I’m an indie. It’s not a decision I made lightly, but in the end, I chose the independent publishing route.
It’s my path.
I’ve called myself type A, or a control freak, or whatever the latest jargon is, but basically, I like to do things myself. I’m also impatient.
That said, I know two things:
- This is hard work
- “Independent” doesn’t mean alone
Before I dive in, let me say thank you to Dani and Writing Academy for letting me share my journey, but more importantly, for setting my feet on the path in the first place.
My first book “Secrets of Green & Gold” is available for free download from Amazon for the next three days (Nov 12-14). I’d be delighted if you’d like to grab a copy.
My journey started last year with an idea for a story. Once the idea came together, I knew I couldn’t do it justice without some help so I started looking for some online writing classes.
Steve Alcorn’s “Write Fiction Like A Pro” is the course that clicked for me. I needed to understand story structure and I knew I wanted to write with a plan. By the end of that college extension class, I had that plan and a good idea of how to move forward.
I finished the first draft of the first book just before my 40th birthday and gave myself the best gift ever—I found something I’m passionate about doing (you can say “aww”, I’ll wait). Anyway, since then, I’ve written the second book, and am currently about halfway through the third, although hopefully by the time you’re reading this, I’m nearly done (because NaNoWriMo!).
Each time, before I started an outline, I went back to the basics. I worked through several of the Writing Academy online workshop courses and loved that feeling of starting fresh every time for each book, relearning the essentials to set me on the right path. It helps me to feel like my story is organized before I start to write.
In three books, I’m on my third style of outlining, and I’m not sure I’ll stop experimenting, but the foundation is always there.
Any publishing journey starts with writing. But it doesn’t end there, no matter which route you choose to travel. So what about the rest?
I don’t say I’m self-published. I say I’m independently published, because I couldn’t do it by myself. I have:
- An editor
- A cover designer
- A fantastic critique partner (who lives halfway around the world—yay internet)
- Several online critique groups
- Beta readers
- A growing team of ARC readers
- Supportive friends
I also have the best community, because… Indies.
Specifics, you ask? Coming right up!
When it comes to publishing, I started out clueless, as most of us do. I’m still learning, but I’m shocked at how far I’ve come when I look back, and that’s what I keep reminding myself. There’s so much information out there and it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but I keep chipping away.
I’ve broken this first year of learning down into the TOP 3 THINGS I found to be important to start doing as soon as you decide you want to publish independently, even before your book is finished. It’s by no means a complete list, and there might be better options out there for you, but this is what I found.
1. Get involved in the community and start learning (it’s mostly FREE)
- Facebook groups are a wealth of free knowledge. Fairly early, I found my way to the 20booksto50k group and the SPF Community group. They’re technical and intimidating and it was about a month before I threw my hands in the air to celebrate because I actually understood a post I read. But I read, lurk, absorb info . . . it comes together eventually. A lot of the value comes in the offshoot groups you can find from there and I don’t spend much time on those big groups anymore (except to search for things). It can also be a distraction, especially if you’re prone to comparing yourself, so a little caution is warranted.
- Podcasts are another great source of free information. By far, my favourite is the Self Publishing Formula.
- Sign up for mailing lists. The days of spammy selling emails are over (if you sign up to the right people) and there are a bunch of indie gurus out there who offer free mini-courses or books when you subscribe. Mark Dawson, Joanna Penn, and Bryan Cohen offer what I’d consider the most valuable free content I’ve found so far.
- And books (duh, we love books). These aren’t all free but the cost of an ebook is low for the value of the education. Two good starters are Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn and Become a Successful Indie Author by Craig Martelle. There’s a long list of others and once you start . . . well, they’re like potato chips. You won’t stop at one or two.
2. Determine your Author brand and start a Website
- A lot goes into brand, starting with your author name. There are a ton of reasons to decide on a pen name, and privacy is only one (though it can be an important one depending on what you’re writing). For me, it wasn’t about that, and my author name is still personal. It was more about separating my work life from my writing life, and finding something suitable to the genre I write that’s easy to say and spell without needing to see it written.
- Then there’s your image. What do you want to project to the world and does it align with what you’re writing? This influences everything you do, from photos, colors, filters, etc. to the content that you share on social media. Be consistently on-brand from the beginning and start new accounts if needed.
