Becoming an Indie Author is like Being Indiana Jones

Indie Author and the Journey to Self-Publishing Success

While each indie author has their own definition of success, let’s say you’ve drafted the hell out of what you’d like be a published work. After much research and debate, you decide self-publishing is right for you with the ultimate goal being what it is for many indie authors – people reading and reviewing your work while you get compensated for it. So what do you do now? Probably something like this:

Think of the golden idol as your final draft and the bag of sand as the time, energy, money, blood, sweat, tears, and alcohol that go into creating it. It feels good when you make that last self-edit. You should take pride for getting as far as you have. But as you swap your work onto the pillar for the golden idol, a sinking feeling emerges in your stomach when you discover that your journey has taken a turn, and peril is lurking around every corner. The crumbling walls are your confidence as you think about all of the remaining steps for whipping (pun intended) your golden idol into publishing shape.

Finding Experts to Appraise your Golden Idol

If you’re able to find beta readers at all, choosing them can be like running on an uneven path while dodging deadly darts shooting out from the walls. Careful or you might get stuck with a bad one that won’t follow through, or worse, one that will poison your view of your work. You’re looking for individuals who are motivated and thoughtful, giving you honest, understandable feedback on schedule, and this usually doesn’t include friends or family. Still, good beta readers are worth the trials and tribulations because they’ll let you know just how authentic your golden idol really is.

If you need a professional editor (and most do), finding a good one can feel like tossing your golden idol over a cavernous manuscript hole without any assurance that you will see it (in any recognizable form) anytime soon. You hope that they’ll give you a whip to make the next steps of your journey easier. Rest assured, a good editor won’t run off with your golden idol but will make it shine. Make a vetted list of editors with good references and reasonable prices, and then, take the leap of faith.

With a lot of hard work and a little luck, you end up on the other side of the cavernous manuscript hole with a polished golden idol (but hopefully not an impaled editor). You stride confidently forward until you feel a tremor behind you. You turn around to discover the one-ton boulder of design and marketing rumbling your way. Questions race through your head. What’s the cover going to look like? Is the cover right? Which formats are right for me? Who’s going to format my book? Can I do it? When and how should I begin advertising it? What’s the right book description? How is that different from the book pitch? How much time, energy, and money should be put into all this? You’re trying to answer all of these questions while running toward the date you chose to publish as well as your book’s potential audience. Good new! If you run, you will eventually get there. But just how successful you are remains to be seen.

Publish Day is Here.

Time to Relax, right? WRONG!

Phew! You emerge into the light of day to hit the publish button. You ask everyone you know and everyone on the interwebs to buy your book. Some happily buy, but many more will look at you with suspicious eyes like poison arrows. They’re thinking, You’re a new and different author, and we’re not sure if we can trust you. At the same time, the remains of other indie authors, burnt out from the entire experience, will fall to your feet. Chills run down your spine as you ask yourself, What the hell have I gotten myself into? You swallow hard. What do I do now? Some might wait until no one is looking and run for it, leaving their golden idol behind.

Racist stereotypes of indigenous people aside, once your golden idol is available to the public, yet another perilous leg of your journey begins. But it doesn’t have to be so bad if you’re prepared.

Remember that Design and Marketing Boulder?

It NEVER stops chasing you. It’s always beckoning you to design and distribute more marketing content (assuming you don’t have gobs of cash to outsource). Here’s the dilemma. If you don’t run from the boulder, your hopes of gaining a large readership will likely be crushed. If you run too far ahead of the boulder – spending most of your time marketing everywhere imaginable – you run the risk of being seen as a shameless self-promoter.

You have to find a balance. Keep in mind that you need time to write more books, and do other important things like building a legitimate social media presence and finding reputable book bloggers and interviewers. This doesn’t even take into account that many indie authors work full time jobs and obviously need time to decompress, exercise, eat, and sleep.

It’s no secret that being a successful indie author requires you to wear many fedoras. Like other jobs requiring you to fill many roles, what you need is a plan. As an adventurer like Indiana Jones, your plan comes in the form of a a map.

Each dot should lead to the next thing you need to do. Unfortunately, adventure music doesn’t automatically play as you connect the dots. Again, your health and well-being are most important, so make sure some big dots on your map include your day job, rest/relax, exercise (walking is good), eat, and sleep. For non-writing, non-life-sustaining things, I’ve found the 20 minute rule to be helpful.

