Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 23, 2020

Indie Publishing 101– Part III

Piper Bayard of Bayard & Holmes

In Indie Publishing 101 – Part I, we discussed the shifting paradigm of the publishing world, what it takes to be an independent publisher, and how we produce quality, publish-ready manuscripts. In Part II of the series, we looked at what is involved in the actual production of a quality indie book—layout, artwork, ISBNs, and copyright registration.

In both of those posts, we noted that the publishing world is shifting sands, as in a sandstorm. As if queued up to give us an example, the day after Indie Publishing 101 – Part II was published, the US Copyright Office sent me an email saying it is increasing its rates from $55 to $65 to register a manuscript.

Today, we review those final steps of independent publishing—actually publishing our books and sending them out into the world.

1. Publishing

We have our edited manuscript, our beautiful layout, our amazing cover, our required ISBNs, and our secured copyrights. Now, we’re ready to publish.

Holmes and I use both Amazon KDP and Draft2Digital for this. There are numerous other programs out there, and I encourage you to ask your author network about them. Entire books are written for that, but my purpose here today is to give you the lowdown on the things that are common to the platforms. I encourage all indie publishers to explore and do what works for them.

  • Descriptions, Categories, and Keywords

Descriptions: All publishers require a description of your book. That is what would be on that back cover of the book—the short teaser that makes people want more.

Categories: Categories are the sections of websites where people can locate your books.

For example, our categories at KDP for Spycraft: Essentials are “Nonfiction>Political Science>Intelligence & Espionage” and “Education & Reference>Reference>Writing Skills.” Someone going to any of those sections on a distribution website can find our book listed there. Some publishing venues allow only two categories, and others allow more.

Keywords: Keywords are words and phrases that people can type into the search bar of a website that pertain to your book.

For example, some keywords for Spycraft: Essentials are “CIA Books Nonfiction,” “Writing Craft Books,” and “Intelligence Agencies.” These are general words someone might use in a search bar to locate a book like ours.

Penny Sansevieri has some great articles here at Writers in the Storm on keywords:

Amazon Keywords: The Secret to Doubling Your Sales and Pulling in New Readers!

Update Your Keywords to Sell More Books Over the Holidays

  • Content

The publishing venue will ask you to upload your book content and book cover. The program should then give a chance to review these.

If you hire someone to do the layout, they will often be willing to upload these things for you.

ProTip: If you are publishing in print, order a print copy and look through every page. You will spot things that you will not see on your computer.

  • Print options

If publishing in print, you will be asked if you prefer cream or white colored paper and whether you want your cover to be matte or glossy. You will also be asked what size you prefer your finished copy to be.

  • Rights & Pricing

You will be asked to verify that you own the rights to the book, and what price you would like to charge for your book. The program will supply a calculation of royalties on each sale.

To set pricing, look at other books in your genre, as well as reports on what price points are successful. Keep in mind that if your book isn’t selling at a certain price, you can always change that price.

ProTip: Pictures make books expensive. The more pictures a book has in it, the more it is going to cost to produce. Even digital formats can have so many pictures that production costs are increased. Use internal pictures sparingly.

  • Publish your work

If you are satisfied with everything you have done, hit publish.

  • Edit your work

One of the beauties of independent publishing is that if you are like me, and you always see a mistake just after you hit send, you can go in and change and it at will. You can also update your cover or your content at any time.

2. Marketing

There are books out there written by far better marketers than myself. I would recommend some, but marketing is another sandstorm. What works now might not work in six months, and vice versa. What works for one genre might not work for another. It’s best to research how various ads and marketing strategies are working at the time you are ready to publish.

However, a few things are standard support for any approach to marketing books:

  • Reviews

Honest reviews sell good books. We need them. Lots of them. One way to get them is to send out advance review copies (“ARCs”) in advance of publication. However, ARCs have some inherent issues.

  • Not everyone who agrees to leave a review will do so. That means you are out whatever the cost it is to send them.
  • If algorithms detect too close of a link between the reviewer and the author, the site won’t publish the review. That leaves the author caught in the paradox of needing to know someone to send them a review copy and having the review disallowed because it’s by a person they know. Amazon is particularly bad about this. One way to work around the problem is to put the book on sale for $0.99 as soon as it is published and purchase gift copies for reviewers. State in the comment section for the gift that it is a review copy. Then the reviewer can download the book and review it as a verified purchase. Another Amazon obstacle to a review is that it requires people to spend $50 on Amazon within the previous year to leave a review.
  • Website

Authors, as well as everyone else who has a business, is expected these days to keep up a website. If you don’t have one, you can either hire someone to build a website for you, or, if you have any aptitude for it, you can take a few days to learn to build your own. Study bestselling author websites in your genre and think about colors and themes that reflect your own image as an author. Even if you hire someone, they will want to know what you have in mind.

The Bayard & Holmes website is a WordPress.org site, and we used the Divi builder from ElegantThemes to create the site. Beyond saying those programs have done well for us, I can only recommend researching articles and reviews and consulting the authors in your author network about their experiences.

  • Alumni and Organization Magazines

Most colleges, universities, and social organizations have publications with sections reporting activities and accomplishments of their alums or members. Notifying them of book releases is a free and easy way to get publicity.

  • Local Newspapers, Magazines, and TV Channels

Most local newspapers and magazines and some TV news channels love to support local authors. Again, it’s free publicity that often takes no more than an email to an editor.

  • Social Media

A social media platform is a great way to communicate with fans, cultivate superfans, and connect with other authors to support our marketing. If we have been good friends and network supporters, many among our social media contacts will support our marketing efforts with blog posts, retweets, Facebook mentions, and other promotional efforts.

