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Brave New World: The 10 Stages of Indie Publishing

By Joanna Weiss

This post was originally published on Beyond the Margins.

Last summer, I took a giant publishing-industry leap of faith and put my novel, Milkshake – a satire about mommy wars, politics and breastfeeding extremists — on Kindle and Nook as an independent e-book. I thought of it as an experiment: Dead Tree Girl meets Brave New World. Months later, reviews are coming in, sales are going out, and every writer I meet wants to know how it works.

Short answer: I’m still figuring it out. Long answer: Like everything that has to do with writing, indie publishing is a strange hybrid of business transaction and emotional journey. I got my book out there and I’m thrilled every time someone reads and likes it. But I’m still experimenting with the way to drive sales and waiting for the tipping point when word of mouth starts spreading on its own. Meanwhile, I’ve taken up marketing as another full-time job. Self-publishing is a process. For those of you considering it, here’s how I’ve been working through the 10 Stages of Indie Publishing.

Stage 1: Self-loathing. After months of silence, during which you chew your fingernails to small, pathetic nubs, agent reports back that she hasn’t sold your book to a major house. Consider the possibility that the kid who teased you on the schoolbus in seventh grade was right: You are a loser.

Stage 2: Suspicion. Stop listening to that kid. He probably works in publishing now — on the bean-counting side. If your agent liked the book in the first place, readers will probably like it, too.

Stage 3: Denial. Talk yourself out of self-publishing. Isn’t that like putting a flashing neon sign above your book that says, “CRAP?”

Stage 4: Acceptance. Talk yourself back in. Snooki got a book contract, dammit. And these days, Neal Pollack and other known writers are striking out on their own. New authors are making bucketloads of money. Agents are pushing self-pubbing. There’s no stigma now, only possibility.

Stage 5: Community. Email indie authors out of the blue. Hear back from them instantly. Get critiques. Make new friends. Join new ventures. Joni Rodgers, a bestselling author based in Houston, answered a query of mine out of the blue, read my manuscript, and invited me to join a new indie imprint she’s launching called Stella Link Books: a group of writers who will help promote each other’s books and seek out new indie books worth reading. Joni is one of the people who taught me that writing is the opposite of a zero-sum game: The more great stories out there in the world, the more people will want to read them.

Stage 6: Editing. Get a fellow writer to give you the brutal, no-holds-barred edit you would have wanted a publisher to give. Suffer. Rewrite. Develop a deep-seated hatred for your book. Develop a deep-seated hatred for all books, words, letters, and squiggles that are vaguely shaped like letters. Emerge, months later, with a book that has probably improved. You’d know for sure if you could stand to read it.

Stage 7:  Illustrate. Google artists you like in search of cover art for your book. Find names of artists through friends. Email artists blindly. Find someone who will  groove on your sample chapters, drink some wine, and conjure up a brilliant image that never would have occurred to your non-visual brain. (In my case, it involved cowhide.)

Stage 8: Get technical. Or don’t. It’s easy to outsource the techy stuff: I hired a formatter who converted my Word document to the right files for Kindle, Nook, and print. (Email me if you’d like her name; she’s great!)

Stage 9: Terror. What do you mean, you just upload the file to Amazon and it’s on sale? That’s it? OK, I’m going to click here…now. (Pause.) Holy $%*^&(.

Stage 10: Abandon any sense of shame. It’s a scientific fact: People with shame don’t sell as many books. These days, you’d be doing a lot of marketing on your own, even if you were published by a traditional house. Send a review copy to anyone who will take one. Set up a Facebook page. Talk book up to friends, relatives, acquaintances, frenemies. Slip book title into conversation. Write notes on little cards printed with the cover of your book. Post on blogs.

Joanna Weiss is a columnist for the Boston Globe, the author of Milkshakeand a member of Stella Link Books, an independent imprint and author collaborative that will launch in 2012.

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