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.

Random Advice for Young Writers

In 2018, I got an ask over on Tumblr requesting advice for young writers, so here you go.

Read a lot, figure out what kind of stories you like, what styles you like, and what authors do a really good job at what you want to write.

Write a lot. Some of it will not be worth sharing, and that’s okay; you still learn from your failed stories, they still fulfill a need for experience.

Once you know what genre(s) you like to write, find a community of writers who are involved or interested in that genre.  This actually matters because there are lots of conventions or practices that don’t transfer from one genre to the other, and there’s ugly genre bias. My community includes going to science fiction and fantasy conventions, being in a writers group, and meeting writers online.  We talk shop.  We commiserate.  We celebrate each other’s successes.  And we bounce ideas off each other.

Look for feedback from people who can actually tell you what’s wrong with your work (structurally and grammatically). Really listen to them, unless they’re tactless jerks who take joy in verbally beating you up (dump those folks immediately); no matter what feedback you get, in the end it’s your story and some advice won’t be useful for what you’re trying to do.  Learn to give this same kind of feedback to others – it makes you a better self editor.

The traditional publishing world is harsh and ugly, so take heart in the fact that there are other options available now that weren’t available when I was starting out.  You can do your own thing in your own way. 

If something is too good to be true, step away from it.  It’s a scam.

It’s okay to ask other, more seasoned writers for help figuring out terms of service and contracts (most of us can’t afford lawyers for this, so we learn how to read these).

Embrace rejection.  It’s a part of being an artist, and it proves you’re doing what you can (writing and putting stuff out). You can’t always hit the right editor, with the right story, at the right time. 

Finding Motivation

I’m not going to lie.  This can be really hard at times, but there are also times when you’re going to be wickedly motivated to write stuff. 

Writing what you want to, is the best way to stay engaged, especially if you’re not being paid to do it.

Explore new places for inspiration.

Try new things in your writing so you can learn more.  This is fun and helps you grow.  The first time I wrote something with the goal of making the reader cry, and I succeeded, I was so happy, because that was hard for me to evoke at the time. But understand that you won’t always succeed on your first try. I spent a year dumping experimental stories on my writers groups as I tried to get a better understanding of plot. Some were great. Others were really not.

Writers groups with deadlines can be great motivators.  Or writing prompt challenges.  Or blogs with regular updates.

Getting Your Writing Out There

There are a lot of ways to do this, some better than others.  The key is that you want to make sure you keep your intellectual property rights.  This means you need to read those terms of service if you’re participating in an online forum.

Submit stories to magazines that print your genre.

Submit stories to reputable contests (many contests are not reputable).

Post stories on your blog.

If you’re middle or high school aged, the New Voices Young Writers contest is highly recommended by a friend of mine.  You may also find Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy useful if that’s a genre you enjoy.