However, social media has its pitfalls. To begin with, it can be a dangerous place to hang out—sort of like the cyberverse equivalent of the Tenderloin District of San Francisco after dark. With swarms of trolls preying on every post or tweet, one misstep, and a career is over. To quote Kristen Lamb, “It takes years to build a social media platform. It takes seconds to destroy one.”

Another difficulty of the social media platform is the bubble effect. Algorithms at the major sites such as Facebook are calculated to push us into tiny social bubbles and force us to pay cash to reach even our own friends and followers.

That being said, social media is still a useful tool for cultivating support for our marketing efforts as long as we all remember two cardinal rules:

  • Don’t run down rabbit holes, or we will never have time to write our books.
  • Never forget why we are there. As in, if we are not political writers, we are not there to expound on politics! That’s the fastest way to lose readers, destroy a brand, and attract trolls.

I recommend developing an author brand and choosing no more than three platforms to maintain. Devote a few minutes of effort to building them every day. I also recommend Kristen Lamb’s book, Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World, for learning to brand and build an author platform on social media platform.

Finally, social media is a great way to meet and befriend authors we might otherwise never get to meet. For elaboration on this, see Making Friends and Allies on Twitter—The Lone Wolf Watering Hole.

  • Author Network

Throughout this series, I have referred to the “author network.” Although writers are largely introverts, none of us can succeed in a vacuum. That’s where our author network comes in. Our network helps us find the tools and education we need for our craft, and it supports us in getting out the word about our books. We can build that network in several ways:

  • Conferences

Virtual reality may be cool and convenient, especially now, but nothing replaces face time. One of the best ways to meet other authors and develop an author network is to attend writers conferences. If you find that prospect daunting, see Socializing at Conferences—How to Come Out of the Box.

Actual Photo of Author
Hiding at a Writers Conference
  • Writers Organizations

Another great way to build an author network is to join an active writers organization. I recommend finding one local to you or one specific to your genre.

  • Write Good Books

Ultimately, the best sales tool for our books is another one of our books. In other words, the more good books we publish, the more books we will sell.

This three-part series is by no means comprehensive. My purpose has been to inform about the basics of indie publishing and to get people thinking and sharing ideas so that each author can find what is right for them. We are all constantly learning in this sandstorm world of publishing, and with the exchange of experience and ideas, we can find our path.

I wish you all the best for successful publishing ventures. May your muse be generous.

What publishing platforms do you use? How do you find your keywords? What are your most successful marketing methods?

Bayard & Holmes Toilet Paper
Giveaway and Social Distance Sale!

To help people endure the hoarding phenomenon and the boredom of social distancing, we are giving away a roll of toilet paper and the Bayard & Holmes book of choice to one of our Covert Briefing Newsletter subscribers. Click Here to subscribe and enter.

We also have the digital versions of our writing craft reference book for thrillers, Spycraft: Essentials, as well as two of our fiction books, The Spy Bride and Firelands, on sale for only $0.99. Paperbacks are also on deep discount. Let's pull together and get through this!

Piper Bayard and Jay Holmes of Bayard & Holmes are the authors of espionage tomes and international spy thrillers. SPYCRAFT: Essentials, is designed for writers. It addresses the functions and jurisdictions of the main US intelligence organizations, the spook personality and character, tradecraft techniques, surveillance, the most common foibles of spy fiction, and much more. It is available in digital format and print. See Bayard & Holmes Nonfiction.

Please visit Piper and Jay at their site, BayardandHolmes.com. For notices of their upcoming releases, subscribe to the Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing. You can also contact Bayard & Holmes at their Contact page, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Piper Bayard or Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

9 comments on “Indie Publishing 101– Part III”

  1. For now I continue to use KDP and Smashwords. I plan to look into Draft2Digital.
    Social Media has been a great way to make contact with authors all over the world. I feel as though I've made some good friends, however distant.

    1. I know Smashwords is a favorite for some folks, though I've never tried it myself. And it's so true about social media. I've made some of my best author friends that way.

  2. What have you heard about Ingram Spark? It seems they've been getting better and better over there, and their big selling point (heard through the grapevine) is that it allows indie authors into the library.

    THANK YOU for this series of posts. We're all in this together and it is nice to learn from those who have gone before us.

    1. I have heard of Ingram Spark. I debated between them and Draft 2 Digital. Draft 2 Digital also gets indie authors into libraries via Baker & Taylor, and it's a growing platform.

      So glad you're enjoying the posts. 🙂

  3. I publish to Smashwords only because they offer the ability to make discount coupons so I can have "sales" that don't involve price-matching. However, their meatgrinder is the worst of all the conversion software tools. I go direct to Kindle, then use D2D to create a pretty epub file and use that file to go Apple and the other 'small' channels and then download it and use it to go direct to Nook and Kobo. D2D doesn't charge for their conversion, and you're free to use the files anywhere even if you don't publish the book with them. I've used it to create reader magnets that I give away on BookFunnel

  4. If you send a copy of a new book to a reviewer, Amazon may look at it as a violation of TOS--regardless of what is put in the comment section--and permanently pull the review. If you, as an author, send a lot of those out, all of those reviews can be pulled and there can be serious repercussions to the author for other works listed on Amazon. The reviewer can suffer a permanent loss of review privileges.

    Your "work around" could be considered an incentivized review which is prohibited under the TOS. Amazon's algorithms track those purchases.Those reviews were banned in 2016 and they further clarified that in the 2018 update.


    1. Thank you for the information, Denise. I find it often works if it is clear in the comments section of the gift that it is a review copy. . . . What do you find works for you?

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