Checklist for New Authors

Wyvern's Angel, book #9 of the Dragons of Incendium series of paranormal romances by Deborah CookeIndie Thursday is back! I’ve met a lot of authors lately who are starting out on their publishing adventure, so thought it would be a good idea to create a checklist (rather than saying the same things over and over again). This also works for new author brands.

This post looks like a wall of text, so I’ll pop in some of my book covers to brighten it up. 🙂

First, you need to make some choices.

Decide where you intend to publish your books and in what formats.
Most authors who are indie-published create digital editions of their books first. You can also create print-on-demand print editions – in mass market size, trade paperback or hardcover – and audiobooks. For each format, you’ll want to choose where to make your books available. There are two big options: exclusively at Amazon through Kindle Unlimited, or at all portals (commonly called “wide” distribution). There are marketing advantages to each choice, and what you decide will depend upon your genre, your preferences and what other authors in your genre tend to do. Following the established pattern will help you to find new audience. Some niches, for example, are very well-represented in KU, which means the readers are there. Because they are subscription readers, they are more inclined to try you as a new author if the book is available in KU. Here’s an article from another blog about KU and how it works, geared to consumers. There are other subscription services that don’t require exclusivity: Kobo has one called Kobo Plus, and there are subscription portals like Scribd that you can reach via aggregators.

Assess where your strongest market is likely to be.
For many new writers, this will be the American portal of Amazon (.com), but if you are in Canada, for example, like me, you might have strong sales in Canada. If you’re a Canadian writer and a new writer, you might not expect strong sales at Barnes & Noble/Nook which sells only in the US. If you’re a new writer, you might not expect strong print sales – unless you’re going to do a lot of booksigning events. If you write in German and live in Germany, you might expect strong sales at and Tolino. Every author has a unique footprint in the market and the better you understand yours, the better you can market to it. You’ll want to make decisions that ensure the availability of your titles to consumers in that territory so give this a think. At the very least, you can use it prioritize what you do first. Keep an eye on your sales as they come in and refine your idea of your strongest market, making changes to serve that market as necessary.

One Knight Enchanted, book #1 of the Sayerne series of medieval romances by Claire DelacroixDecide how you will get your books to each retail portal.
You can create accounts and publish directly to Amazon via Amazon KDP, Apple via iBooks Author, Kobo via Kobo Writing Life, Barnes & Noble via NookPress and (sometimes, when they’re allowing new accounts to be opened) to GooglePlay.

You can also use an aggregator, like Smashwords, Draft2Digital or PublishDrive, to deliver your ebooks to these portals. Most authors go direct as much as possible – it means more uploading but also more control and faster changes to pricing and meta-data. If you choose to use an aggregator, I’d strongly suggest that you upload directly to Amazon at the very least. Your target market may influence your choices here – again, for an author in Canada, it’s a very good idea to publish directly to Kobo. There is a promotions tab on the Kobo Writing Life dashboard and you can’t apply for these portal-specific promotions if your content is delivered to Kobo from an aggregator. In contrast, Apple will merchandise any books in their store, regardless of how they’re delivered. If you want to reach libraries, aggregators are an excellent choice. I keep life simpler by using one aggregator for all library feeds. All three of these aggregators let you cherry-pick which portals should receive your content from them, so you can ensure that your book has only one delivery path to each portal.

Be aware that if you change your method of distribution, you may lose consumer reviews at the portal. This is especially true at Apple – they consider an ebook coming via another delivery route to be another product and will not transfer reviews between products. The other portals will link editions, so that reviews are displayed for all editions, but sometimes you have to nudge them to do it. So, it’s a good idea to choose your distribution plan and stick with it.

For print editions, many indie authors choose print-on-demand options. Both Amazon and Nook offer POD options through their dashboard (for paperbacks and hard cover editions). These editions will be available only at that portal – and at Amazon, they may not be available at all geographic stores. Another option is Ingramspark, which offers wide distribution for print-on-demand titles. For those of you in Canada, Ingrams is an excellent way to get your POD titles distributed to Chapters-Indigo – they may not order your books to stock in their stores, but they will list them on their website for sale. (Ingramspark also offers ebook distribution as an aggregator, but I don’t know anyone who uses this service, mostly because it’s all-in: you can’t choose which portals receive your content and opt-out of those you wish to reach in another way.)

For audiobooks, you can use ACX to contract with narrators, produce audiobooks and distribute them to Amazon, Audible and Apple. You can also distribute audiobooks through Findaway Voices and Listen Up, among others. This niche is expanding right now and you can expect to see a lot more options appear. There are also subscription services for audio and you can opt in (or out) of them at the various aggregators. You can also use these aggregators to make your audiobooks available to libraries.

