A Fantasy Author's Adventures in Fiction & Life

Category: Advice for Authors (Page 1 of 2)

Its not easy getting started on new social media platforms, getting post interactions, finding your people etc. It takes time. Then platforms with algorithms (not Blue Sky or Mastodon) tend to punish your visibility when you don’t post or interact regularly. Twitter’s death has scattered a lot of communities, some of us onto multiple platforms. Meanwhile posting and running on any platform has its own issues, which I will unpack in Avoiding Social Media Burnout.

In your quest to seek your communities, interact personally and freely promote your books/ art/ products; are you paying enough attention to each platform’s usability, personal fit and comfort? I’ll unpack these factors to help you select platforms to ditch, to assist in avoiding social media burnout.

Because; do you actually need to be on SO MANY platforms? Can you integrate your creative and personal pursuits onto a smaller number of platforms where you engage more often, more meaningfully and are actively part of the communities you seek? I’ll offer suggestions on platforms where this can be effectively achieved as well.

I know, especially with the Twitter Writing diaspora (no this post isn’t dated, I reject the name change), its easy to get FOMO. To wonder about creatives and people you’re not connecting with or reaching on other social media platforms. So some people use an app to schedule posts on multiple social media, more than they have time or energy to interact on, which has its own problems.

I hope you don’t use an app which auto-posts: ‘I just posted on Insta’ or ‘just pinned (whatever) on Pinterest…’ because I’ve unfollowed people for that. If I follow you on Blue Sky (Bsky) or Mastodon, its because I want to see your Bsky or Mastodon content.

Then there’s the issue of audience differences. I prefer to manually post on Bsky/ Mastodon and Facebook. My FB is mostly people I’ve known personally from all walks of life, including far less people from the diverse communities I interact in on Bsky. So if I scheduled the same posts for Bsky and Facebook, they would resonate with my Bsky community, but not my FB contacts, or vice versa, OR compromise too much and not resonate with either.

And that’s not the biggest problem.

Sure, there will always be those kind people who like and comment on your post, even when you don’t reply or even like their comments (I’ve seen it happen).

The problem with posting and running is it feels like rockstar status. Like you’re saying, “I’ve got things to do (as if my followers don’t). I want engagement from you and I’ll give you nothing/ little in return.” Alternatively “I think my time is worth more than yours.”

I don’t expect any writer/ creative to be Neil Gaiman on Bsky (how much that guy posts but also interacts with other people’s posts is AMAZING! When does he even write?!) But when Neil Gaiman interacts with his followers and others don’t (I don’t just mean life gets busy so you disappear or are hardly present for a bit, I mean post and run is your modus operendi) it feels like snobbery.

If people comment on your posts and you don’t reply, it will feel to them that you’re not really there. Like you’re talking at them, but not listening to them. You’ve taken the ‘social’ out of social media. So why follow you on that platform?

Which brings me to, if you’re on more platforms than you have time to connect with others on, if all you’re doing is posting and running… does that build a following?

Sure, there are people who post frequently, have interesting things to say and gain lots of followers. I follow one on Blue Sky who posts multiple times a night on multiple topics, in such a way that many people feel a connection to him. He’s also entertaining and has an unusually large number of followers for Bsky. (And I bet its his main platform, which he gives most of his social media time and energy to).

But most of us don’t present in ways lots of people frequently feel so connected to. Its people who feel like they know me who tend to regularly interact with my social media posts. And while they may feel that from reading my posts often, they get to know me far better if we talk to each other. That’s what gets me the most engagement.

So if you’re posting and running, do people feel like they know you on that platform? Do they connect with what you’re saying? Do they interact with you? Or are you shouting into the void? And if so, would letting those accounts go dormant (or deleting them) lose anything? Or would it gain you time and energy/ spoons for other things?

As an indie author, I took the advice to be where my readers are. I tried to post there more often than once in a blue moon when it wasn’t somewhere I didn’t have the motivation, time or spoons to interact. And I learned that reciprocity is important to me not just as a writer and author, but as a social media user.

I don’t want to post and run. I don’t want to be that person who’s always taking and never gives anything back. Who wants engagement and interaction but never returns it.

Learning this about myself made it much easier to decide to let my Tik Tok and Instagram accounts become dormant, to only use my Pinterest to pin a link to my latest blog and to mainly interact on my Blue Sky and Mastodon accounts. I just have a Facebook profile for anyone who isn’t on the former two (because I hate the fan-style set up of FB pages).

But if you are comfortable interacting only with those who reply to you or posting and running…

This can get overlooked among the ‘be where your readers are’ advice and the temptation to be everywhere to ‘reach as many readers as possible’.

This is a simple way to cut down your platform presence.

At one point I had writer groups on Facebook. It was clunky and disorganised. Posts didn’t display in chronological order. The display order of posts kept changing. It wasn’t easy to organise by topic. I found myself not wanting to interact in FB groups I created, because every time I did they frustrated my impatience to interact swiftly and effectively.

So when Facebook shut down Australian community groups without warning during a 2020 lockdown and I moved my writer groups to Discord and found it had ten times better functionally, I all but stopped using Facebook to interact with writers.

When it comes to usability, is there a platform where the notifications, functionality, layout, the way posts are organised (or totally disorganised) frustrates you? That makes things more time-consuming to use?
How much frustration does it cause you or how much of your time does it take up across a day, a week, a month? Is it worth it?

(On these grounds alone, Twitter was a monumental waste of my time by mid 2023 and its dis-functionality was right up there with its antisemitism in driving me to Mastodon and Blue Sky.)

I liked the idea of Instagram. I enjoy travel and nature photography and sometimes write poems. Its also popular with the target audience of my YA Fantasy books: fifteen to forty-somethings (I don’t think YA readership stops at forty, though I know far less fifty-something+ are on Insta). In theory it was a good place to promote my writing and have a social media presence.

But Insta never worked out for me. Posts were bigger and took longer to scroll than my preferred text-based platforms. The algorithms showed me populist posts instead of people I actually knew socially, or fellow writers. The relentless plague of bots commenting on my bookish posts and spamming my inbox was ANNOYING. And I’m still convinced half my followers are men treating Instagram as a dating app…

Then Insta started imitating Twitter with blue tick offers, increased ads and populist post and follow suggestions clogging my feed. This was a feed I wasn’t going to interact on because it just didn’t fit me. It was my post and run platform. And every time the algorithms changed, my posts got seen by less people and slowly dropped from an average of 40 likes to around 15.

I thought, what’s the point? I’m not going to reach readers here anyway. I could use the time and energy I spend on Insta writing my newsletter or blog… even my books! So I let my Insta go dormant.

Avoiding Social Media Burnout (For Writers/ Creatives)

Do you have a platform you feel the same way about? What could you achieve for your books/ art/ newsletter/ blog/ business if you ditched that platform?

Sometimes, the place your readers/ viewers/ customers hang out ISN’T a good place for you. I don’t just mean you find it tricky or aren’t too sure how the platform works. I mean you’re there because you feel you ‘should’ be and are fighting that little voice in your head telling you ‘this is UN-comfortable.’

For me, this is Tik Tok. I write YA Fantasy. Book Tok sells books. I ‘should’ be on Tik Tok. But my Tik Tok feed is to my ADHD like someone running their nails down a blackboard nonstop. Its audio and visual sensory overload. Its also constant change and unpredictability because every few seconds its a different person/ place/ colours/ sounds/ music/ volume level etc. Tik Tok is sensory HELL for my neurodiverse needs.

Because of the above I have zero desire to interact on Tik Tok. I could just post book promo videos there. Maybe a few author friends would be generous and interact with me even though I never interact with them. Maybe on the right hashtags and with the right sounds my videos would sell some books.

I did make a few personal videos (because I hate just being salesy anywhere). I paid my cover artist to make one animated book cover and reviews video. Then I lost interest, motivation, spoons, time and didn’t go back.

If you’ve got that account your readers hang out on and you ‘should’ be on but you don’t feel comfortable or dislike the platform, maybe the best thing for your comfort/ energy levels/ not spreading yourself too thin is to let that account go.

If you don’t approve of hate speech, you wouldn’t want to give it the thumbs up by having an account on a social media platform that enables hate speech, would you?
So have you deleted your Twitter yet?
If not, please read ‘Delete your Twitter’ below. (Yes, its more sympathetic than what I wrote above).

You may also want to consider social media platforms where misinformation is rife, given how that can fuel social division, the climate crisis, maintain the status quo by keeping marginalised communities and people marginalised, etc.

Tik Tok may give you pause because of its Chinese ownership and China and human rights…

For more on my personal stance on Twitter, Facebook (and KU/ Amazon) ethics, see Author Ethical Dilemmas.

I assume you were on social media before you had books/ art/ products to sell. That you partly use social media to interact with friends and family, with fellow creatives and possibly with groups who share your interests or facets of your identity. So in this next section I’ll talk about social media spaces that meet your social, personal AND indie needs. Those are the ones I suggest prioritising with most of your time and energy/ spoons.

Let’s say for example you’re a SciFi nerd and you’re on Tumblr for that. Or you love bird watching and follow FB groups for that. Or like me you’re queer, neurodiverse, chronically ill or otherwise disabled. Let’s say sharing life experiences in those communities is affirming, informative and beneficial to your wellbeing.

But communities and interests can be on different platforms, which spread you thin and can wear you out. So where can you integrate your interests, social groups and personal interactions?

The Old School option was Facebook profile to interact with friends/ family, and FB groups for writers, other communities and your interests plus your author Facebook page. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not fond of Facebook functionally or ethically. Technically I’m still in FB groups for writers (I almost never look at them) and Wide for the Win as an author (I always mean to look at that more —on its own platform).

But if you are a FB user, it does integrates lots of groups and interests in one space (and likely a lot of your personal contacts if you’re Gen Y or older.) Limiting yourself to it (and few others) is an effective way to avoid social media over-stretching and burn out (and time suck).

I love Blue Sky because I can connect with writers, get and give writerly and authorly advice, help others AND do the same things as a neurodiverse, queer and chronically ill person. I can check in on the latest news, the latest archaeological discoveries, find historical articles, its all there in one place. Individual posts are even organised topically so I can browse feeds by topics that interest me. And it hosts Twitter’s writer chats (see my Bsky Newby guide for details).

Bsky can integrate your interests and communities (in my opinion with better functionality and organisation than Facebook) —and without Musk or Zuckerberg! These are some of multiple reasons its my favourite social media.

From what I understand, Reddit is another good option to engage with particular interests and topics. It also categorises posts and includes categories you can share shorts, poetry etc in to build your audience on social media.

Yes, you could browse Twitter or Instagram, or Mastodon or I don’t know what else by hashtags to explore your interests. In my experience (of Twitter) people often forgot to use relevant hashtags in their posts, or they overused them (especially on Instagram) and this is not nearly as effective in connecting with your people as Facebook groups, Blue Sky Feeds or what I’ve heard of Reddit.

But if Instagram or Mastodon are where you personally connect with people, your creative community (via Mastodon prompt hashtags or Instagram challenges), and where your other interests and communities are; by all means connect there by hashtag. And make either your main social media base that gets most of your time and energy (bonus if it fits where your readers hang out!)

In the author interviews I’ve done (all linked on this page), ‘build your writing community and do it early’ or ‘I wish I’d done it sooner’ is something writers say A LOT. So in prioritising social media platforms, the first question I suggest you ask is; where is my creative/ writing community?

If it’s always been in Facebook groups or on Instagram, this is easy to answer, and I’d stay active in your community. But if your community used to be Twitter…

The time has long passed to beat around the bush about this.

I had 16k Twitter followers. I introduced writers to each other by genre. I critiqued pitches, ran query letter and Pitch Party DM groups. Then I started an Author Platform DM group, an SFF one, a Querying Writers DM (then moved them all to Discord).

Twitter’s #WritingCommunity was my home and I knew literally hundreds of writers by name and could tell you off the top of my head what genre tens of them wrote. But everything I loved about Twitter’s #WritingCommunity was already dying when Musk started breaking Twitter.

We’re not uncertain what kind of transphobia-promoting, fascist-enabling hellhole Twitter could become. [Twitter’s safety measure cuts are now documented, as are statistics on hate speech tweets not being removed and people not being banned for tweeting them. Spoiler, the latter statistic is ZERO)]. We’re also in no doubt how many staff will be sacked and how dysfunctional and unusable the site will become.

Twitter is dead.

True, by leaving, I lost friends (who didn’t go to Blue sky/ Mastodon/ Facebook/ Discord) and that’s sad. I hope they’ll become active on Blue Sky or Discord one day. But I haven’t regretted deleting my account or departing a discrimination-enabling, rage-bating platform once.

Let it go and move on —preferably before fascists start seeing your continued presence as support of their beliefs.

By now you’ve either settled into algorithm-less Mastodon, or found it not a close enough clone of Twitter (writers, check out #WritersCoffeeClub if you’re still settling there -that’s where the #WritingCommunity is!). Or you’re feeling more comfortable on algorithm-less Blue Sky or on Threads. Or you’ve settled on Discords or into Instagram’s creative communities.

Have you noticed how hard it can be settling into one creative/ writing community? Building connections among creatives in one space? This is why I suggest sticking to ONE main creative community on ONE platform. Go there with your experiences, questions, learnings, random thoughts, memes —everything. Let fellow creatives get to know you and get to know them. Make friends and build ONE proper creative community.

Ideally, do it on the social media with your queer community, your bird watching community, your BIPOC community, your personal contacts —to minimise your platform spread, build strong connections and get the most out of the time, energy and spoons you invest in social media.

I’m active almost daily on Blue Sky AND Mastodon. Its do-able because Mastodon’s writer prompts give me a topic to talk about and other people’s responses to interact with on the same hashtag. It makes getting to know and meaningfully interact with a group of writers effortless (and when time’s short I skip Bsky that day or do two day’s Mastodon prompts the next day).

Discord or Facebook may be like this for you. You go in to the group —and on Discord go to the topically relevant channel— ask your question and get it answered. Or you look at what other people are saying (again on specific topic channels that interest you on your choice of Discord servers) and reply —when it suits you to do so.

If you get what you want from the platform quickly and easily, as rarely or as often as you want WITHOUT putting much time, effort or energy into it, you may find Mastodon/ Discord/ FB Groups sustainable —on the side of your main creative community.

Ideally you’ve got ideas on where you can interact as an author/ artist/ other creative and person and with your creative community and potential readers/ viewers/ consumers on one or across two, possibly three platforms.

I’m not saying necessarily delete everything else (exception Twitter). Consider what I did on Instagram: say you’re going elsewhere, leave links for people to find you and let the account go dormant. That way anyone who finds it can connect with you where you’re maximising and integrating your social media presence.

And if they don’t?
I wonder how many more people you’ll reach on the few platforms you make your online homes, by being present, by effectively connecting and being a part of the community. Good luck!

Blue edged, pink, orange and yellow rainbow scroll with text: Get blogs in your inbox & updates from Elise every second month. Join my Fiction Frolics. Select this image to learn more.

Related Reading/ Links Shared Above

My Writer Discords

Blue Sky Newby Guide

Social Media For Writers (general platform introduction —don’t forget this blog’s advice!)

Twitter, KU & Author Ethical Decisions

Becoming an Indie Author

Author Newsletters

Most of my blogs about authoring are practical advice, save my my decision to self publish. I’m now at a stage of outlining thoughts on other big (in this case ethical dilemma) author decisions; which social media and advertising platforms to use as an author. This is not an advice blog and definitely not a ‘how to make money as an indie author blog’. It’s why I chose to leave Twitter, opt out of Kindle Unlimited and delete my Facebook Author Page. It may help you reflect on your choices and what’s right for you as an author/ reader/ person. (And maybe we can lament the demise, death and zombie status of Twitter together).

Amazon, Libraries & No Thanks Kindle Unlimited

When you’re an emerging Indie Author and readers don’t know you from Adam, entering your book in Amazon’s Kindle Select program (into Kindle Unlimited -KU) is very tempting. It has lots of readers, your book is discoverable and you will get some page reads (even if you don’t market much or aren’t very good at it). Conventional author wisdom seems to be that its a wise financial and discoverability move for a first time author. But my books are not in Kindle Select (despite that at the time of writing I’ve only published 2/3 of my debut trilogy).

