10 Steps to Indie Publishing

Printing pressThese are the best of times for authors—and possibly the worst of times! The changes in the publishing industry over the past five years are nearly as significant as the advent of the internet. In fact, the two developments are intertwined and build on each other.

We all know traditional publishing has undergone tremendous upheaval. It’s still difficult to find an agent. Same goes for a publishing home, doubly so when entire houses fold or get bought out by another entity. Authors are taking to the waters of Amazon and related ponds by the droves, flooding the markets with their manuscripts.

What are some advantages to independently publishing your work? Total control is the one most often mentioned. You work directly with a cover artist to produce the best one for your story. You can replace it if you decide it’s not working. You can set your pricing, then change it at a moment’s notice if needed.

Total control is also the disadvantage to indie publishing. Marketing is incumbent upon you, no one else. Make no mistake: this is a big responsibility.

Given this environment, if you are interested but have yet to dip a toe into the pool, how do you go about what has become known as indie publishing?

1. Know your goals. Do you want to get something in print form for family and friends? Skip down to items 4 through 7 and ignore the rest. Do you want to reach readers who don’t personally know you? Start here and slog through every step listed.

2. Hone your craft. Write the best book possible, run it by critique groups and/or beta readers and/or enter it in contests to get unbiased feedback. Then hire an editor and revise. Yes, this will cost money. Yes, you must do it. Do not fall prey to the delusion that your book is the best one on the planet or the only one not in need of professional editing. It’s not. You can always make it better. Believe me, if your critique partners/beta readers/editors say it needs work, it does. Fix it. If you don’t, the whole world will be privy to the lashing you will get from Amazon and Goodreads reviewers. So make it the best possible book before you put it out there. At least no one will be able to say “poorly written/edited!”

3. Buy books on the process. Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible  by David Gaughran are great resources, they are cheap, and they are fairly up to date. He is a proponent of the Amazon-only model. If you are comfortable with reading advice by savvy romance writers, The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing by The Indie Voice is another great resource.  This group is a proponent of getting your work out to every venue possible; why limit yourself to one vendor? These three books come to less than $15 and lay an excellent foundation for understanding the nuts and bolts of self-publishing.

4. Explore publishing options. Amazon’s self-pub arms are KDP for ebooks, Create Space  or print on demand, and ACX for audio books. Ingram Spark is another option. Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo have platforms for uploading books; I have not gotten that far and do not have information to share. I’m sure others can contribute to the conversation here!

5. Utilize the tutorials on each publishing site. They provide a wealth of information. My experience with customer service on each site has been exceptional. If your budget allows for additional services, pretty much anything you need is available .

6. Remember that nothing is set in stone. If you make a mistake, all you usually have to do is replace the file. For ebooks on KDP, the old one will still be available for sale until the new one goes live. With Create Space, the title will not be available during the changeover, typically twelve hours or so. That said, some mistakes require taking the book down and reissuing it. Call customer service if it looks like something you can’t address on your own.

7. Mistakes: You will make them. The earth will not stop rotating. You will fix them. A week later, you will probably have forgotten the details. Moral: Be nice to yourself when you demonstrate your humanity. Even better, laugh!

8. Connect with your writing community. Ask for help, share insights, cheer each other on, and promote each other’s work. There are enough readers out there for all books. Amazon gave a presentation at a conference I attended recently. Their statistics show a dramatic rise in books sold since the ebook became widely available. More titles, more sales. Readers are voracious. There is enough success to go around; it’s not a finite quantity.

9. Adapt. There is no right way or wrong way to do this. The only given is the quality of the product you put out. Beyond that, much of the process for individual books is trial and error. Try something and see if it works. If not, try something else. Be persistent. Realize that marketing is part of the authorial journey these days, whether you are traditionally or independently published.

