Indie Publishing and Lessons Learned Through Trial and Error
Many of you have been along for the ride these past months as I’ve shared my experience at indie publishing my novel, Tracker. So it’s only right that I follow up and tell you what I’ve learned, now that the book is officially out there in the world. If you are here for the first time, here are the previous posts I’ve shared:
Writing Tip: Indie Publishing – When is it Right?
Writing Tip: Indie Publishing – Beginning Baby Steps
Writing Tip: Indie Publishing – Striding Steadily Onward
Writing Tip: Building a Blog Base Before Publishing
Writing Tip: Indie Publishing – The Home Stretch
Doing the research and finding the path that is right for you
There are probably as many different ways to publish your book as there are people. The responsibility falls to you to take the time and effort to discover which path will be the best for what you want to achieve. I know, it’s hard work. But anything worth a reward takes some elbow grease and muscle. The quickest and best way I know to do this is to read about what others have already experienced—both the mistakes they made and the successes they had. Attend workshops and classes. Take advantage of others’ knowledge and avoid the pitfalls those before you endured, and learn how they overcame the obstacles they encountered. Here are two excellent places to begin:
Then do research as to all the different venues that are available to you, the writer. And there are tons of them. As you consider the validity of each one, think about what would work best with your level of technical expertise, while keeping in mind your end goals. An example might be: CreateSpace is super helpful to newbies who have lots of questions about creating a print book. But, LightningSource is not as user friendly, unless you already have some technical skills. Maybe your end goal is to create a family history to be handed down to the members of your family. Your path would be completely different than that of the writer who has a series of books, or someone wanting to make a living writing via copywriting and magazine articles.
- At this point, I’m assuming your manuscript has already been professionally edited and you are now ready to pursue publishing it.
Working ahead…making a plan and sticking to it
I’m an organizer—for all facets of my life. So the process below worked well for me–but might not look appealing to you. That said, if you want your book to be professional looking and of high quality, there are steps you should take to achieve that outcome, and being organized goes a long way in making it happen in a timely manner.
If you are like most writers, you are also working a job, so time efficiency is key. It saves time to know where your book files, personal information and resources are located. Digging through piles of paperwork or dozens of documents scattered all across your computer desktop wastes time, promotes frustration and procrastination. Clutter and disorganization might work well for your creative process, but publishing and selling your book(s) is a business, so you might as well get used to finding a way to put this part of your writing life into a structure that you can accept and live with. It’s a good way to start getting used to running a business—yours!
Here is the process I used – feel free to use it or change it up for your needs:
I started with an excel file that Jane Friedman has made available to writers. It was a great place to begin, as I didn’t have to create the form myself or try to remember all the steps. Every task was listed, as well as an idea an average time frame for completion, and when it needed to be finished to be ready for the publication date. The form was easy to customize for my own needs. As a final step I added in the completion dates I needed to hit each month in order to reach my goal date for publication.
Using the excel file as my master sheet, each month I created a Task List of the items that needed to be completed that month to stay on track. This really worked well for me. I discovered that as I came into that last week of the month, and saw the remaining tasks to be done, it motivated me to “just do it” and mark it off my list!
As I completed tasks on my monthly list, I also highlighted them on the excel file and typed in the date completed. This not only gave me a sense of satisfaction— it showed that I was making progress, which believe me, was much needed in the beginning! It now gives me a record to look back on when I’m ready to do the next book. I can see how much time it took to complete each step and where I might need to start earlier on certain tasks next time. An example: I will now always allow more time for rounds of edits to the print version, to make sure the designer has the final page count (for the spine width) when he is ready for it.
Understanding the costs involved and planning ahead for it
While researching which venues to use for publishing your book, you’ll also need to make decisions on how much of the designing and formatting work you will be taking on yourself, or if you’ll be hiring someone else to do the tasks. Of course some of that decision will depend on your budget, but make sure you are looking at the bigger picture as you make these decisions. What do I mean by that? Here’s my example:
I own my own business where we create websites, as well as design printed materials for our clients. And so yes, while I am pretty tech savvy and do understand design, I could make much more money per hour continuing to do what I do best—work for my clients—while paying someone else to do what they do best—design my book vs saving a smaller amount of money by doing all the book design work myself. Remember, you need to figure in the time it takes you to first do the research on how to do something new/or learn a new skill before you can even begin to work on your book design and formatting. Are you really saving enough money to account for that? It’s certainly something to consider, especially if your time is a factor.
*Disclosure: I spent $274 with Createspace to format my print book and the mobi file for the Kindle version ( I supplied the cover) – well worth the money to me. A round of changes at the proof stage ran about $79. I also spent $45 to have the manuscript formatted for the ePub versions (for Smashword, iBook, etc)
But the other side of that scenario is, if you have a limited amount of money to use for publishing your book, and you do have the time, you can do the research and learn how to format your print book and eBook yourself. Smashwords even gives you the tools for free. Hopefully that will leave you enough money in your budget to hire a designer for the cover. If that is still beyond what you can spend, check out the services of CreateSpace or BookBaby for creating your cover art. They are quite reasonable ($200-300). And don’t forget the old “barter” system. Perhaps you have a talent or service that a designer needs and you can do a trade. Use your imagination—you ARE a creative person, after all!
I’m a firm believer that cover art is key to getting people to pick up your book or click on it for further inspection. To me it’s the most important element (outside of a professionally edited manuscript) and so I saved and saved until I could hire a professional designer for my book cover. It was my biggest expense and worth every penny ($699). But I also knew that I would be doing all my own website work without having to pay someone else. We will all have different paths to follow, but I do hope you’ll not rush into the process before you can afford to do it in the most professional way possible.
*Note: prices listed are for the year 2016 and meant as a guideline only. Always check first before making a commitment.
Writing it all down – for the next time!
During the research phase of figuring out your path, you’ll most likely be taking notes. Keep up the good habit and make sure you jot down notes during the process of publishing your book. You’ll see how the process works in real time and will begin to understand which phases take the longest, as well as what order to best do those tasks. Yeah, the next book should feel a ton easier. But don’t assume you’ll remember everything for the next go around! And if you are doing your own formatting, make sure you make note of the fonts and style you used, especially if you are publishing books in a series. Consistency is important! Good Luck and Write On!