14 Tips for Becoming an Indie Author · Jens Oliver Meiert

By admin

14
CARDINAL

Tips for Becoming an Indie Author

You’re thinking about writing and publishing a book by yourself? And, you’re wondering about the process, and may be concerned about missing something?

I’ve written

5
CARDINAL

books with my publisher,

O’Reilly
ORG

, and

15
CARDINAL

as an independent author, recently with my own publishing outlet,

Frontend Dogma
ORG

. I’m still learning about the publishing business,

every day
DATE

, but there are a few things I have learned (I hope). Let me share these things, if it can help you get started.

The

first
ORDINAL

tip right here: Just do it. You can produce a decent-quality book. And despite a changing market with fewer books sold in

2022
DATE

, more people than not do read.

Start With an Ebook

Despite the convenience of ebooks, more print books are being bought than ebooks. While this means a smaller market for publishers, ebooks are easier and cheaper to create than print books. Start with an ebook.

Let me underscore this both as a reader and as an author—ebooks have many advantages over print books.

Choose a Comfortable Writing Setup

While you don’t have to write

hours
TIME

on end (more on that in a

second
ORDINAL

), you do want to be comfortable when writing. As such, play with different word processors and text editors, as well as work environments, to find what’s to your liking. There’s nothing definite here as it’s precisely the point that you try out various settings to tell what works well for you.

For me, I do most of my writing in a text editor (BBEdit), in my IDE (

WebStorm
LOC

), or in

Google Docs
ORG

. I don’t care too much about the work environment, but as my post-pandemic life is still less eventful than it used to be, that’s largely at home, at my desktop machine, at a standing desk.

Write Regularly (by

Establishing a Routine
PERSON

)

A key to writing is—writing. While that’s obvious, what’s not obvious is that it’s not about the amount you write, but how regularly you write. For this purpose, consider writing with a well-defined frequency—say,

every day
DATE

, or every work day, or every

Saturday
DATE

, or whatever cadence you prefer. To get yourself started, consider setting yourself reminders.

Don’t Feel Obliged to Write Much

At the same time, re-set your expectations on how much to write each session. Set them low, very low—say, a sentence, or perhaps just anything (if only a word). It’s easier and likely more effective to write just a little every n days, than vast runs of text every other intervals.

I’ve worked successfully with “write every day, but however much you like,” and moved to a lesser-defined frequency

today
DATE

, after I’ve built more experience and rely on some other techniques mentioned in this post. Like the next one:

Use Inspiration and Flow

While you can push yourself into writing (a quality one can acquire, but that I wouldn’t emphasize here), it’s much more efficient to use inspiration as well as flow (“the zone”) you have in the moment.

That is, in moments when you seem to be overflowing with ideas, or when you can write without effort, stay in these moments—cherish and use them.

In such moments, I’m driving my partner nuts, because I tend to forget time, and push back on obligations where possible—that’s how much I value these opportunities. You get so much more done in a moment of flow, that it saves you

hours
TIME

of time elsewhere.

Don’t Use AI Tools

Don’t use ChatGPT or other AI tooling to write for you. While

AI
ORG

may seem helpful to quickly generate some content, it’s likely to read soulless (as per one of my editors) and contain issues that require much more editing. That will help you improve as an editor—but not as a writer. Working with AI will for that reason also not feel like you wrote the book.

I’ve written a book with AI ( The Problems With All the Good Things ), but quite deliberately and transparently as I did so to make a particular point. You may find similar use cases. For purposes of starting out as an author or writer, however, I recommend to begin with a different project.

Work With an Editor

Even as an indie author, you need an editor. While you can ask friends and peers for help, it pays off to hire a professional.

One
CARDINAL

good platform for this is Upwork—while you may need to try working with different editors (maybe you want to invest in more experience, or prefer a different work style), any editor is better than no editor.

I used to be nervous about my editors (for my

first
ORDINAL

books for

O’Reilly
PERSON

), then I skimped on this (for my

first
ORDINAL

indie books), then I had hits and misses, and now I’m glad I’ve acquired some pool of editors to work with, and a sense for their approach. It’s useful to understand that the “tougher” an editor may seem—which can be quite uncomfortable at

first
ORDINAL

—, the better it usually is for our work.

Hire a Cover Designer

Unless you’ve had some design training, hire a cover designer, too. (Don’t try to save on it, as may be the case with platforms like

Fiverr
ORG

, so try Upwork for a designer, too.)

