Aren’t you tired of taking the traditional route of querying literary agents? Sadly, that publishing world has changed. It’s now riskier for big publishers to sign emerging authors with no bestselling background. This leads them to favour republishing bestsellers from over twenty years ago.
Seeking a traditional publisher to publish your work is like seeking your soulmate, except that it would be a business relationship where profit determines the length of it.
Inspired independent authors need to take matters into their own hands. Yes, it can be daunting when you search for indie author-related hashtags on your social channels. Over forty thousand authors on Instagram and Facebook are on the same boat.
By no means should you give up on writing and creating stories. My professor once said that there was no shame in admitting that we write for exposure, but more importantly, we write for ourselves. We connect with our creative sides to feel alive.
Whether you sign an agreement with a publisher or self-publish—the outcomes will be different. I want to share five tips (plus one bonus!) on how to make self-publishing work. (Please note that these tips are based on personal experience.)
Getting started – Research
After my disastrous experience of self-publishing my first book, I had reconsidered querying my second book. Then, I had second thoughts due to all the things I’d learnt from the first round. I knew what to do differently.
Narrow down your genre
Writers like me, who write transgressive fiction, have a slightly more defined audience because we aim towards non-mainstream crowds. That’s even better if you think in terms of competition. If you write fantasy or YA books, you must be more strategic in making yourself stand out to your target audience. Identify what makes you different from other authors and build on that.
Start building a community
When you research authors like you, be sure to look at emerging and successful indie authors; it allows you to analyse their tactics and route to success. Figure out how they reached 4-8K followers and how they get their audience to engage with their content.
You will see that most authors have invested time in building a community. It doesn’t take long to identify your target audience, but it could take a year or two to master your relationship with them.
Be active on your social media channels and website/blog. Post consistently and connect with readers of your genre and share experiences with similar writers. It helps you understand the audience for whom you write.
- Identify your genre, spice it up with a subgenre that makes you stand out.
- Get your website and social channels in gear, connect with fellow authors and readers, and learn how to get them excited about your work.
- The algorithm doesn’t have to be your friend. But think of it as a means to be consistent with your content. Schedule your posts for when your audience is most active.
Put together a team that includes an editor, graphic designer, and marketer
All authors need an editor. Period. It’s the only team member that you will need to hire at all costs.
An editor’s meticulous eye for detail fixes your grammar and syntax and provides you with greater insights into your book. Their angle will help you create an awareness you didn’t know before. They may even know your general audience a tad better and emphasise areas where you should swallow your pride.
I have spoken to several authors who either wish they’d hired an editor or listened to their editor regarding specific details in a project. Don’t just hire any editor but make sure they are familiar with your niche or genre.
You might think you’re artsy enough to create your own book cover. Perhaps you’re a photographer or an advanced Canva user. Unfortunately, having the front cover isn’t everything. And let’s be honest, Amazon’s back cover maker sucks.
A professional graphic designer will likely do the maths for you and calculate the exact measurements of the overall cover. My intermediate Photoshop skills didn’t lead me all the way to success, neither did I bother with InDesign.
I highly recommend doing your research before you invest in a marketer. After all, the idea of the self-publishing route is to be your own boss. Marketing requires the indie author him-/herself to interact with the people. That’s if you haven’t already established a fandom or an audience.
If that’s not you, then hiring a PR might be the right move. A PR person has contacts and access to local events, which again, needs you to be proactive and present. A PR doesn’t represent you.
So why not go to your local library or book club to make yourself known? (I can’t do it, but I know you can.)
- Put money away for an editor. Prices vary, and they may charge per word or hour. $10 per 1000 words is typically cheap. The best way to find the right fit is to connect with followers on your social channels. Many professional editors are among them.
- Investing in a one-time fee for a professional graphic designer will save you a lot of headaches, even if they cost $500+. That will eventually be worth it because they will make your book look like a traditional publisher published it.
- For self-publishers, self-marketing is not about business. If you go back to my first tip, you will see it’s really about connecting with people step by step. Only established authors benefit from business marketing and PR. We’re not like them.
Your turn – Preparations
Like many other indie authors, you’re most likely a perfectionist who prefers to do your first rounds of redrafting alone. Without sounding narcissistic, authors re-read their books multiple times to a point they may grow to hate them. But in my opinion, it’s part of getting to know your book. No one else but you should know your work better.
An editor or mentor is merely a guide that won’t know how you felt when writing it. But they do know how to make your work shine.
Formatting your book can be time-consuming. Ready-made templates exist if you remember CreateSpace before it became KDP. Other self-publishing platforms have ready-made templates that you can use. It helps to have your design ready or know your desired book size.
Getting an ISBN
Research self-publishing platforms
This was a tough call involving weeks of research and comparing different platforms. I read many online articles before I settled with the right choices. Sure, who isn’t on Amazon? Some authors prefer publishing eBooks only, whereas others prefer paperbacks and hardbacks.
It doesn’t hurt to look up alternatives because they may offer more exposure and distribution. For a thorough review, you can visit Self-Publishing Advice.
My personal preferences are Draft2Digital for eBooks; they are very transparent and cost nothing until you make money. KDP speaks for itself. For wider distribution, try Ingram Spark; they do charge for setup and revisions. I recommend hunting for promotion codes.
- Even if you end up hating your work, reread it multiple times. Invite your friends to read it and take their insight into account before hiring an editor to do the final job.
- Have a clear idea about the format: book size, font type/size, page numbers, name, and title. Book size is important for the graphic designer to know.
