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Indie Publishing: The Changing Process

I’m planning to dig into the particulars of indie publishing in future posts, but my upcoming Gen Con Writers Symposium class on Indie Publishing has me reevaluating my whole process, so I figure it’s time to take a from-the-stratosphere look at the whole darn thing.

Apparently, I’ve been doing this for a decade. A decade! My first book, Justice in an Age of Metal and Men came out in March of 2014. I formatted it in Word, used Calibre to convert it into an ebook, and cranked up an unanchored firehose of marketing cash to make it sell. Sometimes the hose hit things that worked. Others times it didn’t.

Always changing

My process has changed a lot since then. It’s still changing. Like The Thing, it will always be changing. Adapting. Change is part of a creative process. When a creative process calcifies and forms into a hard, stony growth, it should be immediately expelled. Otherwise things get painful.

That is to say: This is a snapshot. In a year half of this stuff will have evolved, devolved, or just died. Such is life. Double such is publishing.

The Words

I thought about starting this overview before the words hit the page, but that part of the process doesn’t matter. Not really. It’s also the part of the process that is most in flux right now. I’ve recently switched to Obsidian Notes. That’s another post. A future post.

What does matter is that words get arranged somewhere. You’re a writer, so I think you understand that. I currently use Scrivener, but I find it hard to recommend. It’s useful, but there’s a steep learning curve, and exporting to Word is such a pain.

I mean, it’s easy, but it’s also a pain.

Let me explain.

Fast forward a bit. Vellum is eventually going to hoover up my Word document and turn it into a fabulous ebook (and print book). For that to work properly, the document needs to be formatted in a certain way. Chapter titles need to be Heading 1. The body of the text should be… I don’t know… Normal? Crap, I’m always forgetting. Sometimes Scrivener does weird things with this. Screw something up and it just makes more work later in the process.

Scrivener is fantastic if you’re also using it for its corkboard features and taking notes and building character bios. I’m not.

So why am I using Scrivener? I have no idea. My next book is going to be an experiment in skipping Scrivener and just using Word. I’m going to start with a Standard Manuscript Format template just to make things extra easy later on. I’ll probably miss Scrivener as soon as I start. I really love how it does daily wordcounts.

But there it is. Write your words. Normal text style for the text. Heading 1 for the chapter titles. Don’t get too fancy about it and don’t worry.

Editing and Revisions

Once the words are written, they go into a sealed box for at least a month. I do not drill air holes. I do not feed it. This is for its own good.

Then it’s time for revisions. I revise once for structure, once for characters, and once for language/grammar. More revisions are sometimes added in each stage, depending on how good my outline was and how much I stuck to it. Then, the last stage of editing, I print the whole dang thing out and read it on paper.

I don’t know why paper helps. It does. Just trust me.

Then it goes to my editor. The copyediting that my editor does is a very generous use of the term, and he ends up giving me a lot of really good writing advice. I can attribute many of my skills as a writer to having one good editing pass of each book. My editor is my single largest expense.

Finally, I use Grammarly. I know that’s controversial these days, but I turn off its AI features and ignore almost every single piece of advice it gives. I use it only for typo detection, something my brain is wholly incapable of doing. For this, it’s actually a decent tool, even at the free level.

Covers

My other big expense is my cover. I currently use Deranged Doctor Design.

Why? A couple of reasons. First, I like how they translate between my disorganized bucket of desires into a coherent thing to give their well-trained graphics design artists. I’ve been happy with every cover I’ve gotten from them. Their covers fit my genre, they’re pretty, and I’m proud to hold the book in my hand when the work is done.

I won’t say much more about the cover except to mention that there is a lot more to say about covers. That’s just going to have to be a future post. Suffice to say I spend money on my covers because it’s the most important piece of marketing and a huge pain to swap out later.

Formatting

I’m not going to say a ton about formatting either. I use Vellum, which is absolutely fantastic. I’ve also worked with Atticus, which is also very good. Remember back when I was talking about how to format your Word document and you scoffed at me and formatted it however the hell you wanted? Well, now is when my proper formatting pays off. Vellum and Atticus will slurp up a well-formatted Word document and arrange it into ebook and print pdf.

The only actual work here is assembling front and back matter. Front matter is the dedication, copyright page, and any sort of foreword. Copyright is the only one of those that you actually need. Just copy what other recent books are doing and you’ll be fine. Yes, I see the irony in that. The fact is most copyright pages look pretty similar.

Back matter should at the very least have a link to the next book you want the reader to read. Also, a newsletter signup link. We have competing pressures here. It’s tempting to dump every damn thing into the end matter of the book, but too much gets overwhelming and the reader will just not do anything.

My rule of thumb is pick one thing. That’s it. Want them to sign up for the newsletter? Put that after the final word of your story. Want them to buy the next book? Then give that the primo space. Anything else will only distract.

Then I go in after that and put one more thing, because I can’t resist and am always acting contrary to my own advice.

