A Fantasy Author's Adventures in Fiction & Life

Tag: self published authors

Publishing Paths, a Multi-Author Interview

Like many writers, I liked the sound of working with a literary agent, receiving editorial feedback and signing with a (big) traditional publisher, who would help with marketing. The dream was write full time and earn a living from it. But with the pandemic, the publishing industry catching fire, supply chain issues, the great resignation hitting editors etc, let’s just say 2020-2021 was a particularly bad time to be querying.

What about small presses? Many querying authors only query literary agents, so the competition would be less extreme. I wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for cover art or editing and they may still offer marketing advice. But querying was such a passive, SLOW experience for me, and as an active person whose ADHD has two speeds (FAST and sleeping) querying was a terrible match for me. And so I began my indie authoring journey. I’m two books in, with book 3 of my trilogy on preorder. I haven’t had time (or the health) to promote or sell many books yet… though I still love being indie.

But I’m just one person. We all bring different life experiences, skill sets, brains (mine being neurodiverse), temperaments, personalities, needs, expectations and goals to the process. How can you be sure which publishing path is right for you (or for a particular project)? I pursue that by interviewing 5 authors on different publishing paths about why they chose that path, how it meets their needs, why it’s working for them and what turned them off alternatives.

Which publishing path are you on?

Head and shoulders shot of Adam in a red shirt, smiling, seated on a couch with a house plant in the background. Adam had short brown hair, a short beard, blue eyes and is caucasian.
Waist up shot of Maggie wearing a purple, blue and pink scarf wrapped around the lower half of her face, black glasses and her light brown hair half out, half tied back.
Black and white portrait of Megaera in a coloured, checked shirt, short hair combed to the right, wearing dark lipstick, with pale skin contrasting with the black background.

Adam J
Currently pursuing traditional publishing; I have queried once, in 2021 (unsuccessfully), and plan to query another book this year.

Maggie Stone
Pursuing traditional publishing. I only sent a few queries for my first book before pulling back to retool, then switched genres and landed an agent with my second book.

Megaera Lorenz
I’m publishing traditionally with a small press, CamCat Books. I sold my debut novel to them without an agent about a year ago. 

Headshot of Mara wearing a big toothy smile, natural pink/red lipstick, long brown hair flowing over shoulders and a green, embroidered top.
Head and shoulder shot of Joyce (caucasian) wearing a blue brimmed hat, glasses, blonde hair tied back and a bright blue shirt.

Mara Lynn Johnstone

I’m going the indie route for the foreseeable future.

Joyce Reynolds Ward
I am a hybrid writer. While I’m not actively on submission at the moment, I have published around thirty short stories in various anthologies and magazines. My novels, however, are strictly self-published. I had one minor flirtation with small press publication and…it did not go well. I was fortunate enough to get reversion letters for both books before the publisher crashed and burned.

What Appeals Most About Your Publishing Path?

Querying Agents

Adam J: I like the notion of having a team to work with (an agent, editor, cover designer, publicist) with experience in the publishing industry, who can guide me and my books forward. Also, there is a certain repute in having your book chosen by the various gatekeepers of publishing. While I realize that’s mostly bunk — the true judges of any book are its readers — there’s still that little voice in my mind that says I want my book to be good enough to make it through those gatekeepers.

MS: Echoing everything Adam said. I’m not equipped to do this myself, either in skill or in financial resources. Being in a team, a network, gives me the drive to keep going instead of growing anxious over the small details.

Small Press 

ML: love the collaborative, personalized nature of working with an indie press. The CamCat team has been very supportive. They’ve worked with me closely or at least gotten my input on just about every aspect of the publication and production process, including developmental and line editing, finalizing the cover design, creating a marketing plan specific to my book, and even selecting an audiobook narrator.

Indie Author

MLJ: I like being able to take my books from idea to finished product at my own pace, without having to wait years for other people to decide they’re worthwhile. And I also like having the final say over my own covers. 

JRW–Short stories can gain a lot of visibility for any novelist, depending on the market. Novels are where I really turn myself loose to write what intrigues me.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Querying

Adam J: As much as I’d like to say it’s always the quality of the book that makes it worthy of traditional publication, a major element is luck, whether that’s with timing, finding the right person, or hitting the right trend (and sometimes, sadly, luck supersedes quality). There is also a massive time investment often with very little return, and it can be quite a mental struggle to overcome the sheer volume of rejection.

