Thursday, July 16, 2020

Indie self-publishing, it's a small business

Girl typing and writing

From a reader perspective, I find that I'm reading more indie books recently. Compared to traditionally published books, they are a lot more affordable and often a lot more accessible, particularly with books in Kindle Unlimited. In the last few years, I've seen a huge increase in indie publishing or self-publishing. With the advent of the Kindle and Amazon making it easier for writers to publish on their own, many aspiring authors have become published authors with the push of a button. But is it as simple as that, or is there more to it?

Back in the day, before social media and before self-publishing, all a person had to do was write the book. Then it was off to the publisher for editing, cover art, packaging, printing, distribution, marketing, advertising, and sales, assuming they got a publisher to pick up their book. The author would get an advance and/or a royalty cheque at regular intervals. That was the value of traditional publishers. They offered a full range of services to support the author and promote their books for a fee.

These days, with self-publishing, it's not only about writing the book anymore. All the things a traditional publisher would do for an author, the author would have to do themselves or hire someone to do for them. For starters, they needed to know what those things were to focus effort and attention on them.

Ideas lightbulb

If you're an aspiring writer, it's wonderful that you have a story or many stories in your head you want to get out and tell. The world is full of many and varied readers who would be waiting for your book. The only thing is, it's not only about writing the book anymore, as I mentioned before. There are many things the writer needs to do in addition to writing that it's more like running a small business. Say you've written your first draft of the book, what happens next?

For starters, the book will need to go through several rounds of edits and proofreading so that the writer will need editors and proofreaders. It's important to find editors and proofreaders who will work well with the writer's style and not wipe out his or her voice in the editing process. It's also essential to read through the edits the editor sends back to ensure they fit with the writer's vision. I know some authors who have had disastrous results with editors who were not a good fit and their books needing to go through multiple rounds of edits with new editors. This is time-consuming and expensive.

Writing with fountain pen

And if the writer has joined the right author groups and gotten some advice, they might also have alpha readers or critique partners who read the manuscript while it was still in draft form to provide feedback on plot, character development, pacing, etc. Plus beta readers for when the manuscript is ready and has gone through a couple of rounds of edits to catch anything that might have missed, see how the story sits with readers in general, and perhaps find any last-minute minor editing or proofreading issues.

But a book is so much more than just the manuscript. It also needs a cover for the eBook and print versions, so the writer needs to look for a cover artist. This opens a whole world of stock photos vs custom photos for covers, the style of cover for the particular genre of book to make sure the cover is "to market" and finding a cover artist whose style suits the book and the market. Between the cost of the photo used (custom photos are much more expensive, of course! That's why you see many of the same models in different poses on so many book covers) and the cost of the cover artist, this can range between $50 up to the thousands for custom hand-drawn illustrations.

Of course, once the book is ready, it needs to be formatted for ebook and print. Those are both different since an ebook is pretty much free flow text with page breaks between chapters, whereas formatting for print books involves knowing the dimensions of the physical book it will be printed in. Vellum makes this process a lot easier, but it's only available on the Mac. I've known some people to buy a Mac specifically to use Vellum for formatting because it's such an easy program to use.

Open book with green pen

So now, the book is ready, and it can be uploaded to the retailer for sale. Is that the end of it? If only it were. Now comes all the stuff that introverted writers shudder at. Promotions, marketing, advertising. The good news is there are people out there who offer services for these things, from basic Personal Assistant services to professional marketing and advertising services. Facebook and Amazon ads are a constantly changing beast with the way their algorithms work, so it's an effort to stay on top of them. Some people specialize in this kind of advertising and also social media promotions.

Speaking of social media, there's another thing that's changed in publishing. Back in the day when I was a young reader connecting with an author meant writing a fan letter to the publisher and then waiting for the publisher to pass those letters to the author for him or her to write a reply. It could take months. It has taken months. I did get a response once from a favorite author, and it made my teenage day, probably made my week or month even. To this day, I still remember what the author wrote in his letter in response to mine.

Social media

With social media, it is a double-edged sword. Yes, it allows the author to connect with readers and sell their books, but it also opens the writer up to ridicule, criticism, and horror upon horrors, stalking. I've seen the gamut of the good and the harm that social media can do to an author. For the author, there's a fine balance between sharing enough personal information for the reader to feel connected to them and to want to continue to support them and buy their books to sharing too much and turning people off. I always feel that politics and religion don't have a place in an author's social media, but in today's world, it is difficult to have a platform and not use it, particularly if the author feels strongly about a particular cause. This, too, can have positive and negative effects.

Social media can be an exhausting beast for an author. There's Facebook groups, Facebook pages, book groups, groups of fellow authors, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tik Tok, and I'm sure there are new ones popping up daily that I do not even know about. All these various platforms require time and effort, responding to book recommendation requests, promoting new books, takeover parties, games, giveaways, interacting with readers. It's enough to give an introverted author hives.

With social media interaction and building a reader base also comes things like street teams of people who will help promote the author's books. And if Amazon's algorithms are anything to go by, book reviews are highly valuable too. Many authors set up Advanced Review Copy (ARC) teams where readers get an advanced copy of a book in exchange for a review to be posted on or close to the book's release day. These teams take time and effort to manage.

Boy reading and laughing

And don't forget about setting up a website, Amazon author page, Goodreads author page, Bookbub author page, and all sorts of other platforms so that readers can find information on the particular author they are looking for.

With a website also comes all the content that goes with it, along with a regular newsletter to reach readers and keep them up to date on what's going on in the author's world. New books, promotions, freebies, swaps with other authors to cross-promote each other.

All these things take time and effort away from writing, and they are all necessary. It's not only about writing a good book anymore. It's all the other things that go along with it. After all, what's the point of writing a banging good book, but have no one read it because it hasn't been promoted and reached the right audience?

Gold stars

Phew! I'm exhausted just thinking about it and writing about it. And I'm sure I've forgotten a thing or two. Think how much energy needs to go into doing it all. That's all-time away from writing. That's why there's an entire industry of people who offer support services to authors from simply being assistants to full services or even specialized services such as reading a book to check if its content has treated a particularly controversial topic correctly, like racism, for example.

I don't write this with the intent of scaring any aspiring writers, but I think it's important to know what's involved when considering the indie or self-publishing route. While writing a great book is the start of the publishing process, there are many other things that go into the mix for success.

So tell me, ever considered writing a book? Do you have a book in you?

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  1. Great blog post! I recently self-published my first book. I wrote a blog post on blogger about being inspired to go back to an unfinished manuscript. The ongoing pandemic has been a reset button for my routine and I had more time to devote to rewriting, editing and enlisting services for copyediting, ebook cover and ebook formatting. As you mentioned, the work doesn't end once it's self-published. Now I'm on to self-promoting!

    1. Yes, so much work even after the book is published. All the best with yours.