5 Things I learned in my first year as a new indie publisher
Your first year as a new indie publisher is all about the learning.
May 11, 2017, I hit my one year anniversary as an indie publisher. Armed with an MBA and 35 years as a Manager, Director or VP in just above every aspect of running a small, medium business or even a division of Fortune 500 companies, I thought I was well prepared to start a self-publishing business.
I had a lot to learn.
The first Lesson I learned: I did not have the skills to be a self-publisher, I was a new indie publisher.
Self-publishers do everything related to writing, editing, producing and distributing their books. I had studied writing for twenty years and had published numerous short stories and dozens of business articles. I felt comfortable I could write what people wanted to read. But I knew nothing about cover design. I was no graphic artist. I can spell, and I can spot typos on web pages, but I am not a copyeditor. I even struggle with proofreading my work on paper. I started out as a FORTRAN and COBOL programmer but had no idea how to turn a word document into an e-book or how to upload an e-book on Amazon or a print book into CreateSpace.
Indie publishers write a book, then hire a team with the skills to produce a book that the new indie publisher lacks. I asked around, got recommendations and put together a team.
My team consists of:
- an experienced graphic designer from Fiverr who turns out fantastic covers in record time and who never gets upset when I ask for revisions
- an experienced copy editor who many of my writing friends use and who will throw in comments whenever she doesn't understand a point I am making but otherwise, cleans up all those little grammar, spelling typos, etc. I don't see because as the author I'm too close to the writing to recognize my mistakes
- an experienced proofreader who does the final review of the manuscript
- interior book designer who lays out my non-fiction books and converts them to .epub, .mobi and pdf
- a forms designer from Fiverr.com to create professional-looking forms to download for my readers to use with the book
The second lesson I learned: setting up a new indie publishing business takes money
In my first year as a new indie publisher, I launched the e-book and print versions of two books and hired a voice actor for an audio book. Here are the expenses I incurred:
- Production costs of paying my team for an e-book and print book: these total $650/book. Production cost for the audio book to be launched in year 2.
- ISBN numbers $1500 for 1000 ISBN numbers to Bowker.com
- Three domain names (my publishing company, my non-fiction imprint, my fiction author page)
- Hosting service for my websites
- Services to help me build my audience. I use:
- PhotoShop for image resizing, editing
- DepositPhoto and IStockPhoto for acquiring images
- WebTextTool for SEO optimization of my blog posts and web pages
- Grammarly for grammar checking and spell checking my blog posts and web pages
- FocusList – for tracking the time I spend writing
- Focus Matrix – for daily goal setting
- Nozbe – for tracking my To Do List
- Scrivener – as a document management tool for organizing my research notes, files, web pages, etc.
The third lesson I learned: You need to pace yourself if you are going to hit your goals as a new indie publisher
There is way too much to do the first year. I worked from 8 am until 11 pm every day, seven days a week with a half-hour break for lunch and a 90-minute break for dinner, and I always had things to do. If you are going to be successful as a new indie publisher you have to learn:
- Focus on turning out inventory the first year. Your sales depend on people having something to buy. You can market after you have something to sell. I will market in year 3, for now, I'm just writing and building my email list.
- You will always have more ideas and opportunities than you can professionally handle. Time is your constraint. You need to use it wisely.
- Beware free webinars by famous authors. Many make money by selling you great courses that will help you learn everything you need to know at a big price. Don't bite on these offers the first year. Yes, they teach valuable information. Write your books, then spend your money on their fantastic deals. Despite what the ads say, they will be offering their books, courses, templates, etc. next year.
The fourth lesson I learned: Take a break on the weekends
Working for high-tech startups and universities, I have burned out twice in my career. It is not an experience I recommend to anyone. It is a health hazard, and it is devastating to you and your family. Luckily, both times I was able to switch jobs and recover, but it wasn't easy, and it wasn't pretty. When I started to burn out after my first year as an indie publisher, I immediately recognized the danger signs and started taking Sundays off completely and only working part-time on Saturdays. Burnout is harder to recognize when you are pursuing a career you love. When you start not to love it, take stock. You may be putting your health at risk.
The best thing I did when I started my new indie publishing company
My new indie publishing company was the third company I had started, so I knew the first thing I needed to do was sit down and write a business plan. Before I spent a dime on the company I knew:
- What my goals for the company were
- How I planned to reach my goals
- The strategy I was going to pursue to achieve my goals
- How much time it would take to reach my goals
- How much money I would spend to achieve my goals
Like all authors, I have my days when I wonder what have I gotten myself into as a career? There are days I question why anyone would want to read my stories, but whenever I lose faith, I go back to my business plan. I look at my goals and see that I am on track. I can change a goal. I can alter my plan, but my plan is helping me transition from a new indie publisher to a successful indie publisher.
If you are a new indie publisher, don't forget to write your business plan first. Then, go out and learn everything you can about being an indie publisher. (Don't know how to write a business plan for your new indie publishing company? You might want to check out The Writer's Business Plan.)
Now I'm looking forward to year 2 and building that inventory. Your plan may differ. Maybe you have a backlist to market. Maybe you have unpublished books written and just need to turn them into e-books and print. Whatever your plan I wish you all the best in your first year!