Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Seven Questions to Ask Before Self-Publishing


Are you considering self-publishing? If so, that means you are the publisher, so you need to think like a publisher. If you're considering going indie, ask yourself these questions to see if this path is right for you and your book(s):

1) Is your craft ready?
Have you written more than one or two books? Do you have a writing group or a stable of critique partners who you can call on for feedback? Do you feel confident in your storytelling and your writing craft? You are more likely to find success as an indie writer if you have hit your stride as a writer, rather than just starting out. All the time you spend focusing on craft will pay dividends when you do eventually publish.
Don't rush it. Be patient.

2) Is this the right book?
Is your book the kind that could successfully sell in the indie market? Adult titles do best in indie, YA does well (especially those with cross-over appeal), and even literary novels, anthologies, shorts and other forms are starting to have success. Middle grade and picture books do less well. Series tend to bring more success for writers than stand-alone novels. Are you planning to write more books? Is your book the start of a series? Will it help you to build a fanbase for your future works, or do you not plan on writing more in that genre? 
Plan ahead. Lead with your best work.

3) Are you willing to invest money and time in the book?
Publishers would invest time and money in editing/copyediting/coverart for your book - you should plan on doing the same. Are you willing to spend time and money on marketing (ARCs, blog tours, review requests)? You will need a substantial push to get enough sales/reviews to get word-of-mouth going. After that, the Amazon marketing machine might kick in to help. Or it might not (the ways of the Zon are mysterious). If you just throw something out on smashwords, or even Amazon, but do nothing to market/promote it, you are unlikely to sell more than a few hundred copies (maybe this is acceptable  - see #6).
Going indie is like running a small business.

4) Are you willing to give up the dream of paper for this book?
As an indie publisher, most likely 90% of your sales will be ebooks. If a large fraction of your sales are paper, it is probably because most are bought by friends and family that want a paper copy. Selling thousands of print books is not going to happen as an indie, nor do you want it to. Getting into bookstores may sound great, but it brings the possibility of returns, which can easily eat up whatever profits you have made. You can still have paper, if you want (it's useful for signings, libraries, giveaways), but paper is unlikely to be the main part of your business.
Indie is not a route to seeing your book on the shelf at B&N.

5) Are you trying to score an agent or book contract by going indie?
Indie publishing is not the new query. This idea has been tossed around due to high-profile instances of authors like Amanda Hocking going for traditional publishing deals or agents plucking authors out of the bestseller lists. But I know many authors who are selling more than NYTimes bestsellers and not being flooded with offers from the Big 6. Still other successful indie authors have turned down traditional publishing offers after going indie and are scooping up international deals and optioning movie rights, all while not giving up their ebook rights. Why? Because they would lose money by taking a traditional deal. Indie publishing and traditional publishing are really two different beasts. Success as an indie brings many rewards (including financial ones). If you are yearning for a traditional publisher, you should pursue that route directly.
Indie is not the route to traditional publishing.

6) Do you have a support system/social network to help launch this book?
Are you comfortable with social networking? Do you have a blog/twitter/facebook page (one or more of these is fine) that you use to connect with people, whether writers, friends, or fans? You will have to extend your reach beyond your immediate social network to reach new readers, but you will be more comfortable doing that if you have an online presence and are facile in using online tools. And your immediate social network will help get your book out in the world to begin with. You don't have to have a huge following to launch an indie book, but you need to have some sense of how the online world works.
Friends matter. You can't ignore social networking.

7) Do you have concrete goals and a marketing plan to reach them?
You should decide your goals and make a marketing plan before making the decision to go indie. Will you be happy making back your investment in the book? Do you want to reach a certain number of sales? Do you want to get on the bestseller lists? You may dream of an overnight bestseller, but achieving that will take more than dreaming. You need a plan of how to get there. I worked up a full marketing plan for Open Minds before I made the decision to go indie, and it’s served me well. I set goals that I wanted to achieve (have the book break even, reach a certain target of sales), and developed a marketing plan to make it happen. The plan definitely evolved along the way (and continues to evolve), but making the plan ahead of time helped me decide if indie was the right choice for Open Minds. And having realistic goals helped to keep my expectations grounded while going through the process. Be SMART when you make your plan, and you will give your book the best chance of success.
Set Goals. Make a plan. Keep your expectations realistic.

