A Peek Into the Indie Writer World – Part VI: Big Picture Advice and Pitfalls

Indie writers come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are old school traditionally published writers who’ve decided to try something new, while others are newer at their craft and have eschewed the traditional model in favor of something they have some control over. Since our paths may be different, the tiny details of how to accomplish our goals may vary, but there are basic recommendations that apply to all of us.

Big Picture

Learn the Business

Your indie writer gig is effectively a business, whether it’s a part-time side job or your primary source of income. It’s in your best interest to have a grasp of the basics of both running a business (how do taxes work where you live, what do you need to be documenting?) and how publishing works in general.

You don’t need a business degree and you don’t need to take hundreds of dollars in courses on the publishing industry. But you do need a foundation to launch from.

Have a Plan

Without a plan, it’s hard to figure out where to start and what you’re even aiming for. Define what your goals as an indie writer are and map out a plan to achieve those goals. Your plan can change to fit what you have going on in your life. I review my plan every three months because I have a tendency to make overly ambitious plans that need revision along the way.

Know Your Limits

When you’re running a creative venture it’s critical that you use your self-awareness to accurately identify your limits. If you lack good self-awareness, find a friend or two who you trust to be honest in helping identify what tasks you really can do, and what should you outsource. Knowing your limits applies to everything. Deadlines, timelines, editing, design, cover, business filing (ISBN and LCCN), and public relations are all impacted by skills and natural knack. There’s no shame in getting someone with the skills to ensure your work gets the presentation and publicity it deserves.

Pitfalls for Everyone

Like advice, the places where you’re likely to go misstep will be very different from someone else. These are the ones that are the most universal.

Writer Beware Issues

For every creative dream, there is a skeezy jerk with a too-good-to-be-true scam. Unfortunately a lot of predatory companies have learned to cut back on the shiny so they look reliable and legit.

As an indie writer, there are a lot of things you may choose to outsource, and before you pick anyone to distribute your work or package it for you, take a close look. Influencer commentary and reviews shouldn’t be your end point of research, since both of these are pretty easy to fabricate or buy. Check for complaints with the better business bureau, and talk to other writers (this is where a network can be handy).

Separate Your Business and Personal Finances

If you aren’t going to go all in and become a small company, the least you should do is have separate bank accounts. In the United States, it’s a really good idea to become a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC). This protects your personal finances should something go horribly wrong and your writing business gets sued. Different countries have different tax and litigation regulations, so be sure you’re doing what’s best for where you live.

Don’t get Impatient

A lot of writers get impatient especially near the end, but rushing the publishing can result in a book full of typos, plot holes the size of Australia, and off-putting covers. Save your project from an unprofessional end product; resist the temptation to rush. You put so much time and effort into writing the book. Don’t throw that all away at the end.

Get a Unique ISBN for Each Edition

A lot of writers miss this detail on their first go round (or even longer). To ensure you get the best benefit of the ISBN process, make sure each type of output has its own number. If your book is coming out as an ebook, trade paperback and audio book, you’ll need three ISBNs.

This advice is just the start. Once you know you’re going indie, find resources and articles that apply to your specific situation and current knowledge to help you navigate your first release or two without making mistakes. There’s always more to learn, so be careful researching the process doesn’t become a procrastination tactic. If it helps, you can think of your first indie project as on the job training, a place where you will make a few mistakes and come out better for it.

For the first article in this series, check out Part I. Or if you’ve just missed the previous article, check out Part V.

For more articles on writing, check out Reflections From the Sol.

Write That Fight

Fight scenes are an almost essential element in speculative fiction; some people have a natural ability to incorporate these into their writing, while others do their best to write their way around every punch. If you suck at writing these, should you bother trying to improve? I’m glad you asked. Any time you improve on a weakness, you make yourself a better writer. Plus, fight scenes can add so much to the story.

Fight scenes don’t need to be just filler. I’d argue that they shouldn’t be used this way. Unless you’re writing the fighting version of erotica (all fighting, all the time! fightica? fightfic?), in which case, have at it.

Fights in the real world are usually over very quickly and can crop up at random, since life has no plot. This is less satisfying in fiction, where your scenes and words have to serve the story. In addition to duration, fictional fights tend to be more complex than real fights. Even for highly trained individuals, it can be tough to squelch the fight/flight/freeze reflex enough to use your techniques. The physical impact of a fight tends to get glossed over in literature. Many writers only remember to include the bruises, tight muscles, and post adrenaline crash only when it serves the story. It’s a little annoying, actually.

Combat doesn’t show up in all my stories, and it’s critical to know when to include it. Like any other scene, it needs to feel natural, like it occurred on its own and the author is simply documenting it. If you feel the author pulling the strings, there’s something forced about it, maybe in the setup or the execution. Fights shouldn’t randomly crop up out of nowhere, unless, that’s the way the world works in the story, in which case, you should make sure the reader knows it. These scenes work nicely when you need to build or decrease tension. They can provide an active transition from a lull in the story to the next climactic event.

Description can be problematic for some writers. Too little detail makes the fight muddy and hard to follow, which reduces impact. Too much detail bogs down the pacing of the story, reducing the tension and any sense of urgency. Also, it’s boring. Being trained in a form of fighting can make it really easy to over-describe. If this is your tendency, write the scene, then go back and cut as much of the technical stuff you can, streamline the prose as much as possible, and you’ll probably counteract it. I actually recommend against blocking out your fight move for move with action figures, because this makes the process extra complex and tends to result in an excessive detail dump.

