Going Indie For Dummies- 2 – The Long and Winding Road

So, here you are.  You decided to go with an author-owned, single author press.  (We’re going to use that because it’s easier to explain.  You might have a co-op of authors, but that’s harder to explain because some of the things I’ll say you should do are really the job of your friend Bob.)  You registered with your secretary of state, went to the bank and made an account just for your press.  You have business cards (heaven knows why, but I presume it makes you feel official.)

Last Saturday morning, you put on a suit and had a business meeting with yourself (and the cats) and decided on a publication schedule for the press.  After some heated argument (your spouse came and checked on you and went away muttering “thorazine, for the love of heaven, thorazine”and you have a month to get that first book out.

It’s going to be a tight schedule.

The first thing to do is to get an Amazon (and if you really must B & N and Smashwords and … what else is out there these days? At one time I had an account with Kobo and Draft to Digital I honestly don’t even know) account set up.

Put your suit back on.  The first thing you have to decide right now is “Amazon only, or the seven (I don’t know, there might be that many now) dwarves also?

And this is a decision only YOU can (save mankind) make.  I can’t decide for you.

There are pros and cons.

Pros to going with every possible retailer: Your tiny little press will look like it’s legitimate.  That’s sort of the whole point of having a press anyway, so as not to raise the indie flags. (Some people will still refuse to read Indie, but no one refuses to read Trad.)  And why would you not offer your stuff for sale wherever fans will look?

Cons: Some of these are beyond difficult to get a manuscript up on.  In fact, none of them are as intuitively obvious as Amazon.

Smashwords is probably the worst, and a good example on how you can fall from being the lead in this business and never recover.  Indie used to BE Smashwords.  But their “meatgrinder” engine is a pain in the *ss.  It catches formatting stuff that you need to almost be a programmer to find AND it does stupid stuff for no reason anyone can understand.  It once put the second half of one of my books all in small caps, a problem no one else had.

More importantly, I left Smashwords due to payment non-transparency.  What do I mean by that?  Smashwords made deals and more deals with people who will lend the book or other weird arrangements.  But there is no way for you to SEE how many times it’s been borrowed, and there’s no clear specification of how much you’ll get paid for these.  They might have changed that, but when I left they hadn’t.  So I left because while I know the books will get pirated, I see no reason to have it done officially.

So, whether this applies to Smashwords or not, anymore, keep a careful eye on how you get paid.  Ultimately that’s why you’re doing this.

For me it was the how you get paid and how much that made me take all my books Amazon only.  Look, I was getting $12 or so from B & N a month, less from the others.  In 11, B & N was half of Amazon’s pay out, but no more.  Amazon was giving me a paycheck, everyone else gave me a double pizza in aggregate.  Then I found out the payments through KULL are the same as for the sales, AND all I had to do was go Amazon only.

Mind you, I still have the accounts at the other places, and should Amazon play funny tricks, I’ll go wide dispersal again.  And that’s the other thing to remember.  You’re a business and your relationship is business.  Amazon is not your best friend, they’re just your retailer.  (It is useful, and difficult, to keep this in mind about your traditional publishers as well.)

However, it’s important to note here that I do have friends who make as much or more off Kobo or Draft to Digital or Barnes and Noble as they do with Amazon.  It seems to have to do with the GENRE and SUBGENRE of the book and how you present it.

This is why I can’t make a decision for you.  Go and argue with yourself.  I’ll wait.

So, you decided?  Good.  Next up: website.

Why have a website for your press?  I don’t know, and I’m very bad at keeping mine up to date.  I need to do that, because I’m told people google your press name to find more books.

Look, it costs almost nothing.  Get the domain name, trick up your site with wordpress or another easy engine, and don’t do as I do: make announcements and keep things up.  (I’m going to try okay?)  It’s the cheapest publicity.  Whether you want to invent press employees or not, it’s up to you.  Arguing with imaginary people is marginally less crazy than arguing with yourself, right?) Again, it makes the thing look more respectable and as Dean Wesley Smith told me: You’re a writer.  You should like making up people.  (Righty oh.)

