Indie Authors–You Can’t Go It Alone

I’ve been featuring guest bloggers who’ve had some success with self-publishing, in print and with ebooks. Some have been traditionally published and others have ventured out as indie authors. By having many authors writing in various genres around the world speak about the publishing experience and sharing helpful tips, hopefully their insights and suggestions will smooth out your road to success. Today’s guest post is by author James Wilcox from Kansas City:

I have to be honest with you. When I started down the path to becoming a self-published author, I didn’t know what I was getting into. I had a completed manuscript, a stack of rejection letters, and an unhealthy amount of frustration. I hadn’t really considered self-publishing because I was confident that I would find an agent and sign a book deal. After nearly two years of sending out query letters and sample pages, I realized I was out of options. It was then that I decided to look into self-publishing. I stumbled across CreateSpace, learned about Kindle Direct Publishing and then Smashwords, and decided to take the self-publishing plunge. Although I was excited to put together my first novel and enjoyed learning how to format an ebook, I made a huge mistake. I actually thought that self-publishing meant that I had to do everything myself. I thought I could handle the editing. I thought I could build a compelling cover. I thought I could handle formatting an ebook. I actually thought that I could handle every aspect of putting a quality novel together. Boy was I wrong.

Every Author Needs Help

It didn’t take me long to realize that the “self” in self-publishing doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. In fact, I learned, the hard way, that every self-published author needs help. As it became apparent that my novel was riddled with spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors, that the cover of the book wasn’t as visually appealing as I thought, and that the formatting of the ebook was a mess, I finally recognized that I needed a team of people who actually knew what they were doing if I wanted to sell any books. Although I thought I could edit my own work, I realized that I needed to find an actual proofreader and editor. I needed to find someone who could help me properly format the ebook version of my novel, and I needed to hire a cover artist who could design a cover worthy of my book.

As a first time self-published author who didn’t really know anything or anyone in the literary business, I didn’t know how to find a proofreader, a formatter, or a cover designer. I decided to start with a proofreader. I started doing research, asked other authors for recommendations, and ultimately ignored everything I learned and selected the cheapest proofreader I could find. Unfortunately, this was my second mistake. Faced with the economic reality of the situation, I tried to spend as little money as I could. I thought that all proofreaders are the same. At the time, I thought this proofreader did a good job, but my readers didn’t think so. They were more than happy to point out the mistakes in their comments and reviews.

I decided to start over and did my research again, this time paying more attention to what people were telling me. My second proofer cost more money, but I hoped they would do a better job. Unfortunately, I had to start over again and finally settled on a third proofer, who was finally able to correct my mistakes. This proofer recommended a formatter and another author recommended a cover artist and finally my team was complete.

Building Your Team Before You Publish

Despite the fact that I had already published my second novel and had sold some books, I had my team go over everything with a “fine-toothed comb.” With a redesigned cover, a thoroughly edited manuscript, and a properly formatted ebook, I republished both of my novels. I wish I could say that these improvements lead to an immediate increase in sales, but I can’t (they stayed fairly consistent between 15 and 40 books a month). What I can say is that these improvements lead to an increase in my sales potential. Gone were the reviews that complained about the writing and formatting mistakes.

Now the reviews actually focused on the strengths (and weaknesses) of my stories and characters, and this is what helps with sales. Although it has taken me almost two years to realize that “I can’t go it alone” and to correct the mistakes I made by publishing my work to soon, I now have a team who will work with me to ensure that my next book is as close to perfect as possible BEFORE I publish, not after. Although it is an exciting time to be an author, it is also important to remember that there are more books being published and more competition than ever before. If you want to make your book stand out in the crowd, remember these few simple words: you can’t go it alone.

