Well, it’s now six weeks since I took the plunge and indie published my short story Mowbray Brothers. A dinky little report on Smashwords shows daily ‘sales’, even though the story is out there for free. There’s a pie-chart that gives the total number of downloads from each retailer that carries my ebook. Most professional and encouraging.
It feels a bit like the stats page on your blog when you see all the countries of the western world lit up in colour. Proof that you’re making connections with people from places as diverse as Argentina, France, UK, Australia, USA, Germany, South Africa. No print publication could achieve that instantly and at no cost to its producer (apart from a computer and a bit of electricity).
Emboldened by the rush of enthusiasm and minor success, I’ve backed up with a second offering. Baby Farm. It’s a full-length mystery novel of 230 pages that took around three years to write, and then edit, and then polish into a readable product. I’m delighted to say it will be released next Monday, 22nd September 2014 and is available from your favourite online retailer (no apologies for the unashamed plug).
Sounds easy, right?
What was I thinking? I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
This is the real thing. It’s an ebook that I wish to sell. At $3.99 it costs less than a mug of coffee. Yet without the back-end infrastructure to support it, it will sink into oblivion in the sludge of poorly-written freebies and ‘erotica’ (sounds classier than porn) that clutter up online bookshelves.
Here’s what I’ve learnt so far about going indie.
1. Only proceed when you have a polished piece of writing.
- It must have no spelling mistakes, no grammatical errors, no missing words, no typos, and no mystery formatting in the Word file.
- Ask a writing buddy to proof-read it. If you have an eagle eye, file it away for several weeks then proof it yourself. There’s nothing more distracting than stumbling over a bunch of mistakes when you’re the reader. It gives the impression you don’t give a damn about your customers.
- Hire a professional designer and make sure your cover looks amazing.
2. Shore up the business side. You are no longer a hobbyist. You’re a writer and publisher.
If you aren’t a US citizen and you’re planning to use an American company like Amazon or Smashwords and their distribution networks, you’ll need to get:
- An American IRS number or else send an IRS form with your tax file number to Amazon, etc. Otherwise you’ll lose 30% of any sales in withholding tax.
- A Paypal account, or an American bank account, or a non-American bank account that can accept payments in $US. Your last resort is to be paid by cheque, because banks charge big fees to process cheques.
- A suitable business name and matching email address. In Australia you may need to register as a business and get an ABN in order to deal with printing companies. Don’t think you can get away with just an ebook. Most of my friends, who range in age from early twenties to late seventies, want a ‘real book’.
- For printing, you need to buy an ISBN and bar code. Ebooks don’t need an ISBN, though it’s better if you have one. You must use a different one for each ‘version’ of your book, ie one for the ebook, one for the hard-copy, one for a significant revision. If you use a free one from your ebook distributor, the distributor is registered as the publisher of the work (not you).
3. Work out a marketing plan.
Figure out how you’re going to tell the world (or at least your friends):
(a) that you’ve written and published an awesome book
(b) to buy a copy
(c) to tell everyone about it and so they’ll buy one too.
4. Last of all, enjoy the ride.
I’ve probably got it about 70% right, so don’t hold it against me if you follow this advice and it doesn’t work out. As Australian motor racing champion Peter Brock once said, ‘Bite off more than you can chew and then chew like hell.’
After all, that’s what life’s about.