(or How I Did It, a “.doc”-umentary)
In September of 2021, I attended the Hampton Roads Writers’ Conference, where Leslie Penelope gave a keynote presentation wherein she asked, “What is your ‘why’?” Her words, descriptive of her own journey, made me ask myself the same question.
Why do I write?
There are many answers to that question, but the most essential one is this: I write to share my characters’ experiences with readers. Sure, a big royalty check every month would be great, but that isn’t why I sit in front of the desk and “bleed” all over my keyboard. I do it for my readers.
With that answer came the realization that the path to publication I’d chosen and pursued vehemently for seven years—traditional publishing—may never achieve what I’d set out to do. Thus, in early October, I made the decision to self-publish.
In the weeks that followed (before NaNoWriMo took all my “spare” time), and then again in December, I researched the subject of self-publishing and before I’d even gotten ankle-deep in the research, I nearly quit out of sheer overload.
There is SO MUCH to learn!
I wrote about that in my last blog post (“The Monster Under My Desk”), so I won’t go into it again here. What I do want to cover is the steps I’ve taken to overcome that knee-shaking fear of All Those Things I Don’t Know, and to start tackling them one at a time. Perhaps, if I chronicle my journey to my first (or second) self-published book, others who are standing at the trailhead hereabouts might benefit from my experiences, the mistakes I make, and the things I get right. Not only that, but I can then use my own posts as a map of sorts the next time I take this trip.
Please remember as you read that this is my timeline, undertaken at my level of understanding. If you follow this trail later, you may move faster, slower, or even take a totally different route. That’s okay. I’m told there are as many ways to self-publish as there are writers who do so.
So, let me see if I can find a concrete starting point.
December of 2021:
I joined The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), mostly because I figured those other pro-level self-published writers might be a knowledge base I could call on. I was right. They have a wealth of information as well as a list of vetted vendors and other individuals and businesses an indie writer might need/want. They’ll also warn you about businesses and vanity presses posing as assisted publishers along with appropriate revelatory information. Membership brings free access to several books on the topic of publishing your own work. At the time of this writing, I’m halfway through one of those, and learning a lot.
I also signed up for some Kindlepreneur classes and tools which will be helpful to me along the way, especially in learning meanings and uses of such arcane things as keywords, metadata, and business comparisons.
I started perusing cover designers, independent editors, and marketing plans, all of which cost money. I know that a professional cover designer and a good editor are essential, but as to the rest, I don’t even know. Not yet. (It’s still early days.) The thing to note is that these services are not cheap. On the other hand, I don’t really want them to be. I’m a firm believer in that old adage, “You get what you pay for.” Not to say that a good cover designer or a good editor can’t be had for a reasonable fee that can fit my budget; but I don’t expect to find either for less than $100 each. I don’t mind paying a professional rate for a professionally executed job, as long as I can afford the rate.
I started a “plan” in a Word document which, five days later, evolved into an Excel spreadsheet. I freely admit it isn’t much of a plan since I still have no clue what I need to do and in what order these things should be done. I don’t even know what I don’t know. Just looking at it, I quickly got overwhelmed by all the steps that lay ahead of me, compounded by my abysmal understanding of said steps. That knee-knocking fear started to creep in again, so I backed off and tried to think smarter, not harder.
A year ago, I purchased some writing classes on Udemy (which, to my embarrassment, I promptly forgot about and never used until the last week of December, 2021), so I went there to see what other classes they might offer on indie publishing, marketing, and all the associated parts of this process. One on indie publishing looked comprehensive, covering most of what I think I’ll need to know from a beginner’s perspective. I purchased that and two others relevant to this new direction in my publishing life and started the comprehensive SP one today.
If you haven’t ever taken online classes, and decide to do so now, take note that many which cover a broad subject like self-publishing in any real depth are going to be long. This one is, I think, eleven hours. I urge you to not try and tackle so much learning in a single day. (I did that yesterday with one of the writing courses still waiting in my account at Udemy. I don’t recommend it.) Spread it out. Watch an hour a day and wait to let the lessons sink in before you move on. Otherwise, you not only stand a chance of burnout, but you won’t retain the information long enough to use it.
I’ve also joined a couple of Facebook writer groups that are focused on indie writers. Both have been so helpful in pointing out things I never would have considered before. For one thing, I suspect that writers who “write to market” will always be more financially successful than those of us who write “from the heart,” as I do. At the moment, I’m mostly lurking and learning. My time to participate will come once I’ve got a bit more education under my belt.
My plan, for the next few weeks, is to:
• keep plying my craft on the stories/novel-length books I have already written, until they are as clean as I can make them;
• When I’ve done all I can to make them the best versions they can be, hire a professional editor; and
• Take as many classes as I can over the next month or two so that I know what I need to do next.
Maybe by February, I’ll have a better understanding of how long these steps take, as well as a firmer grasp on what my plan should look like, instead of a to-do list with the items in no particular order. Right now, I’m thinking I’ll publish on Kindle Direct Publishing, staying exclusive for the requisite 90-day period for e-books, and engaging a well-known print company to do the print-on-demand copies. After the 90 days, I’ll revisit whether or not to “go wide,” or spread my e-book and p.o.d. options through an aggregator who can (theoretically) get my books into bookstores, libraries, and the like. This “plan” is subject to change, of course.
For those of you who know my work, I hope to publish my first book (Entheóphage) by the summer (early? late?), and the first book in my trilogy (The Founder’s Seed: Fallen) in late autumn. If I can do it sooner, I will. But please don’t hold me to this “schedule” as, at this point, I am just beginning the learning process and may have to adjust the timetable as I better understand what needs to happen before that step. I am not in a hurry. I have heard stories from writers who rushed to push the “publish” button, and were sorry later because of one, or a combination, of many mistakes: they didn’t hire a professional cover designer, they didn’t share it with beta readers to get feedback on the story before making it public; they didn’t edit the book to within an inch of its life; they didn’t do any promotions or pre-orders; they had no marketing strategy; the reasons are legion. I know I’ll make my share of mistakes, but I hope to learn from those others have made before me.
I’ll keep blogging as I go about the process, and keep you in the loop, so you can follow along if you’d like. All posts in this series will have the same name with different part numbers and will be tagged “indie publishing journey” so you can find and read as I’m able to write them.
And if you aren’t a writer, but you are interested in my upcoming books, please stay tuned!
Happy New Year, everyone!