Writing: Indie Savvy (Introduction)

Ana's Note: Cross-Posted from here. 

At this moment in time, the results of the "writing and self-publishing" poll look like this:

83% of the readers on this site are interested in writing and maybe self-publishing those writings. I have also fielded a number of questions via email regarding the ins and outs of indie publishing as well as the ins and outs of the supporting indie infrastructure: indie editing, for example, as well as being an indie artist for indie writers.

I've been on both sides of the indie fence: I'm an indie author and I'm a reviewer of indie literature in general as well as of indie writings in the yearly Amazon ABNA contest. I have strong feelings about what works and what doesn't work and -- according to the people in my inbox -- at least some of you would like to hear those strong feelings. To that end, I'm putting together a series of blog posts that I will eventually compile into a book for portable consumption.

But first! Some ground rules. Indie publishing is not without its detractors. There are traditional authors, editors, and publishers out there who find the whole thing to be nothing more than vanity press; there are readers who think the results of indie publishing is an ocean of slurry bogging down the stores in slush and making the good titles hard to find. I have spoken with people who genuinely feel this way; I respect their point of view.

However, these posts are not about those points of view, and these posts are not an invitation to argue the merits of Indie vs. Traditional publishing every time I put up a post. I am declaring that line of discussion off-limits right now because I do not have the spoons for it. If all this reads to you like the Chronically Foolish leading the Chronically Foolish, by all means keep it to yourself and go back to the Twilight posts, please. All comments on these posts will please be as close to the stated topic as possible.

Second, I will be cross-posting most of these posts to my Professional Blog because it's topical to the content there. Feel free to post there as well as here; basically, post questions and comments wherever you feel most comfortable.

Third, while I will be posting a tentative outline here, the blog posts that comprise the book will be completely out of order because they're largely stand-alone pieces.

With that out of the way, here is the tentative outline for the topics I intend to eventually cover:

1. Opening
a. Introduction
b. Investments
a. Branding Basics
b. Branding 101: Be Available
c. Branding 101: Profile Concisely
d. Branding 101: Stay Active
e. Branding 101: Remain Professional
f. Branding 101: Learn Lessons
g. Donations
h. Duck, Duck, Go
i. NaNoWriMo
j. Profile: Amazon Author Central
k. Profile: Amazon Customer Profile and Public Wishlist
l. Profile: Smashwords
3. Drafting
a. Writing in Scrivener
b. Pitches and Product Descriptions
c. Internal Images
d. Cover Art and Artists
e. Cover Art and Fonts
f. Cover Art and Genre
g. Audio Narrators
h. Copyright
i. Copyright and Creative Commons
j. International Standard Book Numbers (ISBNs)
4. Editing
a. Writing Partners
b. Amazon Breakthrough Award Novel
c. Beta Readers
d. Editors
e. Scrivener ePUB Export
f. Sigil ePUB Editor
g. Calibre mobi Conversion
h. Special Characters
5. Distributing
a. Digital Rights Management (DRM)
b. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and KDP Select
c. Amazon Pricing
d. Barnes & Noble PubIt Account
e. Kobo
f. Smashwords
g. NetGalley
h. …and beyond!
i. Reviews
j. Self-Promotion
6. Indie Infrastructure
a. Indie Opportunities
b. Indie Cover Artist
c. Indie Illustrator
d. Indie Editing
e. Indie Narration
f. Indie Formatting
g. Indie Trailers
h. Indie Translation
i. Indie Reviews
j. Indie Webpage Building

....and with that out of the way, I'll also post my little book/blog series Introduction. Feel free to suggest missed areas in the comments.

In 2011, I decided to realize a dream that I’d always had: to write and publish my very own book.

The timing was right, both personally and professionally. I’d experienced a serious setback in my personal life and I needed something to concentrate on to help me deal with my grief. Equally importantly, the market was ready for me to realize my dream — the rise of easy online self-publishing was making it easier than ever to write and publish a book. I wouldn’t have to deal with the stress and waiting and anxiety of agents and publishers and rejection letters; I could write the novel inside me and set it loose on the world the moment I felt it was ready. And so I did.

I’m not the most successful indie author out there — in fact, I only have one book published so far. So I was more than a little surprised when several friends, both online and in face-space, started encouraging me to write a “how-to” guide for online self-publishing. Who am I, I wondered, to give people advice on all this?

But as it turns out, I do have some skills that suit me for the creation of such a guide. I love writing user manuals — so much so that I write technical user manuals as part of my day job. I enjoy taking copious notes and condensing them into clear, concise explanations for others. And this enjoyment of condensing useful information has coupled with my absolute passion for reading to produce a hobbyist reviewing career of over 1,000 product reviews on Amazon.com and the label of “Amazon Top 100 Reviewer”.

