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.

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.

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.

A Peek into the Indie Writer World – Part I: What Does it Mean to be Indie?

If you’re invested in reading books or if you participate in the convention circuit, you may have heard the term “indie writer” gaining popularity. What is an indie writer?

The traditional publishing model generally follows these steps:

  1. Writer gets experience, submitting short work to magazines/websites and longer work to publishers who accept unagented pieces
  2. After acquiring three or more significant or professional publishing credits, the writer finds an agent to represent them (agents generally only manage longer work, such as novellas, novels, and screenplays)
  3. Agent may work with the author on editing their novel or novels
  4. Agent connects with publishers, submitting novels to acquisition editors likely to buy them (the larger the publisher, the more acquisition editors they have)
  5. Once a publisher offers to buy the novel, the agent helps the writer navigate and understand the contract; some aspects may be non-negotiable
  6. The writer receives an advance, this is an advance payment on expected royalties
  7. The publisher may pair the writer with an editor (some houses are cutting this step)
  8. Publishing and distribution is handled by the publisher
  9. The writer receives royalty checks if the work out-earns the advance
  10. The Publisher continues to work with the writer, rejecting stories that aren’t viewed as profitable and directing the writer to marketable stories, until either party finds the relationship a poor fit (though writers and publishers still need to honor the contract if it covers or includes multiple works)

An independent, or indie, writer has decided not to follow the traditional model of publishing. They do the writing, editing, cover selection, publishing, distribution, and marketing themselves. Since it’s critical to have a professional end product, indie writers need to be honest with themselves about what they’re really capable of. It’s a good plan to hire out the parts of this process they don’t have the training or skill set to truly accomplish. Many indie writers hire out the cover art or the book’s layout and design elements.

Print on demand (POD) technology has drastically changed the publishing landscape, evening the playing field for writers who want a different path.  I’ll cover more on how POD and various printing and distribution companies work in the writer’s favor in a future piece in this series.

Check out Part II of this series.

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


In February 2000, I received my first acceptance letter. I signed my first contracts. I bounced off the walls for about a week. At some point during the great hullabaloo, it occurred to me that the person who sent me the letter was essentially just doing her job. She probably dropped it in the mail without much fanfare. How ironic that so simple a task could, just a few days later, cause such a stir. Like many writers, I framed the letter. I had a party. I fretted over how exactly to word my thank you letter. I puzzled over the proper way to list publishing credits in future cover letters. It was absolutely fabulous, and I loved every minute of it.

While I maintain that publication isn’t necessarily the mark of exceptional writing, it is the goal of many writers. For some of us it’s a form of validation in a culture that doesn’t reward artists. For others, it’s a benchmark, a means for measuring one’s career. For the really lucky ones out there its simply a part of their profession. For any writer who has spent years pursuing this goal, receiving that first acceptance is the absolutely most exciting experience. I honestly don’t think anything else could beat it. This is probably due to the fact that the first acceptance is often a bit of a surprise.

So, how can an acceptance possibly be a surprise to the writer who has been submitting manuscripts for years? Easy. Rejection becomes familiar after a while. It’s part of the territory. If you’re working hard, and have multiple stories to send out, rejection letters accumulate fairly quickly. I have an uneasy truce with numbers so I’ll not share any here. Suffice to say that you learn to look forward to those return envelopes and e-mails. “Did I manage a personal reject this time?” I always wonder as I review the return address. It’s turned into a kind of game for me to try to guess what story I sent out (especially for those long response times that make it hard to remember).

A writer has only so much control over the acceptance process, and it lies primarily in marketing and submitting one’s stories. If you never send out a manuscript, you’ll never be rejected but you’ll never be accepted either. A lot of it depends on hitting the right editor at the right time. Try as we might, we can never be sure when the right time is. The right story to the right editor at the wrong time generally results in the “Loved this, but I got 75 dog stories this month,” kind of rejection.

You never know which story is going to make your first sale, and that adds to the suspense of the whole business. I was genuinely surprised that this particular story was mine. I love it, don’t get me wrong. I love all my stories. It’s just not as powerful or as strong as some of my other work. It doesn’t have a message of any kind. It turned out a bit sillier than I’d planned. In effect, it’s a little like bubble gum. Fun with no nutritional value.

I was dismayed to find that not everyone was excited by my news. There were some who just assumed I would be getting published because it was what I had set out to do. Sounds complementary, but it stemmed more from misunderstandings about the publishing world than utter confidence in my abilities.

Exactly a week after Acceptance Day, I had a Triple Rejection Day. It was a good reminder that I still had a lot of work to do if I want to make a career of this.