Every Couple of Days, Spend Just 20 Minutes…

  • Creating and distributing marketing content
    • I’m lacking in the graphic-design realm (in skill and hardware/software). I just use MS Powerpoint. Simple yet effective.
    • Free, online marketing automation tools for mailing lists and social media can make this time extremely productive. I use the free offerings of mailchimp.com and crowdfireapp.com. Both limit your actions over time, but that’s perfect for staying within 20 minutes.
    • Adjusting ads on your distribution websites and social media
    • Updating your book cover, book description, and book pitch (not as often, usually after you’ve ruled out other things)
    • Blog about your experiences as an author (how meta!)
  • Actually being social on social media
    • This can happen daily, but again, be careful that it doesn’t become an escape from more important things. Be sure to genuinely connect with readers as well as fellow indie authors and writers. It makes a big difference to feel like you’re part of a community of people who are familiar with your experiences.
  • Looking for Opportunities for your Books and You
    • While doing other items on this list, always be on the lookout for book bloggers/reviewers, interviewers, book clubs, contests, conferences, and other opportunities. Again, keep it within a timebox, but sharing that your work is part of these things is a great way to advertise, and it typically takes less effort than creating content from scratch.
  • Checking your numbers
    • Be strict with this one as it probably won’t even take you 20 minutes. It’s easy to get consumed (and occasionally depressed) by constantly checking sales, ad effectiveness, mailing list subscribers, website traffic, social media likes and followers, and other numbers. Anything above 20 minutes every few days is typically better spent doing other things on this list (or writing more books) because those are what drive your numbers anyway.

This list is by no means exhaustive, so you might have other managed habits that you think are important on your journey to success. I’d be happy to hear about them.

Beware! You Will Encounter Snakes

(AKA Scammers and Trolls)

  • “We can market your book with guaranteed* success** for one*** flat****, low fee***** of $999******.”
    • No one can guarantee the success of your work. Money can definitely help your published works get noticed, but make sure to vet out the scammers from the legitimate service providers who can help you for a reasonable price.
  • “Oh, you self-published? I only read REAL published authors.”
  • “$2.99 for your amateur eBook? It should be $0.99 or even free, you know.”
  • “You only have 3 reviews, probably from friends and family. Is your book really that bad?”

Often times these people are ignorant to the realities of self-publishing. Other times, they’re trying to manipulate you or get a rise out of you in their never-ending attempt to fill the void that is their life. Seldom, if ever, do these encounters merit responses even if some of the words sting.
Repeat after me: I’m a published author who deserves to get read and reviewed and paid for my work.

People are Reading my Book! What Now?

Beware! You Will Encounter Nazis

(Of the grammar variety, at the very least)

Apologies for the poor analogy as I don’t want to minimize just how vile actual Nazis are. But even after people start reading your book, you’ll likely get some feedback, and not all of it is going to be positive or helpful.

  • “I didn’t get it.”
  • “1-star. This book is a waste of time, effort, money, and existence and should be taken out back but doing so would be wasting more time and effort. What was the author thinking?”
  • “5-stars. This a great read 4 sure.”
  • “Do you even edit, bro? I found fifteen typos and thirty grammar mistakes.”
    • Don’t cringe too hard when people find errors in your published works. If they mean well, they’re doing you a free service. Take their critiques seriously and document them for the potential of updating your files on your distribution sites.

Like snakes, sometimes these comments come from a place of ignorance. Sometimes they comes from a place of trying to inflict harm. Again, pick and choose your battles. Ignoring most of them is a good tactic. If you’re lucky, the propeller of social and internet justice will handle them for you. That said, if you encounter real Nazis, call them out on their racist bullsh*t.

When Does the Journey End?

Honestly, it ends when you want it to. Maybe the last stop on your map is hitting the publish button, and you have no desire to market or anything else. If you discover that the indie author life isn’t something you want to sustain, take pride in moving on to your other passions. Just don’t let low-readership, snakes, or Nazis make the decision for you. Regardless, you’ll always be able to confidently say that you’re a published author.

If you do choose to proceed, new dots are continually added to your map, and the journey never really ends. The drive to write and publish more will always be there. The design and marketing boulder will always be chasing you. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t meet your goals in the short term. You’re in it for the long haul, and that takes patience and stick-with-it-ness. Writing is timeless in that each time someone discovers your work, it’s new to them regardless of the publish date.

Above all, remember that someone out there is waiting for the story that only YOU can write. Someone out there needs to know what YOU’VE got there. Resist the urge to seal your work away from the world. It’s a priceless, shining golden idol, and self-publishing is a great way for it to see the light of day. By doing so, you’ll achieve a great deal of success regardless of your definition, and you’ll complete one hell of an adventure along the way.

Thanks for reading and watching. Please reach out with questions or comments.

The Indiana Jones brand in no way endorses this post. All clips are linked directly from YouTube.

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3 thoughts on “Becoming an Indie Author is like Being Indiana Jones

  1. I am writing my first novel and plan on self-publishing. This article was great! Very informative without being boring.

    Like

    1. Thank you Sharon! Feel free to share it with anyone you think will benefit from it.

      Like

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