Growing up, I was the child of a single parent. Money was tight. We got most of our books from the library. I like libraries. I like that they’ve always made access to books, digital resources, the internet, printing and apparently now recording studios, an equitable experience. So when I published my first book I wanted libraries to have access to print AND digital copies. But no library could have digital copies in their catalogue if my ebook was in Kindle Select (KU).

No matter what research I did, or advice I considered, for me it was the ethical point that got stuck in my head. I’m a full time teacher and can pay off a home loan on my own salary (which is great because I don’t have a partner and am not inclined to want one). I’m privileged enough not to depend on writing to earn a living. Which is awesome, because as a debut author breaking even financially is a challenge. So I’m in a financial position to stick to my ethical guns and make my ebooks available to libraries.

Non-Amazon Stores

Then there’s stores. I don’t like Amazon. When I got long covid, I got banned from having books available on pre-order on there for a year. That’s because Amazon’s highest priority is customer experience (read ‘profits’). Authors don’t matter to them. I’ve heard of authors having their accounts deleted, their books taken down (before I left Twitter, more on that below). It doesn’t have authors’ backs.

So I researched bookstores and looked at alternatives. I discovered (I’m Australian so neither of these is really a thing here) that Barnes & Noble have a reader subscription service (Nook) and Kobo has Kobo Plus, and unlike Kindle Select (KU), neither of those subscription services is exclusive. So you can have your ebook on Nook, and Kobo Plus AND in libraries.

And there are so many other (non-exclusive) ebook subscription services online (Scribed & Hoopla for example). Sure, these services don’t make your book as visible as Kindle Unlimited, but they have less books for yours to get lost competing among, so I figured why not?

Cover of fantasy book Manipulator's War, purchase icons for ebook: Kindle, Apple, Nook, Kobo, Booktopia, Scribd, Vivlio, Smashwords, Indigo, S24, Thalia, Bucher De, Angus & Robertson.Paperback purchase icons: Barnes & noble, Waterstones, Booktopia, Angus & Robertson, Bucher De.

The above isn’t all the digital stores my first book is on, its just the main ones. If I was in Kindle Unlimited, you’d only see the first two ebook icons. That’s quite a few stores of difference.

Eggs in One Basket

I also don’t like a ‘put all your eggs in one basket approach’. Not just in terms of one basket, but also an American and far from global basket. Of the icons above, the blue icon is a French store. 24S is a Spanish owned subscription service. Thalia and Bucher De are German, and the green Rakuten Kobo is Booktopia, Australia’s biggest online bookstore. Not everyone will choose to buy from an American company when they can support stores in their own country and not everyone is fond of Amazon.

But the biggest problem of putting all your eggs in one baskets is it leaves me vulnerable, should the basket break. Which leads me to Twitter.

Goodbye Twitter, Hello Mastodon & Blue Sky

Perhaps a pressing author ethical dilemma for many authors of late has been the demise of Twitter. Twitter’s #WritingCommunity was my first social media home as a writer. Privately I was on Facebook (which I’ve never liked). On Twitter I found a space to network with, befriend, learn from and help my fellow writers. It grew beyond that. When I identified as both queer and neurodiverse, I saw great overlap between the writing community and those communities.

Twitter was a space where I could listen to voices I’d never heard before. Among them were, black people in America, BIPOC the world over, people with chronic illness, mental illness, neurodiverse and gender diverse people. It was a fabulous space for both professional growth as an author and personal growth as a person. Then Musk bought it.

True, algorithms always made your visibility and how easy it was to find friends on your feed variable. But Musk’s take over mostly made me feel more invisible than ever and made a concerted attempt to banish familiar faces from my feed. Familiar faces and good friends started leaving or stopped tweeting. The TERFs, transphobes, Trump supporters, and raging anti-science tribes started sounding louder. Twitter seemed to be competing with Truth Social to become the leading social media hate space.

Time To Go

I thought it would be transphobia and homophobia that drove me off Twitter. I’m the kind of person whose inclined to tell people where they can stick their shitty opinions. And I didn’t want to go on Twitter to be outraged or get angry or to argue. But that wasn’t the final straw.

A tweet about who was profiting from every fifth tweet (now a paid ad tweet) on our feeds stopped me tweeting. Fund the alt right? Fuck that! Sure, you can get an ad filter (which I did -and it helps a lot as someone with ADHD and visual sensory issues). But as Twitter became more like what I imagine Parlour or Truth Social stands for? I didn’t want to be associated with that place or its owner.

Hate Site

Since then and before publishing this blog @GasTheJews was revealed to be an entirely acceptable Twitter handle, when it was reported for hate speech multiple times, and Twitter claimed it wasn’t breaking any of their rules. Because did you know it isn’t hate speech if its in your Twitter handle instead of a tweet?

Text from tweet by Elliot Malin: Account @gasthejews6969 has not broken @X's safety procedures because 'gas the Jews' notably is not 'threatening violence against someone or a group of people' and definitely isn't 'celebrating or praising violence' whatsoeverAnd @ElonMusk wonders why advertisers left.Screenshot of Twitter's reply to a reported account: Hello, After reviewing the availible information, we want to let you know gasthejews6969 hasn't broken our safety policies.

The Kid’s Aren’t Safe

Then came the move (nearly two months after I ceased using my account), which persuaded me to delete it, cutting off multiple friends I don’t see on any other platform. My country’s Esafety Commissioner concluded that Twitter doesn’t have even the most basic child safety measures in place, to prevent not only child abuse but also child sexual abuse from occurring on it, and our Esafety Commissioner fined them accordingly.

Australian's ESafety commission fines Elon Musk's X $610,500 for failing to meet anti-child-abuse standards

Worried its only a matter of time before child abuse material is circulated on Twitter (if it isn’t happening already), and disgusted that every type of marginalised adult AND children don’t matter enough to Twitter (or its reputation) for them to even pretend to be doing anything to ensure user safety on the site, I deleted my account.

The Dilmena

How is Twitter being a hate site a dilemma? People seem to be staying because they personally aren’t attacked or aren’t witnessing marginalised people being attacked. People seem to be making decisions based on their personal user experience. And or indies are reluctant to give up sales from the site, when many of us indies struggle to even pay the costs of our business with our earnings, let alone MAKE any money (my cover art and editing costs are several thousand dollars more than I’ve earned so far as an indie author).

As for me, I had ten thousand followers on Twitter. I’d welcomed newbies, done threads to connect writers. I made lists, and gave extensive feedback on pitch party pitches over two years (and wrote this blog on writing a good one, still my most popular post.) That was my community. I had good friends on that platform who weren’t anywhere else, and dm groups -writer, author, queer and ND support groups that as a group didn’t want to move. Leaving meant losing my community and my platform as a budding indie author.

What’s an Author’s Place?

There was an interesting prompt for October on Mastodon: should writers post about politics or avoid it to avoid controversy? Should we publicly interact as if we are part of the world, or act like Ents, tending our books? Predictably, people who thought politics wasn’t an author’s place were white, cishet, neurotypical, able-bodied authors oblivious to their own privilege. They didn’t seem to notice that for others, eg. First Nations, Black, Asian, Queer, Neurodiverse, Chronically Ill, or Disabled people -existing IS political. (I’ll be blogging about writing diverse casts in Jan 2024 ????).

To me, a nonbinary, a-romantic, asexual, neurodiverse, chronically ill white person living in a cishet, ableist world, ‘should writers speak publicly about politics’ translates as, ‘should writers shut up and put up?’ My answer is ‘no and did I mention fuck no?’ I agree with writers who said they are part of this world, impacted by it and am writing my identities into a world that barely knows we exist and or doesn’t understand and or accept us.

My Place

As part of this world, how could I tacitly support for example, the idea that @GasTheJews as a Twitter handle is acceptable, by retaining my Twitter account or using the platform? If you think I’m going too far in saying that not deleting your account is publicly signalling support of Musk and all he and his bootlickers stand for, I’d refer you to Mene Wyatt, who said, “Silence is violence. Complacency is complicit.” (Source, a powerful monalog on the Australian Aboriginal experience, worth watching).

I’d also point to the blog one of a nazis who greeted Posie Parker (a UK TERF) on the step’s of my state’s parliament house with a nazi salute. In his blog, he referred to most people as ‘normies’ and presumed he and his neo-nazis were acting on behalf of ‘normies’. People like him can’t claim shit like that if you publicly signal that you DON’T support them and they DON’T speak for you.

So I see removing all association with Twitter as a way of making my disapproval of Musk and everyone and their hatreds he shelters and promotes undeniably clear. Do I value that over money and even friendships? Yes.

Mastodon

So where does a writer, author, and a queer, neurodiverse person seeking all of those communities go? Mastodon had the greatest appeal. It’s similar in terms of functionality. The main difference is the whole platform isn’t the plaything of a single dick who can screw it up any which way every time he throws a temper tantrum. Or persecute minority groups wholesale because he’s angry at one individual in his personal life, who happens to be marginalised in a particular way.

Each Mastodon instance has a different admin. Hashtags can display toots on hashtag feeds that bridge instances (#WordWeavers and #WritersCoffeeClub being my favourites). And the Fediverse has toots from every instance your instance hasn’t blocked. This means Mastodon can’t be destroyed by a single white man who scores zero points on the diversity scale and doesn’t give a shit about marginalised people. I also like that there’s no advertising or algorithms, just humans interacting, as opposed to glaring ethical concerns.

Blue Sky

The issue with your single greatest social platform turning to shite is that the communities and contacts you’ve made there aren’t all migrating to the same place. They’re scattering to the winds. Spoutible and Post as well as Mastodon and Blue Sky and I don’t know where else. But writers in the DM groups I was in (DMs being about the only reliable space on Twitter to talk to people I knew at this stage) seemed keen on Blue Sky. Created by the man who created Twitter, also without algorithms or paid ads (yet) and most importantly, not controlled by Musk or Zukerburg or other bastards, as ethics would define them. (For more about Blue Sky, see my Blue Sky Newby Guide.)

The above is how I traded my largest social media account of 10,600 followers to 100 (and slowly counting) on Mastodon and 500 (also climbing) on Blue Sky. Not a decision you make to get publicity for yourself or your books. Not a smart financial decision, at this time. But why stay on a poisoned, sinking ship where decent people are leaving (or hiding in dms), when I could build a small community on platforms far better aligned with my values? Not to mention where people like me can interact publicly and safely, without constantly blocking those who hate us for not being cishet/ neurotypical/ able bodied or in other people’s cases: white?

Goodbye Facebook Page!

Before Musk blew up Twitter, Zukerberg was the bad name in social media. I cracked it at Facebook, (at the height of the Pandemic in 2020) when without warning they blocked Australian community groups (including emergency service warnings that literally save lives), without warning. (We passed some law, I think around journalism, that pissed Facebook off). So I closed the writer Facebook groups I’d made (I’d liked having publicly discoverable groups for writers) and moved them to Discord (all four are described here.)

Facebook rebranded as Meta, but I’d never liked the platform (I find it primitive now, especially the limited functionality and clunkiness of Facebook Groups compared to Discord) and I hated it for its lack of ethics. Yet all the indie author advice seems to recommend that if you want to minimise time wasted on social media and make more time to actually write books; at least have a Facebook Page. In fact, you can’t run ads on Facebook (or Instagram) without one. So de-activating yours is directly a financial and business decision.

But I deactivated mine. I hate the platform. It doesn’t have a great demographic for my books anyway (that demographic being educated, lefty/ liberal minded, teen to forty-ish or young at heart allies or queer folk -Mastodon/ Blue Sky seem most likely for them). I could still advertise on Amazon (yeah, that doesn’t appeal either -again, ethics, eggs, one basket- no thank you.) But having just a Facebook Profile (for over 50’s in my family and the few Gen Y people who actually post there) and inviting anyone wanting to follow me as an author also keeps my writing Facebook private from students. And technically I’m still on ‘the world’s biggest social media’. It’ll do.

Can You Be Ethical & Still Make Money Writing?

Now I’ve abandoned my biggest social media platform, deactivated my Facebook Page and not put my books in the easiest place for the biggest number of readers to find, read and review them, how do I make money as an author?

You may sell the occasional book directly via social media, but I’ve been watching this for over a year. It seems you either push hard with ‘buy my book posts’ that I feel must annoy people, or you sell to friends via conversations, small scale. Its seemed to me for quite some time (and yes, the authority on making money as an Indie Author, the Facebook Group 20BooksTo50K agrees), that you make money selling books by spending money, mostly on advertising, though in-person events like conferences can be great too.

There is one big advertising option I’ll consider ethically: Bookbub. Their features cost hundreds, but are well worth it. You have to apply and they’re hard to get. But like Facebook and Amazon, they also have ordinary paid ads, which I plan to start experimenting with. And their adds reach readers who purchase from many stores, in many countries, which I also like.

What About Community?

Having left the platform my online communities were on, I’m rebuilding, a little on prompt hashtags on Mastodon, a lot on Blue Sky and on my Discord servers. I’ve just created a Discord for Queer, and or Neurodiverse, and or Chronically Ill and otherwise Disabled Writers, which is getting as much interest on Blue Sky as my writing, and indie authoring Discords once got on Twitter. (More about my discords for writers here). I’m making new friends, staying in touch with the few old ones still on platforms I use, and rebuilding my writerly, queer and disability communities.

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Related Reading

Getting started on Blue Sky Guide

Why I Chose to Self Publish

Writing Diverse Characters (coming Jan 2024)

Becoming an Indie Author (practical advice from ground zero)

Becoming an Indie Author part 2 (Book Launch)

Text: Manipulator's War (book cover)
Image: red glyphs outline a stone archway, through which fire arrows rain down on torch-lit battlements atop a castle, at night time. Spears in the foreground indicate an advancing invading army.Text: Secrets of the Sorcery War (book cover)
Blue glyphs in a stone arch frame a pair of tall cliffs, a ship sailing on bright blue water through the gap, into the sunshine of a natural harbour.Rebellion is Due Cover: portrait of young Urmilian, his hair braided back, eyes outlined with kohl, wearing fitted bronze armour, a bronze disc kilt, holding a helmet in their left hand and leaning on a spear with his right, a quiver of arrows at their hip.

I know, you’ve spent years making connections and finding your niche/ building community on Twitter, then Musk bought it and history happened. In this BlueSky Newby Guide, I’ll go through what features Bsky has and doesn’t have (yet), profile set up, using feeds to find your people and interacting tips.

Not another NEW Platform!?

Blue Sky (bsky) is basically Twitter. Look at my Bsky dashboard (below). It’s VERY similar. The general differences with Bsky include no algorithms, no sponsored ads, no trending topics (very little rage baiting), alt text is encouraged, and transphobes ARE NOT WELCOME —nor are fascists. (I rarely see either complaining no one will debate other people’s right to human rights with them because like most Bsky users —I’ve blocked them).

Getting Started: Profile Set Up

Be sure to fill in your bio so we know you’re not a bot. If you can find space, consider including alt text for your cover photo, as Bsky doesn’t have that option on the cover image itself (yet). Cover photos don’t tend to crop well. I ended up shrinking my covers on a larger background on Canva and uploading to Bsky multiple times, using trial and error to get this fit.

Bsky profile, with menu left, cover image of 'Ruarnon Trilogy' with 4 book covers against a dark sand dune and starry sky.Profile pic of Elise inset.Elise (they/them) *rainbow and 3 books emoji* Celebrating a book Launch!Elise's bio: Epic YA Fantasy Author. Teacher. AroAce, ND, chronically ill enby.
???????? *Aussie* on Wurundjeri country.
#IndieAuthorChat
host*rainbow, 3 books* ????????Fantasy Books elisecarlson.comIndie *3 books* ????Launch Support Discord: bit.ly/3vFvXGiNewSky Guide: bit.ly/BskyGuide

You’ll note my bio gets personal. I’m openly nonbinary, neurodiverse and chronically ill, and happy to present publicly as such and to discuss all three to raise awareness. Don’t feel you owe anyone this information. But do consider including your traits, interests etc —things you will post about, that will help your people recognise you as their people.

