Five Things an Independent Author Must Have
An independent author has much to learn after writing a manuscript they believe is worthy of publication. Submitting to a traditional publisher can be done directly if it is a small, vanity press, but if the writer seeks a major publishing house, they must go through an agent, which has to accept you. This takes several months to years, depending on the genre. Small presses, may also ask the author to pay upfront for publishing (this is not advised by anyone). Never pay upfront for publishing a manuscript. I personally waited six months for a response to an inquiry email. There were requests for rewrite, etc. we went back and forth for another few months and I decided I could do this until I'm seventy and be no closer to publication. So, I decided to do it myself.
I have no illusions that I will be a best selling author, I simply wanted other people to read what I had written and let me know if they liked it, or not. I will continue to write and try to improve. That's all I want. So, I researched the platforms for self-publishing. The first was Smashwords. I love the story of the CEO, Mark Coker. He is all about independent authors, because he is one and founded the company to answer his own need. Smashwords is easy to use and can do much of the formatting, but there are difficulties if you plan to market on Amazon. Amazon.com is the place you want to be if you want to market an ebook and their partner, CreateSpace can publish paperbacks on demand -- no storage issues for the author. Draft2Digital is another nonAmazon alternative. I happen to use them for the other platforms, Nook, Kobo, Apple, 24Symbols, etc. BookBaby is an alternative online publisher, but I haven't researched them. There are others, but for no fee, I settled on Amazon Createspace and Kindle supplemented by Draft2Digital.
Okay, that settled, the manuscript needs to be formatted for ebook in a PDF, and formatted for print in another way with different margins, page numbers, etc. I admit, I cursed a great deal over formatting. I watched YouTube videos until I was blue in the face and still the page numbers were not sequential or even in the right place. The key to this, I discovered is sections, but I forget it every time. The page set up is different and the Table of Contents must be present for ebooks, but not so necessary for print books. Each time I decide the editing is done and I'm ready to publish, I go through these steps. Formatting is no joke. Many people pay for formatting, but really, once you have it down, anyone can do it.
The book cover is the first thing a reader sees. It's important. There are graphic designers all over the internet ready to design book covers. They are available on Fiverr.com for a nominal fee and many of them do an excellent job. Graphic design is not my jam. Fonts, pictures, colors, spacing -- there is so much to consider. Perusing the covers on Amazon, you find flames bursting from the heroine's head. spooky forests emerging from the antagonist's back and nude bodies intertwined, so you are turning your computer screen over to find the beginning and end of the unmentionables. I try to stay simple, however the amateur feedback I receive says my covers are cheesy. Well, maybe that's what I'm aiming for -- cheesy. I hate it when people you love tell you the truth. Cheesy? I like to write. I didn't intend on getting into this cheesy design stuff, but I'm working on it. I'm steering clear of characters who might have flames jumping from their hair or trees sprouting from their backs, but covers are important. That's why I chose this vintage book cover from the late 1800's for the graphic for this post. It looks nice, not cheesy. I think I'll go "old school" for my book covers.
Another thing an indie publisher has to pursue is marketing. Let's face it, besides your mother, who really wants to read your book unless you are Jodi Piccoult or James Patterson? The answer is no one. Marketing these days is done on social media, who knew. There are thousands of book reviewers and promotional sites who are willing to take on indie authors. They have created some best selling authors from the indie population and created genres that did not exist before. The trick is getting noticed and reviewed. I finally got a BookBub promotion, which is a really big deal. We'll see what happens. Reviews are the key to giving away free books. Only one in ten readers actually review a book. Without reviews, the indie author is stifled and competing against other, possibly less readable authors due to few reviews.
The final thing an indie author must do, is create a synopsis of their story that sells it in two hundred words or less. This is difficult, especially if it's your story and you want to tell it. The elevator version of what you spent years to write, is hard to tell. The hook must grab the reader and make them want to read the rest of the story, or buy the book. I attended a workshop where we worked for three days, just writing the hook to pitch to agents, editors and screen writers. It was fun and educational, but I didn't have a perfect hook at the end. I'm getting better, but it's still the most difficult chore.
So, after completing a manuscript, to self publish and independent author needs:
1. Formatting, for ebook and/or print.
2. A book cover -- something that will show up on a cell phone screen and look good on a bookshelf.
3. A hook, an enticing synopsis that sells the story and makes the reader want to know more.
4. Marketing -- Facebook groups, promotional site, reviewers, blog tours, interviews, book signings. There is so much to do I may never find time to write again.
5. Reviews - these are gold and hard to come by. Reputable review sites, GoodReads and Amazon are a must. Amazon pulls reviews if they appear to be bought or set up. There is no arguing about it, they are just gone. So far, I have lost one review, for I don't know why, because I honestly didn't know the reviewer. My mother's is still there.