What Indie Author Means

Some folks have wondered why my book isn’t on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Kobo or at the library or in the local bookstore.

I’m an indie author. That’s a rather wide umbrella term, so allow me to explain which kind of indie author I am.

There are a lot of reasons I decided not to pursue traditional publishing. First and foremost is that I’m old. The trad pub route takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r. First you have to find an agent and then they have to find you a publisher and then it takes years before your book is in a store. I’m 62 years old. I don’t have time for that. I have a lot of books to write. Another major reason is creative control. I have a wee, tiny bit of an issue with that. (That’s a lie. I’m a total control freak.) Luckily, the landscape of publishing has changed and made it possible for authors to choose to do any or all of the publishing tasks themselves.

There’s an entire spectrum for indie authors to choose from.

You can use a hybrid-publisher, who helps you navigate through the maze from writing the manuscript to book-in-hand. This costs money up front. If you don’t know anything about publishing and you aren’t good at learning new tech, this can be a good route if you have the money to do it that way. Hybrid publishers can be exceedingly helpful and they have connections. You will still have to maintain an author website and do a lot of your own marketing, promotion, and publicity, but they will help you figure out how to do it.

You can use Amazon direct publishing or another platform like it, where you upload your finished and edited book and they format it and sell it on their sales platforms. For this, most platforms take 30% of your cover price on digital books and around 45% of your cover price for printed books. (45% is an average. That number varies wildly among publishing platforms and even within platforms depending on paper weight, cover style, # of pages, etc.) For this you get your book on Amazon’s website (or someone else’s book selling website) and you get an ISBN, which can be expensive if you can’t afford to buy a batch of them. You get no help in marketing the book, you have to maintain your own author website, you have to do your own promotion and publicity. Also, if you want your book on multiple sales platforms (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc) you have to upload and maintain an author account with each of them.

You can use a distributor, whose job it is to put your books up on all the sales platforms and libraries. Distributors take 10% of your cover price. So, if you use one, you’ll have 40% of your cover price taken in fees for the services of the distributor and the book sales site.

Or you can go totally indie, which has distinct advantages and disadvantages. One of the advantages for me, personally, is that I live in Germany, but write in English, so most of my sales would be to English speakers. Therefore, I’d have to put my books up on platforms in English-speaking countries. For tax purposes, it’s just easier for me to sell from a German website directly to my readers because it saves me about 800 forms to fill out than if I was selling internationally on platforms that are not based in Germany. I also get full creative control of the formatting of the book, the look of the cover, and the content of the book. That’s not to say that I don’t use proofreading and editing software and services and that I don’t take advice from beta readers, whose job it is to read your pre-published work and point out the flaws. I do. It’s just that I’m in control. The other advantage of my being totally indie is that I can set a lower book price because I am not giving chucks of the cover price away to distributors and sales sites. You might say, “But, Liza, Amazon has billions of visitors each day! That’s a lot of exposure. And you would be right. But, it also means that my book could very likely get buried in the millions of other books on the site. I’d rather not have my book get lost in a blizzard of other books. Another advantage to not distributing the book widely is that I don’t need to buy an ISBN. I did register myself as a publisher and if the time comes when distributing my books to bookstores and libraries makes sense, I’ll already be set up to buy ISBNs in batches, which is a much better deal than buying them for each book. In the meantime, I don’t need them. ISBNs are used to keep track of books that are in distribution.

The disadvantages of going total indie are not insignificant. But, I preferred these downsides to the downsides of the other choices. I had to learn a lot of tech stuff. Stuff I have no natural talent for. I had to learn how to use Scrivener, Pro Writing Aid, and Vellum. These apps help me plan, write, edit, and format my books. They were also a pretty hefty financial investment up front. I had to set up a more complicated website than just a basic author site. I had to install mail client software for newsletters and sales widgets for book sales and distribution of the digital books. And I had to figure out how to do all that. (I had help from a techie husband, thank heaven!) And I have to maintain it all to make sure it keeps working the way it should. If I sell paperbacks, I have to pack and post them myself until I start selling so many books per day that I can’t keep up. If that ever happens, I’ll have to consider other options that I will be able to afford from the sales of all those books.

I’ve chosen a marketing style that is called “1000 true fans.” Kevin Kelly developed this idea for musicians and promoted it in Wired magazine. The idea is that you build up a relationship with 1000 people who like you and your work so much that they will automatically buy everything you put out. The goal is to produce $100 worth of goods or services per year. For musicians, this would be albums, singles, concert tickets, and other merchandise like t-shirts, etc. Accordingly, this should bring in $100,000 in sales per year. Profit, of course, would be much less because of the expenses of producing music and playing concerts. But, according to Kelly, if you can do this, you can support yourself being a musician.

This concept doesn’t translate perfectly to authors, but it’s similar. I’m producing books that I sell for 3 to 7 euros. I can’t write 20 books a year in order to produce 100 euros worth of product per year, so I’ll have to have a larger number of readers. But, I’m trying to build a readership through social media, author events, conferences, and word of mouth. I’m trying to find my true fans. I’m looking for people who will say, “Ooh! Liza wrote another Byrne Sisters mystery!” or “Hey, Liza put out a book of short stories. I need to buy that.”

I don’t know if I can attract enough loyal readers to support myself as an author, but that is the goal and I’m working on it.

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