We go through several stages when we choose the indie author path. We all have our own unique journey. I thought it would be fun to talk about my personal stages of being an indie author and what I’ve learned through each one. My stages so far are: infant, toddler, child, pre-teen, teenager, and young adult.
Infant: This was the very beginning stage for me. I had written my first novel. I started reading up on how to query literary agents. After about a year of trying to break into the traditional publishing industry, I decided to take the indie author path. I was new to writing and publishing in general so I had a lot to learn about how to get started and where I wanted to take my writing.
Toddler: I started this blog and got Twitter for the purpose of connecting with other writers and readers. This was one of the first steps I took to build my audience before I published my book. This is where the real growth started to happen as I continued to write.
Child: I started to do some research on self-publishing and followed a heap of indie authors who gave a wealth of great information. I asked a lot of questions and this is where I started to develop as an author. At the time, I wanted to do everything right and play by the rules. I also had really unrealistic expectations – like many new authors, you might think you’re an exception and that your writing will make a lot of money and many people will love your books. I think I figured I could achieve this if I followed all the required steps. I wanted to be a good indie author child so everyone would like me. I was told to pay a good price for an editor and someone recommended me to a pricey editor. I had no idea what I was doing, so I took their advice. I published my first novel and had spent around $1500 on an editor, cover designer, and formatter.
I had a few beta readers go over my second novel once it was finished. Most were kind, but one man was so harsh that he called it a “bait and switch” and said he stopped caring about the characters after my plot twist, which was supposed to be the best part of the book. Being the foolish wee writer girl that I was, I took his critique to heart and gave up on the story entirely. At the child phase of writing, you might be more impressionable or take others’ feedback to heart. You’re new and willing to please others to make your way into the industry. I was still a new writer, only being in the field for a couple of years at this point. I set that story aside and worked on other things.
Pre-teen: After finishing a couple of novels and starting a new one, I caught the travel bug and felt a great need for change in my life. I moved to Western Canada and travelled around to different towns. I wrote two short stories while living in the Bow Valley of Alberta and published one without an editor. My sister designed the cover for it. I figured since it was a shorter story it didn’t need the full range of editing that a novel would. I grew a lot as a person during my time traveling. I needed time to be on my own, make my own choices, and follow my heart. It was so freeing and fun. This in turn helped influence my writing a lot. At the pre-teen stage of being a writer, you transition from being impressionable and clueless to becoming more curious about yourself and where you really want your writing to go. It’s a huge stage for creative development and it will often manifest itself in your personal life – you may feel restless or hungry for a change. You might want to travel or take up a new hobby or change up your lifestyle. It’s quite a fascinating time and it’s very important for your own self-awareness.
Teen: I’d experienced starting over in a new places, I’d travelled for hundreds of kms on my own, and successfully reached my dream city. This type of experience builds a lot of confidence in your own capabilities. I never missed a bus. I never got lost. I even survived being broke at one point and found a hostel where I could work for stay while I looked for jobs. I’m an independent person to begin with so I started to grow tired of all the rules writers have to follow in order to be considered good. I quickly grew out of the child phase of being a writer. I think it’s good to know the rules first before breaking them and this is what I did. This is a typical characteristic of the teenager phase – you have this need to rebel against the parts of the system you don’t like as you continue to develop and become the person you really are. You’re determined to prove your capabilities and it’s an important part of self-actualization.
I also became aware of how much marketing is needed to sell even a few books. My first novel made about 5 sales and throughout the following year, I made a sale here and there. It brought a new awareness to how much work it would take to promote myself and that it isn’t fair to expect self-published authors to pay full price for editing services (Unless you’re rich). It just won’t pay off for the first several years and you need a more reasonable budget. Instead of paying full price for editors and cover designers, I started searching for more affordable services that fit my budget. I wrote A LOT after I’d settled in Vancouver and this is where the large part of my writing career really began. I felt a real buzz from this productivity. It was a literal dream come true – having a stable job, getting all dressed up to write at a cafe, and write to my heart’s content. I wrote what I wanted to write instead of following market trends and I believed I’d find an audience through my unique writing style. This was one of the most exciting phases of my writing career, because it wasn’t so new anymore and I was able to run with what I’d learned and become the type of author I wanted to be.
Young Adult: After growing out of the teen phase of being an indie author, I’ve continued to learn what makes me feel the most productive and creative. I’m past the stage of being like “Screw traditional publishing! Indie authors are just as good! See?” I don’t feel the need to prove myself so much as continuing to build on what I’ve learned and take my own path. There’s still some lingering rebellion left in me at the industry as a whole and the rules a lot of people want authors to follow, but I’ve accepted it’s there and I don’t need to be concerned with that. More recently, I’ve questioned how I view my writing entirely. I’ve moved from seeing it as a creative product I want to market and I now see it as art. This is what I want it to be. I believe that creative writing, like any art, should be exactly what the creative envisions. I went through a brief period last year where I questioned everything (The classic young adult existential crisis thing) about writing and publishing. It felt like I had worked so hard, devoted so many hours and funds to my craft, only to make a few sales here and there. The whole “Work hard and you’ll reap the rewards” value doesn’t always work, unfortunately. I came to the conclusion that I’m still only about 10 years in and while I’ve published a number of books, it’s just going to take more time for people to find my work – and that’s okay.
I’ll self-edit my work 10-20 times, because that method works best for me. I don’t edit as I write, I believe in getting the first draft down as soon as possible so that you have something to edit later. I see editing as a huge part of creating and I highly enjoy the process. This is where you can really go deeper into the story and polish it to the way that you want. Once I’m happy with the story and how it looks, I’ll do a final proofreading, formatting, and publish it. I believe that the things I create should be my own without outside feedback. I think of artists and musicians I admire and they create what they like without asking for permission first. If someone doesn’t like their technique or style, it’s a simple “That’s fine, but this is what I want my work to be.” I’m at the point in my writing career where I want it to be untouched by other hands. My hope is that my work will reach the eyes of those who are meant to see it. I’m still in the young adult phase of writing, which lines up with my current life stage, being a young adult myself. I’ve come to realize that writing is something you build on. Most people won’t get success quickly and you have to be patient. And even if it never makes me a solid income, it’s something I’ll always do, because I am a writer and I love writing. 🙂
I still have more indie author stages to go through and I may alter my path again when I reach a new stage.
Needless to say, it’s been an incredible journey and I’m so glad I’ve taken it.