No Pinned Posts (Yet), So Instead…

Bsky doesn’t have pinned posts. If you normally have images, links or other in pinned, try to get them into your cover image and bio instead. As an indie author my pinned post is normally book one in my series, with a description or teaser and cover. So my cover photo is my book covers, and my bio explicitly states that I write epic YA fantasy. I’ve also included a link to the books page of my website.

(I don’t use Linktree because it looks like decision paralysis to me. And the advantage of my site page over BooksToRead is I can link my books on Goodreads, Storygraph and Bookbub, as well as stores and subscription services. And by linking my site —my site gets the SEO boost, and its still easy for people to browse my blog or sign up to my author newsletter.)

First/ Intro Post

Not everyone you knew on Twitter will be on Bsky, and some people on Bsky never had a Twitter account. There will be people in whichever communities, interest groups or fandoms you’re part of whom you don’t yet know. So assume we don’t know you, tell us who you’d like to hang out with in your intro post and maybe give us a question to answer. For example, my intro post is below.

BlueSky PostText: Hello BlueSky! Where are my fellow #Fantasy/ #SFF/ #IndieAuthors/ poets? Pantsers? Fellow queer and or ND people? Aussies?I'm all of the above, and writing my third epic YA Fantasy set beneath sorcerous skies, where a continent-wide war is brewing. Happy to talk all things writerly/ authorly!

Why bother? So when more of us know who you are, have interacted with you in a digital ‘meeting each other’ way and are more likely to interact with your posts.

Finding Your People: Following

The tried and tested method so far has been find your mutuals by looking at who friends you’ve found are following.
If you’re a writer and you knew me on Twitter, I’ve linked as many writer friends as I could by their Insta and Bsky handles and by genre, identity, country on this (view-only, master) spreadsheet. If you’re a writer and would like to be added, you can link your bsky handle in appropriate categories on this editable spreadsheet and I’ll paste them over to the master.

Finding Your People: Feeds

Bsky vertical menu
Text: search, Follow, OnlyPosts, Aussie Feed, Australian Media, Aussie & Kiwi Writers, Writerly & Authorly Posts (etc). More Feeds.

I won’t give advice on general posting yet. Because to understand post visibility, you need to understand how posts are organised on Bsky. You have many options in another menu in your profile here (right/ below). You’ll have a feed of everyone you’re following. Under that, you can pin feeds of any topic or community you wish to see (and ‘Only Posts’ which filters out reposts and replies of your followers, showing only organic posts).
Posts are displayed on feeds if they include the keywords or emojis described a the feed’s description.

Adding Feeds

So how do you find feeds displaying posts you might want to see, or get your posts displayed on?

1.Under the feed menu (pictured right/ below), select ‘more feeds’. That will display this menu.

2. Enter topics that interest you in the search bar.

3. To add a feed to your feed menu, select the plus symbol. (Select the bin to remove a feed from your menu if you change your mind).

Text: Discover new feeds, Search.
Two hands making a heart symbol beside: For You. Plus symbol (right).
Blye square with white flame on. What's Hot Classic, bin (right).

My Favourite Feeds

Writing Feeds

Writing & Authoring: picks up: ‘writer(s)’, ‘author(s), *hand holding pencil emoji* ‘(#Am)writing(community)’ by me.

SFF Writing -Fantasy, SciFi, general SFF and writing/ editing/ writer/ author, or *trident emoji* by me.

Writing Prompts – #vss365, #vsspoem, #whistpr, #mpotd and other vss by Helen Whistberry.

Querying Writers, by me.

Indie Author Life
by @larisa-a-white.bsky.social, whom you’ll need to ask to add you.

Book Sky

BookSky:
Posts with *blue heart & 3 books emoji*

Diverse Books
Posts with: *globe with the Americas & 3 books emoji*

SFF Books: Posts with Fantasy/ SciFi, SFF etc.

Queer Bookworms
Posts with *rainbow emoji & 3 books emoji*

Queer SFF
Posts with *rainbow, rocket & shooting star emoji*
(Or keyword combos, see its description).

Trans Books: Posts with #TransBooks365

Aussie Feed

Aussie Feed posts naming Australia or its capital cities.

LGBTQIA+ Feeds

LGBTQIA+ Posts picks up LGBTQIA+ and most queer identify words by me.

Asexual Spectrum picks up asexual, aromantic, aroace, asexuality, *a black & a purple heart emoji* etc. by me.

GenderQueer: picks up genderqueer, genderfluid, nonbinary etc, by @plutopsyche.nicomaramckay.com.

Disability Feeds

Neurodiversity: all ND posts.

AuDHD, ADHD & Autism posts and quote reposts.

Chronic Illness

Disability

Writer/ Wip Chats

These are just getting started. I’ll try to add more as they arrive.

Daily
#WIPSnips by Rosie J. Potter invites you to share a passage from your wip containing its prompt word.

#SmoreWords created by CK Knight and run by Daniel Aegan and Jude Graves invites you to respond to daily prompts about your wip.

Weekly

#KidLitChat by Bonnie Adamson
Open to Kidlit writers
Tuesdays: 9pm EST.
The chat is one question weekly posted by this account.
It looks like participation is by replying directly to that post, on the chat hashtag.

#HorrorWritersChat by Matt Mason
Open to horror writers
Wednesday: 7pm GMT.

#MomsWritersClub hosted by Sarah Read and Jess.
Open to writers who are ‘Moms, furball moms, other parental units, people who have moms… as long as you’re kind’
Wednesdays

#WeekNightWriters by Dianna Gunn
Open to all writers.
Thursday: 7-8pm EST

#WowChat by Talli Morgan
Open to all writers.
Friday: 7-8pm EST. Discontinued? (Hasn’t run for two months).

#SFFChat by C.J Subko
Open to SFF writers
Friday: 2pm CST (Aussie Sat EST 7am) Fortnight or weekly TBC. Same format as above.

#WITD by Payne Sillavan
Open to all writers, some prompts having a dark/ horror leaning angle. Same format as above.
Friday: 5pm central. Paused, possibly discontinued.

#LateNightWrite hosted alternately by Blackbird and Jo Bruehler
Open to all writers.
Saturday: 10pm central/ (Sun 2pm Aussie EST summer time). This chat has its own feed.

#MiddeGrade Chat by Ros Dando
Sunday: 5pm GST, for MG writers. Paused for 5 months. Discontinued?

Following Feed -Making it Easy to View

Your Following/ Home feed automatically displays posts by people you follow AND all replies to those posts AND everyone you follows reposts. If this is too much, you have a few options.

  1. Go to ‘settings’
  2. Select ‘Home Feed preferences’.
    Here you decide whether to see or hide all replies, to only display replies by people you follow, or to remove all reposts from your feed.
  3. Select right for ‘no’, left for ‘yes’ to change any of these 3 settings.
  4. Select ‘Done’ (blue button at the bottom).
Home Feed Preferences.
Show Replies (ser to 'No' to hide all replies.
Blue toggle button beside 'Yes'.
Reply Filters.
Enable this setting to only see replies by people you follow.
Grey toggle button beside Followed users only.
Adjust the number of likes a reply must have to be shown on your feed.
Blue toggle button beside 'show all replies.'
Show Reposts
Set this setting to 'no' to hide all reposts from your feed.
Blue toggle button beside 'yes.'

Following Feed Display -Content

Another thing about settings is it will default to not displaying adult content, which includes sexual content, violence, nudity (yes, a happy snap of a woman showing some cleavage will be censored as nudity), hate groups, suspected impersonation and spam. There are harmless emojis I can’t see in my followers posts because I can’t work out which setting in Adult Content Settings is bothered by it. So if you’d like to see things rated anything above G by Bsky:

  1. Select ‘Moderation’ (the handle symbol in your main menu, above settings)
  2. Select ‘Content Filtering’ and ‘hide,’ ‘warn’ or show to suit your preferences.

Posting & Getting Seen (Feeds, not Hashtags)

You’ve got 300 characters to play with. So how do you get your posts seen by your people? Hashtags don’t work the way you’re used to. You can select them to see a feed of what people are posting on them, but they don’t impact your visibility via algorithm.

Keywords (and sometimes emojis) are more likely to get your posts onto topically relevant feeds (only older feeds pick up hashtags specifically), with the exception of chat hashtags (tags for prompts posted regularly that have moved to Bsky from Twitter).

1. Go back to feeds you added above,

2. Select the 3 dots (top right of the feed name).

3. Select ‘about this feed’.

4. Check which keywords and emojis get your posts displayed on that feed.

5. Use any combination of relevant keywords/ emojis on your post to put it on multiple relevant feeds.

Note: you can put pairs of emojis ‘back-to-front’ and they still display on that feed.

Writer/ Author/ Book Visibility

Writers, our main key words are: writer(s), author(s), and any words containing ‘writing’ (this includes WritingCommunity, etc).
Book Feeds: see links under ‘Book Sky’ and ‘My Favourite Feeds’ above.

Alt Text

Alt text is big on Bsky. We want all users to enjoy content posted. If you tend to forget to add alt text to images in your posts, good news —you can adjust your settings so Bsky will not let you hit ‘post’ till you’ve added alt text.

1. Go to ‘Settings’
2. Accessibility (forth option down)
3. Flip the toggle beside ‘require alt text before posting’ to blue.

Sharing Links in Posts

If you paste a link into a post, a little box will appear saying, ‘add link card’. Selecting this will add a link card. Then you can delete the link text from your post, saving characters.
Be warned, if the link makes your post exceed the 300 character limit, Bsky may cut off characters over the limit, breaking the link. So always check your complete link has pasted.

NB: there are no algorithms on Bsky, so unlike on Twitter, posts containing links will not be penalised and are just as visible.

Bsky Lists

This is a new function that looks like feeds, but has key differences. Its a better way to display posts of and stay in touch with people you know, as opposed to following feeds by topic.

Differences With Lists:
-List Feeds don’t pick up posts by keyword.
-List feeds display only, but also all posts of people added to the list.
-You can create your own lists within Bsky (in the same menu that lets you post, view feeds, etc).
-You can add people to lists (go to that person’s profile and hit the 3 dots next to the ‘follow’ button for a menu to do this).
-The ‘about’ section of a list displays the profiles of every account that has been added to that list.

My Lists

I’ve made A LOT of lists. The screenshot below is a menu for them, and every list is linked into that thread. You can also view all of my lists by visiting my profile and looking at the menu under my bio (‘lists’ is on the right end).

If you’d like to be added to any of my lists, let me know by replying to my post below by selecting it.

Emoji flags or relevant symbols beside each keyword describing Elise's Lists:
????????Aussie
????????Kiwi
????????Uk
????????Euro
????????Merican
????????Canada????️‍????LGBTQIA+
Neurospicy
♿Disabled/Chronic illness✍️Writers
????Fantasy
????SciFi
????SFF
????Horror/Dark
????️Historic
????‍????‍????KidLit
Poets
????️Mystery/Thrill????Indie Authors
????️‍????Queer Rep/Romance/Themes
????SFF: trans, enby, asexual,????️‍????
BIPOC
ND/Dis

Functions That Don’t Exist (yet) & Suggested Alternatives

No AlgorithmsRepost

Likes have no impact on visibility. Re-post just shares posts with whoever of the reposter’s followers is on their feed at that time. I’ve found this means my posts get the most interaction in their first 3 hours (if America is awake then). Early Aussie afternoons, when America and Europe are sleeping (except the night owls) tend to be VERY quiet.
I doubt this will change, so if you see a post you think is helpful/ enjoyable etc -repost it to your followers! This is our main way for anything worth seeing to get seen —and if you quote repost with topical words, (add a comment to the repost) this will often repost to feeds too).

Pinned Posts -Jam it in your Bio

Whatever doesn’t fit into your bio has no real alternative to a pinned post (yet). This seems to be why when I arrived on Bsky there was a big trend of re-intro posts, as people’s original intros got buried below other posts on their profiles.

Bookmarking PostsRepost

As there isn’t an option for bookmarking (yet), the only thing to do to have a copy somewhere of posts you may normally bookmark is to repost them to your profile (which helped me add chats and feeds to this blog 😉 ). Long term, you’ll have to link posts elsewhere. (I link them in my writer Discords).

Direct Messages

There is no Bsky alternative for this (yet). Many of us tend to use Discord for direct messaging, or group private conversations, which, like Bsky, has the advantage of not being owned by Musk or Zuckerberg.

Ask Bsky Developers For Functions

There’s a ‘send feedback’ link on your profile (mine displays under my feed’s menu on computer). Selecting that lets you fill in a form to ‘make product suggestions.’ I’ve already made my case for adding pinned posts and requested bookmarks, so we can store things we want to refer back to, without those posts getting buried.

I hope this is all helpful as you get started. Welcome to Bsky!

Formatting a Novel Tips

Why Proper Formatting Is Important -a guest blog by Joyce Reynolds-Ward

We’ve all read the different essays from editors about editing, right? All of that good stuff about slashing excessive adjectives and adverbs, eliminating said-bookisms (definition: going out of your way to use any other dialogue tag besides “said”), cutting prepositional phrases and the like, correct?

All of that is good information to have. But I want to harp on something else about editing that isn’t discussed as often as another big issue.

Formatting.

Formatting is one of those processes that can make your editor either love you or hate you. And if you work with an editor who charges by the hour—i.e., actual time spent working on your manuscript—a clean format saves you a lot of money. Even if you work with an editor who charges a flat fee, clean formatting means that your editor has more time to focus on actual wordage rather than fixing a messy manuscript so that they can get around to working on the words rather than the formatting.

You get a better deal for the money spent on an editor if you spend a little bit of time formatting your manuscripts correctly. Period.

Some of this is simply common sense. A clean manuscript causes less eyestrain for the editor. It’s easier for anyone doing the layout in a production program if the manuscript fits standard formatting protocols. Copyediting and proofreading go much more smoothly.

Most of all, a properly formatted manuscript demonstrates that you are a professional. Period.

Style Guides

So let’s get started. What sort of formatting setups am I talking about?

First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the basics, please go to this site—https://www.shunn.net/format/

Also keep in mind that all of my references are for Word. Again, that’s a professional standard. I understand that others prefer other programs, but in the long run, your documents end up in Word when editors and publishers are working with them. Your formatting needs to be compatible with Word.

The Shunn formatting style is widely accepted by all publishers. Use it, especially for margins and typeface (that means no Calibri! Use Times New Roman at the minimum. I prefer Palatino but others like Garamond, Helvetia, or Bookman Old Style. Essentially, you want to use a serif font that is readable. I personally do not care for Courier or Courier New, but that’s because I no longer find them to be that readable).

I want to emphasize something that Shunn mentions in that first page, which is start with a blank document. Some editors recommend Styles. I’m not fond of using Styles, because it adds extra codes to your document, which can cause problems when someone starts formatting for publication. Plain old blank document works just fine.

Getting Started

Another thing—you’ll see a little symbol that looks like this ¶ on the ribbon at the top of your document. Click it on, and you will see all of the formatting codes that Word wants to show you. This is helpful for figuring out some issues, and allows you to see when you’ve inadvertently hit the space bar multiple times (or your hyperreactive touch pad or keyboard does that for you), or other issues. More on that later.

Set your margins. Then format your paragraphs. That means, in Word, that you go to Format>Paragraphs. Set your line spacing to double spacing and your first line indent to 0.5, with no extra spacing between paragraphs. This means that all you need to do to start a paragraph is hit return.

Spacing

DO NOT USE YOUR TAB BUTTON FOR PARAGRAPH INDENTATION. That just causes more problems for whoever is laying out the manuscript for publication. Don’t hit the space bar five times, either. Again, that causes more issues.

Single space between sentences. Yes, yes, I know that double spacing used to be the standard and for some people it doesn’t look right. However, that era is long gone, even for those of us who started out writing on manual typewriters. Don’t do it. Otherwise, your dear editor or formatter will at the minimum need to do a find-and-replace to eliminate those extra spaces—and that double spacing between sentences can add quite a few pages to your manuscript, especially at novel length. If an editor is quoting you a flat fee based on manuscript pages, single spacing between sentences can save you a little bit of money.

One of my editors automatically deletes any spaces between a period and a hard return, because that space can cause issues in some formatting programs. I haven’t noticed that issue in particular when working with my formatting program (Vellum), but I understand that this is a problem with some programs.