10. Remember this is a business for the long haul. It may take years to build a following. Meanwhile, keep improving your craft and writing new content. That is the one action you can take to improve visibility of your books, and visibility translates to sales. Continue to interact with readers, either online or in person, so they remember you and look for your books as you write them.

Questions? Discussion? How about suggestions of books or other resources you’ve found? Please share!

About Leslie Lynch

Leslie Lynch writes women's fiction, giving voice to characters who struggle to find healing for their brokenness – and discover unconventional solutions to life’s unexpected twists. She is an occasional contributor to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’s weekly paper, The Criterion. She can be found at www.leslielynch.com and is on facebook and Twitter@Leslie_Lynch_
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18 Responses to 10 Steps to Indie Publishing

  1. Gary Ludlam says:

    Great advice! I would add a couple of items:
    – Watch out for scams. There is an ocean of sharks out there all wanting to take advantage of your dream of being an author. Be wise before you stroke a check for help.
    – Don’t skimp on a book cover. Most writers are not also talented graphics designers. There are ways to get relatively inexpensive book covers.
    -There are hundreds of great blogs with wisdom and the latest info. (CJ Lyons, Joanna Penn, Anne Allen, Kristen Rush… ) but don’t spend all your time surfing!

    Most of all, I reiterate number 2. Learn to write well. In fact try writing short stories before you jump into a novel. That’s a great way to build up your skills.

    • Leslie Lynch says:

      Great thoughts, Gary! Yes, there are scams by the thousands. I’ve been so blessed; the organizations I belong to are excellent in terms of steering folks away from scams. If a person is pursuing traditional publication, the website (or blog, I don’t remember which) Predators and Editors is a wonderful resource for sorting the wheat from the chaff in the agent/editor world. Wish there was something similar for indie pubs! But sticking with your indie pub platform is pretty safe in that regard.

      Ditto on the book covers. Shop around. Create Space has templates for building your own cover for free, or their team will do it for around $300, which is competitive. There are also a couple of “crowd” options, where you put your need/vision up on a site along with what you can pay; artists from all over the world respond and you choose what you like best, then deal with them directly.

      Thanks for your great additions to this blog, Gary!

      • Gary Ludlam says:

        Thanks Leslie,
        I used 99 designs.com and would recommend it. It was a fun experience and cost “only” $299. In retrospect, I perhaps should have chosen a design more typical of what is marketable, rather than the one I found most attractive and symbolic. Live and learn! I guess that’s one more piece of advice – don’t be afraid of making mistakes…

  2. Janet Baker says:

    Great advice, just one thought: because Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is the world’s largest donor to the cause of homosexual marriage, perhaps we might avoid stuffing his war chest with Catholic money.

    • Leslie Lynch says:

      Hi, Janet! Thanks for stopping by.

      There are many options out there, and that’s why I tried to list several. I’m sure the field will explode with many more in the near future. I spoke with an author last year who envisions printers (like the ones currently in use for print on demand) in bookstores, so a customer can browse and select, then take it to the print kiosk and the book will be ready in minutes! This will open even more doors.

      All these business choices are informed by our faith, as are our life choices. Each Catholic author will need to discern their path in this regard.

      Blessings,
      Leslie

  3. Leslie, I second everything you have said, especially numbers 1, 2, and 8. I read so many articles on self-publishing I couldn’t count them. I also connected with lots of other writers to find out what worked for them. Self-publishing is not an automatic success. It’s hard work.

    Two thing I would add: grow your audience before you write your book. Subscribe to Tim Grahl’s email list for advice on this. And finally, if you’re Catholic, consider joining my Indie Catholic Authors Community on Google+. We have already linked to many of the best articles on self-publishing, so you don’t have to search blindly in the hope to find good ones.

    • Leslie Lynch says:

      Connie, thanks for some more wonderful advice! I knew there were people out there (like you!) who have even better ideas to offer than I do. 😉

      You are correct in terms of trying to build your audience before you publish. It might be a bit different for us fiction writers, but the idea is the same: try to find groups that share interest in the theme of your book(s) and create relationships prior to launching your book. Also, make it easy for readers to sign up for your newsletter, which keeps your name in their minds and generates advance interest when you are ready to launch the next book.

