Indie Writing FAQs

If I'm ever going to start the next book, I don't have time to answer all the questions I get about writing. Instead of ignoring requests for advice, I decided to do this FAQ post. (FYI: I'm definitely not the best source of indie publishing advice! Some blogs to check out: Joe Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, and David Gaughran.)

How did your book climb the charts so quickly? I honestly have no idea! What I do know: Easy was the fourth book I published, and it had been shelved on Goodreads.com over 2500 times by the day I published it. The only marketing I did was putting up the cover and description two months prior to publication, and posting weekly teasers. I did a lot of nail-biting leading up to the release, for fear it wouldn't live up to whatever readers were expecting of it. When it released, many book bloggers read it right away - and book bloggers can be a book's best friend for fast word-of-mouth. (A ginormous, hearty thank you!!! to all of them.)

Yeah, but why your book and not mine, or one of the other thousands out there? I'm not trying to hide any big secret from everyone, I promise. There's room for many authors to succeed - traditionally-published, indie-published, and those savvy enough to do both. Don't pay attention to whether or not someone's book is doing "better" than yours is. The question: Are you getting what you need to support the continuance of a writing career? I gave up on the dream of being an author a few times along the way, but the writing bug wouldn't go away. I never stopped writing, because the act of writing has always given me a personal sense of satisfaction. I wrote poems, essays, stories, blog posts, and novels that will never see the light of day. Eventually, I wrote Between the Lines - which was the fourth book I wrote (and the first I published).

What are your writing/publishing secrets? Again - no secrets, just common sense. You already know most of this stuff:
(1) Write the best book you can, every time.
(2) Rewrite it if you have to, even if that's a mind-numbingly difficult task (and it usually is).
(3) Have at least one, preferably two or three critique partners, and trade chapters with them. Be honest in your critiques, and expect your partners to be honest with you. Being gentle does no one any good; reviewers will not be gentle. Listen carefully to what your trusted CPs say, especially if you hear something more than once. Then, use your own judgment on whether or not to apply their advice, because ultimately, it's your name on the cover.
(4) Have your book copy edited (preferably by a professional, who is paid to do it. Get references before handing over your manuscript, and check them out.
(5) If you can't afford to hire a cover artist, make the cover very simple. No busy picture, no fancy font. Pick books from your bookshelves or Amazon that have covers you like, and try to hit the same feel for yours. Remember: some ereaders will show your cover in black and white, about the size of a postage stamp.
(6) Write a good blurb. (Here, I'm being a total hypocrite, because I kinda suck at blurbs.) I spend hours writing and rewriting the description. I leave it and come back to it several times, to get a fresh take. I have my critique partners read it and advise me. At some point I've done all I can do, though blurbs can be adjusted/rewritten later, if necessary.
(7) Find bloggers who review indie-published books. Are their reviews unbiased and well-written? Do they inform their readers ad nauseum that this is a "self-published" book? Your book shouldn't need introduction or apology as "self-pub." It should be good enough to blend in. (Side Rant: Indie authors can get caught up in the whole "indie" us-vs-them mentality. The public doesn't care. At. All. They just want to read good books, hopefully for less than what publishers are charging. That's where the indie niche is. But cheaper doesn't mean rushed or substandard - cheaper, hopefully, translates into more buyers. That's all!)
(8) You have to write in your voice, and tell your story your way. Some people won't like what you write - accept this, and work on not caring about outlying opinions. Care about the opinions of the readers who like what you write. That's your audience. (You can't please everyone, and you should not try to do so.)
(9) Build a following with an interesting blog. (And no, I don't consider mine to be all that interesting... so yeah, more hypocritical advice.) If you want other writers to visit your blog, talk about writing. If you want readers, talk about other stuff. Let your sense of humor come through. Be human. Interact. And don't be an asshat.
(10) Make a Facebook page - the title of which is your name - not your book title. Why? Because you are not your book. You are the one and only YOU! And you'll be writing other books, right? Upload your book cover(s) and character photos (actors/models who look like your characters).
(11) Set up a Twitter account (again, your name). I tweet about my books when I've released a new one or there's a new way to buy the book (in paperback, or on Kobo, etc), but I don't deluge my followers with a constant ad campaign. I don't believe in aggressive marketing, because that never works with me as a consumer - it pisses me off. And I don't want to piss off my readers. Well, most of them.
(12) Reviews: There are a million reasons authors reply to reviewers. I'm not going to try to talk you out of it; I'm just going to tell you not to do it. If you can't keep from responding to negative reviews, don't read your books' reviews.

Are you in a writers' group? Do you promote each other? I am, but I've never traded reviews with another author, and neither should you. I have a reputation as a reader/reviewer to maintain. Therefore, I won't promote anyone's book unless I've read it and liked it. I never ask anyone to promote for me, either. If my book can't earn good reviews from legitimate readers, then it doesn't deserve to have good reviews - it's really that simple. If you're a writer, and you're my friend, and I like your book, well, lucky you. If we're friends and I'm not a fan of your book, or you write in a genre that doesn't interest me, then I guess we'll be testing how good our friendship really is, because I can't promote what I don't personally enjoy.

Okay, but what is your marketing strategy? My entire "marketing strategy" is to interact with readers and know my audience. I want to know what's important to them, what they want to read about, what kind of stories touch them. That helps me write the next book - the one they'll hopefully buy as soon as it comes out.

So, what if you read another author's book and don't like it or hate it or can't finish it? I refuse to give a bad review to another author - friends or not. If someone's work doesn't interest me, I have no business reviewing it. If it isn't good, it'll get enough bashing from readers - there's no need for me to add a high-handed slap to the mix. On the flip side - other authors have given my books low ratings. I will not do anything reciprocal... but I'm not helping them, either. As an author, your opinion of someone else's writing holds weight. Be careful how you toss it out there.

Will you read my manuscript/book? No. Reading has been one of my favorite pastimes since I learned to read. I refuse to give my tiny slice of available reading time to anything I don't choose for myself. My current to-read pile of purchased but not-yet-read books tops forty. Outside of that, I read raw manuscripts from my critique partners only. Few raw manuscripts are a joy to read - mine included. When I read a manuscript, I'm working.

Are you sure you don't have time to read my book? I have close author friends, who I love dearly as people, whose books I've never read. Or maybe I've read one of theirs, but not the other four. Yes, seriously. My time is that limited, as is theirs. I don't ask other authors to read my work, and I don't want them asking me.

I just finished writing my first book. So should I indie-publish it? I didn't publish the first three I wrote. They weren't horrible - they just weren't good. They weren't useless, though - they were practice! I became more skilled as a writer as I went along. IMO, Writers shouldn't be tossing out whatever they've written just to see what sticks. Put out your best work, presented to the best of your ability, and then start the next one.