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Entries in Indie U (5)


Publishing Options for Independent Authors

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Option 1: Full-Service Publishers

By Tara McClendon, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to work with a variety of writers. Some of them knew from the beginning that they wanted to indie publish. Others tried to sell a book through traditional methods and failed. No matter which path these individuals thought they were going to take, they all found themselves facing the task of trying to decipher the publishing process. You very well may be at this point yourself.

For this next series of posts, I'm going to dive into the options for indie publishers. And, let me be honest, I will include some print options that many "real" writers and industry professionals sneer at. Before we get started, I do want to toss out a disclaimer: I am not endorsing any specific method for publication. Of course, that does mean I can give you the negative sides as well as the positive, because I'm not trying to sell you on any one type of publishing. You will have to evaluate the pros and cons and determine which option will best fulfill your goals as an indie writer.

Full-Service Publishers


Photo courtesy of Helen Cook at FlickrFull-service publishing companies try to bridge self-publishing and traditional publishing options. Companies, such as Outskirts Press, market their businesses as giving you complete control over book publishing, but this isn't always the case. Let's take a closer look at what you can and can't get with these companies.

Pro #1: You can usually get professional help with your book. This can be a great asset to newbie indies who aren't familiar with all the ins and outs of producing a book.

Con #1: Most companies won't tell you what qualifications their "professionals" have. Usually, these companies will have staff members who at least have some experience in the industry; however, you most likely won't be working with a professional editor who has worked in traditional publishing.

Pro #2: You get to control how much you want to charge for your books, which can directly influence how much money you make.

Con #2: Setting your own prices can be beneficial, but this is only part of the equation that will determine whether you're able to sell your book. If you set your prices wrong, you may hurt your sales.  

Pro #3: Most full-service publishers offer an array of services.

Con #3: Each full-service publisher sets its own list of services, so what you get with one company for one price usually varies from those offered with other full-service companies. For example, Abbott Press connects your book with Writer's Digest, a nationally recognized resource for writers. Others will register your book for an ISBN and help you list your books with online vendors and other booksellers.

Pro #4: You have a larger voice in your book's production when you work with a full-servicePhoto courtesy of David Joyce at Flickr publisher.

Con #4: The more voice you want, the more you should plan to pay. Full-service publishers will work with you to create your book's cover and layout, but you aren't going to have an unlimited say in the process. The people who work on your project will usually have guidelines that will outline what you get for the money you plan to pay. Some companies believe that your ability to approve the final look is enough control for most writers.

Pro #5: Retain the rights to your work.

This one actually doesn't have a con. When you work with a traditional publisher, you often give up certain rights. I know an author who can't publish additional work based on his original idea without violating his contract with the traditional publisher. Unfortunately, the publisher has decided not to move ahead with more books; however, it has not released the author's rights. If he wants to be able to write the sequels to his story, he'll have to get legal help, which he can't afford.

Using a full-service publisher can be a great option for writers who want to spend less time on production and more time writing. While many of these companies produce quality work, I hope you can see that you will need to look beyond each company's marketing to determine whether a company is the one you want to hire.

We'll be looking at some of your other indie publishing options as we continue with this week's series. In the meantime, you should review your business plan for writing and determine the areas of book publishing that you know you will need help with as you continue your writing career.       


Celebration Day: Creating a Writing Business Plan

FREE!!!  Creating a Business Plan for the Indie Writer

This FREE 20-Page E-Book, a gift from Suzan Harden to you, includes all  7 articles + added content & resources.  This is a GREAT places to start for all Indie Authors.  --> Scroll down for coupon code.  

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From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

It’s the last day of our series with Suzan Harden, and it’s time to celebrate! We’ve covered quite a bit of ground over the past few days, and we’ve kicked Indie U off to a great start. So do a happy dance. It’s okay — we already know you’re as weird as we are.

If you’re just joining us, we’ll forgive you. On one condition: check out the articles you missed under our fabulous Indie U tab. And now to Suzan’s rockin’ post.

Retailers and Income

By Suzan Harden

Yep, we’re finally to the part we’ve all been waiting for . . . income projections.