Justification

Always use left justification (the default) unless you are doing something in particular with a small section, or centering a title. Right-side ragged edge is not an issue when drafting and editing, as modern formatting programs automatically convert left-justified Word documents to full-justified documents.

Page Breaks

If you use scene break dividers instead of an extra space (I recommend the dividers, but some people don’t like them), show them with a #. Some people use asterisks, or multiple #s. I’ve found that formatting programs understand # just fine, and will put a prettier scene break divider in nicely when # appears between paragraphs. Some presses have different standards—<<<>>> for one, or ~0~ for another, but # also works just fine.

Text: Formatting a novel in Word.Image: two pages of my novel Secrets of the Sorcery War formatted in word, with author name and title headers, page numbers right bottom corner, indented paragraphs, chapter heading and art and a chapter heading.

Spelling and Grammar Check

Do not completely trust your spellchecker or grammar checker in Word. I have discovered numerous mistakes in Word alone, including indicators of extra commas, word substitutions that don’t make sense (such as “cheap” when I was describing a bird’s “cheep”—my most recent gripe). One of my greatest rants is the misuse of “free reign” for “free rein.” Word will tell you to use “reign” instead of “rein,” and it is WRONG. The idiom refers to giving a horse more rein when you are riding or driving it—i.e., telling the horse to set its own pace and direction. That is what the idiom means. Period. “Free reign” is meaningless in that context. But Word also makes mistakes when it comes to the proper use of “its” versus “it’s”; “lets” versus “let’s”. Be aware.

If you don’t trust your spelling and grammar understanding, use other checkers besides Word. Also, don’t trust that it will identify all of your misspellings and typos. If the mistake looks like a real word but doesn’t make sense in context, then Word may not flag it for you.

When you are cutting and pasting across documents, or if you are working on different devices (especially switching between a tablet and desktop or laptop) be aware that Word will insert a superscript “o” irregularly in those sections. Those have to be edited out by hand, as far as I know. Some people may be macro wizards who know how to do it otherwise. It’s a pain but there’s no way around it. If everything else is clean, then editing those “o” appearances isn’t that big a deal.

Version Control (during edits)

This leads into the related but short topic of version control when working with editors or beta readers. I do not recommend working within the document that you get back from an editor or beta reader. My suggestion is that you designate one version as your final document, and do all editing within that document without cutting and pasting. Why? Because that introduces other formatting into your document, including those dratted superscript “o”s.

I learned this lesson the hard way when working with a British editor. Working in the document I got back instead of my own designated final document ended up with that person’s formatting instead of my own—including British English spell check and usages. Designating that separate final document also lets you work with multiple other versions. I do like keeping earlier versions around when drafting, because sometimes I end up cutting things that I wanted to keep in the long run.

Concluding Remarks

Basically, the lesson here is to spend a little bit of time learning how to set up your formatting options, at least as much as you can do with your device. Apps on mobile devices such as tablets and phones can be more restrictive for formatting setups than laptops or desktops. It’s probably a good idea to indicate to your editor or beta reader that you may have been doing this work in an app on a mobile device, because then they know what to look for in fixing it.

Play with your formatting and understand it. Your editor will thank you—and you may save yourself a little bit of money in the long run.

Joyce in ski gear, including goggles and helmet at the snow, pine tree background.

About the Author -Joyce Reynolds-Ward

Joyce Reynolds-Ward is a speculative fiction writer who splits her time between Enterprise and Portland, Oregon. Her books include THE MARTINIERE MULTIVERSE series (Amazon, Kobo, Apple, B&N), THE MARTINIERE LEGACY series, KLONE’S STRONGHOLD, THE NETWALK SEQUENCE series and GODDESS’S HONOR series. Joyce has edited two anthologies, Pulling Up Stakes (2018), and Whimsical Beasts (2019).

Besides writing, Joyce enjoys reading, quilting, horses, skiing, and outdoor activities. She has been a member of Soroptimist International of Wallowa County since 2017.

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Related Reading

Editing a Novel: Scene & Line Edit Tips

Editing a Novel: Character Development Checklists

Becoming an Indie Author Part 1

Becoming an Indie Author Part 2: Book Launching

Becoming an Indie Author (Part 2: Book Launch)

Having covered the steps of the editing process, setting up your author platform and choosing distributors in this blog, it’s time to talk indie book launch tips. On to self-publishing step 8!

8. Book Launch (Marketing Plan)

Your marketing plan depends on publishing on KU or publishing wide, and your goals. For KU you’ll want social media posts, perhaps a paid cover reveal, a giveaway and or other to ‘generate buzz’ about your book. Your goal will be to chase a good Amazon ranking on launch day.

If you plan to publish wide, Amazon rankings won’t matter so match, but you’ll still want to do a cover reveal and spread the word about your book. If you’re aiming for a softer launch, this blog detailing Emma Lombard’s marketing plan and experience is worth a read. Whether you choose a buzz filled hard release, or a soft release, many things bellow will need considering.

Research Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

To put it bluntly, from reading, viewing and talking to fellow indies, it seems that paid advertising offers many ways to set your money on fire. Step one to avoid that seems to be take a course before spending money you don’t intend to lose on Facebook or Amazon adds. For any other paid services, I highly recommend talking to other indies to see what they recommend based on their experiences. If you don’t have many to talk to, read the article bellow.

Resources: 17 Author Tips and Biggest Blunders by Emma Lombard.

Set Up Pre-orders

You may want to set up pre-orders (especially for a book 2 or later, in which case do so before you publish book 1, so book 2’s preorder is in book 1’s back matter when its first published). You’ll also need a pre-order if this is your first book, as you can’t set up author profiles or put your book on review sites to start gathering reviews until you have a purchase link.

This can take the pressure off leading up to launch today, because setting up the pre-order means having the blurb, keywords, categories, meta data and price all set on retailers well in advance. (Uploading all this stuff for stores is unpacked in step 12 below). Having a pre-order means you can share an active purchase link when you do your cover reveal on social media and in your newsletter too. And on any social media posts leading up to launch day.

Book Links For Pre-orders. Before posting pre-order links, use booklinker to generate a link that will take people clicking on it to the Amazon store selling in their local currency. If you’re releasing wide, use bookstoread to create a link to a page displaying icons linked to your book’s page on each retailer your ebook and paperback are available at.

Grow Your Newsletter

Consider newsletter swaps with writers in the same genre, writing for the same audience age. Building your list means more people to tell when your book drops. Your reader magnet can get its own landing page on BookFunnel, where you can join group promos. I suggest choosing the promos with the most participants in your genre. This maximises your chances of the download page with all participating author’s reader magnets getting you the most amount of sign ups.

Story Origin is another good site for swaps, though the group promos hear tend to be smaller, so I find it best for swapping directly with authors (each author displaying the reader magnet’s cover and link in their newsletter, instead of a group landing page image, blurb and link).

If you write SFF, here’s a facebook group for organising swaps with SFF authors (though you may want to file it for it for later as these FB lists seem to be 2k+). If you don’t write SFF, its worth searching for FB newsletter swaps in your genre. This is something you can put more focus on after the book is out if you run out of time beforehand (which I had to do after releasing Manipulator’s War.)

Also: Keep Subscribers Engaged. Here’s some content ideas from Bookfunnel to help with that.

Multi-Author Promotions

Again, this is something I’ll keep in mind for later, but you may like to consider Social Media Author Hops with other authors. For a Facebook example. see this guest post by Anna Campbell). If you’re on Book Funnel, here’s a FB Group for organising multi-author promos.

Resources: Designing Your Own Virtual Book Tour Basics.

Reviews and Blog Tours

Reviews don’t just show potential readers what they may enjoy about your book, getting enough of them makes you eligible to be featured on Bookbub, and can make your book more visible on Amazon (displaying it as an ‘also bought’). But don’t pay for reviews. Amazon don’t like that and I know people who have been rigorously policed by them, losing reviews Amazon suspect they paid for.

The alternative I’m finding works well is blog tours. This isn’t paying for reviews, its paying for a tour organiser to make your book accessible to reviewers and or book bloggers, and for your book (and sometimes you as an author) to be featured on blogs and or social media.

Which tours are worth the cost? I’d say the ones that get reviews, though reviews may not be guaranteed. Rachel’s Resources has been recommended to me by indies who were happy with reviews they received. Itsy Bitsy has landed between 19-30 reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Bookbub for my first two books and I was very happy with Colleen (the organiser, who runs a tight ship).

Promotion Sites & Paid Newsletters

Check out platforms which host giveaways, or promote books. Group giveaways are a good way to grow your newsletter or Bookbub following, depending which of the two readers are required to do to enter the giveaway. Sites like BookSweeps or Prolific Works may help.

A relatively safe way to spend money when you’re still learning how to market books wisely can be paying for a feature in newsletters. First: ensure you did get critical reader feedback on your blurb, that your cover is genre-appropriate and up to scratch (for more see part 1 of this blog) and your price appropriate. Any of those three needing work can still waste money (I know because my first paid newsletter was an expensive way to sell 0 books).

Again: ask people publishing in a similar genre what they’ve had success with, or read this post of paid newsletters Nicholas Erik has had good experiences promoting a range of genres in.

Advertising

I’ve seen so many authors say that Facebook adds or Amazon adds ‘don’t work for them’, yet for some authors they seem to be AM-A-ZING. I haven’t tried either, but the fact people have designed week long courses and written whole books about one or the other tells me that if you plan to use either without thorough research —you’re wasting money. Even with study, you may still find one, the other or both just aren’t your jam. So proceed with caution (and see the free courses linked below).

Measuring Sales
Book Report is handy for this, and syncs with Amazon Kindle to analyse your sales data.

Press Kit
Its not like a newspaper, or magazine is going to interview me, random indie author is it? But they may (as Emma Lombard can tell you). And if they do and they ask you questions, do you know what you’ll say? If they want easy access to pertinent info, do you have a page on your website they can refer to, to check any details and ensure their interview article is accurate?
For an example press kit, see mine.

Marketing Resources

Facebook Group 20booksto50k is a great space to discuss and learn to market indie books. Wide for the Win is a great starting point if you publish wide.

Free Courses: 5 Day Amazon Add Course, by Dave Cheeson (Kindleprenuer).

Starting From Zero, with David Gaughran.

Google Air, free Google add workshops (you have to register using your Google account.)

Wondering about sales trends? K-lytics is a handy (free) blog to follow, though their paid services are expensive.

9. Set up Author Profiles (Goodreads, Bookbub, Storygraph etc)

To seek reviews, you need an author profile and your book’s information up on review sites. Your book needs to be on sale or pre-order to do this. For Goodreads, you have to add your book to Goodreads first, then you can claim your author profile on it. This is worth doing early on, as reviews can be uploaded to Goodreads well before launch day. Tip: get your betas to add their reviews when they finish reading your late draft.

On other sites, you simply need to sign up, add a purchase link for your book, a profile photo, fill in your bio etc. I suggest using the same profile photo and short bio for all these sites, your website, social media etc., so people you ‘meet’ on any digital space recognise you on others.

If you seek ARC reviewers, I suggest giving them your Amazon, Goodreads and Bookbub profile links, and encouraging reviews on all three. Bookbub reviews may one day help you become eligible for a coveted Bookbub feature.

I have author profiles set up on Amazon, Goodreads, All Author (purely to enter their cover of the month contest), Bookbub and Storygraph —another review site, popular because it isn’t Amazon affiliated, unlike Goodreads. (The Amazon and Goodreads links above are to instructions to set up your author page while the All Author, Bookbub and Storygraph links will take you to the sign-up pages for those platforms).

10. Update your Socials

Now is a good time to put a book banner on your website’s header and a cover, blurb and pre-order or purchase link front and centre on your site’s home page. It’s also a good time to place a book banner as your social media cover image and to do and pin a post about your upcoming release (this may be your cover reveal).


11. Get Your Street Team Set Up

A ‘street team’ for a traditionally published author may be a large group of people excited about the upcoming book, formally organised on a Discord server, or other digital space. It probably has an application form to join and hundreds of applicants. It will definitely be an organised group effort to ‘generate hype’ about the upcoming book.

For debut indie authors, your ‘street team’ may simply be a few friends you privately message for help spreading the word about your book. Ideally, it’s (and in my experience it works well to have) a mutual indie support group, which helps in any (or all) of the below three ways. Yes, I have an Indie Author Discord for this. Feel free to reply to this Blue Sky post, this Mastdon post or use my contact page if you’d like an invite link.)

Social Media Boosting

True, social media is primarily for socialising, not selling and buying stuff. But you want help telling everyone you’re been interacting with on social media (and ideally potential readers beyond those people) that your book will soon be released. I suggest doing this by creating or joining mutual support groups of indie authors writing similar genres likely to be read by your potential readers. Before Twitter died, dm groups there were useful for this. Depending which social media your writing community is on, this may vary. I tend to use the Discord mentioned above for social media boosting now, with my writer friends scattered across Instagram, Blue Sky and Mastadon.

Blog Visibility

I’ve heard that blogging is more useful for promoting non-fiction books, and may have little impact with fiction. But my first interview was met with a detailed reply from someone I didn’t know on Twitter, who had read and enjoyed the interview. Blog reach may be small, but a lot of indies I know are interviewing each other about writing, life and their books. Again, ideally the people you interview and are interviewed by, write similar books and have a similar audience to you, the goal being getting your name and book’s existence out there and helping them do the same.

Reviews

Ask people interested in your genre if they’d like an ARC (advanced reader copy) for free, in exchange for an honest review (ideally posted on launch day or soon after on retailers, Goodreads and Bookbub). Your ‘review street team’ may include finding ARC readers on Booksprout, a subscription service with a monthly fee. I paid around $12 a month for a few months, getting 1 or less reviews, then cancelled, but others have done better). Or Netgalley, one off or monthly subscription service, price on request, also used by trad publishing, though I haven’t investigated this yet).

If you’re releasing a fantasy book, this FB group for finding beta readers and reviewers may help you get more ARC reviews (I got one from there).

How do you reach people for social media support and author interviews?
Hopefully, your social media networking since step 2 has led you into author groups, or built you enough of a following to organise your own, or your newsletter has enough reach to do so. If not, again, SFF authors feel free to reply to this Blue Sky post or use my contact page to join my Discord for help with this.

12. Format Your E-book (+paperback if applicable)

Paperback

Perhaps ironically, I found formatting paperback (in Word) easy. You choose your paper size (I chose 5.5 by 8.5 for my YA Fantasy, a common size), set your margins (do this early because when I changed them last, Word re-inserted page numbers into the front matter). I followed Chloe Alice Balkin’s youtube tutorial, using ‘layout,’ ‘page breaks’, ‘next page’ to add page-number-free front matter, created styles in Word for front matter, back matter, titles, chapter headings, chapter header art, dingus and for body text.

Then I saved the Word doc as a pdf and the book was uploaded to Amazon without mishap. (Ingram Spark warned my chapter heading art, author bio pic etc could cause print issues, but they didn’t).

Ebook Formatting (in Word)

This I found fiddlier. If you format a paperback yourself in Word, mistakes can insert random blank pages throughout the book, or splice content across pages.

Don’t

-Hit ‘enter’ for page breaks (your book may format without page breaks, and for multiple pov books this will present to readers as head-hopping.)
-Let Word generate a Table Of Contents for you (there are many ways this can go wrong).

-Leave any images without a style (my chapter header images were displayed on separate pages to chapter headings when I converted to epub because of this).

Do

Use a tool to do the formatting for you. Reedsy’s tool is popular. Draft2Digital will format your book for you (though check it, as it couldn’t handle the chapter header art in mine). If you’re a Mac user willing to pay a one off fee, Vellum is very popular (no, I’m not an affiliate for them or anyone else linked in this post).

OR Use a Style Guide. Smashwords Style Guide is good, but wordy.

Formatting In Word
-Use styles for EVERYTHING (headings, copyright page, all images, body text etc).
-Manually create your contents page by bookmarking each chapter and linking the bookmark to the chapter heading on the contents page. (Smashwords Style Guide, page 20 has a video showing you how).