If writing a fight is problematic, remember there are times you can get a pass on describing it with something as simple as, “they fought.” Another option, that works very well for many writers, is to describe something other than fight itself. You could focus on the the character’s emotional responses instead of her movements over the course of the fight. You might describe the character’s physical response to being hit and in danger (pain, out of breath, jittery from adrenaline). Another option is to show the onlookers’ reactions to the fight through cheers, applause, gasps, and distancing.

Inaccuracy makes you look like an idiot. You’ll feel like one, too, if it gets pointed out. It can also result in disinterest by casting suspicion on all your other facts. Reviewers might mock you online. But don’t let that keep you from trying. There are lots of ways to prevent inaccuracies. My favorite combination is a little bit of research plus beta readers. They can help figure out if something’s gone wrong, and often help be identify what I need to do to fix it. Sometimes I will walk through a fight scene with a sparring partner, just to get a feel for the movement and space being used. But to avoid the over-description issue, I never write a fight move for move.

If you’re working to polish your skill at writing fight scenes, try different things and see what works for you. This is art, after all, and there’s more than one right way to do it. If you’re stumped how to move forward, ask yourself why the fight scene is there and what you need it to do. This may help you figure out a basic plan of what needs to happen. If there are any stories that have fight scenes you like, reread them. A lot. We can learn things about our own writing from the examples of others. With practice, most of this becomes intuitive.

Fight Scenes: Missed Opportunities

In most creative endeavors, one of the goals is to do something different than others have, or to show something familiar in a new way. That may mean taking the same starting point and finding a divergent path to the same end, or creating an entirely new path to a different end.

Over time, many writers have certain words, phrases, and even descriptions that start to show up in multiple works or even within the same novel. Fight scenes (and sex scenes) can become routine, predictable, and indistinguishable from others by the same author. This may be the result of laziness or forgetfulness. It may be that these scenes are outside the writer’s comfort zone, and once she has come up with one, it becomes the stock version. Like stock photography, these scenes are bland and don’t pull their weight, feed the writer’s creativity, or satisfy readers.

While this argument for variation and trying new things can be applied to any aspect of writing, I’m going to focus on some opportunities to be new and interesting in fight scenes. Here are some techniques and targets that show up in real world fights, but tend to get overlooked in fiction.

Striking With Elbows and Knees

These are great for close quarters like elevators, cars, offices, bathrooms, trains, walk in freezers, hallways, etc. Don’t limit yourself to using the knee for groin shots and the elbow just for grabs from behind. Coming at a diagonal, a knee can take out an opponent’s knee (see more on knees as a target below) or, aimed higher, give a heck of a charlie horse.

Brought up or down vertically, an elbow can hit the groin, solar plexus, clavicle, and under the chin or nose. Delivered horizontally, the elbow can take out a knee, go for a kidney or rib shot, and strike the temple. Because elbows aren’t as fragile as hands and wrists, you can have an untrained character use these effectively without needing a splint and weeks of physical therapy in the next chapter.

The Claw

Some people put down this sort of attack or defense as ineffective girly fighting. The three problems with this judgment are 1) it’s actually very effective, 2) it’s not limited by sex or gender, and 3) do I really have to explain the fallacy of “fighting like a girl?” I didn’t think so.

Again, this is a great technique for a character who has no training but suddenly finds herself (himself, itself, themself, choose your favorite pronoun) in a brawl. It’s hard to defend against it because you can claw at any exposed skin from any direction, unlike a punch or kick which tend to be pretty linear. It doesn’t require a lot of strength or long nails (finger tips raking the face are quite painful). It also marks up the attacker or opponent, making them easier to identify later on. If your character needs something to focus on, have her channel her inner Bengal tiger, because great big cats totally have this down.

Hair Superiority

Again, once belittled as limited to girl fights, this is an extremely effective tactic that is often overlooked in fiction. Gaining control of your opponent’s hair means you have control of her head which very often results in winning the fight. The end of a braid or pony tail are less effective than a solid hold up near the back of the head.

Box the Ears

Depending on your age, your geographical region, and the sort of family you grew up with, you may not have ever had a grandparent/uncle/parent threaten to box your ears. If that’s the case, this involves cuffing someone upside the head, aiming for the ear. It can be done with the flat of the palm or with a cupped hand. Boxing both ears at the same time often ruptures one or both eardrums. This may or may not hurt, depending on the person and the severity of the damage. This impairs hearing until the eardrum heals and, better yet, can disrupt equilibrium making it hard to walk or even stand. Some people get severe vertigo which can be incapacitating (and gross).

All Your Jewelries Are Belong to Us

Most piercings don’t like to be tugged on, much less yanked. Your character can take control of an adversary through a firm grip on that nose ring.

Anything around the neck is fair game. This includes jewelry, ID badge lanyards, and neckties. Most of these don’t come with emergency quick release or break away clasps. Obviously, some sites prefer clip on ID lanyards for this reason, so keep it true to the setting. This can be used to get someone’s attention, take control of them, or put their life in danger.

While not technically jewelry, I’m putting a reminder about glasses here, too. I know from personal experience that getting smacked in the glasses can really smart. Even a little tap on the frame can concentrate enough force on the nose pads to make the eyes water, which makes it hard to see.


Humans tend to prioritize vision over all other senses, and those of us accustomed to being able to do this are going to be severely hampered anytime it’s impaired. Eyeballs are fragile. Lots of things can sting or irritate the eyes, from innocuous things like sand and lemon juice, to more damaging things like solvents and acid. Pushing lightly on a closed eye can impair vision for a few minutes without causing permanent damage, and a harder push or strike will obviously do more. Light can result in temporary or permanent blindness, depending on the brightness.

Low Targets Rock

Honestly, it’s not that fun to get smacked anywhere from the knee down, and that’s just with someone’s bare foot. Add a shoe, sword, baseball bat, or umbrella, and it gets even more unpleasant.

