Monday, February 3, 2014

Indie Publishing – Lessons Learned & Still Learning

by Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

Once we take the plunge to self-publish our books, it's the start of a never-ending learning process as we try to keep on top of new developments and learn through trial and error. Mainly, we all want to avoid (too many) negative reviews and sell lots of books, right? And find the time to promote while writing the next book!

Still trying to decide which route to go? Check out my blog post, Pros, Cons, & Steps for Publishing Your Own Book on Amazon.

I published my first book myself on Amazon in July 2012, and it’s been a steep learning curve since then. Here are some tips I’ve learned from working with other authors and writing & publishing my own nonfiction books, which other newbie indie publishers can learn from, and some pitfalls to avoid. And a few relatively new initiatives you might want to try.

~ Get your book critiqued and edited before publishing. Get some savvy reader friends to tell you where it excited and intrigued them and where it dragged. Then revise and get a professional critique and/or edit. Even editors need an editor.

~ Get your book properly formatted before publishing it. Weird formatting is annoying to readers.

~ Get a professional cover design and some opinions on it before publishing. I’ve seen some really awful or just blah cover designs on Amazon that have to be hurting sales. Post two or three possible cover designs on Facebook or your blog and get readers to vote on which one they like best. That also involves readers and creates anticipation for the book, both pluses.  

~ Be sure your title grabs readers and also tells them what your book is about (especially important for nonfiction). I've recently decided I should have chosen a different title for my Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power, as I don’t think it immediately tells a potential reader what the book is about. So after the book has been out for almost a year and a half, I’ve decided to change the title to Fire up Your Fiction (thanks to John Kurtze for suggesting I take that from the title of my recent blog post, “Fire up Your Fiction with Foreshadowing”). I’m keeping the same cover design and also making it very clear in the first few pages that it’s the same book. I hope I
get to keep all my great reviews on Amazon (64, average of 4.8 stars) with the new title! Not to mention the two awards this book has received.
To learn from that mistake of mine, take your time choosing just the right title before publishing. Brainstorm a lot of possibilities and run them past trusted, savvy friends.  

~ To change the title of a book that's already published on Amazon, don't create a new listing. Just go into your existing book and click on "Change book details" and change the title there. That way you get to keep all your reviews and links! (I added this point later after I made the mistake of creating a new listing on Amazon-Kindle and they told me I couldn't transfer the reviews because the two books had different titles. So I changed the title in the existing listing, then deleted the new one I'd created, to avoid confusion. And of course the fact that it's the same book, just with a different title, is noted in the description and on the back cover and in the first pages, inside the book!

~ Get your own “real” ISBN for your books, rather than a CreateSpace-assigned ISBN. Because I’m changing the title of my Style That Sizzles book, I need to get a new ISBN for it. But for several other very good reasons, notably increased distribution and visibility offered by the IBPA and IngramSpark (more below), I need a universally accepted ISBN, not the limited free one CreateSpace assigns. So now I have to go through that whole process again and wait for the new ISBN before I can re-release my book under the new title.

~ To save time and money, try to  have your self-published e-books and print books formatted in a form that is editable by you. Because chances are high that you and/or your readers will find at least a few typos, inconsistencies, or other errors. This means you may need to learn more about formatting.

~ If you revise and improve your published book, notify Amazon right away. If you request it, they’ll send out an email to everyone who bought the original (slightly flawed) e-book, and those people can all upload the revised version instantly and for free. I got busy and didn’t do that last June when I did a substantial revision of my first e-book, Writing a Killer Thriller, adding lots of original stuff and expanding the book by almost 4 times, so I still received a few “outdated” negative reviews after that, based on the original version. 

~ Ignore any negative reviews you receive, especially on Goodreads! Fortunately, I haven’t personally had any bad experiences around this, but I’ve certainly heard of authors being raked over the coals by readers after they responded to negative reviews – even one unfortunate one going viral a year or two ago. Do not respond to negative reviews by readers!

~ Joining Amazon KDP can really help sales of your e-books, as they do a lot of free promoting and marketing for you. See my post on that HERE.