James P. Wilcox is the author of Musings of a Particular Bear: A Poetry Collection and two novels: Sex, Lies, and the Classroom and The M-16 Agenda. James, a former newspaper photographer and writer, is currently a high school teacher in the Kansas City area, where he lives with his wife and three children. James is currently working on his third novel and his first work of nonfiction. For more information about James, go to the author’s official website. If you are interested in reading James’s work, his title can be found on Amazon.com, IBooks, B&N.com, KOBO, and Sony. Be sure to follow James on Twitter and Facebook!

24 Responses to “Indie Authors–You Can’t Go It Alone”

  1. Stephen Woodfin October 15, 2012 at 6:08 am #

    Good advice from someone who is down in the trenches. We have to make every book as good as we can make it. That can’t be done without help.

  2. Martha Reynolds October 15, 2012 at 6:39 am #

    This is a great post! I blew my budget on editing, but it was worth it. Spent more on formatting and a good cover. It’s all about learning, especially one’s first time out. But I’m proud of my debut novel, and the positive feedback I’ve received only confirms that I did some things right.

    Remember that saying about first impressions? It’s the same thing with your first book. Thanks, James.

  3. Raphyel M. Jordan October 15, 2012 at 7:26 am #

    A very insightful article, indeed. Thx for the post! And you’re right. We gotta stick together ^_^

  4. Maggie Singleton October 15, 2012 at 8:25 am #

    What a well-written blog about the self-publishing process. Thank you for your honesty… it certainly takes a village! I can’t wait to check out your book Sex, Lies, and the Classroom. Sounds intriguing.

  5. James Wilcox October 15, 2012 at 9:07 am #

    Thanks for all of the wonderful comments. I am glad that everyone is finding my blog helpful. I hope this blog will save some indie authors the pain and struggle I went through when I thought I had to “go it alone”. It has been a learning process every step of the way, and although it has been painful at times, I would trade this experience for anything.

    Happy reading and writing everyone!

    James

  6. Catherine Astolfo October 15, 2012 at 12:59 pm #

    Fabulous advice, James. I, too, self-published initially and made all sorts of mistakes trying to do it pretty much alone. I now have a small but mighty Canadian traditional publisher, and boy have I learned a lot from her and her team. I love your honesty, because sometimes we reclusive writers think we’re the only ones who’ve had this or that disappointing experience. Thanks!

  7. Stephanie McKibben October 16, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    You’re absolutely right! I don’t think any author can go it alone! I’m a researcher type and researched the heck out of publishing and writing which to my delight got me researching marketing. From there I realized — Marketing Plan! A team is so important. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  8. richard okumoto October 16, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    Great article! Finding real-life gems like this are wonderful for newbie writers like me. I am drinking from a fire hose and appreciate the time and effort everyone has put into helping this wide-eyed deer-in-the-headlights neophyte.

    Thank you

    Rich

  9. N. K. David October 16, 2012 at 10:47 am #

    Good one.

  10. Tannera Kane October 16, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    James, what type of folks do you recommend for a “team”? I don’t use reviewers or solicit feedback from writers. There’s too much bashing and hatred. Still, I’d like to find assistance to sell books. I look forward to your suggestions.

    • James Wilcox October 17, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      Great question Tannera. when I referred to team, I was referring to editor/proofreader, formatter, and cover designer. I haven’t used reviewers and I haven’t solicited feedback from other writers. I am still learning about selling books, but I don’t do that alone either. I have joined several author groups on Facebook who have given me a lot of tips and I use a Tweet team of fellow authors who tweet about my books, while I tweet about theirs. Other than that, I use a lot of social media: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pintrist etc. just to try and get the word out. I have had some success with KDP Select and using the free days to help generate sales, but I hate the idea of being exclusive to Amazon. Wish I had more wisdom to share about selling books.

      James

      • Tannera Kane October 17, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

        Thank you for the reply, James. In my first book, two editors failed to locate all errors. I updated twice. When another error appeared, I hired a proofreader. Now the final version is up. So far no remarks about grammar errors.

