Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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April 24, 2024

The Most Important Question to Ask Before You Indie Publish

By Jenn Windrow

This new series comes from Jenn Windrow, powerhouse indie author and instructor of “Indie Author – A Hands on Guide to Self-Publishing” at Lawson Writers Academy. We’re looking forward to seeing a lot more of her here! Take it away, Jenn…

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The world of self-publishing is a little bit like Alice falling through the rabbit hole. The world can feel strange and odd and confusing. There are so many aspects to self-publishing that a lot of writers just don’t know where to start. So, in this series, like Alice, we are going to follow the white rabbit down the path to self-publishing. The goal of this series is to give you knowledge to help you make the best choice for yourself.

Just like the world Alice came from, and the world she falls into, the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing is vast, but the end goals are the same. 

The difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing 

The biggest difference is the amount of work you put into the end product. 

Picking your publishing route is a very personal experience. Some authors have dreams of signing with the big New York publishers, others just want their books to be in the hands of readers. But whatever your goal, you need to make sure you are happy in the end with your choice. 

Let’s look more closely at the two publishing choices. 

Note: There is a third, hybrid publishing, but we’re not going to dig deep into that world in this series. However, if you have any questions about Hybrid, feel free to reach out in the comments and ask. 

Traditional Publishing 

Whether you publish through one of the big publishing houses or a small press, the experience is similar. You sign a contract, which will include the terms of your publishing deal. 

The details will likely include the release date, how long your rights will be owned by the publisher, what you will receive for signing (aka your advance). Examples of what the traditional publisher might offer: Cover design, edits, distribution, and (hopefully) some marketing. 

You will work with your publisher and editor to create the best book that you can, and they will take care of the final publishing part. 


When you self-publish or indie publish, you are the boss, the owner of your own company, and also the creator. 

You are in charge of contracting your own cover designer, editing services, and doing all your own marketing. You are literally the publisher of your book. It’s a lot of work, but you also retain all control over the final product.

Armed with that knowledge, you’re ready for the most important question in your publishing journey…

How do you choose the right path for YOU? 

If doing ALL the work doesn’t sound very appealing, then seeking out a publishing deal might be the best option for you. BUT if the idea of digging in and learning all the moving parts of the publishing world is something that gets your motor humming, then self-publishing might be a good option. 

Below is a comprehensive overview of the skill areas indie authors manage in order to get their books into readers’ hands.

The 5 Areas Indie Authors Juggle

There are 5 areas you must manage to be a successful indie author: writing, editing, book cover(s), marketing, and publishing.

You can hire these out, depending on your financial resources, but at the end of the day you will have to be fairly knowledgeable about all five areas. Most indie authors do the majority of these things themselves. 

An overview of what all five areas entail:


As an indie author, you are in charge of all the writing, from character development to your back cover blurb. 

You will research, plot, drive yourself to The End of your book, and write things that will help you market the book like loglines, marketing copy, and the aforementioned blurb.


Editing for publication has many more steps than new writers might think. 

There is the usual self-editing and revision, critique partner feedback, and subsequent revisions. As an indie author, you will also likely send the book to a developmental editor and a copy editor (then subsequently incorporate their edits). You will do your own galley edits too.

During this final editing process, it’s a great time to pull quotes from the book for marketing.

Finally, your manuscript is ready to be formatted, either by you or someone you hire. After another series of line edits, you’ll order a proof copy of the paperback and look for errors there.


While you might hire out a cover designer, it will still be up to you to research genre specific cover design and find a great cover designer. You might also need to buy stock photos in this process, or work that out with the designer you choose.

Once you’ve ordered the cover, and requested any cover changes from the designer, it’s time to prepare the cover release on social media, your website, and newsletter.


This is one of the top areas that many authors hire out because there’s a lot of time and technology involved.

Not only do indie authors create social media pages on platforms like Facebook, X, Instagram, Pinterest, and TikTok, they also must set up a website and a newsletter sign up. Author photos, business cards, ad copy, images, time and content for all those social platforms, marketing plans are also items to make time for.

