Sunday, November 20, 2011

Indie Ploy

I’ve been doing this Indie thing about a year now, so it’s time to look back and see exactly what it is that I’ve been doing, and see what I’d do differently...just in case some of that 5% of writers who will do self-publishing are reading. Note that you shouldn’t really take any of my advice ex nihilo until I’ve been doing this thing at least five years, but add it to your body of anecdotes, and consider this a summary, then, of pretty much all the Lessons Learned on the Business side of this blog.

First off, let’s sidestep a dumb argument: I don’t really care if you’re a "House Slave" (ah, jeez...) or a Sh*t-Pubber...or whatever the latest negative terms, respectively, for rabid traditionally published or aggressively dim self-published writers are at the moment. On this blog, I take a balanced approach. If the contract’s good, I’ll take your money, but if the book’s good, I’m willing to take a chance on myself, too. Fair’s fair, so long as I pay my bills. You gots to do what’s best for you, and also I don’t care. I’ll follow your career trajectory and take lessons from it...but if you don’t have a career trajectory? Well, I’m not really going to listen to what you have to say about my career (& vice versa, OK?)

I have to admit I was prepped for this New World of Publishing by four factors: (1) I’m an American who lives outside the U.S., and, once I got over the initial hurdles of Suck and Awe—oh, man, that’s a great blog title...—(2) I’m a Fast Writer (as defined as “>4 books a year”), (3) Because of my Real Job, I hate paperwork with an abiding passion and (4) I am a roiling ball of insanity and bravado. Put all that together and give me some time, and I’ll have more books than you can shake a stick at, and there’s this thing called International Shipping. It’s ridiculous, in this Internet age, to send a paper manuscript anywhere and then wait a year to get no response. So, that was my intro—if I were a fancier writer, I’d here say ‘impetus’, but I’ll spare you—to start researching: “What’s my alternative?”

One, there’s small publishers who are ‘clever’ enough to take electronic submissions. Sweet. I sent (and still send) some of my books that fit the call for submissions to small publishers that don’t suck. It’s fun! I want that experience, because I like working with other professionals. We’ll see how that goes.

Two, though, is self-publishing, and that’s where I did some research heavy-lifting, assisted in Theory by Dean Wesley Smith, in Practice by Kristin Kathryn Rusch (cf: The Freelancer’s Survival Guide) and in general encouragement by seeing Kevin J. Anderson & Michael A. Stackpole, many of whose books I’ve read, were also ‘in on it’. (I had also read and enjoyed Kristin Kathryn Rusch’s Star Wars tie-in novel “The New Rebellion”.) Since I’m not trying to persuade you, I don’t need to re-hash all their arguments, but I can boil it down:

Freedom [to make money]

I can get on board with that! Self-publishing train, leaving the station. Man, that’s a lame metaphor, and I apologize. BALLOON OF INDIE, Activate!

(balloon of indie picture cancelled due to budget constraints)

So you’re still with me through that, and you have no major disagreements on the Theory. I’m assuming this will be about 5% of you. What’s the Practice? I’m going to tell you what I think you should do, that is: what I should have done, along with what I did (if different/interesting). These are suggestions. I’m not even going to justify them. Agree or disagree, try something. Or not.

The daB Indie Starter Guide
for people like me!
Step One: Confidence. 
I can’t help you with this one. You’re just going to have to read enough, then write enough so that one day you wake up and say to yourself: “I don’t Suck.” Oh, and you have to believe it AT LEAST 80% of the time. As previously indicated, I’m a roiling ball of insanity and bravado, but I came by that by other means. I had to dial it back a bit while I was writing the First Million (read: Sucky) Words.
(cf: Jeff Ambrose's The Successful Fiction Writer. He's been doing this almost as long as I have.)

NOTE: The first million sucky words is not the same thing as the first sucky STORIES. You can salvage the stories later, you just need to learn how to put words together in a not-sucky way to form stories. Mostly it involves characters. (That’s all I got. Ask me again in five years.)

