Going Indie for Dummies -1



Amanda’s post yesterday prompted this post, because that poor agent, bless his heart, had no clue what he was talking about, but he’s not alone.  I keep running into people, many of them professionals with years in the field who have the exact same ideas, bizarre though they are.

Now, I’m not saying you have to go indie, understand.  I’ve told people from the beginning that if I were starting out today, I’d do one book to submit and another (unrelated) to go indie with.  Because right now we don’t know what publishers will survive, or how many or well… if…  It’s entirely possible most of the traditional publishers will become prestige outfits of the numbered edition type, something you do after you get known.

On the other hand, as a friend is fond of reminding me, indie could go away tomorrow.  Some sort of law could have emanations that shut us down.  Heavens know the establishment is trying.

So, because I’m a belt and suspenders kind of girl, I say one book for indie and one for traditional. That way you can dodge the explosions and implosions and hopefully have a long career.

I’ll be frank and say that I would have walked away if I didn’t have indie and Baen.  So, for me, the options are a little limited because the stress was killing me.  But even to the person happiest with their publisher there comes a time they go “I need a back up.”  That time can be when their editor dies, or is laid off, for instance, and they find themselves facing working with someone they don’t like, or worse are orphaned within the publishing house.

Which brings us to: how can you go indie?  Isn’t it expensive/difficult/ strange/surrounded entirely by dragons?

No.  I can tell you it’s not any of those things because I managed it, and frankly my tech skills are so bad they’re practically non-existent.

Hence, going indie for dummies.  I am practically at that level.  Over the next three months or so, I propose to ease your way into this forbidding realm.  Ignore the “abandon all hope” thing over the gateway.  Many of the people who comment here (and many who write) are making livings out of indie.

But let’s start at the beginning:


Indie, in this sense is self-published or author-owned press, though it might be a co-op between you and half a dozen friends, in which you subdivide the work and the one good with covers does everyone’s covers, someone does all the editing, someone does all the typesetting and everyone takes 100% of the profit on their own books.

I’d say that’s the primary distinguishing feature:INDIE in the sense I’ll use in this series is when you do for yourself, control your copyright and collect the entire reward.


This is where things get fuzzy.  It can be… or not.  Small press in the sense of author-owned presses or co-ops are indie.  But there are a lot of small presses set up on traditional forms, which pay/don’t pay an advance, but which do everything else: cover, editing, distribution.


Oh, sure.  Same advantages as going traditional, which a lot of these, frankly, are. However a lot of these presses are fly by night, and those that aren’t are often incompetent.  So before you go with a small press research them and make sure they are worth your while and worth the money you’ll be paying them.

But Sarah, you say, I’m not an idiot. These are not vanity presses.  I don’t pay them.  Uh… what do you call the part of the royalty they get to keep?  That is a payment.  Make sure they earn it.

A few rules of thumb: 1- don’t sign with a small press that offers you no distribution advantages.  (Or a large press, for that matter.)  If your book is going to get exactly as much reach as if you put it on the online venues and create space/lightening source, why are you giving them the money.  2- Don’t sign with a small press that offers less than 50% of the profit for ebooks or print on demand.  3 – Don’t sign with a small press that doesn’t do e-books of your novels. Yes, they exist.  NO, they are NOT a good idea. 4- Don’t sign with a small press that doesn’t have an history of paying regularly.  5- don’t sign with any press that doesn’t have clear and easy rules for copyright reversal.  (And for most small presses that should be at a specified date.  I.e. they should lease your copyright for a time.)

If you decide to go with a single-author press (say Goldport Press for me, for instance) see what structure would be better.  In most states a simple DBA will suffice and is easy to obtain.  In others, you have to incorporate, which costs a little more but might have tax advantages.

After you investigate what you need to do, decide on a name.  (All you needed for a DBA in NC when I lived there was a bank account under that name that had both your name and DBA on it.  I had one for my current name before my name change.  (It’s complicated.  Because I knew I was going to change when I got citizenship, I wanted to establish my translation business under Sarah A. Hoyt, and I didn’t want to have to explain to clients.  Opening a dba account allowed me to have checks deposited made out to Sarah A. Hoyt.  I’ve heard of a lot of different arrangements per state.  So, call your state government and bug them.  That’s what they’re there for.  Or ask a friendly attorney.  Or whatever.)

