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7 Lessons Learned as an Indy Author

My journey as an Indy author was inspired by a free lecture I attended at a small library in a nearby town in 2012. The talk was about publishing, and different paths to get a book published: traditional publishing, vanity publishing, and being an Indy author.

I was fascinated by the possibilities presented as an Indy because I had quit my career as a teacher and my dalliance in the holistic health arena (masseuse, hypnotherapist, yoga teacher…). I was ready, finally, to face my childhood dream that I had abandoned so long ago: writing.

Because of my age, I didn’t want to waste my time waiting the typical 4 months for the queried traditional publishing house to respond with an invitation to send my book, only to have it rejected. I’d had that experience already and had a pile of rejection slips. Most were pre-printed rejection slips, the size of post-it notes. But a few publishing houses replied to my 500-page novel with hand-written, single sentences:  “Showed it to everyone and we all love the story but it’s not excellent enough for us.” And “We loved your book but we’ve filled our quota for the year.”

But it was more than that. I could tell from the very beginning that choosing this path would take all of me. Here’s why: an Indy IS the publishing house – author, editor (or hires one), book cover designer (or hires one), copyeditor (creates the title and writes the “ads,” the book description and CTAs or “calls to action” inside the book), formatter for print and/or eBook (or hires one or more), and marketing department (identifies correct BISAC categories and effective keywords, and develops a plan to actually sell the finished product). You can learn about this process by taking courses or reading the how-to books written by successful Indy authors.

I’ve posted articles here before about these publishing tasks, especially with My Weird Indy Publishing Project (about the Burnout to Bliss series of 4 books) because it’s an experiment on so many levels. And I’ll do more. But first, I want to share some tough lessons learned so far about being an Indy. This is for those who either want to be one or know someone who is and can’t understand why they’re “not available” anymore.

1. Indy Authors vs. Vanity Press

“Vanity press” was the only option to traditional publishers before Internet appeared. The author paid a company to publish their book, generally, for personal use – like “back of the room” sales for public speakers, including ministers. But Internet changed everything. Now there are companies who will do some or all of the work involved in creating books for your manuscripts. And there are freelancers you can hire for the bits you can’t or don’t want to do – editing, creating books covers, creating formats, etc.

But being an Indy author is a different kind of “self-publishing.” They’re not just doing one book. They treat their writing as a business and must be familiar with the whole show from idea to published book. They must know enough about each aspect of publishing to make sure it happens effectively and in a timely sequence. Vanity press is still a good option for those who want books to supplement their jobs, for those who don’t intend to make writing their job.

2. Planning before Publishing

The Indy author must have a plan that includes events that happen prior to publishing, s/he must have enough experience to know how much time to allow for each event, and should have a list of reliable resources (other people to hire for tasks you can’t or don’t want to do).

As a professor, I frequently taught time management workshops for business as an adjunct to my life on campus (for fun). At the time, my favorite planning tool was the P.E.R.T. chart that lays out a project from beginning to end. But you can’t even create one if you don’t know how long a step takes – for the person doing it, either you or the resource you hire.

For example, I know one of my editors can turnaround an 80,000-word manuscript in two weeks; another one wants a full month. And I know how long my artist who does my book covers needs; but I still have to make sure he has time on his schedule for me, if he can take my project now.

If you’re trying to publish a book before Christmas, you must know how long each step takes because timing of each stage is critical. You can ask your resources how much time they need, and you can time yourself on how long it takes you to do things.

3. Self-Analysis

Indy authors have to know their strengths and weaknesses. For example, I know that I am a fast writer of rough drafts. I learned that the first time I did NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month, where participants from all over the world compete against time to write 50,000 words in 30 days (November).  I know that writing titles and book descriptions and identifying BISAC categories are not easy for me and I will drag those tasks out the entire length of the project and continue revising them even after the book is published. I allow for that in my planning and it’s something I think about even when I’m playing tennis. (BTW, “fast writer” for a draft doesn’t apply to writing my blog posts that are typically written same day as published; in my case, two hours before noon MST. I’ve been at this one since 4:44 this a.m., it is 9:54 now, and the piece is nowhere near ready to publish. And this is why I still blog! Like journalism, blogging forces me to write “finished copy” faster. Please do comment if I have errors and I’ll correct them!)

