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Diary of an indie author

How I do it

It all comes back to this: writing’s the easy part

These days, writing—especially with the challenge of National Novel Writing Month—is a daily practice. I’m holding off on more research until the first draft of the historical narrative is cobbled into place, because research is such a delicious and time-sucking activity that I inevitably climb down a rabbit hole and find myself lost for hours. Marketing and promotion, plus the administrative details of publishing, occupy a fair chunk of time as well. Here’s how it’s breaking down:

  • Writing. No, I don’t write longhand with a flower-topped pen and a pink teacup at my side. But I kinda wish I did…because that looks fun. Instead, I peel aside roughly 1,000 open tabs on my computer screen and find the Scrivener file for my sequel, then set it to “composition mode” and start typing away. I like to set a timer for 25 minutes; every time it goes off I get up for 5 minutes and do something active. I’ve already set all my scenes with word count targets and I have 2-sentence synopses already written for all of them. I’m still hoping to get 50,000 words of a first draft done by the end of November, but the last few days I’ve been underperforming. I’m only at 17,500 words. This week I’ll have to power up and double my average word count each day. For those of you wondering how the creative force can co-exist with a daily word count, I’ll just say that it is like any other habit. You force yourself to start writing (or, depending on the day, you gleefully dive into writing) and then—here’s the tricky part—you keep writing.
  • Marketing/promotion. I combined these because I’m honestly not 100% sure where marketing ends and promotion begins. They kind of melt into each other. Here’s what I’ve done since my last post:
  • Reviews. I keep “shaking the tree” to encourage advance reviewers to post their reviews. I now have 18 reviews on Amazon. I am thinking about approaching Amazon “super reviewers,” which has worked well for some indie authors. I started researching a few of them and got scared by a 1-star review that went into excruciating detail for about a thousand words about just how bad the reviewer thought the book was. The writer was a first time novelist and my heart went out to her. I understand that some people will give 1-star reviews. I’m sure I’ll get my share. But to rip into an author with that level of ferocity just seems mean-spirited. OK, you don’t like it, but do you have to write a piece the length of a New Yorker article to say that? I have seen a level of nastiness when it comes to historical novels that other genres don’t seem to attract. The “historical fiction police” are always eager to pounce on someone for getting some detail wrong, like a clause from a treaty in the Napoleonic wars or the way people ate in the 1400s.
  • I am planning a Goodreads giveaway that will kick off in the next few weeks (more on that in a future post).
  • I have a Kindle countdown deal planned for early December and will run Facebook ads plus ads on e-book promotional sites to generate sales. I did lots of research on such sites and have a spreadsheet going to keep them all straight.
  • I am planning to join an author cross-promotion in early 2017 that will hopefully help build my mailing list. It has been stuck at 14 people since the book launched. More on author cross-promotions in a future post.
  • I entered my book cover in a competition and my book in a fiction awards competition. I’ve researched a lot of other awards and am leery of most of them. They tend to be expensive to enter, have no relevance to the average reader, and they don’t tend to have a lot of third-party endorsements. Some of them are run by “vanity press” outfits that are all about making money off independent authors. The Amazon “Emerging Author” award, which I thought was right up my alley because I published my book on Amazon first, has just been scrapped in favor of Kindle Scout, which invites indie authors to send never-before-published manuscripts to Amazon to compete for the chance to be published by Kindle Press. I’m not a hater of Amazon, because it has allowed me to produce a beautiful paperback version of my book in a print on demand format, as well as an e-version, and I’m halfway through 90 days of e-book exclusivity on Amazon. But I do worry about having all my eggs (or, more accurately, my only egg) in one basket, and I’m leaning toward going wide in 2017. Going wide means publishing the e-version on Kobo, iTunes and elsewhere, and publishing a paper version on Ingram Spark (which as far as I understand allows you to sell and distribute your book internationally without being attached to Amazon). It adds to my expenses, and I’ve heard a lot of anecdotal evidence that it doesn’t always improve sales, especially at first. But going wide will give me a better chance of getting the paperback into local bookstores, some of which (like the one in my neighborhood) understandably ARE Amazon haters and associate books like mine with Amazon.
  • I’m about halfway through creating my media kit, which includes a press release, author bio, review snippets, photos, author interview (I invited myself to conduct the interview, and I’m pleased to say I was more than delighted to do it), a “cold call” flyer for bookstores that might carry my book, and more.
  • There’s always website maintenance to do that inevitably takes 3 times longer than it should, and anyone who has built a website on WordPress understands the strange vortex you enter when you try to fix some simple little item like a widget that won’t appear or fonts that won’t adjust in size. Luckily my Vantage theme gurus in South Africa patiently answer my questions in non-judgy, helpful emails.

At times I’m overwhelmed by the amount of juggling it takes to do this, but it’s not impossible. More than anything, I feel fortunate to be living in an age with the technology and resources that allow people like me to publish books independently. I’m trying to keep a flexible and positive attitude about it all. The constant changes in the world of publishing offer people like me opportunities; we just have to keep testing new strategies, a few more each day. Some will work, some won’t. The important thing is to try.


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