Normally at this point in drafting a business plan, I’d have income projections based on similar businesses in the area. I’d also have an analysis of rivals in the same field and how I’d differentiate my business from those rivals. The expenses you’ve already listed plus your projected income becomes your profit/loss (P&L) statement for writing.

Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Do you know how the big publishing companies calculate their profits? THEY GUESS!

Yes, that’s right. They guess. Are you going to have to do the same?

Yes and no. Indie writers are a little freer about their numbers than traditional publishers. A good place to start is Victorine Lieske’s blog. Victorine breaks down the numbers for herself and 44 other indie writers.

The average I’ve been hearing from several independent authors is 10 copies of the first book in the first month the book is for sale. As you will see from Victorine’s blog post, some folks sold ZERO copies. Some folks sold a couple of hundred copies.

Another thing to consider is the price of your books. On that point, the indie community has a wide variety of opinion on the price point for the average 90,000-word novel.

  • John Locke sets his a $0.99.

  • Amanda Hocking sets the first book in a series at $0.99 and the rest at $2.99.

  • J.A. Konrath likes playing with his price points, but he’s firmly set that the price shouldn’t be above $2.99.

  • Dean Wesley Smith vehemently disagrees with Konrath and states $4.99 is a more reasonable price.

Indie publishers need to consider which retailers they use. Each retailer has a different royalty rate for different price points. For example, both Amazon and Barnes & Noble pay the writer 70 percent for books with a list price between $2.99 and $9.99. But, Barnes & Noble will pay 40 percent royalties for books $2.98 and under while Amazon pays 35 percent.

PLEASE NOTE: I use the rate differences as an example in calculating potential income. I STRONGLY advocate you place your product with as many legitimate retailers as possible to maximize your exposure to the buying public.

Subtract your estimated expenses from your estimated income for the first year’s estimated profit. You now have an official business plan. Don’t be alarmed if the number is negative. That’s not unusual for a new business. Normally, I would project income and expenses for the next three to five years, but at the rate the publishing industry in changing, that would be an exercise in futility.

Remember, your business plan is a fluid document. If circumstances change, then you need to roll with the changes and re-examine your business objectives and needs.

Indie publishing is not the instant riches touted by much of the media, but it can be a satisfying, lucrative career if you have patience. As Dean Wesley Smith says, you need to keep the “long tail” in mind. No longer do books need to be warehoused. Your books will literally be “on the virtual bookshelf forever.”

With that, I’ll leave with J.A. Konrath’s six steps for indie success:

  1. Good book

  2. Good cover

  3. Good format

  4. Good description

  5. Good price

  6. Good Luck!

If you have questions, leave them in the comments or feel free to e-mail me at


This entire blog series along with some extra resources will be available to you on Smashwords, including a PDF version that you can print. To get a free copy, enter the coupon code EW59P.

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Now for the really fun part! Suzan has agreed to give away a gift set that will include the following things:

  • The preloaded flash drive will have three of her titles (Seasons of Magick: Spring, Blood Magick, and Zombie Love) in the format of your choice.

  • Copies of Donald Maas’s Writing the Break-Out Novel and Bob Mayer’s Writing Warrior.

  • A 10.00 gift card to your choice of Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

To enter to win this, you have to send me a copy of your business plan at the One winner will be drawn at random. If you want an extra chance to win, make sure you leave a comment on today’s post.

Finally, I want to thank Suzan for all her work on this topic. She did an amazing job! Be sure to show your support for this talented indie writer. Sign up to follow her blog, buy one (or all of her books) or spread the love with word-of-mouth marketing about how great she is. 


Day Six: Creating a Writing Business Plan

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From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Did you notice our new nifty little tab? The one that says, “Indie U”? The Evil Genius put it at the top of the page. Know what the means? It means you can find all the great posts you missed from this week under the tab. Try it. You’ll like it. And now on to Suzan’s topic of the day.

Marketing and Promotion

By Suzan Harden

Book LoveThere are many myths out there about marketing and promotion (M&P). Here’s one truth:


Now, you’ll hear people witch about how much of the entire M&P falls on the writer’s shoulders. It doesn’t matter if you’re with a major publisher, a small house or going it alone, the bulk of pushing your book is on you. Why? Because it’s your freakin’ book!