Many men expect a groin kick, and guard accordingly (and in case it hasn’t occurred to you, it’s no picnic for a lady to take a straight shot to the bits, though we don’t tend to fall over quite so much). Knees, however, are hard to protect. They only like to bend one direction, and are pretty easy to damage even with a low-powered kick from the side.

If you’ve ever played soccer, you likely learned the hard way why shin guards exist. The shin, or tibia, doesn’t have a lovely layer of fat and muscle protecting it, so when you get hit, you enjoy both nerve-ending pain from the skin, and deep throbbing bone pain.

Have you ever had someone stomp on your foot really hard? It isn’t pleasant. If you’re somehow more fortunate than me, perhaps you’ve never dropped something on your feet. Or maybe you’ve had a pot roast fall out of grandma’s overly full freezer onto your foot. Now imagine someone stomping on your foot while wearing high heels, which will focus all the power into a smaller space increasing the damage.

This is just the tip of the iceberg of fight scene diversity, and anyone can better with some practice. I routinely contemplate how I could be attacked in random situations, and what good responses would be. After all, I’m trained to think about this stuff. Even if this isn’t your default, it can be a good exercise both for writing and self defense (which I hope you never need).

You can build up your repertoire of potential fight scenes and character reactions by building your own scenarios. Even if you don’t write them down or consciously save them for later, your brain will be able to tap into what you’ve thought about. Need a starting point? You’re in your car at a stoplight. What would you do if someone opened the passenger door and got in? How would your response differ if the person was a man/woman, armed/unarmed, drunk/sober/delusional? Or maybe you’re opening the door from your kitchen to your attached garage, and you find someone (or something, cause face it, I write speculative fiction) other than your car in there? Would your reaction differ if you’re home alone? Do you live in a town home or suburbia?

When you read a fight scene, even one of your own, ask yourself how you could do it differently. This alone can help you break away from your stock responses.

A Peek into the Indie Writer World – Part V: Presenting as a Professional

As an independently published writer, you are a professional and it’s in your interest (and in the interest of your fellow indie writers) that you present as a professional. We aren’t so far removed from the era where self-published authors were automatically dismissed as ‘not good enough for real publishing.’ While the majority of the population now recognizes indie authors as professionals, you’ll still encounter people who need to be convinced.

How do you get taken seriously? What can you do to ensure the image you’re broadcasting is professional?

The key places where your professionalism comes into play, in bullet format for those with very little time:

  • Website
  • Social Media
  • Email
  • Live Networking
  • Book Covers
  • Book Content

The more specific details regarding those key places to put your professionalism in place:


A website is a must, even if it’s minimalist. Other than finding your books on sites like Amazon, this is one of the top places people will look to see how legit you are (or appear to be). This can include potential customers, the media, library purchasing departments, and schools or conferences looking for speakers.

  • Spring for the domain registry
    • Makes you easier to find
    • Implies greater dedication to your writing career
    • The cost is often bundled in with website hosting services (make sure you own the domain, so you can switch services and take it with you)
  • Go with a theme and colors that will speak to your audience
  • Hire someone to set things up if you don’t have the skills to do it yourself
  • Include or incorporate high quality photos
    • Your own if you have them
    • If using others’ photos, have the proper permission and credit as required
    • Use open source or free stock photography sources, crediting as required
  • Keep it current and engaging
  • Minimal is okay
    • About page – information about you the writer, genre, areas of expertise, and anything that will help your audience relate to you
    • Publications – your publishing history and/or where to purchase your work
    • Contact page – can be as simple as an email link or a web form
  • Consider a built-in blog for dynamic content
    • Announcements, appearances and news
    • Release information
    • Teasers

Social Media

Blogs and social media can help you build up and engage with your audience. Make sure you’ve picked a platform that hits your target readers. You don’t have to spend hours every week on a blog or forum if that’s not your thing, just keep it relevant and regular. A mostly dead Tumblr or Twitter won’t do you any favors.

Ensure that your interactions and posts are professional.

  • Avoid over-sharing or inappropriate assumptions of intimacy
  • The internet is forever; consider whether your posts could come back to haunt you
  • Approach controversial material in a way that is consistent with or related to your writing philosophy or your work
    • Eg: My blog includes real world social and political issues that are reflected in my stories and my approach to world building
    • Be careful not to alienate your audience with content that has no bearing on your work
  • Do not bully others (yes there are writers who do this) and engaging in flame wars will likely reflect poorly
    • If you mess up, damage control involves a real apology and future caution
  • Present yourself in the way you want your fans to see you
    • Be friendly and open to interactions if you want fans to find you approachable
    • Be a bit aloof or distant, if you’re aiming for more space
    • Be cautiously prickly if that’s who you are, but keep in mind that being an asshole will only chase fans away


You should establish an email account specifically for your writing. This doesn’t have to run through your own domain if that doesn’t fit your budget. Select your email address carefully.

  • Easy to share and remember
  • Matches your author name or what you write
  • Doesn’t feel too casual unrelated to your writing work

Live Networking

Take advantage of the opportunities to network with readers and other writers in person. This can result in a valuable peer group, name recognition, and readership. While participating in these activities, you don’t need to wear a suit and schmooze like venture capitalist to present as a professional. Look up photos of these events and see what people tend to wear, and find something in your wardrobe that works and is comfortable for you.

