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5 Perils of Being an Indie Author In This Decade
When you peel back the layers of a literary world largely dominated by traditional publishing, a vibrant and increasingly influential scene unveils itself: the realm of indie authors. These are the self-published, the boundary-pushers, the lone-wolf writers choosing to navigate the publishing labyrinth solo. Why? To have the ultimate creative control and reap potentially higher financial gains.
In this digital age, indie authorship has witnessed an exponential upswing. However, it's important to note that as much as it has provided opportunities to create and share diverse voices, it also comes with its unique perils. In this article, we will unveil and tackle these challenges, empowering you to write your story, your way.
Indie authorship isn't a leisurely stroll through a dewy meadow, but rather, it’s a climb up a dynamic, often steep, mountain. It can be thrilling, and rewarding, but also fraught with challenges.
Before we dive in…
Let’s have a look at some benefits of going indie in the book publishing arena. Being an indie author offers many advantages that traditional publishing paths often don't.
Perhaps the most compelling is the total creative freedom. Indie authors have the liberty to pen their narratives unhindered by publisher constraints, creating the stories they truly want to tell.
Also, the process of indie publishing can be a much quicker journey from manuscript to market, allowing authors to respond swiftly to trending genres or timely subjects.
Then there's the financial aspect — while self-publishing does require an upfront investment, it typically allows for greater royalty rates, with platforms like Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing offering up to 70% royalties on ebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99.
Lastly, being an indie author encourages the development of diverse skills required throughout the whole self-publishing process, from marketing to business acumen, cultivating not just a writer, but a well-rounded entrepreneur. In essence, the hurdles of indie authorship can be steep, but the rewards can be profound and deeply fulfilling. And now — the perils.
1. The battle of the bookshelves — visibility and discoverability
The digital revolution has made book publishing more accessible than ever before. According to a Bowker report, over 1.6 million books were self-published in 2018 in the US alone, a staggering 40% increase from the previous year.
In an ever-expanding sea of literature, standing out as an indie author can feel like trying to be heard in the roaring wind. With countless books available at the click of a button, even the most riveting of tales risk being drowned in the vast digital ocean.
It's not enough to write a good book; your book needs to be found. In the age of algorithms and online bookshelves, being noticed is a multifaceted challenge. Algorithms, rather than booksellers, dictate discoverability. Algorithms favor what's popular, making breaking in all the more challenging.
But fear not, for the tools that baffle can also empower. Understanding the role of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can help place your book in the spotlight. Harness the power of social media to connect with readers and fellow writers alike.
And remember, while a book should not be judged by its cover, it often is. Invest in an appealing, professional book cover that entices readers to dive into the pages beneath. After all, sales numbers suggest that a huge volume of readers is indeed influenced by a book's cover.
2. Navigating the competition labyrinth
With the democratization of publishing, courtesy of easily accessible self-publishing platforms, there's not just a rise in opportunities, but also in competition. An increasing number of independent authors is using Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and reaping the rewards. There has been a 40% increase(between March 2020 and 2022) in the number of authors earning $50k or more in royalties!
It's like attending a global book fair where everyone's shouting their stories. However, the challenge lies in carving out a unique space amidst the crowd — this isn't a call for a shouting match but a call for strategic storytelling.
What is your Unique Selling Proposition (USP)? What's the peculiar flavor of your narrative stew that readers won't find elsewhere? Is it your book's fresh perspective on a familiar genre? Or is it a character who breaks the mold?
Perhaps you write mysteries set in 18th-century Spain or perhaps you offer a fresh, feminist take on vampire stories. Identify your niche, embrace it, and let it echo in your writing and marketing strategies.
3. The quality quandary — maintaining professional standards
Quality control is the Achilles’ heel of many an indie author. Without the intricate web of editors and publishers, the responsibility of maintaining high standards falls on you.
The plot, the pacing, the grammar, the cover design, each tiny cog in the vast machinery of your book needs meticulous attention. Brush up on your writing and editing skills— even the best writers need to revise.