Marketing also encompasses planning your release day, gathering a street team and/or beta readers, and placing your book on Goodreads.


This final phase is one that you get better at as time goes on, because your infrastructure is built with your initial book(s). 

  • You will create publishing accounts with Amazon (KDP), Barnes and Noble, KOBO, iBook’s, and Ingram Spark. 
  • You’ll upload files to pre-order across all these platforms, and then your final files when you get closer to your pub date.
  • This is when you make choices about audiobooks (which will be a whole other post, and buy your ISBNs.

One of the most important steps you won’t want to forget as an indie author is to update the back matter in any related books as new books are published.

If I haven’t scared you off… then you will have a long, happy career as an indie author ahead of you. It seems like a lot of time, work, and effort, but for the author who is driven and hardworking, it can be fun and rewarding.

What intrigues or intimidates you about the indie author platform? Do you have anything to add to the items above? Let me know in the comments!

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About Jenn

Jenn Windrow Author pic

Sass. Snark. Supernatural Sizzle. 

Award winning author of Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. Vampires, Greek gods, and a bit of Demon Destroyer fun for everyone.

Jenn Windrow loves characters who have a pinch of spunk, a dash of attitude, and a large dollop of sex appeal. Top it all off with a huge heaping helping of snark, and you’ve got the ingredients for the kind of fast-paced stories she loves to read and write. Home is a suburb of it’s-so-hot-my-shoes-have-melted-to-the-pavement Phoenix. Where she lives with her husband, two teenagers, and a slew of animals that seem to keep following her home, at least that’s what she claims.

Website: https://jennwindrow.com/

Top photo from Depositphotos.

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36 comments on “The Most Important Question to Ask Before You Indie Publish”

  1. Congratulations Jen. I remember you from PHX writing group and I used to really enjoy your writing. I have literally just finished my novel that I used to talk about in the group. Now I am submitting it to agents in the hope of getting it published. Self Pub sounds like a lot of work, but if that's what I have to do, then so be it!

    1. Hey Anna! Of course I remember you!! So glad to hear you’re still writing and ready to publish! Self publishing is so it like owning your own business, because you do, but it can be very fulfilling in the long run. Good luck with getting an editor or agent! If that’s the dream, I highly recommend working toward it. Saw your email, I’ll respond in a little bit!!

  2. Fantastic post, Jenn! Really great point that authors get better at publishing as time goes on. After you've set up all the accounts (and learned all the things!) for the first book, publishing the next book is so much simpler. New authors can take heart in knowing that it only gets easier from here. 🙂

    1. It’s like anything else, gets easier with practice. But that can be said for writing too! My hope is, that authors realize that it can be a time investment, but once you get the ground work laid, it becomes easier and less time consuming!!

  3. Great article, Jenn! One thing I'd add is that it is possible to add an aggregator (like Smashwords) to your epub process allowing you to consolidate your even platforms a bit. I've found that while they may take a bit more of the profit, I get paid a lot sooner and have much less work.

    1. Good point Lisa! There are so many new services, and even old services out there that’s it’s hard to touch on all of them. But that’s also means there are plenty of ways to make indie publishing that much easier.

  4. What a great summary of all the pieces of self-publishing! It can be daunting, but it can also be truly rewarding. Once I got over the initial learning curve (though I've kept learning as I go), it was less Alice-down-the-hole and more Cinderella-at-the-ball. Thanks, Jenn!

    1. It’s so scary and intimidating at first, but like you said, once you get past all that it really is very rewarding!

  5. The big difference is that you don't CHOOSE to publish traditionally - all you can do there is to choose to SUBMIT to a traditional publisher, usually via SUBMITTING to an agent, knowing the chance of getting a contract is vanishingly small.

    Self-publishing is the only certain choice - if you put in the work, your book WILL be published and available - but you will have to do or pay to have done everything a traditional publisher does for a book. Including marketing, the final frontier.

