So you’re thinking of indie publishing? (Updated 1-31-15)

Do your homework first and check out some of this information on the state of the art.

I originally pulled this information together because I was presenting about self-publishing at the Troy NY Public Library with traditional authors Jenny Milchman and Diane Cameron. That session filled quickly and ended up with a long waiting list, so there’s clearly a need for this information. (We may well do more sessions in the future — in fact, I am already working on one for March — so join my mailing list if you want to hear about them.)

The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire -- showing a (dressed) teenage girl on a bed, looking rather pensive.It was a handy review for me, too, as I decided just how much to undertake in the marketing of my second novel The Ribs and Thigh Bones of Desire — which came out last month and is just not selling itself no matter how much I wish it would. (Yes, that’s one of the things you need to know about indie publishing.)

I’m just going to assume that you’ve written a good book, gotten plenty of feedback from people other than your mom, and gotten it properly edited and proofread and formatted. I’m also assuming that you can handle a bad review without melting down. (If you can’t, stop now, because you’re not ready to publish.)

Indies Unlimited
This is a great site to explore because it offers tons of good information shared by knowledgeable and experienced indie authors. There are also opportunities to promote, but that’s mostly going to fellow authors, so don’t get too excited about it. Start here, since it’s a guide to the whole site:

Kristine Kathryn Rusch on “Business Musings: Things Indie Writers Learned in 2014”
This is a post that pretty much sums up the state of the business at the end of 2014. Among other things, Rusch points out that “writing is hard,” “publishing is hard,” and “the gold rush is over.” In short, this article provides a useful reality check about indie publishing. But it’s not completely hopeless! So if you can read this and still feel willing to buckle in, consider giving it a try. (You should also read her year-end take on traditional publishing if you are contemplating that as an option.)

Hugh Howey on “Where do we go from here?”
Howey, probably the most famous indie author success story, is more upbeat than Rusch here, though he reminds us that no entertainer can expect to succeed forever.

Anne R. Allen on “Why the Self-Published Ebook is No Longer the ‘New Query’”
This post by Anne R. Allen provides a useful counter to Howey, in case he encourages you a little too much. I think it applies best to people who are hoping going indie will transition them into a successful traditional career selling literary fiction. I would honestly recommend trying traditional first if that is your goal. But if you hit a brick wall or don’t sell well enough in your debut, even though people unrelated to you are quick to say your stuff is good, indie publishing is the other way to start finding your readers.

Lindsay Buroker’s marketing advice for 2015
Good stuff here from a successful and personable indie author, including the perennial discussion of whether to be in Kindle Select or not. Her blog is worth mining for lots of good information, especially if you write historical mysteries or series.

Build your author platform
Instead of giving you a blog link, I’m giving you a book link, because I think this is a really good guide at a reasonable price (though you could also just track down the author’s blog posts on the subject):

Network with fellow authors
Jenny and Diane and I were doing this when we got together to put on a presentation. Writers often benefit from working together, perhaps especially if they share a genre. Or maybe you’re neighbors, or one of you started as a fan of the other, or you met and bonded while surviving a crazy writer’s workshop (that’s Jenny and me). Anything goes. Be supportive of other authors to the extent you can without lowering your own standards or turning off your own audience.

Having said that…

  • Don’t ask authors for favors when you haven’t even bought their books, or reviewed them, or written to them, or helped them get the word out, or in some way established a relationship that isn’t just asking them to do something for you.
  • Unless people are already your friends — and volunteer to do it — assume that you will need to pay them for editorial services. Nobody edits or gives feedback for the sheer joy of it.
  • Don’t “trade” reviews. It puts you in an unpleasant ethical bind.
  • Don’t write nasty reviews. Reviewing fellow authors is fine, but if you didn’t like their books, it’s better not to review at all. Even a middling review could get you in trouble.