Decide how you will do business.
If you intend to incorporate, this is a good time to do it. If you do it later, you’ll have to open new accounts (since publisher accounts are keyed to the tax information) and transfer everything over. Set up your banking and your tax identification, too. If you are a sole proprietorship, you’ll use your personal identification for your taxes. It’s a good idea to have a bank account for your writing income, to keep it separate from your personal stuff. You may need a sales tax number in your jurisdiction, too. You might want to use a P.O. Box to keep your home address more private, and if you intend to do business under another name, you’ll need to register that, as well. Get it all sorted out in advance. If you’re going to use a pseudonym, check the availability of the most obvious domain name.

Going to the Chapel, a short story and #5 in the Flatiron Five series by Deborah CookeAnd now, we get to the checklist.
1. Open accounts at the portals selected above and fill in all the forms. Supply all the tax documents. Set up all the payment information. You only have to do all of this once.

2. Buy your domain name, get your website hosted, and start building it (or hire someone to build it). Remember that domain name registration is public and can be seached on sites like WhoIs, unless you buy the privacy option. You might want to use your P.O. Box as the address. As for your website, you may want to have a blog. You may want to have a store on your site. (Okay, there are more choices to be made here.) You can set all of this up before you have a book published, and start gathering followers and newsletter subscribers. A blog is a good way to generate interest while your book is on pre-order or before it’s available – you’ll see some suggestions for that below. If you’re going to have a store, you’ll want to compare options and decide how you’ll deliver your ebooks to customers. BookFunnel offers a number of integrations to do this.

3. Choose your social media, set up your accounts and brand them to match your website. You don’t have to use all social media, but should focus on the services most popular with your target audience, or the ones that you enjoy the most. (It shows when you have fun!) Put the links on your website for readers to follow you. Some obvious choices are Facebook (you’ll want to create a page for your author persona), Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. If you have audiobooks, you might want to have a Soundcloud account, where people can listen to samples. Some authors (esp those who do podcasts) have YouTube channels. I share my Ravelry link. Your website template may have widgets to display any or all of these in the footer or sidebar. If you have a blog, you can have your posts automatically be shared with your social media. One word to the wise, here – begin as you mean to continue. It’s really easy to over-extend yourself, but you need to defend your writing time. Start small instead of trying to do everything.

Serpent's Kiss, a paranormal romance and Dragonfire #10 by Deborah Cooke4. Sign up for a newsletter service, build your sign-up forms, and get them on your website. Popular options are Mailchimp, Mailerlite, Constant Contact, and Mad Mimi – among others. They all have pros and cons, and most have a free option. You’ll want to add a welcome email that goes out automatically to new subscribers, or even an onboarding sequence. You may want to offer some special content for signing up. One tip – build a template that you can use for each newsletter, with your social media links and other info. It’ll save you time. Also make sure that the branding is consistent (and appropriate) between your social media profiles, your website and your newsletter. Again, start as you mean to continue – don’t promise a weekly newsletter unless you think you have enough news to share weekly and enough time to create a weekly newsletter.

5. If you are going to use ISBN numbers, then purchase a block of them. If you are in Canada, you can get them free, once you open an account with the Canadian ISBN service. Ensure that the ISBN is in your book interior when it’s formatted.

6. Create affiliate accounts. Affiliate links pay you a teeny tiny bonus for directing a consumer to a portal’s website, if they make a purchase after following your link. You can open affiliate accounts at Amazon, at Apple, at Rakuten for Kobo and at B&N. (I think it’s run by Rakuten, too.) Again, your idea of the location of your target market will affect your choices here because affiliate codes are a bit of a pain. If you’re going to make three cents a month, you might not want to bother. Once you have an affiliate account, there will be instructions on modifying your buy links to include the affiliate. Smashwords gives you an affiliate code automatically – once you’ve published a book, log in to your SW account and scroll to the bottom of that book’s product page to find the affiliate link. Here’s Amazon’s affiliate program – if you apply for them, you’ll get a different code for each Amazon geographic store. You also can only use Amazon affiliate links on your website, not in newsletters or on social media, according to the Terms of Service. Here’s Apple’s affiliate program, run by Performance Horizon, which you can use anywhere, plus here’s Apple’s nifty linkmaker. It’s very handy for building links for any product in any territory. And here’s Rakuten’s Linkshare, which is the affiliate program at Kobo.