Okay.  Now you have those things in place, we move to the serious stuff.

Cover.  This is where most indies either stop cold or forge ahead, in full confidence they can do it all with a cheap photograph and Times New Roman.

So, next week: Cover up.  How to make a cover that won’t break the bank and sends the right signals.





  1. *I promise, I will get to the guest post about how to establish your own Teeny Independent press with a Lightning Source account as soon as … daughter and I are finishing up the next Luna City chronicle for release in late April.*

    Double yes on a website of your own – and in your name and close enough to your writing name — not on the book title. We did get another separate website for Luna City, though. One of my clients in marketing suggested it. I’ve got a deal with a local host for a cheap rate, since I have (gulp) four different websites.

  2. One factor in deciding on platform is the format(s) you intend to use to release your book. Amazon definitely makes it easier to offer multiple formats from one link. While nearly every author I know makes far more on ebooks than POD trade paperbacks, I think that “e-book only” is more of a visual stigma than “self-published”. It has the feel of ” direct to video”. I personally offer all of my novels in three formats–ebook, trade paper, and audio book. Amazon makes putting them all on one page easy.

  3. Won’t break the bank, sends the right signals, and won’t end up as a case study on Lousy Book Covers.

    1. A good cover won’t sell me a book, but a bad cover will cause me to reject it instantly.

      That tells me (not always rightly, true) that the publisher thought so little about the book that they couldn’t be bothered even to half-ass something together out of stock bits.

      Even a solid color with block text is better than that.

  4. Saving this for when there are no innocent (or guilty) beverages in the vicinity…

  5. What distribution venues to use is definitely a case of YMMV. The one time I tried going wide with a book, I made less money in six months than in the first week I put the book back on exclusive with Amazon. I’m taking the plunge again, though, just in case I missed anything, and have taken my worst-selling book out of Select and trying going wide early in April. I figure I have nothing to lose there. I’m not moving any other titles, though, because I can’t possibly make more money from other venues than I get from Kindle Unlimited borrows alone, which in turn keep my rankings at Amazon at decent levels, which lead to more sales.

  6. Yay! Covers again! My personal brick wall (that, yes, I am beating the head against; it will eventually fall).

    Can I hope that you are going to cover that in the same detail that you did for your (stupid person that neglected to clip) articles in PJM?

      1. I know you already have plenty of (recently released from durance vile) cats in your lap, purring madly… But imagine one more, if somewhat larger!

    1. You know what happens when people who aren’t writers try to write a novel. Why would you expect better results when someone who isn’t an artist or graphic designer creates a cover?

      1. Because most of the covers designed by cover designers tilt “literary and little.” And most of the covers done at publishing houses aren’t by cover designers, but by some trainee who got this dumped on their lap.
        Also, at some point every writer writes his first novel, then the second and third. There is no certificate of being “a writer.” Only beginning writers tend not to be as good as they’ll later be. Some of them are still wonderful.
        You have a point?

            1. Yeah. Same attitude, same condescension, just more grammatically correct. I don’t really see that as a good thing for when we do have our discussions about books, writing, etc. It’s not conducive and it’s not productive. He’s bad enough that he’s pissed off Dave Freer, and I kinda want to introduce him to the joys of irukanji syndrome for the behavior he feels we merit.

              We don’t merit that.

              1. He’s looking in the mirror and seeing what HE deserves, Shadow. I find him neither interesting nor 1/10th as smart as he thinks he is. And commenting on an how-to post is hilarious. Honestly, like Vile 666 he’ll take anything to feed the flames. Because without the flames, he’d realize he has nothing and does nothing, and that’s too much to bear.

      2. Oh my. There are so many fallacies in your comment. A writer is someone who sits down, works at their craft and tries to get better. Some actually become pros (in that they actually sell their work — make money from it — as either indies or traditionally published). Is everyone going to be good? Absolutely not. Also, not every “writer” who is a “pro” writes a good book every time. There are some well-known authors out there who have written some stinkers.

        As for covers, you seem to think a writer can’t have artistic talent as well. That boggles my mind. I know more than a few writers who are wonderful artists — either on paper or digitally. They are more than qualified to design a cover.

