I’m sure many of us have been curious about indie authoring at some point. About self publishing’s advantages and disadvantages, and its greatest challenges (broadly speaking: its marketing 😉). When it comes to things like writing styles, we often talk about doing what works for you as a writer. So what may work (or not work) for you as an indie author? I talked to four indie authors to find out.
Cheryl Burman 🇬🇧
Lily lawson 🇬🇧
Dreena Collins 🇬🇧
Paula Peckham 🇺🇸
What is it about self publishing that appeals to you the most?
The sense of control over your own destiny and relief of getting away from dependence on other people after three years in the querying trenches. I’m too old to wait for agents. Cheryl
You can usually make more money per sale and it’s quicker. Paula
I’m impatient, so when it’s ready and it’s edited I want it out. Dreena
That I am in control.
What do you feel you’re missing out on by not publishing traditionally?
Kudos and respectability. Some people won’t be very good and some will be exceptional. Some people who don’t understand publishing will think you vanity published. It’s getting people to overcome that old fashioned view of publishing and to understand. Dreena
Trad. authors get a lot of support around the launch of their book (if they’re lucky), but after those few months you’re as much on your own as if you self publish. It gives you a kick start, however, which is good.
What were your goals and expectations when you set out to self publish?
I set myself a target to write a story a week. But not about being published. After I published a first collection I realised I could publish more. I jumped straight in without knowing the ropes. I didn’t know what my publishing goals were.Dreena
How Lily Published
I had zero goals and expectations. I’ve written for a long time. I’ve had things published in anthologies no-one’s heard of. Uni put an anthology together and I decided ‘what the heck, I’ll send them some poems and a short story ’ and they published all of them. I started to talking to people about publishing and it took me well over a year to put a book together. When people say they love my stuff or give me a review I still go what?
I’ve been published in more anthologies through Uni, but I don’t necessarily believe in myself as a writer of fiction. I ended up on Twitter because I got hassled into it. I have a website and a newsletter because I got hassled into it. My whole author platform exists because I was hassled into it. I am very grateful and I feel very lucky to have people around who care enough to hassle me. Lily
Cheryl’s Publishing Path
I started writing my book secretly. I bundled it all up and sent it to Curtis Brown. They didn’t immediately offer me a contract so I thought I’d just shove it up on Amazon and let the money roll in. I’ve learnt a lot in the last few years. It takes time to learn what’s going on in the industry and how it all works. Cheryl
Because of the sales goal number given to me by the publisher [a small press publishing one of Paula’s books], in her eyes, a successful book will sell 500 copies. I thought I could do that easy. That was not easy, I discovered with my first one to self publish. I’m realising that has to be done differently or there’s no way I’ll sell 500 copies. I’m using my experience with a publisher to learn the process I’ll have to do myself. The whole launch thing is necessary. There’s so many books coming out in a day. Paula
How have these changed over time and what changed them?
I think we’ve all just become more realistic. Get something out there, keep on learning and be thrilled when people say they love it. Cheryl [Everyone agreed].
Which aspects of indie authoring have you found most challenging?
My very first cover I after replaced after only a year. I learnt very quickly that it wasn’t right. Dreena
Covers are the bane of my life, but we have the wonderful Rue. Cheryl
They saved us. Lily
My main concern was coming up with a book cover. How to arrange the different parts, how big to make the words and pictures, which fonts to use? I have looked at books in the store to try to learn – what makes this look professional? How does it compare to the ones I’ve seen that look amateurish? I was in a panic about having to do that myself. Paula
[But there was something else pretty big Paula raised that everyone agreed with.]
There’s so much technological stuff. You have to know formatting for Amazon, how to make a video for Tik Tok. Everything has this whole learning curve behind it, and the writing portion is only this much [Paula held her finger close to her thumb] of it. The other day I had 4 tabs open on my computer. One was an excel spreadsheet to keep track of expenses. But I read an email where someone said Tik Tok is the best place to sell books now. So now I need to know how to edit videos. I was googling ‘best free program to make videos’. It was so complicated. Here’s a layer for your audio, here’s one for your video, I need to learn what all that means. I can’t even learn one new skill before the next comes up. I need to focus on my goal for the day, write it down, get that one thing done, and learn it before moving to the next one. Paula
I found things like doing my website challenging as well. David [Cheryl’s husband] is great moral and practical support but I’ve forced myself to get to grips with it all. For me it’s: what are the most important things? If you spend hours doing a video for Tik Tok, how many books is that going to sell? Everybody says the best way to sell books is to get more out there. I think it’s taking what you can personally cope with,, setting priorities 1, 2 and 3 and after that I don’t care. Cheryl
[Everyone laughed and agreed].