        Second novel: I used Autocrit and a proofreader. No one’s noticed errors since publication in August (not to say the novel is error free, but readers are smart and tend to notice a mistake). I design covers and format, so no problems there. Perhaps a publicist may be suitable for a team.

  11. Mohan October 17, 2012 at 6:19 am #

    Great tips. Indie doesn’t mean do-it-alone though there is some element of do-it-yourself!

  12. James Wilcox October 17, 2012 at 6:55 am #

    Great question Tannera. when I referred to team, I was referring to editor/proofreader, formatter, and cover designer. I haven’t used reviewers and I haven’t solicited feedback from other writers. I am still learning about selling books, but I don’t do that alone either. I have joined several author groups on Facebook who have given me a lot of tips and I use a Tweet team of fellow authors who tweet about my books, while I tweet about theirs. Other than that, I use a lot of social media: Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pintrist etc. just to try and get the word out. I have had some success with KDP Select and using the free days to help generate sales, but I hate the idea of being exclusive to Amazon. Wish I had more wisdom to share about selling books.

    James

  13. Douglas Thompson October 17, 2012 at 3:49 pm #

    Susanne,
    I really enjoy receiving your daily e-mails, you have very good insight into the craft of writing. One small issue I find with being on your subscription list however is that the subject line of each e-mail is always Live Write Thrive. I wish you could capture the actual subject of the post in your subject line so that I couls more easily find the great information you have shared in past posts, which I very often save for further reading and reference later. Just a suggestion. Maybe you’ve heard this one before???

    • cslakin October 17, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

      Thanks. Feedburner grabs the posts and e-mails them or sends them to the RSS feed. I’ll have to see whether I can do something about the settings.

  14. lindaajanssen October 18, 2012 at 4:02 am #

    Thank you for sharing your experiences, James. I think the underlying theme is that none of us know what we don’t know; it is in reaching out to others that we can find much of the information we didn’t realize we required. That’s the beauty of the internet: information and venues within which to learn, grow and share are abundant. Anyone can call themselves an editor or proofreader, yet it doesn’t make it so. Checking references and verifying capabilities is easier now than ever before. Sharing tips and experiences (positive or otherwise) in online fora, websites or blogs like Susanne’s help make us all smarter about doing what we love. Good luck in your writing career!

  15. susan scott October 18, 2012 at 7:52 am #

    great info thank you!

  16. Linda Breitman October 19, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    I’m at the point of looking for a POD publisher. I saw one example of Createspace and it did not look so good to me. Have you used Creatspace? Opinion? Do you have a self publisher you recommend?

    • cslakin October 19, 2012 at 8:58 am #

      Hi Linda, I looked into a few options but all the successful indie authors as well as my Canadian publisher use Createspace. I just used it for my novel Conundrum, and although I’m not thrilled with the paper color choice or the fact they don’t do matte finish covers, I am very happy with the ease and low cost. I will continue to use it for future print books. And I have a great designer who did the whole process with me and for me, if you want a recommendation.

  17. Linda Breitman October 19, 2012 at 9:24 am #

    Yes, I’d love to check into using your designer.

  18. James Wilcox October 19, 2012 at 10:04 am #

    I also used Createspace. It is fairly easy to use and is really inexpensive . They are actually pretty helpful as well when I have called the support line for help.

  19. Joy DeKok October 22, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    Great post! I appreciate your honesty and the excellent advice. We all need a team.

  20. Parker James June 5, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    You really hit the nail on the need. Truly it is a learning experiene. A second pair of eyes on a book prior to publishing is a very good thing. You’re post was most helpful to many. I feel a kindred respect because truthfully we have to “do it all” as Indies. Bookcovers – marketing. I’ve just ventured into createspace and truly believe that it is the future of ebooks on a tablet. Smashwords is very good in that it allows marketing in venues outside of the mainstream. Who will make the tablet based on the createspace design that all schools purchase as oppossed to physical books? Those companies willing to capture the majority of market share. You’re post has been most enlightening as I have experienced the exact same thing. Kudos.

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