4. Reading OP’s Books

Indy authors do so much more than writing and publishing. They also must read books by other people, preferably in the genre they hope to publish so they can see what they’re up against. For example, I re-read Bittersweet (Terri Schultz), Eat, Pray, Love (Elizabeth Gilbert), and Wild (Cheryl Strayed) because I am currently writing non-fiction, personal stories. But I intend to write fiction after being inspired by attending “The Smarter Artist Summit” in Austin (February 2018). I want to begin in March 2018 so I need to choose the genre I want to write and I’m hoping that event will help me because when I do read fiction, I read different genres depending on what I feel like when I feel like reading.

In planning their time on the job, Indy authors need to include time to read whatever kinds of books they intend to write. But I don’t know what genre I want to write so I’m trying to imagine myself writing the fiction book I’m reading at the time. In the past couple of weeks, besides revising the MS for Book 3 and doing professional development, I’ve read romance, thrillers, sci-fi, and fantasy. I’ve read books for children and books for adults. By the process of elimination, I’m getting closer to identifying the kind of fiction book I can imagine myself writing.

5. Learning

I’ve only been an Indy for a few years, but “everything I learned in the first year changed in the second year” — about the software I was using, about writing to market (no, I am definitely not writing to market yet), and what’s “IN” now about book covers and marketing.

For example, when I “upgraded” from WORD 2003 to WORD 2010 I spent half my writing time trying to figure out the “ribbon” and what I was doing that made WORD think I wanted a footnote there. Considering all the hassles of using WORD, I’m definitely moving over to Scrivener. I bought it, but it’s completely new to me and will require learning how to do it. And I have to keep learning about WORD because my editors do their work in WORD. And that’s just the technical end of writing.

Indies must include ongoing professional development in their work time, and that includes learning about and doing their own marketing.

6. Marketing

Marketing books changes every time Amazon changes their algorithms and every time they set new rules on who can review your book. But that’s not all; writing is an international arena of competitors – like professional sports and music. Consider the competition. A 2013 internet article in Forbes (online) stated between 600,000 to one million books are published annually in the U.S. alone (and that’s only the ones the researchers knew about). The need to learn how to even make your book visible to readers becomes mandatory.

Just because a book is published doesn’t mean that any reader can find it. The Indy must learn not only how to make it visible, but also interesting enough so a reader will at least read the product description!

7. Solitude

Being an Indy, like being any kind of artist, requires the ability to cope with solitude. In a regular job, there’s “the water cooler” or office coffee pot for a touch of humanity, to whine about whatever is challenging you, or to give and receive encouragement. Indy authors either team up with other authors as do my heroes Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, or they seek out local or online “watering holes” to share the journey. I started an Indy Author writing group, but only attracted one other actual Indy author, and she moved out-of-state. The others were wannabees and I quit my own group in frustration. Because I don’t know anyone to partner up with (yet), it’s time for me to get online and fraternize with other Indies in Facebook groups.

Summary

Being an Indy is so much more than just writing! If you want to be an Indy, you have to treat it like a job and plan your time to include every step of the publishing process, professional development, marketing, and creating connections. It’s a full-time job! And none of your family or friends will ever understand what you do.

“Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows.” Tzaddi (Pam Young)

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One response to “7 Lessons Learned as an Indy Author

  1. If you’ve come back to the post, you might notice that now there are 7 instead of 6 topics. That’s because I learned something about writing blog posts since I wrote this one and chose to act on it while it was fresh in my mind. ;>)

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