My Year as an Indie Author: Ten Observations

One year ago today, I uploaded my first novel, "Live and Let Die," to Amazon (though my published date shows up as November 7, due to a formatting snafu on my end, my book wasn't actually available for sale until December 9).

It's been an interesting year filled with highs and lows and lots of surprises.  So, in the spirit of end-of-year reflection, I thought I would share ten of the things I've observed over this past year:

1. It's Hard
Duh.  I know, real revelatory.  Going into this, I knew it would be a lot of work – between writing, production, distribution and marketing, I didn't expect it to be a cake walk by any stretch.  Still, you always underestimate just how many details you've got to keep track of, how everything will take twice as long as you think it will and how much sheer time and energy it will take, especially when you have another career and a social life to feed and water.  In spite of how hard it can be, I'm having a blast.

2. Free Is Not a Dirty Word
Maybe because I've spent practically all of my professional life in public relations and marketing where free product is a way of life, I don't get my back up over giving my books away gratis, be it through promotional days or giveaways.  Some indie authors are vehemently opposed to Amazon's KDP's five free promotional days, claiming it is a sin to give away your art.  Well, I'm not hanging in a museum, so I don't exactly buy into that argument.  Of course I want sales.  However, I have to find the readers first and free is a great way to accomplish that.  Free=exposure=readers=sales.   

3. I Don't Mind Marketing
If "Free" makes most Indies see red, "Marketing" makes most of them lose their lunch.  Authors, like most creative types, tend to be introverts and liken having to market themselves to shoving a pen through their eye (though some might say the pen would hurt less). 

The most successful salespeople know that selling isn't about selling.  It's about forming real connections with people and building relationships.  It's not about screaming "buy my book" on Twitter 24 hours a day or endlessly hawking your wares on Facebook.  It's about delivering a quality product and being authentic and accessible.  I approach my marketing activities with that mindset, which honestly, makes it fun for me.  I’ve had a blast participating in interviews, developing promotional ideas and interacting with people on Twitter.  Once you let go of the notion of "selling," you start to feel very free and realize putting yourself out there isn’t this scary, icky thing (at least that's how I look at it.)  

4. Book Bloggers Are Awesome
In the PR world, which I spent a lot of time in, media relations is at the crux of pretty much everything you do.  Media exposure goes a long way, which is why PR folks spend a lot of time cultivating relationships with editors and reporters. 

I don’t think it’s any different with book bloggers.  Building relationships with book bloggers is a great way to garner reviews and spread the word about your book.  I’ve worked with some wonderful book bloggers and have nothing but the utmost respect for the work they do.  While they are supportive of Indies, they will always be fair and honest in their assessment of books they read.  I cringe whenever I hear stories of Indies badgering (bashing even) book bloggers to change or remove less-than-positive reviews.  Life is too short.  I’d rather be writing.

5. I Need Paperback Versions of My Books      
I was pretty adamant that if I was going to take the plunge into Indiedom, I would solely stick to eBooks.  Well, now that I’ve taken off my idiot cap, I’m in and in big with producing paperback versions of my books.  I’ll probably only ever break even on them, but having paperbacks has allowed me to reach more book bloggers and participate in GoodReads Giveaways, which equals EXPOSURE.  And to be honest, it’s kind of cool to see MY books sitting on my bookshelf.   

6. Packaging Counts
Writing the books is the easy part.  Trying to figure out the “package,” i.e. cover art and blurbs, is what gives me anxiety. 

For my own edification, I study what others do.  I constantly troll the suspense books on my own bookshelf, examining the elements of cover design, front to back, top to bottom, how the blurbs are constructed, right down to how many paragraphs and even word count.  I roam the pages of Amazon to see what other Indies are doing and really concentrate on what intrigues me and why.  I’m really impressed with a lot of what I see.

Presentation matters.  It’s kind of like food.  We eat with our eyes.  If a plate of food looks unappetizing, we won’t eat it.  Readers make snap decisions about what to read.  If the cover of a book looks interesting and the blurb sounds enticing, they’ll want to read it.        

Conversely, a cake can look pretty on the outside and taste like crap.  So the moral here is, I still have to make a cake tastes as good as it looks.

7. I Have to Have a Proofreader
From the start, I knew I was going to have my books professionally proofread. It was one of my “non-negotiables.”  I’m always a little (okay, more than a little) confused when I read about Indies eschewing professional proofreading for any number of reasons (cost, arrogance, naiveté, etc.).  I’ve heard a lot of Indies say they skipped professional proofreading, figuring sales of one book would pay for editing on the next book.  Except by skipping the crucial step of editing, they found they paid for it in reviews and consequently, sales.  They had to go back and hire professionals to “clean up" the books.  Just like professional cover art and formatting, professional proofreading is a key investment that ALL us Indies should make in our product (books)

8. Critique Partners are Key
Family is great.  Friends are great.  They can definitely give you sound insight when it comes to critiquing your manuscript.  However, getting an outside from perspective from another writer is invaluable.  I’m very fortunate to have found fellow Indie suspense author, Emily McDaid as my sounding board (I’m really looking forward to having her read “Every Breath You Take” and “Live To Tell” after the New Year.)

9. I Have to Take Everything in Stride
Like all Indie authors, I have had some great days; nice reviews, awesome sales, boffo writing progress.  I’ve also had some not-so-great days: so-so reviews, worse than so-so sales, shitty writing progress.  As much as I’d like to drown myself in Häagen-Dazs Butter Pecan on those days, wallowing does nothing.  Getting angry and wanting to put curses on everyone does nothing.   Not everyone will like my books and that’s okay.  To put the shoe on the other foot, I don’t like every book, movie or television show on the market.  And that’s okay, too. On those not-so-great days, the only thing I can do is keep going and keep writing.   

10. I Have to Keep Writing
This is my mantra.  This is my drum beat.  This is what I always come back to.  Unless I put my butt in the chair everyday to write, all the marketing and pretty book covers in the world don’t mean anything.

So, onward to 2014 and more books, more marketing and more hard work.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. J