Disclaimer aside, I'm writing this short guide as a way to pay back to my community of indie authors who have helped me get a boost up on my own blossoming indie author career. Since I'm definitely going to fall short of ever repaying them ever, I'm going to pay it forward with this post.
Second disclaimer: I'm far from "making it." However, I'm definitely seeing consistent progress as the months go by. That's the only qualification I have, the only street cred, to provide you this info. Credentials aside, I finally bring you this mini-indie author start-up guide.
Lesson: You're the boss.
Financial Gains: Higher royalty cuts direct from retail distributors, copyright ownership for life plus 70 years (yes, your grandchildren can benefit from your royalties, if you structure your estate correctly), and organizational restructuring to cut taxes if you earn high enough royalties. You'd need to consult your CPA and attorney regarding your particular situation in whatever place you happen to reside, though.
Lesson: Yes, you're an entrepreneur. Writing isn't a hobby. Writing is a business.
Cons: The very same aspects that work for you can go against you. Yes, you're in charge of everything. However, that doesn't mean you have to do everything. That's where the experts come in. Cover artists, editors, promoters, etc. This is where the line gets blurry. Do you really want to brave it yourself or hire out? If you hire out, how can you ensure high quality and branding consistent with your products?
Lesson: Have a business plan, a publishing plan, a marketing plan, and of course, a budget. Oh, and keep track of all your income and expenses for tax filing purposes.
Products (aka Stories, Writings, Your Work)
However, also notice the market. You'd last the longest and get the most financial benefit in indie if you find where your passion merges with readers' current demands. One of the great things independent publishing has over traditional publishing is the shorter time span between the final edits of a book and the day the book is actually released to the public. That means you have a higher chance of benefiting from hot trends before they get saturated and fizzle out.
Then again, if you're not certain exactly what you'd like to write and whether or not the market would embrace such a story, I'd suggest you go for it anyway and experiment. The majority of books don't hit the ground running with the first book alone. If you've already published before, you've got fans and followers, you've got readers, then your first indie book may get more mileage than a book by a totally unknown author.
No matter what kind of author you are, don't stop at one book. These days, it may take anywhere between three to six books to actually build momentum in sales. The best way to maximize the benefits is to create a series of books that are linked somehow. For example, if you like writing about bad ass motorcycle clubs, then a whole series of books can revolve around the same club. If it proves to be successful, you can even create an offshoot of the series that focuses on a different motorcycle club. Even if you write nonfiction, you can benefit by writing a series of books related to some aspect of your niche. Perhaps you excel in coaching people in public speaking or some form of interpersonal communication. One book can be for friendships, another can be for the workplace, another about parent-child conversations, and of course you can write about intimate partnerships and so forth. See?
Got your stories, series, etc planned out, written, read/re-read, edited, revised and finalized? Great!
Email Marketing (aka KIT)
Even before I published any work, I created social media accounts and a newsletter subscription form. Mine is here (not the best example but simple enough to do the job). You may not have any or many people on your list as you continue your indie author career. However, one day, you may just have enough to make enough preorder sales that will make the difference on release day/week and get you onto a bestseller list. So start small. Start somewhere.
While there are a lot of email marketing programs out there, a popular choice is MailChimp. You can use it for free up to a 2000-subscriber limit. You can stick the newsletter sign-up form in your bio, your email signature, your website, your cards, and so forth even if you have nothing published yet.
A great way to build your list is to offer a free book, worksheet or short story when readers sign up. (Um, haven't gotten around to doing this myself. So do as I say here; don't do as I do.)
Covers, Images and Ads
Among the free stock image trials I’ve tried, Bigstock has the best deal right now – 70 free images (5/day for 14 days). They take down your credit card at entry so they can bill 3 days in advance of the trial’s end date. So if you cancel, be sure to do so three days before. The Standard License allows you to use the images as cover art for up to 250,000 sales of your book. Thereafter, you can purchase the Extended License or switch to a fresh image, if you feel so inclined.
After you've figured out the wrapping for your book, we can go onto the different formats you can create for your writing. I've ranked the next three headings according to the highest number of sales and royalties in these three following formats: ebooks (digital), paperbacks (physical), audiobooks (audio).
Even if you didn't download additional software to format your ebooks, you can still get far with your plain old word processing software (Word, Pages, OpenOffice). Whatever you've used to generate your .doc file for your story can be uploaded directly to some direct publishing sites for their internal software to convert your document into their required interface.
Even though it may be a huge learning curve at the very beginning, I wholeheartedly encourage you to publish direct to the five major online retailers:
Amazon -- .doc file okay for uploading
Apple/iBooks -- epub file required for uploading
Barnes and Noble/Nook -- .doc file okay for uploading
Kobo -- .doc file okay for uploading
Google Play* -- epub or pdf file required for uploading
*If Google Play is not currently accepting publishers, then you can go through Pronoun for now, as they currently do not take a royalty cut after the retail site (e.g., Google Play) takes theirs for hosting your product on their site.
Why go direct?
Yes, you'd have to upload your book, cover, and enter all the details into the necessary fields to publish the book. Multiply that action by X amount of times for the first edition upload and every time you update your back matter or whatnot. Yes, it can be exhausting or headache-inducing just thinking about it, yes?
The benefit of going direct, though, is that you’ll be able to keep the royalties, the reviews, and the sales rankings without having to start from scratch if you’ve gone through a middle man (an aggregator) to do the third party uploading for you.
About Aggregators: To reach other markets that may at first generate little to insignificant sales numbers, you can go through an aggregate such as Smashwords or Draft2Digital, both of which take a 10% cut from post-retail royalties. Yes, they do distribute to iBooks, BN, and Kobo. So if you want to buy yourself some time by doing one upload instead of several before you’ve gotten the hang of it, then by all means distribute through them first. Although Pronoun currently takes no cut, I have yet to find many authors using the site as an aggregator to distribute to the major online retailers. Unlike Pronoun, Smashwords and Draft2Digital also currently distribute to retail sites that do not accept direct upload from out-of-country residents, such as 24symbols (out of Spain) and Tolino (out of Germany).
A Word on ISBNs: Many digital retailers are ISBN-optional. However, there are digital retailers that do require you to have an ISBN. If you don't have one, they may provide their own free ISBN or some other form of identifier to the book. If you're serious about producing books, then hop on over to Bowker to buy your own ISBNs. The most cost-effective way of purchasing ISBNs is to have one ISBN for each format of the book regardless of which retail site you upload your book: 1 for digital (ebooks), 1 for physical (paperbacks), 1 for audio (audiobooks). Thus, if you made your first indie book available on all three formats (digital, physical, audio), you'd only need to purchase three ISBNs and have one ISBN designated for each format. (Ahem. Do as I say; don't do as I do/did.)
Imprints, A Corollary to ISBNs: If you're going to buy ISBNs, you may consider establishing an imprint, which can make your work appear more professional.
1. A royalty share with the narrator to get the audiobook out with no upfront fees;
2. pay a flat upfront fee for production of the audiobook and earn out in the future.
My Books Are Available. Now What?
The terrain of self-publishing and the publishing industry as a whole is constantly changing. What you may have read thus far in my post I hope is as immutable in years to come. Some things are just tried and true, you know?
Regardless of where the wind blows, if you've got your first book out then work on the next one. Each book helps market your prior books. If I had limited time or all the time in the world, I'd still write over 90% of the time and devote the rest of my time to promotion-related activities.
If you've found this post helpful, please share and/or post a comment. Thank you and happy new year!