Most of my books also include an Also By page with all my other works because dammit I just can’t resist. What? I told you it was tempting to dump every damn think into your end matter. You think I have the willpower to resist?

Anyway, take my advice: Put one thing in your back matter. Make it the most important thing.

Formatting doesn’t cost me anything after the purchase of Vellum, and actually doesn’t cost me much time, either.

Pushing Publish

Look, I won’t say anything bad about Amazon, but I went to shop out there as a shopper for the first time in a while and wow what an absolute garbage pile of a user experience.

As an indie-published author you will get to pick between being in Amazon’s KDP Select and publishing everywhere. This is the KDP Select vs Wide decision, and it’s going to depend a lot on your genre. Everything I have is wide, ignoring trends for technothrillers that say I probably should give KDP Select a shot. I prefer to sell my books everywhere, including on my own website.

I won’t go into a lot of detail here, since it’s probably enough for a whole post, but I publish direct to Amazon, Kobo, and Google Play. Everything else gets reached by publishing to Draft2Digital. They’re all roughly the same, with slight variations on how they do categories or keywords. It costs nothing to publish to any of them. They get their money by taking a very significant cut off the top of each sale. This is why I prefer direct sales through my website, but hey I’m happy with any sale anywhere.

My print books have been through Ingram Spark for ages, but I recently ordered a copy via bookvault and I am very happy with the results, so there’s a good chance that’ll start finding its way into my publishing process.

Marketing

Marketing is a lot, and it’s the part of the process that many of us don’t understand at all when we begin. It’s more than just buying ads. It’s promoting yourself in person and on social media. It’s public relations and networking with other authors. This is where it helps to be an extrovert, which I am decidedly not.

I’m not going to go into a lot of details on marketing because that’s probably half a dozen posts. I will tell you my general philosophy:

To sell books, you need to spend time or spend money.

It’s easy to think that books will sell once they are plopped onto the digital shelves, but, again, have you seen Amazon lately? Oh my god how does anyone find anything?

Here is a list of things I do to promote my books to various degrees:

  • Facebook Ads – not terribly effective for me at the moment, but they have been, and I keep trying. Facebook’s ability to target people who are ready to buy books is, quite honestly, a little disturbing.
  • Amazon Marketplace Ads – never have been terribly effective for me, but they work well for a lot of people.
  • BookBub – this is the big book deal mailing list. It’s not as great for sales as it used to be, but it’s very good.
  • Other mailing lists – a bunch of other smaller lists work pretty well in aggregate. Generally, I much prefer steady sales at full price than heavily discounted blasts, but there’s a lot of algorithmic advantage in the big tsunami of low-dollar sales.
  • Other ad outlets – BookBub Ads, TikTok ads, Taboola, Twitter Ads. I’ll test out pretty much anything, but I’ve never really seen much in the way of sales.
  • Social media – more for engaging with readers and other writers than for selling actual books. Way harder since the death of Twitter.
  • BookFunnel Group Promos – These help me find new readers and grow my newsletter.
  • Newsletter – this is the only list of readers that you own. You don’t need to send out a monthly newsletter like I do, but it’s good to start collecting email addresses as soon as possible. I use the WordPress Newsletter plugin. It’s fine. Doesn’t integrate well with BookFunnel, but whatever.
  • In-person stuff – conventions, book fairs, bookstore events. I tend to use these to network with other writers more than sell books, but I usually sell some books, too. It’s great meeting readers, and absolutely fabulous when people come back for more.
  • SFWA – The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association is a fantastic professional org, and a wonderful way to meet other pro-minded indie authors. You qualify if you’ve earned $100 from your sci-fi or fantasy writing. The opportunities and social connections are well worth the dues. (I’m on the Board of Directors, which doesn’t mean I’m biased, it just means I believe in it enough to put lots of effort into making it even better)
  • Blogging? Does blogging sell books? I don’t think it sells much the way I do it. Maybe? I don’t know. I’ll leave that up to you.

Whew, that seems like a lot. You don’t need to do all of it, though. Pick one thing. Maybe two. Get good at it. Figure out how to use it to sell a book or two. Then see if you can scale it up or add in another angle. Don’t forget that your time is valuable, though.

Keep writing.

Is That It?

I think the biggest difference between indie and traditional publishing is the fact that here on the indie side we’re never done. Find a typo? Fix it. Want a new cover? Publish it. Wanna add an epilogue? Do it.

You’re never really locked out of your books. I’ve reformatted my end matter several times over the years, either to add new links to books or to focus on the newsletter or Patreon. Republishing is easy. Tweaking can become a time sink, but it’s not that bad. Usually.

But don’t forget to keep writing the next book.


That’s the whole thing from a distance. In the future I’ll zoom in on various pieces of the puzzle and give more detail, but this is my process as it stands. It’s not the best process. It’s not the worst. It’s always improving.

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