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Going Indie For Dummies: Firing That Gun

Okay, this is the post before last on going indie for dummies.  The last one will be a checklist of things before you actually put that book up there.

Right now this post is a hand holding post.

If you don’t need your hand held; if you’re all confident about your book; if you don’t get a chill down your back at the idea of exposing your work to the world, more power to you.  You’re also a rare bird.

When I was first published (Absolute Magnitude and a short story I shan’t name and haven’t reprinted.  It’s not bad, but it’s “raw”) I had a few moments of triumph.  And then my friend Charles called to tell me the magazine with the story was in the kiosk downtown that carried all the science fiction.  And I told him to buy every copy, because I was suddenly terrified someone I knew might read it.  (To his credit, he refused to, even though I was willing to pay him back.)

Then there was my first novel, Ill Met by Moonlight, and to be honest I did something very difficult on that one.  It wasn’t a made up world, it was historical, and I went and messed with Shakespeare. It was probably still excessive to spend the year in fear people would gather at my door to tell me how bad it was.

And then there was Witchfinder, my first indie novel.  After 15 years of being published, and thirty some novels (not sure exactly how many at that point, I FROZE when time came to put the book out.  No one had accepted it.  No one had bought it.  What if it was the worst thing ever?

Judging from reviews and particularly from sales, it wasn’t.

But if you’re facing the hurdle of putting your first book out, and hesitating, how do you know your book isn’t bad?

You don’t.  And I can promise you for sure that if you put it up, and go on to write a lot more books, you’ll look back in ten years and think this was bad.  ANYWAY.  Even if it’s a bestseller.

Writing is an art.  All arts improve with practice. If you continue improving at some point you’ll look at your book and go “that amateur!”

This effect is even more marked if you try to work from an old outline.  Which I had to do when my book (Magical British Empire, being reissued when I have time) took 8 years to sell.

So, to help you make that jump, here are a few tips:

1- Every writer writes at least one book that’s not up to par.  If this is your first, good.  You’re not disappointing any fans.

2- You’ll still pick up some fans.  No, seriously.  I have read books that read to me like they were written on butcher paper in crayon, and which still have rabid fans (some more than mine.)

3- The worst thing that can happen to your book is not people hating it.  It’s obscurity.  And if you behave like a professional, even if your book doesn’t sell very well it won’t become a thing to hate.  The books that become a cause celebre with how bad they are, really need their authors’ behaving badly, such as accusing people of conspiracy and atheism in the comments.

4- While we’re at it, your first book won’t sell very well, unless you have luck of the sort that wins the lottery.  The problem is not that it’s bad, so don’t go getting jittery and pulling it.  No first indie book sells very well.  Promote, but keep your expectations realistic, particularly if you have nothing out traditionally.  200 books over a year maybe.  And yes, we know that won’t make you a living.  But it will sell more when the second book comes out and the third and the —  Dean Wesley Smith says the magical number is 15.  I don’t know.  I have ONE indie book.  Oh, and that’s the other thing — for reasons known only to Himself up there, Indie books are their own equation.  Now, I sold more than 200 — about 2500 — of Witchfinder in two years, but even that is really low for my trad books.  However I talk to other people who’ve done this.  Second book will blow doors off first (need to get on that.)

5- You can always rewrite it but don’t do it out of pique.  In three or four years, when you look at the book and clearly see what’s wrong, you can rewrite and issue a second edition (remember to change the cover.)  But don’t rewrite because “it’s not selling.” And “It’s all wrong.”  Write the next one instead.

6- Even if your book is the worst ever written — doubt it.  I know both the worst books ever written — you’ll get better the more you write.  I PROMISE.  You should see some of my early stuff.  So, leave it out there and write until you’re ready to rewrite it.

7- Ah, but if you’re experiencing this much doubt, it means you’re good enough at the craft to see the flaws.  Which means your book is probably better than a lot of them out there.

8- Having a traditional publisher look at it won’t make any difference.  They publish a lot of bad books.  Think on some you’ve pulled from the shelves before.

9- And it could be wonderful.  I’m always shocked at things my readers see in my books.  Things I meant to put in there, but was sure I didn’t know how.  Also, a book being or not being your favorite has nothing to do with how well it sells.  Kris Rusch said to put all your trunk stories out too.  If you’re embarrassed put them under an assumed name, but just put them out.  Only don’t call the pen name I R Idiot, because next thing you know Mr. Or Mrs. Idiot will be a bestseller.

