Indie Survival Kit
When I first started out as an independently published author in 2013, I had no idea what was going to happen. I had no idea what I was doing, and it took me a long time to figure out what I needed to know. There is a lot of help and support out there for indies, if you know where to look, but it’s very difficult to find the time to research, when you are already spending a lot of time writing. With this in mind, here is an Indie Survival Kit. A list of things you will need! Imagine you are about to pack a bag and start a long, unknown journey. These are the things you might need to pack.
The Right Attitude.
You need grit, determination and self-belief. You need to believe your story is worth telling, and that you have the skills to tell it. You will need to grow a thick skin, and become good at self-promotion. You might wish you could just sit at home writing and not have to bother with the rest of it, but you can’t. Not if you want to succeed. So roll up your sleeves, open up your mind and get working.
Surround yourself with like-minded people. Become part of the author community. Read other authors and reach out to them, connect, support and join forces, as together you are stronger. It’s not all about you, and if you think it is, you won’t get very far. It’s amazing how supportive and helpful other author’s can be, so make sure you are involved. Invite authors to post on your social media pages, or on your blog or website, and offer to do the same for you. Interviews are always very popular and interesting to both writers and readers!
Social Media Checklist
Have you signed up to at least three social media sites? One of these should be your blog/website. Do you blog regularly? At least twice a month, although ideally more? Are you visible on social media? Do people know who you are, or have they forgotten about you because you haven’t posted anything interesting lately? Has Facebook assumed your fans are bored, and has unliked the page on their behalf? Keep things fresh and fun, start debates, run contests, let people know about your struggles and successes, link up your sites to save time, share articles of interest and so on! Do this daily, as much as you can and don’t neglect it.
Seek them out. Go after them. Don’t just rely on friends and family, or on the assumption that readers will remember to review. They rarely do. Go to review sites, and be prepared to pay for some and to be put on waiting lists for the ones that are free. The same applies for bloggers. Research them, make lists and do this weekly to build up those reviews. Remember that reviews help your book move forward; they encourage readers to buy and they convince Amazon to take your book more seriously.
Keep your skills up to date. Join writing groups online and in real life. Take courses. Udemy and FutureLearn are great sites that often have deals and freebies, so grab the offers when you can. Keep your skills sharpened and work to constantly improve your craft.
Be patient, but work on growing your fanbase at all times. Use your blog, Wattpad, Street Teams and social media sites to interact and connect with readers. Ask their opinions, share sneak peeks, freebies and competitions, share your ups and downs, your decision making processes and so on. Stay positive and upbeat. They will feel like they are on the journey with you. Offer free samples and short stories at the back of your books, or on your blog.
Look for free or cheap to help keep costs down. Canva.com is a great site for graphics and posters. You can create social media graphics, memes, posters, leaflets and even ebook covers on there. iAuthor is free, and is a great way to find the readers who are looking for your type of book. You simply add your books to the extremely diverse ‘themes’, or even make up your own. Wattpad is free, and is a great way to find readers and get feedback. Fiverr is a site where you can pay people as little as $5 for file conversions, artwork and more.
Follow the right people
There are so many great sites and pages out there for writers, it’s hard to know where to start. But do start. Follow organisations that will provide you with the information you need, so that you do’t have to go looking for it. The Alliance of Independent Authors, Author Unlimited, Writer’s Digest, The Writer’s Circle and Positive Writer are just some of the many pages/groups I follow to pick up tips and up to date information on the writing world.
Find other ways to make money out of writing. Ads on your blog, sending articles to sites who pay, short story submissions and competitions are all great options. You can also get paid work as a book reviewer. There are so many sites popping up now to provide reviews for indies and these sites also need reviewers! Offer editing and/or formatting to other indies, or even front cover design, graphics and art work if you are up to it. Many writers also make additional money by going into schools to run workshops, or by offering workshops to other writers. You can also do this online and sell the content. Copy writing, ghost writing, ad writing, all are other ways to pick up income through writing.
As an indie, you will more than likely have a love/hate relationship with the promotion of your books. You know you need to do it, but you don’t know how. You know you must figure it out in order for readers to know you exist, but all you really want to do is write. I think the sooner you get to grips with promotion and accept it as part of the deal, the better. It can even become fun. Your blog for instance, should be fun. After all, it should be your little stage, your platform to talk about anything you want to talk about. Again, social media should be fun, and it can be if you engage with it and make time for it. Set aside one day a week when you concentrate on promoting your books. I advise setting up a website/blog early on and making sure it is as professional as possible, after all it may be the main landing point for readers interested in your books. Everything else can come from here; your links to social media, links to your books and your style of writing itself. Set up a subscribe by email button, and another button that collects emails for a fan newsletter. Do this as soon as possible so that you can start building an email list of people who are genuinely interested in your writing. You can then treat them to freebies, sneak peeks and special events and you are on the way to building an audience.