-If you’re wide, upload your interior file everywhere at the same time. Kobo and Smashwords spotted issues with my ebook that Amazon didn’t, while Ingram noted potential paperback issues Amazon didn’t. Cross-checking issues each distributor and or store spots, then making final tweaks, can help you give a better-formatted version to all of them.

get proofs for every format on every store/ distributor to ensure they turn out ok. (Kobo converted my Word doc to epub without mishap, but Draft to Digital had one issue throughout, while the Smashwords epub conversion was so bad that I converted the epub myself (using Convertio).

Front Matter Tips

-Keep it short so readers can get to the book and the online look inside feature shows the opening pages.
-Look at the copyright notices of other indie books to help you phrase yours.
-Mention other or upcoming titles on your ‘also by author ____’ page.
-Include a digital table of contents in ebooks.
-Consider a map and or personis dramatis for epic fantasy or similar, so readers can see where things are happening and check who is who as they read. (I kept both as front matter when a reviewer said they didn’t notice the dramatis personae until the end and would have used it sooner had they known it was there).

Back Matter Tips

-Link to your website, newsletter sign up and if you like, your social media/ Goodreads/ Bookbub.
-You may like to politely ask for reviews, but only include an Amazon link for reviews in the Kindle ebook. Apple will reject your book if it has an Amazon link in it. Tip: link to Goodreads/ Bookbub or Storyorigin in review requests for all non-Amazon stores, seeing as none of those review sites are store competitors (this means you can have the same file for all non-Amazon stores).
-Write a book 2 blurb and include in the ebook a pre-order link to book 2.

Formatting Error Checklist

Is your front matter free of page numbers?
Does your ebook contents page display appropriately and do its contents link correctly to pages?
Does your epub have random blank pages anywhere?
Are your front and back matter spaced as you wish?
Are your chapter headings (and images) spaced appropriately and consistently?
Does your back matter only contain links to Amazon in the copy you’re uploading to Amazon? (Other stores may reject interior files with Amazon links).
Does your Ingram Spark file only contain black and white or greyscale text, styles and images? (NB: They’ll warn you off colour, even colour overlaid with greyscale, but my colour overlaid with greyscale chapter header art, author profile pic etc. printed fine).

13 Uploading your Book

Meta Data

If you’re going wide, I suggest creating a file that has all the meta data you’ll need to copy and paste everywhere you upload your book (your name, book name, genre, categories, tags, blurb, contributors, ISBN etc).

Choosing Amazon Categories.
Check which categories your comp titles are listed under using this category checker.
Have a look at which sub-genre/ fiction headings match your book using Book Industry Study Group’s List.
Check the number of competitors in relevant categories. Standard advice says ‘pick obscure categories you can rank in.’ But my best rankings (in the US) weren’t in completely obscure categories. On the US store they were:

Elise's Amazon rankings.
130 IN Teen & Young Adult LGBTQ+ Fiction (Kindle
383 in Teen & Young Adult LGBTQ+ Fiction (Books)
919 LGBTQ+ Fantasy (Kindle)

Amazon will let you choose three categories, and insist you answer whether your book is 18+ or not before letting you do so. (They used to give you two categories, then let you email requesting 8 more, but that’s changes in 2023).

Bad category news: every Amazon national store has different categories, so you’ll have to contact them telling them the exact category string for EVERY store you want categories on. NB: English language categories aren’t just on the US, Canada, UK and Australia. India and Germany’s categories are also in English, Germany being where I initially had the second highest no. of clicks.

Choosing Amazon Key Words
Use ‘incognito’ mode on your browser, then on Google, Goodreads or Amazon, type your genre and audience age, and see which search terms your browser suggests (popularly searched ones) and which are relevant to your book. You’re not limited to 7 of these —jam as many as you can fit into Amazon’s 7 key word boxes. Also, there’s no need for key words to repeat your category, title or subtitle.

Pricing

To determine a price in any currency, this article outlines factors you may like to consider.
My best advice:
-Get on the Amazon store of each region of the world it sells to (Important NB: a reasonable $US price converts into what Brits consider to be a too-expensive UK price, so don’t just let retailers convert international pricing from Us dollars, check which pricing appears reasonable by currency and national store).
-Search books of your genre and audience age and note pricing.
-Get an idea of cheap prices, moderate prices and outrageously expensive prices (you will see the latter, especially for traditionally published ebooks).
-Observe whether you think a book is indie or traditionally published and how prices vary because of that.
-Check how many pages a books has to get an idea of a reasonable price for a 70k vs. a 100k+ book.
-Choose a price taking the above and your personal publishing/ marketing goals and factors in the article linked above into account.
(Standard indie prices seem to be $4.99 US for ebook and they were $14.99 for paperback. But post-pandemic supply chain chaos and supplier pricing increases has put costs up, mostly forcing indie authors to increase prices so we don’t publish paperbacks at a loss).

Check the profit margin in every currency. Does it leave you room to put the book on sale without losing money? In the UK, books are so cheap that you may struggle to discount your book there and still break even. But if you aim to make the smallest of profits on every sale (as opposed to freebies), you’ll need to check regular vs. sale price profit margins carefully.

Sale Pricing

If you’re discounting your pre-orders or book, don’t just change the pricing in KDP’s or any other distributor’s dashboard. Sale prices are entered separately. On KDP, as with categories, go to your KDP dashboard. Select ‘help,’ ‘contact us’ at the bottom of the menu, then ‘pricing’ and read the information.
NB: if requesting a price match you’ll need to have links to the Apple/ Barnes and Noble/ Kobo price for each countries store you want price matched on Amazon.
Wide NB: we have to request price changes manually and Amazon won’t always agree to the price we want, even when we advise them what its already set to on other stores. But the bonus we get is that on DraftoDigital and Kobo direct (and possibly other stores -I’m not sure), we can schedule sale prices start and end dates ourselves, in advance.

Uploading

To Distributors. Before you upload your book to any distributor, be clear about which distributor you want to send your books to which retailer (or other distributor), so you don’t double up.

Upload To Libraries. If you’re American or Canadian, you can upload your books to the Indie Author Project to get your book into libraries in both countries. And yes, you’ll earn royalties -see the FAQ page.
Fellow Australian authors, we can register our books at the National Library of Australia Legal Deposit. We can register to be compensated for having our books in libraries via Australia Lending Rights Schemes, if you register your book within 5 years of its publication date.

Local Brick and Mortar Stores. This involves being bold, but I’ve spoken to indies who’ve told local booksellers they’ve published a book and the booksellers wanted to see it (yeah, carry it or have a photo of your cover on your phone) and then stocked it on consignment (meaning they pay you if it sells, and hand it back to you if it doesn’t). So it pays to be bold! To help you prepare to approach book shops, here’s some comprehensive (Uk sourced) advice on Getting Your Book into a High End Store.

14. Cover Reveal

Post your cover on your social media, share it in your newsletter and share it on any promo sites you’ve joined which feature cover reveals, such as xpressbooktours. You may wish your cover reveal to be the first of a series of social media promo posts counting down to launch day, featuring teasers, character introductions, ARC review snippets etc and containing or naming the location of your pre-order purchase link.

15. Release Day

Put purchase links on your site and author profiles. Post your launch day post on social media (a selfie with an author copy goes down well) and interact with everyone who replies. I hope it goes well for you!

(And if you’d like to join an Indie Author Discord to discuss any of the above, let me know by replying to my posts about it on Blue Sky on Mastodon, or via my contact page.)

Acknowledgements

I learnt A LOT of the above from conversations with and between the following indie authors:

Cheryls headshot. 70-something white woman with neck length white hair.
Cheryl Burman, Historical and SFF author.
Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Pineapple with love heart art -Chloe's symbol.
Chloe Alice Balkin, Speculative Romance
Website
Facebook
Instagram
Cartoon of Chris with a green mo hawk, raised left brow, holding glasses on the end of his nose.
Chris Vandyke, SFF Author
Website
Facebook
Instagram
Bitmoji of Brown, shoulder length haired, black round classes waring Becky waving.
Rebecca Jonesee, Romance
website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Headshot of black curly haired, brown eyed Dreena wearing glasses and smiling.
Dreena Collins
(Jane Harvey)
Website
Twitter
Instagram
Facebook
Waist to head shot of K.W. wearing a black training top and cap with her long blonde hair in a pigtale, and a white-toothed smile.
K. W. Kenny, YA Fantasy Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Elderly Jay's grey eyes peer out of this headshot.
Jay Veloso Batista, Fantasy Author. Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Leia in a fluffy purple hat, blue eyes on camera, pink lips smiling.
Leia Talon, Fantasy author.
Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
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Further Reading

Just in case your head isn’t exploding with information already, there are more resources on many of the above topics on my Writers Resources Page. I’ll also point you towards a Self Publishing pro, David Gaughram.
If your head is exploding, I suggest bookmarking this post so you can revisit a few of its steps at a time.

Whichever of the above steps you’re at –Good Luck!

Becoming an Indie Author (Part 1/2)

You’ve written a book, you’re considering self publishing and you wonder what it involves. In short: a lot! This post is a concise summary from editing, through self publishing and book launching, with many links to tools and information to help you along the way. It contains almost everything I’ve learned from indie author discussions in a Self Publishing Twitter group by Cheryl Burman, and what I’ve learned while self publishing my first book.

I’m Writing/ Have Drafted My Book, What Now?

1. Craft Knowledge

If this is your First book, and or you haven’t already researched how to develop your characters and plot, or read up on story structure, now is a a good time! Make notes to help get your head around character development, story structure and how they intertwine. Then use your notes to write character and plot focused outlines or revision/ structural edit lists to address potential character/ plot holes in your draft.

Resources to Help: KM Weiland’s Blog Series’: Developing Character Arcs, Story Structure and Scene Structure.

2. Start Building Your Author Platform: Social Media

Yes, I’m talking about social media before you’ve even edited your manuscript, let alone have a book seeking a publishing path. Why? Because it takes time to grow a following. And the writing and editing stages are great opportunities to get to know fellow writers, build friendships and learn from each other. This is also the time to begin describing interesting features of your book and start generating interest in your story!

Post about the contents and the experience (or process) of writing your book. Talk to other writers on a social media platform of your choice’s #WritingCommunity (my favourite being Blue Sky. I’ve also heard good things about Instagram’s, though Twitter’s is clearly dying with the site). Connect with people you share interests with on social media (local interests, genres, themes that inspired and tie in to your story etc).

To begin with —pick ONE social media you feel is a natural (or least uncomfortable) fit for you. Get comfortable calling yourself a writer there, and publicly interacting as one. (FYI: there’s no such thing as an aspiring writer. If you write —you ARE a writer!). Experiment, and learn the ropes of your first platform. Then start on a second platform. (Unless you’re bursting with restless energy *waves* and would rather choose the chaotic path of tackling multiple things at once over the easier one *waves again*).

Resources: Social Media for Writers, Facebook For Authors by Jane Friedman, #WritingCommunity Hashtags Twitter & Instagram, Blue Sky Newby Guide.


3. Critical Readers

Get at least three beta readers (if you can find more, I’d do so) to comment on how they find your characters, plot, pacing, story tension ect. If all they say is, ‘this is great and I liked this bit,’ I’d be asking, do my betas have the: Experience and ability to critically evaluate my story?
Willingness and time to honestly comment on things they find problematic (or less than ideal) as a reader?
Communication skills to spell out how any particular aspect of my writing confused, bored or otherwise put them off?
Or do my betas think I only want encouragement (or a positivity pass), as opposed to constructive feedback to help me grow as a writer and to ensure my story is clear and engaging to unfamiliar readers?

If you suspect any of the above is an issue with one of your beta readers, I’d get another/ an extra beta reader. I wouldn’t be satisfied readers will be satisfied with my book until I’ve had that rigorous critical reader who pulls me up on every potential crease, tear or hole in the reading experience. —And I’ve repaired and ironed those things accordingly. Having attempted that for Manipulator’s War, I’ve now got reviews complimenting things (pacing and characters) the reviews may have complained about, if not for my critical readers.

Resources to Help: Finding Critical Readers, Mentors & Editors.
Checklists to aid Critical Reader feedback: Chapter one, Act 1, Act 2, Act 3.
Self Editing advice: Developing Characters, Scene & Line Edit Tips.

4. Editing

Consider your goals for this book/ series and your budget. If you can’t afford an editor, get a second round of critical readers to comment on your post-beta-edited draft. Then, if you’re happy with it —get other, sharp eyed people to proofread it.
If you can afford an editor, consider which type(s) of editing you can afford: developmental (structural), stylistic (line editing), copy editing (word level technical & factual edits) and proofreading. Manuscript Critiques/ Reports can be pricy, but are a cheaper alternative to (prohibitively expensive for most people) developmental edits. Bear in mind, some freelance copy editors charge by the hour instead of by the word. So if you tend to write fairly clean 100k books for example (like me), paying by the hour is more affordable and better value for money.

Resources: Different Levels of Editing and Critical Reader Services by editor Amelia Wiens (who did my manuscript critique) and 5 Things Authors Need to Know Before Hiring an Editor.

5. Decide on Cover Art

In choosing an artist or creating your own cover, research current covers in your genre and audience age. You want a cover design that clearly says to the reader “this book is (insert your genre)”. You also want a design that appeals to readers of that genre in ways they’re used to seeing. Pay attention to current trends in your genre, by researching new releases and studying their covers. For example, dark covers are a thing with YA Fantasy at the movement, and if characters are on epic fantasy covers — they’ve got weapons. So my cover for Manipulator’s War is dark and features weapons.

Creating Your Own Cover

Remember that you need copyright permission for the art and fonts you use.
These fonts are public domain and free on Google. You can also purchase fonts from Creative Market.
You’ll find free public domain images on Pixaby, Smithsonian Open Acess and paid ones on Shutterstock. To make the most of those resources, you may like cover design support from fellow indies via FB Group Book Design 101 and feedback on your cover and blurb from FB group Indie Cover Project.

Blurbs

Traditionally published authors will have honed their pitches near to perfection. Their blurbs will have had a LOT of critical feedback, editing by a literary agent, and possibly by an editor before a back cover exists to place those blurbs on. So for your blurbs to compete at online retailers —hone your pitch craft! You can get pitch critiques from the facebook group Author Unleashed, which focuses on this skill and on my Authoring Discord. You’ll find my best advice for writing an engaging blurb in this post.

Cover Artist

Text: Manipulator's War (book cover)
Image: red glyphs outline a stone archway, through which fire arrows rain down on torch-lit battlements atop a castle, at night time. Spears in the foreground indicate an advancing invading army.
Cover by GlintofMischief.

If hiring a cover artist, check the contract to see if you own the art, and if you need to pay the artist fees for using the art in your merchandise, on your website and in any promotional graphics you make. If you’re unsure which of multiple pieces of concept art to use for the final cover, try posting a poll on social media and or consulting your newsletter subscribers. In considering cover artists, you may also like to ask how they work, and how much your cover design can change within the negotiated price. For example, my cover artist Judah (GlintofMischief) and I built a set of Pinterest pins as well as discussing my cover, and I reviewed multiple concept sketches before we chose (and modified) the published cover. I also chose my fonts, and designed the glyphs on Manipulator’s Wars cover.

If you want to be actively involved but don’t have the skills to produce your own cover, check you’re hiring an artist as prepared to work collaboratively with you as Judah is with me. If you’ve got Indie Author friends, I suggest beginning your cover artist hunt by asking them (or tweeting) for recommendations.

6. Choose Your Distributer(s)

Kindle Unlimited or Wide?

In choosing a distributer, you’ll have to decide whether you want your ebooks available on Kindle Unlimited (where readers pay a monthly rate to access Kindle’s library, as opposed to buying your ebook, and you are paid per page read). This means your ebooks are exclusive to Kindle. Alternatively, your books can be sold in multiple digital spaces —publishing wide and available on Kindle, but not Kindle Unlimited. Wide vs. Exclusive: A Tale of Two Marketing Systems by David Gaughran is a good resource to help you weigh factors and understand both options. If you’re considering wide, I highly recommend the Facebook Group Wide for the Win, who discuss marketing strategies and have information threads on publishing wide.

Publishing Wide, Distributor Factors to Note

Do you want to publish ebook and paperback or just ebook?
Do you want pre-orders? Again —ebook (and paperback)?
How do you feel about managing multiple dashboards on difference distributors/ stores?
Do you want your book to be distributed to libraries as well as stores?
Do you want access to retailers in-house promotions?
Resource: Why Ingram Spark expanded distribution for print books is preferable to Amazon’s, including ISBN advice, by Eric V. Van Der Hope.

