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So You Want to Be an Indie Author

Contributed by Brianne Marie Robinson

What does it take to become an indie author?

The answer to that question depends many different things, to be completely honest. You need to go into independent publishing with the right mindset. There are three options for how to approach it:

  1. Writing for the art of it without caring how much money you make.
  2. Writing for the art of it (but also making royalties would be nice).
  3. Writing because you love it, but because you also want to make a career out of it.

Writing for the Love of It

If you want to write your novel, your poetry collection, or short stories, and release them into the world without a care for royalty statements, then what it takes is rather simple.

Once the hard part of writing is done, you can choose to spend money for multiple rounds of editing, a cover you love, and for someone else to format it. Depending on your design skills, and if you choose only to use beta readers for editing, you really don’t have to invest a single penny. You can, of course—it’s your own money, but bear in mind that you will almost certainly never recoup your investment. Since you’re writing for the art of it only, then this shouldn’t be a problem.

Self-Publishing for Profit

If you do want to make some money on the book you put your heart into? Then the investments start to become a bit more important.

First, you’ll want to look for freelance editors who work with independent authors, as their rates tend to be much more affordable to an indie author than the editors who freelance with traditional publishers.

Next, you’ll need to invest in a good cover after doing market research—look for other books similar to yours, in the same genre, same heat level if you’re doing any type of romance, and show them to the designer you choose. The saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is the herald of a poorly designed book cover. If your book cover doesn’t match market trends, very few of the readers will pick it up.

Then there is the dreaded blurb, aka., sales copy for your own book. To help with this, check out the other books in your genre—how do their blurbs look? If it helps, think of it as writing a query letter, except instead of to a literary agent, you’re querying a prospective reader.

The book, the cover, and the blurb are the keystones of a successful independently published book.

Spending Money to Make Money as an Author

However, if you are reading this with the end goal of making a career as an independent author—it’s going to take money if you want to see decent sales right away.

Everything that a traditional publishing house would do for you, you must do yourself or hire someone else to do for you. The fortunate thing is that the independent publishing world is on the fast track to readers, rather than the longer scenic route of the Big Five.

But if someone says you need $5,000 to publish your first book, laugh and walk away. My first book that I published with the intent of making money with a book I enjoyed writing—I invested a total of $225.00.

I made $1,513.98 in the first 30 days. It was the first book on my first pen name, ever. The third book I released on that pen name was about 3 months later and had the same monetary investment.

It made $3,284.69 in the first 30 days.

How did I do this? I put in the work. What that means is I didn’t only treat the book as a story I wanted to write and loved writing, but I treated it as a business. I looked at the top books in my genre to see what the readers were wanting. I made sure the story I wanted to tell would satisfy those readers. I made sure my cover fit the current market trends. And I made sure my blurb was a tight pitch that would entice readers to buy it.

Could I have invested more money in editing? Yes, most certainly. But I didn’t need to, because all the pulp readers care about is a solid story that hits their expectations. They don’t want to read the next award-winning novel; they have a Goodreads yearly challenge to meet.

The Indie Author Mindset

When you go into self-publishing with a career mindset, you need to understand your target audience before you ever publish your first book. The readers will thank you for it by buying your book. If you do the market research for the books you want to self-publish and do your best to meet those market expectations, you will create a viable author career for yourself.

What if you have absolutely no money to invest in your books, but you still want to make a career out of it? Make trades and barters. Are you a good beta reader? Offer your time to another author who is stronger than you with cover design. Or maybe you’re a good cover designer, but need someone to format your book—offer trades.

You could also self-educate and teach yourself how to do everything. There are numerous programs out there that will let you do all of the work you need for your book. Such as Canva, Open Office, and Grammarly. There are event decent free stock photo sites—just make sure to do your research on what the creative licenses for different photos allow you to do.

Make Sure You’re Ready to Roll with the Punches

The self-publishing industry is still young in the history of books. There are still a lot of things being worked out and tested. The greatest thing is that anyone can publish a book now, but the worst thing is that anyone can publish a book now. If you want to make a career of this, you need to do the same thing that every other career demands.

You need to do the work. You need to invest the time to write a good book, to research the market you’re going into, to get a good cover, and later consider advertising.

And if all you want to do is publish your book so that you can have a paperback to hold and say “Look, I made this!”, then do it! You wrote a book! You should be proud, you’ve done something millions of people say they want to do—and for many different reasons, never accomplish.

It takes work to be an independent author. Make sure you have the right mindset to manage your expectations.

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