  • Conventions – most genres have events where fans and creators get together
    • Volunteer and participate in programming you have an interest or expertise in
    • Attend the parties and meet people
  • Conferences – many genres have events for creators to discuss topics of interest and build their craft
    • Attend meet-ups or lunches
  • Readings – these can be held in bookstores, libraries, and at events like conventions and conferences
    • Prepare and practice your piece
    • You are in the limelight, be sure to shine

At any of these events, socialize with people you don’t know, even if that’s hard for you. You don’t need to meet everyone and you don’t have to try to impress people with exaggerations or lies. Just be yourself, unapologetically, and try to have interesting conversations. Listen at least as much as you talk, if not more. Swap contact information with people you may want to keep in touch with, and do follow up with them on social media.

Book Covers

Your book cover functions as your advertisement of the work; it sells the book. This is one of the places where a lot of indie authors make mistakes that result in an amateurish and unprofessional appearance. You can search online for “bad book covers” to get hundreds of examples of covers that have done more harm than good, and yes, some of them have been produced by big publishers.

If you don’t have the skills to design your covers, it’s in your interest to pay someone to do this. If you do have the skills to create your own covers, it’s still a good idea to run your drafts by a group of trusted individuals to identify any horrible mishaps you may have missed.

Book Content

The final piece of presenting yourself as a professional, is ensuring that your printed work meets the standards in the industry. This includes ensuring that you’ve told the best story you can, and that it is as free of spelling and grammatical errors as possible. It can be very helpful to get constructive feedback from fellow writers or beta readers, in case you’ve missed something. If editing isn’t your strong suit, paying a copy editor is not a bad idea.

In addition to the story itself, you also need to ensure your story looks good on the page, whether it’s digital or print. Pay attention to layout guidelines as these can influence whether the book looks professionally produced.

  • Margins – top, bottom and outside edges
  • Gutter – inside edges near the fold
  • Story title and author name in headings, often alternating
  • Page number in the footer

Printed work also needs properly set up front matter.

  • Title page, on a right page
  • Copyright page, on a left page, usually the other side of the title page
  • Acknowledgments, on a right page
  • A blank left page, unless your acknowledgments run two pages (which should be avoided in fiction)
  • Table of contents (TOC), on a right page
  • First page of the story, on a right page (there may be a blank left page between the TOC and the story’s first page)

Front matter can determine whether your book meets requirements for wide distribution.

Most of your steps for presenting as a professional don’t have anything to do with your actual writing, and it may be easiest to think of it as the marketing side of the indie writer’s job. It’s often easier to start out with your level of caution and professionalism set a bit higher than you think you need, as it’s unlikely to offend anyone. As you get more comfortable with the various venues, you can assess and adjust if your default is too far in one direction or another.

For the first article in this series, check out Part I. Or if you’ve just missed the previous article, check out Part IV. For the next article in this series, check out Part VI.

For more articles on writing, check out Reflections From the Sol.

Combat Stuff Writers Frequently Mess Up

As a karate instructor, novelist, and former journalist, I like to keep my combat damage accurate. I worked with physicians for 19 years, and they were always great about answering questions for the crazy writer. Rather than making up more myths, I’ve checked with people who’ve taken care of patients who are on the receiving end of this kind of stuff, so you don’t have to.

The one arm back choke

Some writers seem to think this is the pinnacle of all attacks, and that there’s no way to get out of it. This is, of course, rubbish. I know several ways to escape this hold, depending on where in the attack I react. The first throw I ever learned was against this attack. If you have a character who has trained in combat, she should have a response for this attack (yes, Babe of Nine, I am scowling at you).

Here’s a video with three defenses.

The next problem with this attack, or hold, as many writers use it, is that most people don’t understand how it actually works. This particular attack has the potential to be fatal, very quickly, and about every other year you’ll hear about a bouncer or police officer accidentally killing someone while restraining them with this hold (which actually makes it a poor choice for a hold). There are two ways this choke works.

  • If the attacker puts her forearm against your windpipe, at the front of your neck, your air supply is cut off. You have about as long as you could hold your breath before you lose consciousness. This varies from person to person, but it’s not unreasonable for someone to go more than a minute without breathing. If the hold isn’t as tight, you can get enough air to stay conscious. Also worth noting, the human body generally needs more oxygen if it’s been active and if it’s pumped up on adrenaline from activity or fear.
  • If the attacker’s forearm and upper arm are against the sides of your neck, squeezing your neck between, with her elbow in front of your windpipe, the pressure is on your carotid arteries. In case anatomy isn’t your forte, this is the oxygen supply to the brain. Fully obstructed, you have ten seconds or less before loss of consciousness. Since this seems too fast, most people think that the person being choked is faking, and they don’t let go. Without oxygen, brain cells start to die off pretty fast.

Here’s a video showing the mechanics of both versions of this choke.

Palm heel/punch to the nose

Who grew up being told this was a potentially lethal attack? Yeah, it’s okay. I did, too. This will not actually shove bone shards into the brain of the person who gets hit. If, your protagonist happens to be a super hero, with super strength, it is theoretically possible to have a some skull shard and brain interaction, but because this is the frontal lobe, there’s pretty good potential for recovery, especially in our modern society. It would count as a traumatic brain injury, so the recovery may or may not mean returning to exactly the same state (personality or functionality) as before.

Throwing random knives

Most knives are weighted appropriately for use in the kitchen and suck for throwing. Grabbing a random knife and throwing it makes a great distraction, but odds are good it will miss the target or hit it with a non-stabby part (the handle, the back or side of the blade). Knives designed for throwing tend to be small and made of solid construction. They look incomplete or highly utilitarian.

Set of three throwing knives.

You can balance a throwing knife on your finger at it’s middle point. Having equal weight at both ends means it will throw evenly. On a side note, there are two dominant philosophies on knife throwing. The one that shows up most often is that you hold the knife from one end to throw it, and it rotates through the air before plunging pointy end in at the target. The other option is to hold the knife from the center and throw it straight, with no rotation, like a very tiny javelin.

