05 Oct 2015
When my newspaper career left me back in 2012, I thought I would become a full-time writer. For the previous 22 years, I would write in the morning, go to work on the copy desk, stay until midnight or 1 a.m., come home, and get up the next day and start over again. I wrote four novels, started numerous short stories, and compiled the materials that became my first published book, “Writers Gone Wild” (Penguin) in 2010.
So when I received my pink slip—the newspaper decided to publish three days a week, expand its online presence and dumped its copy desk—I expected to live the kind of life described by Stephen King and Lawrence Block in their books: meet your writing goal in the morning—say, a couple thousand words—then spend the rest of the day indulging my whims, maybe edit the day’s work, and then cocktails when the sun meets the yardarm.
As a self-publisher, I found that didn’t happen. On any given day, here’s what I’m doing after my writing and editing work:
* Working on my web sites: adding posts, updating plug-ins, building book pages and updating broken links. Since starting PlanetPeschel.com in the mid-1990s, I’ve gone from hand-created HTML pages to Expression Engine to WordPress (I still have some of the old HTML pages left; I’m terrible at the bottom-to-top cleanup). I’ll go back and re-edit old posts, adding photos and search-engine optimization keywords (an innovation that became important only in the last five years). I also worry about hackers testing my site’s security, and make sure the software has been upgraded and research new methods to “harden the shell.”
* Build the trade paperback version of my latest book using Word 2007 and templates from CreateSpace. Sometime next year, I’ll will research hiring someone to redo them to qualify for Ingram Spark, the self-publishing arm of the book distribution company, so that they can be made available to more bookstores.
* Process orders from the bookstores willing to accept CreateSpace-printed books, invoice them, sign books, and pack them for shipping.
* Check off my to-do list for the most recently published book, which includes filing copyright paperwork with The Library of Congress, sending free copies to allies and friends, and review copies to others, writing and distributing a press release, adding a page devoted to the book to my websites, and preparing promotional posts.
* Writing and distributing the monthly newsletter.
* At the beginning of each month, recording the previous month’s sales on my Excel spreadsheet and inventory my stock.
* Update my spreadsheet of income and expenses. Of course, to do these things, someone had to create those spreadsheets. Guess who?
* Try to keep up with social media on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Pinterest (never often enough). Restrain urge to rage at tweets I disagree with.
* Answer emails from fans, readers, business partners, and put out whatever fires arise from them (such as Kindle wondering if I have the right to publish public domain material. This is asked so often that I have a form letter to send back to their software).
* Plan for the next public appearance, whether it’s a talk to Agatha Christie fans at a reading group or an exhibit table at an arts festival. This includes ensuring I have enough books on hand; bookmarks, flyers, and postcards to hand out; and all of the display equipment, including cash box, cash, receipt book, table cloth, tables, bookcase, banners and posters.
* Creating and ordering said bookmarks, flyers, postcards, posters and banners. At the moment, I have a tri-fold flyer to finish aimed especially at mystery bookstores.
* Uploading the newest book’s trade paperback and ebook files to all the vendors, including entering the information, keywords, descriptions that are unique to each site (Google Play is notoriously difficult due to its lack of detailed documentation).
* Thinking of and executing ways to reach readers, through soliciting attention from reviewers and bloggers; organizing book giveaways; sending sample copies and brochures to bookstores; considering requests from the HARO (Help A Reporter Out) e-newsletter.
* Plus pick up whatever tasks along the way that need doing.As a single task, writing still takes up a good chunk of my day. But maybe a quarter of my working time is devoted solely to writing, revising, and editing my work. The rest of the time is devoted to being CEO, CFO, marketing, corporate communications, IT tech, and janitor of my company.
So when I hear about successful self-published writers happily signing with publishers, I sympathize. It’s tiring to spend so much time that has nothing to do with being creative, and it looks so much easier to let someone else take those tasks off your hands (as well as most of the money your books earn). You still have to do promotional work, but it’s still less than going it alone.
I empathize just as much with writers who leave their publishers to test the waters of indie publishing. In the first few years after the introduction of the Kindle, it seemed like publishing ebooks was like spinning gold from straw. The e-reader was a new toy, and like all new fads, everyone wanted to play with it, until the day when most people realized “that’s it?” and set them aside for the next shiny thing (Ohhhh! Tablets!). And it’s frustrating to deal with indifferent editing, poor covers, lackluster marketing support and a backlist of out of print books without an ebook edition.
There are still people buying their first e-reader every day, and readers who love their Kindles and Nooks and whatever is still for sale. But there’s also a flood of books available for them, at all price ranges, and it’s no longer possible to publish your first or second draft and expect it to sell. Best-sellers are still coined, but it has to either catch the reading public’s fancy, or have a significant amount of marketing muscle behind it.
Indie publishing is for everyone who wants to publish a book, whether it’s your grandmother’s prized jam recipes or the next science-fiction novel to be picked up by Hollywood.
Successful indie publishing that can support you and your family is not for everyone. It combines the skills of an artist to create the books and the entrepreneur to build the company. It requires understanding the range of jobs that need to be done, either by yourself or someone you hire. It requires making decisions that can literally change your life, for better or for worse.
It’s not for everyone.
Fortunately, we’re at a unique moment in history where the barriers to starting your publishing company are low. The investment in time and money are low. The risk is low unless you decide to quit your job and abandon your health insurance to do this.
It’s even possible to acquire the necessary tasks, learn on the job, and get better at it. This isn’t the presidency, after all. This isn’t even brain surgery or rocket science.
Unless you’re a published writer who has acquired the rights to your backlist, or one who has a large number of finished books in your trunk, you’ll start with one book. Focus on publishing and marketing that one right, and you’ll have a good handle on the skills needed to improve on your next book.
And best of all, you’ll have “The Career Indie Author” to provide a roadmap for your journey.
I. The Basic Principles Behind this Book
I’ll be repeating these principles throughout the book, but let me put you in the right frame of mind my placing here the three Musts every Career Indie Author should be doing.
1. Write and publish your work.
2. Create a website where potential readers can learn about your persona, your books, and where they can buy them.
3. Create an Amazon Authors Page. Most of your books will be sold through them, and you need to tell potential readers about yourself and your books.
Everything else is optional, depending upon your talents, interests, energy, money, and desire. That includes blogging, social media, public appearances, and advertising.
Yes, it would be beneficial if you did all that, but I’m not here to judge you. Not that I can, but it seems like many self-help books do just that. Just understand that you decisions will have consequences, and proceed as fearlessly as you can from there.
Because the best person, the only person, who can make a decision about their career is you. Your circumstances will affect what decisions you make. For example, if you’ve written a book with a local angle, you may want to emphasize making public appearances. That will put you before the people most likely to want your book. If you have an outgoing personality, if you’re witty, if you have a natural flair for self-promotion, you’ll find an outlet on social media, which delights in broadcasting meme-worthy content.
Here’s another reassurance: Remember that it’s never too late to relaunch a book, to advertise your book, to even rework a cover or re-edit the book (although I hope you don’t make that a habit). Unlike legacy publishing, where most books have a shelf-life of yogurt, your books are evergreens.
I’ll be repeating these rules throughout the book, but if you read a piece of advice and find yourself cringing at the thought of doing that, turn back to this section and be reassured.