MY JOURNEY TOWARDS INDEPENDENCE
I had written my first novel. That in itself was a milestone. But I was soon to discover that it was just the first milestone on my journey to becoming an independent author.
Along the way, at each T-junction and crossroads there have been decisions to make. It is only now, some four years on, that I can see the route map that has led me to where I am now – a contented author of four novels, two novellas and a short story anthology.
Looking back to the first few steps on my journey I appreciate that the critical decisions I made early on are the ones that I have repeated throughout, in different guises.
Once I had completed my first manuscript – even before I decided whether or not to approach a literary agent – I needed feedback. Did the story hold up, what about the characters and setting? Having completed my MA in Professional Writing with Falmouth University in 2015, I was fortunate to remain in contact with two wonderful emerging writers. Christoffer Petersen, whose chosen genre is Arctic noir – thrillers and crime – and Sarah Acton, who excels in the field of poetry and nature writing. Both were happy to work on my manuscript to provide advice and guidance by way of structural and content editing. Having been a technical editor for all my working life, I felt confident enough to undertake the copy edit and proof-reading myself. These early stages are vital, whether someone chooses to pitch to an agent or prefers to independently publish. No reader wants to read a story full of plot gaps or grammatical errors.
Perhaps it was this ongoing connection with Christoffer Petersen (who had already successfully chosen the indie route) that led me to follow in his footsteps, or perhaps I was in a hurry to see my novel in print. Choosing to break into the traditional world of publishing requires persistence and patience; it can be months, even years, before an author is accepted by an agent and the book is then accepted by a publisher. Once the contract is agreed it can take many more months while the manuscript goes through the editing and production stages and finally lands on a bookshop shelf. If I had chosen this route it would also mean I would need to relinquish control. As someone who has run my own company for the last thirty years I’m not great at being told what to do! The indie route meant I had control over every element of my novel: the title; the cover; the formatting, the pricing and the sales outlets.
Of course, it also meant I had another set of skills to learn and many more decisions to make. Throughout my journey I have gathered some wonderful supporters. I joined a local group of independent authors (CHINDI) each with their own chosen route to publishing. Some have followed a similar path to me, doing much of the preparatory work themselves; others have enlisted the paid help of individuals or organisations to edit and format their text, design their covers and upload their novels to the popular outlets.
I have always loved the concept of bartering. Each of us has skills that may prove valuable to others. I am so grateful for the chance to be able to ‘trade’ expertise with Chris. He creates all my design and artwork, for covers and marketing materials, and I edit his thrillers. It works well for both of us and I am sure will continue to prove an invaluable partnership.
I chose to use KDP, which is the independent publishing arm of Amazon, with your titles being automatically made available for sale in twelve different Amazon marketplaces worldwide. Although the website is fairly hand-holding, I needed to learn about categories and tags and pricing. Amazon offers 60% royalties on sales of paperbacks and a choice of 35% or 70% royalties for ebooks (depending on your sales price).
Like any professional area there is some jargon associated with indie publishing. I learned what it means to ‘go wide’, which is effectively deciding to publish on other platforms as well as Amazon. There are many, including Kobo, Smashwords and Apple iBooks. I also discovered that by uploading to Ingram Spark I had more chance of getting my novels into bookshops.
Once the books ‘exist’ in both paperback and ebook form, the next challenge is to let readers know about them! Now a fresh set of skills is needed – marketing and promotion. There are many routes, some paid, some unpaid. Of course, there is paid advertising, but social media is useful and free, although it is not enough to plead with people in tweets and Facebook posts to ‘please buy my book’. Millions of other authors are hoping for the same thing. Joining topic-specific Facebook groups can prove helpful, not least because it means you are widening your support network. I have been involved in several blog tours whereby interested individuals receive a free book, in return for an unbiased review. Having reviews on sites such as Amazon can help readers decide whether or not to purchase a book. Remember, there is always the risk the reviews may not be favourable, but then as an author you need to be ready for criticism as well as praise! Via the CHINDI network I have been involved in various summer fetes and festivals where I have had the chance to sell my books directly to the public. I have also donated copies to my local library. In recent months I have gone on to organise audiobook versions of two of my novels, which has been really interesting and worth considering, as the audiobook format is a significant growth area among the reading public.
Throughout my journey I have come to rely on many different ‘resources’, among them my own set of developing skills and my increasing network of supporters. The resource of time is, of course, also an issue. Being an indie author is like running your own business. In addition to the elements I have mentioned above, you need to set your own deadlines, monitor sales and keep a basic set of accounts. All authors know the challenge of juggling time; there are so many distractions and never enough hours in the day for writing. As an indie author, there is a whole other set of tasks to draw you away from that notebook.
It is also worth reflecting on your motivation for writing. Whether you choose the independent route, or opt to seek out a traditional publishing deal, it is unlikely to result in you making a million! After all, there is only one JK Rowling! However, I do know indie authors who are able to earn enough to make it their full-time occupation, but like most things in life, such success comes from a mixture of hard work and good luck. Choosing a niche genre can help, as well as being prepared to be quite vocal in terms of marketing and promotion.
The route to publication can be complicated and challenging, but for me – in the main – it has been joyful. I have only provided a snapshot here, but hopefully it is a useful ‘taster’ to tempt you to find out more.
Isabella Muir is the author of the Sussex Crime Mystery series:
BOOK 1: THE TAPESTRY BAG
BOOK 2: LOST PROPERTY
BOOK 3: THE INVISIBLE CASE
And her latest novel is: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN
She can be contacted via:
Or on Goodreads