10- NO one ever conquered an empire by hiding under the bed.  And no writer ever became a bestseller while unpublished.

Go on, pull the trigger.



  1. No! Not on those hideous attempts at Urban Fantasy! The World does not deserve those . . . ill conceived “imaginatively” raunchy . . . poorly plotted . . .

    OK, but not until I have time for rewrite. The original plan was to put them out six months before the Mayan Calendar ended, and took the world with it, so I’d have had a limited time to be terminally embarrassed.

    May 11, 2016
  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    Well, don’t pull that trigger if you pointing the gun at your head. 😉

    May 11, 2016
  3. sabrinachase #

    The multiple-books thing appears to be key. Last night I was analyzing my book sales and promo effects to see what works and what doesn’t. By FAR the biggest result was a) having a completed series, b) lowering the price of book 1 for a *limited time*, and c) a top-line promotion site like Bookbub for that discounted book. I was rather shocked to see how long the effect lasted. Sales for the entire series jumped, and while I did not make enormous profits on book 1, the other two books I *didn’t* discount more than made up for that 🙂 Promotions I have done for single books showed a blip, but no long tail. People need to have someplace to go once you have them addicted…

    I have also noticed an uptick in reviews (happy ones, yay!) for that series even though nothing recent has happened (no spike in sales, no promo, no blog-mentions) and I think it is people finally reaching that promoted book in their TBR pile. Once I have multiple series up, it will be interesting to see if I can get a sustained reaction going.

    May 11, 2016
    • TRX #

      > People need to have someplace to go

      So, I move to another window, hit Google, and type “sabrina chase.” The first result is “” I click that and it takes me to a readable page without annoying dancing garbage or eye-bleeding fonts and/or colors, with descriptions of available books from Sabrina Chase and where to get them, pointers to books from Sabrina Chase’s friends, pointers to radio interviews and convention attendance. It was last updated three weeks ago, which is fresh enough.

      That’s pretty much what I *should* see from any writer’s page, but seldom do. “A+”

      May 11, 2016
      • :: sigh :: I need to update. Again. ::sigh ::

        May 11, 2016
  4. I spent all day yesterday editing the second book I ever published, which was back in 2011. I got a new and rather good review on it, so I decided to go look at it for old times’ sake. I spent the next eight hours fixing a lot of small mistakes as I read through it, stuff I understand a lot better now, 5 years, and over a dozen books later.
    Currently I’m doing the same to the first book I ever published, but that may take a bit longer as it’s over twice as long as the one I did yesterday.

    When I first self-published, I wasn’t worried about any of the reactions I might get, as I figured no one would probably buy or read my stuff anyway. It was more an exercise in curiosity and putting out stories that I had written and finished a couple of years earlier for my own enjoyment. I’d never ever expected to see them in print.

    So I was surprised when they started selling. Oh, not great, but they sold.

    So I continued on. Now I do much better, I also pay for an editor on the new stuff, and in the process of doing that, as well as continually writing, I’ve improved my craft and my own editing abilities. Going back and re-editing those old books probably won’t make me any money (and paying to have that done won’t, so I won’t) but it is a learning experience. I’m seeing how my style and abilities have changed an evolved over the years since I wrote that first one over a decade ago, and now.

    I have noticed that there are more grammar nazi’s out there than there used to be, probably because the field has gotten bigger. But the general reader still doesn’t care that much about grammar. Because unless your grammar is 100 percent terrible 100 percent of the time, a lot of folks will just ignore it. And when you consider quite a few grammar nazi’s actually don’t know grammar themselves, or that there are like 4 major grammar guides that don’t even agree with each other half the time, being nit-picky on grammar is kind of pointless.

    The biggest thing to me has always been: Does it sing? Reading a book is like listening to a song, if you jar people out of the mood of it, if you grate on them, people won’t read it. If you keep them humming along grammar won’t matter a bit, and even typos will be over looked.

    After all, ‘Lay down Sally’ and ‘Lay Lady Lay’ are completely grammatically incorrect. But they still outsold anything any grammar expert has ever written.