The publishing houses, no matter the size, have a million other writers in line wanting their shot. If your book fails, they shrug their shoulders, say ‘Meh,’ and move on to the next sap in line.

If you’re indie publishing, guess what? There’s no one else behind you to make money from if your book fails.

And please, PLEASE realize that “failure” means different things in different environments. If my critique partner only sold 5,000 copies of her book for Grand Central in three months, her contract would probably be dropped. If I sold 5,000 copies of Zombie Love in the same time period, I’d be a roaring indie success!

Anyway, you all want the secret marketing technique that will make you a multi-millionaire like overnight wunderkind Amanda Hocking, right?


Courtesy of YouTube

Word-of-mouth publicity is an elusive, rare bird. Kind of like the phoenix, except that word-of-mouth is not mythological. Word-of-mouth is shy. You cannot force it into the open. You cannot bribe it into showing itself. You must coax it, gently and sweetly by writing the best freakin’ book that you can!

Place your book in an accessible place. If word-of-mouth scents your book and approaches, resist the urge to force the tome down its throat. I assure you that word-of-mouth will vomit the words and you’ll never see word-of-mouth again for a long, long time. But if word-of-mouth nibbles your story and finds it appetizing, she will tell all her friends. You will soon have an entire flock waiting for your next hand-out.

Three Ways to Market and Promote Your Book

Okay, in all seriousness, most indie marketing and promotion can be done cheaply and effectively. Here are three popular things every writer can do.

  1. Social Networking
    We’re talking about Facebook, MySpace, Blogger, Twitter, Google+, etc. Don’t try to do everything! I can guarantee you won’t be able to keep up (and may possibly give yourself a brain aneurysm in the process). Pick out the two or three methods that you feel most comfortable with, use those methods on a regular schedule, and interact with your readers.

  2. Book Reviews
    There are many book reviewers who are happy to look at indie books. Make sure you target a reviewer who loves your genre/sub-genre for maximum effect.

    Whatever you do, don’t pay for a review! Giving any reviewer a free review copy of your book is one thing, but readers find paid reviews suspect. In fact, New York Times Bestselling Author Joni Rodgers recently quoted an indie author on Twitter stating that the idea was “akin to paying a Mafia enforcer for the privilege of breaking your legs.” (Yes, I was quoted by a NYT author.)

  3. Blog Tours
    Visiting other blogs as a guest blogger is a great way to meet new people and expand your reader base. Most bloggers are happy to host you. Just make sure you return the favor.

Traditional Advertising

But what about traditional advertising (i.e. television, radio, newspaper?

Paying for traditional ads is certainly an option if you have the moola. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, a consumer needs to see an ad seven times before the message sticks.

Let’s say you write romance and place an ad in RWA’s Romance Sells, which is $200.00 an issue. (Hate to tell you folks, but that this is relatively cheap.) The cost can quickly add up, especially if you place multiple ads. If you don’t target to the right audience, your efforts may be a total waste. (This is why you don’t see ads for feminine products during the Super Bowl.)

Similar methods, like commenting on other blogs, can be just as effective as traditional book marketing. Providing thoughtful commentary and intelligent questions will get you a lot farther than you realize. By the same token, acting like a troll and throwing about personal insults is a good way to alienate your potential buyers.

Finding Balance

The real trick for new indie authors is finding the balance between producing new work and the M&P for the last work published. Back in November of 2010, Jon F. Merz called J.A. Konrath out on Konrath’s blog. Jon admitted, “I’m jealous as hell that I’m not selling thousands of dollars worth of ebooks on a monthly basis.”

When Jon’s traditional publisher rejected his novel Parallax, he decided to put it up on Amazon himself. At first, sales were great, but then they crashed. After that, Jon made a common mistake. He spent way too much time analyzing why Parallax and its follow-up, Vicarious, lost momentum. What he didn’t do was continue to put out new novels.

