Five Truths About Indie Publishing

Write on

I am an indie author, a writing entrepreneur. The following comments are based on my experience and are in no way intended to discourage anyone from self-publishing. I get – and occasionally sign up for – “helpful” blog posts about how I can make a six-figure income using my writing skills. I want to laugh with all the derision my body can muster.

Maybe someone can do that, but not me, at least not up to now. Maybe? Someday?

Let’s start with the cold, hard truth that, according to a Bowker report, nearly four million books were published in 2019, 1.7 million of which were indie-published. For those who don’t know what Bowker is, you can find out more about it here. In a nutshell, Bowker provides tools to help authors promote and sell their books — and resources, such as the Books In Print® database — to help make their titles more discoverable. Bowker, a ProQuest affiliate, is the official ISBN Agency for the United States and Australia. (From Bowker’s website).

Truth #1
There are countless self-publishing platforms. Countless. Researching what each offers is straightforward. Most list different levels of what is available through their platform. The more you pay, the more services you get. If you’re able to go for the gold, or premium package, you will get a ton of help. That does not guarantee success for your book.

Truth #2
These platforms have one goal in mind: selling you services. There’s nothing wrong with that, these are businesses operating from a proven business model. Ultimately, selling your book is not what they are designed to do. Yes, these platforms will give you helpful hints about revising, uploading, editing, publication and marketing, but in the end, it’s your book and selling it is your responsibility.

Truth #3
Everyone wants to help you, for a price. There are many writing gurus who have wonderful ideas about how you can sell your book. Wonderful ideas. All you need do to get this magic formula, is pay a small fee. It could be $27, $67, $87, for a course that would normally cost $367, or $587, or any way higher price you can think of. What a bargain! Well, no, it’s not. If you want to take that course and glean from it what you find helpful, go for it, but it is not a guaranteed path to a best seller.

Truth #4
To be an indie author, you must believe with everything you have in you that your work is the best thing ever written. If you don’t believe that, you will spend a lot of time second-guessing yourself. Equal to that, your responsibility is to make sure it is technically the best thing ever written. Bad grammar, poor spelling, sloppy writing, all these factors will turn a reader off. Fiction authors will want to pay particular attention to plot, character development, and story arc. And believe me, folks, that’s a short list!

Truth #5
Writing entrepreneurship is a business and you must treat it that way. If you aren’t comfortable with self-editing, find a reliable editor with references. It will cost, but worth the expense. Unless they are professionals, don’t rely on your friends and family to review and make suggestions. Even the most honest will hedge in favor of not upsetting you. The cover is your book’s most important marketing tool. Invest in a qualified designer. Cost varies. But it’s not just the image on the cover; it’s the typography, the title, and the book’s back blurb – the first thing readers look at to decide whether your book is worth their time. These critical details done right, will build your confidence in the work you have created.

And, speaking of business, keep track of sales. I know, sounds like a no brainier, doesn’t it? Find a method that works for you, but keep track of sales, where the books were sold, and your earned royalties or margin. Also keep track of books you buy for resell. Your accountant will tell you all this, but in case you don’t have one, it’s a sound recommendation that you’ll find useful over time.

Happy Writing (and Publishing)!

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Writing: A Day in the Life

Write NowThis should read “A Day in the Life of THIS Writer, and it’s just ONE day in the life of this writer. Everyone approaches how they write in different ways. Disciplined writing and scheduled writing are a bit of a myth for most of us. Published authors with a following and books that have hit the best-seller list, likely treat writing as the business that it is. The rest of us – or maybe I should say most of us – struggle with getting our books or articles or short stories or poetry before an audience. But we keep trying.

A day in the life–

2:30 a.m. Jolt awake with a story idea – It’s there. It’s brilliant! The characters are falling all over themselves to be noticed. The plotline begs to be written, but it is 2 freaking 30 in the morning!

7 a.m. Stagger out of bed. The idea? What was it? Was the protagonist the woman with red hair or the one with a scar? Scar? Was there something about a scar? The plot. Yeah, the plot. This woman – maybe with a scar – goes in to have her teeth cleaned but the dentist is really…

7:05 a.m. Oh, right teeth, morning routine. Shower away sleep fog and think about the story. It was so damned brilliant! A best seller for sure. Notebook and oatmeal side-by-side on the breakfast table, think about the story that woke me at 2 freaking 30 a.m. … … … … It’ll come to me… … … … I’ll let it marinate while I tidy up.

