Indie does not mean Alone

I was talking with my mother the other day about writing and publishing. Mom is a good writer, and has nonfiction articles published, but not yet her fiction. I’m looking forward to her fiction being complete, and it’s not just that I’m biased toward my mom. But the conversation, and another comment I’d seen on social media, got me thinking. I’ve chosen an independent career, but that does not mean I operate alone.

As I am preparing a book for publication, it has already been read, commented on, edited, and not just by one or two other people. For this book I had an unusually high number of alpha readers. It had three, my First Reader, and two others I could trust not to blow smoke in my *ahem* but to tell me if they saw real problems. Most books don’t need that many – may not need any at all – but for this one where I was struggling with my confidence and inability to distance myself from the story, they are the only reason I finished it.

Once the book was finished in rough draft, I sent it off the beta readers. The comment I’d seen another author make, about only ever using two to three readers, always the same ones, and ones who wouldn’t steal the manuscript, rather boggled me. One, that height of paranoia bordering on arrogance… The manuscript is worth stealing, really?! And further, stealing when there is an easy record of who sent it to whom and when? But besides that pathology, there is a pitfall to using that few beta readers, and never changing them up. If life happens, and it will, you the author are left with even less feedback. And two to three readers is insufficient. Sarah Hoyt taught me years ago that you don’t make significant changes to a manuscript unless three people independently tell you of an issue. And you aren’t going to get that with a tiny reader pool. Also, solicit opinions outside your usual readers. If you can get someone who has never read your stuff before, that’s great! They are less likely to suffer from confirmation bias towards your work and can objectively assess it. I’m not saying send your book to all and sundry. But I am forever grateful to my beta reading pool, who have helped my writing more than they can ever know.

But it doesn’t stop there. From a cover artist, to editors, the Indie Author team is often made up of hired professionals, networked and bartered services, or some combination of those. But rarely does the author work completely alone, and when they do, it handicaps their work. If none but them see the book, they are going to be blindsided by bad reviews.

James Young, a great mil SF author and occasional guest post here, put out a terrific post on cover art, but the process he outlines for working with an artist, from price settings to contracts, is good stuff for working with any professional. I’ve been on both sides of that equation, as author and artist. Let me tell you, it’s not fun to shell out money you can’t really spare for work that never gets done. What he says about the PayPal friends payment, and no recourse? Ever wonder why I wound up becoming a cover artist? I didn’t have a choice – that money was gone, and I needed a cover, but couldn’t afford it at the time. It was a great lesson and led to good stuff for me, but it hurt. I’d rather you learn from my mistakes than repeat them. On the flip side, as an artist, I’ve done work, not collected a deposit, and been out money for supplies and a bunch of time when the author suddenly backed out. Lesson learned: don’t work with certain people and always collect a non-refundable deposit before starting work.

It’s a collaborative effort all the way, what we do. From writing groups to, well, the Mad Genius Club, the great thing about Indie Publishing is that you’re never alone. That’s why I don’t say I’m self-published. I may be pressing the button, but I have a team at my back. Sometimes I am part of that team behind an author. I get silly proud when I see my covers on great books hoping them sell well. I will always be there when someone who is struggling with their confidence about being a writer wants an ear to listen. I have friends who put up with me moaning about how this book is horrible, terrible, no good and will never be finished. In the past I’ve had writing groups and critique groups where I was anonymous (great for developing thick skin towards criticism) and prompt groups… All those people are a part of my path to publication. I’m not alone, and neither are you.



      1. Well, eventually I will need editing, and cover art. Depends on how things go. I can find readers when I need them. Just got to get to work on the product. πŸ™‚

        1. Get the product finished, that is the most important step! And yes, budgeting is a good idea. Shop around and get baseline pricing, so you know what to plan for. I’m not the cheapest cover designer out there, and I’m $150 for ebook only cover, and $250 for full print spread, and both include the whole enchilada – art and layout.

          1. But you’re worth it, Cedar! You actually were willing to read the book and come up with an idea, when I was all “errr….derp? cover?” because I was too close to the darned manuscript to visualize anything!