Keep your eyes on that ball, folks. Yes, you need to promote, but you also need the next book ready for your fans to read.

By now, you should have a page or two of expenses for your new publishing venture. Tomorrow, we’ll hit the income side of the equation.

If you have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. If you’re too shy to leave your question in the comments, feel free to e-mail me at

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Indie writers can make money in a variety of ways as they try to get a growing list of titles under their brand. You may even have a day job to pay the bills. Well, if you’re looking at your business expenses and wondering how long it will take for you to get started, then it’s time for you to pay attention to a cool idea a writing buddy of mine is trying.

Lina Rivera is trying to raise the funds she needs to produce her first independent novel, Vizcaya. She’s using KickStarter, which is a way to fund and follow creativity. Check out her listing. Who knows? You may find a way to start your indie publishing adventure by doing something similar. 


Day Four: Creating a Business Plan for Indie Writing

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

So, we’re back with Suzan Harden, who I’ve decided is a business plan marathoner. By the end of the week, we might just be calling her an indie writing guru. Oh, what the hay. Let’s just give her that title anyway.

Quick Recap:

Day 1: Why Go Indie?

Day 2: Writing as a Business

Day 3: Having Product

And now, on to today! Tally-ho!

Editing and Formatting Your Product

By Suzan Harden

Printing PressYesterday, we talked about things that take you away from your writing. For the next three days, we’ll be discussing aspects the indie writer can farm out or do herself, depending on her time and money constraints. (And you’ll be adding these to your writing business plan.)

BUT THERE’S ONE THING YOU MUST NEVER ALLOW SOMEONE ELSE TO DO FOR YOU: Never, EVER, have someone else control your money!

Your financials are the one job you should always do yourself. There’s a reason Oprah Winfrey signs EVERY FREAKIN’ CHECK cut by her company, Harpo Productions, Inc.

Think money problems won’t happen to you? Go ask Danielle Steele about the $400,000 her assistant embezzled.

Please realize I don’t mean that you shouldn’t seek out appropriate advice from your tax accountant or financial planner. But that doesn’t mean turn over your credit cards and bank account numbers to them.

Now, let’s move on to what you’re going to need to do to produce a book.

Time to get out your proto-business plan and pen!

Remember that list of expenses we started? Let’s add to it.

Resources and Equipment

Most writers have some resources and equipment on hand. If you don’t, you may need to add to the amount of cash you’ll need to start indie publishing. Here are some common things you’ll need:

A. Yourself

As we covered extensively yesterday, you are the most valuable asset of your new publishing company. It would take a whole ‘nother post series on protecting this asset, so I’ll leave it at exercise, eat your veggies and get a good night’s sleep.

B. Computer

An absolute necessity in the new world order. Of course, if you’re reading this, then you’ve probably got access to one. (If you’ve bought a new one this year, talk to your tax preparer about possible depreciation.)

C. Internet Access and E-mail Address

Again, an absolute necessity. Whatever you do, create a professional appearance! For the love of Murphy, don’t use fuzzepu$$ Remember that your access fees are tax deductible if used for business. 

D. Software

I strongly recommend buying a legitimate copy of Microsoft Word to use as your word processor. It’s not that I’m a huge Bill Gates fan, but Word has become the de facto manuscript file standard for most of the publishing industry. 


Producing a book takes more than words on a page. Remember the list you made yesterday (the one where you probably put your own name in each slot)? Well, it’s time to look at some of those roles.

A. Copyediting, Line Editing and/or Proofreading

Most writers don’t realize that there’s a big difference between these three, even though many of the duties overlap.

  • A copyeditor looks at the big picture, such as the overall structure of your story. Do you have a beginning, middle and end? Does your heroine go through a radical personality shift midway through the book? Do you have a gaping plot hole that’s not explained or resolved?

  • A line editor looks at the word flow and continuity. Is the grammar correct? Are you using words correctly? Did your heroine’s eyes change color three times in the course of the story?

  • The proofreader looks at the spelling and punctuation. She makes sure you haven’t left out words, accidentally used the same word twice or used a question mark instead of a period.

