writing advice

Indie Publishing in Five Easy Steps

Every so often, I talk to a writer friend–sometimes a traditionally published author looking to diversify, and occasionally a writer weighing their options for what to do with a debut book. And a common worry I hear from them is, “The work of indie publishing is overwhelming. I don’t want to do it all.”

Honestly, this baffles me, because when I compare my work flow to that of my traditionally published friends, it feels very similar in terms of weight–maybe even lighter. That being said, it’s been nearly seven years since I published my first book, so it’s sometimes hard for me to quantify on the fly just how simple it is to indie publish.

After another one of these conversations today, I decided to write it down.

Indie Publishing in Five Easy Steps *

* YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary); take what is useful here and leave the rest, as my friend Melissa Blue likes to say. There are lots of reasons to pursue an agent or use a distributor: but “indie seems like so much work” hopefully won’t be one of them when you finish reading this.

In a nutshell, here are the steps, with my guesstimate for how long each one takes:

  1. Create Accounts at the book Retailers – give this an afternoon, and you only have to do it once!
  2. Prepare Your Manuscript – this is exactly the same as with a publisher. Get it done and tidy.
  3. Convert Your Manuscript into Book Form – outsource-able at a reasonable cost, or 1-48 hours, depending on process
  4. Upload digital files for ebook and print to the Retailers – this can suck up an entire afternoon, honestly, but can be done in as little as an hour
  5. Repeat with the Next Book, starting at step 2 – this is exactly the same as with a publisher

So you can see that the formatting of the book (and creation of the cover, which is part of that) is the biggest time sink, not the administrative tasks of uploading the book to the retailers. HONESTLY, THAT’S A VERY MINOR PART OF IT. For each book you write, it will take 1-3 hours to get it fully settled on the retailers. That’s it.

So let’s dig in to the step by step process of this. Each of these five steps can be chunked down inside themselves to achievable 5-10 minute admin tasks.

1 – Create self-publishing Accounts at the book selling Retailers

Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo are the big four ebook retailers. All of them have direct portals most authors can create accounts for directly. I’m not a lawyer or international business expert: there’s a chance you live in a country where one or more of these businesses don’t allow direct upload, and if so you might want to look at a distributor (I use Draft2Digital to reach any retailer I can’t get to directly–when I started publishing, that was Barnes & Noble and Apple; I still use D2D for them because their dashboard is easy to use and the team there are very helpful). A distributor will take a cut of your royalties, though, so you need to consider that in the balance of things.

Amazon’s portal is called Kindle Direct Publishing: you log in to kdp.amazon.com with your existing Amazon account (if you’ve ever shopped at the Zon — if not, then you’ll need to create one).

Kobo’s portal is called Kobo Writing Life: writinglife.kobobooks.com

Barnes & Noble is called Nook Press: press.barnesandnoble.com

Apple’s portal is iTunes Connect: itunesconnect.apple.com

Google Play’s portal is Books Partner Center: play.google.com/books/publish/

If you want to Do What Zoe Does: I’m direct with Amazon and Kobo, and I give Draft2Digital a cut to manage my B&N and Apple titles, as well as distribute to some smaller platforms I can’t access directly, and some library catalogues. It’s all on one dashboard and very simple to toggle. But that’s pretty lazy on my part, and most people recommend being direct everywhere.

2 – Prepare Your Manuscript

If this is universal, why do I include it? Because this is where you do a lot of the stuff that will make publishing a breeze. Understanding how this step rolls into the next is helpful.

Let’s assume you already know about editing and proofreading, and you’ve done that. If you don’t, reach out to a local writers group and find out about that part of the process. Or maybe I’ll blog about it in the future. So now you have a Word document that’s clean and done. Make sure that each chapter starts on a new page, after a page break. At the start of the manuscript, you will have front matter, and at the back you’ll have back matter. What goes where is up to you, but in one of these places, you’ll have a copyright page, a blurb of the book (back cover copy), a biography with social media links, a sign-up page for your newsletter, a list of your other books, acknowledgments, dedications, etc. Each of those on their own pages, again with page breaks.

3 – Convert Your Manuscript into a Book!

Ready to publish? You need a cover next (ebook only, or ebook and print). You can do this yourself, or you can hire this out to a professional book cover designer. Bargain basement covers don’t help your book. This, along with editing, may be your biggest investment in the indie publishing process. It’s unavoidable unless you have the drive to DIY, which I think is wonderful (I do my own), but certainly not necessary. This can be a big time sink, or a bit of browsing, asking for suggestions, and then outsourcing like a queen.

After you finalize your cover, then it’s time to format your book. I’m going to explore a couple of different ways to do this. You can take that Word doc above and upload that directly to Amazon and Kobo. Draft2Digital will also take a word doc. I don’t know about B&N and Apple, but I think they require an ePub file.

So let’s assume you want to Do What Zoe Does, and that’s end up with three things:
an ePub file (ebook for everyone else)
a Mobi file (ebook for Amazon)
a .pdf interior print file to make a paperback

You can do this yourself, or you can hire this out to a professional book formatter. Unlike with the cover, don’t pay too much here. Ask for referrals.

I use a program called Vellum, which is Mac only, and costs $250, a one-time fee that is well worth it because it spits out all three formats with a single click. There are lots of other programs. If you don’t have a Mac, ask around for what “ebook formatting programs” people use. Scrivener is one option, Sigil is another, Jutoh is a third.

But in a nutshell, that’s it: Word doc + cover = book.

4 – Upload Your Files to the Retailers

Before you start doing this, do yourself a favour and start a new Word doc. This is the start of your media kit, or your metadata kit. If you get ISBNs (optional), you can copy and paste them here. Also put your back cover copy here, and add your list prices so you don’t forget. Most retailers recommend that you set each country’s price to X.99 cents, so the currency conversion isn’t visible. If you’re an American author, remember that ebooks are a global product–make it look nice and local for your readers overseas!

When you go to the first retailer’s, you’ll probably spend twenty minutes or so going through their step-by-step upload process. This is where you’ll see the BISAC codes for selecting metadata categories. Write down what you choose on your media kit. That will make it faster when you move to the next dashboard. Another choice you’ll have here is picking a release date: that can be in the future (up to 90 days out for Amazon, further in the future for the other retailers), or go live immediately. You should know that Amazon has a lock-down feature once you submit a book, so triple check the details before you finalize it. But if–no, when–you make a mistake, don’t stress. As soon as the book goes live, you can hop back in to the listing and fix whatever typo you made, and nobody will be the wiser.

Give yourself a whole afternoon for this task. When you finish it in an hour, take yourself out for a treat to celebrate in the remaining time.

5 – Plan Some Promo, then Repeat The Process With the Next Book

Write an email newsletter, post about the release on social media, take a look at your long-term strategy in terms of eventual price discounts (or raises, if you release at a discount for a limited time), and then get to work on the next book. When you finish it, you can loop back to step 2 and repeat the process again.

The rest of indie publishing–checking sales, planning promo, writing and writing and Twittering and writing some more–is pretty much the same as anywhere else. All the retailers pay by electronic deposit, monthly, and will poke you for your tax ID information, etc. It’s quite lovely once you get into the flow of it.