.

    Posted by kc stone | December 19, 2011, 12:45 pm
  13. Hi CJ! Congrats on jumping into the indid pool and maneuvering in such a way to make the best of both the indie and trad publishing worlds.

    Like Kathy, I’m soaking up as much as I can.

    Posted by PatriciaW | December 19, 2011, 1:15 pm
  14. CJ,

    Thanks for sharing your experience and insight with us. Konrath’s blog has whipped a lot of folks into a super-frenzy thinking they can make a ton of money through e-pubbing. But if were that easy, I guess we’d all be rolling in it!

    I’ll admit I’m curious enough to test the waters.

    You made an excellent point about preparing the ms for publication. Whether in print or in e-book format, readers expect a clean, edited read.

    How has pursuing the indie and traditionally pubbed route affected your writing routine, if at all?

    Looking forward to part deux!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | December 19, 2011, 3:24 pm
    • Thanks for asking, Jennifer! I’ve never had any set schedule or routine (I’m a rebel that way–the fastest way to slow down my productivity is try to get me to play by any rules) but I have had to be more time conscious than ever in order to keep my deadlines.

      I have three books to write for my traditional publisher by the end of 2012 plus two more that my readers are clamoring for, so it’s going to be a very, very busy year.

      (No, I’m not superwoman–one of the books is half done, another is a complete revision, the other three…have no clue, but it will fun discovering them!)

      Most important thing I’ve learned is how to say No. As much as I love teaching, I’ve cut back on my online classes (I’m working on creating e-books with the material as well as new ones that will be hosted on a website so folks can still get the material) and am limiting my live appearances.

      It’s hard because I love, love, love teaching and giving keynotes, but something had to give.

      Take care,

      Posted by CJ Lyons | December 19, 2011, 4:08 pm
  15. Great post CJ! I loved your clear, level-headed process on making the decision to self-publish – excellent advice.

    I hear of too many authors getting mad and deciding to self-publish out of anger. it always reminds me of the scene in Groundhog Day when Bill Murray is telling the groundhog, “Don’t drive angry!”

    Posted by Robin Covington | December 19, 2011, 4:31 pm
  16. This is a wonderful post. Simple yet informative…. just how I like them. Thanks CJ.

    Posted by Donna Newton | March 15, 2012, 7:37 am
  17. That was some really good insight… inspiring as well. I know I’m a “little” late stumbling upon this, but I wonder if anyone has any suggestions for me. I love to write non-fiction stuff. But they are all very specific niches- from one end of the spectrum to the other. For example: Parenting, Music Business, Extermination, etc. How do I go about marketing that? I don’t have a series, or several books in just one niche. I’m passionate about things I’ve experienced in life and learned about. That’s the whole reason for writing about it- to help others. So now what? I feel kind of stuck when it comes to marketing them. 1 is already published. My second will be in about a week. Any input or advice is greatly appreciated.

    Posted by Angela Reuss | October 20, 2014, 2:02 am

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