5 Tips for the Beginning Indie Writer
by Victoria, Marketing and Communications
What’s the deal with indie publishing? What is it and why are so many writers skipping the traditional publishing route? Writers who’ve published traditionally for years have made the switch to “indie” (aka independent or self-publishing) because it gives them more control over the finished product and it also allows much more schedule flexibility.
I talked with former OverDrive Big Library Read featured author and Edmond Library customer, Lacy Williams, to get the lowdown on what makes indie publishing right for some writers and how to get started in the indie pub journey.
1. Define your goals
Do you like to keep a flexible schedule rather than work on strict deadlines? Do you enjoy the marketing side of the business and want to be involved in the promotion of your book? Are you set on a particular title and cover art? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions you may want to consider going the indie publishing route.
“As an indie writer it is much more dependent on you,” Williams said. “I have to plan for things like cover art and editing services and make an investment in those things.”
Williams published several popular romance novels with Harlequin, including her first book in 2011, “Marrying Miss Marshal,” before she found out that the line (series of books by various authors based on a particular theme) she was writing for was being discontinued by Harlequin. While she enjoyed working with traditional publishers and says she would consider it again in the future, she wanted to continue writing to her audience that she had grown to know and love. In addition, as a mom of four young kids she wanted flexibility. Indie publishing also gave her the unique opportunity to have more control over the process, including editing, early reviews, cover art and promotion.
“Readers really find it refreshing because as an indie author you have the freedom to write the story the way that it feels right and give them a story that captures them. I still write to a certain market but I am not limited to using a pre-determined formula,” Williams said.
Profit also plays a role in deciding to go the indie route. Typically, traditional publishers offer an advance on your book, but that advance is paid back with a percentage of each book sale. According to a 2019 Book Bub article, “if you were to receive a $20,000 advance at a typical 25% ebook royalty rate on an ebook priced at $7.99, you would have to sell 10,050 books before you would begin earning royalty checks. For an indie-published $7.99 book, you would earn $20,000 after only 3,577 sales and continue making money on each sale beyond that—if you sold 10,000 books, you would make over $55,000 in revenue.”
How important is it for you to see your work on a shelf at a bookstore? While copies of independently published books are available in print, they are typically a print on demand (POD) product, which means a copy is only printed when a reader purchases a print copy online. Traditional publishers have relationships with booksellers that allow them to get your books on the shelf. However, booksellers can also send your book back to the publisher if it doesn’t see sales.
2. Find support
Whatever your needs as a writer may be, there is a place for you in a local writer’s group to help. Other writers can provide inspiration, insight and accountability to get you on the right track in your writing process.
As an indie writer, you are responsible for finding reviewers and editors to help you along the way and a writer’s group can also provide the resources to get started forming those relationships.
Williams said it took her years to put together the group of reviewers she has now because she wanted to find readers who knew the genre, but she says asking at your local or online writers’ group is the best place to start.
Writers’ groups are also a great place to meet lifelong friends, cheerleaders and mentors to inspire you along the way.
“Having a group to support you is important,” Williams said. “I also found a mentor who is my biggest cheerleader. She had a book signing once and she signed one of her books to me saying she could not wait to see my first book. Having something like that was super important early in my career.”
Williams said she knew early on that she wanted to be a writer, but it took time before she got her first book published. She went to college and graduated with a degree in accounting before letting the characters from her yet-to-be-published books creep back into her imagination and find their place on the page.
“I wanted to be an author even as a kid,” she said. “My parents bought me one of those old school typewriters with the ribbon to get me started.”
She says writing is something that not everyone else gets, including her husband, but that he enjoys hearing all about her latest book anyway.
“I will tell him, ‘Something unique and exciting happened today!’” she said. “Then I will go on to tell him about the lives of the characters in my book and he will ask, ‘You do you realize you write the story, right?’”
3. Create a plan
It can be daunting to get started on a journey like self-publishing your book, but there are (of course) books out there to help give you the practical advice you need to get started. The library is also a great place to research background information for writing books.
Williams suggests any writing book by James Scott Bell. Bell has over 20 books on writing to help both traditional and indie writers with everything from plot and editing to marketing and overcoming the mental game of writing.
Bell’s complete The Great Courses audiobook, “How to Write Best-Selling Fiction,” can be found on hoopla. Several more of his writing and fiction books can be found in the Metro Library catalog.
In addition to books about the business of writing and writing techniques, Williams said many of her books require research to get certain historical elements right in her stories, and for those she checks out books from her local library.
4. Implement promotional tools
There are plenty of marketing tools available with the click of a button to anyone, even without any prior marketing experience, so how do you know which tools to leverage in promoting your books?
“I think my newsletter list has been the most important tool in promotion,” Williams said. “Those are readers who really want to hear from me. I get great responses. They want to know that I am a real person with real things going on. They love to see pics of my kids and the latest short stories.”
Some key marketing elements to consider when building your online presence are creating a website, launching social media pages, creating a presence on websites like OverDrive, Amazon and Goodreads and building an email list.
5. Focus on the small victories
Whether you work full time, raise kids, go to school or all the above, it’s difficult for anyone to get started in the publishing industry. Where do you find the time to research, write, edit and market your own books?
Williams said she has a huge planner that helps her keep track of her day-to-day schedule, including her coveted writing time. She also suggests making the most of small increments of downtime, like waiting in line to pick up the kids from school or getting up just 15 minutes before the rest of the family.
“I ask myself, ‘What is one thing you can do in 15 minutes?’” she said. “I will work on a scene in line at my kids’ school. All the little pieces of momentum add up!”
The business of being an indie writer and completing tasks in addition to your writing can take time. You may have an ongoing email newsletter to your readers, a website to manage, promotional events to schedule and more. However, the most important task is protecting your writing time. Without a book, none of the other tasks of self-publishing are needed.
“I talk to so many people who say they want to write a book, but the number of people who actually finish it is so low,” Williams said. “If you can just focus on finishing your book, you can do it from there. Each book gets easier.”
Williams suggests finding an accountability partner you can meet with on a regular basis to hold you to your writing goals.
“I love the writing part of it,” she said. “For me, as my career got bigger, I found that I really needed an accountability partner. So I meet with her once a week and we talk about writing. That part brings me joy.”
Interested in learning more about the world of publishing and becoming a part of an online writing community? Join our Facebook group!