- Make sure you have a valid ISBN to place on the back of your book and mention it inside your book along with your copyright page.
- Choose the right self-publishing platform that is in accord with your needs.
Start a Podcast or create a YouTube channel
I’m saying this out loud to the outspoken and extroverted writers. I have seen many of them hosting their own podcast or YouTube channel. The focus on valuable content has led to an increase in followers.
It doesn’t mean you have to start a channel or pod. Instead, reach out to these fellow indie authors and ask them to interview you. Often, you don’t even have to ask because they already seek to connect with like-minded people. Chances are they find you before you them. That’s an excellent opportunity to help each other out.
Having appeared on several podcasts, I started gaining traction. Their followers showed interest in my work and began reaching out to me. Going the extra mile, we even exchanged books intending to spread the word by reviewing each other.
It’s a lot of fun because you meet passionate readers and genuine indie authors like you. It certainly threw me out of my comfort zone, but it’s a lesson every indie author has to learn.
- Go through your followers on Instagram or look through podcasts on Spotify and YouTube to see if any indie authors are hosting their own show. Pay attention to what genre/niche they promote.
- If you’re too shy to ask, show interest in their content by commenting and liking it. But asking may be inevitable.
Plan a launch – Collect reviews in advance
I learnt that indie authors make a big deal out of their book launch. It must be a date about three months ahead. I didn’t bother as much as I should. When I self-published the eBook, I posted a lame announcement on Facebook. The paperback, on the other hand, was a slightly bigger deal and got a special mention.
Countdowns and novel excerpts get people excited; they’ll want to know what this fuss is all about. Be strategic with what you share and when.
The launch is only exciting if you have built a community, such as a large group of followers on Instagram, YouTube, or Twitter. Perhaps you have a high number of subscribers in your mailing list with whom you share updates regularly.
Another crucial step is to collect book reviews in advance. Send proof and PDF copies to your readers and fellow indie authors. Be straight about it and ask for help. They have already participated in your journey. Show them your gratitude by offering something free.
- Plan a launch date that will motivate you to get shit done and create excitement among your peers.
- Offer free proof copies (also called “arcs”) to your readers in return for a review. Indie authors need the exposure more than any other author. Make your readers commit by using a tool like Booksprout, which provides them with a deadline for the review.
- I recommend Amanda Palmer’s book “The Art of Asking.” Asking people for help is a daunting quest. It takes lots of courage, involving swallowing your pride. Be humble but confident.
I’m happy to see that you made it this far. We are all serious about our writing career; moreover, each of us has an ideal reader. Other than writing for ourselves, we write for our “ideal reader,” wherever they may be.
Alternative: Reach out to independent publishers
Independent publishers have become very popular. They are usually very specific genre-wise. When you query them, follow their submission guidelines to the dot, and you will receive a reply.
I recommend subscribing to these two zines for creative writers: Authors Publish and Freedom with Writing. They’re run by a wonderful couple passionate about helping emerging freelance writers and independent authors build a career.
Often, independent publishers can be a local press that does bindings and printings. Everyone can start a little publishing firm. Personally, I find that they need to show a certain level of dedication. For example, I had a bad experience with a local press that took over three months to help me self-publish my book. It never happened because they were merely a one-person group whose workload was too much to handle. The lack of professionalism had me cancel the contract, which ended up being one of the best decisions I’d made.
Hiring them to publish my book didn’t only come with a fee, but the contract also stated that part of my Amazon royalty would go to them. Knowing that I’d merely make around $2 per book sold, my answer was No.
But bear in mind that every indie publisher (or local press) is different. Some may only charge a one-time fee, and you’d only cover printing fees, which is precisely what Amazon KDP does (and many others).
- Find an independent publisher that publishes works similar to your genre and follow the submission guidelines strictly. Make sure they’re a team of professionals dedicated to helping people publish their work.
- Before signing the contract, read the fine prints. Most indie publishers are very transparent and charge publishing/handling/printing fees, leaving the author with most of the royalties earned. But not all care about your success, so be sure to do your research and check the reviews.
What will your decision be?
Before you consider self-publishing, you need to figure out what you want to achieve with your book.
Do you want to make money? Or do you want to connect with your readers?
As an indie author, you will benefit the most from the latter, whereas the former involves risking money for marketing and advertising without the guarantee that you will succeed.
I must emphasise that fiction authors aren’t selling the solution to a problem, so why are we even talking about making money? Yes, making some money on the side can be comforting but not as heart-warming as having someone genuinely praise your work. For whatever reason, they invested 7-9 hours of their lives in reading your story.
Doesn’t it mean anything?
Non-fiction books are different, especially if it’s a how-to book detailing your solutions or a step-by-step guide for the reader to combat a problem. You can consider this a business product designed to add value to their lives. Using the right marketing and advertising strategies can help you make money.
Without going into poetry, memoir, and essay writing, I think you get the idea.
It all depends on what you want. Be honest about it. I used to dream big, too, without accepting the reality that I wouldn’t become a bestselling author overnight.
Other advantages of self-publishing include control over your rights. You will always own your book; you can decide whether to take it off the digital shelf. Do you plan to make changes to your book? Set a relaunch date or publish a second edition. It’s all in your hands.
I know. It’s a lot of work that requires discipline, dedication, and a meticulous eye for detail.
Is it worth it? For me, it was after failing the first round. But I want to do better. Indie authors have the autonomy to make their own decisions in preparation for their books’ destiny.
What more do you want?