Throwing knife balanced on a finger.

Being pinned under an attacker

Like the one arm back choke, many writers think it’s impossible to get out of this position. To be fair, this seems to get taught less, so it’s forgivable if a character who can fight doesn’t have an option for this. That said, most people with training have options for when they don’t know a technique for a specific grab. That’s what loosening moves (punches, kicks, elbow and knee strikes, and biting) are great for. A person with no training may still be able to get out of this, but our media frequently pushes the message that it’s impossible, and it can be tough for some people to break that conditioning in a crisis.

Here’s a video showing two forms of this attack and a good counter response.

The bipedal roughly human-sized attacker is too big/heavy to throw

No. Just. No. Well designed throws are actually easier when your opponent is taller and heavier than you. The hardest person to throw is one who is shorter but heavier. I can’t speak for judo throws over the back or shoulder, but for many forms of martial arts, throws involve getting under someone’s center of gravity and tipping them over. This can be done by sweeping someone’s feet out from under them (leg sweeps), getting in close and compromising their stance, or by pulling them off balance (the one arm back choke throw above is an example of this).

Head injuries

Head injuries are so badly handled in fiction. A concussion is what happens when your brain bumps against the inside of the skull hard enough to bruise it. It’s considered traumatic brain injury. The severity of a concussion is based on the symptoms following the injury, not how severe the injury initially seemed. Loss of consciousness isn’t necessary for a concussion, though this is usually associated with more severe damage to the brain, and often more severe symptoms. Post concussion syndrome consists of an enormous list of symptoms. Your exact symptoms may seem random, but are related to the part of your brain that was injured. Post concussion syndrome can last anywhere from a few days, to a few months, to forever, regardless of the initial perceived severity. Some effects of a concussion don’t show up for months or years, and a recent study found that some visual changes (specifically refractive errors) may occur up to two years after a concussion.

My son hit the floor with his head in first grade. He never blacked out. He remembers everything. He ended up with blurred vision for a couple of weeks and seven weeks of post-concussion syndrome that consisted of random and uncontrollable anger outbursts (that scared him), general irritability, fatigue, and headache. It’s possible that the amblyopia he developed a year later is a result of the concussion.

If your character can go from knocked out to perfect fighting form in minutes, you need to have a justification (Buffy had amazing healing powers, Hobbits are resilient to head injuries, etc), so your reader doesn’t think you’re an idiot.

Snapping spines

This would be the rapid head twist that we have all come to understand as breaking someone’s neck. It shows up in movies and TV a lot and tends to be accompanied by a bone crunching sound. This bugs me less than other things on this list, because the end result is pretty much accurately portrayed. It’s just that this doesn’t break someone’s back or neck in the way most people understand it to. This severs the spinal cord at the base of the brain stem, the same mechanism for the fatal single punch incidents that show up in the news. As my doctor friends have explained, you’re dead before you hit the ground, because the body is no longer receiving any communication from the brain. Spinal cord damage lower down the neck or back is survivable because the body still gets the message to breathe and keep the heart beating.

All this said, it’s still okay for a character who should know what she’s doing to mess up on a defense. In life threatening situations, we don’t always make our best choices, and I don’t believe in victim shaming or blaming, even for fictional characters.

However, if your character realistically should know a way out of a situation, but doesn’t use it, you’ll need to address it in some fashion for the character to stay believable. It could be something as simple as she felt off or the adrenaline was too much and she wasn’t thinking clearly. It could be that she was taking the safety of others into consideration. It could be that her opponent knew a counter and was faster at executing it. There are lots of great excuses that allow you to address this without it becoming a major plot coupon. Use one and move on with the story.

The Value of Fight Scenes

Fight scenes can do all the same things for a story that sex scenes do; they are actually far more alike than they are different. Through a fight scene, a writer can develop characters, change character relationships, resolve or introduce conflict, defuse or ratchet up tension, and push plot points all while providing action that alters the story’s pacing.

You can really get to know a character by watching her fight, by seeing what she chooses to do, or not do, in a tense or dangerous situation. The character who elects to fight bare-handed is different from the one who draws a weapon at the first sign of trouble. Does the character delight in the fight or grimly acknowledge it as an ugly necessity? Perhaps the character is a pacifist who refuses to fight. How does she react when she’s outmatched and is it different from her reaction when she’s the superior combatant? Does she kill? Does she show mercy? Seeing the protagonist on the page, and understanding her motivation behind use of trash talk or intimidation lets the reader understand her a lot more in a short time. A fight scene gives you the opportunity to address any of these situations, and dozens of others, in character.

It’s pretty obvious that fight scenes can provide conflict resolution, but they can also be a source for introducing conflict. A bar fight could start our heroine on the path toward the end point of the story (however far away it may be). It could be the event that ignites a quest or mission, or maybe she has to skip town to avoid assault charges. Ta-da, conflict. Fights have almost become a trope ending for a novel or series, with the protagonist facing off with the antagonist for one last showdown. The reason it’s done so often, is that it works well, which is also why we don’t complain about the lack of originality in structure. This technique also works for wrapping up smaller arcs that occur within a more layered plot.

Tension is closely related to conflict, so it’s easy to see how fight scenes can influence this. A fight can be cathartic for the protagonist or the story, letting off some tension before a scene or chapter that won’t function properly with too much impending doom hanging over it. Likewise, strategically placed fight scenes can increase the sense of danger. If the characters are well written, the reader will be invested and concerned on their behalf. This can be a huge bonus in longer works and for writers with weaker plot skills, because character and tension together can greatly improve reader interest while masking less developed plot.

