Critical Mass and the Indie Author

Critical Mass and the Indie Author

by Diana DeLugan

Critical Mass is a nuclear physics term, defined as the smallest mass that supports a critical mass of readersnuclear reaction at a sustainable level. When applied to the independent publishing market, indie authors can seek critical mass by finding the right balance of books and market share to sustain a steady and viable income stream.

Some authors claim to write for the art. Others claim to write for self-expression. But we can’t ignore the pink elephant in the room. Virtually every indie author dreams of being financially successful so that he or she can be economically free to explore his or her inner literary Rembrandt.  

Coker’s Ebook Annuity Approach

Smashwords founder and CEO Mark Coker’s recent blog, titled “The Ebook as Annuity,” suggests that indie authors should view ebooks as an investment. Each published book provides an author unlimited income potential. Placing the right books in the right stores will promote enduring sales. Coker explains that enduring sales are like insurance annuities. The perfect combination of sales-producing ebooks and market share can provide a long-lasting income stream. But how does the author reach publishing critical mass? Can critical mass can be obtained using any publication format?

The Right Write

As authors, we have to be honest with ourselves. Quality sells. If we rush to market books without regard for quality, sales will be short lived.

Fiction authors have a unique advantage over most nonfiction authors. A story can be timeless when the main characters represent recognizable archetypes. Does your book clearly define the hero or heroine or other archetype? Does your book convey an understandable message? Crafting a story that readers can relate to despite time or geography helps ensure that the book will sustain marketability and, in turn, a steady revenue.

Unlike fiction, biography, memoir, and most nonfiction writers face the dilemma of keeping their books relevant. Reported facts can quickly become obsolete. Keeping content current requires that indie authors be diligent and stay informed about subject matter changes, and also have the ability to update prior published works. If done correctly, subsequent editions can garner the attention of new readers. Failure to identify the distinctions between initial and subsequent editions can confuse purchasers into buying the wrong book and taint the author’s credibility and, thus, future sales.

One example of how nonfiction data becomes quickly obsolete is evident in books about the ebook industry. During the 1990s, early ebooks were released on compact disks (CDs) and via Adobe portable document format (PDF). Then in 2007, Amazon produced the Kindle electronic book reader, which has been continuously revised since its inception. Ebooks written during the 1990s about the new ebook industry were clearly out of date by 2007. Similar rapid changes in any growing field or industry will cause any nonfiction book sales to plummet if reported facts are outdated.

There is no doubt that indie publishing critical mass demands quality and relevance. It also demands the right market.


In an ideal world, indie authors sell their books to the masses. Mass market means more money. Right? Wrong.

Indie authors should consider demassification, the reduction of mass market sales to a targeet readerniche market. Identify the targeted group of readers that finds your book ideal. Who is interested in your genre of writing? Do your targeted readers need a specific book format?

Marketing to the masses without any concept of the ideal market is a setup for failure. Does it make sense to market a tech book to someone who cannot read? Or an audio book to someone who is deaf? Of course those are extreme examples, but it is necessary to demonstrate how futile it is to sell to everyone when the goal is to identify targeted readers who are more inclined to purchase a specific book.

For instance, books about exercise can be marketed as downloadable audio books that a sports enthusiast can use with a mobile device while enjoying his or her favorite sport. Children’s books can be sold as interactive ebooks with sound or pop ups that are good for entertaining children at home or on vacation.

Obtaining indie publishing critical mass demands demassification. Clearly defined markets will ensure that invested time and energy will promote increased sales. A targeted market also helps increase author visibility. Writers who have a niche market are more apt to gain notoriety as a subject matter expert than writers whose books are nearly indistinguishable from the content of other books.

Plan for Critical Mass Success

Indie author success is akin to courting a sweetheart. If you want to achieve critical mass as an author and have your book sales provide a sustainable stream of income, the passion in your work must be obvious. Care about what you write. Care about who your readers are. Care about and react proactively to the changing indie publishing market. If you do, your book sales will take care of you.

Diana DeLugan, J.D., is a historian, singer, and author of
Haunted Otero: Ghost Tales Diana DeLuganfrom the American Southwest is available on Her second book, The Otero Arizona Land Grant Documentary, limited edition, is available at bookstores in Tubac, Arizona. Her new book, Guide to Free Arizona Family History Research will be available at the 2015 Tucson Book Festival at the University of Arizona Campus on March 14-15, 2015. Diana blogs each Sunday at and here on the 20th of every month. For more information, visit her website, subscribe to her YouTube channel, follow her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or add her to your circles on Google+. Reach her directly at

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1 Response to Critical Mass and the Indie Author

  1. bethkoz says:

    Thanks for your post, Diana. I picked up a few things I had not considered! That’s always a good thing.


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