Buried under all the signature sounds of the holiday season — champagne corks, cheers-tears-and-mayhem, resolutions to be better-cleaner-kinder-stronger — an increasingly common sound this time of year is quite soft. With the click of a mouse or the tap of a finger, someone just celebrated the new year by publishing her book. At last.
And she’s not alone. More and more authors are choosing to publish their own work now that the array of viable publishing opportunities has expanded far beyond the large houses clustered on each coast.
Love it or hate it, Amazon deserves major credit for this new publishing landscape, where indie authors can thrive as never before. Bezos’ Behemoth launched its KDP (previously CreateSpace) platform for print and Kindle platform for ebooks a little more than a decade ago, to immediate success. When Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Lulu and several other venues sprang up as well, indie publishing’s reputation as a desperate vanity effort by an author with a stack of rejection letters got a long-overdue makeover.
Women authors benefited early on from this new wave. By 2015, barely a half-decade into the new publishing era, two-thirds of indie-published books ranking highest in sales and earnings were written by women — this at the same time that books written by men overwhelmingly dominated the traditional publishing industry.
One silver lining to the COVID pandemic has been a marked increase in book sales, as people have found more time for reading. Pre-pandemic, indie authors already accounted for one-third of English-language ebook sales. Though data aren’t yet available for 2020 or 2021, it’s a safe bet the rising tide in general book sales has lifted indie sales as well and, thus, sales for women authors in general.
I don’t mean to imply that everything going to print these days is high quality. The ease of online indie publishing can lead some authors to skip the steps that a publishing house would impose to ensure the house’s good reputation — editing, proofing and top-notch graphic and layout design. And some authors who release their books into the wild just don’t have a story to tell, can’t get nouns and verbs to sizzle together or have a fever-dream collection of thoughts that don’t coalesce as a book.
The presence of this less-than-stellar work in the indie publishing scene might give an author pause. But the upside of publishing one’s own work — total control over content and production — outweighs the downside of questionable company. Whether you’re introducing your first book or adding your 10th in a series, or you’ve reclaimed your rights to a book that has gone out of print with your former major-house publisher, indie publishing can be a very rewarding path.
If you’re considering the leap into indie publishing yourself, here are a few broad stroke words to the wise.
For both print books and ebooks:
*TAKE YOUR TIME. Typing the last punctuation mark on the last sentence of the last chapter of your book is not the cue to hit the “Publish” button onscreen. There’s more to it.
*YOU DO NEED A PROOFREADER. In our era of tweeting and posting and no-time-to-get-it-right-but-you-get-my-drift, the arts of spelling and grammar have taken a huge hit. But when you publish a book, you’re no longer tweeting a rant to friends who speak your secret patois, you’re publishing a book. You’re putting your work into the big leagues, competing for an audience with major publishing houses that (should, anyway) have staffers going over every detail because the house’s name and reputation are at stake. You’re the publisher. Your name and reputation are at stake this time. Do it right. Hire or barter for a proofreader’s eye on your words.
For print books:
*YOU NEED THE RIGHT SOFTWARE. InDesign or Quark. Period. If you don’t have it or don’t want to learn it, send your files to a book designer.
*YOU PROBABLY NEED A DESIGNER FOR THE INTERIOR. Who cares about the interior? you ask. Your print reader does. After sloppy language and spelling, nothing says unprofessional louder than a layout that looks off. Mingy margins. Page numbers on blank pages. Display typefaces used for running text. Line spacing too tight or too loose. These are problems because they distract the reader. Unlike a book’s cover, a successful layout for an interior balances dozens of details that are easily missed. If you don’t want to invest your time in developing a layout eye or your money in complicated software, send your book to a designer who can make your pages not just reader-friendly but reader-delicious.
*YOU PROBABLY NEED A DESIGNER FOR THE COVER, BUT MAYBE NOT. It might seem counterintuitive that I’ve left some wiggle room here — isn’t a book’s cover critical in selling the book? Yes, but I’ve found that many authors have their own very good ideas for covers because they know their books so well. Sometimes a stunning photo from an author’s iPhone just needs a minor tweak to get text laid in cleanly, not a full design job.
*SEND YOUR DESIGNER ONLY ONE FILE. One. Uno. Once the designer starts laying in the text and building the book’s layout, it’s a major pain in the butt (and time suck, for which you will be billed) to get a revised version of the text. If changes have to be made (and they always do), make your changes in handwriting on a print copy of the original file — then scan those changed pages and send them to the designer.
*ALLOW FOR SOME TIME. Getting a book from manuscript to print to bookshelves in the traditional publishing scene in less than a year is unheard-of. Indie publishing is much faster — you can get a book to print in a few weeks in most cases — but it still takes time. Don’t set a date for your book signing until after the designer has done her work.
*CONSIDER PUBLISHING YOUR BOOK ON NEW YEAR’S DAY. This gives your book an entire year labeled as a “new release.” Celebrate the new year with your new book!
Kathleen Dexter is a book designer and editor in New Mexico and a member of the WriterGal Network. Samples of her work can be found at kdinkandimage.net.