Plot can be pushed forward by a fight scene in much the same way character can be revealed. This can be done in fragments, perhaps with the protagonist gaining insight through banter or bargaining during or after the confrontation. It can also be done in large chunks, with the outcome of the fight directly shoving the protagonist in the right direction.

Any time a scene can do more than one thing for the story, it’s a win for the writer. It allows you to include more layered complexity without going over your word budget or boring your readers. Fight scenes are also a lot of fun to read, which means plotting and writing them can be fun too… if you like that sort of thing.

A Peek into the Indie Writer World – Part IV: A Walk Through the Process

If you’re thinking of going indie, or have already decided to, you may find yourself wondering what steps you need to take. This is a look at the process, focusing on hard copy books and e-books.

The short version, in bullet format for those with very little time:

  • Write your story
  • Identify your output product(s)
  • Copy edit your story
  • Purchase and/or assign ISBNs
  • Request PCN (hard copy print only)
  • Format the story
  • Create front matter for printed work
  • Cover art and design
  • Publish
  • Market

The longer version with more details:

Write Your Story

There are many different ways to write. Use whatever process works for you (drawn out, under tight deadline, or anything in between). Revise and edit your draft to ensure you have the best possible version you can. Many people like to use critique groups or beta readers, other people don’t. The key is that your content (poetry, short stories, novella, or novel) is the highest quality you can make it.

Identify Your Products and Process

You can start looking at the various products and printers out there while you’re still in the writing stage. As your story gets closer to being ready to print, you’ll want to have some decisions on your starting point, at least. Will it be an e-book with print to follow? Or do you just want to start with the e-book and see how it goes? Your plans will influence some of your next steps.

Copy Edit Your Story

Most people think of this as proofreading, finding and fixing typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors. In this case, it also includes ensuring your soon to be published book has a consistent style.

Style is a set of rules that provide a uniform look to a document. This includes things like use of font, font attributes (bold, italic, underline), implementation of flexible or optional grammar (such as the Oxford/serial comma), and the presentation of specialized terms. Most fiction publishers have a house style built off Chicago or AP style, both of which have handy manuals. It ultimately doesn’t matter what style you go with, as long as you are consistent.

In the editing world, style often includes formatting elements, but for the indie writer, some of that formatting will vary depending on the product or products you’re producing.

Things to Watch For

  • Consistent spelling for names of people and places
  • Consistent terminology for magic or world-specific details (eg: does the world use shape-shifter, shape shifter, or shapeshifter?)
  • Use of numbers (phone, age, height, distance) are generally spelled out in fiction
  • Consistent units of measure (unless there’s a good reason for it, you don’t want to randomly switch between metric and imperial)

If attention to detail and copy editing aren’t your strong suits, copy editing is something you should plan to hire out. You can also just hire someone for the pieces you need done. If you have a handle on your house style, but want someone else to proofread, that’s totally a thing that people do.

Purchase or Assign ISBN

If you’re printing with a company that offers a free International Standard Book Number (ISBN), and you’ve chosen to go that route, you can skip the purchasing step. I personally prefer to have full control of all my ISBNs, allowing me to take them with me if I switch printers or distributors.

Buy your ISBN in advance via Bowker. You will need one ISBN for each product you are producing. A trade paperback needs a different ISBN than a hardcover or audio book. There’s often a discount to purchase multiple ISBNs at one time.

Once you have any needed ISBNs for this project, you’ll need to link the number to a book title, and provide some information on the book and edition (publisher, summary, cover etc). This is a good time to perfect your back-cover blurb or teaser. You can come back and update much of the ISBN information later if you don’t have all the elements at the time you’re doing this.

Request a Preassigned Control Number (print copies only)

If you’re based in the US, you’ll want your book registered with the Library of Congress as this increases the likelihood that it will get into libraries. It also provides some added copyright protection. 

You will use the Preassigned Control Number (PCN) process, which takes 10-15 business days. Start this far enough before you plan to complete the publication process, to ensure you have your Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) before you go to print. If you have trouble navigating the Library of Congress’ website for questions (and you probably will, it’s not as clear as it could be), you may want to explore the PCN Manual.

To complete the process of registering, you will need to send a hard copy of the printed book to the Library of Congress.

Format the Story

Formatting your work can fit in with style, especially after you’ve gone through the indie process and have a handle on what you want and need. Many writers will create their draft in the most complicated format they are planning on producing, just so this piece is well underway (and less frustrating later). Once the book is ready for publication, they’ll make copies to reformat for other products.

At this point you need to know how you plan to publish and what company you’ll be using, as different publishers have different formatting requirements. Be sure you read the requirements before you put in a bunch of work changing your novel into a font you won’t be able to use.

Features you need to make formatting decisions on include:

  • Page size (determined by the product you are creating)
  • Margins (leave room for the gutter – the inside margin where the binding is)
  • Chapter heading font, size, and position
  • Indent (fiction usually indents first line of a paragraph)
  • Line spacing (look at similarly sized books to choose number of lines per page)
  • Section breaks (asterism or section sign are both good choices)

A Note on Paragraph Styles

If you’re not already using paragraph styles in your word processor, you need to start now. Styles designate font, size, and text attributes, as well as features like line spacing and indents. When used properly, styles ensure consistency and a professional looking end product. They also make it much easier to reformat the entire document if you need different features for a different product, or if you suddenly need a different font for your text body.

If you are creating an e-book, you must designate title and heading 1 styles at the very least, as these are used for navigation. Failure to designate these will often result in your book not meeting requirements for distribution.


