Turning Pro: Taking Indie Authorship to the Next Level


You would like to start out looking like a pro.

Many wise authors strive for this:

  • Searching for similar titles to see what may be highly marketable.
  • Asking experienced authors, editors, publicists, and small publishers for advice.
  • Doing research on writing, formatting, publishing, and marketing.
  • Trying to build a following before publishing.
  • Joining a writing group to improve as a writer.
  • Receiving ample feedback from the target audience.
  • Hiring a cover designer and editor.
  • Building buzz prior to a book’s release.
  • Writing a press release and distributing it to the media.

These are great things to do, and they can help immensely.

Yet, no matter how hard you try to nail your first book, you always improve and grow as an author:

  • After establishing yourself as an author, you have a fan base to work with and toward.
  • You find yourself reading a book, wondering why you didn’t think of that, or something you see triggers a design idea for your book.
  • A reader provides a helpful suggestion that you hadn’t considered.
  • You come across publishing tips you wish you’d known previously.
  • Once you have enough books out, you may start thinking more and more about becoming a small publisher.
  • New connections may open new possibilities for your books.

Unless your book is free or you donate 100% of the proceeds to charity, then technically you’re a professional author. But that’s not what I mean by professional. Rather, there comes a point in every writer’s career where you feel that you’ve made the transition from amateurish to professional. When you’re more experienced, wiser, and your writing has matured, you realize you’ve made some transition. This probably doesn’t happen just once, but several times over the course of writing.

Another thing I don’t mean is any distinction between indie and traditional authors. More and more traditional authors are also indie publishing, often with a pen name, which really blurs any line you might want to draw between them. It’s not how you publish that matters most to a reader, but how professional the book is. There are different degrees of professionalism even within traditionally published books.

As you grow as an author and strive to become more professional, here are some of the things you might consider:

  • ISBN options. When you start out, it’s hard to invest more than about $10 in an ISBN option. As your sales grow, you start to consider buying a block of ISBN’s. For example, in the US Bowker offers 10 for $250 or 100 for $575. As you start to think of developing a serious imprint and expanding your distribution options, this might fit your needs.
  • Professional websites. You may want something that looks more like a website and less like a blog. You might want your own domain name. You may add a site for your book and another for your imprint. At Facebook, you may add an author page or book page. If you create a Facebook page (i.e. more than just a Facebook account), it will have a Like option, and if you feed your WordPress blog into Facebook (but beware of this issue), those Facebook page Likes add to your follower tally (so do Twitter Follows if you feed your blog into Twitter). From your Facebook home, find the Create a Page option on the bottom-left. For an author page, click Artist, Band, or Public Figure; one of the options is author. (You can also make a page for your book by selecting Entertainment.)
  • Professional help. As your sales grow, you might consider investing more on cover design or editing, or even interior design. Although I’ve enjoyed designing my books, I’ve found a cover designer and had covers made for my most recent books and works in progress. I like the new covers much better, so I’m very pleased with this decision. I’ve also purchased illustrations and designs for book interiors.
  • Advertising. It’s difficult to invest in advertising when you’re starting out. There is a huge risk that you won’t recover your investment. You wish you could throw a little money out there to relieve you of the need to market your books, but it doesn’t work out that way. But once you’ve achieved some degree of success, you can better gauge your book’s marketability, you know you will have some initial support, and your current royalties can help cover your investment. You may be looking for ways that an advertisement can complement your marketing, such as a paid advertisement for a one-day book promotion.
  • Giving back. When you start out, you need a lot of help. As you gain experience, you have more knowledge to share and need less help. You might pay it forward, helping new authors through blog posts or who approach you with questions (whereas most people don’t like unsolicited advice). As you become more efficient with your own marketing, you might help a little to promote up-and-coming new authors whose work you like.

I’m presently collaborating on a publishing project with other authors to create a new series of math and writing workbooks. There is a creative element that will hopefully help engage children in learning fundamental skills. We’re getting professional covers for the series and professional illustrations for the interiors. We have a logo. We’ll use an imprint and purchase ISBN’s. We’ll be setting up a website. Our goal is to create a professional series of math and writing workbooks that meet the needs of students, parents, homeschoolers, and teachers.

Maybe a traditional publisher would like to have this series. But we’re indie all the way.🙂

We’re hoping to launch the series in the spring or summer of 2014.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Volume 1 (formatting/publishing) and Volume 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook page, Twitter

6 comments on “Turning Pro: Taking Indie Authorship to the Next Level

  1. There’s such a need for good homeschooling math textbooks. A friend of mine was homeschooled and still regrets doing homeschooling through high school because she still doesn’t understand a lot of math concepts even now in her mid-twenties.

    • That’s a great point. When I first started making math workbooks, I was focused on the practice, and didn’t realize how many parents or students may benefit from more instruction. I’ve included more instruction and examples in my most recent math workbooks, but plan to do much more of this in the future.

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