7:30 a.m. Morning chores with notebook handy. Write down anything remotely recalled from brilliant idea. Chores complete, notebook depressingly empty.

10 a.m. Writing time. Butt in chair, start fresh or return to what I was working on yesterday. The Brilliant Idea has gone stale, but what I’ve been working on has promise. Stick it out. Get it done. Write.

2 (or 3 or 4) p.m. Review and revise, maybe even think about submitting. The work finished two weeks ago has mellowed like fine wine (maybe). Time to look it over for errors, possible revisions, and overall readability. Can it be saved, or is it time to chuck it? Or is it time to (hyperventilating here) send it out in hopes it will be accepted for publication?

It often feels like there is no endgame for writers. Life interferes with writing. The above example doesn’t take into account daily emails and texts, other projects demanding one’s time, unexpected life events, coffee with your mate, a wild hair that takes you down a divergent path. Which takes us back to discipline. I’m reading Waymarks for Authors, by Chris Lewando. She makes the point that as writers, we make a choice each day, to write or not to write. It’s up to us. No one is forcing us to write. It’s the individual writer’s decision, day-by-day, whether she or he will put pen to page or fingertips to keyboard. This should be a given, but face it, we’re often guilted into believing we have to write every day or treat writing time as sacrosanct. At what point does the thing you enjoy stop being joyful and become drudgery? That fine line is drawn by each individual.

I love to write. I do it every day. That’s me. That doesn’t have to be everyone. Just me.

Am I successful as a writer? It depends on your measuring stick. I’ve been published in the local paper and regional papers; in a state-wide and a couple of regional magazines, certainly on my personal website, which – yes – I do count, and I have indie published six books and two chapbooks of poetry. So, in that I am a published author, I count that as success.

Financial success is a different measuring stick and for many, the only one that counts. I’ve always been paid for my work as a freelance writer. Success. The books I’ve written have not gained traction, at least to the point of financial success. I’ve sold enough to pay for printing and a tad more. That’s it. Is it enough? I keep writing, so, I guess the answer is either yes, or, it doesn’t matter; I’m going to keep writing anyway.

Happy writing.

Thank you for being a reader/subscriber. Your likes, shares, and comments are welcomed. Click the BOOKS tab to find out more about my work.  Books are available on Paper Trail in Las Vegas, NM, or through online retailers. Follow me at,, Amazon Author Central. I may be reached by email at

Q&A with Windy Lynn Harris: Getting Past “No”

Windy Lynn HarrisQ. In one sentence describe who you are as a writer.
A. I’m that woman peeking out from behind the pole over there, studying human behavior, sorting through the data.

Q. What is a market coach for creative writers?
A. A Market Coach is a mentor who reads your short prose and helps you figure out who’d like to publish it. I discuss long-term and short-term publishing goals with writers and point them toward the shortest route to both. I teach writers the industry standards of query letters and manuscript formatting, contract negotiation and professional etiquette.

Q. You have been a speaker at writing events. What is the most common question people ask and what is your answer?
Writers who come to my presentations want to know where to send their stories and essays and poems. Luckily, there are several hundred literary magazines out there looking for writers. My favorite resource is The Review Review, an online magazine dedicated to helping writers navigate the world of lit mags. I’m the Tips editor there now, but I’ve been reading TRR since long before I joined the staff. You’ll find a searchable database under the Magazines tab and there’s also a monthly Classifieds section with calls for submissions. You’ll never run out of places to submit your prose!

Q. Where you are in your novel writing?
My virtual computer drawer contains one terrible novel, two sort-of-okay novels, a pretty good novel (that came close to selling), and the second draft of a project that I think has a real shot at filling shelf space someday. The current project is a war-of-the sexes story set during a time when men and women have been separated for their own health. And it goes horribly wrong, of course.

Q. You have more than 70 bylines in a variety of magazines. What is the secret to getting a “yes” from a magazine?
A. When you send a polished piece of writing to the right editor for your prose, you’ve got a potential match. Up your chances of publication by behaving professionally. Query a specific person, for a specific reason. Format your manuscript. Follow the submission guidelines. Write your best stuff and then send it to magazines you like.

Q. How is writing for print different from writing for online magazines?
A. The lines have really blurred between these two mediums in the world of short literary writing. Online and print both offer writers a chance to be read by a wide audience.

