Before you publish, Part 2 – Should you go indie?

Before you Publish - 2

In the first post for this series, I gave a checklist of items authors need to consider before actually publishing based on my own, recent experience. One of the things not in that checklist, which you still need to work out, is what publishing route to take? I’ve written a few blogs on this during my own journey. The truth is there is no easy answer. I think a lot of us crave the legitimacy and validation of a traditional publishing deal, but given the nature of the industry at the moment, this isn’t going to be an option for a lot of people. From my perspective, there isn’t a generic right answer. The direction you go depends on what is going to work for you.

When I chose to go indie, it was because I realized that getting a book deal was actually within the realm of possibility, but it meant levels of commitment I couldn’t hold to. I have a job that pays a living wage and benefits, two essentials for my family. Had I gotten a good publishing deal, and managed lots of sales, a debut author wasn’t going to make enough to live on. Not that it couldn’t happen, because it does, but that’s more of a Cinderella situation having more to do with luck and persistence.

Still, choosing to go traditional is a solid route for someone committed to making this their career while being both willing and able to make necessary sacrifices. As I said, you will need to supplement your income even if you sell tens of thousands of copies. One approach is to write lots of things in lots of different venues or working another job until you ‘make it.’ This was the case for the most famous and successful writers out there, though you hear plenty of anecdotes of success on the first try – again, think Cinderella.

Choosing to go indie means several things. First, it means that this is going to be your side-gig unless you get very lucky. Second, it means that you’ve got a very, very steep hill to climb in terms of getting exposure and making sales. This is why the checklist from the first post is so essential. You need to be prepared every step of the way to make a successful launch. It could mean the difference between having ten book sales over a year on Amazon and getting to the point where people you don’t know are picking it up and sharing your work with friends. Also, luck isn’t particularly kind to folks who aren’t prepared to take full advantage of a break.

The third thing to keep in mind about being an indie author is that you’re going to be doing ALL of the work. On the one hand, it’s nice, because you’ve got 100% full creative control. On the other, you’re going to be responsible for every aspect of book production from choosing the font to developing targeting for your advertising. It’s exhausting and will take away a lot of writing time. Remember, you’re also probably working a full-time job too or perhaps you’re a stay-at-home parent with multiple competing priorities.

There are also other options to consider, such as small presses and crowd-sourcing. These are also good options, but again, you’ve got to look at these for how they fit you as an author and your goals. For example, crowd-funding is much harder than self-publishing but can pay out bigger rewards if you can pull it off. My best advice for any author on the fence about what to do is the following:

  • Look at traditional first. Submit to agents, see what comes back. I’ve had an agent practically beg me for work, and simultaneously shit on me so hard I very nearly quit writing. It was instructive and helped me gain perspective. Another benefit is that this takes a long time and will give you time to continue developing your back-list or hone your skills.
  • Look at small presses. This option isn’t for everyone, but there are quite a few, and they can help you get out there and get exposure. They help with marketing, editing, and general book production. I didn’t go this route because I couldn’t find a press that was reaching out for the sort of stories I produce.
  • If you have a large enough platform on social media, consider crowd-funding. There are options out there that will act as a traditional publisher if you can get enough pre-orders. That said, if you have fewer than about ten thousand followers on any given platform, this may not really work out for you. When I tried this route, I got probably 25 or 30 pre-orders from folks on social media who have supported me. At the time, I needed a total of 500. This might be an option for folks producing under a platform like Wattpad who have gained a following and are ready to take the next step. I don’t write for Wattpad, so I’m not sure if this makes any sense.
  • If you’ve gotten this far and you’re coming up dry, it’s time to consider self-publishing. Before you do, however, revisit the pre-publication checklist I put together as a starting point.

 

Before you really steam ahead with self-publishing, assuming you’ve done your research and so on, you need to stop and ask yourself: Is your book really, actually ready, and do people want to read it? One of the things I’m struggling with right now is whether or not I have published a book that should have been published. So far, the feedback I’ve gotten from virtually all the readers of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks is: That was actually pretty good. Several people have finished the book in the span of a weekend and asked for book 2. My previous book, which I didn’t publish, was read by a total of 3 people and I gave it out to a lot more than that. It was enough for me to stop and re-evaluate things. At the time, I decided to try something different, if nothing else, to take a break from that first story. It was possibly the best writing decision I’ve ever made.