These suggestions are all simple and relatively cheap, and they are all things I wish I had known before I started.
For the past few weeks, I’ve felt a bit like I am on holiday. This weird, and decidedly naughty feeling has crept over me every day since I handed The Tree Of Rebels back over to my top beta reader. For those that have been following the whole saga, it was meant to be the final, final, draft, but I then decided to hand it over again, and attack it one more time once I get it back. This was meant to be a moment of relief; I’d hand over one project, (the one that’s been driving me crazy) and jump straight into the next one. The next one is the second draft of my novel Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, a book that was consistently calling to me and generally interrupting the flow of things while I worked on The Tree Of Rebels.
You’d think I was gagging to finally, really get my teeth into that one, and you would be right. I was, and I still am. But something made me stop. It’s been two and a half weeks now since I parted company with The Tree Of Rebels, and I have still not dived into the next book, despite how much I want to.
You see, normally I would have. I would have started that second draft the very next day. I would have divided up my time and my attention, between that, and the million other things I constantly need to do, just like normal. I would have split my time in half each evening; half the time for Elliot Pie, half the time for ‘other things’, such as my short story collection, proposed articles for Author’s Publish, my preparation for the kids writing workshops I run, reviews for Underground Book Reviews, and not to mention, the big fat ugly elephant which sits and reeks constantly in my room. Promo stuff.
Promo stuff; like sorting out my websites, like finishing the process of getting all my books re-available in ebook and paperback after my indie publisher went bust in February, like researching and submitting to review sites, like building an email list, like figuring out how to best ‘sponsor’ a post on my Facebook author page, and so on and so on…
Basically, I have a constant back-list of ugly things to do, and I am constantly putting them off. Why? Because the characters in my head are so totally real, vibrant and alive, that I actually feel physically sick and guilty if I ignore them. Add to that, the very real and crawling in the pit of my belly panic that I have that I will die before I ever get time to write all of the books I want to write… I mean, really, there is just not enough life…
Anyway, I don’t know what, but something happened. Maybe common sense invaded my fucked up writer’s mind and beat the characters over the head with a club to make them shut up. Maybe I just got really tired of juggling lots of balls, and lets face it, seeing very, very little financial reward for any of it. It’s time to get real. It’s time to grow up…well, just a little bit. I love writing. I love it with every fibre and essence of my being. It is completely and utterly who I am, who I have always been, and all I ever want to be. But I can’t just sit and write my books. I have to figure out a way to sell them. I have to give the right amount of attention to other income streams.
So that’s what I’ve been doing. Grown-up stuff. I’ve finished the short story collection and at some point this week I fully intend to upload it to KDP. I’ve set up my email list, and the very lovely subscribers to it will be getting a new and exclusive short story very soon, and many other goodies and sneak peeks in future newsletters. (If you are interested you can sign up here ) I’ve been adding bits to this site and to my Chasing Driftwood site. I’ve submitted some articles, drafted a review and proposed an author interview. I’m all prepped and ready for my next two kids workshops and my adult writing group.
I’ve been turning the laptop off at nine or ten pm each night. I’ve been curling up on the sofa to watch old X-Files with my kids while they are on Easter holiday. I’ve felt calm and unpanicked, and like I am on holiday! And all because I have pushed the novel writing aside…the thing I love the most…
And yes, all of this time, Elliot Pie has been there. Dear, sweet little Elliot. Who has waited so long to get my full attention, who is there whenever I set foot on my beloved wild common with the dogs, chatting away, thinking his thoughts, writing his lists, trying to think up ways to convince his mum that the world is not such a bad place… He has whispered, and he has giggled, and he has sighed sadly and wandered off again to leave me to it. I am mental, because I really do love him. He is real. Like they all are.
But slowing down has been good for me. Elliot will still be there when I am ready. I am trying to convince myself that I am ignoring him in order to build a better future for him! (See…? Totally fucked up writer’s mind.)
Coming to the end of a book causes a special kind of anxiety in me. It’s like the rest of the time I am fine, smiling, getting on, doing my thing, rolling with the punches and above all else; looking on the bright side! Of course. You have to, don’t you? Only one life, and all that. Make the most of it, do your thing and be happy. I do this and I get this. But whenever I have a book finished, something weird happens to me. It’s like all the anxieties and all the panic that I manage to hold back the rest of the time, are suddenly let loose and permitted to run amok.
I’ll tell you what it feels like. Its a heavy sick feeling in my belly, right down in the pit, right down low. Its tight and knotted and it makes it hard to breathe. A breath is not just a breath anymore, something I don’t even notice. It;s something I have to think about. In, and out.