7. The book! Get your book edited professionally and commission a professional cover. Either buy Vellum to format your own books or hire a formatter. I love Vellum. You can use it for format ebooks and print books, and it makes it easy to update book files quickly. I did use a formatter for years, though, and I learned a lot from her. Either way, make sure your book interiors look good. You’ll also need to decide if you’re going to create generic ebook editions or tailor the end-matter to each retailer. Vellum will support the use of your affiliate codes in all links. There’s more on that below.

8. Upload your book at the portals of choice. Ensure that your metadata is consistent across all platforms. It’s a good idea for your pricing to be consistent, too. Each portal has its idiosyncrasies, but the uploading process is fairly easy. It will take 24 to 72 hours for your book to go “live” in the store if you upload directly, and may take longer if you use an aggregator. (Check their site FAQ’s for info on that.) You’ll want to add the buy links to your website for the book.

You can use your newsletter and social media to start building interest in your book. I don’t share covers until I have buy links, but you might choose to do otherwise. For a first book, I probably wouldn’t bother with a pre-order, but the sooner you can get your pre-order up for book #2, the better.

Abyss, #4 of the Prometheus Project of urban fantasy romances by Deborah CookeYou may notice that I use a service called Books2Read for links. This is because Amazon doesn’t re-direct buy links based on the geographic territory of the consumer. Apple, GooglePlay and Kobo all do, and Nook only sells content in the US. What does this mean? Amazon has a number of different geographic stores that exist as separate entities. for example, I live in Canada. I can look at the Amazon US store ( but it always suggests that I shop in their Canadian store ( because it detects the location of my ISP. The problem is that when I follow a link to a book in the US store, Amazon might just tell me that the book isn’t available to me, instead of re-directing me to that book’s product page in the CA store. This is happening more and more often for those of us who live outside the US. I can then search for the book in the CA store, but people don’t. They want to click to the book product page. (You also can change the url, since the book will have the same ASIN in all Amazon stores – just change the om in to an a to get the link.) Books2Read is a free service from Draft2Digital, which allows you to create a product page for your book that includes all of the buy links, including those to smaller portals. This is important for readers outside of the US. Even better, when the reader clicks the Amazon link, Books2Read will send them to the product page for that book in their geographic Amazon store. The other really nifty thing is that Books2Read supports affiliate codes – so instead of having numerous Amazon links on every landing page of my website, I can put the .com link there with its affiliate code, and let the other geographic affiliate codes work through B2R. Ha.

9. Register your copyright on or before the on-sale date of your book. (It costs more if you pre-register it.) Some authors don’t register copyright, but it gives you defense in any instance of plagiarism. You should register your copyright in either the nation of first publication or the nation in which you reside. Here’s the website of the Library of Congress for US copyright registration.

10. Once you have one book uploaded and published, you can add some additional links to your website and your books. (Remember your affiliate links.) Claim your author profile at Author Central, in order to customize your author page at Amazon. You can include an RSS feed from your blog on your author page. Readers can follow you on Amazon and Amazon should send them a notification of any new releases from you. And yes, Amazon supports author profiles in other territories (FR, DE, UK, Japan) so if you expect to have a strong audience in Germany, for example, you’ll want to claim your author profile on the DE Author Central. (Other geographic stores will display some information from your US Author Central page.) You’ll also want to claim your author profile on GoodReadsAmazon now feeds book information to GR directly, so your book should be there – and you can add the RSS feed for your blog to that page, too. Claim your profile on BookBub, too. This is a different account than one you might hold as a reader – it’s called BookBub Partners. You can customize your author profile to some extent and check that your books are listed. BookBub will send a new release notification to your followers. Add all these links to your website. If you click on your name in the Apple Bookstore, you’ll also discover the link for your author page there.

11. Alternative editions of your book (audio, paperback, hardcover) should automatically link with the ebook edition and share reviews at all portals. When you’re starting out, though, you might need to give the portals a nudge. There are no print editions at GooglePlay or Apple, and the Kobo ebook will be linked with the print edition at Chapters-Indigo. (From Chapters-Indigo, you can see both, but you’ll only see the ebook on Kobo.) If they don’t link up at Amazon within 72 hours of publication, check that the metadata is identical on both. If it is, send a message to KDP Support requesting that the editions be linked. They’re pretty quick. At any portal, if your books aren’t linking up correctly, contact Support.

