The Indie Warrior: Tips from the Battlefield
by Nicolette Pierce
Navigating the publishing world can feel as though you’re tromping through a battlefield, shrapnel blasting you with every step. It can seem overwhelming. We globally compete for rank, sales, ratings, fans, and so much more. The difference between self and traditional publishing is not that vast. Having said that, I would not switch to traditional unless I was offered a king’s ransom. I love self-publishing! And here’s why: I control everything. From the book cover to the final manuscript, I am the supreme ruler. Enough said? Not quite.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with dozens of traditionally published authors that unfortunately do not have control and are left dissatisfied. That is not to say that all authors are dissatisfied. Please do not spear me yet. But, one poor soul comes to mind. The unfortunate fellow is not allowed to release his sequel because the publisher wants more sales on the first book. Does that sound right? To a company looking at profits, yes. To me, it’s insane! Yes, I said insane, and I’ll tell you why henceforth. So, strap on your Viking helmet (not football . . . the real ones with horns), roar your fiercest battle cry, and charge into the book war with me as we go over a few tips that can give your novel the edge it needs to be victorious. And, best of all, on your terms.
- The first should be obvious, but here it is anyway: Write a great book . . . and then have it picked apart by peers. Sure, let your friends and family read it, but they might not have the insight you need. Plus, they tend not to be completely honest if your work is horrible. Find a solid writers’ group. They’ll tell you what can be improved. Consider their suggestions, but also be true to your writing. You are king after all.
- Edit! Edit! Edit! And then have a professional editor take over. There are hundreds to choose from, so be smart about it. Make sure the editor’s rates are reasonable. A standard pricing structure on the Editorial Freelancers Association website is available to verify. Also, send a few editors a page of your novel to work on. If they won’t do a free sample page, STOP! Find a different editor.
- Invest in an awesome book cover. Notice how I didn’t say “create”? If it’s not eye catching and professional, you might as well delete that manuscript right now. Covers sell books! If you’re not familiar with the design world or are afraid to take a chance on a designer, do what I did and use a website like 99designs.com. Dozens of freelancers will submit designs based on your criteria. Pick the winning cover and hang on to that designer for future novels.
- There are several ways to publish your e-book. My distributor, or “aggregator,” of choice is Smashwords but look around and find one that works best for you. Never, and I repeat, NEVER give them money. If you find one that is requesting money upfront, retreat as fast as you can! A good distributor will only take a small percentage of your royalties per book sold.
I’m not going to lie. I did develop a mighty headache when I released my first book. Whatever distributor you choose, they should have a step by step manual. Read it and follow it. You’ll be a pro by your second novel.
Second novel? Yes. And third and fourth . . . and twenty-ninth. Success can be largely based on how many engaging books you produce. A single book might sell for a brief period, but it will eventually get lost in the battlefield. Even famous authors have to keep writing if they want to stay profitable. Keep at it, keep writing. Your fans will follow you. New fans who read your tenth novel will be interested in your prior work. It’s a cycle. One book doesn’t create a cycle. It stagnates.
- Don’t print. Stick with e-book format for the first year or two. Did several people just faint? Okay, before you mutiny, let me explain. For the first year of my self-publishing career, I was carving a path, smoothing the kinks out, and keeping my overhead costs down. So, when I finally did print, I found that it wasn’t worth it. I don’t make money off print. My profit is solely on e-copies, and it’s so much easier dealing with e-books than clunky paper ones. I now have a cabinet filled with fifty or so books, which means another spot to dust. I hate dusting. So, if you HAVE to have that print copy, then go through a print-on-demand company like CreateSpace. Buy a dozen and see what happens. You can always buy more if you find they’re selling.
- Plaster yourself on the web. If you’re doing it right, you should have several hits when you search your name. Create a website. Join Facebook and Twitter. Start a blog or newsletter. Get visible! Link your website and social media sites in your e-book for fans to find you quickly. You only have a small window of opportunity to grab their attention before they’re on to the next author’s book.
- You are an author, but you are also a business owner. Treat your work as an enterprise and keep realistic expectations in mind. It was only after three years of writing that I was finally able to quit my accounting job. Overnight successes are, more often than not, false. It takes famous writers years of hard work to get to their pillared ranks. If you’re looking for overnight success, you might want to pick up a lottery ticket as well. The odds are nearly the same.
- Free! This is my best war strategy advice. I began with one series and gave the first book away for free then released the second book the next day. It created a buying surge with frantic requests for more. Readers snatched up the free book whether or not it was in their genre. It gave them a risk-free opportunity to see if they liked my writing. I still give that book away for free and hope that if the reader likes the first book they’ll continue the ever growing series. Not everyone does, and that’s okay. The ones that do stick with me. They’ve turned into my super fans.
- Reward your fans. Every year I come out with a useful promotional giveaway, something that fans can use or see daily. The first was refrigerator magnets with my book cover; the second was a compact mirror with a message and my website address. There’s always a gouge in my bottom line when I do this, but I’m trying to establish more than just profits. I’m keeping my name where my fans can see it and remember it. Just try not to break the bank while doing it.
In today’s world where there are millions of books being produced every year, it’s imperative to form a bond with your fans. I have, in places I never thought possible. Somewhere in Botswana there is a woman who has read all of my books, has my magnet on her refrigerator, and my compact in her purse. It’s pretty dang awesome.
Did you ever sing “Anything you can do, I can do better”? It’s time to start singing again. Dive into the battle with your shield held strong and your sword honed and ready. Ask authors for their success and failure stories. You’ll learn a lot. Whatever path you choose, make it the best for YOU.
Nicolette Pierce is a member of WWA and prolific author of the romantic suspense Nadia Wolf and Mars Cannon series, as well as the spin-off character novels that accompany the series. Nicolette lives in Wisconsin with her husband, son, and Herbert the cat. She’s part of the Moraine Writers Guild. Her books are available at online retailers. Visit her website, www.NicolettePierce.com, for more information and direct links to her books.