On Indie Publishing

I get asked with fair frequency about the ins and outs of indie-publishing, and I love to talk to anyone about my journey and lessons-learned (what good are the lessons if you don’t learn from them, then share the knowledge!?) To that end, I thought I’d put this page together so I can point people in this direction for a quick-and-easy review, complete with links and references, and other goodies. I’ll add to it as I find more info, new articles, etc.

Disclaimer: This is the basics–it assumes the reader knows next to nothing about indie/e-publishing. Also, this is aimed at fiction writing, since that is where my experience lies, though much of this would apply to non-fiction as well.

So you think you want to be an Indie Author…

A lot of what I’ve learned has come from Smashwords.com, which is an e-publishing platform and e-book distributor. (www.smashwords.com) It’s free to use; basically, you upload your book, they convert it into a multitude of different file formats, and then (if you follow certain formatting rules which allows you to be included in the “premium catalog” ) they distribute your e-book to all the major e-book retailers, except Amazon. They take a very small cut of the “cover price” for each copy you sell, both on their website, and at the other retailers they distribute to, and you keep the rest! I upload to Amazon separately, and it’s a very similar process.

E-publishing Quick Tips

1) Use the “Smashwords Style Guide” which is a free e-book written by the owner/creator of smashwords.com. It gives easy, step-by-step instructions for how to format your e-book to get it included in the premium catalog: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/52

2) Yes, you DO want to be included in the premium catalog.

3) If you have the money, you can pay someone to edit your work. You can also hire someone to format your e-book. Smashwords can hook you up with quality editors, formatters, etc. It is not inexpensive, but it can be a good option; your main job, as an indie author, it to produce high-quality work, after all.

4) A quality cover is key, and it has to look good as a thumbnail, as well as in larger format. In general, high contrast is good. Less is more as far as details are concerned. Here’s a link to my page on Smashwords where you can see all my covers, etc. http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/ElleBeauregard I’m not saying my covers are the end-all of awesome, but they have translated fairly well, I think.

5) When uploading to Amazon, just follow their instructions (they upload best from a Word document, and the same formatting you applied for smashwords will work for Amazon, save some tiny tweaks like including “Kindle Edition” on the cover page.) Their cover requirements are somewhat different (pixel size, etc.) than Smashwords, but the Amazon requirements will work for Smashwords—just not always the other way around.

6) KDP Select is an option through Amazon that gives you additional royalties when your book is borrowed from the KDP Select lending library for Kindle. I DO NOT suggest doing this. Amazon requires the author to make their e-book exclusive to Amazon for a three month period in order to participate in KDP Select. That’s three months of sales on other platforms that a new author is missing out on. Not all readers own Kindles. Approximately 1/3 of my e-book sales come from other platforms—those are all sales/discoveries I would miss out on if I did KDP Select.

7) Barnes and Noble just launched a new self-publishing platform called Nook Press. It seems very promising, and I plan to begin uploading directly to BN (like I do to Amazon) because BN is going to chose who they merchandise/feature from their Nook Press titles (NOT from titles that come to their site from distributors like Smashwords.) The process is very similar to Amazon, as well as formatting, etc.

Indie-Publishing to Print

Print self-publishing is very similar to that for e-books, but a little more expensive and more time-consuming, in my opinion. Now, with Print-On-Demand, at least authors don’t have to buy full print runs of their books (which is how it used to be done.) But you do have to order a proof of your book to double check that the formatting is correct, etc. (Though now you can opt to do a digital proof only in some cases, I DO NOT suggest this for the first publishing attempt—it’s good to see it in your hands until you’re really comfortable with formatting, etc.)

Formatting is a bit more time consuming/tedious. I will say, if you are heart-set on publishing to paper (which I can definitely understand—there is something special about seeing your book as A BOOK!) then spending the money on a professional to format it could be a good idea. I’ve done my formatting myself, but not without some serious hair-pulling. That said, it can be done if you’re slow and careful.

I use Createspace.com for my paperbacks. (https://www.createspace.com/ ) Create space is part of Amazon, so your paperbacks will be distributed to Amazon when you publish with them, and they will also be available through the Createspace store. I see a tiny fraction of my sales come through as paperbacks (like 1 paperback to every 300 e-books, or less.) Mainly I think this is because my e-books are $2.99 and my paperbacks at $14.99—people are willing to take a risk on an unknown author for $3. Not so much for $15.

Pricing

Which brings me to pricing: Studies have shown that e-books priced between $2.99 and $5.99 perform best. (You can read about this at Smashwords, on their blog.) It’s a low enough price point that people will impulse buy, but not so low as to give the impression of poor quality. That said, I think the specific price you choose has a lot to do with the intended audience. My main series (SHIFT) is intended for a Young Adult audience, so I priced them at $2.99. After the second book came out, I actually dropped the price of the first book to $1.99 in order to get people hooked*. That totally worked for me. But, if my target audience was 30 year olds and above, I might stick in the $3.99-5.99 realm, especially if the book is very long, or more literature-like in nature. *I later raised the price back to $2.99 for the first book of the series when new data became available that pointed to $1.99 being a particularly unproductive price point. Also, the royalty rate on books under $2 on Amazon is lower than on book priced $2 and above (in most cases.)

Marketing

I strongly suggest the book We Are Not Alone: The Writer’s Guide to Social Media when you begin thinking about how best to get the word out about your book; it’s specifically aimed at indie authors. Some of the info is out-of-date (as books about social media almost always are—it all just moves too quickly!) but the underlying message/lesson is sound regardless of the specifics. She talks a lot about building a strong platform of loyal fans online by creating and curating content through twitter/facebook/blog that your target readers will find valuable. She does a good job of really driving home the point that you shouldn’t be using social media simply to cram your book down people’s throat–you should use social media to “meet” and really interact with your readers, as well as others who might never read your work. It’s pretty great and I highly reccommend it. Here’s a link to it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/We-Are-Not-Alone-Writers/dp/1935712187/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1367958772&sr=1-1&keywords=we+are+not+alone

Anyway, hope this all helps! Feel free to comment with questions and I’ll respond as best I can. Keeping the questions in the comment thread will allow others to benefit from them as well. Or, if you’d rather not, feel free to message me on facebook, or DM me on Twitter (if you’re question is 140 characters or less…) 🙂

Happy writing!

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