My point here is that if you’re experiencing a situation where your proof-readers or beta-readers aren’t finishing or can’t provide much feedback, you may need to consider taking a very hard look at the story and thinking about whether or not it’s time to try something different. This is extremely difficult advice for writers to take. Most of us don’t, and that’s okay, but being stubborn isn’t going to help you out much in your writing career.

I don’t know if that helped you, but it’s been my process, and I think it was pretty good. If I had to do it again, I would probably have done it in the same order, except I’d have skipped trying out crowd-funding. That was a dead-end for someone like me.

Did you have a different experience? Leave me a comment for discussion on what you decided to do and why.

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Before you publish, Part 1 – Pre-publication checklist for new authors, by a newly published author

Before you Publish - 1

This post is the start of a series sharing my experiences in publishing. This is targeted at writers looking to go indie. As I write this, I am concluding my first month as a published author. I released Wine Bottles and Broomsticks, my debut novel about an inept witch hunter who seems to drown in personal drama and attracts witches like flies to honey. This was the second-ever book I finished. Putting it out in the world was a tremendous learning experience. Within about a day of hitting publish on the KDP dashboard, I learned twice as much about publishing as I did leading up to it. That comes in spite of a series of interviews with other authors asking them specifically about their experiences.

The first post in this series is just a checklist. Before you hit ‘publish’ go through this list. If you’re absolutely set on traditional publishing also go through it. Most of it is still relevant.

  1. [Y | N] – I have 1 book ready to go right now, and at least 3 more that could be ready to publish in the next 12 months.
  2. [Y | N] – At least 2 of my books belong to the same series (book 1 / book 2)
  3. [Y | N] – I have developed and memorized 5-second and 30-second pitches.
  4. [Y | N] – All of my work has been read by others, I have received and incorporated feedback.
  5. [Y | N] – I have, at a bare minimum, used an application like Grammarly to edit my work or asked a competent friend to proof-read. For indie authors, you will have, ideally, hired an editor.
  6. [Y | N] – I believe I know who my core audience is (YA/Middle Grade/Women aged 18-32 etc…)
  7. [Y | N] – I have researched other books similar to mine and authors that have a similar style.
  8. [Y | N] – I have asked those who have read my work, what authors and books it is most similar to.
  9. [Y | N] – I have connected with other writers about their experiences and asked for advice (you will not be selling your book to these folks, they are your colleagues, not your audience)
  10. [Y | N] – I have developed a social media presence – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, blog
  11. [Y | N] – I have developed a plan for advertising & marketing
  12. [Y | N] – I have researched local bookstores and am prepared to engage owners / managers in a discussion about hosting an author event.
  13. [Y | N] – I am prepared to spend hundreds of dollars on advertising
  14. [Y | N] – I have mentally prepared myself for a single page-read on KU, and no more than 10 total book sales in the first month, and maybe a single review.
  15. [Y | N] – I am prepared to talk with people about my work, my book, writing in general, and other books similar to mine or that helped me learn the craft.

For indie authors only:

  1. [Y | N] – I have purchased or have access to software that can layout my books (InDesign, Vellum, Scrivener, etc…)
  2. [Y | N] – I have access to software to produce a book cover (InDesign/Canva) or have contracted with a designer
  3. [Y | N] – I know exactly where and how I am going to publish my book and on which platforms (Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, IngramSpark, Lulu, etc…)

If you have answered No to ANY of the above. You may not quite ready to go yet – keeping in mind that this is the opinion of a debut author but were I to do it over again, I’d make damn sure all of them were YES before moving forward. All of these items on the list are not things I consider myself an expert at. These are listed because they’re what I have or am struggling with. I don’t intend this to be the fully-unabridged version of how to prepare yourself, by any means. Every day that goes by is a new experience for me that threatens to add one more bullet point. That said, we can all help one another out and, as item number 9 suggests above, be prepared to ‘pay it forward’ to help out your fellow authors and community. We are all stronger that way.

What do you think? Should there be another item on the list? What would it be? Leave a comment below.

Publishing platforms interview #10, featuring Stephen John Moran

Stephen John Moran

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve decided to self-publish The Dark Queen of Darkness, but this is a long, difficult, confounding, and expensive endeavor. One of the key reasons I’d decided to go self-publishing was to avoid the time and effort involved with securing an agent and then hoping a large press would pick up the work. It is not, however, the only alternative to traditional publishing. A really excellent option, which I did consider, was submitting to smaller independent presses. Indie publishers offer advantages over both large presses and self-publishing. Below is my interview with Stephen John Moran of Moran Press on the topic.

