The Ease of Indie Publishing

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Stacks of books

Warning: long post.

So diving into the world of independent publishing with your books is easy, right? Finish the story, slap some art on it, save it in the right format, upload, and let the millions role in.

Okay, first, if you’re using the word millions and talking about your independent publishing empire, you’re probably in the wrong field.

Second, easy? Seriously?

When I decided that it was time for me to broaden my publishing efforts into the independent route as well as continuing to pursue traditional publishing, I already had some idea of what I was in for on the traditional side. No matter how good the short story, chances are fairly good that is not going to be the right fit for the first market you send it to, or second, or third, and so on. If the story is good, and you are persistent, it will eventually find a home. For novels, time frames are even longer at every step in the process. Brief reading periods separated widely in time, slush piles that have wait times going deep into the double-digits of months, and agents aren’t a whole lot quicker, although once you have one, certain doors are open that weren’t before.

Worse, in both cases, everyone wants something different. Sometimes a little different, sometimes a lot different, and most of this is to see if you’re paying attention. At least that’s the expression of things. Some significant but not measured by me portion of the time, I honestly think the real reason is that people just want an easy way to reject things to save themselves time. And sometimes, a smaller fraction but still measurable, it’s so that people can be assholes while doing it.

Side trip: I try to read the guidelines thoroughly. I know everyone wants something different. But, an example, if I get a rejection letter back that says, word for word, “I couldn’t be bothered to read your story because you couldn’t be bothered to read the guidelines and you missed this tiny little thing,” I probably can’t be bothered to ever submit to your market again, and while I wish you well, I fully expect you to fail in the next 12 months and won’t cry about it. I have long since decided that if I ever publish stuff that’s not mine, the guidelines are going to be relatively simple and straightforward: double-spaced in a readable font consistently formatted. In the closing days of the second decade of the 21st century, there’s really no need for anything else. I’ll judge spelling, grammar, plot, character, world, point of view and everything else as I read the story. Or novel. Or whatever. But I’ll do it because I’m reading the story not because you missed one blue M&M.

But, we were talking about the ease of indie publishing. And, based on someone of the things I see regularly out there, it is pretty easy. Finish the story, slaps some art on it, save in the right format, and upload.

I don’t think it’s easy to get right, though. And I’m not saying I’m getting it right, but I’m doing a lot of research and figuring out standards and what works and building things as I go, learning the appropriate tools, techniques, and so on. Because there are a lot more than four steps to it, and I want to maximize my chances of getting it right.

Here are the steps as I see them so far:

  1. Finish the story. Yes, this is really important. And finish doesn’t mean publishing your first draft, which I feel like a lot of people seem to do. Somehow, it’s become standard thinking in our society that our first draft is our best draft, our first response is our best response, our first effort is our best effort. Newsflash, the reader can tell. Not going into my process again, but there are multiple drafts involved, and if there’s only one in yours that might be a stumbling point to your success.
  2. Front matter. The stuff that comes before the story. Title page, copyright notice, dedication, introduction, table of contents… whichever of those are relevant to the kind of book you’re putting out. Yes, I’ve read a number of arguments that there shouldn’t be very much between the cover and the story for an e-book, but I don’t think I buy that, not yet. One thing I do like is that realization that frequently people download a whole bunch of e-books at a time and then forget why by the time to get around to reading. So something that might go right after the cover, or right after the title page, is a few sentences worth of exciting synopsis. What, in a print book, would be the back cover copy.
  3. Cover art. These days, there are a lot of online tools to help you find some really awesome low or no cost imagery for your covers (I think my favourite is Pixabay so far). Then there are online tools that give you templates and ideas to (relatively) easily put together your cover. (I like Canva. A lot. Here’s a link directly to book cover templates.) But you need the right image, the right fonts, the right log line (if you’re going to have one), the right layout, and the search for that right image might take some time to find something that really speaks to you and says something about the story.
  4. After that, put in the story itself. Cover art, front matter, story. Consistently formatted, simply formatted, and in a readable font, a font that people will be comfortable having bombard their eyes for the hours they’re going to spend reading your story.
  5. Back matter. Based on my research so far, at the very least this should contain a thank you for reading message, something that suggests that you would love the reader to leave a review for you somewhere, a how to get a hold of you page, and a page with three or four tiny cover shots of other things are published or are publishing in the next few months. Lots of things might fall into this category. I mostly work in fiction, so I don’t really need an index, and if I use alien words that people have a hard time figuring out, I would mostly rather include those and pronunciations in the text rather than having that affect. I probably won’t include a list of characters, even if it’s a very complex story. This is also where you can also include a preview to something else. There are plenty of schools of thought on that, too, but I think I follow the line of “don’t do a preview unless it’s for the next story after the one they just read”. And it’s better if that story is already available. Because, really, have you ever had that experience where you’re 30 or 40 pages from the end of the book and the story suddenly ends? Then you find that there’s this huge long preview of the next book that isn’t coming out for a year? Your mileage may vary, but it drives me crazy.
  6. Now that you got the basic file complete, you need to save it in a variety of formats. There are various preferences out there and a tonne of formats, but I think you need at least three primary formats: EPUB, Kindle, and PDF. I’m still experimenting with a variety of tools to figure out what I like best and what produces the best file.
  7. Okay, now you’ve got the files, where do you upload them? Kindle is easy enough: get yourself to your Amazon author page and start working from there. What, you don’t have an Amazon author page yet? You should probably fix that. And try to keep it up-to-date better than I do. They’ll only take uploads on Barnes & Noble with your EPUB file if you have an ISBN, and those cost money, so are a debate. But, there are plenty of other places to get your e-books up and running. Find the selection that will get you the biggest audience you can.
  8. Seven, you’ve got a website, right? A blog, at least? Probably you should have a dedicated page on that website for the book you’re publishing. A landing page, if you will. One for each book. Cover art, “back cover” copy, and all the important places you can go to buy it.
  9. Is there a store on your website where all of your stuff is available? Something to think about.
  10. While you’re at it, go get yourself librarian status on Good Reads and, not only will this lets you fix those pesky little errors you keep finding in things, it will also let you upload your brand-new book to Good Reads so that people can reviews there as well as Amazon.
  11. I really want to talk about marketing, but this post is already getting too long but, as the independent author, marketing is also your job. Social media is your friend. Find the right ones, the right combination for you, and go out there and be yourself.
  12. Why aren’t you writing the next book yet? Better question, why aren’t you prepping the next book, editing the one after that, and drafting the third one out? By all indications, to be a successful independent author, you need a significant body of work available to your readers, and you need to be adding to that on a regular basis. I’m not saying you need to write and publish four books a year, although if you can, and the quality is good, that’s probably not a bad thing, but there needs to be always something in your “coming soon” section.
  13. And there’s always more you could be doing. More social media, podcasts, video, newsletters, conventions, and on and on and on. What? You’re an independent author. You didn’t think you’re going to get to have a life, too, did you?

Keep in mind, I’m still fairly (extremely) new at the indie gig and I’m working hard to come up to speed. I feel like I’ve been prepping for a long time now and not having much of that show publicly, but when I think I’ve got the basic process figured out, there might wind up being a quick flood of material released in the beginning before I settle into a routine.

Be well, everyone.

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Lance
Lance Schonberg is an eclectic genre fiction author with more than two dozen stories published or on the way. 2019 is the year he dives into independent publishing, starting with "Thorvald's Wyrd", "Skip To My Luu", and "Turn the World Around". And he needs a more exciting short bio.

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