Updated: Dec 23, 2019
I've had several writers tell me they have no idea where to start when it comes to Indie-publishing their own work. And I understand the sentiment, because I was the same way not too many years ago. I'll let you in on a secret. Deciding to Indie-publish is one of the hardest hurdles. Once you decide to go through with it, your tension will immediately ease. A friend mentioned this as well the other day on one of the loops I am part of. I don't know if it's because you gain confidence by having a direction or what, but you will soon be overcome by a drive to get your work out there. Immediately. Yesterday. But that enthusiasm needs to be tempered. You have several things to do. Now mind you, this is for beginning writers and this is only a list of suggestions.
1) Decide on WHO you are
Are you going to write under a pseudonym? Or do you want the fame (and potential privacy issues) attached to your actual name? You need to seriously consider these issues. Whatever name you use will be seen, possibly, millions upon millions of times, over the life of your career. Yes, you can change your pseudonym, but your digital footprint will already be out there. Good or bad. I know of several authors that can not go to the local grocery store because rabid fans try to follow them home. If, by chance, you make it big, how would you deal with this?
Many writers take several names according to the genres they write. I, personally, have two, although I know others that have taken several. Just remember that however many names you write under is that much more promotion you have to do to build that name and its following.
Part of deciding what name to use is availability. You need to purchase your domain name at some point, and with the way things are exploding in the writing community, I would say sooner is better. There are several websites, such as Godaddy.com, where you can check to see if the name you want is taken. Blogger also has a service. The domain names usually only cost $10-12, but they're good for a year. If you're undecided, buy a couple of variations.
2) Build Your Platform
Though this sounds a little ass-backward, you need something to build your writing credibility upon before you put out a book. It may be a blog you update once a month, a website space you've staked out as your own, or a review site where you talk about other people's books. It may be building a social media presence on Facebook or instagram. Find somewhere that you like to be and put effort into being useful there.
If you like to blog, do it. But build it into a website. Start taking advantage of the Search Engine Optimization. I know a lot of people that started out by talking about their writing journey. Readers sympathize with struggle and everyday life, so even though you may not think so, your journey may be interesting to other aspiring writers. I talked about my animals a lot when I started blogging, and I still make updates on things that happen, but I've gradually focused more on writing and my books.
It makes you sit down and organize your thoughts, and will ultimately make your fiction writing better.
3) Hone Your Product
Your book. Your pride and joy. Your mother loves it, your sister loves it, your neighbor's second-cousin's wife loves it. That's fine. But if you are going to approach being an independent author as a professional, you need to take the steps to present a professional product. That means going through the process of writing a good book, then making it better by learning more craft and rewriting it. And possibly re-re-writing it.
Find a writing group that will help you hone your skills. I had a chapter of Romance Writers of America less than an hour away so I went to a bunch of instructional meetings. I had critique partners. The published authors in the group challenged me to make my writing better, and I did! They also helped me choose my first small-press to submit to, and the rest is history.
Some authors work years on one masterpiece, then are too terrified to let it into the world. If you are confident in your skills as a writer, it will be easier to release the book. There are many craft workshops listed everyday, surely something will appeal to you. You know what your weaknesses are, so take the steps to make them better.
4) Have a Professional Support Team
Editing-- I don't mean your family or neighbors or mail-man. I can't stress this enough. You may think you are a good writer, but until you go through the editing process and see how many things you missed, you've got your head in the sand. Everybody makes mistakes. You can read your manuscript 500 times and still miss letters or commas and sometimes complete words. Our minds fill in the gaps of what we read, so that the manuscript looks right.
With the rise in authors Indie-pubbing, so too are those stepping forward to edit. Take advantage of them. Most editors don't charge very much, sometimes as little as a dollar a page, especially if they are starting their own business, and the investment is worth its weight in gold.
