If you’re an indie author/publisher, you are a small business. Maybe a really small business of one, but still a business. In a recent USA Today article, Rhonda Abrams outlined 11 secrets of success for small businesses. Abrams is a small publisher herself, but her article focused on small business in general. I’d like to turn it back around to publishing because her tips make great sense for indies.
1. “Have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into before you start.”
Many aspiring authors see established authors making a go of it and think “I can do that,” and jump in before they have any idea what they’re getting into. Writing is a creative endeavor, but publishing (whether you go the traditional route or become a indie publisher) is a business, and you have to treat it as business if you expect to sell books and/or earn a living at writing. There will be tasks you will like, and tasks you will dislike. You have to do both. Sales, marketing, and promotion is part of business. Fact: Books do not sell themselves. Fact: Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take you multiple books and multiple years to reach the point where you can “earn a living” at being an author.
2. “Line up customers before you open your doors.”
This dovetails with what I’ve always said: the time to market your book is before the book is published—and this is true even if your book isn’t written yet. If you throw your book out there before you’ve made connections with potential readers, you are behind the curve. You should market yourself, your book, and your brand before you publish. Get to know people; let them get to know you. Build your social media following, network, make friends. You need people to know your name before your book is released.
3. “Line up as much money as you can.”
In the early years, for the first few books, you will be spending more than you take in. You will have editing, artwork, formatting, general business expenses (internet, newsletter costs), advertising and promotion costs. The expenses aren’t huge like buying a McDonald’s franchise, but if you’re only scraping by now, you are probably not going to be able to afford to publish your book and make it a success. You will probably need to keep your day job for a while.
4. “Be frugal.”
You can lose a lot of money on things that don’t work or that deliver little or no results. Don’t cheap out on quality, but know that there is vast range in the cost of services, and the most expensive isn’t necessarily the best. Shop around. I’ve spent as little as $75 for a custom book cover and as much as $150—and got the same thing! Editors also charge vastly different rates. Look for no-cost, low-cost ways to promote your books, rather than spending big money on advertising. Consider the ROI before you spend.
Publishing and the book market will change. No maybe, it will. You have to be flexible and be willing to change course and roll with the punches. You can find something that works and be truckin’ along and then sudden it stops working. Hot genres go cold, and readers move on to new things. There will be ups and downs. The greater your flexibility, the better you’ll do.
6. “Keep your customers.”
Many authors focus on acquiring new readers (and you do need to do that), but then forget about them once they have them. Show your appreciation to your existing readers. Talk to them, offer them special discounts, hold special prize drawings. Build your relationship with them.
7. “Hire good employees.”
Good employees make you look good. As an indie publisher, you probably won’t have “employees,” but you will have a contract labor team of editors, book cover designers, formatters, possibly a personal assistant, a book tour company, etc. You want not only quality work from these people, but you also need dependability, professionalism, and good communication. You have choices, so don’t settle for people who can’t provide the whole package.
8. “Find someone you can talk to.”
Writing is a solitary, lonely profession. You have no co-workers you can bounce ideas off of, no one who understand the business the way you do, who can offer advice or just let you vent—except other indie authors. Get to know your fellow authors, join author-only Facebook groups, and attend some writer conferences. It will really help you.
9. “Recharge your batteries.”
There will always be more work that you can do, but toiling 60-80 hours per week, pumping out book after book, is a sure way to crash and burn. Take breaks, take your vacations. You’ll do better for it in the long run.
10. “Hate working for others.”
I’m going to turn this around: “Love working for yourself.” You have to desire control and freedom more than security. You have to be able to accept and thrive with the risk that comes from being self-employed. Fact: it is easier to earn a steady salary working for someone else than it is to get a book publishing career off the ground. You have to want this. You have to prefer being self-employed with all its hassles than working for someone else.
11. “Believe in what you do.”
You will get negative reviews. Some books will tank. Sales will drop. You will fail. You have to have the ego, the self-esteem, the internal fortitude to weather the storms. You have to believe that you good when others seem to be telling you you’re not.
Which of these business tips resonate the most with you? Do you have other general business tips that apply to Indies?