Should you hire someone for these jobs? That depends. A quality freelance copyeditor will run you about $2,000 for a standard 80-90K novel. A proofreader will start around $500.

ALWAYS get recommendations and check references! There are some fabulous editors worth the big bucks. And there are a few stinkers looking to take you for a ride.

Or, you can do the J.A. Konrath method of trading edits with other writers. In Joe’s case, he and his buddies have over a century of experience between them.

I understand this isn’t an easy decision when you don’t have bundles of Ben Franklins lying around the house. If you can’t afford a professional editor, I definitely recommend having critique partners and a couple of beta readers look at your book before you proceed.

B. Formatting for E-Publishing

There’s lots of other things you should and shouldn’t do to have a clean master copy. Here are some basic formatting tips for the word-processing stage: 

1) Set up a Word template for an e-publishing file. Go into “Format” and then select “Paragraph.” Set the “Indentation” to “First line” at “0.3.”

2) DO NOT use the TAB key!

3) Make sure you don’t have stray spaces at the beginning or end of paragraphs.

4) Have only one space between sentences.

5) Insert page breaks for new chapters instead of excessive paragraph returns.

6) Make sure you TURN OFF the smart tags. Go to “Format,” select “Auto format" and then click on “Smart tags.” Make sure you uncheck the box next to this option or switch it to “Off.”

7) DO NOT put page numbers in your document at this point!

Now, you’re ready to have the file formatted into an e-book file. If you feel comfortable with computers, this is something you can easily do yourself to save a bit of dough. Otherwise, you can hire someone to convert the file for you. Conversions start at $100 and quickly move up.

WARNING! There are a lot of companies jumping on the e-book conversion bandwagon. Some of them have NO FREAKIN’ CLUE for what they are doing.

Want to do it yourself? Save your manuscript into an HTML file. Download CALIBRE, which is a freeware program that can convert your HTML into almost any e-reader format. (Even though Calibre’s free, please, PLEASE, donate a few dollars to the guys who write it!) Load your HTML file into Calibre and then convert to MOBI (i.e. the format Amazon uses for the Kindle) or EPUB (the format Barnes & Noble use for the NOOK). If you don’t have either device, you can download free apps for the PC. Check your file (seriously, you NEED to look at the WHOLE thing) and make sure it looks fabulous!

If your new e-reader file looks funky on the device or in the app, there’s probably a problem with the master file. You’ll need to fix it and start the process over again.

The first couple of times you convert your DOC file into an e-reader file will be time consuming. It’s a learning experience, but one well worth it if money is tight.

C. Formatting for Print

Formatting for print is a whole ‘nother animal that I really don’t have space to cover in-depth since it’s a little (okay, a lot) more complex than digital. For more information, I strongly recommend Karen McQuestion’s blog.

Well, that’s enough for today. If you have questions, I’ll be happy to answer them. If you’re too shy to leave your question in the comments, feel free to e-mail me at

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

Is your head swimming yet? Making a business plan can be a challenging task, but I guarantee you’ll be farther ahead on the path to success as an indie writer if you consider all the wonderful things Suzan is throwing at you. We’ll be back tomorrow, so bring your business plan for writing and your catcher’s mitt.


Day Two: Creating a Business Plan for Indie Writing


From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U:

We're back with the delightful Suzan Harden, an independent author who is sharing information on creating a writing business plan. If you missed the first post, Why Go Indie?, take a moment to catch up with us.

While Suzan has some great information to share, she'd like to cover her tush inform you that she is no longer a licensed attorney. That means you should not construe the following information as legal advice. Like any good ex-attorney, she recommends consulting a licensed attorney if you have any legal concerns.

Quick Recap: Yesterday, You, the Publisher wrote the first draft of your Executive Summary. Today, we'll be going over business housekeeping and starting a business costs list. 

Day 2 – It's a Business; Treat It Like One

By Suzan Harden

For writers who go the traditional publishing route, the concept of becoming a business is foreign. The publisher takes care of registrations and licenses, sales-related taxes and so on.

When You, the Writer becomes You, the Publisher, you have to take care of all this (or at least have a clue whether you need to worry about it). Let's take a look at some common factors indie writers need to consider.

