Today, going indie has never been easier. That doesn’t mean, however, that becoming an independent or hybrid (traditionally published and self-published) author gets any easier. It only means that there are tons of resources (e.g. Author EMS), support groups (e.g. Indie Romance Ink), and publishing platforms (e.g. Draft2Digital) available that makes the journey a lot more seamless to publish a book.
But in my two years as an indie author, I’ve learned that there’s nothing easy about going indie. Nothing. On the other hand, indie publishing isn’t for the elite—it’s not for those who have been published before or who have tons of money to invest in it. Why do I say this? Because I’ve experienced it.
Full disclosure: I started my publishing career with a small e-press then went indie when I realized how much I valued the freedom and control that indie publishing allowed. Just recently, I became a full-on indie author with all the rights of my earlier books back. The money I made from the books published with that small press was what I used to self-publish my next series. Like many new first time indie authors, I had some growing pains along the way. But for me, personally, I learned more about myself as an author, about publishing, and about the industry as an indie author then I did with a publisher. Though not all publishers are created equal, and not all experiences are the same, I don’t believe that being previously published is a huge factor into whether you become a successful indie author or not.
But I can only speak for myself and share what I’ve learned during my two years as an indie author. So before you hit “Publish” on your finished manuscript, you may want to ask yourself what you’re looking to gain by going indie. If your responses remotely resemble the top five reasons listed below then you may want to consider some of these harsh realities…
1. I want to make a lot of money.
Reality check: The days of making hundreds, thousands, or even hundreds of thousands on your first self-published book are over. Sure, the billionaire/secret baby/step-brother books are selling like crazy right now, but each trend eventually reaches its pinnacle and writing a book only because it’s selling doesn’t bode well for a lasting career in publishing. And the harsh reality is that once a trope or trend becomes flooded with books by those who want to make a quick buck, readers will lose interest and move on to the next new hot thing.
Bottom-line: Manage your money. Don’t expect to make much money on your first indie book, or even your second or third. And more often than not, if you are making money, that income will be put back into promotion, marketing, or preparing for your next self-publish book. You may even start off operating in the red for some time, but if you’re in this career for the long haul, then you’ll be making money with your books in no time. But it will take time.
2. I want the freedom/control of publishing my work how I want, when I want.
Reality check: Being your own boss if not easy. Believe me, I know. So when you’re responsible for writing the book of your heart and publishing it on the date that you set, you want to be sure you keep yourself to a schedule. Speaking from experience, I can’t tell you the amount of time, I’ve given myself a deadline and missed it. I think knowing that I have the flexibility to change my due dates (unless I’ve set up pre-orders) prevents me from taking my deadlines as seriously as I should, leading to over-promises and under-delivery to my readers. Not a good look.
Bottom-line: Manage your projects and writing time. Evaluate your production and publishing schedule and set your deadlines accordingly. But if you’re like me and have a hard time keeping yourself accountable, find someone else to do it for you. Whether it’s your critique group, your editor, or beta readers, set up milestones to have your manuscripts to them and let the fact that you owe someone besides yourself a finished draft be the thing that keeps you on task.
3. I want to write my stories my way.
Reality check: It’s true, indie publishing does come with some nice perks—and one of them is being able to write whatever we want. But in all things, there are rules and restrictions. For example, many of the retailers have harsh adult content filters—some harsher than others—so if you don’t want your erotic romance or erotica novel to be buried in Kindle or iBooks’ book dungeon, be sure your content remains sexy but always tasteful and professional. And then there are issues with the taboo topics (i.e. incest) or taboo story devices (i.e. cliffhangers). I’ve seen it numerous times where an author wants to break from convention and write something fresh and different, only to have it back fire horribly on them.
Bottom-line: Manage your readers’ expectations. Determine what genre you’re writing in, who your audience is, and what they like and don’t like. You want your book to be bought and read from start to finish—not slammed with a bunch of 1 star reviews because you broke a “cardinal rule.” If you’re feeling a little risqué with your writing, then just add a disclaimer so your devoted readers know what you’re introducing is different than what you typically write. But if you’re still uncertain of what you have will trigger a negative response, find a critique group or some beta readers to help you decide if you’re working with gold or garbage.
4. I want to get more book(s) published quickly so I can make more money/not wait months to hear back from a publisher.
Reality check: There are many prolific writers out there who can churn out 6-10 books a year, and then there are others who are quite content with publishing just 3-5 books a year. Whatever your publishing schedule, don’t fall into the hype that the more books you publish, the more money/readers you gain. Sadly, the word around the indie world is that: more books = more money/readers. Yet, I’ve witness indie authors fall into this trap and put out tons of half-baked stories and still not make any more money (or gain any more readers) then they had before.
Bottom-line: Manage the quality of your finished product. Naturally, as you gain experience in your craft, your writing and publishing will gain momentum and you too can go from publishing 3 books a year to 6, if that’s what you want. And if the stories are good, the readers will come. But as with most things, that too will take time, so exercise patience and continue to build on your craft. Don’t fall into the rat-race of indie publishing and choose quantity over quality.
5. I want to get a book published so I can start building my author brand/platform.
Reality check: Some indie authors hit the ball out of the park with their first book, while others take years to build their fanbase. But this part of the journey is not as hard as it seems. Readers are smart and eager and they want to interact with the author—but some are also lazy. Make yourself available to your readers and allow them to be able to find you with little effort. Love it or hate it, you should have an account on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest—you pick your poison), you should have a mailing list, and at the very least, you should have a functioning website.
Bottom-line: Manage your author brand and platform. You don’t want to burn yourself out or be everywhere at once, but to build your fanbase/readership, you need to make it easy for readers to find you. Once you have these in place, you want to make sure it’s everywhere your readers can see/find it, i.e. your email signature, in the front/back matter of your e-book, on your website, etc. Just make sure it’s visible. Trust me…“If you build it, they will come.”
All in all, the ultimate reality is that in indie publishing you are constantly wearing multiple hats—as author, editor, publisher, marketer, copywriter, publicist, designer, sometimes formatter—because many of these things (that a traditional publisher would have handled) become your responsibility. Anyone can self-publish a book—but only few do it well. And those that do, prepare themselves for the arduous journey. To separate yourself from the bad to the best in indie publishing, you want to ensure you are aware of what you’re getting yourself into so you can then manage your time, resources, and outlooks accordingly.♥
Lena Hart is the owner of Maroon Ash Publishing, a boutique services company helping authors navigate through the intricate world of independent publishing. You can find her blogging about her experiences or hot topics in the indie-publishing world at www.MaroonAshPublishing.com/Blog. She is also a multi-published indie author who writes sensual to steamy romances with smart heroines and the strong, alpha men who love them. You can find out more about her and her books at www.LenaHartSite.com.
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