Ingram Spark

Allows paper back preorders via Amazon (KDP/ Amazon only allows ebook pre-orders).
-Lets you order paperback author copies before publication, (Amazon doesn’t).
-Requires you to purchase an ISBN for paperbacks.
-Distributes ebook and paperback globally, but multiple sources I’ve read discourage using their ebook distribution.

Draft 2 Digital

D2D charges a 10% commission and has paperback distribution in beta, using Ingram Spark print books.
In-house Apple and Kobo promotions are available via D2D (and not otherwise unless you go direct to these retailers).
DraftToDigital is now merged with Smashwords, so having books on D2D distributes all the same locations as Smashwords (whose dashboard I found horrendous to use, so I’d go with D2D if you’re considering either). Also, D2D now uses Ingram Spark’s infrastucture to publish paperbacks (I also find Ingram’s dashboard unfriendly to use, so in future will Ingram for paperbacks).

Distributer Links: Kindle Self Publishing, Ingram Spark, Draft2 Digital.

Going Direct, Some Considerations

By going direct, I mean which stores will you create an account with and upload to directly? In answering that, I’d consider:

Which stores dominate and have the most reach generally?
In which countries do you want to sell your book in and what are the biggest retailers in those markets?
Which retailers have the biggest share of the market in your home country?
Does the store you’re considering pay in your local currency? (Being based outside the US can be a disadvantage here).
What do other indies have to say about their experiences with specific distributors? Have they had issues, what kind and how did they find customer service/ support?

Amazon is obvious for market share and reach. Googleplay store is hardly a leading book retailer, but they’re Google, so that appeals to some indies. (They were unable to verify my Aussie bank account, which is why I’m not direct with them). Barnes and Noble are another logical choice for popularity in America and an indie friend said the standard of their print books was better than Amazon print books for her book (they only pay Australians in US dollars and the currency conversion fees may be higher than my earnings, so I’m not direct with them). Beyond that, I’d be considering the questions above to decide who to go direct with.

Imprints: do you Need or Want One?

Amazon will display information about your book to potential readers, including ‘publisher.’ If you don’t want Amazon to display ‘publisher (insert your legal name)’, I suggest creating an imprint. Mine is Faraway Fiction Press. I’ve registered it as a business name with the relevant Australian body for tax purposes and it has its own website (to reserve and link the .com domain name to my books).

Resource: For info on the benefits of having your own press, see this post by David Wogan.

ISBNs: Do you Need or Want them?

Many retailers offer a free ISBN, which can only be used for your book at that retailer. So if you use free ISBNs, your ebook will be registered under a different ISBN at each retailer, and that ISBN will link back to that retailer. If you purchase and choose to use your own ISBNs, each format needs its own ISBN, but you can use the same ISBN for your print or audio or ebook at different retailers. ISBNs are free in some countries (Canada and Sweden among them), and are best purchased by their official seller (Bowker) in the US, Australia and elsewhere.

NB: If you distribute print books via Ingram or DraftoDigital paperback, you must purchase an ISBN. If you only plan to have print books on Amazon, you may prefer to use free ISBNs for everything. Which ISBNs are best —free or paid— depends on which factors you prioritise: saving money, having sequential ISBNs pointing back to you instead of a retailer or other. Many indie authors seem happy with either option.

7. Extend your Author Platform

Website

I suggest setting this up after social media because imposter syndrome is real, and hopefully having been on social media and presented as a writer for at least a few months (I was on social media over a year before I took this step), you will find it more natural to write an author bio and present yourself professionally as an author on your site. Blogs are optional and of course take more time, but they bring a lot more traffic to your site than an author name and book title no-one has heard of, so I recommend them.

If you decide to have a blog, I recommend drafting posts ahead of time. (I teach full time, so I write most blogs in the summer holidays, then edit and publish them once a month).

Resources: Author Website Set Up Tips, Unpublished Authors and Websites by Jane Friedman, 100 Unpublished Author Blog Ideas by Mixtus Media.

NewsLetter

Once your site and social media presence are established, its a good time to think about your newsletter. If you only have time for a blog OR a newsletter, here’s a post by Jane Friedman weighing pros and cons of having only either. If you start a newsletter, you’ll need a reader magnet. A 10-20k short story, maybe the origin or background story of a central character or a subplot you had to edit out of your novel can work nicely for this.

To build your subscriber base, I’ve found Bookfunnel group promos get the most sign ups, while it seems that for direct newsletter swaps between authors (each author sharing the other’s reader magnet in an agreed upon newsletter), Story Origin has a lot of authors and authors with larger lists.

Resources: Not sure what to say in your newsletter or where to promote it and how? I’ve blogged ideas in Author Newsletters: the Basics. See also Unpublished Author Newsletters by @LombardEmma.
For newsletter providers and more information, see Jane Friedman’s Newsletters for Authors Getting Started Guide.

Part 2

I suspect that’s more than enough information to get you started, and possibly enough to make your head spin, so I’ll end this blog here. Part 2 is packed with ideas and resources for your book launch and initial marketing plan, author profiles, formatting and uploading your book and tips right up to launch day.

Acknowledgements

I learnt A LOT of the above from conversations with and between the following indie authors:

Headshot of silver haired, pale skinned, blue eyed Cheryl.
Cheryl Burman, Historical and SFF author.
Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Pineapple picture with a red heart on it, Chloe's logo
Chloe Alice Balkin, Speculative Romance
Website
Facebook
Instagram
Cartoon headshot of green mohawked Chris, raising a grey eyebrow over his brown rimmed glasses, holding the frames with his right hand.
Chris Vandyke, SFF Author
Website
Facebook
Instagram
Rebecca (white) smiling in a cafe seat, wearing rectangular rimmed glasses, her hair dyed light brown.
Rebecca Jonesee, Romance
website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Headshot of Dreena (white), with dark curls hanging free (right), black topped glasses, red lipstick and a small smile.
Dreena Collins
(Jane Harvey)
Website
Twitter
Instagram
Facebook
K.W. in a black cap and black sports top, standing before boulders (she's white, blue eyed and blonde haired).
K. W. Kenny, YA Fantasy Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Headshot of small blue eyed Jay, wth rectangular shaped face, thin, short blonde hair and broad nose, wearing collared grey top.
Jay Veloso Batista, Fantasy Author. Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Headshot of Leia wearing a bright purple, fluffy brimmed hate and a pink lipped smile.
Leia Talon, Fantasy author.
Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
Headshot of Lily smiling broadly and holding her back her brown hair.
Lily, poet & kidlit author
Website
Twitter
Facebook
Instagram
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Further Reading

Just in case your head isn’t exploding with information already, there are more resources on many of the above topics on my Writers Resources Page. I’ll also point you towards a Self Publishing pro, David Gaughram.
If your head is exploding, I suggest bookmarking this post so you can revisit a few of its steps at a time.

Whichever of the above steps you’re at –Good Luck!

Why I Chose to Self Publish

Birds eye view of a market table lined with books and prospective browsing buyers.
Photo credit: Maico Pereira.

Self Publishing wasn’t the first publishing path that appealed to me. Nor were small presses. Like many writers, I figured I’d need a literary agent, because they’re the gatekeepers of middling to large publishing companies and because I didn’t know much about book marketing. Then I worked with multiple critical readers, discovered how difficult it is to know when you’ve finished editing, and figured an editorial agent would do nicely. But when I really thought about it, I was facing down all the usual querying obstacles, plus a couple of large experience-related and some personal ones. The following are the factors I weighed and measured before deciding to self publish my first trilogy.

The Early Querying Journey

It was fine at first. As anyone whose pitched an 80+ thousand word novel will tell you, writing 280 character tweet pitches is HARD. As is writing a query pitch. And a synopsis. All were challenges. I like challenges, and learning. I quickly found these things worked better when people helped each other. So I created a query letter critique group, which quickly became five Twitter DMs, each with five writers trading query letter feedback.

I made a Twitter DM for discussing querying, and another for tweet pitch critiquing and supporting each other in pitch parties (there were 3 of those at one point!) Then I consolidated query package feedback and query discussion onto a Craft & Querying Discord. I met fellow querying writers, we shared our journeys, helped each other hone our querying craft, and encouraged each other with the uphill struggle that is querying.

By the time I made my first foray into the querying trenches, I’d spent three months talking to querying writers. I was well aware I may need to send out 50 queries to get a few full requests. Later, I realised I could send out 100 queries and still get very few full requests, and no offer of an agent contract.

I saw friends write entertaining stories, with well rounded characters, querying till they ran out of agents to query (over two or three years), shelve book that book, write the next and query it. Yes, a very small minority did sign with agents and a few with a small press, but over a two year period, the vast majority didn’t.

Killer one: Time

I spent YEARS writing and more YEARS editing. I was studying full time and am still teaching full time. I’ve lived and worked overseas and generally done a lot. It doesn’t leave much time for writing.

By the time I’d pantsed a trilogy, re-written it, read up on writing craft and worked with critical readers -and completed a structural edit based on a manuscript critique- I was TIRED. It had taken 20 years for a series of novellas to become a fully drafted, near query-ready trilogy (with a second trilogy not far behind). So how did I feel about waiting years before someone else let me publish? Not very motivated.

If not for lockdowns bringing most things writing related to a grinding halt for me (yes, I queried in 2020), I’d intended to query at least 50 agents, over 6 months to an absolute maximum of two years, then move on. But the pandemic hit, lockdowns dragged on and it took me 1.5 years to query 19 agents and 14 presses. It was taking too long. I’d worked too hard, I just wanted my books published already!

Killer two: Interest

By this stage, I’d critiqued over an estimated 200 tweet pitches and probably around 50 query letters). I’d learned loads about what makes a good pitch. As much as I could from querying this particular novel, and I had a second ready. So I started pitching wip two in pitch parties and continued to hone my skills. But the issues I had with my pitches and queries now weren’t about general pitching skills. They were how best to pitch, in one case, a multi-pov, portal, epic fantasy in which writing only one pov in a query or synopsis felt like pitching a (misleading) book fragment. Compared to the first three months of query writing and critiquing, I was learning next to nothing. And because of that, I was losing interest.

Killer three: Patience and Tolerance

Here’s where my querying story differs. In my state one year teaching contracts are FAR more common than ongoing positions. So, almost every year, for 8 years, I’ve filled in the same bloody paperwork. I’ve updated the same six, single page mini essays, updated the same interview notes, and spent HOURS looking at potential jobs, schools etc. How does this relate to querying? Its a LOT like searching for agents. Do we have the same goals? The same work ethics? Will my style of teaching go well with this school/ my personality and writing style match this agent?

Querying is a numbers game, but so is continuing to have a job as a teacher. I forget how many jobs I applied for before getting my first. 50? 60? It was similar the second year and the third. By the forth (year in a row), I reached burn out after applying for 80 jobs that year alone. I went from enjoying reflecting on my teaching practice, to fed up. From hopeful and curious about where the next job was, to stressed about facing potential unemployment every year, while writing student reports, because job application season coincides with the busiest time of the teaching year.

Burnout and Swearing Time

In year four of job re-appling, I thought, fuck this shit, I want to go the Europe and travel. I calmed down, thought it through and moved to England, which has a serious shortage of teachers (understandable, given their system is brilliant at chewing teachers up and spitting us back out again). I went through agencies who found schools for me, and didn’t have to apply for as many positions.

When I returned to Australia, I applied for around 20 positions. In my eighth year of reapplying (yep, my eighth year in a supposedly professional job of proving I’m worth continuing to employ), I realised I was beyond burnt out, and past caring. I had so little interest in the reapplication process that I seriously considered leaving the profession, despite that I love and am just as passionate about teaching as I am about writing.

I didn’t leave teaching. Instead, I moved to New Zealand, where an agency asked my criteria for schools and handed my resume (yep, just a resume!) to four schools, the first offering me a job. This is when I began querying. The process of endlessly trying to make teaching application paperwork perfect, of spending countless hours researching who to send it to annually, the enormous investment over a period of weeks (usually 2 to three months) over eight years of teaching, was day one of querying for me. So my tolerance for doing the same shit over and over and getting the same results was low from the outset.

Killer Four: Marketability and Motivation

I may be wrong here. It may be that my YA Fantasy Manipulator’s War is sufficiently ‘fresh’, and ‘unique’ and ‘stand out’ enough for a literary agent and sizeable publisher to think it will sell. (Getting an honourable mention in the YA category for Pitch It may indicate so.) Maybe my writing craft and querying skills don’t do the marketable idea of my novel justice, and that’s why all 19 agents (yes, that’s not many) gave me form rejections. Maybe that’s why I had to pitch in around 15 pitch parties before getting my first (and second) literary agent like. But setting aside that YA Fantasy is very competitive, and visibility at pitch parties is almost winning the lottery in itself, my gut always said ‘prince’ (even a nonbinary one) + ‘war’ =’insufficiently original and marketable’ to appeal to a literary agent or sizeable publisher.

Yes, the right literary agent for it may exist. Yes, if I send enough queries, I may get lucky enough to one day query that agent. But in the face of waning interest for the process (a point I’ve reached with teaching twice, and overcome), with my impatience to have a book out, my intolerance of monotony and potentially endless waiting, doubt and lack of motivation tipped my scales for this trilogy well onto the side of ‘nope’.

Killer Five: the Need to Achieve

If you’re querying and plan to do so longer, I recommend also pursuing writing related things that let you experience a sense of achievement. Write a short story (and submit to anthologies!) Start your website, or a blog. Kick off your newsletter! Whatever you choose, make it something writing related you can point to and say: see? Finished! Because a novel without a literary agent or publishing contract can feel unfinished, and can make you feel like you aren’t achieving anything.

I didn’t set out to develop my author platform for this reason. Having moved back to Australia to spend lockdown with family, my personality clash with remaining indoors and extreme cabin fever made me so restless and unfocused that I couldn’t focus on wips. Building a website? Easy! Writing blogs? -perfect length! As for an author newsletter, I figured I needed to develop my voice in speaking to people as an author, and getting used to writing one would help me overcome imposter syndrome. So being me, I took on the website, blog and newsletter all at once (NB: don’t be me. Do one thing at a time -its much easier!).

Developing my author platform was fun, and engaging. It was new and novel and most importantly (as a former technophobe) it was a challenge which involved learning to do lots of new things. I was motivated and happy again, just as I’d felt when I began querying. But for me, the sense of achievement at having developed a blog, newsletter and website made me question. I wondered, why should I spend more time, effort and energy querying with (likely) no book to show for it, when with my blog and newsletter established, my next big step could be self publishing and having books to show for it?

Personality Factors

In considering which publishing path is right for you, I think personality is an important factor. The first time I considered that, I immediately thought: I’m adventurous, impatient, restless and a very sociable person. My personality is perfect fit for self publishing. My love of challenges and learning positions me well to learn to self publish, and book marketing clearly poses challenges and opportunities to learn new skills. In January 2021 I was thinking, is traditional publishing the right path for me on personality grounds alone? No. I’ll need to get lucky, because I have no desire to stick around for the numbers game of querying.

Industry Factors

What I say here is my personal -and not hugely informed impression- which is that the pandemic seemed to throw a spanner in the works of traditional publishing. I saw one agent talk at a conference where he said his agency quietly shut their doors to queries while editing with existing clients in 2020, then remained closed while putting those clients on submission in early 2021. I wondered, is this a shit time to be querying?

Then there are the issues of labour and supply shortages, (more details in this blog by Kathryn Rusch), which again make me think now is not a good time to debut in traditional publishing. In a few years, after I’ve self published my YA Fantasy trilogy? Then I’ll sniff the air, see what’s happening and maybe reconsider.


Alternatives? Small Presses?

Back in January I thought: let’s give small presses a shot. From conversations I’ve had with many people who enjoy fantasy, my YA Fantasy does have reader appeal. Perhaps a small press focused on fantasy and more willing to take a risk on a debut book than literary agents and big publishers, was a good idea. If I signed with a small publisher, I would still have an editor (and wouldn’t have to pay them out of my own pocket). I’d get to work with people with more editorial and marketing experience than myself. I assumed those conversations could be invaluable as a newbie author. And as a sociable person whose worked in close collaboration with colleagues in my varied teaching roles, I liked the idea of working with a small team to bring my book into the world.