1. Business Formation for Indie Writers

Open for Business SignMost writers, whether traditional or indie-published, form a sole proprietorship. This means one person owns and is totally responsible for all the business debts and legal obligations. Usually, you don't have to do anything fancy to start a business as a sole proprietorship. You can even use your own social security number as your business ID for IRS purposes. If you want to work under a pen name, that's okay, too.

Some counties may require you to file a form for a home-based business license. You may need to file another form if you want to work under a pen name or a business name. In the county where I live, I can file an Assumed Name form (also known as a DBA, which stands for Doing Business As) for my publishing company for $15.00. The rules in your local jurisdiction may be different.

You may need to look at a business structure that is more sophisticated, such as a corporation, if you have significant assets you wish to protect. If you are in this position, I strongly suggest putting your business plan together first and then making an appointment with your attorney. By seeing the entire breakdown of what you hope to accomplish, your attorney can better advise you on how to protect yourself.

2. Accounting for Writers

Accounting for WritersEvery writer needs to maintain accurate records. You can track your business expenses and income in many different ways. I use Quickbooks, but you can use a spreadsheet, a notebook or any other accounting software you want.

Having a DBA filed will allow you to open a business checking account in your business's name. Even if you don't file a DBA, you should have a separate bank account, because some retailers, like Amazon, deposit your money directly into your account. Should some hacker get a hold of your bank information through Amazon, it could be disastrous for you personally if you are only using one account.

Money Saving Tip: With the financial meltdown, quite a few reputable banks are offering free checking. Take them up on it!

Save ALL your business receipts. Even better, have them organized. (Personally, I scan mine to keep from having zillions of bits of paper cluttering my office.) A good system will save you and/or your accountant headaches in April.

Again, I STRONGLY advise you to keep you business accounts separate from your personal accounts and document EVERYTHING. It'll save you a lot of grief if the IRS comes knocking.

3. Insurance Needs for Independent Writers

Does a single writer publishing her own works need business liability insurance? That's a maybe/maybe not question. A traditional publishing company usually covers its writers under a company policy.

As an indie, it's your call whether you need it. If you're writing biographies or memoirs, I'd say yes — there's a greater likelihood that someone may sue you if he or she doesn't like how you portrayed events in your book. Otherwise, you could skip it for now.

You may need to consider other insurance needs. One type of insurance I strongly suggest you update is your homeowner's/renter's policy. A few writers I know lost their home offices and equipment when Hurricane Ike slammed into Houston back in 2008.

Talk with your insurance agent (or find one) and make sure you have coverage. This may mean getting a separate rider, depending on your insurance company, but it'll be worth the money if you lose your laptop in a disaster or someone steals your equipment.

Making a Writing Business Plan Part 2: Business Expenses

What do the aforementioned items have to do with a business plan for writers? You may need to factor in certain business expenses related to each item.

Time to get out your pens and paper again! You're going to make three columns. 

  • Use column one for one-time-only or occasional costs. This should include consulting your attorney, paying to register your website's domain name, etc. 
  • Place yearly costs in column two. This may include paying for website hosting, maintaining your business license, paying self-employment taxes, or hiring a tax accountant. 
  • Add monthly costs to column three. This is where you'll put things like your insurance premium (if you pay it on a monthly basis), the cost of Internet for your business, office supplies, and the percentage of the utilities that you use for your business.

You'll need to itemize the expenses you know you'll incur as an indie publisher. If you're not going to do a particular item, then simply list zero; you may add that expense later.

Note: If you looked at the SBA template  I mentioned yesterday, you'll notice marketing under this section. Frankly, I don't agree with that placement. For writers, marketing must include your brand, which goes more toward your personality than slapping a cool logo on a product. Therefore, marketing and promotion will get its own post on Saturday.

After you tally your expenses, hang on to this sheet. We'll be adding to it during the rest of the week. Tomorrow, we'll discuss the one thing every new business owner forgets to add to her business plan.

If you have questions, I'll be happy to answer them. If you're too shy to leave your question in the comments, feel free to e-mail me at