    And of friends who won the TP lottery, many have been highly unhappy at the results of the very few sales this process often produces. The publishers' favored authors - celebrities and superstars such as Stephen King - get the promotional dollars, because they are the ones selling enough copies to make it worthwhile for the publishers to stay in business.

    From experience trying it both ways, self-publishing is easier on the soul. And you can always hope, if that's your ultimate goal, that doing well in SP will impress a traditional publisher enough to come after you and your sales numbers.

    1. It is true that you don't choose to trad publish, you do choose to query, but you are correct that self publishing is the only choice that will 100% get I've been on both sides of the publishing spectrum, and right now, I am much happier self publishing than when I was trad pubbed.

      I've heard the same as you, my trad published friends are not all that happy with the deals they are getting and are thinking of pulling their books and trying it on their own.

      I love your attitude and positive outlook.

      1. Marketing is the biggie. Regardless of whether a traditional publisher would market your book, nothing is going to happen unless readers find out 1) it exists, and 2) it has some social creds in the form of reviews and ads. And maybe some awards.

        But even all of that doesn't help if you are not in the place they would look for you - if you write mainstream fiction, most readers EXPECT you to be traditionally published, and are reluctant to try your wares if you are not.

        While at the same time, methods which work for genre authors (and work especially well for indies because of price points) may NOT work for categories where readers DON'T go to Amazon and search. And I don't think many actually search for my kind of fiction - I believe they come with their mind already made up to buy a book they saw mentioned on a list, blog, or article. So keywords are useless - for me, however perfect they might be.

        I haven't figured out what the alternative is. Yet. But I figure having the trilogy finished will help, so I'm concentrating on the writing - but would dearly love to have more sales in the meantime.

        IF my traditionally-published friends were singing the praises of their publishers, I would consider trying that route again. But that's not happening - my friends are disillusioned.

        Working on it...

        1. Marketing is huge, and something I don't even touch on in any of my classes. I am not a good marketer. I really dislike having to do it. But it is a necessary beast for sure.

          Yes, every genre has different expectations. Some work really well in the indie author world, so do not. That is why it is best to do your research about your genres ahead of time. that includes looking at what covers sell best in your market.

  6. Other big differences: COST. Having done it both ways, it is expensive to self-publish, having to pay for every service that the traditional publisher pays for. However, the traditional publisher takes a cut of your royalties, and so does your agent if you had to have one to get a traditional publishing deal.
    Whereas, when self publish, you get all the royalties after the retailer (Amazon, etc) takes theirs.
    Another big difference: TIME. When you self publish, you decide when you want to release your book. You can write & release within a year or less or at your discretion. However, going the traditional route, usually you must have an agent first- taking time to querying and being accepted. THEN, the agent has to sell your book to a publisher. That can take months to a year. THEN, when a publisher signs you, it takes another full year for them to publish your book & sell to retailers. So, with traditional publishers, plan on approx two years or much more to get your book released.
    This is a good article on all the details of each choice. I enjoyed it. Thank you!

    1. All of this is very true! I Love the idea that I can choose when my books release or go on sale or get pulled from the shelves. For me it is all about control. I have super control issues 🙂

  7. Speaking as an author of over 20 self-published books, I'm going to strongly disagree with one of your points--namely, the setting up of publishing accounts.

    You miss out on many opportunities if you only sign up with individual distributors (except for Amazon, which is its own thing). It's better to create a publishing account with Draft2Digital, which gives you access to many more distributors, including Smashwords and library sales, than you get through individual account signups. They also run frequent promos from their distributors, and are adding new distributors regularly. Additionally, if there is a problem with a distributor, such as the issues that Barnes and Noble had a few years back, D2D carries more clout than any individual author does.

