This Spiral Life

How Is It To Be An Indie Author?

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(1020 words – almost 8 minutes read)

Yes, there is still a stigma with being an indie author. There are bookstores, contests, and awards that do not accept self-published books. In the writing community, you are better off having a publisher’s name even if your publisher does not support much to promote your book.

Despite the stigma, I decided to walk the indie author path and test its freedom. My story about an Iranian girl who lived under the Iranian dictator regime was timely and needed to be in the world, and the whole process of finding an agent and then a publisher would take more than two years.

I was confident about my decision, and I knew I’d make many mistakes since I was a newbie in the publishing world. I wasn’t unaware of my ignorance, but I was willing to try it.

I published my book on March 20, 2019, with a well-attended launch party and started with good sales. However, I knew the high-rank sale would not last long. So, I started working hard on promoting the book while I was learning the alphabet of the promoting process. At the end of 2019, I was burnt out but had gained enough maturity to put my situation in perspective.

I started appreciating those 5 to 10 people who showed up at my book reading events or Memoir writing workshops. I realized my book as a tool for community building, and I could start with small local communities. The importance of number of sales wasn’t significant anymore. Of course, I like to sell more books, but not selling many isn’t heartbreaking anymore. Why? Because I learned figuring out the monster algorithms such as Amazon and Goodreads is pretty impossible. I also do not have essential connections with journalists and famous authors, so I cannot get a lot of words spread out. And, last but not least, I don’t have money to hire a publicist to build the connections for me. So, in 2020, using what I learned from 2019 efforts, I decided to do what I could do. Be a local author and work with local organizations.

I came to believe the power of the local community. So, I reached out to libraries, non-profit organizations, and college professors in the Washington DC area. I have been having at least one event per month and have a couple of activities set up for the next six months. I enjoy my book talks, memoir writing workshops, and becoming a storyteller. It is a community service that I can offer to give meaning to my life and, hopefully, to others. Being a local author has been a pleasure, and I feel genuinely honored when others reach out and give me feedback or ask my attendance for an event. It took almost one year of hard work to be part of a community that counts on you. It is rolling now!

So, based on my personal experience ( and few others around me), if you feel you like creating real and authentic connections with a few numbers of people, being an indie author will be a fulfilling one deepening the meaning of your life. Now, I’d like to share a few mistakes that I’ve made with you:

  1. I left only 3 months between finalizing the manuscript and publishing date. That was not enough because:
    1. The pre-sale need to start 3 months before your release date.
    2. The final manuscript needs to go to at least 50 beta readers for earning a few reviews in Goodreads before the pre-sale starts.
    3. The final manuscript needs to be sent to possible reviewers such as authors or public figures to gain their review for blurbs on your website, Goodreads, and on the book.
    4. You need many weeks to contact many bookstores and set an event right after the book is published.
    5. And this is if you already have your Goodreads author page and your website up and running.
  2. I spent money on any marketing opportunity came my way because despite my own decision, I subconsciously believed as an indie author, I don’t have many good chances. Wrong! Be careful where you invest in marketing. There are some that worth doing. Spending money on Bookbub (if they accept your book) could be helpful to increase the number of sales in Amazon and make your book more visible. My mistake was that I didn’t plan the timing of reducing the price of the e-book to $0.99 correctly. Bookbub refused to promote my book on full-price, and what I had paid for was non-refundable.
  3. I paid for a booth and, attended a few Book Festivals. Except for Gaithersburg book festival, no other one brought me sales or recognition and booths are expensive. I now work with a team of authors, and we share the booths and expenses.
  4. I signed and paid money for consignment agreements with a few bookstores across the country. It really didn’t work out. If a bookstore orders your book, and puts it on the shelf, it is good. Most bookstores have Ingram account and if you publish and distribute your book through Ingram Spark, they can buy it 55% off. (You need to set it at 55% discount and returnable for bookstores)
  5. I spend $200 on distributing a press release one month before the release date. Press release distribution does not really work for indie books with unknown authors.
  6. Do not take the number of likes on social media personally. It is all business and algorithms. Post regularly. Post about your book, news about your book, and other useful or encouraging contents readers like to see. On Instagram and Twitter take advantage of popular and related hashtags to get more followers. It will build up slowly and organically.
  7. I didn’t try hard enough to publish an excerpt from my memoir or a related article in a literary magazine or a literary forum. Give yourself plenty of time after your manuscript is ready and before you publish.

I will be glad to provide details about my journey. Shoot your questions my way 😊

Let’s share our stories,

Shabnam

Author: Shabnam

Shabnam Curtis was born and raised in Tehran, experiencing the Iranian Revolution of 1979 firsthand. In 2004 she immigrated to the United States, where she now works as a project analyst by day and a passionate writer all other time. Shabnam teaches memoir writing workshops and is working on her second memoir (sequel). She lives in Virginia, with her husband and two dogs. Her motto is "We all have a story to tell. Share your story, listen to others' stories. Create more EMPATHY & LOVE!"

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