I started my indie fantasy author journey in 2013. I layout books myself, design the maps and covers and upload them to sites like Amazon, KDP, Smashwords, IngramSpark and Lulu. But, I also work with a small press publisher for things like ISBNs, editing, promotion and getting into bookstores.
I’ve been writing for longer than 9 years. I usually say about 27 or 28 years mostly because I don’t remember my first story. Technically, Chains of the Sciell was my first novel-length book. I called it other titles over the years but I kept rewriting and rewriting it. For some reason, I couldn’t let that story go.
Some author friend and I are getting together to talk about our writing journey. Check out those awesome posts at the end for more inspiration.
I’d be lying if I said my journey has been fun but I don’t regret it.
Being an indie fantasy author could change your relationship with writing
I started writing because I had stories in my head that I needed to get out. As I got older, it became therapy, a way of expressing things like loneliness. When I started publishing, it was easy to get focused on sales. If a book didn’t do well then I’m like, why bother. I don’t really enjoy writing the way I used to but it’s a part of me. I’ve tried giving up but the stories never stop coming. I actually have trouble sleeping if I go too long without writing. Maybe one day, I’ll connect with that love again.
This journey opened the door to other creative passions
Many, many years ago before I released my first book, I attended a digital publishing conference. If you follow this blog, you’ve probably heard this story. There, I won a year’s subscription to Adobe Creative Suite. I’d been aware of it but I never dabbled in design. But I was like, “I have Adobe Creative Suite, it would be a waste not to use it.” Never thought I’d fall in love with cover design, fantasy mapmaking, video editing or book formatting.
Or photography, which is leading me down another rabbit hole.
None of my art started like this. The first couple of maps, photos and book covers were terrible. But, that’s how you grow. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
Being an indie author means you wear a lot of hate. You may hate some of them. But, you may also find a new passion.
Write to Market?
Books would always talk about writing for your audience. I used to hate coming across that. It’s my book. I can write what I want. It’s your story. But, if you want other people to buy your book, read it and review it favorably, you need to do or not do certain things. For instance, you can’t just slap any cover on your story. People should be able to look at your book and know it’s fantasy.
Also, you’ve probably read things in books that you didn’t like. I don’t enjoy head-hopping and hate love triangles. I skip scenes that go on too long and don’t seem to advance the plot. If a story opens with an infodump, I’ll usually skip that section or just drop the book altogether.
If you want to sell books, you have to balance what you want to write and what readers will enjoy. If you still want to put certain unpopular things in a story, then understand readers may not like it and they’ll talk about it in reviews.
Most fantasy stories take place in a medieval setting. I don’t want to write that and it makes marketing and promotion a little difficult. A medieval setting is not required but it’s expected unless you’re writing urban fantasy or steampunk.
IngramSpark, Lulu, KDP or Smashwords?
Currently, I use Smashwords and Amazon KDP for ebooks. I like Smashwords cause it distributes my book to most major retailers at no cost. There’s some fuzziness about whether or not Smashwords distributes to Amazon. It didn’t when I first started unless you sold a certain number of books.
I released The Sciell and Chains of the Sciell ebooks through Bookbaby. They formatted my books and distribute them to online retailers, even ones I’ve never heard of. I stopped using them because you can only make minor changes, like fixing grammar issues, after you publish. I can’t add newer books to the “Other Titles” page, for instance. Can’t change any images, including the cover.
On the paperback/ hardback side, both Lulu and IngramSpark print quality books. But with Lulu, it can take 6-8 weeks for your book to show up on sites like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The last book I published through them had some issues with global distribution. Nothing I did. But, they had to resubmit the book which meant waiting another 6-8 weeks. In 9 years, I’ve never had to wait that long for a book to get distributed. 4 days was probably the longest.
On the other hand, IngramSpark is expensive. It’s about $50 just to publish one book. And, you can’t order proofs. You have to publish your book and then order a copy to see how it looks in print. If you find any issues, which I did, you have to pay to update it.
I’ll probably stick with IngramSpark for books but use Lulu for other things. I released a calendar through Lulu and I’m working on journals.
The Industry is Always Changing
I’m gonna sound old but a lot of the writing and world-building tools available now did not exist when I started. Most authors were creating book covers in MS Paint (don’t do that). Stock images were trash back then. If you wanted to make a map, you’d use Photoshop or some alternative. CreateSpace is now just Amazon KDP. You now have to pay to give your book away through Goodreads. YA dominates the genre. It’s been difficult to find places that review/ promote adult fantasy books from unknown authors. Self-publishing still has a bit of a stigma but it’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. It’s being taught in grad school.
This constant change can be a bit annoying. What worked before may not work again. But certain tools like Inkarnate have made world building easier. Wonder what indie publishing will look like in another 9 years.
What have you learned on your writing journey? Do you have any questions? Comment below. Then, visit other awesome authors sharing how they’ve grown as a writer over the years.