    My recommendations? Sign up with Kindle Direct Publishing (but not Kindle Select, which restricts you only to Kindle Unlimited, unless you're in one of KU's top genres), and D2D for ebooks. For hard copy, Ingram Spark. Also create a shop with Bookshop to sell hard copy books (they're supposed to be developing an ebook sales program soon as well). Ingram gets you into bookstores, and it also loads into Bookshop more easily. There are people who prefer to buy hard copy books someplace other than Amazon and Bookshop makes it easier for them to do that.

    1. Draft2Digital is a great resource for sure. I have an account there, but also have my original accounts at all the individual book sellers from when I first started in the self publishing field.

      That's one of the things that I love about self publishing, everyone has their own way of doing things, it's not cookie cutter.

      I happen to be in KU with all my books, but that's because my genres are heavy KU genres.

      Hopefully everyone reads the comments too so they have other ideas of things not listed in the blog.

  8. I love the preview of expectations for the Indie author, Jenn. The chronological list of work the Indie writer will face is spot on. The best part of this endeavor is knowing the final product is yours. Good, bad, or indifferent--you are sharing your thoughts with others.

    1. I fully believe it helps us all know what you are getting into ahead of time when it comes to self publishing.

  9. Jenn, I pushed for this series for this exact reason -- the wealth of discussion in the comments when authors share. I think the more we talk about our experiences, the more we all grow.

    And since I too have extreme control issues (and also trad published friends who are SUPER unhappy), I will most likely choose indie publishing as my avenue of choice.

    I took your class as a step down this path. I also bought a lifetime membership to PublishDrive during an AppSumo sale a while back specifically for anthologies, as it will split up the money for multiple authors in a really easy way. Right now, I'm taking baby steps toward my end game.

    1. Thank you for suggesting I do this. Indie authors really need to look to each other for help. We need to lean on each other for support. And we need to learn from one another.

      I can’t wait to see where your path takes you.

    1. There are plenty of indie authors who are making more than traditionally published authors. They know their audience, market well, and have grown their base. it can be done with hard work!

  10. Hi Jenn,
    thank you for this article. I worked as a journalist at the beginning of my career and co-edited a magazine, so I have some experience in publishing. I decided to go the Indie route, managed the formatting for Kindle with an IT person, only to discover in my excitement that Amazon and Kindle do not recognise our banking system so will not pay us in this part of the world. Bummer. I went ahead and privately printed copies, which I sold in local bookshops, flea markets. I have made my money back, but not much more. I really do not want to go this route again, so have reverted to pitching far and wide across the globe!

    1. I'm sorry you went through this. But you are doing it right, print those books and find all your local conventions to sign and sell at. I make a lot of money at book signing, plus they are fun to do!! I am sure some day Amazon will work this out and you will. be able to be where you want to be!

    2. I know of UK and Aussie indie authors, so I looked some stuff up. Because now I'm wondering how they get paid. I did see this down in the KDP forum:

      "Amazon will pay you royalties, in pounds, directly into your UK account. Unless you bank at Fred's Bank (I use this as a shorthand for something that isn't a real bank), your bank will have an international bank number. It should be on your statement, or you can ask them. Thousands of UK citizens get paid this way for their KDP sales. You can too. Good luck!"

      It sounds like it would be worth an ask at your bank to see whether they have an international bank number that you can use in your Amazon paperwork.

      I really hope you get this sorted out!

      1. Hi, I've been trying to sign up and the IBAN is OK but it wont accept my BIC number, so frustrating!

        1. The nice part about some of the platforms like PublishDrive is that they will distribute the books to places you might not normally have thought of. Lots put their books on Ingram Spark so they can be in libraries. Smashwords is another popular spot, and there are lots of authors putting books on all kinds of platforms -- Radish, TikTok Shops, etc.

          This is a continuing series, so you will see quite a bit more on this from Jenn.

  11. Hi Jenn, Useful info but what do you mean by 'update the back matter in any related books'? thanks.

    1. Add the book you have just written to the list of books in the back of your book. If you only have one, then you don't have to worry until you have a second.

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