      I’m off to join your Catholic Authors Community on Google + right now!

  4. Kell Brigan says:

    Notice — none of the steps above addresses “marketing” or how to “build that following.” It’s NOT by harassing everyone you know, or thinking you can sell your book in writer’s groups or at meetings at church, etc. Trust me. Most people will nod politely, and make some excuse for not buying your book. Some people will tell you the truth — exploiting personal relationships or groups assembled for another purpose to try to sell a self-published books is a rude, smarmy thing to do. How would you feel if someone tried to sell you life insurance everytime you saw them? Be very, very careful. The truth is, 99+% of writing, and especially religious writing, is absolutely horrible. (Pious, maybe, but HORRIBLE to read!) You don’t want to be one of those naive writers who spends thousands of bucks trying to sell a bad book to people who want nothing to do with it. Before you spend any cash or time with a “self-publisher,” look at how many books you’ve READ by self-publishers. If the number’s 0, why do you think people would read yours, especially when the well-deserved reputation for self-published books is that they’re HORRIBLE? Most of the plans people make for “marketing” self-published books never pan out because no one wants their club/message board/web site to be exploited by self-published writers as a billboard. Most people will tell you “No” when you try to sell them your stuff, and they’re right to. If you have no one — no editor or reputable publisher — vouching for you, there’s no reason to assume your stuff isn’t HORRIBLE. You need to get credentials that indicate to readers that your stuff isn’t a waste of time (no matter how pious it might be). Right now, the only ways to do that are working with traditional publishers or getting reviews THAT YOU DON’T PAY FOR, that are written by PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW, and that AREN’T JUST COMMENTS BY ANONYMOUS PEOPLE ON A WEB PAGE. (And, buying a review that you then try to present as legitimate is a lie and therefore a sin.) For instance, Publisher’s Weekly changed ownership a few years back, and started accepting cash for reviewing self-published works. Now, no one bothers reading ANY of their reviews because weeding out the fake, compromised reviews is too much work. I don’t know of any venue, any efficient and reliable way for people to either buy or sell self-published work. None. Maybe one will come into existence (one writer suggested using public libraries to screen and rank self-published work, for instance), but, until some sort of gatekeeper evolves to fulfill the function usually performed by slush pile editors, self-published stuff is simply not worth anyone’s time. Fewer than 20 self-published works have wormed their way out of the slush pile in the past 20 years; there’s no reason to think yours would be one of them. If you want to have a few copies of your work to hand out to friends, and never plan on seeking traditional publication, go ahead and self-publish. If you want to see your book in stores or on professional, retail websites, stay away from self-publishing. You’ll only be permanently ruining your reputation, and wasting your time and cash.

    • Leslie Lynch says:

      Wow, Kell. Guess I hit a nerve. I agree that trying to sell your book to everyone you meet is smarmy and off-putting; the point of the post wasn’t to address marketing, just answer some questions about the “how-to” of indie pubbing. The questions have come up and deserve a fair answer.

      I would respectfully submit that people are smart enough to read the sample provided by the vendor and decide if the writing suits them or not. If not, don’t buy. That simple.

      Have a blessed day!
      Smiles,
      Leslie

    • Kell, I agree that authors who self-publish must be very careful. You think that 99% of writing, especially religious writing, is “horrible?” Well, that’s your opinion (not the truth, as you proclaim). And what about this fact? Many successful authors started out as self-published authors. Mark Twain, John Grisham and Lisa Genova (author of “Still Alice”) initially self-published their books. Some traditionally published authors I know are getting their rights back and self-publishing their works. I agree that quality is an issue with many self-published books but, as Leslie said in her comment above, many of the SP books we’ve read can easily compete with traditionally published books. Again, quality can be an issue and many SP books are poorly written. However, I’ve also discovered some wonderful and well-written books by SP authors.

