Many writers are interested in independent publishing (affectionately dubbed indie publishing), so I wanted to get the perspective of a seasoned writer who is indie publishing for the first time. Respected author, Maureen Lang, has just taken the plunge with the first book in a new series, The Cranbury Papermaker, and graciously agreed to share her experience. It follows:
My New Indie Appetite
If someone had predicted just a few short years ago that I would not only be exploring independent publishing but excited to pursue it, I wouldn’t have believed them.
After thirteen novels and three novellas with traditional publishing, I’m grateful for my experience in that venue. I enjoyed working with people who love storytelling as much as I do. But after talking to other authors who have rediscovered their love of writing simply because of the freedom allowed by indie publishing, I was intrigued.
And more than a little intimidated. Do you know the old saying about how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That’s the way to conquer anything that looks too big to handle.
I was intimidated because technology has never been my friend. I considered paying someone to do it all for me—there are a number of small publishing services popping up all over the Internet, and I even know some of the providers personally and would trust them. But the authors who raved about indie publishing were doing it all themselves, and part of their excitement included control over the entire process.
So I decided to try it myself, knowing if I became too overwhelmed I could still hand it over to one of the services. I’m happy to say that my very first brand new, independently published novel went up in April, The Cranbury Papermaker. As the old Sinatra song says, I did it my way.
So what’s the process?
I’ll start by stating the obvious. There can be a difference in productivity when you have a legal and binding deadline to produce something for which you’ve already been paid and an editor is waiting for versus finishing a book for yourself. So be prepared to exercise self-discipline if you decide to do it your way.
Step One: The Edit
Once you’ve finished your book, and by that I mean you’ve had several first readers go through your completed manuscript with fresh eyes and have given you feedback on whether it’s working (and to catch typos), it’s time to find a freelance editor—or two.
Editing is often the most expensive part of indie publishing, and many first timers can’t afford the potentially thousands of dollars to hire someone with an established reputation. If you cannot afford this part, or if you jump into the indie world as an experiment and choose to forgo professional editing until you know whether or not indie is for you, that makes the job of your first readers much more important. Make sure to get as much feedback as you can from unbiased readers because once your book is up for sale, buyers will reward or punish you in ways that matter: through reviews and future sales. Because despite what marketing firms tell you, word of mouth is still the best form of advertising.
Copy editors tend to be cheaper than content editors, simply because they’re only expected to find grammatical errors, typos, overused words or phrases and other detail-oriented mistakes. They won’t spend hours thinking about how to tighten the tension or deepen your characters; they will simply read the book and make sure it’s as error-free as possible. This is the minimum you should settle for, because you want your work to stand above other books that might be published too soon which are rife with errors and shout “amateur!”.
There are several ways to find a freelance editor. I would start with looking at the copyright page of independently published books you admire to see if an editor is credited. That way you’ve seen first hand the kind of work they do. You can also visit several public independent author Facebook pages where such information is passed around freely. Or you could join a group of indie authors such as the Alliance of Independent Authors (http://allianceindependentauthors.org/) which supports indie publishing.
Step Two: The Cover
While you’re waiting for your copy edits, you can explore various cover artists. There are a number of services for this, from cheaply priced sites like Fiverr to more sophisticated websites that will charge accordingly. Your book must look good next to countless others it’ll be competing with. That means appealing images, clear and interesting fonts that are easy to read and yet not so plain they look like they came straight from a Word document. I listened to other authors on various loops talk about their designers; I searched lists on GoodReads for popular covers; I looked at the copyright pages of indie books I liked because the cover designer is often attributed.
For my cover, I went to a site known for romance covers, since that’s my genre. I waded through pages and pages of images they offer, tagged the ones I thought might work, and they put together a design within just a few days, changing colors to match my taste. I was provided various file sizes, one for print and one for ebook, small sizes for websites and so on. It was not only painless but fun.
Step Three: Formatting
Some authors aren’t intimidated by formatting, or insist it’s easy if you create in the author-friendly world of Scrivener. But this was another area I knew I didn’t want to touch. I had no idea about the differences between a mobi file or an epub (and still don’t, except which sites use which format). So once again I listened to other authors and found a formatter. I’ve heard some charge less than $100 for all versions while some charge per version. I wanted both an ebook and a print book, which evidently are quite different, so I paid a little more. I also wanted some nice interior design for chapter and section breaks, which wasn’t unusual for fiction but is still an added touch.
Make sure the final copy you send to your formatter is as error free as possible. I know one author who uses thirty-five first readers, a content editor, and a copy editor twice, once in the beginning and again just before going to the formatter. When I submitted my book to my formatter, I thought it was perfect, after having only a dozen or so sets of eyes on it. But after ordering a Proof during the print process, I read it through again (yes, even though I’d read the manuscript more times than I could remember) and I still found at least a half-dozen errors or words I wanted to change. If your changes are extensive enough, your formatter will charge you to go in and make all of the changes, plus you’re at the mercy of his or her schedule. So it pays to get it right!