Once you have  a name, do a search.  You’d be amazed how many Ratfink Publishing businesses there are. (I’m actually joking.)

At this pointing hiring someone to do a cute logo of a rat in bat wings is optional.  However, if you decide to go that route and want a logo for business cards, inside covers, whatever, let me know.  Older son does logos FOR FUN (what can I say, I dropped him on the head while he was small) and he had medschool tuition to pay.  He’ll give you a good price.

Okay, now you’re set, right?  You have a publishing house and a dedicated desk/computer/ corkboard for publishy stuff.  Once a week, you put on your fake glasses and become Miss So and So publisher.

What in heck do you do now?

You remember the recipe for Shepherd’s pie, right?

First, catch a shepherd…

Well, this is sort of the same: First, write a book.

Okay, so you have one — or two, or three, or four — books ready to go.  Good writer.  Now put on your publisher hat (what, it goes with the glasses!) and set up a publication schedule.

Someone — glares Amandaward — made me do that recently and I’m already late on it, due to con crud.  But I am working on it, and Sword and Blood should be out next weekend.  And she’s right on the schedule thing.  It allowed me to know when I needed an image for a cover, etc.

For now, since you’re unsure of the process — you’re unsure, right?  Because that makes me feel needed — just set a schedule with the first no less than a month off, and the others at least a month apart.

Next week we’ll cover some of the things that will fill up that month leading to publication.



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54 responses to “Going Indie for Dummies -1

  1. Oh, yes — it’s not difficult at all. Even layout/formatting is not difficult. Setting up an account at LSI/Ingram isn’t that hard, either.

    • I haven’t done that. Want to do a guest post on that, Celia?

    • Setting up an LSI account isn’t difficult. Getting them to accept a POD book image can be…interesting. I had to redo the spine of my Ace Double tribute twice because the curlicues on the font came too close to the edges of the spine. Used a flatter, less decorative font and all was well.

      One thing I need to emphasize is that they do NOT bend the knee to beginners. Make sure you understand how their system works completely before you start going through it. Toto, we’re not on Lulu anymore.

      Overall, I’m not sure how big a win LSI is over CreateSpace these days, to be honest.

      • Yes – user-friendly to noobs is not how they are set up to operate. I farm out those covers I use for books printed through them to my little brother, the graphic artist – who has no problem at all with their requirements.

  2. Sure – I can do one on formatting with plain old MS Word and converting to PDF for the text file to upload to LSI. Not an expert, by any means – but I get by. When do you need it?

    • not for two/three weeks. I can explain my method for create space, too. And I do most of this in Word, with conversion via Atlantis. It’s not the prettiest, but it is easy.

    • A sort of a preview question: Are you using the Word Publish to PDF, or a freeware print driver that lets you print to PDF?

      • I’m doing it all in Word, then converting to a PDF through Adobe. I have Adobe Acrobat Pro so that I can tweak the final product and submit to LSI in their preferred PDF format.

    • What is the advantage of Ingram / LSI, btw? I’ve been using createspace for print versions.

      • Cost of the print version, and access to Ingram distribution, mainly.

        • How does their costs compare to createspace’s costs? Also, what distribution do you get out of them that is more than the usual channels?
          Right now I’m locked into an exclusive on Amazon, but on my pen names I’m doing B&N, Smashwords, Apple, and Kobo. (Google play is not worth the trouble that they cause). What does Ingram give you over that?

          • Cost advantage of LSI to Creatspace for print fullfillment; I don’t know how Createspace charges, but when I went from printing through Booklocker, the costs for a single copy were cut by about half. I have one book – 400 pages, 6×9 perfect, a single copy through LSI is $6.32. Another book is 220 pages, also 6×9 perfect – that is $3.92. But there are discounts for large quantities – the break-point is 50 or more, 250 or more. LSI/Ingram also offers a ebook service, which I honestly haven’t explored. I always went through Smashwords, or directly to Amazon and B&N for my ebooks.