I believe that the “right” publishing path can easily be different for each book and definitely for each author. I personally could not be happier with my indie experience so far. I love being in charge of my writing career. But I have manuscripts on my hard-drive that I will not indie publish, unless/until the time is right. And probably after they have been rewritten. I want to make sure they have the best chance of success before I send them out into the world.

Are you thinking about going indie? What questions are you asking yourself?

If you've already made the decision to go indie, check out my guest post on Writer's Lens: Five Ways to Market Indie Books

UPDATE: Check out John Locke's article on his Indie Publishing Deal with Simon & Schuster (yes, you read that right).

52 comments:

  1. Great post, Susan. I know several writers who are considering this path, but not all doing it for the right reasons or are being smart about it. This is the advice they need. :D

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  2. This is so great, Susan! VERY SMART! It won't be for everyone! Tough questions to ask yourself!

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  3. One of the best posts weighing the Indie/Traditional route I've read! Great read, Susan!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

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  4. This is such great advice for anyone thinking of independently publish a book. For me, I know I couldn't handle all the jobs that would go with self publishing while having a full-time job.

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  5. Awesome tips, Sue! Thanks for posting these!

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    1. Thanks PK! I hope they help people trying to weigh their options! :)

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  6. Great post! These are all important things to consider before taking the plunge.

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  7. Great post and very honest advice! I think a lot of people make a blind leap without thinking about all the aspects. Indie publishing is a lot like everythig else in life. You get out of it what you are willing to put in.

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  8. Well said, Susan. It's not something to jump into lightly, unless you want to be disappointed by why your book isn't selling.

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  9. Echoing the chorus of great advice, Susan. Indie publishing CAN work well if the author knows what they're doing. It's such a wild west now and is interesting to see how publishing is evolving.
    --Susan

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  10. Susan, you are a superstar. And this is an awesome post. We've talked a lot behind the scenes on this topic, but I think what you have here answers the bulk of the questions. Great work, and super congrats on your success! :o) <3

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  11. These are such great points, Susan. Thank you!

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  12. Awesome and important questions! Also understanding that you may never make a living doing this. For all the ones we hear about that make 6 figures, etc, for most indies it's gravy money, not the main course.

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    1. So true, Elle! If you go in with the expectation that you'll earn a living off your one book, you're going to be disappointed. I think this is true no matter what path you take, because I know traditionally published authors - with great success - that still can't make a living at it. I'm going to talk more about sales next week and what "success" means in terms of them! :)

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  13. Brilliant post! Everyone who is thinking of going indie should read this.

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  14. Wise and insightful, as always, Susan. I'm bookmarking in case I ever need it. :-)

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  15. In these confusing times, this advice is wonderful! Great breakdown, thank you!

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  16. Great post! I blogged about the advice about writing more than one book before you hit The One, today. I'm glad that this advice (which I love to hate) is being espoused in self publishing as well as traditional publishing.

    I hope to see the e-book market for Middle Grade and YA continue to grow.

    We live in such exciting times!

    Thanks for your insight!

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  17. This is great, Susan. It is critical for writers to consider these things before making a decision. I know I am doing tons of research, editing, business planning, etc. before I take the plunge.

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  18. This post rocked, and I'm not even considering the self-publish route.

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  19. Yes, I have considered the indie route. As much as traditional publishing is appealing, the idea of owning the whole process is both scary and exciting. Getting the cover I want because I designed it or worked with a great graphic artist to come up with the best cover, seeing my hard work out in the world...it's appealing. Plus, I see quite a few people who go with a traditional publisher who still have to do so much of the same stuff that I can't help but wonder.

    Your questions have me thinking though, which is most important. Publishing is no joke, no easy road paved with silken rose petals. It's work. In the end, I just want to do my best to enjoy the process whether I go indie or traditonal.

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  20. Informative and inspirational post. Thanks for sharing.

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  21. All of these are great questions, and I hope those (including myself) take them to heart. There's been an interesting discussion on the quality of the self-published books here. http://tinyurl.com/85jj7lt As the comments have come in there's been a shift away from the original topic, but all of the information is excellent for those who are self-published or considering it.

    Thanks for this post, Susan.

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    1. Thanks for the link! I have to be approved for the group, but then I will check it out. :)

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  22. Susan, thanks for the comprehensive list. I know an author who wants to self publish but probably isn't thinking it through.