My first (homemade) cover

TheAwfulMess 396 x 612 pixels

Designed by

Get the right cover
Whether you think you have the skills yourself (it’s possible), or plan to hire someone, the cover is a big decision. (Though it need not be a final one – as an indie, you CAN change covers much more easily than a traditional author can.) Joel Friedlander, AKA The Book Designer runs a monthly cover contest, and reading his honest commentary can be really educational as well as entertaining. He’s particularly geared towards e-book covers, which have slightly different requirements than bookstore covers – they have to be something you can get an impression from even when they are really, really tiny. (It’s worth noting that my friends still argue over which cover is better, but to my mind there is no contest.)

Get the right copy (book blurb)
This is a useful exercise whether you are traditionally or indie published, or are unpublished and setting up your author platform. (It’s also very helpful as you query agents.) I especially like this post from Ruth Harris because it not only offers good advice, it gives you links to lots more good advice:

Avoid being taken for a ride
During the California gold rush, the people who made the most money were the people who sold stuff to miners … and the people who stole stuff from them. That’s true of the indie publishing phenomenon, too. Heck, people who are trying to be traditionally published often fall victim to scams, too. Before you do business with anyone who claims to be in publishing, check that person or business at Preditors and Editors. You might also want to check with Indies Unlimited, the Writer’s Café at the KBoards, and anyone you know who’s already out there. Go beyond the first pages of Google (which can be manipulated by savvy operators) in doing your due diligence, and include in your searches terms like “reviews” or “complaints” as well as the business name.
Preditors and Editors:

Finally, two rules you really need to understand before you publish:

Rule #1: DON’T SPEND ANYTHING YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO LOSE. Even legitimate expenses don’t always pay off in this business. No provider can guarantee you financial success, and you should be deeply suspicious of anyone who makes that kind of claim. (On the other hand, you should also be prepared to invest in your business.) The obvious companion to this: Don’t quit your day job (unless you really can afford to).

Rule #2: SUCCESS AS A WRITER IS A LONG GAME. If you hope to make a living at this, or a decent supplemental income, or a measure of fame, one book will not do it. Most people who do well already have four or five or six books out and have been slogging away without great reward for years. So if you just want to publish your memoir or your Great American Novel and be done with it, realize that you are essentially just making it conveniently available for friends and family rather than trying to build a career as an author-publisher. And if that’s the case, you really don’t need to learn your way around — just find a handy vanity publisher or formatting service and get it done.

Feel free to add info below — we can all benefit from your knowledge!

15 thoughts on “So you’re thinking of indie publishing? (Updated 1-31-15)

  1. Great info Sandra, I will keep this information for reference. First I have to finish book 2, Then I’m also going back to book 1, new edits, and cover. Starting over just feels right. Thanks you!!

    • Glad to help! (I certainly appreciate anyone who shares their knowledge about this art!) if you haven’t done the paperback yet, doing that with a new cover will put you back into “new release” status at Amazon, or at least it did for me (as I discovered accidentally).

      Good luck!

      • Sounds good to me. With all I have going on in my life it’s going to be awhile. Finishing my book 2 is first priority. Once that’s done I can re-re-edit bk 1, get new cover and Voila, a brand new day. I do wish I could just snap my fingers and it would all be done, lol.. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Self-Publishing: Carnival of the Indies Issue #53

    • Thanks, Norma! Yes, people need to know it’s not easy money. (Unless, perhaps, you’re writing sweet Montana romances or some other of the reputed “there’s-gold-in-them-thar-hills!” genres.)

  3. Awesome post. It covers so many important points. And thanks much for the shout-out for my post warning writers not to count on a self-published book to open doors with the trads.

    And thanks so much for this: “Don’t ask authors for favors when you haven’t even bought their books, or reviewed them, or written to them, or helped them get the word out, or in some way established a relationship that isn’t just asking them to do something for you.” Amen!

    • Thanks, Anne! I appreciated your voice of reason in regard to agents and publishers. I fear, though, that the people who most need to hear that part about not asking authors for favors out of the blue are the very people least likely to read it.

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