If possible, consider engaging professional services for book design and editing. You might balk at the upfront cost, but remember that a poorly designed cover or a typo-ridden text can cost you readers.
In 2023, the Reedsy marketplace reported that the average cost of professional editing for a 60,000-word book ranged from $2,400 to $3,400. This initial investment can make the difference between an overlooked book and a popular page-turner.
4. Overcoming the marketing mayhem
To paraphrase the iconic film Field of Dreams, just because you "write it" doesn't mean "they will come." Publishing your book is just the beginning of your journey
What follows is an uphill hike in the wilderness of marketing. A number of surveys done among self-published authors found one recurring theme: selling copies of their books is the most challenging aspect of self-publishing. Learning to wear the hat of a marketer along with that of a writer can be a steep learning curve.
Start with the basics: build an author platform — a dedicated website or blog can work wonders. Master social media, not just to shout about your book, but to engage with your audience. Venture into the realm of email marketing.
And, if the resources allow, consider hiring a professional marketer who understands the literary world. Remember, a book that stays in the shadows, no matter how good, remains unread.
5. Walking the financial tightrope
Money is a tricky topic, but it’s integral to your journey as an indie author. Self-publishing is more accessible than ever, but it isn't free.
From budgeting for editing services to the price of an enticing cover design, every little cost adds up. And let's not forget the unpredictability of book sales: according to an Author's Guild survey, the median income for all authors in 2017 was at $20,030 — financial planning is therefore paramount.
Consider cost-effective strategies like bartering services with other professionals, such as a skills swap with a graphic designer friend. Look for diverse income streams, like freelance writing or speaking engagements, to supplement your income from book sales.
Being an indie author is not just about writing, but also about running a small business — your business.
Bonus Peril 1: Distribution and expanding your reach
Distributing a self-published book often feels like sailing in uncharted waters. The dream is a global readership, but reaching a wide audience is a stumbling block for many indie authors.
Traditional publishing houses have their networks, but as an indie author, you need to build your own. According to sales data, Amazon has at least 67% of the ebook market — rising up to 83% when Kindle Unlimited is included — making it a go-to platform for indie authors. Still, indie and up-and-coming authors should diversify their approach by leveraging different publishing platforms; don't limit yourself to one avenue.
Consider translations of your book to reach foreign markets. Explore strategic partnerships with book bloggers, influencers, and fellow authors to increase your reach. Distribution is a game of strategy, and every connection counts.
Bonus Peril 2: Navigating copyright and contracts
Creating a book doesn't just require creative acumen, but legal too. From copyright laws to contract rights, indie authors need to be aware of the legal landscape to protect their interests.
According to the Authors' Guild, over a quarter of authors were unaware of their contractual rights. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to legalities.
Accidental plagiarism, image rights for your cover, even the fine print of your agreement with a self-publishing platform, can turn into a legal quagmire. Equip yourself with basic legal knowledge, keep abreast of changes in publishing laws and, when in doubt, consult a legal professional.
The written word has power, but remember, the law does too.
The indie author's odyssey — looking ahead
Being an indie author in this decade is not without its perils, but every great odyssey has its fair share of trials and triumphs. Despite the challenges, indie authorship offers an unparalleled opportunity to craft your literary journey exactly as you envision it.
The road ahead may seem fraught with perils, but armed with knowledge, resilience, and a touch of audacity, these perils become milestones on your path to success. To be an indie author is to embrace a unique blend of creativity, business, and persistence. It's an odyssey worth embarking on, for at the end lies the incomparable reward of holding your book, your words, in your hands.
So gear up and brace yourself for the journey ahead, because your story deserves to be told. And no one can tell it better than you.
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Harry Bingham is the founder of Jericho Writers, a company offering writers expert editorial assistance. He has written a variety of books over the years, notching up multiple six-figure deals and relationships with each of the world’s three largest trade publishers. His work has been critically acclaimed across the globe and has been adapted for TV. He’s also written non-fiction, short stories, and has worked as a ghost/editor on a number of exciting projects. Harry also self-publishes some of his work, and loves doing so.