Step Two: Choose a genre 
You’ve got confidence, so which area of plot are you most confident in? Time to focus, for a while. You can branch out later. (I chose Science Fiction.)

Step Three: Write ten short stories, submit. 
Consult Duotropes Digest, and send each story to five pro-paying markets in your chosen genre.

Step Four: While you’re waiting, write a book!
While you’re letting those ten stories circulate, write a book in your chosen genre. At least 60,000 words. Do it. If it turns out to be a series, great. For bonus points, do it during Nanowrimo.

Step Five: You’ve been rejected 50 times.
Still feeling confident?
If not, start over at Step Three.
If so, proceed into the magical world of Small Publishing.

Step Six: Create a Small Publisher
Come up with a sexy publisher name. (Mine is ‘H2NH ePub’)

Get a bank account and an e-mail address and attach a Paypal account to both. Do whatever you need to do wherever you are to register a ‘doing business as’ DBA business. (In Florida it cost $30) Make an Amazon KDP account. Make a Smashwords publisher account and author account. Set up the payments.

Write all this sh*t down at some point. (I did all this ass-backwards and it’s very annoying to retrofit.)
(cf: Dean Wesley Smith’s "Think Like a Publisher" series)

Step Seven: Titles
You’ve got ten short stories and one book. So you’ve got fourteen titles:
1 Book
1 Ten-Story Collection
2 Five-Story Collections
10 Individual Short Stories

Split up your short stories by some sort of theme, come up with titles and write introductions for the collections. After that, write some sales blurbs. Those will go on Smashwords and Amazon.

Step Eight: Cover Art
I made a guide to making some cover art. It’s out of date, but you can see the basic idea: Take a good picture, add a title/author name. Some people buy stock images for a couple bucks and make their cover.
Whatever. Make it work. You’ll learn a lot, which you’ll use LATER when you’re looking for cover artists.
Remember: You can change the cover of an eBook. It’s not hard.
(A few of my early covers sucked. I admit that. But not all of them, and those ones got the job done.)

Step Nine: Formatting!
Buy Paul Salvette’s Guide to eBook Formatting. It’s three bucks. I really, really wish I had had this when I was fumbling around. Don’t worry, it’s super-easy. Just don’t let yourself be intimidated. You’re confident, right? If not, return to Step Three.

Follow that workflow and you’ll have 14 eBooks formatted in DOC for Smashwords and MOBI for Amazon. Make EPUB and PDF versions too. EPUB because it’s cooler, and PDF for Review Copies.

Step Ten: Upload
This is comically easy. Just put them on Amazon KDP and Smashwords, and they’ll show up eventually.
Make sure to select distribution by Smashwords to everywhere except Amazon (since you’re already going there direct). That will put you on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Sony, Apple, &c.

Side Note: Pricing
Book: $4.99
Ten-Story Collection: $4.99
Five-Story Collection: $2.99
Individual Short Story: $0.99
...just do it.

Step Eleven: Write Some More
Do not check your sales numbers! They will almost certainly suck for the first quarter. Calm down. Really, once everything is approved and working, you shouldn’t even go to the sites. Pretend you have no access to data (what, exactly, would you do if you did?), write that next book, get it up there, write the next next book, write lots of short stories and send them around the markets. Format, upload, repeat: make it happen.

Have fun! Just Write!

The Future:
You can get fancy. H2NH has got a little fancy in this, its fourth quarter of existence. But ask me for Lessons Learned in five years.
feel free to comment


  1. This is a great post that merges the creativity of an author with the ethos of a small businessman. I'm glad to hear that your endeavors are going well.

  2. So far, so good. The whole 'stigma of self-publishing' thing was immediately dispelled (amongst those I care to have the respect of) once I couched it in practical terms - a small business. And since future success is really only limited by how much I write, I anticipate few problems.

  3. I just noticed the plug. Thanks!


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