As a side hustle, I’ve been dabbling with a bit of independent publishing. It's been something I've wanted to try out after chatting to authors who've done brilliantly with it. But I just never found the time as I had so many commitments on the trad side (which for now will always come first for me). Maybe the delay is also because I grew a little cynical about indie publishing too. As well as the success stories, I also began to hear less successful stories. I was worried about taking something on which might turn out to be a waste of my time.
But then late last year, I had this insane urge to write a sci-romance that's been buzzing around my head for years. Maybe it's because after a VERY tough couple of years, I needed to do something... a little different. A little out of my usual lane. So in-between writing books for my publisher, I wrote up my story. It only took a few weeks and it was such FUN! And I knew, I just knew, it would be the ideal project to test the indie waters. I mean, the chance of getting a trad publisher in this genre are slim anyway, and I'd seen other authors in this particular genre (hello Ruby Dixon!) do wonderfully.
So I used all the knowledge I've accumulated over the years to finally independently publish one of my novels. And I won't just be publishing one either... I'll be publishing two more. My learnings told me that in this genre, it really is best to have at least three novels in a series out before delving whole-heartedly into marketing them. I also decided I needed to publish them quickly. Another thing my research into indie publishing and this particular genre taught me is how successful the 'rapid release' approach can be. After all, the romance genre is dominated by what are known as 'whale readers', people who devour ebooks at a crazy speed. If they like your first book, they want the next one, stat! So the plan was to write at least the first two books quickly, and aim to release them two to three months apart. This is reasonably easy for someone like me, who can write like a demon plus earnings from my trad writing career mean I write f/t, so I've been able to juggle this hybrid career with some evening and weekend work thrown in too.
It's now been a couple of months since I self-published book one in this sci-fi romance series and soon, I'll be publishing book two. I'm not (yet) here to share the results of my indie experiment as, like I mentioned, I don't plan to really push the books marketing-wise until at least three are out. But already, I have learnt a LOT! So I thought I'd share the three things that have really been rammed home to me over the past few months...
1. I really don't have a clue
It doesn’t matter that I've had a career in PR, social media and marketing. It doesn't matter how many podcasts on indie publishing I listened to, or the courses I've done and the books I've read. Nothing could truly prepare me for what's involved in self publishing my own book. I realise the only way to truly know is just dive right in and learn as I go. Maybe this shouldn't have surprised me. I honestly (arrogantly) thought I'd done enough reading and learning for it to be a breeze. I thought I was organised enough too. But the truth is, you really have to be the king or queen of organisation. From dealing with all the different editorial rounds (hats off to editorial teams at trad publishing houses for their ninja skills on this) to the ad side of things, it's a complicated juggle of so many different parts. And I haven't even delved into the ad side properly yet! It really has made me appreciate the teams I work with in my trad published life. The fact is, in the same way we're told the first ever novel we write is a learning curve, so is the first novel you independently publish. You almost have to go in with the mindset that this is another step in your learning and appreciate it for that alone, even if you don't end up making much money with that first novel.
2. It's costly
I don't just mean in terms of money, I mean time too.
Yeah, sure, you can indie publish for peanuts. Design your own cover. Get a friend to edit your novel. But can you really do this in a way that makes it look as professional as a trad published novel? Unlikely. So the fact is, there is some initial outlay. To give you a little insight into what I've spent so far just for book one, here's a list:
Dev edit: £550
Copy / line edit: £730
Blurb advice: £25
Amazon ads: £200
Pen name email: £50
Subscriptions to tools like BookSprout and BookFunnel: £300
Marketing tools: £100
Web domain: £100
Of course, some of these items won't need to be paid again for book 2 and 3 (eg. dev edit as I've decided it won't be needed now I've got to grips with the genre, and subscriptions). But equally, I've saved money by doing things like designing my own website. Overall, I reckon I'll be spending about five thousand pounds on a three-book series, and that doesn't include advertising. I actually think this is reasonably conservative compared to some indie authors, and I've been a little more free-spirited with spend as I've been reinvesting some of what I've earned from my trad career. I mean, sure, I could save money by doing some of this myself. But if one thing is clear from the research I've done, indie published books need to look as professional as possible–from a professionally designed cover to a carefully edited manuscript–in order to have their best chance. You don't want readers to be able to distinguish your novel from a trad published novel.
And then there's the time you spend publishing your own stuff. Not just the writing, but the admin. Oh the admin! Yes, of COURSE I knew there would be a LOT involved. I don't want this post to come across as a whiny 'but nobody told me how difficult it would be' because I honestly did try to prepare myself for the hard work involved. But remember what I said in point one? Until you dive in, you can’t truly know just how much is involved. Even adding a friggin’ book to Amazon via a form can be a time suck. What has been super enlightening for me is that I now get just how much work my trad publishers do on my behalf. I mean, I’ve always known how hard they work, but until now, haven't really understood the whole process from start to finish. Editorial. Marketing. Admin. It’s a SLOG! When you're traditionally published, this is mainly handled by the publishers, allowing you more time to write. So yeah, big respect to publishing staff,
3. People can be... unreliable
This has been the biggest challenge so far. Not just for me but chatting to other indie authors, it's 100% a widespread issue: the nightmare and unpredictability of relying on others. It's easier when trad published as your editor does most of the liaising and organising of the team, such as editors, cover designers, marketing. But as an indie author, you're the boss. This can be great. You're in control. But it can also be super frustrating, especially when freelancers go MIA at crucial times which is an all-too regular occurrence from what I've heard from other indie authors (sounds harsh but it's the truth). It's not always due to pure unreliability of the freelancers' parts of course. Life can get in the way. But it still leaves you with lots of problems if, say, your final cover isn't delivered. It's so stressful!
4. It can make you even more enthusiastic about the trad publishing side of your life
For some, dabbling with indie publishing makes them want to dive right into the indie publishing world whole-heartedly. They might make lots more money with their indie stuff. They might adore the control. They might feel disillusioned with the trad publishing world, especially if their books aren't selling and / or they're not able to secure a new contract. There can be a multitude of reasons.
But for me, it's given me an even deeper appreciation for the trad publishing world. This is not at the cost of my appreciation for indie publishing. I can see the good in both and in a few months, my indie books might take off and I'll be rolling in the indie money, ha! But it's definitely shown me even more how much my publishers do for me, and also the challenges they face in shifting copies and building reviews, liaising with freelancers, and juggling the many, many balls you need to juggle to do it all properly.
5. It has taught me even more about how to help my trad published books
There are so many more things I now realise I could be doing to help shift copies of my trad published books. I thought I'd picked up lots of tips already from indie authors but being in the thick of it has given me a whole new level of insight. And yes, this is insight I will share eventually.
Overall, it's so far been a challenging, insightful and stressy experience. Will I will independently publish more books after this series? Let's see when I get book three of the series out! Watch this space in a few months to see what I think then!
search the blog here