Consider the revisions you receive back with an open mind. Ultimately, you are the one who decides what goes out in front of the public. If you rush to get the product out, and don't take the time and attention that your book needs, you will have reader back-lash. Honestly, there's a lot of crap on the internet right now that has not been edited, or correctly formatted, or properly covered, and readers are tired of wasting their money on it. Visit any reader forum and you will get an earful about trash littering Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Unfortunately, ANYBODY can publish a book. It's up to you as an author to put something out that you can be proud of and can stand behind. And will bring the reader back for your NEXT book.
The Cover-- The cover sells the book. Period. Spend the money to hire a professional cover artist that will take as much pride in your work as you do. If you are a newbie author, you will not have as much insight to a buyer's mind as an artist who creates covers everyday. If you are a graphic designer and do this for a living, fine, try your own cover. But make it look professional. I have a huge list of cover artists listed above under author helps.
Formatting-- If you are not at least computer literate, you may want to hire somebody to do the formatting to the distribution channels for you. It can be very confusing. Every channel takes a different format of your manuscript. I thought I was fairly savvy on the computer, but I had issues I couldn't work out. My buddy Donna McDonald saved my butt and helped me format my first Indie-pubbed book. But if you know you can't do it, hire a formatter. Again, they only charge about $50 bucks and up.
I now use Vellum for all of my books and I could not be happier with them.
5) Decide Where to Upload You have a couple of options when it comes to uploading your book. I prefer to upload my book individually at every platform- Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Google Play, iBooks. I have publisher access at all of those platforms. If I need to change my price to run a sale, I have the access to do that everywhere the book is.
You can use a book aggregator. This is a company like Draft2Digital that takes your manuscript and converts it into each of the different versions those platforms take and distributes it there. The company takes about 10-15% of your profit, but if you don't want to deal with all of the different platforms individually, this might be good for you.
If you decide you only want to do Kindle Unlimited, you only need to upload to Amazon. I would not use an aggregator for that.
Unfortunately, there are advantages and drawbacks to either way you choose. But, the advantages and disadvantages seem to be different for every author.
6) Write your next book
You thought I was going to say promo, huh? Well, not exactly. The general consensus with indie authors is that the best way to make an impact in the market (more money) is to have multiple books for sale, particularly series. Yes, go ahead and announce on all your loops and social media that your book is available, but don't spend hour upon hour on promo, to the exclusion of writing. Having product available is the most important thing.
Imagine this: Jane the Housewife goes to Amazon and downloads your book, reads it and thinks it's the best thing since microwaveable veggies in steamer bags. She LOVED it. She tells all of her friends, the ladies at the playdate, her hairdresser, her dentist, everybody she knows. Then she goes back to Amazon hoping to find something else that you've written, and is so incredibly disappointed when she can't find anything else. Will she remember you in 6 mos or a year when you release a new book? You hope so.
Promotion deserves pages of info, but I'm going to keep it relatively short. Become proficient at social media is the biggest thing I can tell you. This includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and more other options than I can list. Get all of your author pages, personas set up, and learn to streamline. I use Tweetdeck to keep Facebook and Twitter together, so that I'm not bouncing everywhere all day. It's all on one page, as well as several streams of tweets that I keep track of.
You will find that you will have a preference where you hang out. If Facebook is your thing then that's where you need to hang out, but remember the 80-20 rule. 80% being personable, only 20% pushing or talking about your books. You want to build relationships on social media, not just advertise.
Once you build up your backlist you can start advertising on FB and Amazon. Again, though, that will be a separate, more in depth post.
8) Develop your own Pub Path
Other authors can tell you what has worked or not worked for them, but everybody's experience is different. We're all different people, different authors. We write about different things. So it's only logical that all of our career paths will vary. Find what suits you. Ask questions. Authors are some of the nicest people you can talk to.
The advantage that we have as indie authors is we drive our own careers and can change what we are doing at any time.
I hope you find this information useful. It's certainly not all-inclusive, but it should answer some basic questions. Over the coming weeks, I'll try to develop posts for each of the 8 suggestions. If you have questions, please list them in the comment section.
Authors, post your suggestions as well. Was there any 1 thing you really wish you had known before you started on your indie journey?