~ If your book is revised, edited, polished, and getting great reviews, consider entering it in some book contests. Here’s a long, detailed list of Book Contests for Indie Authors. Since there are so many to choose from, it’s probably best to pass on the ones that cost over $70 per title, unless you feel the status would be worth it. And I’d go for the ones that provide a written review, from which you can take quotes to share on your website, blog, and on social media. Or just learn from. I’ve won two awards (FAPA & Writer's Digest) for my Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power (soon to be retitled Fire up Your Fiction), and those awards have definitely increased my sales.

~ Consider joining the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). I just recently heard about them from someone at the SDSU Writers’ Conference in San Diego, where I presented two workshops. After I got home, I checked out their website and decided to join. It looks to me like I’ll be getting a lot of benefits for the $129 annual fee, more than I’ve gotten from any other editors’ or writers’ group memberships. The IBPA Benefits Handbook they sent me is 56 pages long and includes education, support, and discounts on book awards, digital and print publishing, distribution, and marketing.

From their website: “As the largest not-for-profit trade association in the industry, the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) advances the professional interests of authors and independent publishers in the U.S. and around the world. The Independent Book Publishers Association’s (IBPA’s) mission is to advocate for, support, and educate our members and to improve the standards of independent publishing. In addition to longstanding cooperative marketing and education programs, IBPA delivers valuable discounts and networking opportunities to members.”

~ Consider registering your book(s) with IngramSpark, which looks really beneficial for increasing the distribution of both print and e-copies of your books. Costs $49 for both ($37.50 for IBPA members). I’m in the process of registering with them for my Sizzles book, but need to wait for my new ISBN before I can complete the process (which is taking longer because I’m Canadian). Of course, that means the e-book will no longer be in the Amazon KDP program, so will lose those benefits... Maybe I should see if I can just do the print book on IngramSpark, and keep the e-book on KDP...? So much to learn, so little time!

“IngramSpark is Ingram Content Group’s new Publish-on-Demand platform that enables the delivery of content worldwide to readers in print and electronic formats. The service, which is tailored to the specific needs of the small independent publisher, streamlines the sales, account setup, content management, and customer support activities through a self-service, online platform. It’s free to set up an account.” 

~ A new distribution service for indie authors to check out. I’m also thinking about enrolling one of my books in the new IndieReader In-Store (IRIS) program, “the first indie (Author) to indie (Bookstore) distribution service,” for more visibility and increased distribution and sales. This recent initiative was discussed recently here at CFC. Just another option to consider... And let’s see if anyone else jumps in to offer something similar for indie authors.

~ Finally, there are a lot of websites that promote indie books. So many the list could be its own blog post!

Have any of you had experiences to share about Amazon, Smashwords, Lightning Source, Goodreads, book contests, IBPA, IngramSpark, or the IndieReader IRIS program? Or any other initiatives for publishing, distributing, or marketing independently published books? Can you share your wisdom with the rest of us struggling along the path to self-publishing enlightenment and increased sales? Any tips gratefully accepted!

Jodie Renner has published two books to date in her series, An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Writing a Killer Thriller and Fire up Your Fiction (formerly titled Style That Sizzles & Pacing for Power), which has won two awards to date. Her third book in the series will be out soon. For more info, please visit Jodie’s author website or editor website, her other blogs, Resources for Writers and The Kill Zone, or find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. To be the first to hear when Jodie's next book is out and to receive links to valuable, timely blog posts, sign up for her newsletter here.


  1. Great advice, as always.

    I used to belong to IPBA, but I let my membership lapse when I gave up on bookstores (and Baker & Taylor) and stopped buying print ads. But for nonfiction authors, I think it's still a beneficial organization.

    And I don't have anything to share about the other retail platforms because I'm still Amazon exclusive through its Select program. The benefits of that program, for me, still outweigh the few sales I might get elsewhere.

  2. Another blog packed with first-hand, practical information and enlightening discussion.
    Thank you!

    1. You're welcome, Tom! Thanks for dropping by and commenting! :-)

  3. I've been a Select girl from day one. And with expanded distribution through CreateSpace, and indie bookstores willing to take consigments, I haven't walked into too many walls.

    1. Glad to hear you've found indie bookstores willing to take books on consignment, Peg! I'm too shy to approach them! Guess I should bite the bullet on that one! What do they have to lose, really? Nothing.

  4. Oooh, I love learning from other indies. I used the free CreateSpace ISBN. I'll have to look into buying my own before I put out the next book. Thanks for your great advice.

    Love your new title. Love all your covers.


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