    May 11, 2016
    • “The biggest thing to me has always been: Does it sing? Reading a book is like listening to a song, if you jar people out of the mood of it, if you grate on them, people won’t read it.”

      I have young children, and that means I have a LOT of children’s books. The thing that makes me hate a book more than anything else is if it sounds as though it *should* have a meter and a rhyme scheme and it’s broken. Bad poetry is a hateful thing. (Anything by Jane Yolen, Karma Wilson, or Dr. Seuss is an automatic win because they understand.)

      May 11, 2016
      • I was reading Pohl Anderson’s “A Midsummer Tempest” which was based loosely on Shakespeare’s plays. I found myself falling into scansion in my head when reading it.

        I head not realized just how capable a wordsmith the late Mr. Anderson was before that. The stories, of course, I loved, but I had not truly appreciated his skill with language. Marvelous.

        May 11, 2016
        • Reality Observer #

          I need to pull that one off of the back shelves again… I remember the same thing.

          May 11, 2016
  5. NO one ever conquered an empire by hiding under the bed.

    I can just see someone now attempting The Reluctant Emperor, about someone who tried to hide under the bed and wound up.. wishing they’d hidden in the closet instead.

    May 11, 2016
    • Wasn’t that Claudius?

      May 11, 2016
      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

        He definitely didn’t want the job.

        May 11, 2016
        • Given the trend leading up to him… can’t say I blame him.

          May 11, 2016
        • TRX #

          Neither did George III…

          May 11, 2016
    • Reality Observer #

      That comment just added to the fantasy novel that I have (had) no intention of writing. Sigh. Ah well, looks like I’ll have to write the opening for it, or nothing else will get done today.

      May 11, 2016
  6. Sounds like Rincewind. Except he’s generally running away, not hiding.

    May 11, 2016
  7. TRX #

    > 5- You can always rewrite it but don’t do it out of pique.

    Better yet… just don’t.

    Either A) the story gets renamed, so I shell out my limited entertainment funds, get started reading, and find out it’s a book I’ve read before, in which case I feel ripped off

    or B) there are two books out there with the same title, but they’re substantially different books, which causes undue WTFery when discussing the book with someone else, who invariably read the *other* version.

    > write the next one instead


    May 11, 2016
    • Reality Observer #

      I also have to watch myself on the Baen website. There have been two occasions when I have purchased omnibus editions – for which I already have the entire series. (Fortunately, those have just replaced dead tree books with ebooks, which I am in the process of doing anyway – so it just disrupts my budget schedule.)

      When and if I do such things, I have a reminder in my publishing folder to make sure that such are rather more prominently labeled.

      May 11, 2016
      • TRX #

        Baen had a bad habit of marketing titles as new books when they were actually collections, or maybe one new short story and a bunch of reprints as filler. In both cases, without any obvious marking of what they were selling.

        That, put Baen in the “don’t consider buying without thorough inspection of a paper copy in my hands” category. Since there are no book stores around my area any more, there’s not much Baen on my shelves.

        May 11, 2016
  8. As folk might recall, some years back I had, um, a few concerns about going indie. 😉

    When I made the jump several things made it easier for me. My first piece, “Live to Tell” was a mil-SF novelette. Markets for short mil-fic that are also pretty hard SF are hens teeth, especially since Jerry Pournelle got out of the anthology business. (I had two stories that his one time assistant was holding for possible use planned anthologies that ended up never happening. So it goes.) Stan Schmidt, and later Trevor Quachri, said they liked it but they didn’t care for MilSF and so… So I had an independent confirmation that I had something there, even if not right for that particular market. My next two were reprints of shorts I’d sold before. Again, that gave me confidence that they were at least halfway decent.

    For my first novel I had, again, that when it had originally been submitted to A Certain Publisher the then acquisitions editor made comments that I now interpret as “close, but not quite”. And, indeed, at the time I didn’t realize that a personal response from the editor meant I’d already gotten past several levels of first readers who thought it was worth passing up the chain. However timing wasn’t good in my life at that time and I ended up setting the partially revised manuscript aside for a long time By the time I returned to it, it was more a “period piece” and updating it (I had “comppads” which anticipated PDAs and, later, smartphones but now they’re old hat) would require essentially throwing the whole thing out and starting over. Instead of doing that, I made minor cleanup and released it indie.

