Indie Publishing 101: Non-Negotiables (and what you can get away without)

Last week I wrote about the (extensive) ideal process of indie publishing a book. However, sometimes the ideal isn’t plausible, your goals aren’t for a long-term career, you just want a foot in the door, etc. There’s a long list of reasons you could get away with only adhering to some parts of that list. So this week I’ll be discussing which items on the list are non-negotiable and which can be waived. I’m pulling all of these steps directly from my previous post, so check that out for explanations of what I consider each step to entail.

Step 1: Write the First Draft

Obviously this is non-negotiable. You can’t publish a book that hasn’t been written. ;)

Step 2: Edit on the Macro Level

Also non-negotiable. You need to make sure your book is structurally sound (or at least mostly sound) if you want to put forward a good-quality book. But how many drafts this takes can depend on how serious you are with this particular book, how much work it needed in the first place, etc.

Step 3: Hire a Developmental Editor

This one is more flexible. Especially if you’re solid on story structure, you can often skip this step and still put out a good-quality story. It’s not likely to be as perfect as if you had hired a professional editor, but it’s definitely possible for your book to still be good without this step.

If you decide not to hire an editor, though, I do recommend at least getting a handful of beta-readers to give you feedback, because an outside set of eyes can be super helpful at pulling out issues you hadn’t seen before (and more than one set is even better).

Step 4: Build a Marketing Timeline

A marketing timeline will make your marketing efforts easier, but it is theoretically optional. Especially if you’re not looking to make a whole lot of money off your book, you might not need to focus on the marketing side of things as much as you otherwise would. For instance, I didn’t have a timeline or any pointed marketing plans with Short Story Collection Vol. 1 because I knew short stories aren’t my focus, half of the stories connect to a universe I haven’t published any longer works in… etc. As a result, I haven’t gotten nearly as much exposure to that book, but that was my intention from the beginning.

Step 5: Edit on the Sentence Level

It could be debated whether or not this option is required or not. In this step, you tweak your wording and sentences to best fit the tone and voice of your book. This will significantly strengthen your writing, especially if you’re aiming for a more poetic or descriptive voice. However, it’s also possible to get away without this (especially if you have a more simple voice) and most readers aren’t likely to notice anything’s missing unless you have significantly ill-fitting wording choices. So… this one is more up to you. I didn’t do a whole lot of line-editing on either of my short story collections, beyond structural issues, but I intend to do a lot more with it in my future works.

Step 6: Copy-Edit

This is 100% non-negotiable. People’s opinions of your book will take a HUGE hit if your book is riddled with grammatical and spelling errors. If grammar isn’t your strong suit, give your book to someone who’s better at those areas and let them help you. My biggest complaint with most books I come across in the indie publishing world is the frequency of grammatical errors. So please don’t harm your readers’ enjoyment of a fantastic book just because you didn’t get a copy-editor.

Step 7: Get Formatting Done

Your book has to be formatted. If you want it to be readable, it needs to be formatted like a book. However, your formatting doesn’t have to be fancy. If you’re decently handy with Microsoft Word and Google, you can probably manage to do this by yourself. If you’re not confident in your own skills, you can see if you know anyone who is and is willing to format for you, or you can hire a formatting professional. Like I said in last week’s post, which option is best for you will depend on several factors.

Step 8: Acquire a Cover

A cover is, obviously, non-negotiable. How you get that cover is up to you. A homemade cover is often not as good quality as a professional cover, but that doesn’t mean homemade covers are always bad, either. So if an eye-grabbing cover isn’t your priority, you can probably make your own cover or get a friend to do it. If you want a really, really good cover, buying one is probably a better option. I would personally recommend buying one for any book you have long-term plans for, since the indie publishing world tends to have a higher frequency of low-quality covers and readers do judge books by their covers, but your priorities might differ.

Step 9: Set Up Your Book

You can’t publish your book without setting it up in your chosen indie publishing platform.

Step 10: Find ARC Readers

Like the marketing timeline, this is a marketing step that you might not find important for your book. ARC readers help your book get more visibility, but that’s not always a requirement.

Step 11: Order a Proof

I recommend this step, but it’s not technically necessary. If you want to be 100% sure your formatting and everything works in print, order a proof. If you’re ready to trust that everything worked, you can go ahead and skip this step. (I’ve gone both routes, and both choices worked. But it’s safer to order a proof.)

Step 12: Send ARCs

See “Find ARC Readers.”

Step 13: Head Into Your Marketing Plan

See “Build a Marketing Timeline.”

Step 14: Launch Your Book!

Hit the publish button on your chosen indie publishing platform and watch your book enter the world. Congratulations! You’re a published author! Shout it from the rooftops and don’t be afraid to be proud of your work! You’ve done a lot to reach this point. You’ve earned some celebration!

Step 15: Continue Marketing

If you want your book to continue being seen after it’s been launched, this is something you’ll have to do to some degree or another. If visibility isn’t a huge thing to you, you can do this a lot less. Just know that your book won’t get read nearly as much as if you brought it up even just once a month or something.

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