      You said: “If you want to see your book in stores or on professional, retail websites, stay away from self-publishing. You’ll only be permanently ruining your reputation, and wasting your time and cash.” All four of my novels have been in the top 20 of their individual categories for two and a half years…and that tells me that I haven’t permanently ruined my reputation nor have I wasted my time and cash.

      Where do you get this mythical figure “fewer than 20 SP books have wormed their way out of the slush pile in 20 years?”

      Self-published books are here to stay, Kell. As Leslie said in her comments, “The wonderful thing about capitalism is that we can each choose to read and buy books that appeal to us, whatever our reasoning.” If you don’t like SP books, don’t buy or read them.

      Blessings,
      Ellen

      • Leslie Lynch says:

        Thanks for stopping by, Ellen!

        You hit the nail on the head when you said, “Self-published books are here to stay.” Traditional publishing has its place, but is weighed down by the disadvantage of being too big to change direction quickly.

        Here is another truth, one which I have encountered: Editors may love an author’s (perhaps groundbreaking) work but are under pressure to contract for the tried-and-true. Indie publishing provides an avenue for those authors.

        Indie publishing also provides a venue for those authors who prefer to write outside the often restrictive conventions of specific genres. Nothing wrong with that! That’s how new and exciting stories find audiences.

        All change is unsettling. But the bottom line here is that each reader can choose what they prefer to buy. There are advantages and disadvantages to both sides of the coin, and new opportunities for both readers and authors.

        Thanks for a lively conversation!
        Blessings,
        Leslie

    • JD Cowan says:

      I’m in the middle of a self-published book right now and am about to crack another one when finished. The last self-published book I read was pretty good, too, outside of a few editing issues. There are a lot of good self-published books out there, some stuff traditional publishers simply aren’t interested in, so sometimes they need to be released this way otherwise they will never get released.

      Conversely I know many books released by traditional publishers I never would have published had I been in their shoes. A lot of bad stuff comes through the gatekeepers, too.

      You just have to be aware of what you’re buying before you buy it.

  5. Kell Brigan says:

    Re. #8 above. Amazon was talking about eBooks, not self-published books. BIG DIFFERENCE. I own a couple hundred eBooks — all are traditionally published.

    • Leslie Lynch says:

      Correct, Kell. The subject was ebooks, but they didn’t separate out indie versus trad pubbed. This is where the “best of times or worst of times” comes in. Quality can be an issue. It is tempting for authors to throw their not-ready-for-prime-time books into the fray, and that is the “worst of times.” Disappointment ensues. In my experience, many indie pubbed books compete well with traditionally pubbed books. Those are invariably the ones who did the hard work of preparing the manuscript. BIG DIFFERENCE. And the wonderful thing about capitalism is that we can each choose to read and buy books that appeal to us, whatever our reasoning.

      Smiles,
      Leslie

  6. Hello Leslie (and others),

    Wonderful advice for self-publishers!! I concur with Connie that growing your audience before you publish is also important and I also agree with Gary about book covers. One other thing I would recommend is that if you are dealing with a topic you’re not familiar with (In my book, Stealing Jenny, one of the characters was a police detective), RESEARCH and/or ask an expert to read through it!

    • Leslie Lynch says:

      Excellent point, Ellen! Providing the highest quality book possible requires lots of steps, and it’s best to not skimp on any of them!

      A related idea for those looking at indie pubbing: Some authors have banded together and created their own small epub companies. This allows them to share the costs of ISBNs, for instance, and in some cases, to hire an editor (or utilize a strong member of the group as their editor). Looking for a small epub company that shares your vision is a viable way to go. There are many of these niche companies springing up. Again, watch for scams or companies without a solid track record. They can disappear as quickly as they came on the scene, so it’s “author beware!”