            • Those prices don’t sound too much different than Createspace’s, though I don’t know if createspace gives a break on bulk orders over a certain number.
              I have never bought more than a handful of any of what I have in print (I buy those to give them away for advertising and such). I have been thinking of starting to do conventions as a dealer and sell at them, but there aren’t all that many conventions near where I live. Northern California is quite the cultural wasteland.

              • I usually don’t order more than ten or twenty copies of my own books for direct sale myself – but I have clients I publish through the Teeny Publishing Bidness who do order anywhere from a hundred to five hundred copies at a time, and that’s where the bulk discounts kick in.

        • The distro being the thing.

          • Exactly – I don’t publish enough books and in enough quantities on my own to access Ingram independently. But using LSI for print fulfillment means a small yearly payment to be in the Ingram catalog and to set the wholesale price discount and return policy for each title. If you are distributed by Ingram, that is a huge gain as an indy. Bookstores and libraries order through Ingram – so you have credibility as an indy author/publisher right there.

  3. Trying not to nitpick, BUT you intended this for beginners.

    I think you mean ‘rights reversion’ not ‘copyright reversal’ – copyright stays with the author, but the right to print/publish the books is signed over to the publishing company via the contract, and the contract should have a section on when the author gets that right back (and some traditional publishers grab that right for the life of the copyright – life of the author plus 70 years).

    With a small press, you should have VERY clear terms on what happens to your intellectual property should THEY go under (otherwise your rights are part of the publisher’s assets to pay off their debts).

    All this stuff is why I don’t plan to try publishers – way too complicated for me to get it right.

    • what you’re actually doing is leasing the copyright. Yes, it says your name under copyright, but you don’t have the right to make copies, once you’ve leased it. that’s the point. “Rights reversal” is a sort of namby pamby hiding of the truth on it. Well, KKR uses leasing the copyright as a term, and I think it’s more accurate.

    • B. Durbin

      Anecdote time: I have a friend who write for a small press publishing house. It’s actually the second one she’s written for, since the first went under. This press actually came about because one of the other authors under that former house decided to start her own press and snagged most of the authors under contract to the former press.

      I’ve seen the contract. It’s not only pretty fair but clear despite the fact that it’s obviously been looked at by a lawyer (which is a plus.) Rights reversion after three years, though you can extend that for a like term with mutual approval.

  4. *pouts* But I was promised dragons!

  5. Another thing that people thinking about going indie should know is that self-publishing is NOT vanity press publishing. The MSM gleefully conflate the two (referring to Author Solutions and other scams as being part and parcel of self-publishing) to a degree that implies malice rather than ignorance,
    The main difference between a legit publisher and a vanity press is that the latter isn’t interested in selling books: their goal is to extract money from the writers. The rule of thumb is, if a “publisher” is asking you for money rather than offering you money, it’s a scam. You’re better off paying for editing/cover art services yourself, because the vanity press guys don’t care about the quality of your product, only how much money they can extract from you.

  6. Had to look up DBA to find it was Doing Business As. It seems like a business version of a pseudonym, and a way for a writer to make a brand name. Is this accurate?

    On incorporation: That’s also sometimes done to limit liabilities. For instance, in some states clubs are incorporated so that liability is usually limited to the club itself and the members are shielded from potential lawsuits directed at the organization. Yet in issues of liable or plagiarism, the author isn’t protected by an incorporated publishing label since they themselves produced the work in question. For writers, particularly e-book only writers, is there any point to incorporation other than establishing an imprint?

    • Taxes. That’s really about the only point I can see, and that depends on your state and how much money you make. I’ve had this discussion with my accountant, she’s told me that S corps get audited less than sole proprietors do (if I’m remembering correctly), so until your business gets convoluted enough due to size, it’s not worth the extra money and hassle.
      In my state getting incorporated is like a thousand dollars a year in fees. So until I move, I won’t be getting incorporated.

      • And how many of you write.

      • Draven

        there are places that specialize in letting out-of-state people incorporate, in states where corporations don’t pay income tax. The other reason to do that (any artist that has a chance of getting a Big Check should) is so that the income tax for a Big Check can be spread over multiple years off the salary you pay yourself.