    So as it stands now, while I would love to sell to A Certain Publisher I don’t sweat it. I’ve got one novel nearing completion that I planned from the start to take indie. Another that I hope to cell Trad. And a third, well, like Survival Test it came really, really close so, while “does not meet our needs” I nevertheless have independent verification that it isn’t total dreck.

    For the rest, confidence? Why no. But, you know, people spend money foolishly every day. Maybe some of them will spend it on my stuff. 😉

    I can dream. And what have I got to lose?

    May 11, 2016
    • Reality Observer #

      Have you submitted those stories to Volume XI of “There Will Be War” yet? I’ll probably not meet the deadline for that one, but am hoping for a Volume XII… Being a non-exclusive deal now, you could get into that one, or not, but won’t be in Limbo.

      May 11, 2016
  9. You’re SURE? Put out all you have even if it isn’t perfect?

    I’m relying on your aphorism.

    Okay, maybe. Some of them. It’s just as scary to put out a short story when your only other published work is a big fat pretentious novel (okay, a reader called it ‘literary but not pretentious’) – but I am going to do it anyway. Thanks for the timely encouragement. Besides, it’s a prequel.

    If you don’t know after all this time and that many books, why should I worry? Lead on, dear lady.

    May 11, 2016
  10. C4c

    May 11, 2016
  11. I went indie two years ago, and three novels later, my sales are 1700, 1500, and 800. That’s with no advertising, other than my blog and a couple of friend’s blogs. And you’re right, one DOES get better! My editor is losing less hair each time… 🙂 Since I’m not playing in SF (yet), I don’t know how I will stack up in this genre.

    May 11, 2016
  12. aacid14 #

    Just gotta keep up the drive thru the editing and then set this poor thing into the wilds…

    May 11, 2016
  13. Heck, even after seven novels, I still feel some trepidation during the final stages of sending out another book. It’s been a crazy ride since getting a form rejection letter from Tor and deciding that spending another year doing the slush pile dance just wasn’t going to work out for me. The first novel I published wasn’t my first novel (that honor goes to a fantasy pastiche that will forever remain in obscurity, written during summer vacation at the end of high school). It didn’t do too badly and led to three sequels, but looking back there are a lot of things I would have done differently. Still, I’d rather look forward than back and concentrate on the next book.

    For me, the magic number of e-book releases before my income reached ‘making a living’ levels was ten (the aforementioned seven novels, a short story collection, a novella and an omnibus edition of the first three books of the series). At this point, as long as I release a new novel every 3-5 months and make a good promotional push, I can pay all my bills and set up some money aside for the lean times. Well, at least for now – I’m reasonably certain of my future through 2016 and 2017. After that, who knows. The one thing indies (and all writers for that matter) can count on is that the times are a’changing, for better or worse (or rather, for better and worse), and what works today is almost certainly not going to work (or at least produce the same results) tomorrow.

    And indeed, practice makes perfect (or at least improves on your previous work).

    May 11, 2016
  14. Here’s another vote for the “get more stuff up” strategy. I’ve noticed that every time I put up something new, I get a flurry of sales. Mostly for the new item, but sometimes I get more sales on stuff I’ve had up for a while.

    My biggest problem right now is a lack of stuff that’s finished and near ready to go. Instead, my files are full of novels I started, only to abandon when I became convinced they were simply unmarketable and there was no point in finishing and polishing them.

    So I’ve got a ton of stuff I could be working on, but all of them would require a substantial amount of work to get to presentable condition. Some of them are just a few chapters at the beginning. Others have a beginning and an ending, but the middle is all Swiss cheese, with huge gaping holes in the storyline. There are a few that are “finished,” but so old that they need to be completely rewritten.

    In the meantime, I’ve been putting up shorter works on a semi-regular basis. I’ve got plenty of them, although some need almost as much work as the really old novels. I’m hoping that eventually I’ll get enough up that the sales will become self-sustaining, but at the moment it sure seems like I’m a long way from there.

    May 11, 2016
    • Boy, does that sound familiar! Why bother polishing when the first three novels are just collecting rejections? But I have persevered, and I’m on the last of the “old stuff” in a series, and about to be able to get to the fun new stuff.

      But all the editing and polishing? I’ve noticed all my new work is nicely polished and needing much less “fixing” right from the start. So it’s all good.

      May 12, 2016

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