How many presses did I query? At final count, 14. Why? Well, I was busy moving house, starting a new teaching job, then learning to teach students via video call over multiple lockdowns, which became a second big lockdown. It was exhausting, it was all consuming and 2021 wasn’t the right time for me personally to query.

The return to teaching on site was so hectic I figured I might as well throw out a final round of queries while I waited for the school year to end, and the time, headspace and energy to self publish. The summer school holidays (January) would be the best time to self publish my first book. If I didn’t do it then, I’d have to wait another YEAR to take control of when my book FINALLY became available to friends, family and colleagues I’ve been telling about it since FOREVER.

Do I Self Publish?

It would be a LOT to learn. LOTs of work. But I like learning. And challenges. I find them stimulating, interesting and energising. Everything that querying no longer is to me- self publishing is likely to be. Sure, I’ll probably make hardly any money and most likely won’t sell many books. I don’t care. I understand that you need a good back catalog to make money self publishing and that takes years, spending money and serious work. I’m prepared to tackle that. And I love teaching too much to give it up, so I’m not relying on writing to pay my bills or put a roof over my head. (I’ll be relying on teaching to pay for covers and editing very soon).

The thing that appealed to me most about self publishing, was that after two years getting my books and then query package to the best standard I could get them, self publishing is efficient. It moves fast. I could choose to make my book available in a matter of months, instead of waiting unknown years, over which I have no control, for other people to make that happen. After all the uncertainty covid brought into our lives, having the ability to make the decision to publish -and when- had more appeal to me than ever.

But what about the two years I spent honing my pitch craft and supporting other writers to hone theirs? Well, it should put me in good stead to write book blurbs, and advertising copy for my books. No skills will go to waste! (And yes, maybe I’ll query another trilogy/ series in future and have a head start in writing queries for them).

If I Self Publish, am I Quitting?

I once had this idea that I ‘wasn’t a quitter.’ The things is, we don’t always choose what’s best for us. I slogged through a job once, for as long as I could stand it. The day I handed in my resume, I could not stop smiling! I was so happy! Only then could I admit how much I hated working there!

Why did I ‘quit’? Because staying on would have meant killing myself trying to please people I believed were holding me (and everyone else) to ridiculous standards. They seemed to expect that we overwork ourselves (8am to 10pm Mon to Fri or spend all weekend working too), to the point we were under constant stress, always tired, didn’t have the energy or time to enjoy life. tI at least, was putting my mental health on the line for that stupid job.

Having had that experience with non-writing work, I don’t see choosing an alternate publishing path over querying as quitting. I tried a path for a particular trilogy. It wasn’t for me or that trilogy. Now its time to move forward on the path that lets me do just that.

Conclusion

For me, for my first trilogy, at this point in time: self publishing is the option I feel happiest and most motivated about. I can’t wait to dive in! (and probably will have by the time you read this.) Will I query something else in future? I’ve also written a MG Fantasy that’s high concept, and I feel is much more marketable. It will take time to hone its pitches (the one thing I haven’t done is paid critiques or querying workshops- which I would like to attend).

But in a couple of years, having brought closure on a trilogy I’ve worked on and off for over twenty years by self publishing it, and finished editing the SciFi Fantasy trilogy I’ve worked on, and off, for the same length of time, maybe I’ll query again. If, with rest, closure and the achievement of having published my first trilogy balances the above factors above the right way, and querying books appeals in future, yes, I’ll consider it.

Choosing Your Publishing Path

If you’re debating publishing paths, I suggest talking to other writers. Find out which personality factors, motivations, experiences and book goals led (or are leading them) to a particular path. Consider which of those factors do or don’t apply to your personality, skill set, lifestyle, book and goals, and to what extent. When you weigh everything up, which publishing path do you feel will best meet your needs? Your books needs? Is it one path for now, different paths for different books, or do you lean strongly to a single publishing path for everything?

2023 Addendum

Its been two years. book #1 and #2 are out in the wild, and book #3 (War in Sorcery’s Shadow) is set to join them in April 2024. Since going indie, I’ve seen a lot of anecdotal evidence of marginalised authors being gate-keeped out of traditional publishing. I’ve heard of the Great Resignation hitting editors at major publishing houses and seen literary agents posting about taking on a third job because agenting and their second job isn’t earning enough to pay their bills. The latter two seem to mean that manuscripts need to be close to publishable standard at the time of querying, requiring less input than in previous years from agents and editors alike.

Yes, a few more of my friends have signed with literary agents over the past two years. For the rest, it still seems an exceptionally competitive, soul destroying time to be querying, and traditional publishing still seems to be in a state of crisis, or at least a huge mess. With the death of Twitter seeing pitch parties suspended, post-poned or leaving the platform (updates on those in this post), even my idea of pitching my more marketable MG contemporary fantasy has little appeal.

Having heard mostly very bad news about the state of traditional publishing since before the pandemic, this queer, neurodiverse author currently feels that the best publishing path for their future books is indie. I’m now planning to self publish my middle grade Fantasy and YA SciFi trilogy, then review the state of trad publishing again in 2027/28, when I hope to begin writing a new series (I suspect I’ll be fully committed to staying indie by then, but never say never.)

Total Page Visits: 3147

Related Reading

Querying Your First Novel (a suggested querying process)

Publishing Paths Interviews

Halla Williams #Pitmad Success Story

Signing with an Indie Publisher

Indie Authors on Indie Authoring

Indie Authors on Indie Authoring

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 and 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.
Lily

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.
Cheryl

What were your goals and expectations when you set out to self publish?

Dreena’s Goals

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

Paula’s Goals

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?

Covers

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

Technology

[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].

Confidence

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

Networking

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?

Author Platforms

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

Authenticity

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

Formatting

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?

Writing Community

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

Other

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.

Cheryl Burman

Headshot of Cheryl with her book covers: Keepers, Dragon Gift and Guardians of the Forest.

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.

You can follow me on: Twitter  Facebook 

Paula Peckham

Paula's book on a side table with coffee.

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

Twitter Tik Tok Pinterest

Lily Lawson

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

Headshot of Lily with her covers: My Father's Daughter and A Taste of What's to Come.

Dreena Collins

Black and white headshot of dark haired, dark eyed, white Dreena wearing black glasses and a black top.
Winged person hovering beside a flock of birds and 4 of Dreena's book covers.

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

Twitter Facebook & Jane’s Facebook


Author Newsletter, The Basics

Unlike social media posts, your author newsletter is a direct line to people interested in hearing from you, and receiving your content. It sits in an inbox where interested people can read it a their leisure, instead of on a social media feed where it may be drowned out by thousands of posts vying for attention. Newsletters effectively reach your people, but what you can offer in yours to make it worthwhile for your subscribers?

What Should I Write About?

Imposter syndrome can hit hard when it comes to writing a newsletter, especially if you don’t have a release date for your first book yet (I would know, being about to send out my fourth newsletter, and still querying and researching self publishing, with no release date in sight yet ?). The good news is, a newsletter can be a lot more than just a means for people to learn when and where your next book is out.

In considering what to offer in your newsletter, I’d think about:
-General interests and life experiences (ones you’re comfortable sharing) which you may have in common with your readers to help them connect with you.
-Things that will make you relatable to your readers, or help them connect with you.
-Things that may entertain or educate your readers.
-Your own thoughts or experiences related to major themes in your writing, which are likely to also impact on your readers lives, or be topics they care about.

Personal/ Wip/ Book Updates

Share your personal, wip or book updates first with the people who trusted you with their email address. Give them more of the juicy details than you do on social media. Tell them the jokes or show sides of your personality that don’t fit into your social posts. Share your reflection on a life event you and your main character have experienced and your readers are likely to relate to.

Tell your subscribers how your pet’s or child’s demands for attention forced you into making productive use of what time you have to write without interruption. Think about experiences, actions and thoughts which make you human and which your readers can relate to and marry the two in your update. This is what I meant above when I said ‘things that make you relatable to your readers, help them connect with you.’

Novel Teasers

This isn’t just for published authors. If you’re editing or querying a novel, you may also want to include blurbs about your characters, settings or the struggles your characters face, to generate interest in and allow your subscribers to enter the world of your stories. This could be blurbs, or creative writing, eg. news sources or diaries ‘produced’ by characters in your fictional world.

If you commission character art or create mood boards for your book, this is a good space to show them and or cover reveals off. Again, give your subscribers the v.i.p. treatment and share these things with them first. (This being one of many reasons monthly newsletters are a good idea, as I find it impossible to tell my subscribers things first when my newsletter is only quarterly).

Reader Magnet

The thing a reader gets when they sign up to your newsletter. A common recommendation is a short story. For example, take a character’s backstory and write a short story about an episode from it. Later in a series, write a short about an event between books, or a scene after the series finishes, possibly wrapping up any final loose ends.

I know, not everyone writes shorts, but as your newsletter will appeal to people interested in your books, its worth giving them a sampler of your fiction as your reader magnet. I put off writing one for ages because I don’t do shorts, but after writing four picture books and a Middle Grade novel, I was surprised how easily I adapted my knowledge of story structure and character arcs to a 7,500 word story set before Manipulator’s War.

Alternately, or better yet additionally, you may like to use merchandise. For example, Emma Lombard created postcards using character art from her Historical Fiction debut, Discerning Grace, as a reader magnet. What digital merch could you include in a welcome email?

Blog Links

If you blog about topics like the inspiration for your books, book reviews etc, there’s a good chance your subscribers will be interested in your blogs. Sharing a concise blog blurb and a link to it lets you repurpose something you’ve already put the work in for. (I started off sharing my blog’s opening paragraphs in my newsletters, but I think a concise, personalised introduction for subscribers creates a more welcoming tone).

Interviews

These can be interviews you’ve given, or conducted. I’d consider who you’re interviewing and how the interview relates to your subscriber’s interests. For example, are you interviewing an author who writes a similar genre or themes to your books? Or sharing your interview with an ‘expert’ that you did as part of your book’s research?

Events/ Calendar

These could be events you personally are involved in. Or third party events of topical, thematic or genre interest to your readers, like festivals, readings, conferences, competitions, related identity group events, etc.

Giveaways

You might sponsor other writers giveaways and share them in your newsletter, an option for collaborative book promotion, particularly if you’re an Indie Author. A giveaway may also be merchandise (if you have it), or a query letter/ first chapter critique (especially if you’re also a freelance editor, or an agented author giving back to querying writers).

Newsletter Swaps

If you know authors writing in similar genres and audience ages, sharing a blurb and sign up link to their newsletter, and them doing the same for you in theirs, can help grow both newsletters. If you’re a fellow SFF writer, here’s a Facebook Group for arranging newsletter swaps.

Social Media

Your email provider probably has a footer block to add to your newsletter template, with icons to link to your social media accounts. I display this below my sign off for each newsletter, to make it easy for my subscribers to visit my social media.

How Often Do I Send it?

The most common recommendation I’ve heard is monthly. Often enough for people to remember who you are, what you’re about and to eagerly open your newsletter. I started with quarterly because I had too many balls in the air to manage monthly newsletters as well, then moved to every two months in the lead up to my debut’s release. This is how often I feel I have something of personal and bookish of interest to say, and is often enough to share two blogs each time.

How to Design & Write My Newsletter?

Read Examples

Before designing yours, I suggest (if you haven’t already), subscribing to the newsletters of a few writers you know (including some same genre authors). Look at what they include in their newsletters, how their content is organised, but also their presentation, tone etc. Consider what will suit your personality/ brand and your goals in designing and selecting content for your newsletter.


My favourite author newsletters are by Emma Lombard (Historical Fiction Author) for her personable tone and bookish content (you can read her January newsletter here). And Rue Sparks (Magical Realism, Mystery, Spec. Fic. Author), who illustrates what I mean when I talk about personal reflections on topics in this newsletter. If you’re wondering what my attempts to do the above look like, my November newsletter gives you a good idea.

Branding

If you haven’t looked into branding yet, the main thing to bear in mind here is using consistent fonts and consistent colour schemes across your site and newsletter, and for any promo graphics you make which include text. You may also like to design your own newsletter graphic to promote your NL on your site, socials etc. I use the image on the right (made on canva) as my email header. It has the same font as the titles of my Ruarnon Trilogy.

Author Newsletter, The Basics

Personal Style

This is something to consider throughout your entire newsletter.
What style of writing suits your personality and how you want to interact with your subscribers? How does your newsletter style compare to your books and their tone?

Are you aiming to invite readers to connect with you, to entertain them, to inform them and or to educate them in some way? What type of tone best suits your style and that purpose/ those purposes?

I’m Aussie, and we tend to be blunt, so my newsletters (like my blogs) speak quite directly. Entertainment isn’t my main goal, but I like to include some humour and show some personality in my personal updates, to make them an enjoyable read. My blogs aim to share my learnings as a writer and to help fellow writers on their journeys (which will shift gears to focus more on potential readers when I prepare to publish my first book). So at the moment, my blog and external resources sections aim to help writers (when my blog focuses on readers, this purpose/ aim will also include entertaining, connecting with and engaging readers.)

As you figure out your style, tone and purpose, you may also like to consider:
What do you want your reader to feel as they read your newsletter? How do you want them to respond to it? How can you style and structure your newsletter to meet those aims?

Voice

If imposter syndrome is on your back, and or you don’t think you’ve found your author platform voice yet, I suggest trying blogging before drafting a newsletter. Chances are your blog readers aren’t signed up to your blog. They haven’t made a commitment to you, so you’re under less pressure on a blog. And you’ve got space to practice writing longer-than-social-media messages to your readers, in your author voice.
It took me around six or seven blogs before I felt comfortable drafting a newsletter. My blog is where I’ve experimented with and developed my newsletter voice, developed my non-fiction writing style and played around with how to use those to connect with my readers, and to entertain and help them. I suggest experimenting with all that on your blog. And installing a page visit counter to see which blogs and styles are getting the most reads, and considering what worked well with your blog when writing your newsletter.

Developing a blog (and sharing it on your social media) gives your potential newsletter audience a chance to sample your content and realise that they may want to sign up. Alternately, giving your blog readers the chance to subscribe directly to your blog opens up a line of communication with people who don’t want to subscribe to your newsletter.

Mailing List Providers and Set Up

Which Mailing service provider should I use?

Mailchimp is free until you hit 2,000 subscribers (then pricy), Mailerlite being free for up to 1,000 subscribers, while Convertkit is expensive. To help you choose a provider, here’s a guest post on Jane Friedman’s blog comparing the three.

What Does a Mailing List Do?

If the term ‘mailing list’ is new to you, you may be wondering what’s physically involved in setting up your newsletter and mailing list, so I’ll unpack that. Whether you set up a sign up form on your site or on a landing page via your provider (more on sign ups below), once someone signs up to your newsletter, your provider will store their emails on a list. From there, it will provide you with newsletter templates. If the templates aren’t much chop, you should have the option to add content blocks of your choice from a menu. When your newsletter is finished, you can send it to everyone on your list via your provider.

Where do I send Emails to my List From?

Not your personal email account. Attempting to do this can cause tech issues (yes I know people who’ve tried it and had a lot of trouble). Most website hosts offer an email account to match your site, yourname@yoursite.com, which looks more professional and doesn’t have those issues.

Which Emails Should I Set Up?

I recommend setting up an automated welcome email, thanking subscribers for signing up to your newsletter and stating its name. If your name isn’t clear in your newsletter title, I’d state your name too, so people know who’s speaking to them and that their sign up was successful. If you’re using Mailchimp and can only set up one automated email, I’d include your reader maget in this welcome email.

Then I suggest creating (and saving) a template for your regular newsletter. If you save it as both an email and a template, you can use the template (with your choice of fonts, colour schemes etc) to populate next month’s newsletter.

A goodbye letter for un-subscribers. I’m sure you’ve seen the ‘sorry to see you go’ type emails you get from third parties. As my newsletter is called ‘Fiction Frolics’, I sign it off by wishing them well in their fiction endeavours. You might also like to remind people that they can follow you on social media to stay in touch in this email.