More importantly, I am an absolutely fanatical consumer of eReaders and eBook technology. My day job as a software engineer has given me the means and the background to understand a lot of the nuances of eBook coding and format conversions. And my passion for electronic reading has left me owning (as of writing) seven dedicated eReaders, as well as a phone and two computers set up with constant access to my electronic library of over 2,000 eBooks.

In this guide, I have tried to combine my experiences as a first-time indie author with my technical understanding of the tools involved and my history as a dedicated reader and reviewer to create a reference for other would-be indie authors out there. My goal is to be clear and concise, while conveying the important fact that you can publish your own novel without losing your shirt or your senses.

This guide will cover the following sections:
  • Branding. Advice on how to create an online persona and grow an audience in advance.
  • Drafting. Advice on how to craft your novel, your cover, your pitch, and your copyright.
  • Editing. Advice on how to revise your novel, where to solicit feedback, and how to format for publishing.
  • Distributing. Advice on how and where to upload your novel for distribution.
  • Indie Infrastructure. Advice for people interested in making money supporting indie authors.


muscipula said...

This looks like a fantastic series - I'm impressed by the scope and number of topics! I'm really looking forward to reading these posts and taking part in the conversations.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you! I think I forgot to mention this in the main post, but if people see a topic they extra-special want to get to early -- since I'll be posting these out of order -- they can register their needs/opinions in the comments. That helps me identify high-need areas.

Lonespark said...

Wooooo! Ana, you rock!

I don't know if I'd say I'm interested in this stuff...I guess I'm interested in finding out whether I'm interested, at this point.

chris the cynic said...

I've just mentioned that I have a distinct lack of enthusiasm about things, but allow me to describe how I think I would feel if I did not have this lack:

Come on. He loved it. He went Wahoo.
When's the last time he said Wahoo?
--Well I'm sure I don't know.
When's the last time *you* said Wahoo?
--Well I'm *sure* I don't know.

muscipula said...

Yes, I can see that the intended order of presentation might end up changing as the posts progress. I personally have no particular requests about what I'd like to read first, though I am interested in the branding section when we get to it.

Side note- I'm glad to see you have "special characters" planned. I wrote a book (non-fiction - mathematics, so I really really hope it's not fiction) which has a lot of mathematical proofs. These traditionally end with a small square box symbol, the "tombstone", a less flashy way of saying Q.E.D. I got a very worried phone call from the publishers saying that my manuscript was full of little hollow boxes, and try as they might, they couldn't get the proper symbols to display. I had to reassure them that sometimes, a little box is just a little box, and not an encoding/font error. Then I had to proofread the whole thing again to make sure that all the boxes were boxes, and all the non-boxes weren't boxes. It was all a lot more effort than it should have been - I should have used the filled-in version of the symbol from the beginning. Lesson learned for the next book (which I am even now meant to be writing).

Ana Mardoll said...

Alas, my "special characters" post is basically a "try not to use them" post, with examples of where new authors can sometimes go wrong.

Last year, the ABNA manusrcripts all came out liberally littered with bizarre symbols. Most of the indies were flabbergasted and frightened (not helped by Amazon's really poorly worded responses on their end), but I knew immediately that the problem was "smart quotes". Many readers simply don't handle them properly.

And, unfortunately, even if you code it perfectly so that every reader on earth will handle it, almost ALL the stores convert what you upload into a NEW version of epub/mobi as part of their automated validation check. And some of the converters make mince-meat of special characters.

So I generally advise people not to use them. "Them" being smart quotes, smart single-quotes, em-dashes, and "real" ellipses.

I've not at all had to work with books where such things are required. Ouch. I feel for you.

Will Wildman said...

Hmm - this all looks great. In terms of prioritisation, I think I'd be more interested in issues like formatting and text conversion before things like branding. I may not know what I'm talking about, of course, but it seems like I need to have a thing that is broadly readable before I can be concerned about convincing people they want to read it. (I'm the kind of person who feels a little flicker of satisfaction when the processor converts triple-periods into an authentic ellipsis, so if I'm going to have to unlearn that, I'd like to start soon.)

But yeah, whole thing looks amazing, so I'm looking forward to all of it.

Redwood Rhiadra said...

Shared on Facebook (I don't ordinarily) because I have a friend who is currently working on self-publishing his second story - he might be interested.

chris the cynic said...

Redwood's comment seems to have disappeared.

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