In my work as an indie author and publisher, I’ve probably done more covers myself than I hired cover designers for. I’ve done some pretty bad ones, but also some that work okay. Would this contradict my advice? No—I’ve had some training, and my recommendation holds. But, a nice segue for the next point, it’s your call, and you could also:

Experiment

Don’t be afraid. (Though easier said than done, that’s generally good advice.) Work with a mindset of trying things out, of experimenting. This works better if you can detach yourself from that “

one
CARDINAL

perfect book” you’re going to produce, and if you grant yourself room for errors—and improvements. Here you’ll particularly benefit from starting with ebooks, as you can update the manuscript as well as the cover once you shipped. Embrace it.

Be Kind to Yourself

Then, important: Don’t be hard, be kind to yourself. Especially when starting out, writing a book can be intimidating. (Your own expectations may be intimidating!) Trust the process, of slowly but surely adding to your book, of being able to course-correct and make future updates, of having professional help.

I remember my

first
ORDINAL

book project, for

O’Reilly
ORG

, and signing my contract with them. The book outline and size of the manuscript were defined before

one
CARDINAL

word was written—and with, if I recall correctly, a

250
CARDINAL

-page target this left me with a mountain to climb. Back then I took this with an attitude of “just do it,” and relying on the

O’Reilly
PERSON

team;

20
CARDINAL

titles later, my attitude is one of building on experience, trusting a network of professionals, and making constant improvements (“living books”).

Distribute Widely

As an indie author and publisher, you may start with

one
CARDINAL

platform—

Amazon
ORG

’s

KDP
ORG

,

Lulu
PERSON

, or maybe

Leanpub
ORG

. You may develop the appetite to publish your next title on that platform, too. That can be fine and actually quite useful—but even with

Amazon
ORG

being the ebook platform, increase your reach, and sell on additional platforms.

My standard set of sites I’m selling my books on include the following (in descending order of perceived reach):

I also have cooperations with magazines like

SitePoint
ORG

, who make my technical titles available as part of their Premium program. This is something worth mentioning as for your own books, you may find niche sites that can help you distribute your work, too.

For my

first
ORDINAL


three
CARDINAL

indie books, I had put everything in the

Amazon
ORG

basket. While that worked well enough to sell a good number of them, a later pivot to

Leanpub
ORG

as my “main” platform (they are fantastic to generate books from

Markdown
ORG

pulled from GitHub) was the

first
ORDINAL

and most impactful step for me to increase reach. I made books available on other platforms soon after, and apart from Payhip, which I can’t make good use of yet, they all—paid off.

Keep on Learning

Experiment with your writing and your output, but also learn more about writing and publishing.

One
CARDINAL

of the most excellent books I’ve read is

Roy Peter Clark
PERSON

’s

Writing Tools
ORG

. (I also love

William Strunk Jr.
PERSON

’s classic,

The Elements of Style
WORK_OF_ART

, on the editing side.) You’ll find other books, as well as videos and courses, that help your indie author journey.

Write More

Once you’ve completed your

first
ORDINAL

book, consider continuing. The hard part is done, as every additional book will be easier and easier to write and publish. If you aren’t already working with other formats, like articles or blog posts, consider doing that as well. It will provide you with a broader perspective, additional experience, and perhaps marketing opportunities. (If you’re doing this on your own website, even better—there are many advantages to that).

Promote as You Please

A final tip coming from someone who’s still learning about marketing: If you’re interested in and enjoy promoting and marketing your book(s), do it. If you don’t, don’t sweat it. Now, if you approach writing with the ambition of selling

millions
CARDINAL

of copies in

dozens
CARDINAL

of languages, this will not satisfy you—but you may already have ideas about your marketing as well. (Go for it.) But if writing and publishing are the priority for you, don’t bend over backwards to promote it. Or—look for someone who has been successful doing that by themselves. (I think

Adam Clarke
PERSON

sketched some useful starting points with his SEO book, but I need to review.)

❧ The Web is amazing when it comes to the opportunities it provides us with, including that it makes it easy and affordable to publish books. The Web also makes it easy to make little out of these opportunities, both in terms of the output as well as our growth. These tips sketch ways to use the opportunities so that the output is solid, and that some growth as a author and publisher is assured. If these tips have helped you, please share this article—or check out one of my own indie books. (Thanks!)

About Me

I’m

Jens
PERSON

, and I’m an engineering lead and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for companies like

Google
ORG

, I’m close to W3C and

WHATWG
PERSON

, and I write and review books for

O’Reilly
ORG

and

Frontend Dogma
ORG

. I love trying things, not only in web development, but also in other areas like philosophy. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.

If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!