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Entries in indie writer (3)


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.       


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.


You Mean Writing's a Business....


From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

You've been hearing about Indie U; now it's time for the goodies. Our first guest series is going to walk you through the process of creating a business plan for writing. Joining us this week is Suzan Harden, author of Blood Magick, Zombie Love and other great books. (Did we mention that she used to be an attorney?)

Suzan originally wrote a guest post about creating a business plan for writers for Joan Reeves's blog, Slingwords. The lovely Diane Holmes thought it needed expansion and invited the talented Suzan to discuss it further.

The goal: Helping You, the Writer become You, the Publisher.

Why Go Indie?

by Suzan Harden

In a word — money.

Have you ever asked yourself why you should pursue independent publishing? This is exactly what happened to me. My husband started researching the business side of things in the fall of 2010. (What can I say? He's the supportive type.) He asked me pointblank what a traditionally-published critique partner was making in terms of royalties. 

For reality's sake, let's look at a typical mid-list author, i.e. NOT Stephen King. The simple breakdown goes like this:

Traditional Publishing: Writer sells first book to traditional publishing company (TPC) and contracts for 8 percent royalties. (This is actually high for a first novel, but let's roll with it.) TPC sells book for $7.99. This mean Writer gets eight cents out of every dollar, or in this case, $0.64 for every book sold.

Indie Writer: Writer publishes her own book on Amazon, which takes a 30 percent cut to cover its overhead. Writer sells her book for $2.99. Now, Writer gets $2.09 for every book sold.

Light Bulb Moment


Then Mr. Practical stared at me like I'd grown a second head and said, "Why the hell don't you indie publish? You'll be farther ahead."


Sometimes you can't argue with common sense.

If you want a more extensive take on numbers, check out Dean Wesley Smith's blog post The Math of It All. This breakdown shows what it takes to make money with indie publishing. (For those who may not know, Dean is an award-winning author, former editor with Simon and Schuster, and a publisher who's been in this business for 20+ years.)

The point is that on a per book basis, you may be ahead of the game if you indie publish, but there are many things to consider. 

  • Do you have the time and energy to run your own publishing business?

  • Are you willing to educate yourself on aspects other than writing in order to succeed as an indie publisher?

  • Do you have the seed money to get your business started?

You, As the Publisher — No Guarantees

"Wait!" y’all are shouting. "Money? What about Yog's Law?"

Courtesy of mikekorn, stock.xchng

Yes, money should flow to the writer, but guess what, folks? If you decide to indie publish, you're now the publisher, not just the writer. And, You, the Publisher will be in the prime position to make sure that You, the Writer doesn't get screwed.

BUT (and this is a very big "but" as shown by the capital letters) there are no guarantees that You, the Publisher will be able to make money for You, the Writer. As an independent publisher, you will definitely have to cough up some dough to cover some production costs.

One of the major pluses of indie publishing is that you can do many things yourself if you're willing to learn. That brings us to the reason for this week's posts on creating a business plan. Every business, even a publishing company, should have a business plan. It should cover the following things: 

  • What you hope to accomplish as an independent writer,

  • How you will do your daily business, and

  • What the business is looking at in terms of profit and losses. 

A business plan is a living, breathing document. It will need to change as external factors and your own desires change. So get out your pen and paper (or your laptop) and let's get started!

A Business Plan for Writing Part I:  The Executive Summary

Courtesy of Dixidito, stock.xchngThis a fancy name for "What I Plan to Do." Most business plan guides suggest doing this last and working on financials first. To me, that's like a New Yorker putting all her time into planning a car trip, then deciding to go to Hawaii. A little back-ass-wards, right? That doesn't mean you shouldn't refine your plan later when you get the details down, but for now, start with what you want to do.

Here's an example from my own business plan:

Original Version: I will publish my fiction in both e-format and print format through multiple retailers, with the ultimate goal of making a living from my fiction. 

Current version: Angry Sheep Publishing will publish approximately four new urban fantasy and/or erotica books in both e-format and print per year with the goal of making X dollars per year.

See what's the same and what's different?

When I practiced law, I used the Small Business Administration's business plan template, but you'll see from looking at it, it's geared more toward a manufacturing or service industry. Over the next six days, I will discuss the tweaks I made to make it a usable outline for an indie start-up and give you some resources to check out.

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 (though, I can guarantee that you won't be the only one with that question).

From Tara, the Despicable Muse of Indie U

I've owned several businesses, and I know the value of a business plan. The first step to making money as a writer is looking at writing as more than a hobby. The incredible Suzan has some great information to help you do just that, so stay tuned all week long. Work through the steps with us and get ready for a surprise on Saturday.