- I ended up designing a logo for myself and it was one of the best things I’ve done in terms of starting out. I use it everywhere – website, social media profile photos, newsletter headers – it makes my brand consistent across those platforms. It’s simple because I have no particular design talents but I still managed to do this myself for FREE (with heavy use of youtube tutorials about photoshop) and am very glad I did.
- Starting a website is the first thing on this list that carries a bit of an expense (but can still be LOW COST). However, it has a lot of value and you can cut the costs by shopping around for hosting and paying for a few years upfront. I went with BlueHost and paid for 3 years so my annual cost is quite low. It’s been a great investment even at this early stage.
- Your website is your home on the Internet and a platform you control. You can point people to it from anywhere (Facebook page, Instagram, newsletters, word of mouth, whatever) and it starts the process of getting people interested. Mine offers my free reader magnet—a short story prequel I give away so people can get a sense of my writing style and decide if they want to try the book (it’s not the greatest thing ever but it works for now and I’ll replace it eventually). Then it lists my books. I have a few pages like About the Author, a blog, and a contact form, but overall I’ve kept it very simple. If you want to check it out, my site is johollowaybooks.com. I use a FREE WordPress theme and have found it to be sufficient at this point.
- One of the most important things having your own domain allows is a domain-specific email. This becomes critical for item #3.
3. Start a mailing list of your own (this starts out FREE)
- The idea of starting a newsletter was a big pill to swallow. I don’t love talking about myself and figured I’d have nothing interesting to say. Why would people care about little old me? I didn’t think I’d do it, but it came up over and over as the most important thing to do, so I swallowed my doubts and went for it. And you know what? It’s totally fine! I even get some really nice emails back from people and have definitely gotten a few reviews this way.
- There are a bunch of services to choose from and most offer a FREE plan to start. I went with MailerLite, which I’m finding awesome, and I only had to start paying in September when I went over 1000 subscribers (by which time I had everything set up and was happy to pay for it). Even on the free plan, they offer a full range of services including landing pages, embedded forms to add to your website, groups and segments for your list, and automation sequences (which is huge).
- I’d highly recommend reading Newsletter Ninja by Tammi Labrecque, and I wrote my automation sequence emails based on the short 3-video course that Bryan Cohen offers as a free bonus for his mailing list subscribers.
- My reader magnet gets distributed 2 ways: In my first email for subscribers from my website via Bookfunnel ($20/yr) and to StoryOrigin subscribers directly from their site (FREE for now). Many of my subscribers come from StoryOrigin and I’m just working on branching out to more avenues now. Of course, it should go without saying to put the link to subscribe to your list in the back of all your books so you catch your big fans ☺
- I do a once monthly newsletter with occasional special issues for things like cover reveals and book launches. My July newsletter (my first) went to 9 people, August went to 89, and September went to 3597 people. Eventually I’ll purge the people who don’t open regularly, but for now the list size is helping me join cross promotions with other authors.
- In summary, I was reluctant at first, and it has been daunting, but I’m glad I bit the bullet and did it.
That’s where I’m at now with my second book coming out soon. My next big hurdle is marketing and learning so much more about ads, which I’ll start running once I have 2 books out.
All of these decisions I made for me, based on my own research and advice from others. You can google how to do almost anything in here and research alternatives. I’ve muddled my way through it, and you can too!
I’m still at the start of this road and have so much farther to go. I knew there would be challenges to the indie publishing journey. I’m an introvert (which I’m sure comes as a shocker—wink, wink). I’m bad at networking. I hate to reach out, or ask for help, and please, please don’t ever make me try to sell something, least of all myself. Putting my words out there was terrifying. Writing this post is hard. And learning to write something aimed to sell a book—which (hot tip) generally involves saying how great it is—makes me cringe.
I factored those difficulties in. I did my research. I weighed my options and made my choice. I like the control. I like the rush. I can handle the rest… I’m an indie.
If you’d like to take the course Jo used to structure her first novel, you can enroll in Write Fiction Like a Pro today!
You can connect with Jo through her website or on social media.
Author of the Green & Gold series
Jo Holloway writes young adult urban fantasy. She’s the Canadian author of the Green & Gold series and lives with her husband and dog in Alberta.
Jo is a writer, scientist-at-heart, and all-around-animal-lover. She has a degree in microbiology and has worked in public health and IT before publishing books. She loves to spend time in the make-believe worlds of her favourite series, rereading to visit old friends.
She refuses to choose between cheese and chocolate, and traded in riding horses for riding a motorcycle because they don’t think for themselves.