The Types of Career Indie Authors

You don’t know what you want, but you’re hungry to get there. You’re looking for the cutting-edge in short stories, novellas, poetry, spoken word, Burroughs cut-ups, found prose, and sonnets.

Late at night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I was thinking about the Career Indie Author and wondering ‘Who the hell is going to buy this book? Why would they?”

Admittedly, it’s not the best question to ask when you’ve already written 43,000 words, but better then than when it’s published, right?

career indie author logoSo this essay was born: An attempt to categorize the indie authors’ I’ve seen, and the ones who haven’t been discovered yet, and why I think my book would be of use to them. I got a bit silly as I was writing this — I blame Troegs Chocolate Stout — but I don’t think I was too far afield in breaking down the types of writers and why they do what they do.

The Career Indie Author is intended to be a sourcebook. It is not promising a proven path to the best-sellers list. It doesn’t guarantee anything, in fact.

Instead, it is a collection of best practices in many aspects of the publishing and online world. It is impossible to do everything in this book. Indeed, there may be advice here that, if followed, will not work for you, or may even be counter-productive. There are authors who write in one genre and those to write in many. There are people who are naturally gregarious and those who are more comfortable hiding behind a pen name. Authors do not fall into one category.

Perhaps the best way to show how best to use this book is by describing several hypothetical authors and the strategies they might find the most useful.

I. The Money-Spinner

Basic attributes: You’re a reader who likes a particular genre who read one bad book too many and decided you could darn well write a better one than that. You’re energetic and outgoing and capable of writing quickly.

Role models: Stephen King, Nora Roberts. In the indie world, Mark Dawson, Michael Anderle, Annie Bellet.

Goal: Money. Is anything more important?

Strategies: Basically two-pronged: writing and publishing quickly and marketing through pay-per-click ads and email blasts. In addition, establishing a web home that keeps track of your books, provide a landing page for your ads, and directing readers to online bookstores.

Strategies not necessarily needed: Any publicity beyond the website and mailing list; organizing a business beyond sole proprietorship; building good habits (chances are if you can think you’ll publish 6-8 books a year without growing dizzy you already have them).

Other comments: Maintaining your health should be paramount, as any interruptions will delay your publishing schedule and reduce your income.

II. The Professional

Basic attributes: You already have a career — company CEO, consultant, media personality — and your books demonstrate your in-depth knowledge of a particular area and give readers the illusion of intimacy.

Role models: Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Anne Beiler (“Twist of Faith: The Story of Anne Beiler, Founder of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels”)

Goal: To spread the word about your story, to sell at speaking engagements, and grab the attention of decision-makers in the media.

Strategies: Write — or have ghost-written — a strong book. Engage a good editor and cover artist. Build a website that defines your brand, celebrates your accomplishments, and solicits speaking engagements, public appearances, media interviews, and business for your company; the onion theory of publicity.

Strategies not necessarily needed: Good working habits (although you could consider how to take it to the next level through a system such as Getting Things Done); wills and literary estates; design and editing (you’re going to hire people to do that).

III. The Artist

Basic attributes: You don’t know what you want, but you’re hungry to get there. You’re looking for the cutting-edge in short stories, novellas, poetry, spoken word, Burroughs cut-ups, found prose, and sonnets. Best exemplified in The Who’s song “Guitar and Pen”: You’re alone above the street somewhere / Wondering how you’ll ever count out there / You can walk, you can talk, you can fight / But inside you’ve got something to write / In your hand you hold your only friend / Never spend your guitar or your pen.”

Role models: Literary heroes: Hemingway, Faulkner, Bukowski, and J.G. Ballard if you’re over 50. Chuck Palahniuk, David Foster Wallace, Bret Easton Ellis, and Monica Drake if you’re in your 30s and 40s. Joshua Ferris, Jonathan Safran Foer, Nell Freudenberger, Rivka Galchen, Nicole Krauss, and Gary Shteyngart if you’re in your 20s.

Goal: Goals? That’s so proletariat, man. Get outta here!

Strategies: A lot of the personal stuff: Taking care of your health and money and keeping productive. Also, read “Writers Gone Wild” for lessons on how not to live your life if you want to remain a functioning artist. A blog, to share your wild visions and promote your pamphlets, chapbooks, scrolls, license plate slogans and other writings.

Strategies not necessarily needed: Wills and copyright; publicity; mailing lists; and business organization.

Other comments: I’m having fun here, but if you’re a writer who’s interested in art first and making money second, you want to focus on writing first, establishing your online home second, and marketing third. Then, when your dad cuts off your allowance, you’ll be ready to return to learn about selling out.

IV. The Influencer

Basic attributes: You’re writing to change the world, either through the force of your personality or the power of your arguments. You want to engage with current events, tangle in the public sphere, raise hell, and kick ass and take names.

Role models: Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson, Lincoln Steffens, Naomi Wolf, Barbara Ehrenreich.

Goal: To kick ass and chew bubble gum, and you’re already out of bubble gum.

Strategies: Strong editing chops, strong cover chops, strong website that combines promotion for your books and your media presence, a good lawyer on your side to handle libel and slander lawsuits; a business shell to protect you from libel and slander suits; the onion theory of publicity.

Strategies not necessarily needed: Building good habits (chances are you’re already pissed-off enough to be motivated to write); social media; the life cycle of a story (you already know what you’re going to write next, it’s whatever’s pissing you off most at the moment); the blog part of your website.

Other comments: Not for the faint-hearted, because as the Japanese say, “the tallest nail gets hammered first.”