Many authors have heard how J.K. Rowling published a crime novel recently under a pen name, and that it sold very modestly until she was revealed as the author.
More recently, the multi-published novelist C.S. Lakin did a similar experiment in order to test the theory that known authors sell more because they are known, or, in writer jargon, because they have a "platform."
Like Rowling, Lakin decided to write a book under a pen name, and see how it sold.
But here's the catch. She didn't just write any old novel-- much less a novel that she wanted to write, that was inside her and burning to get out.
Lakin researched a subgenre of romance novels-- the Sweet Historical Western-- that experts said was a "sure" sell regardless of author platform. She dissected the structure of one such novel, and lifted typical marketing copy from the genre. She then wrote to the formula.
Lakin had an "assistant" do advance promotional work for her, so that when the book came out, there would be at least some buzz. She spent money on getting the format right and having it available in the correct outlets.
It's not surprising to me that Lakin made a profit on the book, and that for an indie it did quite well.
It also wouldn't surprise me that someone without Lakin's pedigree (she comes from a family of successful writers), experience, credentials, time, marketing connections, and disposable income would not approach what she sold, nor even be able to finish the project that she took three months to do.
I have discovered something about indie publishing: if you've already published traditionally, you have several novels under your belt, and you're writing full time or nearly so, you're going to do better, and most of the time much better, than those of us who are going the full indie route.
Therefore, beginning indie writers should take the advice of the seasoned pros with a big grain of salt.
Lakin makes it sound as if her work researching, writing, publishing, and promoting "Colorado Promise," her Sweet Historical Western, was a straightforward, uncomplicated process.
For those writers working a non-writing job full time to pay the bills and who consider it an accomplishment simply to write a novel that we consider publishable, doing what Lakin did would be a journey filled with trial and error, late nights, tears, and blind alleys.
Three months of work for Lakin might end up being three years for the rest of us. And then, it might still not be right. I wrote a romance novel once, an inspirational, worked on it hard, sent it out to contests, and got it torn to shreds by the judges. I chalked it up to a learning experience.
Securing advance promotion is a serious undertaking. The fact that Lakin used an assistant to do it for her indicates she has money and connections. It's also telling that she doesn't think using an assistant is sort of cheating on her experiment.
In short, Lakin is a pro's pro, able to spend her work time on making the book the best it can be in the shortest amount of time. Then she gives the impression that others can do the same.
It reminds me of the great baseball slugger Barry Bonds, who said the secret to hitting was "catching" the ball on your bat. Never mind that you have to "catch" it while it's going up to a hundred miles per hour.
All of which to say-- you could reproduce Lakin's success in going after a genre and writing to make quick cash off of it.
But don't be surprised if, unlike Rowling's crime novel, it really does go nowhere.
My own advice is the same, silly stuff you're always hearing. Write what you love. Get better. The rest will follow. Then, when you do have 14 novels under your belt, maybe writing to a formula will be a welcome change.