            Paladin, If you have a loose idea of what you want and have a tighter budget, there are quite a few sites that offer premades for as little as $50 for ebook only. Once you get the story finished, there are options. πŸ™‚

            1. heh, trouble is I have this image in mind (yes story related) that would be an awesome cover (I know, cart before the horse), issue would be finding something similar. Anyway, back to the chore that is research and fitting pieces together.

          2. “I’m not the cheapest cover designer out there,”

            At the prices you’re charging, you should be the cheapest, because unless you’re lightning fast, that’s not a high wage at all. The cover on my book was basically bashed out in less than eight hours, including false starts and painting with a mouse, and I am lightning fast from having had to do stuff like this under deadline. Most people don’t have years of short deadlines looming over their heads when they do Photoshop.

            As an artist, never forget to track your time, because you might be surprised at how long things actually take.

            Also as a side note, authors looking for a cover artist should know their genre (or at least “most like”), and have some examples of steadily-selling authors in that same or similar genre. (Not the best sellers, because they have different rules, but #3-#6 in that genre would be a good place for cover style samples.) If the artist is unfamiliar with the genre conventions, they may be sending the wrong signals.

            1. There are two related questions here: how much would I charge for my work if I was paying myself $X per hour… and how much CAN I charge for my work given the competition: specifically, the other people out there who can do the same quality work in less time because they’re more experienced.

              I got this concept from Trenton Tye of Purgatory Iron Works, who made this great pair of videos on the subject. Although the specific skill he’s talking about is blacksmithing, it applies to just about any kind of skilled labor where your end product will be paid for by only one customer: crafting jewelry, creating book covers, etc. Note that this does NOT apply so much to writing books, because the work you put into the book is going to be distributed across LOTS of sales. But unless that book cover is something truly special, you’re probably only going to sell it to the author. (If you expect to be able to sell thousands of prints of that cover to the author’s fans at cons, then the advice here doesn’t apply to you so much — but for most book covers, I’d expect the artist will only get paid for their work once, so this advice applies).

              I’ll link each of the two videos in its own comment so WordPress doesn’t auto-moderate me. First, the “How much SHOULD I charge for my work?” question:

            2. And second, the “How much CAN I charge for my work?” question:

              Between these two videos, this is basically Economics 101 In Two Easy Lessons. Great stuff.

              1. Heh. That’s an old friend of mine.

                He’ll get a kick out of being shared somewhere like here. πŸ˜€

              2. I don’t think Cedar’s prices are entirely out of line as a budget option (though in her case, I’d consider raising just a bit), but the idea of people doing all-inclusive covers for less bothers me, because that often results in people undervaluing artists. (See the oft-repeated phrase “Exposure is what you die from when you don’t get paid.”)

                1. Yeah, that definitely can be an issue. Was looking into photography as a business and quickly ran across that “exposure” routine, or other people not realizing what goes into a decent photo shoot. Guy wanted a cover shot for a CD quoted him $XXX found out later someone offered same thing for $XX. Shortly after that I just gave up.

                2. I should elaborate that I very rarely do all original art. I state this upfront, that I do Photomanipulation, often use stock elements, and other time-saving things. I will tell someone upfront if I can’t do what they are asking.

                  I will also decline to accept a very specific cover design that will not work for the sub-genre, I have done that. I’ve had potential clients come to me with hyper specific ideas for covers that *will not work* at thumbnail and I won’t do that for an ebook. My name is going to be attached to that project!

                  Perhaps I ought to charge more, I don’t know. I know that I’ve had clients dump me for Fiverr ($5 for a cover, like I can or want to beat that) and clients dump me for refusing to create *extensive* original paintings for the rate I quoted above… And insult my work on their way out as cartoonish and unrealistic. Eh. I can afford to turn clients down, and I’ll work my heart out for the ones I take on.

                  1. I was actually assuming the shortcuts. *Integrating* elements is also a skill. It’s one I particularly notice, as I have had to try to get that at an invisible level. Photography is not painting, and people notice if you screw up the realism.

                    1. Science fiction covers are tricky because although you cannot use photos for somewhat obvious reasons πŸ˜€ You are expected to get photorealism in your art for the cover. I’ve been using fractals a lot recently, and generating elements in spare moments I can then pull on later when I’m in a hurry. Also, teaching myself stuff as I go. I need to find a good course, I know. I’ve pastiched a lot of knowledge together but I suspect there are easier, better ways to do stuff.