MS: Again, Adam’s beaten me to what I would say. Having a good book isn’t good enough. You have to have a good book that fits what a publisher is looking for now – not that you have to write to a publisher’s specifications, but if they’ve recently acquired (e.g.) two workplace romcoms, they might not be looking for another one right now. Rejection is bad. You can help mitigate it with the right support group, but it’s still going to hurt.

Indie Author

MLJ: Definitely getting the word out. Building an audience is slow when you don’t have a publisher’s advertising budget. 

JRW–Market churn for both the short stories and self-published novels. I tend to say that marketing changes every quarter–that is definitely true for self-publishing, and sadly these days it seems like the magazine market is much the same way.

Which Skills or Life Experiences Help You On Your Chosen Path?

Querying Agents

Adam J: I’ve worked both as a professor at a large institution and as a government consultant, so I’m used to things moving far slower than they really need to (oh, bureaucracy) and I’m also used to rejection, as in consulting you don’t win every contract you bid on. I suppose these impart upon me a certain measure of patience and a thicker skin, both necessary survival traits for the world of traditional publishing.

MS: Also a government person and used to things moving slowly. But I also had a previous life as a musician, so balancing love of creative arts with the (unpleasant) practical aspects of that life (rejection and whatnot). Also, dealing with mental health issues for decades means I’ve built a library of coping mechanisms for when rejections come.

Small Press

ML: I have a lot of professional experience writing educational copy for a general audience, which is an advantage when putting together succinct, snappy pitch materials (such as query letters, blurbs, synopses, and elevator pitches). I’m good at boiling complicated concepts down to their essentials.

Indie Author

MLJ: I’m good at organizing and planning, all that meticulous stuff that’s stereotypically not always part of the artist brain. I’m very glad that I can keep track of everything that needs doing! And my secondary interest after writing has always been visual art, so I’m working on levelling up my skills to where I can reliably make my own spectacular book covers. I’m getting there.

JRW: A couple of years working as a complex securities litigation paralegal as well as ten years of special education case management has helped with the organizational piece.

Why did you prioritise this path?

Querying Agents

Adam J: Admittedly, when I started writing, it was the only way I knew existed. I’ve learned much since — including that marketing kidlit through indie publishing is one of the hardest paths to take (kids don’t buy books online). As I write middle grade, I’m sticking with traditional publishing for now.

MS: This path, if successful, would be most compatible with my skills. I’m not a marketing expert/business manager. Obviously, even with traditional publishing, there’s housekeeping stuff I’d have to take care of, but traditional publishing puts me in a network with shared resources, and has a wider distribution network than I’d be able to establish on my own.

Small Press

ML: I prioritised traditional publishing as opposed to self-publishing because I knew it would help me a lot to have the support of a team that understands how the industry works. I’m a good writer, and I enjoy certain parts of the marketing process, but I have very little business acumen and almost no budget for things like advertising, hiring a professional editor and cover designer, and so on.

Indie Author

MLJ: My original plan was to get an agent, and seek fame and fortune in traditional publishing. But after fifteen years of querying, with multiple novels and many near-acceptances, I finally decided that I was better off self-publishing the many books I’d written in that time.
The current state of the publishing industry made it an easy choice: I’d been active on Twitter at the height of publishing activity there, and I saw firsthand how many editors got laid off from the big publishing houses during the pandemic, how many agents had to leave the industry due to burnout or unsustainability, and how many trad pub authors weren’t getting any more support from their publishers than the average indie writer got from their friends. Self-publishing is a far more viable option than when I first started querying.

JRW: While my short stories have found homes, my books generally received rejections along the lines of “love your voice, love your work…can’t sell it.”

If you haven’t already said, why did you choose against
alternative publishing paths?

Adam J: I’d love to make writing my full-time job, but I know I still have a lot to learn. I also know that the best way to make money (as any kind of author) is with a back catalogue to build a following on. If I go for indie publishing now, and fail, my chances of making it into traditional publication are even less, and I don’t have many books to market. But if I go for traditional publishing first, and fail, I’ll have a back catalogue of books that I think are publishable to turn around and market as an indie author.
I’ve set myself a milestone: if I write ten publisher-ready books and still can’t get a publishing deal, then I’ll turn to indie publishing.