One Hot Summer Night, #3 of the Secret Heart Ink series of contemporary romances by Deborah Cooke12. When you publish a second book in a series, you’ll want a series page so that readers can find the next book in the series. This is separate from your author page. At Kobo and GooglePlay, this happens automatically if the metadata is identical. (The series name has to be spelled exactly the same.) NookPress has a series manager on their dashboard, as does Smashwords. At Apple, you have to request a series page if you upload directly. If you deliver via an aggregator, it should happen automatically. Once the page is created at Apple, subsequent books should be added automatically – again, if the metadata is identical. At Amazon, you have to request a series page. Sometimes new titles are added automatically within 72 hours of publication and sometimes you have to ask. You can share the series link on your website etc. – just copy it from the navigation bar on your browser – but remember that Amazon will change the url with every book added to the series. (Yes. Really.) Also, series numbering at all portals has to be in whole numbers. Although it’s intuitive (at least to me) to use a decimal for a short story or novella that appears between two full-length books, series pages will only accept whole numbers and the lowest possible number is 1. Remember also to go into Author Central and claim each new book you publish so it appears on your Amazon author page. You’ll want to double-check that your new book appeared on your BookBub profile, too.

13. Update your end-matter in your ebooks regularly. Most authors start out updating it with every new release, but as your list grows, you might come up with an alternate plan. You should have a newsletter sign-up in your ebook interior, as well as links to find you online. Each portal allows “neutral” links – your website url, for example – but will reject a book file with buy links for other portals. One of the nifty things about Vellum is that it allows you to build versions of your ebook that are customized for each portal. The Apple edition, then, has Apple buy links and Apple is good with that. You have to be uploading directly to use these versions, though – if you’re using an aggregator, you’ll probably want to upload a generic ePUB edition, which points back to the landing page on your website rather than product pages at retailers. The same is true of library editions. When you publish a new book, you’ll want to go back to your first book and update the file so that there are handy buy links for that second book, especially if the books are in a series.

Phew! That’s a good start for setting up your online presence as an indie author.

You can find this post again by either bookmarking it or by following the hotlink on the Author Resources page.

©2019 Deborah A. Cooke

Tracking Word Count

I’ll be doing my Thursday posts about writing and publishing again, although they’ll be less about changes at the portals now and more about resources and strategies for indie authors. They’ll now be tagged Author Resources instead of Wild West Thursday. We’re in the midst of a fabulous time for writers, filled with both opportunity and challenge. I find it exciting, but sometimes overwhelming, too. So, on Thursdays, we’ll talk a bit more about that.

There’s a new tab on the menu bar called Author Resources. I’ve added two tutorials there, as of now: one explains how to create an Excel spreadsheet for tracking book sales by month, year, etc., and the other explains how to create an Excel spreadsheet to track the results of a shorter promotion. Of course, there are other ways to track both of these items: I’m just sharing my method (mostly because writers in my local group asked me to do so.) You need Excel or another spreadsheet program to set up either or both, and a little bit of time.

Of course, there are more things to track, and one of them is daily word count. How long does it take you to write a book? This is a particularly important piece of information to have when planning a publication schedule. I’m in the middle of planning the next few years of work, since I’m finishing up a lot of series.

Earlier this year, I recognized that my idea of how quickly I write was formed when I was writing for traditional publishers, which meant I didn’t have all the extra jobs of being my own publisher, too. These days, I can spend an entire week updating files or metadata or websites – especially when republishing a backlist series – and not write one word of new content. That happened with the republication of the eight Dragonfire novels and the three Dragon Diaries books. Even on a daily basis, there are publishing crises to solve and jobs to get done, all tasks that distract from the business of creating new stories.

It was clear that I needed to recalibrate my expectations. How fast do I write, in this new situation?

The easiest way to do this is to – surprise! – keep track of daily word count in a spreadsheet, then total the word count of the month. Since there will be variations over time – as I attend conferences or have other obligations outside my office – it’s best to track over a number of months, then average out the results to get a more accurate picture of what’s happening.

I started to keep track in the middle of May, and am pretty tough about counting only net word gain. If I chuck 4K words and write 5K, my count for the day is only 1K.

My results look like this:
May – 37,000 (a half-month)
June – 33,000
July – 43,000
August – 40,000
September – 37,000

That gives me an average word count per month of 38,000 words, and I’ll use that as a working number, even though May was only a half-month. I used to write closer 50,000 words a month – plus I spent a lot less time in my office – so that’s a big difference.

There are two things that shake out of having this number. Let’s talk about the first one today.

