This month, we hear from author, Erin Cawood, about what to expect if you go indie....
So, you’re an aspiring author? That’s fantastic! Believe it or not, you’re walking through the gates of the world’s most amazing theme park. Every time you start a new story, you’re climbing into a seat, getting strapped in and enjoying a new ride. The best thing about it? You’ll never ride the same one twice!
But when you’ve finished creating your story, what are you going to do with it? Do you submit it to a publishing house and wait for their call? Or do you go it alone and join the world of Indie publishing?
For me, it was a no brainer. At 58,000 words, my debut novel, Tainted Love, was too short for most traditional publishers. It’s an epic love story about a woman caught in an abusive relationship for twenty-five years. It’s about how she ends up trapped, why she stays, what makes her leave and how she moves on and learns to love again.
The odds of Tainted Love ever being accepted by mainstream publishing were incredibly low. So, I didn’t even bother submitting and went straight to indie publishing. Five years, and six titles later, I've never been more happier with my decision but some days... I still wonder.
The question usually comes up at the end of a promotion or book launch when burn out is calling. And it’s usually because, until recently, I didn't have a PA to help me with most of the work. She's become a godsend with everything I must do as an indie author and these are all the things I wish I’d known when I first embarked on publishing Tainted Love myself.
So, what do you need to consider when choosing to be an indie author like me?
I cannot stress how important it is to view your career as an author as you would if you were setting up any other sole trader business. That, by climbing on to the rollercoaster of indie publishing, you’re not only accepting you are your own boss, but you’re recognising you have many different hats to wear. You’re the project manager, marketer, customer services rep, supplier, accountant and so much more. In exchange for the many years of experience behind a publishing house’s team, you have full control. Absolute Power. Perfect, if you’re a control freak like me!
You need a plan.
Where are you going to publish? Do you ‘go wide’ or be ‘exclusive’? Are you going to publish in e-book?
If so, through the retailers direct, or by an aggregator like Smashwords or Draft2digtal? Are you going to offer a printed version? There’s no better feeling than holding your book baby in your hands but it was two years before I obtained a printed version of Tainted Love. I was so eager to get my nook into readers hands that I initially forewent the paperback.
Then, I had to choose firstly between Print on Demand (POD) or a small print run. After I opted for POD, I had to choose between Createspace, Lulu, Lightning Source and various other companies that offered POD. And that was before I understood I’d need to have the book formatted for print. I wanted to save on outsourcing cost of formatting and learned how to do this myself, (it super easy and if you understand Microsoft Word, then you can do it too!). But maybe you’d like to launch with both e-book and paperback? In that case, you need to plan for both.
Once you have a plan, you need a budget.
Editor costs range from cheap as chips to selling a kidney! And don’t always believe the mantra you get what you pay for. Yes, a great editor will know what they’re worth, but you could end up paying hundreds possibly thousands for an editor whose not worth it. Always, always, request a pre-hire sample edit to be sure their editing style and your writing style work together.
It’s the same with cover designers, they range in price and there are a lot of good ones out there who don’t charge that much. And there are a lot of cover artists to whom I’d easy hand over hundreds of pounds if only I could afford their prices. If you’re serious about indie publishing, then lose a day or two scouring the internet and perusing designers pre-made covers and their custom cover portfolios.
In addition, you might need an ISBN, (not required for Amazon eBooks, but Smashwords will assign you one of theirs if you don’t have one. Similarly, Createspace can offer you a free ISBN, to print-on-demand with them. Both will be listed as the book’s publisher, so there are pros and cons to buying your own or accepting a freebie.
You’ll need a formatter, or to buy software that will format your books into e-Books and print for you. You’ll need additional supporting graphics, or perhaps you’ll want a book trailer. These are all things to consider in your budget!
