Five Challenges Indie Writers Face (and How to Overcome Them)

Independent publishing is not easy. Oh, it may seem that way at first. Kindle and Smashwords make the process quick, but quick and easy aren't the same. I know I'm appreciative for any advice on self-publishing I find; maybe you're the same. I offer these challenges and some ways to deal with them.

Challenge 1. The Donna Syndrome (aka IWIAIWIN)

I'm known among my family and friends for developing obsessions about particular consumer goods and wanting instant gratification of said obsessions. I saw a cool netbook last year. No, I couldn't wait for Christmas. “I want it and I want it now.” I don't really say those words, although my husband ascribes them to me, but the effect is much the same. Let's just call it the “Donna Syndrome” for short.

How does the Donna Syndrome affect indie authors? I upload a manuscript to Smashwords. Why is it taking so long? Now I wait for it to go into the Premium Catalog. Why is it taking so long? I WANT IT AND I WANT IT NOW. Smashwords is an amazingly fast system of publishing, given what it does. Think about the number of formats the “Meatgrinder” produces your work in. How much the system has improved just in the past five months I've been using them. The responsive customer service. But I see complaints all the time about how slow it is, or indirect complaints about how it “finally” is ready.

How to deal with the Donna Syndrome? Be patient. Spend the time while you're waiting working on your marketing plan, so that by the time your manuscript is ready for sale, you'll know exactly what your next steps are.

Challenge 2. Marketing

And speaking of  your marketing plan, do you have one? I read recently the wise observation that the skills required of a marketer are not generally those of a writer. Marketing doesn't come naturally to most writers. Even traditionally published authors have to market their own works these days. Marketing your book is an overwhelming prospect, and there's no shortage of advice online.

How to deal with marketing? Create a plan. Make a list of all the “chores” you see in various blogs and e-publications that seem reasonable to you: Blog about your book, blog about a related topic, guest blog, promote another author on your blog (see Challenge 4). Assign a frequency to them, then arrange them into a schedule. That way you stay on track and hold yourself accountable. This idea isn't original with me. Tony Eldridge wrote about it in an excellent blog post.

Challenge 3. Exclusionary Thinking

E-publishing opened up the world to people who wouldn't have had the chance in the past. Traditional publishers are casting about, often aimlessly, trying to figure out what the future holds for them. Don't fall into the trap of exclusionary thinking, though. By that I mean the idea that “E-publishing is only THIS,” or “You can't do both e-publishing and traditional publishing,” or “Anyone who accepts a traditional contract after e-publishing is selling out.” Thinking this way limits your options, and reduces your mindset to an unhelpful “us versus them” mentality.

How to deal with exclusionary thinking? Remember that each author comes to publishing in her (or his) own way. Your path isn't the only one. Gather up great ideas from both worlds.

Challenge 4. Isolation

Writing is usually a solitary activity. Even with a co-author, you put your own words down in pixels or ink. The problem with isolation is you miss out on other opinions and perspectives. Relying only on  yourself skews  your perspective as much as challenge 3 does.

How to deal with isolation? Join a group, in person or online. Read blogs about writing. Improve your craft at every opportunity. The Indie Book Collective has some great tutorials on publishing and marketing. Promote other authors on your blog to develop collaborative relationships.

Challenge 5. Good Enough

By “good enough,” I mean the temptation to publish your manuscript whether it's really ready or not. You fall prey to the Donna Syndrome (see Challenge 1). Publishing is so quick that you may “want it and want it now.” I've read many comments lately about e-publishing to effect that “readers don't care about editing, they just want a good story.” E-publishing suffers criticism because of this attitude. Careful editing and grammatical sentence structure enhance the reading experience.

How to deal with good enough? As I said in Challenge 1, be patient. Edit your manuscript, then have someone else edit it who knows editing. Spend the time and effort to make it the best it can be. I talked about that in another post.

All of these challenges are about your mental state. Improving your craft, approaching it as a professional, seeking the camaraderie and advice of others: these activities don't just improve you and your writing. They contribute to a strong and vibrant independent writing community.

Please let me hear from you in the comments. What challenges that you face have I left out?

3 Reasons You Should Edit Your Book Before You e-Publish It

One of my superpowers is spotting errors in grammar, spelling and word usage (and you know that means I'll make a mistake in this post by saying that). I'm really irked by misspelled words in printed books. I find even less excuse for such errors in electronic books, because of the ease with which the author can use spelling/grammar checking and upload a new version. One of my dearest friends is an editor by profession; I truly believe a molecule of her soul is ripped from her when she sees errors in printed or electronic documents (if, indeed, “molecule” is a unit making up the soul).

But, you know, I've worked in academia all my working career, and have a library degree. So maybe (I hear you saying, as apparently I have phenomenal hearing) I'm just a tad too picky. In my defense, I suggest these reasons why you should edit (or have someone else edit) your book before you post it to your e-platform of choice.

  1. Respect for the reader. The person who purchases your e-book and reads it is carving time out of her busy life to share the world you've created. If you don't care enough about your book to shape it into the best narrative you possibly can, why should she care about reading it?
  2. Courtesy toward the reader. Ever have that sensation where you're reading smoothly along, enjoying the action, terrified for the hero, caught up in the romance and passion–and suddenly your eye lurches? You mentally say, “Huh?” (I often say it out loud.) A phrasing struck you wrong, you encounter a misspelled word. That error takes the reader out of the moment just as surely as if the phone rang. Help the reader stay in the experience you crafted for her.
  3. Pride in your craft. Writing is a learning experience. It's highly unlikely you'll write a best seller the first time you put quill to parchment–er, dark pixels to white pixels. You hone your craft through practice, reading websites, discussing with other writers. Show your growth by taking care of the basics first. The Indie Author Group on Facebook has a wonderful list of basic things to look out for in your writing.

Invest the time in your craft. You'll be glad you did.

Let me know your take on editing, in the comments below.