        1. You know how writers get annoyed when people ask them where their ideas come from, because ideas just come in great quantities, and the craft of writing isn’t to have ideas but to create well-written works out of them? Well, I’m not a writer. My idea generator is good for maybe one every few years. I’m not an artist either, but I would guess that if you sat down with one and described your book, the artist would already have a dozen different potential cover designs in mind before you were done.

          I’m not saying that you can’t ever design your own covers, but if you consistently have trouble doing it, it may just not be in your range of abilities, and you should find someone with the requisite skill to do it for you. (And pay them. Artists have to eat too.)

          If you aren’t already reading it, try http://muddycolors.blogspot.com
          It’s an artist’s blog not unlike Mad Genius Club, with good representation of SF artists. For example, the artist who did the White Trash Zombie covers discussed that work in detail.

          1. I like how you’re essentially hinting that we don’t pay our artists. Sorry mate, you’re lecturing the wrong virtual room. Every single one of the folks here who have approached me to do art for them talk about paying me. So, on that note dipshit, go fuck the high horse you came in on.

            Also, do you like opening your discussions so insultingly? I mean, if you’re not an artist and you’re not a writer, and your opening statement pretty much has the earmarks of ‘why should we listen to you talk down to us?’ what’s your point? Coz other than being an asshole the size of the Goatse dude’s, I’m not seeing it.

            You could’ve recommended the other site without all the rest of your condescension and actually had a conversation, but you seem to be blatantly incapable of the basics of civil interaction. Or, you simply decided before even starting, that we aren’t worthy of it. And guess what? With your opening statement, you’ve shown to us you’re not worthy of it either.

            I’m sure your bullyboy friends have seen your ‘brave’ display. You can run along now.

            1. Notice, too, how he didn’t address my comment but moved the goal post to try to justify his earlier — and, yes, insulting — comment.

          2. While I appreciate your link, all you have done here is move the goal post. I will also note the fallacy in your premise that writers have ideas that come in great quantities. There are any number of writers — pros who have managed to snare a traditional contract – who have written only one or two novels or who spend years writing a single work. Production would be much higher if they had that large number of ideas because most any writer will admit that if you don’t deal with the ideas they will continue to haunt you, demanding your attention. As for the rest of it, I suggest you consider what you mean to say before you hit “post comment” because your first was, frankly, insulting to a number of writers and authors.

  7. I’m looking forward to more cover advice. That aspect of indie writing has the back of my brain screaming in panic.

    1. Like writing it’s a practice and looking thing. I can give you some parameters, but some of yours will suck, some will be great and there’s nothing you can do but keep practicing.

      1. One of the tricks I’ve done is to do the rough sketch with the image zoomed out so that it’s about the size of a paperback. (I’ve actually picked up a paperback and held it up next to it.) With mocked up text-title covering the areas they’re meant to.

        I’ve not yet done a full wrap-around cover (those are harder, imo) but the above is the easiest type of cover to do, following the style I usually see for Baen’s Monster Hunter covers – image in front, and black-background for the spine and the back.

      1. I’d settle for them to make sure the grammar/vocabulary is correct. Too often I find not only bad grammar/misspellings but plot holes and/or irrelevant storylines.

    1. Maybe also what a good editor is supposed to do. Some folks try to make you rewrite the book to THEIR tastes, or change the book into the book THEY want to have written / want to see which is often nothing to do with the book YOU want.

      *cough Nick Cole example cough*

          1. I enjoy your posts so much, Sarah. Especially when you talk about indie publishing, as I always learn something new. (And I love learning new things. A win-win!)

  8. My post didn’t thread in the right place…rats.

    Shadowdancer, I did think of one thing to say about editing. As an editor, you want to help your writer-client find his/her voice. Enhance that voice, clarify that voice, yes — turn it into your own style, no.

    It can be tough sometimes to find the right mix. And one editor’s approach may not match the writer’s approach…or might not be optimal, anyway, if that makes any sense.

    Yes, I’d be very interested to read Sarah’s thoughts on what makes a good editor! 😀

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