Ten Things I Learned About Independent Publishing in 2011

1. It can be done. This may seem obvious to many of you, but a year ago, the thought of doing this wasn’t even on my radar. I can thank my friend, Lydia (thanks, Lydia!), for pointing to this phenomenon that was starting to make news. The plain truth of it is, I was only writing as a hobby then, but once she mentioned it, the idea was planted, and I decided it was something I wanted. And that’s important. It has to be something you want. Like anything, success in indie book publishing is often determined by how much you want it. However…

2. Anyone can publish, not everyone should. Can anyone write a book? My husband would tell you, “No.” Kindle Direct Publishing will tell you, “Yes!” The real answer lies somewhere closer to my husband, I think. If putting words into an epub or mobi format is all that it takes to publish a book, then yes, anyone can. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of crap books out there. Let’s be honest, a lot of the books that are self-published are first drafts. Some of them are just a bad idea to begin with. I would never go on American Idol to try out on national television; some people would. If you don’t take yourself (and your work) seriously, no one will. That’s why…

3. Surrounding yourself with the right people is crucial. And by that, I mean you need a healthy balance of cheerleading and honesty. The ideal is an honest cheerleader. I thank them in every book, but the pre-reading and editing superpowers of Kristy, Kelli, Lindsay, Sarah, Molly, Sandra, Caroline, Toni, and Amy are a large part of what make my books not suck. They’re the ones that point out when a character sounds “off.” They’re the ones that point out when I use the word “murmur” fifteen times in one chapter. (Yeah, that happened once.) They point out plot holes and weak characterizations; they also pat my head when I feel like the worst writer in the world and give me hugs, even from thousands of miles away.

4. Forget the naysayers, this market is nowhere near saturated. It’s only growing. Forget people who say the e-book market is “flooded.” Please. How many people do you know that got e-readers this Christmas? How many people do you know who admit they read more since getting their Nook or Kindle or iPad? People are reading. They’re reading a lot. People are also reading a greater variety of story forms. Want to know the last time I read a graphic novel before I got my iPad? Years. Now, I can access thousands of them online, and I do. Short stories? I don’t want to pay $8-10 for an anthology of writers I’m not interested in to get the one I want. But I’m more than happy to pay a couple dollars for the e-book version. E-books have the power to reinvigorate the short story form. Poetry? Don’t get me started.

5. I’m smart…but I’m not that smart. Do you need an editor? Yes. At least a copy editor. If you have smart and honest pre-readers, you can probably get away without a developmental one, but you need a copy editor. Editing is an art the same as writing; do not make the mistake of neglecting it. Do you need a cover artist? That depends on a number of factors, but please keep in mind a great cover has a lot going on other than pretty pictures. Do you need help marketing? Yes, which leads me to…

6. Book bloggers are really awesome people. I’m not saying they’re all nice. I know they’re not. Most of the ones I’ve “met” have been great, but not all. So why are they awesome? Because they do what they do for the sheer love of books. They don’t make money on it. (Some may have ads or vendor buttons, but I can almost promise most of what they make goes into the site; running a website, a good one, usually costs some money.) No one from the New York Times or USA Today is going to read my book. Book bloggers offer readers and indie authors a very important way to connect, and they devote a ton of time doing it. Any time one of them offers to spend their time reading and reviewing my book, I’m grateful. Even if they don’t end up liking it much, I’m going to say, “Thank you!” So, drop them a comment. Tweet that link you love. Subscribe. Interact. Most bloggers do what they do for the love of books and the fun of connecting with people who have the same interests. In other words, please do feed the book blogger.

7. It sucks not to be able to cuss as much on twitter. Yeah, that’s pretty much it. The plain fact of it is, you have to conduct yourself with a bit more decorum on social networking sites if you’re going to be taken seriously. That said, don’t be boring, either. And don’t over-promote. That’s obnoxious. I’m not as bad as some, and I’m trying to cut back. The books should stand on their own, and people will quickly tune you out if all you ever do is tweet buy links.

8. You have to be in this for the long haul. It goes back to desire and perseverance. About being honest with yourself and recognizing that, other than a few big names, most indie writers are not going to become millionaires. That said, the chances of you being a millionaire writer were never very good under the old system, either. Stick it out. Keep going. Keep writing. Keep publishing. It’s not who makes a big splash in their first six months, it’s who is still in the game after six years have gone by. Are you a writer? Then write. With self-publishing platforms and print on demand, you now have the power to tell your stories and reach your audience on your own terms. But it’s not going to happen overnight.

9. The future is moving toward e-books, and that’s a good thing for book lovers. “Heresy!” I hear from the bibliophiles. Let me be clear, I’m not married to paper, but I do love books. I love paper books. I love e-books. I buy both for very different reasons. Look at this:

This is the book of the future. (And no, not because it’s a Star Wars book. Everyone knows that Star Wars is ancient history, not the future…but I digress.) We got this book for our son for Christmas. It’s so amazing, I’ll be dedicating a post to it next week, but the short version of why this is the book of the future is this: it’s a really, really nice book. It has beautiful paper and gorgeous font. It has a deluxe binding and beautiful endpaper. It comes in the coolest book box ever. When you open this book, it’s evident that whoever wrote it, and whoever made it, loved it. It’s special. And readers are going to be seeing more care taken with special editions of books we love as we move forward. But again, this subject deserves its own post.

10. It’s worth it. Personally, creatively, and yes, even financially, self-publishing is worth it. You can make money doing this. You might not make a lot at first, but please see #8. Personally, putting your work out there and reaching readers is something that cannot be equalled. Every time I get an e-mail or tweet from a reader telling me they loved one of my books, it thrills me. Creatively, I’m doing what I love and I’m doing it on my own terms. I don’t have to worry about my book being edited in a way that I don’t agree with. I don’t have to worry about a cover distorting what the message is. I choose the title. The marketing. The font on the pages. It’s mine. The risk is mine, but so is the reward. And for me, that makes everything worth it.

So, what am I going to learn in 2012? How will the publishing world change? Smart people can make predictions, but fundamentally, it doesn’t change much about my own path. In 2010, I was a writer. In 2011, I was a writer who became an author. I published two books, and people bought them. What am I going to do in 2012? I’m going to keep writing. I’m going to keep publishing. And I’m going to hope that a few of you might join me.