1. Now, that I have a number and it looks pretty consistent, I can use it to plan my production and publishing schedule for the year(s) ahead. 38K words a month is about 450K words per year. That’s five 90K novels or nine 50K novels – or eighteen 25K novellas. You get the idea. I can look at my book plan and decide how many titles I can realistically write per year.

I also can balance out my content. I know, for example, that you all prefer my longer books. I know this because they sell better and have better reviews. And the truth is that I’d rather write a short story of 5K to 10K or a book at 90K to 100K, and not mess with the lengths in between. This market is skewed to more frequent publication, so there’s a balance to be struck. If I write five 90K novels and nothing else, will I lose visibility (especially if they’re divided between author brands)? How can I do a fast-release launch of a new series with this productivity level? I’ll have to stockpile books until I have a few completed. Hmm. Can I balance long and short stories in the same fictional world?

Should I write in fewer fictional worlds? This is the inevitable question, but I like writing all the things. I think it keeps me fresh creatively to move between sub-genres, so you can see that there are other considerations as well as raw word count. Planning a publication schedule is not for the faint of heart, but when you know how quickly you write, it’s a lot easier to make a plan you can keep.

The other obvious thing to talk about is how to improve current productivity. I’m going to save that for a separate post, since this one is pretty long already. Next week, I’m going to tell you about an exciting book I’ve just read, so we’ll talk about improving word count in two weeks. Happy writing!

Five More Changes for Better SEO

Last week, I shared some comparatively easy tweaks for authors to make to a website to improve its SEO. The list resulted from my attending a workshop on SEO and Analytics taught by Liz Gray. Today, we’ll dig a little deeper and review some questions that might require a little more thought to answer. You really could spend months on this, and we all need to write, too. The good thing is that you can make changes incrementally, and take revisions on in gradual steps.

6. Are You Showing Search Engines What You Think You Are?
This point made me smile. It’s similar to writing a book—the scene can be so vivid in your mind as you’re writing, then an editor or beta reader “sees” something different. We don’t always say what we mean, with words, or with websites.

Since search engine spiders review the text and walk the links of your website, my big take-away from this part of the presentation was the hazard of burying important information in a graphic. You and I, for example, look at my header here on the site and see the slogan “Romance with a Touch of Magic”. That string of text, however, doesn’t exist anywhere in the copy or code of my site. Nowhere. Which means it isn’t returned to any search engine, and won’t come up in any results. If that slogan was important to me or my branding, I’d have to have a look at changing it. As it is, the header is being redesigned this spring and that slogan is on its way out, since I’m writing fewer books with paranormal elements. If there’s a new slogan, I’ll need to implement it differently on the site. I have another example, but we’ll get to that further on, with its solution.

7. Speak Like Your Customers
I mentioned this last week. Keywords exist in your niche already, so don’t invent new ones. Use the ones that search engines use, and use the ones that your readers use. This means using these words in the visible copy on the site, and in the more hidden data, like alternate text for images.

Here’s an example from my site and my store. I changed this:

Free Downloads and Swag available at Deborah's online store.

to this:

Free Reads

Because one of the search terms that brings readers to my website is “free read” or “read free”. Simple, really, but it makes sense.

8. Build Your Authority
Liz described how search engines like to provide answers to people, and that they skew preference to sites that provide answers. How they manage this is less important to this discussion than the notion itself. This is a trend I’ve noticed over the past few years. WordPress provides a list of search terms that brought people to the website on the dashboard, and I’ve seen that questions are increasingly common – and that they’re getting longer. That might be because the internet has so much data – instead of typing “Deborah Cooke author” into a search engine, I’ve seen “reading order of Dragonfire novels” and even longer questions bring readers to my site.

We as writers are the best authority on at least one subject – our own books. Let’s look at that search query “reading order Dragonfire novels”. To my great relief, the first result returned by Google on that query is my Dragonfire page here on the site. I’m glad to be considered the authority on the reading order of my own books! But I thought I’d augment that a bit. I *could* have added the graphic from the back of the Firestorm Forever postcard or made a similar banner, but that would have been burying the information in an image. Here’s that postcard:

Dragonfire by Deborah Cooke

Again, you and I can see the order of the books there, but a search engine spider is only going to get the name of the jpeg and alt text, which won’t help at all.

Here’s what I did instead. First, I added a bit of text to the Dragonfire page – the sentence in bold is new:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.30.10 AM Secondly, instead of just showing the covers in order on the Dragonfire page, I added the title of each and a number. That’s hotlinked to the detail page for that book, just as the cover is.

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.37.44 AM

Finally, I added some FAQ pages to my site, and put the link to them on that menu bar. Here’s the first question on the Dragonfire FAQ page:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.31.58 AM

It’s going to take some time for this to populate search engines, as it needs to gather some hits and be walked by the spiders.

My new FAQ pages are a work-in-progress. Each time a new question pops up on the dashboard, I add it to the FAQ.

9. Above the Fold
When a visitor arrives at your website, what do they see without scrolling? That’s called “above the fold” and it should be what’s most important about your site. Liz noted that the prime real estate on any site is above the fold on the index page. This is one of those things that makes perfect sense, once you think about it.

It’s also tricky because what they’ll see will also depend on the device they use. On my laptop, my site looks like this above the fold:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.40.22 AM

(The little tool thingy at the bottom right is a WordPress gadget, because I was logged into the site when I took the screenshot.)

On my phone, it looks more like this:
Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 8.42.44 AMOne of the issues that my site shares with many other author sites is the volume of information. The more books an author has published, the more data there will be on his or her website. In the romance genre, readers love supplementary materials, like family trees and character interviews. I don’t even have that many of those on my site, but it has over 140 pages. (I could easily add another 70 or so by putting the excerpts on their own pages, which I might do.) So, I like that the menu bar appears above the fold on either phone or laptop, as that gives the reader a way to navigate around the site. I had put a lot of stuff in the sidebar, which gets buried when the visitor is using a phone (as we discussed last week) so I think I need to create some more menu tabs. I also have to remember to have my current book in the top slot on the right menu bar, so it appears above the fold on laptops and larger devices. Should I add a “Just Released” tab to the menu bar? Maybe.

I’m also thinking about how to simplify the design of my site in future. I think that the core site needs to be a full reference and will remain as a kind of hub, but have bought more domain names for individual series. If and when I republish Dragonfire, for example, it will have its own website, which will allow me to focus on just those books on that site. That will simplify the layout of that site.

10. What Do You Want A Visitor to Do?
It also makes perfect sense to use your best real estate to promote your most important goal. What do you want visitors to do? Is the way to do that in above the fold on the index page?

This requires some rethinking for me. I don’t have a static index page, so the most recent blog post appears below my site’s header. Should I make the About Deborah page into a static landing page, so all the social media links are visible? That would be the right answer if I wanted to encourage people to follow me on social media. Should I make the page for my current release into a static landing page, and update the landing page as necessary? If I want to encourage visitors to buy my books (or at least my latest one) that might be the best choice. Or does it make sense to leave the blog as the landing page, so the site looks renewed every day and the blog posts have greater visibility. I have to think about this and will probably play around with the various options in the next few months.

On the individual book pages, the cover shows above the fold, and the cover copy (or part of it, if on mobile) but the buy links are below the fold. I’m going to put the buy links at the top of each book page as well as at the bottom after the excerpt.

As you can see, it’s easy to end up with a big To Do list when you start to think more about the design of your website and what it encourages visitors to do. Thanks very much to Liz Gray for a very informative and interesting workshop. I have a lot of fiddling to do, and hope that this review is helpful to some of you as well.

What I Miss About Traditional Publishing

Although I am now an indie author, I was traditionally published—i.e. published by big publishing houses based in New York City—for twenty years. It was almost exactly the twentieth anniversary of my first sale when I stepped away from traditional publishing. I sold my first book to a publisher in April 1992, and declined the offer from my last publisher in March 2012.

In the last five years, I’ve repackaged and republished a lot of backlist titles (because the rights have reverted to me from the original publishers) and also have published a good bit of new work myself. The last three books in the Dragonfire series were indie-published, as was the True Love Brides series of medieval romances, as was Tupperman’s story, Abyss. Indie publishing gave me the opportunity to finish series that wouldn’t have been possible in traditional publishing. Five years ago, I thought that would be my main use of indie publishing, but now I’m launching new series. It’s wonderful to begin fresh, and to have the freedom to play with some story elements, too. The Crusader’s Bride, first in my new medieval romance series, is a completely new project with a series structure I’ve wanted to explore for a while. I have two more series in work, also with an unusual structure, and am loving the creative adventure. I’m pretty sure that none of these series could have been placed with a traditional publisher with favorable terms. Indie publishing has helped me to rediscover the joy of writing and storytelling.

That said, there are things I miss about traditional publishing.

1/ Conversation
Most of the people I worked with in publishing were very clever and well-educated. They were interesting, whether talking about books or not. Although going to New York to meet with industry partners could be stressful, it was also often fascinating. I particularly miss talking to my agent, who had seen much and understood more. His insight was invaluable. I also miss the great gossipy chats I would have with some editors when we met in person, catching up on who was doing what and all the news in the tiny pond of romance publishing.

2/ Expertise
There are things that big publishing houses do well, and which they continue to do best. The multi-national release of a blockbuster book, for example, requires skill and timing, as well as a kind of synchronization that is pretty much impossible for indie authors to manage alone. Very few authors write international blockbuster hits, so this doesn’t have much to do with most of us.

One of the things even the newest debut author sees with a big publishing house, though, is their collection and analysis of data. Having a large cache of sales information in a particular market niche gives big publishers the opportunity to discern patterns, even in sub-genre niches, to compare packages and tropes and author voices to try to identify what contributes to success. They can shape what they buy based on what they know they can sell, and they usually can articulate this very well. Like all powers, this one can be used badly—an editor can either build upon a given book’s strengths to make it appeal more strongly to the market without changing its essence, or an editor can insist that everything he or she acquires for publication fits a specific template, whether or not that destroys the work (or the author.) In recent years, the latter perspective seems to have become dominant.

So, I miss the consultations and the expertise the way it was offered fifteen or twenty years ago. This is because I have too many ideas. I truly think of several story ideas per day. It’s just not possible for me to write them all. Even if I could write a book in a month (and I can’t) and do it every month, there’d be at least (365-12) 350 ideas per year abandoned beneath my desk to die. I love all of my ideas, and I could make them all into good books. Choosing which is the most marketable or the most likely to succeed is a skill I don’t have, because I’m not sufficiently objective about my own work when it’s in sharp focus. In five years, I could choose, but it would be irrelevant by then. Another variable to consider: sometimes the book an author has to write isn’t the one that will propel his or her career forward, but will build his or her writing skills instead. It’s good, though, to make an informed choice. I miss being able to tap into that wealth of expertise in order to make the best decision.

3/ The Production Cycle
The production cycle for a book in traditional publishing was at least partly driven by the steps necessary to print a physical book and distribute it. It tended to be about a year, from the final delivery of the book manuscript to its on-sale date. Of course, things have been stepped up (in some cases, at some houses) for digital publications to get to market sooner, but still, I miss the steady incremental progress of a book through the production cycle. Each book would come back to me at least three times for review, which gave plenty of opportunity to ferret out inconsistencies and typos. I would know a year in advance, if not more, what my publication schedule would be. That seems so leisurely to me now, like something from another universe.

In a way, it is. The current market demands that authors and publishers be more nimble, because trends come and go very quickly. I’ve used the past tense in the paragraph above, because I’m not sure that even traditional print houses work at this pace anymore. There’s still a big difference in indie, though. Indie authors often finish and edit a book, then publish it immediately.

There must be a happy middle ground between tomorrow and a year from tomorrow. I follow many of the steps I learned in traditional publishing, but they tend to be done more quickly. I’ve yet to entirely catch up. One of the reasons I’m on a big writing push this summer is to get ahead of the curve a bit, and stockpile some projects for publication in 2016. I’d like to be less rushed in the last month before publication and to be able to sit back, all ready for release day. I’d like to be able to let a story simmer for a while, sit untended while I review its logic.

I also would like to maintain good relationships with my current partners. One of the things that happens in traditional publishing is that authors who manage to perform a miracle and pull something together in a ridiculously tight time frame tend to be rewarded by being expected to perform miracles again. And again and again. It’s not pleasant to be taken for granted, or to know that your partner will always demand too much. I want to be kind to my partners and build even more time into my production cycle.

4/ Print Distribution
I have a considerable readership who likes print books. I like them, too, both as a reader and as an author. Print distribution gives a book visibility in the world beyond online sales portals. That visibility drives sales, by encouraging impulse buys and prompting memory. Granted, print distribution from traditional publishers is more difficult to gain than it once was, but it’s even harder to get physical distribution for an indie-published book.

Because most indie print books are print on demand, there’s no big print run of copies. You don’t need that when you don’t have print distribution: orders can be filled one at a time. But another issue for me is the look of the book itself. POD products are better than they used to be, but I miss the special finishes (like foil stamping or tinted varnish, rag edged pages, step-backs, printing on the interior of the cover, etc. etc.) that are only possible for traditionally printed books, produced in quantity.

I miss my ‘shiny’. I’ll keep looking for it.