Q. What do you wish people knew about you as a writer?
A. I get more rejection letters than almost every other writer I know. Yes, I get published a lot, but the “no thank you” bin outweighs the “yes” bin every darn month. There isn’t some magical number of bylines you need before it gets easy to publish your work. You gotta keep at it.

Q. Are you more invigorated by writing or by helping other writers?
A. I just love being in the world of writers. Many of my clients come as referrals from editors and writing instructors, but a lot of writers find me on Twitter too. Some have been writing short stories, essays and poems for years, and some are just starting their journey. Some are novelists and memoir writers who’ve been told that publishing short writing can establish a platform before approaching agents and publishers. And others are creating shorts as their primary art form. I am eternally inspired by all of the different paths available and all of the writers I get to meet.

Q. You wrote in a guest blog about taking risks (as a writer), what does that mean for you at this point in your career?
A. I’m six months into a personal challenge: write shamelessly. To me, writing shamelessly means to tell the stories that come out of me without letting that annoying internal editor stomp through my page. Some days I think I’ve mastered this skill, but then I have an attack of self-doubt. I, and my process, are still evolving.

Q. What are you working on you want people to know about?
A. Breaking news: there’s a Market Coaching for Creative Writers book in the works! I’m finalizing the proposal for that this month, and I’m gearing up for a January Market Coaching session. There are a few spots still available. Details here:

I’ve also got a story out in Pithead Chapel this month, and another forthcoming in Literary Mama. Just signed a contract for an anthology project with Crack the Spine that will publish this summer, and I’m gathering stories for my first short story collection. More about all that at

Q&A With Jane Friedman: Making the Hard Decisions

From Jane’s website: Jane Friedman has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise iJane Friedmann digital media strategy for authors and publishers. From 2001–2010 she worked at Writer’s Digest, where she ultimately became publisher and editorial director of the $10-million multimedia brand. More recently, she served as the digital editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review, where she led a strategic overhaul of its website and launched digital subscriptions.

Jane currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia and is a columnist for Publishers Weekly. The Great Courses just released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (2017).

Q. In one sentence who is Jane Friedman?
A. I’m the perfect balance of realist and optimist.

Q. Name three things you wish you had done differently to get where you are now in your career?
A. 1) In college I wanted to minor in computer science; I wish I had pushed myself to do that in the absence of encouragement.
2. When I was younger, I avoided making hard decisions even if I knew they were the right decisions. Today, once I recognize the right action, I take it as soon as possible.
3. I wish someone had told me that you can’t be friends with people you manage, no matter what the circumstance. I could’ve used a mentor, someone with 10 or 20 years more experience in publishing or management, but didn’t have one.

Q. What one thing happened to you that made you stop and think, “Is this really what I want out of life?” or have you always been satisfied with your career and personal trajectory?
A. My attitude toward life changed after I finished watching the TV series Six Feet Under. I divorced, I moved, I eventually left corporate publishing.

It might sound exhausting, but to some extent, I’m now asking this question every day when I’m completing work. I try to be self-aware about how I’m feeling—what’s draining my energy and what’s adding. It’s like what Steve Jobs advised in his famous graduation speech: “Every morning I look in the mirror and ask myself: If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” I’m always tweaking what I do daily, as well as thinking long-term: OK, it took me 5 years to accomplish this, or 10 years to reach that goal. Am I doing what’s necessary today to achieve what I’m envisioning 1, 5, 10 years out? How does my work today serve where I want to be tomorrow? If I can’t find a connection, I shed it.

Q. Which is more important, time management or creativity, and why?
A. Time management. You have to make time to allow creativity to flourish. John Cleese once said, “If you’re racing around all day ticking things off lists … and generally keeping all the balls in the air then you are not going to have any creative ideas.” (Thank you to Porter Anderson for sharing that quote with me!)

Q. According to a 2013 Forbes article, between 600,000 and 1 million books are published each year in the U.S. An infinitesimal percentage of those books ever gain a following. Given this do you think there will be more business for your services in the future or less, and why?
A. People will always believe that their book is the exception, that they will beat the odds, that they’re the special snowflake. Whether they’re right or not, the very motivated author typically seeks a guide or mentor to increase their chances at success, or help them make quicker progress than they would on their own. So I don’t see my business slowing down any time soon.

Q. If you could take a slow boat to anywhere, where would you go and what would you do when you got there?
A. I’d head to a cottage on Inis Meain, where I once spent a Christmas holiday alone focusing on my own creative work without interruption or obligation.

For more information about Jane Friedman and the services she provides, check out her website at