Do you still want to receive these newsletters? This email is important to send out periodically, to the people your provider thinks aren’t opening your emails. Why? Because if people persistently don’t open your emails, your sender rating can be effected, which means your newsletters are more likely to end up in everyone’s spam folder. For more information about this and comprehensive newsletter set up tips, I recommend buying Newsletter Ninja.

Where Do I Promote My Newsletter On My Site?

If you have a single page site, at the top (for attention) or bottom of that page (by then, people will have some idea of what they’re signing up for, from your homepage’s content).

If you have a multi page site and no blog, you may like to put your newsletter blurb and sign up form on your contact page. However, if your contact page also includes your social media and or is crowded (like mine), its worth giving your newsletter its own page, mine being here.

The advantage of a newsletter-only page is that you can link your newsletter sign up directly to your social media bio, as well as your main site or blog (I’m trialling this on Insta too).

If you have a blog too, I would do whichever of the above applies AND place a sign up form and newsletter blurb, or a link to your newsletter sign up page at the bottom of each blog. That way, people interested enough in reading your blogs get the chance to sign up for more content.

Do I Need a Separate Landing Page for my Newsletter? If you’re using Story Origin or other external newsletter promoters, they may have landing pages for you to use for their set up. But for your set up, why give Mailchimp or other providers page visits from your social media, when your site could get those visits, and people could browse your site instead? (Making everything involve as few clicks as possible is also an effective SEO strategy).

What Should Your Newsletter Blurb and or Sign Up Say and Look Like?

I suggest creating a newsletter header. You’ll see mine in my site’s sidebar and footer. Every newsletter blurb I’ve read says at least ‘sign up for updates.’ That doesn’t tell potential subscribers anything specific or let them know what value they personally will get from your newsletter. So whatever else your blurb says, I’d at least tell people about the reader magnet they get for signing up, including audience age, genre and perhaps a one line blurb. For example my sign up page initially said:

Get the short story Urmillian: Rebellion is due and accompany me on my Fiction Frolics via personal updates, behind the scenes snippets, author interviews and blogs every two months.

If you have an option for site visitors to subscribe just to your blog, I also suggest displaying that sign up on your newsletter page. For a visual of all the above, visit my sign up page.

Privacy Policy

If you can, include a link to your privacy policy where you place newsletter sign up forms on your site. Potential subscribers are the most relevant audience for your site’s privacy policy, so make it easy for them to find.

Blue edged, pink, orange and yellow rainbow scroll with text: Get blogs in your inbox & updates from Elise every second month. Join my Fiction Frolics. Select this image to learn more.
Total Page Visits: 6828

Newsletter Resources & Related Reading

Interested in a space to discuss newsletters, author platforms and book marketing with other authors? Let me know by replying to my posts on Blue Sky on Mastodon, or via my contact page and I’ll send you an invite link to my Indie Author Discord.

Unpublished Author Newsletters by Emma Lombard.

Newsletter Ninja (book), by Tammi L. Labrecque.

Story Origin and Book Funnel are popular for gaining newsletter subscribers (I prefer group promos on Bookfunnel).

For Social Media: Social Media for Writers

For blogging & site tips: Author Website Set Up Tips.

For Indie Authoring: Becoming an Indie Author part 1, and 2 –book launch.

Author Website Tips

Deciding what to put on your author website can seem daunting, especially if you publish it before your first book. But your author bio and writing samples can go on your site, and you can start blogging at any time. I’ll suggest site content, and give tips on carefully selecting your theme in this post. I’ll also recommend plugins for WordPress (sorry, I don’t do Wix or Squarespace, though I hear good things). Ultimately, I’ll share what I’ve learnt tweaking my site and blog over the past ten months (yes, as an unpublished author!), to help you hit the ground running with yours.

What Should I Put On My Site?

Author Bio

Your bio ought to be written in third person, so other people can copy and paste it into author interviews you give. You might like to include things like places you’ve lived, your education, life events etc, but I’d also try and inject some personality and personal interests too. Your bio may be the place where potential readers, writer colleagues or potential agents and publishers get their first feel for who you are. For an example of showing personality and humour, I offer my bio. (I’ll use the short ‘about me’ paragraph on my home page for interviews, as my About page bio is too long).

I suggest accompanying your bio with your standard author profile photo (the one you use for social media and sites like Goodreads), so you’re instantly recognisable to anyone who’s interacted with you online. If your bio is on a separate page, you may like to share other photos too and give more details for people to get to know you better.

Your Writing

This could be book adds, descriptions of your works in progress, sample chapters, your poetry or short stories. You may want a Works in Progress page, and or a page for each short story, and or a page for poetry. In choosing writing samples, I’d consider how well each showcases your writing, your main genre and themes, and your writing style to potential readers. I’d also consider: are you displaying shorts which are prequels to your novels, aimed at building a readership? Are your book teasers from works in progress, aiming to generate reader interest, or upcoming release blurbs aiming to entice potential readers to preorder? (Strong, polished book pitches being more crucial for the latter, though I recommend seeking critical feedback for both, to overcome any author bias blind spots which may trip up potential readers).

What if I have multiple writing styles, genres and or audience ages?

That’s when you might want to consider a pen name for some books, and a separate author site for your pen name, especially if you write unrelated genres, or themes appropriate for different age groups, like erotica and children’s fiction.

Character Art

Author Website Tips
My MC, Prince Ruarnon, by Glint of Mischief.

Images are a great way to capture people’s imaginations, and a unique way to indicate the atmosphere and mood of your writing. You may like to commission a portrait of your MC to generate interest about your book and to illustrate the book blurb section on your site (and share on social media or in your newsletter), and yes, that’s what I did on my works in progress page (which is now my books page).

Alternately, you can find high quality photos on unsplash.com and some great public domain artwork on canva.com, to format into a mood board or graphic to illustrate your book blurb. I prefer Unsplash, because it lets you credit photographers for their work. Remember to use alt text, so vision impaired visitors know what images show (more on this in Image Accessibility below).

Newsletter Sign Up

I highly recommend a newsletter, especially if you plan to self publish, and especially as Twitter is spectacularly demonstrating the volatility of social media. My next post focuses on newsletters, so all I’ll say here is make your sign up form is prominent on your site and tell people what they get for signing up, eg. a short story.

Blog

A blog is a great way to attract potential readers to your website. Whether you blog monthly, fortnightly, weekly or are a super-human who blogs more often, every post is an opportunity to drive traffic to your site. Writing a number of quality blogs encourages people to spend time exploring your site, and to revisit it. If you’re lucky, that may lead them to sign up to your newsletter, to get your content in their inbox.

Privacy Policy

If people can comment on your site, log into it or sign up to your newsletter, if you use Google Analytics or other data collection like cookies, you need a privacy policy. Handily, Wix and WordPress both have policy templates you can use, and or adapt. If your site uses cookies, you’ll also need a cookie banner to inform visitors of this. I use Complianz.

SEO

To get your website showing up in Google search results, complete this (free) Attracta site map form. This alone created a steady increase in the number of visits my site and blog posts received.

Yes analytics can help with SEO, but as a layperson I find Google Analytics has far too many options and too much information, which I lack the time and intuition to utilise. I just read its monthly reports. So shop around!

Dotstore Plugins (my page counter), told me 3/4 of my website visits were via Twitter (I no longer have an account there). It also displays a graph of daily page and blog visits, for a week at a time. It suggested that (as I rarely tweet my blog), most people visited via links on my Twitter profile page, or in my Twitter bio. So put your site link in your social media bio!

Choosing A Theme

I suggest experimenting with different themes to see what appeals to you, but also consider…

Display & Visual Accessibility

Does my theme display page menus and social media clearly, in an easy to see space? Is site navigation easy?

Colour Scheme

When choosing colours, try to be as conscious of making your site visually accessible as you are about designing it to your personal taste. Ensure there is enough contrast between text colour and background colour for text to be easy to read. Be wary of big slabs of text on a white background, with no images, colour or sub-headings to break it up, which could bore some visitors and be a visual impairment access issue to others. (If you’re curious, this site’s theme was Katha (on WordPress), which many people have said they find clean and easy to read.)

Style, Genre and Audience Age

If you’re writing a dark and haunting Horror, you’re probably after a theme with dark colours, and images which evoke the mood and feel of your stories. If you’re writing children’s fiction, you may gravitate towards bright colours and lots of pictures. I suggest neutral colours, as opposed to glaringly bright tones of each colour and not too many pictures, which may overstimulate neurodiverse visitors.

For any genre and audience age, consider whether the tone, atmosphere and mood of images on your Home and other pages evoke your books style. Creating a site which feels like an ‘experience’ is another way to generate interest, so if that interests you, I’d have fun experimenting with it.

Themes With Images

Themes with background images can be great for giving your site a genre-related feel, especially if the background image you choose displays off-world art for SFF. I suggest choosing a theme with side borders of that image/ art, and a single colour background for the middle, over which text is displayed clearly, so it has a genre vibe, but isn’t visual stimulation overload/ inaccessible. A header image with a fantasy feel also sets the mood (images on mine being from the front cover’s of my debut Manipulator’s War, and my second novel, Secrets of the Sorcery War.)

Text: Elise Carlson, A fantasy author's adventures in fiction and life.Torch lit battlements on a dark night, beside a sailing ship sailing on bright blue waters between sunlit cliffs.
Cover art by Glint of Mischief.)

Image Accessibility

Visitors with visual impairments may depend on digital readers, which cannot read print formatted onto images, eg. promo images you’ve overlaid with text on Canva. So I’d make text on images on your site accessible by putting text in alt text too. Also say what the image is in alt text (unless its purely decorative).

Consistency

Whatever your colour, art and font choices: make them consistent across your pages and your blog. Try to have your own style of promo images, with similar colours and backgrounds. This also gives your site its own distinct feel, and will make it easier on people navigating across pages of your site, by not requiring them to adjust to different colour schemes before they can read and access each page. A great example of this is emmalombard.com (Historical Fiction author site).

Does my theme have a banner? + Site Icons & Logos

A banner is an easy way to put images of yourself (your brand) and your book covers on each page. It can help people visually associate your site’s content with you and says clearly, “I have books to sell!” NB: If you’ve got a series, give pride-of-visibility-place to book one’s cover in your banner (the gateway book ?) and maybe a few others, but try not to overwhelm us with too many covers.

If, like me, you don’t have books out yet or coming soon, you may wish to make your site logo and browser icon (as displayed in the browser tab) your face. My goal there is enabling people to visually associate my site’s content with me. You could use an author logo, but I find them forgettable and faces memorable, so I prefer faces.

Social Media Links

Ideally, you want a theme which displays social media icons linking to your socials clearly, at the top and or bottom of your pages. As my theme displays them below comments, and the footer, I use Ultimate Social Media Icons to display ‘follow me’ buttons (the ones below) in my side bar menu, where they’re more likely to be seen.

Does my theme have a sidebar?

If your site has multiple pages and or you’re blogging, I’d pick a theme with a sidebar to display ‘Follow Me On Social Media’ buttons and a ‘Sign Up To My Newsletter’ form. I also recommend displaying a category menu for blog posts, and assigning your blogs to categories. That way, visitors can identify posts which interest them, as opposed to your latest posts, or archives listed by month and giving readers no clue what they’re about.

Blog

What Do I blog About?

Not everything under the sun. As with books, you’re trying to build a regular readership on your blog. Ideally, your blog readership and book readership will be the same. So when thinking what to blog, ask yourself, ‘what might readers of my books be interested in reading?’ (Side note, yes, this blog is writer advice and I write YA Fantasy, not non-fiction. For now, this blog is me sharing what I’ve learnt, not trying to appeal to potential readers of my books).

Which blog topics are relevant to your books audience? I write YA and I identified as nonbinary soon after starting this site, so I’ve blogged about gender identity, something young people may question, relevant to the coming of age stories I write, and something I’d hope people who buy books for young people would want to support them with. If you’re unclear what your equivalent of this is, consider themes and ideas your books explore, and your experiences with those things, or thoughts you’re willing to share about them.

On another track, a blog is a much more extensive space than a bio for potential readers to get to know you, your books etc. If you’re unsure how to utilise it or if you’d enjoy jamming time to blog into your busy schedule, take a look at 100 Blog Ideas for Unpublished Authors by @mixtusmedia (which is excellent), then see how you feel.

Blog Links On Your Site

Every blog post can draw potential site visitors, and linking your blogs can encourage them to stick around. If your current post touches on topics you’ve already blogged about, mention and link your old posts where relevant, and or end your current blog with related links (yours or other people’s articles, which help with SEO).

Your theme may display other posts, but not make related posts visible. My WordPress theme links only to ‘previous’ and next ‘posts’ at the end of each blog, so I installed a plugin (Shareaholic), which displays eight of my blogs below every post. (Adds NB: Shareaholic also lets you opt in (or out) of displaying adds in this panel. I like this option because it contains adds at the end of your posts, where they neither impersonate paragraphs of your blog posts, nor obscure them with a pop up).

Blog Tags

These do make a difference. I suggest choosing them by selecting key words from your blog posts, entering them in Google, and seeing which of the most popularly searched phrases in Google are most relevant to your blog, and using them as tags. Also, check if key words you associate with your post mostly turn up similar content before using them as tags. I considered ‘querying’, but on Google that turned up results for every type of human enquiry, so I experimented till my search terms turned up agent and publishing related results.

Blog Titles

9 Tips for the First 5 Pages was my first popular blog. I think that’s a combination of a topic many fiction writers want advice on, and a title which aligns with Google search terms. So when seeking popular search phrases for blog tags, consider using one as your blog title, if its relevant and specific enough. Also, keep your title short. I generally find anything longer than five words gets less hits for each word I add. Browsing in incognito mode to see popular search results and integrating them into your title may help. If you get few hits over a few months, keep tinkering with the title.

Install Social Media Sharing buttons

Social Warfare is my top pick. It’s style suits my theme (its the floating social bar) and the paid version lets me determine the text and images which display when people share my links on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (no, I’m not an affiliate getting paid to say that). I also tried Shareaholic’s share buttons, which displayed photo credit text and some Google Analytics code before the first line of my blog posts on FB and looked awful. And Ultimate Social Media, whose floating share buttons had a time delay, obscuring paragraphs as I scrolled.

Blogs and Pinterest

Images on my site cannot be pinned to Pinterest, which is popular with certain demographics. The easiest fix if you have this issue, is to create a pin for your blog on Pinterest (including a link to your blog in the pin), then use this Pinterest widget builder to create short code and paste the code into a short code block in your post. That displays the blog’s pin in the blog, so site visitors can pin it.

Share Links in Your Newsletter

Sharing your latest or popular blogs in your newsletter is a great way to recycle content you’ve invested time and effort in. It also gives people who appreciate your blog an easy means of staying in touch, at their leisure.

WordPress Recommendations

Recommended Plugins

If you want like buttons, page counters, social media share buttons (and any other plugins I’ve mentioned above), on WordPress, you’ll have to be manually install them. (If you don’t know how, see this guide from WP beginner, or search for WordPress plugin instructions from your web host.) I suggest installing these plugins as soon as you publish your blog, so your like, visit and share counts (technical issues notwithstanding) accurately reflect your blog’s popularity.

I use

Ultimate Social Media Icons to display ‘follow me’ buttons in my side bar menu (using their short code).

-Dotstore’s Page Visit Counter

Shareaholic to display photos and titles of my blog below each post (I don’t use their social media buttons).

Optin Forms for my sidebar Newsletter Sign Up Form.

Yoast for SEO optimisation and readability basic analysis and recommendations per site page and blog.

And Complianz to scan my site to produce and display a relevant Cookie banner.

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Further Reading

Interested in a space to discuss author websites, newsletters, platforms and book marketing with other authors?
Let me know by let me know by replying to my posts on Blue Sky on Mastodon, or via my contact page and I’ll send you an invite to my Writing or Indie Author Discord.

For blog post ideas, see 100 Blog Ideas for Unpublished Authors by @mixtusmedia.

For tips on Growing Your BlogTips to Make Readers Continue Reading, 3 More Blog Tips & Being a Guest Blogger see Marc Guberti (a marketing prodigy’s) blog.

For getting started on writer/author social media, see my Social Media For Writers post. For Blue Sky, see my Blue Sky Newby Guide.

For getting started as an indie author, see Becoming an indie Author Part 1, and Becoming an Indie Author, Book Launch.

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