Self-and-Indie Publishing as Business (an Overview)

Last week we took a flyover of the traditional publishing-as-business landscape, so in the interest of equal time, this week’s entry will focus on the independent side of the mountain.

The independent author’s road parallels that of the traditional author until manuscript completion. No matter which path you choose, Step 1 in this business is “write the best book you can, and make absolutely positive it’s ready for publication.” This makes sense. No matter what kind of business you open, you need a salable product.

Unlike traditional authors, whose careers loop off on a search for agents and, later, publishing houses, the independent author must now make two important decisions: the type of independent publishing to pursue and  the size of the investment he or she is willing to make.

In short, it’s time for a business plan. (Author business plans will get a close-up look the weeks of July 11 and July 18, for those of you wanting to mark your calendars!)

The business plan must take into account the author’s goals for the work (you’ll need a separate, overarching career plan, but we’ll focus on book/series plans for now), a budget for publishing, marketing and distribution costs (do you want a book tour? how much are you willing and able to spend?), a schedule with dates for editing, typesetting, marketing milestones and the all-important book release, and marketing and distribution plans. Successful self-publishing requires far more than just writing a book and uploading it onto the Internet. Businesses require business plans – and the plan gets written first.

Once the business plan is written and the author knows what formats (s)he has chosen, it’s time to find a publisher. This means homework. The author must investigate publishing options, talk with other authors who used the house and read at least a couple of books the publisher has produced (for a production quality check). If other authors don’t recommend the service, or the books are filled with typos and graphic glitches, you probably want to look elsewhere.

Some publishers handle typesetting for a fee, while others expect or require the author to handle all aspects of the digital conversion. If the author chooses not to convert the files himself or herself, it’s time to hire a professional to handle this part of the job. For a great walkthrough of the process, check out Tammy Salyer’s blog. She’s writen a fantastic series (Publishing Pains Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) and an overview of Smashwords formatting on Mac OSX with MS Office. She’s your go-to resource for the tech side of self-publishing.

While handling the file conversions, the author should also consider sending the manuscript out for blurbs. In traditional publishing, blurbs appear on covers and in advertising – they’re comments and brief reviews from authors or reviewers who read the book. (“I laughed, I cried, I peed my pants and hugged a platypus.”)

Many self-published authors forego blurbs, both because they think blurbs are difficult to obtainand because independent authors often forget about this step in the process. Don’t be that author! (And yes, we’ll will take a look at blurb advice for the independent author later in this series.) Get your blurbs early – you’ll need them as part of your marketing plan. And don’t think you’re any less able to get them than traditional authors – many, many independent authors get fantastic blurbs! Be one of them!

This is also the point when cover art is designed and selected. Unless the indie author is also a very capable artist, I strongly discourage DIY cover art. Authors should invest in a professional image and obtain written license to use it as cover art. The image doesn’t have to be original, or exclusive, but the artist needs the legal right to grant permission for the author’s use. Art is copyrighted, just like a novel or other creative work, and it cannot be used without the owner’s permission.

Once the manuscript is formatted, typeset and finalized, the cover art is licensed, and the author has obtained desired blurbs, it’s time to start the marketing process. (You thought I was going to say “publish” didn’t you? Nope. Not yet.) Even if a novel won’t appear in traditional bookstores, an author can still design and implement a marketing plan. This could include a blog tour, promotion through social media, and word-of mouth, as well as any special outlets and contacts the author can marshal on his or her behalf. The length of the pre-launch marketing should be relatively short, to ensure that buzz peaks right at the time of release.

Then, and only then, it’s time for release!

The author’s marketing efforts should bookend release day. Guest blogging, interviews (online and in physical media like papers and magazines – either local or national) and readings at coffee house open mike nights are great events to surround and promote a release. Some of these avenues may be less open to self-published works, but many are not – and an author never knows what options he or she has available without asking! The worst anyone can say is “no” – and then the author is no worse than when (s)he started. Remember: when it comes to book marketing, creativity counts!

Marketing doesn’t end when the book releases. Independent authors often don’t have the luxury of publisher support, or even the knowledge that the book is sitting on bookstore shelves where browsing readers may find it. That said, even traditionally-published authors have to work hard to stand out in the publishing crowd – and from that perspective, the call to effective marketing applies to every author, however published.

A thought to leave on for today: effective marketing isn’t the same as frequency or volume. Yelling more loudly may only turn people away. The most effective authors are the ones who are genuine people – nice to work with, friendly in public, and eager to make others feel important. Keeping that in mind – and in practice – may sell more books than all the ads and shouting in the world.

In the weeks to come, I’ll be splitting out individual business topics and talking about them from both traditional and indie/self-publishing perspectives. Next week we’ll take a look at the author’s business relationship with his or her editor at a traditional house, and the following week we’ll flip the coin and examine the independent author’s decision to work with independently hired editors.


3 thoughts on “Self-and-Indie Publishing as Business (an Overview)

  • June 20, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Thanks for the super kind words, Susan 🙂 I have an overwhelming urge to hug both you and a platypus now!

    • June 21, 2012 at 12:19 pm

      Thank YOU for giving us all such a great resource. I can only imagine the time and energy it took to chronicle the entire process. It’s the best discussion of its kind I’ve seen anywhere, and I’m really glad to have it to refer to!

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