I’ve been self-publishing my stories for about ten years and I’ve learned quite a lot, particularly this year, about the indie publishing world. I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned along the way as an indie author!
Indie publishing can cost a lot or very little. I admit that as a “baby author”, I followed the advice of people who likely had a lot more money than me and paid $1,200 for an editor, $100 for a book cover, and $100 for a book formatter. I think it was an interesting exercise and I don’t regret my choice, but there are far more reasonable editors out there and there’s cover designers who won’t break your bank account. Many indie authors design their own covers or know people who will edit and proofread their book for free or for a low cost. It certainly pays to have friends who can help you with editing or design – or learn these skills yourself.
You have to market your books constantly to keep sales from flattening. As creatives, we often lose sight of how much business insight we need if we want to make an income from our art. Marketing is a HUGE component of being an indie author. You’ve written a great book, but you want readers to find out about it, and how will they know about it if they don’t know it exists? Write, edit, proofread, publish, market. Repeat. It’s an ongoing process that never ends. If you don’t market yourself and your book, you’ll get very few sales.
Social media is your friend. Marketing via social media works wonders for getting your book out there. Building your audience is also an essential part of marketing your book as it gives more people a chance to find out about you. Most of my book sales have been through Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook posts. Sure, you’ll get some random readers who stumble upon your book by chance and they read it (I love when this happens), but most sales are going to be through your social media posts, ads you’ve paid for, or word of mouth from readers who enjoy your books.
You won’t make very much off your books, especially in the beginning. I don’t want to kill your dreams of writing a best seller the first time around. Some people strike luck on their first try and kudos to them! The rest of us, however, need a more realistic and long term plan if we want to be indie authors. Hope is a powerful thing and it’s essential when you pursue any venture. I admit I had high hopes that all my family members, coworkers, and friends would buy my books once I published it. It can be surprisingly hard to get people to read your stuff, especially when you’re a new author. The more books you write and publish, the more established you will seem and the more chances there are for multiple sales from one reader.
Book reviews are gold. They establish your credibility as an author – even the one and two star reviews. Amazon will start promoting books that have 50 reviews, so it’s always a good thing for any author to receive a review.
You’ll attract some trolls. I didn’t expect to start attracting haters as my book list and social media numbers started increasing. I’ve had some hostile people message me or even try to discredit me (I’m not famous enough to be cancelled YET! Hahaha) and you just have to block those ones and move on. Some people won’t understand your motives, think you’re trying to be one of many influencers who crave popularity and admiration, or they fail to understand that a social media presence is essential to selling books. Sometimes people are bitter (or even lazy) so they’ll target people who they’re jealous of. It happens.
You’ll connect with some great people who genuinely love your writing. Fellow indie authors can be a great support system to you on your self-publishing journey. Many of them can help you with beta reading, proofreading, buying your books, writing book reviews, or being a moral support as you go through life as an author. I’ve had a couple of people mention me in their published works and it means the world. The amount of genuine, kind creatives out there will always outnumber the haters.
Indie publishing is freedom. Without the stress of writing for market, you can write essentially whatever you want! It’s an ideal chance to hone your writing and grow as an author without having an agent or editor dictating what they want you to write next. There’s a wonderful sense of control and peace I have as an indie author knowing that everything about my book is in my own hands and the final decision about the story’s path is up to me.
Many indie authors DO become represented by a literary agent. Never worry that self-publishing will hurt your chances to be represented by a publisher later in life. Many indie authors have ended up finding an agent or being represented by a publishing company – I’ve seen this first hand. Some people realize that a publisher can help their books find more readers or they really want to be compensated well for their writing (Can’t blame them). Others choose to stay indie until the day they die.
Hiring an editor is important, but it’s not everything. Have you ever read a book that was perfectly formatted with no errors, yet the story was boring? Me, too. Yes, it’s important to present the best possible finished product to the world before you sell it, but what matters more than 0 errors is the story itself. The story is what people will really connect with. If a book had, say, 5 typos in it, but the story is amazing, will you really care about the small errors? I honestly don’t.
You’ll notice a trend in what sells more. If you’re a multi-genre author or you write books of varying lengths (Short stories, novellas, and novels), you’ll start to notice what readers gravitate toward. I’m not saying this should influence what genre or book length you should focus on, but it can help you see what niche your writing fills.
Book covers matter! An eye-catching cover that matches the genre of your story will attract more readers than a bland or (Heaven forbid) ugly cover that doesn’t do the story justice. This is an area where I suggest hiring a professional unless you’re really good at cover design yourself.
You will edit your book 10-20 times (And even hire an pro editor) and you’ll still find typos in the book after it’s published. Do not ask me how this is possible (Could it be the story’s antagonist messing with us, after all?). I’ve heard this happens to basically everyone, even books represented by big publishers. Don’t sweat a typo or two. Simply fix it, re-upload the manuscript, and carry on. 🙂
Photo credit: Markus Winkler https://unsplash.com/@markuswinkler?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditCopyText