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The one thing you need to be a successful indie author.

I think. I’m learning out loud here.

Okay, I’m not going to draw this out. I hope you’ll read the rest, because I’m on fire with this whole thing.

The one thing: a serious, serious work ethic.

If anyone ever tells you that they have an easy path to being an indie author they are lying. LYING.

I’ve learned more about indie publishing in the last two weeks than I’ve learned — ever.

The kind of learning that’s left me wandering around muttering, “What in the world is happening.”

And, “This is all insane.”

And, “If they can do it, so can I.”

What I thought.

I’ve known for a long time that I was going to at least give self-publishing a try.

I have books written that didn’t sell traditionally.

I have a series that ends on a cliffhanger, that I won’t be able to finish up with a traditional publisher.

But, if I’m being totally honest, I’ve been struggling with the idea.

No matter how many times I told myself it wasn’t true, indie publishing after being published by a big New York publisher (Penguin) felt like a massive and ugly step backward.

But, I was going to do it.


Let’s just say that I have FIVE books written. Two half written.

I think the technical term for what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years is ‘spinning my wheels.’ Or, maybe, ‘being a big fat chicken shit.’

When I’ve thought about indie publishing, my idea was that I’d just follow the model of traditional publishing — sans publisher. In fact, I thought I’d be super prolific and put out two books a year.

I’d write whatever I wanted (freedom!) and ask everyone I knew and this email list I’ve kicked my own butt building to buy it. And then hope for the best.

Let’s call that the ‘fingers crossed’ method of publishing. It’s the way traditional publishing goes, mostly, and the way that many writers who transition to indie approach it.

What’s real.

What I’ve learned in the last couple of weeks is that, holy crap, I had it all wrong. All. Wrong.

Publishing isn’t about luck.

It’s not some magic formula where the God of literature looks down and picks you.

It’s just this: a really good story, written in a genre that has a lot of readers who don’t have quite enough of what they love to read, some marketing that isn’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought it was.

This new world of indie publishing (or at least new to me) is so exciting because it is so, so centered on story. And story is where I live. I’m a writer, but that’s really just the way I’ve chosen to be a storyteller.

In order to make sense of the vast quantity of information I’ve been learning, I’ve narrowed the whole process down to six steps.

The steps seem to be:

  1. While you’re doing all the rest, build an email list of readers who read your genre.
  2. Write a compelling, addictive story that continues over multiple books. (AKA a series.)
  3. Repeat step two. A LOT. What traditional publishing would consider prolific (one or two books a year) doesn’t scratch the surface. You need to publish at least once every 90 days if you’re going indie. Every 60 days is better.
  4. Write as well as possible, but remember it’s more about the story than the presentation between the covers.
  5. Except when it comes to a cover. You need a cover that A) fits your genre and B) is professionally designed.
  6. You also need a really good blurb and sample chapter, plus an understanding of Amazon key words and categories.
  7. Selling your book, in the first days, to readers who read your genre — so that Amazon can find other readers like them to market your book to.
  8. A slow build up of sales, instead of a fast burst of everyone you know, followed by a drop off. Amazon will interpret that burst as an anomaly (which it is.)

There’s more. Like formatting. And how to actually get your book on Amazon or any other platform. Whether or not you should let Amazon sell your book exclusively, or ‘go wide’ (which means putting your book on lots of platforms.) And . . . I can’t even. A lot of stuff.

Moving parts. There are a lot of them.

But those are the big eight. They’re a starting point, anyway. And they make sense.

I’m an utter newbie, still wiping the traditional publishing out of my eyes, who has been walking around with her brain cracked like an egg for the last weeks.

It’s been a long, long time since any part of writing felt new and exciting to me.

Here are some resources you can start with, so that your brain, too, can be cracked like an egg.

Some books: (The first one is a MUST if you’re going to wrap your head around that book-every-60-days thing.)

Some websites and podcasts:

Doing what I always do.

I’m going to implement all the exciting, sort of scary, overwhelmingly awesome stuff I’m learning.

That’s right. I’m going to dive into an experiment.

Bryan Harris would call this learning out loud, because I’m absolutely bringing you with me.

I have three books already written in a paranormal romance series. I went looking through my email, trying to figure out when I started working on it. Back when romance was my main genre. I found an email I sent to my long-time critique partner — in 2010.

So seven years.

If you asked, oh, two weeks ago, I’d have told you that I don’t write romance anymore. But I managed to write three full books over the last seven years. I love the world I’ve created. The love story.

It’s a good experiment. I only need an edit and a cover for each book. The heavy lifting is done. I can practice being prolific, because the work is already done. They fit squarely in a genre that has a lot of readers. And I love the stories enough to keep going if my experiment is successful.

So — first steps.

In case you want to play along. Maybe experiment yourself.

I’ve uploaded a book to Instafreebie, to start building an email list of people who enjoy reading paranormal romance. Keeper is actually the first novel I ever sold. The rights reverted to me a few months ago. So, perfect.

You can download it here. It’s free. It would help me out a lot — especially if you read paranormal romance regularly.

Next up: a read through of the first book. Then off to my assistant, Zach Payne, who happens to be an awesome editor. And I’m going to use 99Designs to commission a cover. I’ll make sure to report back on how all of the steps go.

I’m not sure about you. But for me? All of this is insanely complicated and full of moving parts I barely understand. I’m excited to dig in and figure it out. And I’m super excited, if I can make it work, to share the process with you.

If you enjoyed this story, give it some love with a heart. ❤❤❤

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Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes, is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and the original Ninja Writer.

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