I find it difficult with confidence. If someone said write about my book I’m like do I really have to do that? Lily
I kind of role play it. It’s like it’s Dreena the writer doing this bit now. With a pen name I have to put on a persona and it really helps. Dreena
Followers to Fans
I enjoy making the images, videos and all that. The danger is you can focus on that instead of the writing. I’m not trained in a techie way and I don’t even know the terminology for what I do. The difficulty for me is getting likes on Instagram where I have 12k followers but how can I turn that into book sales? Dreena
Having thousands of followers doesn’t translate into sales. Lily
A lot of people who follow you are writers. But breaking into being followed by a reading community is really hard. Dreena
They tend to go for traditionally published, big names. Cheryl
Be Your Own Fans
This could be a mindshift in ourselves. In my local writing group, we started a book club. Every few months Stacy will put up 7 or 8 books on a Facebook poll, and we’ll vote on which to read next. We buy the book, read it on our own time, and then meet as a group to discuss (via Zoom). Often, she can get the author to join us and we talk about the book and writing in general. I told her, “Stacy, stop listing all the big names for Christian writing. It’s a small pond, it’s not hard to get big. Start listing us. We’ve written books. Let’s read our own.” It’s being confident enough to say, ‘I’m an author. I’m published. Let’s read my book.” Paula
I had a good opportunity to build contacts with the local literary community by helping with a local a festival. It takes an awful lot of time to build these contacts and feel comfortable. I met a famous author through this, but I still can’t bring myself to ask them to review my book… You’ve got to build these relationships so that when you do go to a library to flog your book, they don’t just say “thank you” and put it on a shelf, they actually do think of you to give a talk or something. Cheryl
[When an organisation Paula works with wanted a volunteer to take on a role similar to Cheryl’s]. I’ll do it because it gives me the opportunity to meet people who are farther down the path than me. What behind the scenes things can I learn? ACFW does all these contests. They need people to organise the entries. I’m like “Yes, I’ll help do that.” So now I’m working everyday with people on the national board of ACFW. I don’t understand why people don’t get out there everyday and make those connections. It means that you have a claim. Paula
Some people find it horribly painful and some people don’t have the time as they work [I, Elise, silently raised my hand]. My children remind me constantly that I’m supposed to be retired. The marketing is a challenge. Cheryl
What’s worked well for you in overcoming these challenges?
I was freaked the first time I did Zoom. There’s always a part of me that goes “I’ll just run away”. It’s fine now I’m used to it. To begin with it was like, “So scared.” Lily
Practical things like having a persona in writing I found an easy way to overcome insecurities. Dreena
Moving outside your comfort zone does help. All my life I had a job I didn’t know how to do when I started it and I learnt as I went. I had a fantastic mother who told me I could do anything. When the local radio says, ‘Can you come live on air’ you’ve gotta push yourself out there and think: what’s the worst that can happen? Cheryl
Take on one thing at a time. My day with 4 tabs open? I never finished any of them. Just pick something. Learn it. Then you can move on. Paula
Critical for me has been actually engaging in the Writing Community in Twitter and meeting friends like yourselves. It has helped me so much and taught me so much. The kids laugh at me but they’ve stopped now. I think because of covid and having to learn this technology, that has helped so much as well. For me personally, one thing that’s worked really well has been building community with other writers. I also buy your books. Cheryl
My shelf is growing with books by people I know. I think that’s cool. Paula
The first time you pick up a book by someone you actually know, it’s brilliant. The fact my critique partner has published her book means almost as much to me as publishing my book. Lily
Have you found anything easy?
The blog tour I’ve just been on has been a useful tool. I’m paying this woman, she’s giving me a service and she does all the connecting with the people who read my book. I found it really helpful and it did work. Of 20 people who signed up there’s 1 who didn’t read it yet. They did what they said they would do and all I had to do was pay for it. It’s an example of not really expensive and I only had to give away 18 ebooks. The fact someone else was the pivot made it easier for me than having to call lots of bloggers. Dreena
The writing is the easy part. And it’s not all that easy. Paula
Nothing’s easy. Cheryl
Getting people to read my book and pick it to bits was quite easy for me. I just put a message on my FB book page and asked if anyone would read it for me and 6 people were like “I’ll do it.” Some read it more than once. That’s because I already had a community of people I’d known for over a year. Lily
What do you consider to be one of the most important lessons you’ve learned as an Indie?