One you have a budget in mind, you need to build an experienced team who know, understand and work in your genre. I have three editors. A development editor; to pick up on all the inconsistencies and plot holes and to both kick my creative butt and tell me when my writing is utter rubbish or my main character is a total—uh-hum, [insert your favourite insult here]. Your editor is not there to kiss your behind, if they’re not finding fault with your story, it’s not because you’ve written the best book in the world! Your editors will challenge you, make you think from another perspective, and call you out on facts you might have wrong. That’s their job and you’ll thank them for it, trust me!
I have a copy editor; who fine tunes, and makes sure I say what I mean and mean what I say. Throughout the editing process of Maybe Tomorrow, a story about a doctor whose first love is rushed into his A&E and diagnosed as terminally ill, my editor asked if I should be using Accident & Emergency over A&E? Would foreign readers understand the A&E reference? I hadn’t thought of that!
Finally, I have several proof readers; who polish my manuscript to within an inch of its life.
Editing is the only thing you can’t do yourself! So cough up the dough, swallow the sometimes harsh criticisms and watch as something you already thought was perfect become so much more!
Editors are the bare minimum of your team, but you’ll also need a cover designer. A good artist who understands how to communicate through the various image sizes on screen, as well as translate a description of your book to the cover. And if you’re outsourcing your formatting, then find a formatter.
Once you’ve got your team together, you need to decide on a timeline. Tainted Love went from idea to on-sale within five months. But my recent release, Enticing Elle, took two years to write and eight years to edit. A timeline helps you with marketing, but you can’t implement a marketing plan, until you know when your book is going to be ready.
Speaking of a marketing plan...
Are you going to put your book on pre order? Are you going to do a cover reveal? What pre-release marketing are you going to employ? What’s your launch strategy? Post-release strategy? If you’ve more than one book on sale, how are you going to utilise the bump in sales of other titles? How you answer these questions will define your marketing plan and your marketing plan is reliant on the timeline you’re working to.
Personally, I start talking about my new release a couple of months before it’s due, but I have a near-finished and final product (i.e. it’s with the proof reader) before I start making and implementing any marketing strategies. An almost finished product means I can set the release date, add to pre-order, send out advance reader copies, and start teasing my readers with cover reveals, memes, sneak peeks and sample chapters.
I won’t lie to you, being an independent author is a steep learning curve. In the last five years, I’ve
developed a fondness for, and further developed my skills in; web development, graphic design, video editing, book formatting, marketing—oh boy, so many marketing skills; writing copy for retail sites, writing copy for blog tours, free book promotions, email newsletters and content swaps, KDP Select, Kindle Unlimited, Amazon ads, Facebook ads, Bookbub—the list goes on. But let me stress, you do not have to do it all or even do it by yourself. You can hire someone else more experienced every step of the way and the independent publishing community online and is a collaborative space where other authors are more than willing to share their experiences and expertise.
I’m a control freak by nature. I like making the decisions for my books. If the cover’s not working, I change it. If the blurb isn’t selling, I rewrite it. If the categories and keywords I use are saturated, guess what? I update them. I choose whose website my book is feature on and which newsletter my promotions are shared in. I love having control.
No, I didn’t wait for ‘The Call’. I took my destiny into my own hands, built my own team, shelled out my own money to get my books in my readers hands in the early days. I still work full-time so I can pour every penny I make from book sales back into building my business, my brand, and my reputation as an author. My business is now self-sufficient and I still have a lot to learn to get there. But what’s the most important thing I have learned in the last five years?
While there’s a certain level of kudos attached to being traditionally published, and an enormous amount of experience and support to be gained by having that team behind you, ultimately, the people who matter the most to me; my readers, don’t care if I’m traditionally published, they want immersive storied to spirit them away and as long as the books I produce, are of exceptional quality, enabling them to enjoy the character’s journey, they will keep coming back for more.
To find out more about Erin and her books, check out her Amazon Page and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Are you an aspiring or indie author? Do you have a story to tell? Would you like to be featured on PHS? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org!