Why listen to me? I’m a living, breathing, indie author. I do not pay anyone to format my books, create my cover art, or market my books. (Editorial services are worth paying for.) I write because I enjoy writing and I have found a few faithful followers. I have published seven novels, 2 short stories, many flash fiction/micro-fiction stories, and I contribute, on a regular basis, to the literary column in a local paper.

Disclaimer: there are a ton of things I learned as an indie author, but what follows are some of my best tips for someone who wants to publish for the first time. A few of these I knew when I started. Some of them I learned the hard way.

  1. If you want to be a writer, write. I write every day at 5 am. Early morning is my most focused time of day. Make a schedule that meets your needs, not anyone else’s. You may write once a week or once a month. The schedule is specific to you. Remember:
    1. Thinking about writing is not writing.
    2. Posting on social media about writing is not writing.
    3. Writing is writing. Write when the environment is not perfect. Write when you don’t want to. Write when the words don’t flow. Some days are easier than others.
    4. Use whatever tool works for you (pen and paper, dictation tool, typewriter, laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone) to record your words.
  2. Research is Required. I have invested in books on exoplanets, rocks, caves, mythical creatures, weapons throughout history, creating good heroes and villains, personality traits, survival skills, the art of writing, grammar, and a slew of other topics. For subjects I need to revisit, I purchase physical copies, so I can make notes. I also take road trips to research locations. Museums are a great place to spend a day. Online search engines are fine for a quick search, but some topics require in-depth research. And speaking of online research, make sure the website is a source you can trust.
  3. World Creation Takes Time. At least 50% of what I build is never used in the story, but I believe the information flavors my writing and is worth my time.
    1. Map the world. A must for my science fiction and fantasy stories, but helpful in all stories. Don’t confuse the reader by moving the soda shop from downtown to the edge of town between chapters four and five. I draw physical maps and keep a copy handy when writing.
    2. Define essential details of the world, including character descriptions, building interiors, weather patterns, and such. (Here again, every detail does not go into the book. Rarely does the reader need to know the hair color and eye color of every supporting character.) Draw the scene, use photos, or create Pinterest boards to gather data. Whatever works for you. I use a mix of my own graphic art and spreadsheets.
  4. Editing is important. Once the first draft is complete, the real work begins.
    1. Grammar and Punctuation. Before you turn your book over to that first beta reader, check grammar and punctuation. Treat your story as you would a paper for school or an office presentation. Don’t hand it off with known errors. If you’re over forty, some rules have changed in the digital age. Make sure you’re up to date on grammar and punctuation.
    2. Main characters should have distinctive voices and dialogue doesn’t have to be complete sentences. Go easy on tics and slang, as a little goes a long way.
    3. Accept criticism. Set your ego aside. Pay attention to comments. Beta readers and editors are not minions of an evil imp. They can be book savers. It’s nice to hear someone likes your story, but you need reviewers who enjoy your genre and will provide honest feedback. I provide a list of questions for my beta readers, so they know where to focus and what I’m looking for.
    4. If that lovely scene of perfect prose does not move your story forward, delete it. The object of every scene in a story is to move the plot forward. I save the occasional scene to a discard file and convert it into a flash fiction piece if the scene is good enough.
  5. Formatting the e-reader, paperback, and hardback is nerve-wracking the first time. Take notes. The next time is easier. I streamline the process by setting my document to publishing standards before writing a word. I admit my day job gave me the skills to structure the books with minimal pain.
  6. Always order a printed proof copy of your work and EDIT IT. No matter how many times you proof online, a printed copy is necessary. You’ll thank yourself later.
  7. Creating good cover art depends on ability and an understanding of what sells in the book’s genre. If you aren’t comfortable with your skill or the tools you have available, pay an artist. There are options that won’t deplete your budget but will require you to research to find a good fit.
  8. Marketing requires your attention. If, like me, you are an introvert at heart, do research and find ways to market that you are comfortable with. This is an area I still struggle with. I don’t enjoy hawking my books and I do a poor job of it.
    1. Do not flood your social media accounts with “buy my book” posts. I post each time a new book comes out with a link to purchase the book. While writing, I sometimes post a milestone met, or a plot bunny found, but I don’t constantly beg people to buy my book. Stories of bumps along the way can be fun to share.
    2. Reviews are great… if you can get them. I’m not good at asking people to review my book, and it’s not something readers do without being reminded. While I – along with every other author – would like to have hundreds of reviews and sell thousands of copies, I have a core group of readers, and I’m grateful for that.
  9. Be professional. If you don’t take your writing seriously, why should anyone else?
    1. Carry business cards (worth it, and not expensive) everywhere. You never know where a prospective reader will be. While you’re at it, keep a few of your published books in the trunk of your car. You never know.
    2. At book signings, stick a business card, or custom bookmark (another cost effective marketing tool), in the book as you sign.
    3. Keep website and social media sites standardized. Make it easy for your followers and prospective readers to find you.
    4. Make deadlines and meet them. This is true even if those deadlines are ones you’ve set for yourself. For those times when the schedule must be changed, change it, but don’t use that as a crutch.
  10. Have fun. If you don’t enjoy writing, why do it? I love writing fantasy and science fiction and will continue to write as long as I can. Keep your focus, but don’t ignore the rest of your life.