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

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Monday, March 4, 2013

Indie Business Talk - Setting Up

Indie publishing is a micro business that can be as individual as the author that's running it. This week I'm doing a series on the business side of things. What this week isn't about: marketing. While marketing is important, this is about the details of running the business, not the strategy behind how to make your books successful. See my marketing posts here.

This week's posts include:
Mon: Setting Up
Tues: Tracking Sales
Wed: Hiring Your Team
Thurs: Exploiting Rights


Making a Living From Your Writing

I've said, time and again, that the awesome part of indie publishing is that more and more writers are able to make a living from their writing.

Living the dream of dreaming your living.

"Making a living" is difficult to define, but I like the way Chris Eboch approached it: by looking at her income from writing relative to the per-capita average income of her state. She makes 70-100% of the per-capita income of New Mexico, from a combination of magazine articles, critiques, self-published fiction, and more. Last year, I made about 70% of the average for Illinois, but almost exclusively from my self-published fiction (the remainder from classes/workshops/speaking and a tiny royalty from my small press book). However, I expect to make about double the average in 2013. Income (and sources) vary widely among authors of all kinds, but I'm constantly amazed at how many writers DO make a living from their writing these days.

Setting Up
Since this is a business, treat it like one. One of the best things I did early on was set up a checking account, credit card, and PayPal account in my author name. Having all my expenses tracked and income deposited in a few central places will help tremendously at tax time. It also helps you keep a loose tab on the health of your business, seeing that account balance in your checking account.

My state doesn't require a DBA (Doing Business As) name or incorporation, but check to see if yours does. Early consultation with a tax preparer also showed I didn't need to incorporate for tax purposes until I was making substantially more than my expected income for 2012. That may change in 2013, so I expect to revisit that again. I highly recommend you consult with a tax attorney when you start to make money, just to make sure you're legal beagle for your state.

Createspace and Smashwords will give you free ones. Amazon, PubIt, and Kobo don't require them. Apple and Lightning Source do. Don't believe the rumors that you "have" to have one in order for your book to be "tracked" or get on the NYTimes bestseller lists. I personally know two people who were on the NYTimes bestseller lists without having ever purchased an ISBN. I went without ISBNs for a long time, until I uploaded direct to Apple.

Make A Business Plan
Denise Swank is the PRO at this, so I'll refer you to her posts on creating a business plan. A business plan is more than a marketing plan (although it can include that). It's a schedule of production for your creative works, a plan on how to fund their publication, and making sure you have long term goals, not just micro-ones that get you through the next promotion or the next release. You're in this for the long-haul, yes? Plan for it.

Be Realistic About Your Goals
Educate yourself about the indie success ladder, and what possibilities there are for authors today. It's okay to dream big, but don't sabotage your efforts by expecting insta-success. As more than one indie author has discovered, it's easier to sell 10 copies each of 10 different books than to sell 100 copies of a single novel. Plan to be a writer who writes. Get your work out there and be patient.

Set Up An Email Newsletter
Even if you only have five people on it to begin with. Seriously. This is your most important marketing tool, and it's never too early to start one. I use Mail Chimp, and I find it very professional and easy to use - and free for up to 2000 subscribers. Here's an example of one of my newsletters. Don't send them out too often - I usually reserve them for new releases and special giveaways/sales. Put sign-up links wherever there are people who are interested in your work: in the back of your books, on your website, in giveaways of your stories. This is your direct connection to your fanbase (current and future) - nurture it and the dividends will be awesome.
Q: Do I need a business license? Should we list our home as an office with city zoning? Do we need to register an official business name?
A: The answer to all of these is "no" in my state/city. Check with your local laws.

Q: How do we decide if we are self-publishing or an indie publisher?
A: I use "indie" and "self-publishing" interchangeably, and no one's hauled me off to the Author Gulag yet. :) The question of whether to adopt a "publisher" name depends on your temperment (and possibly your state business requirements), but I haven't, and probably won't unless/until I incorporate.

Q: Do I need to register for copyright?
A: Copyright is automatically granted as soon as your document is created. It's further cemented (i.e. provable) when you upload and publish at online retailers. You can register at the copyright office for additional "verification" by it's not much more than a time-stamp on your work. It's not necessary, but some people don't mind spending the fees to get the time-stamp (it's more than just the $35 "electronic" fee if you have a print version - they will require that you send in copies of that as well).

Q: Do I need to register with the Library of Congress?
A: No. In fact, I recommend that you focus on ebooks and not print, unless you have a marketing plan for how to move a large number of print copies. Ebooks are the bread and butter of indie authors. Focus on those.

Have questions? Put them in the comments. :)

ETA: Oops... I almost forgot!
(reminder: Open Minds is still free on most retailers, including Amazon UK and DE)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. A wealth of useful info as always, Susan!

  2. This is a great post, Susan. I'll tweet it later this week. :D

  3. A great post for writers wondering where to start!

  4. It sounds like so much work. But I'm glad it's working out so well for you!

  5. Thanks for all the practical advice. You're a gem, sharing it all with us. Glad it's worked out so well for you.

  6. Great advice! Thanks for the tips, Susan!

  7. Much needed checklist to get a small press started.

  8. What a great post series idea, Susan! :)

  9. You are awesome! Off to read today's installment~ <3

  10. You are a total indie GURU!!!! Thanks so much for this, Susan.

  11. Just a note of lawyerly correction, registering your copyright is quite a bit more than a timestamp. It expands the remedies available to you for breach. Without registration, you can only sue for consequential damages, or lost income. With registration you can sue for punitive damages. What that practically means is, without registration you will have a very hard time putting together a case lucrative enough to hire an attorney. I strongly recommend people register.

    1. Thanks for the lawyerly talk! :) I can see why you would recommend it, and I actually have registered for copyright for some of my books, but I think the risk exposure is pretty small for the cost (which is how I usually judge "insurance type" coverages). The chances of me hiring a attorney for punitive damages is very small. But I can see some people wanting to be "fully covered" in all cases. For most indies, I think the chances of this kind of infringement are generally small enough to not warrant the cost. #my2cents But thanks for the free lawyerly advice!!