ML: Mostly due to the reasons I mentioned above. However, I was always open to alternatives if the traditional path didn’t work out. I had a three-part plan: try querying agents first, then go directly to small presses that accept unagented material, then do self-pub if the other options didn’t work out. I’d been querying agents for about six months when I saw that CamCat was having a pitching event on Twitter, and I decided on the spur of the moment to toss my pitch into the ring. They liked it, I sent them a query, and a couple months later I had signed with them. I couldn’t be happier with how it worked out.

MLJ: I found that the support I’d been hoping to get from an agent and a publishing house wasn’t likely to live up to the hype, while I could get similar support from a network of writer friends. Better, in some ways! 

If you haven’t already said, what do you see as the main advantages of querying agents, querying small presses, self-publishing or a mix?

Querying Agents

Adam J: There used to be more that traditional publishing could offer over indie publishing, but it’s fairly balanced now. One of the nice things about traditional publishing is that your primary investment is time — even if you don’t get a large advance, you still do not have to pay people to edit your book, design your cover, or (sometimes) run a marketing campaign.
And there are still connections to bookstores, school visits for kidlit, or major conferences that traditional publishers can get, which indie publishers may find more difficult. However, with indie publishing, you have full control, and everything can happen much faster: when you are ready to publish your book, it gets published.

MS: A benefit of having an agent is that I no longer have to focus on a sub list. She reaches out to editors, checking in with me on the way to see if I have input, and handles all that. It takes a load off of me so I can focus on writing, and leaves open the possibility of landing a contract that will be more financially beneficial to me.
Small press, while it means me still handling my own subs, has a faster turnaround time. There are also smaller advances (or sometimes no advances), but the contracts are often one-book, meaning you can easily change your mind after your first book if the experience doesn’t work for you anymore. Indie gives you complete control, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Small Press

ML: The main advantage of working with an agent is that they help authors navigate the complexities of the publishing process and also give them opportunities to get their work in front of publishers and editors who wouldn’t otherwise look at it.

Querying small publishers directly cuts out the middleman and spares authors the agony of finding an agent (not just any agent, but the right agent), which really is a brutal slog. For books that don’t necessarily fit the mould of whatever mysterious marketing trends agents are currently looking for, this can also be a good alternative.

Self-pub gives authors the most control over every aspect of the process, from book design and editing to income from sales.

Indie Author

MLJ: Agents can (hopefully) get you a contract with a big publisher, who will (theoretically) spend a lot of money on making your books famous. Small presses are more likely to accept your manuscript than the big publishers. Self-publishing gives you all the control you could ever want over your own work: you can publish a book any time you want, with no gatekeeping in the way. Doing a mix of both can get you the best of both worlds.

JRW: mixing both provides me with more visibility and flexibility.

Again, if you haven’t already said, what do you think are the cons of querying agents, small presses, self-publishing or a mix of both?

Querying Agents

Adam J: The downside to traditional publishing, aside from there being so much luck involved, is the timescales. Querying will take months, then subbing may take months after that, then your book must be slotted into a publishing schedule, and maybe your book comes out two years after you actually decided it was ready to publish.
I exaggerate a little, and certainly smaller presses who accept unagented submissions can move faster, but the timescales are still quite long.
For indie publishing, the biggest downside is the huge investment in both time and capital required. That’s not to say you can’t get lucky and become a runaway success, but if you truly want to make money, you need to put money in, for a good editor, cover designer, marketing campaign, and anything else you feel would give you and your books a boost in such a crowded market.

MS: I accidentally put a couple of cons in the last question, but really Adam hit a lot of what I’d say. I’ll add for agents that if after you sign with an agent, you decide you want to write something that’s outside of what they represent, you could find yourself looking for supplementary representation, or possibly looking for a new agent, which takes time you could spend writing.
Smaller presses can also sometimes be a total unknown, or collapse after years of success if the wrong person leaves.
Indie can be a huge gamble, particularly if you don’t have a good support network to guide you away from bad decisions that are marketed as easy solutions.