    • It seems like a business version of a pseudonym

      I am NO expert, so add chlorides as needed, but that does seem a reasonable way to look at it.

      There’s a gal in NYC (Bronx) that has or had a business ‘Damn Good Design’ that some agency or other that dealt with such didn’t like the name of, so.. ‘D@mn Good Design’ and a DBA and agency was mollified and she had her business name.

    • TRX

      A lot depends on state law, but DBAs were mostly for businesses operating under more than one name, or people who mixed their business and personal banking.

      Where I live, I can (and have) opened a business account with a $100 initial deposit and a few minutes’ paperwork, so there’s no need to mix money, but in some places opening an account is much more complex.

    • If you want a F*cebook page under your pen-name, you need a legal identity for your pen name. Otherwise taxes are the big thing. I could also see liability if you write, oh, unauthorized biographies or something.

  7. What’s wrong with doing a print only deal with a small press?

    • TRX

      Even if you’re nomically all-online, some paper books would give you something to sell as signed author copies.

      • Jamie

        I think he means, why not a print-only deal with a small press? Why not keep your 70% e-book royalties and let the small press get your print books into stores? That would be the value of small presses to me, anyway.

        • Because the houses that do print only (note that’s all the HOUSE does) aren’t very good at marketing, either. Also, if you do a print only deal, you HAVE to put your stuff online, or you’re wasting money.
          Mostly the print-only small press houses are stuck in the past.

          • Jamie

            Ah, I see. I’m not averse to putting my stuff online myself, but now I have a metric for measuring a small publisher. Thanks.

    • I could foresee problems with rights and royalties (make sure the contract is clear) and things like covers. The the press only gets rights for a print cover, you’d have to negotiate with the artist yourself for electronic rights, or have a different cover for the e-book, which could confuse readers. And you’d have to do the e-book formatting and layout et al yourself, or hire someone, instead of having it all under one roof with one contract.

      TL;DR it could be more complicated, with more people involved.

      • Jamie

        Heh, I am waiting for my cover artist get back to me as I write this. She’s hip to e-books and rights. E-book formatting isn’t a problem for me, so I’d happily do that on my own (not impressed with what tradpublishers slap together). But I see your point.

  8. Laura M

    I have to admit, doing a print only deal has some appeal. To me, print is the hard part and I’d happily let someone else do it. I’m a lawyer, but I’d hire an IP lawyer to represent me on the contract, use my own cover art, and then still recognize that I’m the one who’d do any marketing.

  9. Laura M

    Mindful of the advice to have a foot in both the indie and traditional camps, I’m about to send a short story to Analog (once I get all the edits in). Kris Rusch recommends sending short stories to traditional magazines as marketing. It gets you a lot of eyeballs on your work.

    The funny thing is, I feel impatient about the process. I want to put it up myself now, but what Kris says makes such good sense I have to give it a shot.

    • I’ve been doing the short story circuit for a while now. Got a couple coming out soon (Perihelion and Sci Phi Journal). It does take a long time for the stories to filter through the markets, but you can mitigate that somewhat by organizing your submissions efficiently. It also helps to write a bunch of stories. Right now, I’m doing about one short story per month (on top of my other writing) but I would like to get up to two or three. I get the impression that if you want to be serious about it, that’s about the minimum rate you should be writing them (also reading at least one or two a day).

      • It also helps immensely with the development. The year I grew the most, I wrote a story a week. On top of other stuff, yes.

      • Laura M

        Hmm. Good to know. I probably don’t have that in me, if I want to get a novel out a year and keep the day job. I’m trying to get short stories out of the trunk while I wait on a my alpha reader.

    • I’ve also heard indies who follows Kris’s advice, got a couple stories picked up in the major sci-fi magazines, and said it didn’t work. Seems that to really make it work, you’ve got to make a name for yourself over the course of a distinguished short story career.

  10. Bjorn Hasseler


  11. Free Press names, depending on your temperament:
    “Polite Fiction” or “Impolite Fiction”.

    But if I reserve to myself this name, should I ever record audiobooks: “Speaking Volumes.” (Unless some rat bastard has already taken it….)