D: Before I launch into my questions, could you tell me a bit about Moran Press, and yourself as an author?

SJM: I created Moran Press to be a hybrid between self-publishing and small press. The target indie author is one that intended to self publish and wishes to retain control over most aspects of the process. I seek authors whose books work with each other for maximum impact. 

D: What does an indie publisher do for an author? What does an indie publisher not do?

SJM: I think the biggest thing an indie press can do for an author is help them produce a quality of book not likely to be produced through self-publishing. Having a team is important. That said, small presses are very limited in marketing budget. 

D: As an author, if you’ve accepted my work, what does the process look like? What can I expect?

SJM: I treat authors as partners and work closely with them on all aspects of the process to produce a book all can be proud of. Authors retain full control over their books and help make the decisions that shape the final product. 

D: You’re not just a publisher, you’re also a writer. From the perspective of an author publishing in an indie publishing house, what would you describe as your biggest challenge?

SJM: Getting the work out into the world is the most difficult part of the business. The price of ads and level of competition has risen and it’s tougher than ever to get your book to succeed in this super over saturated entertainment era. 

D: A lot of authors approaching publishing for the first time imagine that getting published is going to mean fame and fortune. I think anyone who has seriously looked into this industry understands that’s not reality. What sort of sales numbers might a brand-new unknown author expect with an indie publishing house, like Moran Press? How much would an author expect to make, per book sold?

SJM: I hope writers don’t have that impression because they will be sorely disappointed with the publishing experience if that’s their expectation. The average release sells less than 500 copies lifetime – the average author at Moran Press getting approximately $2 per unit (roughly) so it would take sales of a level far beyond the ordinary to gain ‘fame and fortune’. 

D: What would you describe as the biggest advantage for an author to submit to an indie publisher as opposed to trying to publish with a large traditional press?

SJM: Your book has a much better chance to be published with a small press. At big trad you’ll be competing with far more authors so getting published is much more difficult. 

D: What would you describe as the biggest advantage for an author to submit to an indie publisher as opposed to trying to self-publish?

SJM: The biggest thing a small press can give an author is editorial help. Self-publishing’s greatest weakness is one person (the author) in control of all aspects of a process that said author might not be qualified to complete. That’s the biggest weakness I see in self-published works. One or more of the basic aspects of publishing has received less than optimal expertise and the overall product suffers. 

D: How do you decide which books are going to be the best fit for your publishing house?

SJM: I try to have the books work together – so that if you read the books as a group there’s something extra a reader will get – books will similar themes. 

D: Except for writing the book, what is the most important thing an author needs to do after being published by an indie publisher, like Moran Press?

SJM: Know that you’re responsible for marketing your book. Don’t sit back – it needs to be important to you if books are to be sold. Even with a trad press authors must market so this is the single biggest piece to take away – be ready to work to sell.

D: Would you ever tell an author not to consider an indie publisher, such as Moran Press?

SJM: Yes – if an author is primarily focused on getting marketing help – first step is to get an agent and submit to big trad. 

D: Do you have anything else to add that I didn’t cover –any further sage wisdom or cautionary tales?

SJM: To all the authors – temper your expectations and be prepared to work. There’s not going to be a viral tale in your future – that’s the math 99% certainty – so get yourself mentally ready to make it happen instead of waiting for others. Be an entrepreneur. If you want to sit back and collect royalty checks, you missed 1985 and for that I’m sorry. 

Thank you, Stephen John Moran, for taking time for this interview. Stephen is the author of Ella, The terrorist of Providence Street, and Server, among others, which you can get over at Amazon. He is also the owner of Moran Press (https://www.moranpress.com/).

To conclude, I want to make a quick point about the publishing business from this author’s perspective. While I believe that becoming published with an indie press is a really, really great idea and you should totally look into it, know that not every publishing house is going to be interested in your work. Smaller groups like Moran Press are not in a position to accept and market everything that comes across their doorstep. However, the decision not to pick up a book is not a personal decision, it is a business decision, and so I want to reiterate how critical it is to make sure that when you submit to a publishing house, that you are carefully assessing their call for work. While it’s true I’m a bit confounded by the self-publishing route at the moment, and Moran Press is a really great publishing option, my work does not fit Moran Press’ platform and so it’s not a viable avenue for my work. But, the only way to determine whether or not any publishing house is a viable option for you is to look at their call for work. You can find the current call for work for Moran Press at https://www.moranpress.com/submissions.html.