Indie Author

MLJ: Agents have more writers clamoring for their attention than they could ever take on, and your odds of getting an acceptance are low, even if you do everything right.
Small presses have a smaller reach and smaller budget than the big publishers; sometimes all they’re saving you is the hassle of putting the book together into a final product yourself.
Self-publishing comes with no one to tell you no – for good or ill. If you publish a book full of errors with a terrible cover, because you didn’t get enough feedback from others (or didn’t listen to it), that’s all on you.
Going the hybrid route can be both time-consuming and tricky to orchestrate, with far more balls in the air. Best of luck, everybody! Make your choices with eyes open. 

Small Press

ML: ​​Querying agents is a slow, agonizing process that requires a lot of time and mental/emotional energy. Even if you do get a yes from an agent, they might not be the right fit for you or your book. I’ve known several authors who went through multiple agents before finding a good match. As gatekeepers in the publishing industry, agents are also going to filter out books that they don’t think they can sell easily in favour of whatever they see as marketable and on-trend. This means a lot of interesting and innovative books will never make it out into the world if querying authors decide to shelve them instead of trying alternative paths. 

Working with small presses directly can have pitfalls for authors who don’t have access to legal knowledge or resources. Without an agent, you’re more likely to end up signing an unfair contract. (I strongly recommend using the Authors Guild’s contract review service if you go this route.)
And of course, small presses have more limited resources than the larger publishing houses that agents tend to work with. That translates to smaller advances and less of a marketing/production/distribution budget for your books. However, not all small/indie presses are created equal in this regard! Some of them offer an impressive amount of support for their authors in all those areas.

Self-pub requires a ton of time and business smarts that not all authors necessarily have (looking significantly at myself, here). If you want professional editing, cover design, advertising, etc., you’ll need a significant budget, too. Some of the horror stories about Amazon pulling the plug on KDP authors and holding their earnings hostage for inexplicable reasons also give me pause, although I know KDP isn’t the only player in town when it comes to self-publishing.

Indie Author

JRW: The effort required to stay current with recent publishing trends in both magazines and self-publishing is not very different, and striving to gain visibility without spending my life on social media is sometimes a challenge.

Has ‘marketability’ of your writing influenced your publishing path?

Adam: You can get: ‘amazing book, wonderful, but too different and we don’t know what to do with it.’
If you don’t fit the definition its very hard to market. If you have runaway success they all want it because there’s a market for it.

JRW: I have run into this with indie competitions. ‘Excellent writing, different take on this concept, we’re cutting it in the first round.’
These are the competitions dealing with reviewers. They don’t seem to be interested in stuff that’s all that different from trad pub.

Do you identify as marginalised and has that influenced your publishing path?
Does the level of innovation in your writing influence your path?

MLJ: I write my characters inclusive to resonate with everyone as much as I can. I don’t have to care if an agent resonates with it.

JRW Gay couples, lesbian couples, bi couples, throuples, I write them all.

Adam: The fun of writing fantasy is you get to just play and be as representative as you feel like. This is the yellow civilisation, this is the green civilisation —we don’t have to do this anymore. My first book had a female lead and people said ‘you can’t do that.’ -doesn’t apply now.

Have Publishing Industry changes impacted your choice of publishing path?

MLJ: I self published because I gave up on that long list of agents. Everything I’m hearing about the industry now is not what I was told it would be previously. So I’ll self publish while all that is going on and wait till things change.

Adam: I started querying in 2020, first book, so I don’t know any different.

JRW: I started in the 90’s. You could directly query a lot more publishers. I did nonfiction for local journals, just before electronic submissions kicked in. Still the same thing, ‘love your voice/ work/ can’t sell it.’ Jamie Ford sat me down at a workshop and said, “You’re 90% there. You should be trad publishing.” I was going to query, but it was 2020 and we know what happened next.

ML: I came into this right before Twitter fell apart, summer 2022. Started to establish myself in Twitter #WritingCommunity, was finding all these agents and writers, then it crashed and burned. I slid in right before that happened, finding my publisher through a Twitter contest.
A friend was doing one pitch contest on Discord -DVPit- but it was impossible to keep up with and it sounded terrible.

JRW: That’s the element of luck. I was all set to do a big break through reading. A few day’s before the ceiling of the bookstore fell. There is such an element of luck.

Did any Other factors influence you?

JRW: I went to an editor panel with several friends, small press, self pub, all in between, all middle aged ladies at a convention in 2012. We walked out at the end going, “New York does not want us” in 2012.

Were there any surprises on your publishing path? Good? Bad? Did they affirm your choice, or did you stick to your guns despite them?

