What Makes a Successful Indie Author?

When you decide to self-publish a book, you are in control. Your creative vision shapes the book. You get to choose the cover design, set the price, and decide where to sell it. But like the old adage says, with power comes responsibility. Becoming a successful indie author takes discipline, patience, and wisdom.

As founder of the indie publishing site Indies Unlimited and the author of ten books himself, Stephen Hise has seen it all. We asked him to weigh in on what it really takes to make it as a self-publisher. Here, in Stephen’s acerbic, no-nonsense style, is some tough love.

So you wrote a book. Thanks to technology, all you have to do now is choose a publishing platform and hit the publish button. In a few months, you’ll be rolling around on a big pile of cash, right? Wake up, Skippy. That’s not how it happens. This is a tough business. Not everyone has what it takes to survive and thrive in the rough-and-tumble world of the indie author.

Writing a book is just the beginning. Before you hang your tender hopes on the indie meat hook, you will need to do a little honest self-assessment. Explore your own character and temperament. Make sure you know your real motivations. Of course, you have to plot all that against the landscape of reality. That’s always tough when you don’t know what the reality is. Here are seven signs that being a successful self-published author might not be the best path for you:

1. You need money and you need it fast

Unless your idea of “a lot of money” is dozens of dollars, and your idea of “fast” is anything less than a decade, you need another plan. Self-publishing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Yes, some indie authors  have made it to the big time, but that did not happen overnight. Some are even able to support themselves with their writing, but they generally have many titles, each contributing just a little to their overall income.

This takes time. If you need money fast, you should consider being a contestant on one of those game shows where people fish around in an aquarium full of razor blades for the keys to a new car or something. Or play the lottery.

2. You crumble in the face of criticism

If you locked yourself in your room for three days because someone hesitated after you asked them if a dress made you look fat, you probably won’t fare well as a self-published author.

When you’ve poured your heart out in several hundred painstakingly crafted pages, it can be tough to hear someone say your book sucks. Be ready for that. It will happen. It happens to all of us. Every bestselling book ever written and every gold standard of literature has detractors.

Reviews can be brutal. You have to be able to take it with some clinical detachment and objectivity. The best medicine can be bitter, but you have to be willing to open yourself up to the possibility that a criticism can be both harsh and fair. There is also criticism that is neither fair nor constructive. Because, you know, some people are just jerks. Walk it off and get back to work.

3. You have anger control issues

Using social media is pretty important for self-published authors. Not only does it allow us to reach new readers, but we can also network with each other, share information, ask questions, or provide assistance to other indie authors. Unfortunately, the instantaneous nature of digital communication can be a pitfall for people with poor impulse control. You don’t have to hang around in any online group for long before you see someone totally flame out over next to nothing. It can get gruesome.

I have seen authors blow up at reviewers, blog commenters, group moderators, editors, beta readers, and Jeff Bezos, or melt down about cats vs. dogs, sex, religion, and politics. Not cool.

If you can’t control yourself, you will put people off. Other authors won’t engage you, readers will not read your books, and reviewers won’t touch you with a ten-foot pole. If you’re really angry and want to share that with the world, consider a career as a talk show host or possibly a tennis pro.

4. You tend to be gullible

There are some people out there who are just so sweet and innocent, they think every stranger is just a friend they haven’t met yet. I look at these people with a kind of wonder—I wonder how they survived so long.

The indie author plains are stalked by predators just waiting for pie-eyed newbies to wander off from the herd. Nobody knows what to expect in the beginning, so learn—find a group, do some research, ask around. You do NOT sign the first contract some guy who is a publisher/watch salesman waves under your nose just because he seems trustworthy. If you aren’t vigilant, you could find your bank account plundered, your rights tangled up with tricky contract language, and your book priced out of the market.

Do your homework. You don’t have to become jaded and bitter, but you do have to be a little wary. If you can’t do that, well, you can say goodbye to your money and your book and film rights.

5. You are a technophobe

Are you using the CD drive on your kid’s computer as a cup holder? When people use the term “USB port,” do you assume they are in the navy? Do you have trouble keeping SpaceBook and MyFace straight? If you have pounded out your 600-page double-spaced manuscript on your old Royal typewriter and are now puzzled as to how you upload that into this “internet” thingy everyone is talking about, you may not make it as an indie author.

The indie revolution is predominantly a digital revolution. Even print books are formatted and sold digitally. You can learn all this stuff, but it is important to realize that technology is changing rapidly. You can’t just master Windows 95 and then quit.

6. You are big on excuses

Indie-land is a no-excuse zone. Don’t put out some typo-riddled book with a cheesy, amateurish cover and expect people to overlook its flaws just because you’re an indie. Help is out there. You can hire it or you can learn some new skills. You can even find folks who will help you get it right, or trade their services for something you do well.

7. You are impatient

If you are impatient, you probably skipped the rest of the article to get right to this part, so I won’t waste anymore of your time: Don’t go indie if you don’t have the patience. This route is not for impatient people. Even in the speed-of-light digital age, it takes time to build a following and craft a brand. There are no steps you can skip, so settle in. This will take a while.


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