While your book is being formatted, you can start thinking of the next step.
The Business Side
Step One: Set up a separate bank account
Although Amazon will send checks to you if you prefer not to link to a bank account, other sites will only pay through direct deposit to a savings or checking account. Not wanting to mingle personal and professional funds, I set up a separate checking account. At least one of the vendor sites asked for a Swift # from my bank, and I had no idea what that was. So I did what the site recommended: I called my bank to see if they knew what this meant, and of course they did and supplied what I needed.
Step Two: Set up a DBA
Most readers don’t pay much attention to publisher names, but there were a couple of reasons I decided to set up my own publishing name even though this isn’t a requirement for selling your books. For one, it’s much easier to track income and expenses by keeping everything separate, and having the account in my business name will make it easier when tax time comes around.
The other reason I wanted to establish a publishing name was to take it one step farther from being easily identified as self-published. For those readers who do pay attention to publishers, if they don’t see one they’ll assume it’s self-published. Although opinions are certainly changing about indie books, having a publishing imprint does add a layer of professionalism.
So how do you set up a publishing name? By setting up a DBA with your county/state of residence: Doing Business As. It cost only $5.00 to file the paperwork at my local courthouse, but they require a three week public notice published in a local newspaper and that cost $85. You should check with your county clerk’s office to see what they require, because it varies. It sounds far more complicated that it is. The paperwork was one page, they suggested which newspapers would run the public notice and where to find them, and they notified the state after the notices finished running. All I had to do was download the forms from my county’s website, answer the questions about the kind of business I’ll be doing and take the paperwork to the courthouse and newspaper office.
The fun part was choosing a name for my business, which had to be unique from other established businesses for obvious infringement reasons.
Step Three: Buy ISBNs
This is also optional, especially if you plan to sell only on Amazon since they’ll assign their own identifying numbers. But if you want to sell on other sites, you might need an ISBN from Bowker (https://www.myidentifiers.com/) for different versions of the same book. I chose to use ISBNs but I’ve heard of several other indie authors who do without, so this is up to you.
Step Three: Going Live
Finally, I want to ease any worries about going through the process of uploading your cover and formatted files to various vendor sites. Amazon is the easiest, and some authors don’t bother with other sites because it’s true most sales are made through Amazon. But I didn’t want to ignore any readers so I went with Barnes and Noble (another easy site to navigate) and Kobo, which encourages foreign sales. I haven’t yet added my book to iTunes for iBook sales, because they weren’t quite as user-friendly, but I’ll be revisiting that again in the future.
Uploading books is literally as easy as following the steps, which are clearly presented at most sites. If you have your bank’s Swift #, your own bank account number, an idea of how to describe your book not only with the kind of short blurb you’ve see on the back of a print book but also with keywords like “romance” or “mystery” or the location, theme, etc., you’ll breeze through the process. You’ll have to decide for yourself about size and paper color if you choose to do a print edition. Since I wanted my books to look like my previous titles I chose 5.5″ x 8.5″ and cream paper. For print, your cover designer will need to know these things too, and will determine the spine width based on the number of pages at that size.
DRM or not?
DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and it’s an added protection against someone stealing your work. Most authors I’ve talked to discouraged enabling DRM, for two reasons. One, your work is bound to be pirated anyway (a little like locks on the door that work great to keep law abiding citizens out, but a determined thief will find their way in anyway). And two, the added technology makes downloading your books take a little longer and sometimes cause havoc with the process. Who wants to frustrate the paid buyers? So I went without.
The percentage you receive for royalties varies depending on your price point, but Amazon offers a very clear chart for you to set a price that works best for you. At CreateSpace, print books are given a minimum price point, but they too offer a chart to project which price will bring in different royalties. You can easily experiment with this to find a price you’re happy with, but keep in mind indie ebook prices are usually far less than traditional prices that have so much overhead costs.
My next elephant to eat will be the Marketing Mammoth, which I’m only just beginning to investigate. I picture marketing a little like a game, knowing I can access sales numbers as often as I care to and be able to see what’s effective and what’s a waste of time.
Looking at the length of this piece, it may sound like indie publishing is too big to swallow. But for anyone who thinks that, please remember my name. I am in that over-fifty crowd who thought most technology was beyond me. But experience has proven otherwise. Just remember to take it one bite at a time!
Maureen Lang writes novels that celebrate a mix of God’s love, history and romance. Her latest release is The Cranbury Papermaker. She’s happily married and the mother of three, and caregiver to her disabled adult son. She lives with her family in the Midwest. c 2015, Maureen Lang. For more information, visit her site at www.maureenlang.com.