MLJ: I was a little surprised how hard it was to get an agent since everyone was saying I was doing everything right. I was surprised how little support publishers were giving.
The promise was you would have more people on your side who would make you more successful. Then a big book got 4k for a year to get by and I thought really? That’s not the dream I was promised! So maybe its not that different to go it myself.

JRW: If you can crank out two books a year, in the 90’s, it was a nice living. A friend’s joke was, “Oh that’s Conan the Hot tub. That’s Conan (elsewhere).”
A friend of mine was part of a group of later, middle-aged women midlist writers who reliably turned out 2-3 books a year and hit their deadlines. In about 2008 they decided to form an indie co-op that became the Book View Cafe in order to promote their work. Shortly after Kindle, Smashwords, and then Draft2Digital kicked in. That was when self publishing really took off.

MLJ: All those new indie options made it professional and easy at the same time. Before all the authors had to be on Tik Tok or whatever. Nowadays even the trad authors are pressured to self-promote just like the indies, so the publishers can save some money.

MS: Now if your book is indie its no longer true its dead to trad. If its not identical to 90% of what’s out there -women’s/ romantic comedy- they won’t take it. Most people don’t have the money to make a self pub book popular enough to be taken on by trad publishers.

JRW: Some are spending 9k to make 10k. That’s the deep dark secret of 20BooksTo50k.

MLJ: Amazon does prioritise books that sell better to show up more in ‘you may also like.’

Adam: Its never been easy. Entrepreneurship has always been hard. Some paths will cost money and be better than others but there are paths.

Querying: what is or would be your limit of queries sent before you shelve a book? Is that a factor for you? Or is how many books you shelve a factor?

Adam: ‘10 books. If I have 10 books that haven’t made it, I have 10 books to publish.

MLJ: I didn’t have a limit because 15 years ago I thought that was the way to go. So I didn’t consider change till I heard how the industry was changing.

MS: I don’t have a set number for sub. When I’m done I’m done.

MLJ: I never had a set limit for querying, since the plan was to keep going until I got there. I sent out hundreds of queries, for multiple novels. It was only in the pandemic era when the publishing industry started visibly changing that I decided to switch gears and throw all my efforts into the indie side of things.

What advice would you give on choosing a publishing path for a particular book/ series?

MLJ: I’d tell my earlier self to seek out more writer friends earlier, and do more networking. I didn’t have writer friends. I didn’t know there was a writer club in town until I’d published my first book. The friends I have now across the internet would have been so helpful earlier on. Yes you’re good at writing. But getting someone else’s feedback is always helpful. There will always be people who know stuff you didn’t realise you needed to ask and who have suggestions you wouldn’t have thought of.

Adam: Read more. Read 50 books a year. I did it last year, MG books. If you don’t read you will not know what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve seen a marked improvement in my writing since reading those books. Like a lot of people I thought I’d read them all. I read all the genres.

MS: One piece of advice that always make me cringe a little bit is read widely in your genre. It gets pushed so hard the genres collapse in on themselves. You can tell when you’re reading a romance book by someone who only reads romance books and they always sound alike. I would say its equally important to read outside your genre and to be aware of your genres conventions.

JRW: Ask yourself what you really want–and decide which path is most likely to provide that option

ML: I would say to start by checking out resources like this that break down the different paths so you know what the different options really entail before you get started: https://janefriedman.com/key-book-publishing-path/.
And be cautious about some of the advice that’s out there in the various writing communities online, which can be misleading. For instance, one thing I come across a lot is this notion that getting an agent or going self-pub are the only viable options. Hardly anyone is talking about the route I went, selling directly to a small press.

Head and shoulder shot of Joyce (caucasian) wearing a blue brimmed hat, glasses, blonde hair tied back and a bright blue shirt.

Joyce’s Website

Twitter: JoyceReynoldsW#1

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Related Reading

Querying Your First Novel

Why I Chose to Self Publish

Becoming an Indie Author Part 1
and Part 2 (Book Launch).

Signing With an Indie Publisher (a multi author interview)

Indie Authors on Indie Authoring

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)
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K. W. Kenny, YA Fantasy Website
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Jay Veloso Batista, Fantasy Author. Website
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Leia Talon, Fantasy author.
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Lily, poet & kidlit author
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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!

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


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