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  23. Excellent tips and advice, Susan :)

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  24. Last spring, I had considered self publishing. I had a manuscript that got some interest, but because it was on a topic that had already flooded the market, agents didn't want to take a chance even thought it had a different spin. Right now, I don't have the $ to self publishing. And I know I'd need some decent $ up front to do it right.

    This was a really informative blog post. Too many people jump in when they should read a post like this first.

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  25. Great Post and reality check. We authors need to realize that we have options. But first we must know ourselves and our limitations. Then we must know what road is best for which work.

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  26. This is a really fantastic post. I hope you don't mind, but I linked to it on my blog, because it has some valuable information (maybemandi.blogspot.com).

    I did have one question on this topic. You mentioned in your post (and I've noticed reference to it in the comments as well) that self-published authors need to be prepared for expenses that arise in the production of a book.

    Without being specific or infringing on your personal finances, could you comment on a ballpark range of the kind of money most Indie authors pay for services such as cover design / copy editing, etc. that you mentioned in your post?

    Thanks again for the great post!

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    1. You might want to check out my previous posts on my cover designer and copyeditor (both of whom I highly recommend).

      As for pricing, it's all over the map, but you generally (although not always) get what you pay for. Covers can range from $30 (not professional) to $200-$300 (professional) to $600+ (original art). The range for editing is even bigger, from a few hundred dollars for copyediting to a few thousand dollars for substantive edits.

      These kinds of services are becoming increasingly available for self-publishers, which also means you have to carefully check references and screen for quality work. Patrick (of Querytracker) is thinking about putting together a database of professional services for Indie authors (I've been giving my 2cents on what would be helpful for indie authors), which could be a great step in the right direction toward having flat rate services available to indies.

      Great question!

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  27. I'm exploring self-publishing possibilities at the moment, so thank you for this excellent advice -- much food for thought.

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  28. This post is different from what I read on most blog. And it have so many valuable things to learn.
    Thanks for the sharing of such information we will pass it on to our readers.
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  29. Outstanding post, Sue! Sharing your journey is invaluable to the rest of us. Thank you for being so open. :)

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  30. Referring to point 5... I saw another self-published author recently who has scored a great publishing deal and movie rights and all of that. I can't remember her name, but the name of the book is LIFE'S A WITCH. Have you heard of it?

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    1. I have! The author's a regular on the Kindle Boards. (Although I hadn't heard about her book deal, just the movie rights.) I actually think hollywood is seriously looking through Indie publishing right now for new material, because I'm hearing more about movie/TV rights selling than traditional deals.

      Still: I stand by the idea that indie is not the route to traditional publishing. Some authors may choose to go traditional with their indie books, but others are intentionally turning them down. It depends on the deal. I mostly mean that if what you REALLY want is traditional publishing, indie is not any kind of guarantee of that (even if you're successful).

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  31. For more on point 5 ... Check out John Locke's article on his Indie Publishing Deal with Simon & Schuster (yes, you read that right).

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  32. Very informative and asking the right questions! Thank you, Susan! I am really hoping that the continual success of ereaders will trickle down to more mg and ya's being sold as ebooks!!

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  33. I'm so happy and proud to know you. :) Awesome post.

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    1. Aw, thanks Karen!! I couldn’t be happier that I’m part of the Indelibles!

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  34. How do we all feel about the Amazon monopoly?! Amazon KDP -- is it to be embraced or shunned?

    This is a very informative post, Susan. Some really good points and much food for thought!

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    1. Thanks Scott! When you say KDP, I assume you mean the Select program, right? KDP is all self-publishing, KDP Select is an option where self-pubbers go exclusively Amazon in exchange for free days and access to Amazon's lending program. As you can see by my sidebar, I'm not exclusive to Amazon! I'm generally against exclusivity, but I know some people are finding success with it. I'm not using it now, but I won't rule it out in the future, for some select titles, if it made sense to do it.

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  35. Outstanding post, Sue! Sharing your journey is invaluable to the rest of us. Thank you for being so open. :)

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  36. You are so right. Much to consider and doing the planning for self-publishing is as important as it is in any business. Very nice, Susan. Thanks.

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  37. Great post, Susan. There's a lot to think about. I'm glad I made the decision I did though.

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  38. Thank you for that Post. I wish I had read this before I published my book!! I have made most of the mistakes pointed out!!
    This is absolutely essential reading for anyone considering self-publishing
    Thank you Susan

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