Do not use extra returns and the space-bar to place text where you want it on the page. This makes your digital end product inaccessible to people with adaptive reading equipment. Screen readers will read every one of those spare characters, and no one wants to hear “asterisk, asterisk, asterisk, asterisk…” as they wait for the next section. Instead, use your styles to put chapter headings where you want them, and use hard returns (ctrl+enter) to separate chapters.

Front Matter

This is the content that comes between the front cover and the first page of the story regardless of whether it is a print or e-book. The professional standard includes:

  • Copyright page (including the year of publication, ISBN, and LCCN)
  • Table of contents (this will be automatically generated for e-books)
  • Title page (should be on the right page for print editions)

Optional content includes:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Dedication

Book Cover

This is your primary advertiser for your book, whether it’s print, e-book, audio book, or a serial. You will use this image everywhere to pitch your work. We’ve all been told to not judge a book by its cover, and we all do it anyway, so expect that this is something that must be done right.

Consider your cover a visual extension of the story. It needs to be appealing while giving your reader clues on what to expect. If your zombie apocalypse story has a cover that feels like a Christian devotional, it won’t appeal to some of your readers and you’ll have gone against the expectations of others. You absolutely do not want your book to look like you spewed clip art at the page, a common new indie writer mistake. A generic cover does you no good either.

It’s okay if you don’t have the skills to create a stunning cover for your book; hiring someone to do this for you may be your best bet. It’s worth paying to get a cover that helps readers decide to pick your story. There are a lot of great artists out there, so look around and find someone whose style is a good fit and who you can afford. That said, don’t whine about prices. Artists deserve to be paid what they’re worth.


The steps at this stage will vary depending on the company or program you decide to go through.

For most print on demand printers, expect to have to buy a proof before the book becomes available to the public.


This stage will vary depending on your comfort level and opportunities. In general, you should be marketing yourself as a writer at any opportunity. This means participating at conventions, doing readings, and posting announcements on your social media and website. Be careful to avoid giving your friends a constant hard sell on Facebook, though. No one enjoys that. Your social media needs to be somewhat active and should include content not specifically related to a recent book release. Posting teaser chapters can be a great try-before-you-buy option.

While this looks like a lot of steps to take, they are spread out over the course of your process of bringing your story to publication, and many are not that onerous. Most print on demand companies have paid services to help with some of these steps, if they seem too great for you to overcome on your own.

For the first article in this series, check out Part I. Or if you’ve just missed the previous article, check out Part III. For the next article in the series, check out Part V.

For more articles on writing, check out Reflections From the Sol.

A Peek into the Indie Writer World – Part III: Output Options

Once you’ve chosen the indie writer path, you need to decide what products or outputs you want to provide. Common options include print, e‑book, audio book, and online serial. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Looking at your target audience to see how they prefer their media, and deciding what you can afford to spend on your launch are good starting points. 

Indie publishing doesn’t have to break the bank, but there are some expenses; these will depend on your skill-set and the products you’re creating. Even if you’re able to do all the technical work yourself, you’ll need to buy an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for each publication or version of a publication. 

Print Run vs Print on Demand 

If you decide you want to offer a print edition of your book, there are still a lot of choices to make. Do you want hardcover or paperback? If paperback, do you want mass market (sometimes called pocketbook) or the larger trade size? Do you want regular print and large print options? Are you going to do a print run or go with print on demand (POD)?

Print Run

In traditional publishing, many copies of a book are printed all at one time. This is a print run. The goal is to sell all or most of the print run. If a book’s print run sells out early enough in its publication life, it will go back for a second printing. Indie writers can duplicate this process, working directly with printing companies to produce hardcover or paperback books, paying for the print run and hoping to sell enough to break even or make a profit. 

An advantage of a print run is that it’s easier to sell something that people can take with them right then and there. There are also some nice finishing features that a print run can make available that don’t exist in print on demand, such as a variety of bindings and maps on the inside front cover and/or endpaper.

Each printed format of the book (hardcover, paperback, large print, etc) requires its own run. If you’re planning multiple print formats, or if you don’t have investors or ready money to cover the outlay, a print run may not be the best fit for you. 

Indie writers who go exclusively with a print run, rely on hand-selling their book at conventions or events, and are directly responsible for all sales. Independent book stores may carry your books on consignment, but it can be very tough to get big chain stores to carry your books outside of their distribution channels.

Print on Demand (POD)

Print on demand is a publishing model where physical books are individually printed as they are ordered. Modern technology has made POD an affordable and common option. If you order a book from an online retailer, and the book is scheduled to take a week or two to arrive, odds are good that it’s POD book. POD printers can provide hardcover and multiple paperback formats.

POD printers often work with both print and e-book outputs. Many have arrangements for distribution to retailers, national and world-wide, which can take some of the burden of selling off the writer’s plate. You must follow designated formatting standards if you want your book to qualify for distribution. This is a detail-focused task that results in a professional product.

Unless you’re buying additional services, POD has a very low cost to the author. You will need to buy a proof of the book, a copy for you to review and make sure it printed properly, before it will be released to the general public. You may need to make changes and order an additional proof to confirm the end product is as expected.

Once you’re happy with the output, you can order your own mini print run of ten or twenty books to hand-sell at readings or events. There’s usually a price break at certain levels, making it worthwhile to buy a larger number, but the per-book price will not be as low as it is with a regular print run.

A disadvantage with POD is that many online retailers have contracts with various printing shops around the country (or even the world), ensuring the book is printed closer to the delivery address. These shops may not have the same quality or standards, and indie writers can’t possibly know how that quality compares. Like a print run, it can be very difficult to get your books carried in brick and mortar stores, but big chain retailers may have them available for online ordering.