Build your platform first. If you don’t have a platform when you are ready to launch your book, there’s nobody to tell. That website where you post your newsletter or short stories you’ve written has to be there ready to use when you publish. The hard thing about doing it before you have a finished book in your hands is that you don’t feel real yet. It just feels like you’re playing. Paula
Having somewhere people can come to, to find more about you is important because it builds into the whole marketing is the key point and you have to start that way before you launch your book. Cheryl
Be yourself. Trying to do things the way everybody tells you to, you end up feeling like a bit of a fake. I try to do things my way, instead of going “what does an author do here”, because that isn’t me. Lily
You have to be comfortable. You have to be you. Authentic. Cheryl
Yeah. I know they’ve been doing this longer than me, but the change they’re suggesting doesn’t feel right. I’m not always going to do it that way. Paula
The interior of the book presentation, layout and all of the tricks I really rushed in the first book. I’ve spent longer and longer with each one. I went back and reformatted everything because people are paying money. So I think the design and formatting of the interior needs to be spot on. Dreena
I looked at books and the fonts and where to put your name. Then hard copy proofs. It’s always important to see how the book will actually look. It’s the same also with the editing, grammar, punctuation, chapter headings. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist with those things. Kobo messed up the formatting of Keepers the first time. It didn’t show the scene breaks. The only clue was no indentation in the first para. Somebody gave me a review saying I had head hopped within scenes. Horror! I put proper scene breaks in with a symbol now, not just a double space. Cheryl
Poems can be a right pain with formatting. Lily
What advice would you give to writers beginning Indie Authoring?
Be part of the WritingCommunity on Twitter and find your people whether that’s on platforms, or geographically. Learn as much as you can from reading, webinars, asking questions. Don’t be scared to ask people for help. If you think its a stupid question, chances are there’s somebody going, “Oh I wanted to know that.”
Know your limits, what you can do and can’t do and be willing to get someone to do what you can’t do for you. I did do my cover for My Father’s Daughter, but now Rue’s re-done it, it’s a better job. It doesn’t always cost you money. Some people are willing to share things with you and help you for zero pence. Sometimes it’s you teaching people and they’re teaching you. Go your own speed and your own way. You learn at your own speed. Lily
If you want people to reach for you, then reach for other people as well. Lily
I’m in another group and there are some people who are very conspicuous by their absences. Some people have more chutzpah than others. Cheryl
Find a critique group. Paula
Subscribe to Jane Friedman’s newsletter and take advantage of all the topics there. And be willing to engage with other people. Cheryl
Get a good product. Be patient and learn from others. Cheryl
I know I said take your time with formatting and all that, but at the same time don’t wait too long and doubt yourself. Don’t think it’s not a great time. The time is now. Some of that hesitation will be from a lack of confidence, but people will support you and guide you and you’ll learn from that. I would say don’t hesitate. Dreena
I think you have to be ready. Lily
But it’s good fun. I think we all do it with very little expectation of being fabulously rich, because for me anyway, it’s just what I do. I treat it almost as a job these days. It’s what I like to do. Cheryl
Tell us a bit about you, your books and where we can buy them.
I came late to writing, inspired largely by where I live, in the beautiful Forest of Dean in the UK. Over the past few years I’ve published a children’s fantasy trilogy, a slim collection of short stories (several of them prize winning/commended) and a women’s fiction novel which is being met with positive reviews. In between getting on with two current projects, I’m much involved in my local writing scene including working with students in local schools to encourage their creative spark.
You can see all my books (including the dog’s best selling book) on my website.
To keep up with what’s going on, including in my local writing world, join my mailing list for my monthly newsletter.
A fifth-generation Texan, Paula Peckham graduated from the University of Texas in Arlington and taught math at Burleson High School for 19 years. She divides her time between her home in Burleson and her casita in Rio Bravo, Mexico. Her debut novel, Protected, was an ACFW Genesis semi-finalist in 2020 and will be published March 2022 with Elk Lake Publishing, Inc. She also writes short stories and poems and is a member of ACFW and Unleashing the Next Chapter.
For more about Paula and her books, visit her website.
You can also follow Paula on
Lily Lawson is a poet and writer who has self-published two poetry collections; My Father’s Daughter and A Taste of What’s to Come. She has had poetry, short stories and creative non-fiction published in anthologies.
For more about Lily, visit her website.
You can follow Lily on: Twitter Facebook Instagram
Dreena Collins was born in Jersey, where she lives with two males and a dog.
She has also been listed and placed in a number of writing competitions, including the Mslexia annual awards, and the Bridport Prize. She writes earnest short fiction under her birth name, and feel-good light reads as Jane Harvey. Jane’s debut novel – The Landlord of Hummingbird House – is out now.
Her hobbies include eating spicy food, unintentionally waking at 4.30 am, and falling over.
For more about Dreena and her books, visit her website.
You can follow Dreena (Pen name Jane Harvey) on