The Indie Author's Guide to Business

The Indie Author's Guide to Business

by Cindy Layton                                                   


At the beginning of my writing career I fell in love with the idea that I would cross over from the business world: confining, restricting, full of rules and conventions, and embrace the creative life. Instead of crunching numbers and reviewing financial statements my days would be spent mulling the choices of my characters and laying out the lyrical prose that begged to find their way onto paper.

Then I attended the Indie Author Day at the Portland Public Library.

The message was clear. If you are an independent author you are the owner of small business.

Wait. What?

The first speaker, Jen Blood, included in her PowerPoint presentation charts and sales calculators, marketing data and an analysis of her sources of revenue. She spends at least some part of her day monitoring sales and, when a manuscript is nearing its final stages she turns her attention to cover design and prepares a “sell sheet” - a summary of her marketing plan and placement options. In the traditional publishing world a sell sheet is prepared by the editor in conjunction with the sales, marketing and public relations staff. In self-publishing that’s you.

Kerry J. Charles, another Maine-based author, takes it a step further. She advised the audience to take advantage of the resources, particularly free ones, to format, design and otherwise bring your book to market. She designs her own covers using Wikimedia images, a database of photos in the public domain. Her books are published by Edmund + Octavia, her own publishing company.  (Blood also publishes under her own imprint, Aiden Press.)

As the CEO of your book you’ll need to make lots of decisions. What will be your selling price? Which software will you use to format your manuscript? Do you feel comfortable editing your own work? What about distribution outlets? How much will you have to spend on a marketing effort? Do you know anything about how to increase your rankings using search engine optimization? Who do you know that will write a blurb for your book? Should you pay for a professional review? After all that, how many books will you need to sell to cover these costs?

Granted, some of this would fall to the author in a traditional publishing scenario but many of these tasks fall far outside an author’s sphere of experience. Successful self-published authors figure out quickly which of these tasks they can manage and which are best farmed out to professionals. There is a cottage industry of editors, cover designers, book reviewers, manuscript formatting and fulfillment and distribution providers. You can order an a la carte set of services to compliment your own efforts or a ‘partner publisher’ will package a variety of these services for a fee. Here’s a great discussion of the partner publishing model from Connie Mayo, author of The Island of Worthy Boys (She Writes Press)

So what’s an unpublished author to do? Without an MBA from the B School it may seem difficult to master the myriad of tasks without some level of expertise. But that’s thinking from the world that told you accountants crunch numbers, marketers write copy, and CEO’s manage people and resources. The paradigm has shifted. Look at YouTube or Etsy. Artists are fully embracing the idea that they can handle, no - they insist on managing, the creation, the distribution and the sales of their products. There is no separation of the tasks, no parsing out of multiple layers of responsibility. And the market, the audience, the customers, will determine who rises to the top. The direct market end-users have replaced the gatekeepers.

So, know what you’re good at. Farm out anything you can’t handle. Vet your support resources carefully and have at it.

The rewards are waiting to be reaped.

Are you the CEO of your own small press? Let us know how you did it.

Also see my articles on changes in the publishing industry:

Publishing: A System In Flux

Indie Author Day at the Portland Public Library

Poetry In Motion

Poetry In Motion

What the Media Can Learn from Postmodern Literature

What the Media Can Learn from Postmodern Literature