5/ What’s Done Is Done
In traditional publishing, once a book is in page proofs (two or three months before the release date) it’s essentially done. It’s hard to make changes at that point, because it’s expensive to update typesetting and reburn printing plates. From that point, the book will be as it is. There won’t be revisions, even if a typo is found. There won’t be updates to the front and end matter. There won’t be a new cover, even if the first one doesn’t appeal to consumers. The cover copy won’t be revised. The book is made the best it can be at that point in time, then left to sink or swim. The machinery of publishing moves on to the next project. The author has already moved on to the next project. Only when there’s a new edition of a book some years later will any updates and revisions happen. Most books don’t go into second editions.

Of course, much of this derives from print publishing and the realities (and cost) of making changes to an existing physical book. Some of it also comes from big publishing companies needing to manage their lists and continue to move forward. Indie authors, in contrast, tend to update their book files (both digital and POD) much more aggressively, as well as their metadata. In essence, the entire list of an indie author can be always in transition. Front and back matter can be updated, typos can be corrected, scenes can be added, covers can be changed and links can be updated. The book is a fluid canvas and one that can always be revised. In a way, this is exciting. In another, it’s exhausting. As an author’s book list grows longer, the obligation of doing this upkeep can become quite burdensome.

I miss the finality of a traditionally published book’s publication date, and the ability to move forward instead of constantly revisiting the past. My formatter and I do an annual update of front and end matter in my digital books, although I don’t do the same with my POD book files. They are snapshots in time, like my traditionally published books. This annual update is becoming quite an exercise, given the amount of content I manage, so I might make it a biannual revision after 2015. We’ll see.

6/ Someone To Say ‘No’
This is the big one. It’s counter-intuitive to most indie authors, and even to many authors who come from traditional publishing. One of the things I love about indie publishing is the freedom. It’s very liberating to not have anyone to shoot down your ideas, to be able to play with different formats of stories or different genres, to take a chance on an idea and see how it flies. That power restores our ability to take a chance on an idea that just won’t let go of our imagination.

But who will tell an indie author if he or she has it totally wrong? As tedious as it can be to build consensus, there is merit in listening to other voices. Where will I find that voice? Everyone I consult in this market is being paid by me. I’m the client of my freelance editor, which reverses the balance of power between us. Just as in the traditional publishing market, I couldn’t tell my editor that I wouldn’t make change X to my book (or do it by Y date), my editor now can’t tell me to make change X. A freelance editor might believe she can’t tell a client indie author things that author won’t want to hear.

Power is held by the one who pays. We salute the ability of indie authors to write what they want, how they want, and publish it as they want, but the marketing of books is complicated. There are stories that can be improved—not changed into something else, but edited into better versions of themselves. There are covers that don’t appeal to the right consumer. There are stories that don’t build on the author’s established brand, and might even compromise it. The diversification of an author brand, the building of its audience, the management of the graphical branding are all careful balancing acts. It’s better to be able to consult with other experts before leaping forward with a choice.

So, I miss the voice of dissent, as funny as it sounds. I think we learn more from criticism. We might not make change X, but having someone point out a weakness can lead to a buttressing of that issue. The book can become stronger as a result of the exchange. It’s hard to see the merit and flaws of your own work, especially when moving from creation to publication really quickly, because we’re not objective about our own creations. Indie authors take on many responsibilities of their publishing career, many designing their own covers or writing their own copy among other tasks, which brings more under the umbrella of what might not be seen objectively. This is compounded by the fact that many indie authors have built communities of affirmation around themselves, so even when they ask for feedback, they might get only resounding approval—regardless of whether they’re right.

There’s a balance to be struck. I don’t for a moment imagine that if I returned to traditional publishing, I’d find all of these things again. Publishing has changed and what I miss are older industry patterns. I’d need a time machine to go back to 1998 or so to have these conversations again, and that isn’t possible.

At the same time, indie publishing isn’t perfect either. As the market matures and we all find our rhythm, the missing pieces become more clear. My freelance editor and I have had some great discussions this summer, for example. Because we have similar industry credentials and experience, we both understand the power of that dissenting voice in making books better. I’m still looking for my shiny, although shortly after writing this, a new means of print distribution for indie authors was announced. I’m learning more. The market is changing and evolving, and I’m optimistic that we’ll find a new balance. Traditional publishing demands too much sacrifice for what they might offer, so that’s not the right choice for me right now. The advantages of indie-publishing outweigh what’s lacking, at least for me at this point in my career. Things are changing, though, and I’m curious to see what the right choice will be—for me and other authors—five years from now.

What about you? Are there things you miss about the way your favorite authors were once published? Are there things you prefer about this current market?