Finishing a book should be cause for relief and excitement, pride even. But even when I’ve drafted and re-written and edited a thousand times, that last bit, that last haul to the finish line, leaves me trembling with unspoken fears.
It’s this indie writers life. You might know what I mean. It’s ups and downs. Like real life, in fact. A rollercoaster of positives and negatives, of feeling on top of the world one minute and wondering why the hell you bother the next. If you let them, the fears come thick and fast. They knock you down and roll right over you. If you’re doing the whole indie thing, you might recognise some of them. The same ones rear up again and again, and never so violently as when there is a new book ready to go…
Financial fears…nightmares even. If your’re rich then you don’t need to worry about this one. You can throw as much money as you like at your books. You can hire a professional cover designer, you can hire a proofreader and an editor. You can pay out for promotional campaigns. You can buy likes and follows and boost posts and buy sponsored ads on facebook. The list is endless, I guess. But if you’re not, then the financial side can keep you awake at night. It does me. How much more money can I throw in? What is worth it? What’s a waste? What’s an investment? When will I see a return? Ever? I know for a fact I have spent more money on my books than I have made back in the two years I have been published. Sometimes I am okay with this, and sometimes this horrifies me. How can I justify it when I have a family to provide for? I’m reminded of my father’s words growing up. Don’t be a writer, he said. There’s no money in it. He wasn’t wrong.
Time. There’s not enough of it. Not in a day, not in a week. Not in a life. Life is too short for me to read all the books I want to read, to listen to all the music I want to listen to, and to write all of the books I have inside of me. Sometimes this is okay, and other times, like now, this pisses me off and panics me. I want to write faster. I need more time, but I don’t have it, not without letting something else slip. I feel like I am walking a tightrope all of the time. There are choices to be made when time shrinks so readily. I never feel like I am getting it right. I always feel like something or someone is not getting enough of me. And still the words pile up inside my head, drowning the real world out. These people, these voice, they all want to be heard, they all call out to have their turn, but I won’t ever be able to satisfy them all and keep my house and family on track too.
Promo panics. Ugh. I used to hate promo stuff, and then I got resigned to it, and then I got a bit smarter and then I quite liked it. The problem now is also time. I’ll skim through social media on my phone, (probably when I should be paying attention to something else) and I’ll see all these great posts from pages I have liked for the very reason that they post great things, helpful things, inspirational things. But then you need the time for these great things. Time to watch the video, time to read the article, time to find it again, or remember what it was. It shouldn’t panic me, but it does. What if I miss something really important? What if I forget to read something that could have really helped me? There just isn’t time to pay attention to everything. The same applies to finding an audience and building connections. I take this seriously, and have definitely made progress, but again, with everything else, time runs out. I know, take a deep breath you say, pick your battles, let some of them go. I know, I know. Just sometimes, it panics me.
Self-doubt. Well this must be the classic fear for us all. Not just writers either, but most of us as human beings. The first draft is always a horrible thing; messy, back to front, clunky drivel at times, but it’s also exciting. It’s a relief. Finally letting those voice speak, finally at last just getting it out, getting it down. Then there is the second draft and the third, and so on, and yes, it gets better. Everything is going well until the end. And then I start to question it. I start to realise how shit it is. I start to wonder who the hell would read this? I start to think forget it, just leave it, stuff it back where it belongs. My self doubt would never stop me writing, but there are times it makes me want to stop publishing my writing!
Ups and downs. It’s so weird, the way it goes. My books will sit there not selling anything, then out of the blue I will get a really lovely message on my page about an article I wrote, or a blog post. Little things can bring me down very easily, but usually something nice will happen very soon afterwards. Something strange and unexpected. I’m never down for long. An excited text message from a friend reading one of my books who is nearing the end with her stomach all in knots! A message from another friend who is reading the first draft of a new book and already wants to know what happens next, so can she please have some more chapters? An amazing review. High praise from people I really like and respect. All these things happen every week, and I always seem to get a good kick up the arse when something else has made me feel small. I don’t know why it works like this but it does. I like to think it is the Universe making sure I don’t give up. And I won’t. Well, not while these nice things keep happening anyway.
Dilemmas. Indie life is full of them. On a day to day basis I ask myself what I am doing. I often grumble and wonder why I bother. I often feel frustrated at the lack of sales.I wonder whether I should carry on as I am with each new book, or whether I should try the traditional route again, try to find an agent? Would it be worth another stab? Would it make much difference? Do I really want to put myself through that again? What does success mean anyway? Genuine fans and positive feedback? A certain amount of sales? Proving yourself somehow? Or is it something much more personal than that? Accepting your talents, as well as your flaws? Knowing that you have both, and that both need working on.
I know I will be all right once the book is out. Once it is released, I will let the panic go. I will already have my teeth into the next thing and the whole process will start again.