      2. However, it can be difficult to get oneself integrated into the barter network from a standing start. Or worse, to get re-integrated if one has drifted away as a result of Life happening.

        I used to have some fairly reliable beta readers from some formal critique groups I used to belong to in the 90’s. But in ’07 and ’08 I went through a really rough patch where writing pretty much went by the wayside For the Duration. Social connections withered from lack of maintenance, as I discovered when my situation changed such that I could get back to fiction writing again and wanted stuff read. I’d lost contact altogether with some people. Others had experienced life changes such that they no longer could beta read: health problems, increasing pressure of responsibility at work, or family commitments. A few people said they would, but when I sent them files, never got back to me.

        When it became obvious that my ties to the barter network had unraveled, and I couldn’t figure out how to rebuild them, I realized that I had two choices: write for the dresser drawer and hope that someday, somehow I’d be able to rebuild those ties, or muddle along as best I could by my own efforts. After some hesitation, I decided not to let the best become the enemy of the good, and began putting stuff up by my own efforts. I started with some stuff that had been critiqued back in the day when I still had beta readers, and reprinting some short work that had been published in long-forgotten magazines in the 90’s. And as those things ran out, moved on to stuff that I’d written after the ties stretched until they strained and finally broke.

        1. And social groups can change, drift apart, be upset by changing priorities… I’m dealing with that myself right now. All I can suggest is that it takes some time and effort, and don’t let yourself become too invested in just one group. Although unpacking that is probably a whole ‘nother post for next week.

          1. Please do. Especially since a lot of us Odds find that social interaction doesn’t come intuitively, some guidance in the process would be much appreciated. It can be frustrating to read casual references to using the barter network, as if accessing it were a trivial matter, while having absolutely no idea of how to plug into it.

            Although in my case I have the complication of trust issues left over from a truly bad critique group I fell into a couple of decades ago. Because I was still a beginner, I couldn’t tell when the line had been crossed between the sting of legitimate criticism and the pain of dealing with toxic people who enjoyed tearing me down — if you’re still learning the basics, you won’t know when someone’s gaslighting you. I just knew that writing was going from a joy to a chore I dreaded. And even after I left them behind, I was tormented by lingering doubts as to whether I might be wrong. But I also have hot buttons left over from it, which can get reactions at surprising moments.

  1. The idea of a manuscript being stolen isn’t as crazy as you might think. It happens fairly often, up to and including fan fiction getting “repackaged” and sold in ebook form on Amazon. See here. (Hopefully, links are allowed.)

    Then again, I’ve never heard of such theft happening when it is between people who know each other.

    1. Plagiarism is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. This is a manuscript that is still in rough draft and (presumably) emailed with date time stamps to someone you know at least a little. It’s silly to worry about theft in this case.

    2. The only time I’ve been worried about manuscript theft was not from one of my readers [waves at beta readers] but from a free-lance editor who fleeced me, then lied. Granted, stealing a book from a known series would be stupid, but… That led to a rush publication in order to get it out before this individual had a chance to. Before you ask, I checked with this person’s references and she came across as legit. Caveat Emptor.

    3. I know Glen Cook had a fan steal a manuscript that he had been just about to send off.
      This was years and years ago. He hadn’t been using a word processor. That series stayed unfinished for the longest time.

  2. You ARE alone in one sense, and unfortunately, it matters: marketing, especially if you write in a different genre/category from most other indies.

    There are few indies writing literary (for lack of a better category) novels, and I haven’t been able to find the equivalent of a group there such as RWA or MWA. It’s also a prickly group – I have to categorize one of my reviewer’s words as passive-aggressive with malicious intent. No, I’m not going to tell you which review, but I prefer the straight “she uses big words” 1* review. That one was an obvious mismatch, where the reader somehow missed all the labeling.

    Throw in a physical inability to write quickly – one of the key features of much indie marketing – and you are way out in the boondocks.

    I somehow didn’t think it would be this bad.

    I have no complaints at all about the generosity of indies – including you – in every other area.

    Pretty amazing what you can ask – and have every expectation of getting an answer (though it really helps to do your due diligence first on the readily-available information so as not to try the patience of those you ask).

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