Electronic books, or e-books, are one of the easiest ways to dip your toes into the indie pool. Many e-book providers also offer distribution (sometimes referred to as aggregation). To qualify for wide distribution, your end product will need to meet specific criteria ensuring that it looks professionally produced.

There are many advantages of going the e-book route. It’s relatively simple to set up and produce. Depending on your skill set, and willingness to work through the technical elements, this can cost as little as $25 (the cost for an ISBN). Some e‑book production companies provide a free ISBN; just read the fine print to ensure you aren’t going to regret not being the owner of that number. 

E-books become available relatively quickly, often the same day you complete the publishing process. Because of the low cost of production, these can be priced low enough that curious readers may be willing to take a risk on someone they’ve never read or heard of before.

A disadvantage with e-books is the difficulty in standing out from the deluge of e‑books published daily. While libraries are starting to carry e-books, it’s not universal, making this a tough bottleneck to get through. Not all audiences have embraced e‑books, so it’s critical that you know your audience’s preference.

Audio Book

Audio book is an output I’ve researched significantly but haven’t been able to provide. I have friends with visual disabilities who would benefit, and I know several people who enjoy listening to books on the bus or long car rides.

Like a print run, audio book has more up front expenses than other outputs. You can expect to pay your voice actors at least $200 to $400. If you’re doing your own recording, be careful not to over-estimate your ability or your equipment. Theatrical or voice training can definitely help you out, but they don’t guarantee a successful product. The reading quality and audio quality will make or break your audio book.

Online Serial

Online serial publication is another easy place to start, especially if you can stick to a schedule. It doesn’t require an ISBN, but it does require participation in a service that is set up for subscriptions and donations. If you’re tech savvy enough, perhaps you can program this into your own site. Most writers use something like Patreon or Wattpad.

This route is still relatively new in the industry. The advantage is that writers can more directly connect with their audience. Some writers use this to gain a following, posting short stories and teasers for free to draw people in, while providing subscribers regular chapters and higher level content.

Disadvantages can include difficulty in getting enough traffic, the pressure of providing routine content for subscribers, and random changes in terms of service (a problem Patreon has had several times in the last year). Some writers don’t feel this counts as truly publishing, but if you are providing content to readers, it does fit the definition.

On the surface these options can seem really intimidating. If you’re finding yourself overwhelmed, pick one to focus on at a time. There’s no reason you can’t roll out various editions as you get more comfortable with the formats. Many writers provide only one format, and that’s fine too. Going indie, means you can do what works for you.

For the first article in this series, check out Part I. Or if you’ve just missed the previous article, check out Part II. For the next article, check out Part IV

For more articles on writing, check out my Reflections From the Sol section.

A Peek Into Indie Writer World – Part II: Why Would a Writer go Indie?

There are a number of reasons writers may choose to go indie, and this is a decision I struggled over for a while. I started out firmly entrenched in the traditional model, but found the time frames and gate-keeping dynamic extremely frustrating.

Time Frames

It takes months to hear back on your submissions to agents and editors, and in many cases you may never hear back at all. I’ve recorded response times of nine months and more. In the speculative fiction field, simultaneous submission is not allowed. This means you can’t send the same piece to multiple agents or multiple editors at the same time. They don’t want to compete with each other this directly, but they also don’t have the staff to wade through their slush piles in a truly timely fashion. This puts all the power in the hands of understaffed agents and editors. When I had young children, I was too busy to continue both submitting stories and writing them. I chose to step out from publishing for a while, so I could focus on creating novels.

Gate-Keeping Dynamic

Once my children were a bit older, I prepared to familiarize myself with the publishing landscape. In order to have an impact with your submissions, you need to be sending your work to the right editors and agents at the right time. During my hiatus, markets had closed or merged, and new ones had come into the field.

By this point I had several friends who had been mid-listed or dropped, despite writing fantastic novels and series. I had other friends who managed to keep their contracts by writing what they were told to, rather than what they wanted to. Some writers don’t mind that latter scenario, but in many cases, the pay isn’t high enough for me to want to make this compromise. If I can’t make my living writing what I want to be writing, I don’t want to follow that path.

It took me some time to decide I had no interest in playing the traditional publishing game.

Making a Decision

Indie writing is a lot of work, you become the writer, editor, copy editor, cover artist, layout technician, and publisher. You make the distribution and marketing decisions and then implement them. Both models have their advantages and disadvantages, neither is intrinsically superior to the other.

So how do you determine if indie writing is a path you want to take?

Signs that indie writing might be a good fit include (but are not limited to):

  1. Writing for a smaller audience such as a marginalized community (many larger presses won’t take on projects they don’t see as largely profitable)
  2. Desire to have full creative control over revisions and cover art
  3. Interest in learning or using project management skills
  4. Interest in learning the publishing business from start to finish
  5. Accurate awareness of your skills and your weaknesses
  6. Willingness to hire out the elements you lack the skills or interest in completing
  7. Willingness to engage in marketing endeavors yourself
  8. Willingness to accept a slower build in your readership
  9. Uncomfortable with long response times on submissions and lengthy waits for publication

Signs that indie writing would not be a good fit include:

  1. Desire or interest in handing off your work once the writing is done
  2. Willingness to relinquish revision and creative control decisions to another
  3. Desire to have your books immediately placed in physical stores
  4. Comfortable with long response times on submissions and lengthy waits for publication (one to two years is common)

In both indie and traditional publishing, it stands to reason that you want to be sure you’ve hit a point in your writing development that you are producing high quality work. Your stories need to engage and interest your audience for both models, but it is especially damaging to your credibility if you start releasing unprofessional or poor quality work as an indie writer.

For the first article in this series, check out Part I. For the next in the series, check out Part III.

For more articles on writing, check out my Reflections From the Sol section.