It Ain't Easy Being Indie

I am a storyteller. I want to tell stories. Primarily, I want to write books.

The internet revolution led to the self publishing revolution and now there are millions of indie authors out there. This just shows that we are all storytellers.

But we all are not entrepreneurs. The pure act of being a storyteller is easy. Just tell your stories and be done with it. You don't need much more than a blog. Write your stories and share them with as many people as you can. Publish novels and give them away for free on your blog. Keep doing it for the love of storytelling and nothing else. Of course, you'll have to find a day job to support yourself and your family. At best, you'll be a hobbyist.

But it's not easy to be a storyteller and not want to be successful or famous. Among all the success stories that we worship in this age, there are many stories of authors who wrote a book that took them from poverty to riches and from unknown strangers to celebrities. Among the millions of indie authors that exist on planet earth, at least 95% have the dream of becoming a successful author one day.

There's nothing wrong with this desire but it's not very much of a business strategy; keep producing better and better products until one of them goes big and pays for everything. It doesn't work in the real world.

There's another way of becoming a successful indie author in today's world. That is to write your books and sell them and earn just about enough to get by. This too is a hard and worthy goal to have. Among the 95% that dream of becoming successful, most won't even become self sustaining.

I want to be a successful self sustaining author. Which means I want to at least earn just enough to get by. It would be great if I could do this without freelancing my services and just do it through book sales and reader support. And maybe advertising and merchandising.

It is important to be clear in your head about what type of author you want to be. What path are you going to choose? Are you going to pitch your novel to traditional publishers? Indie publishers? Or self publish? What type of books you want to write? Do you want to write one novel in the next 10 years or 4 novels every year? Do you want to earn money through your writing? What percentage of your monthly income do you want to come from writing?

Once these questions are answered, the path ahead becomes clearer. The ideal path that most indie authors want to walk is to self publish their novels and sell enough copies to be picked up by one of the big five traditional publishers with a long contract. But this is also the hardest path to walk.

It's not easy to self publish good quality books. You need to invest money to create good quality content. The quality of writing is just the starting point. Without a professional editor it will never be as good as the best in the world. You also need cover designers and book designers. You need money to pay for the sundry other expenses such as buying ISBN numbers. And maybe have some money left over to spend on marketing.

After spending all this money, it will be hard just to break even. With millions of other indie authors also publishing their books, it will be a miracle if your book gets picked up by readers on pure luck. It's like looking for a needle in a haystack of needles. Most people will just read what comes in front of them. It is your job as an indie authorpreneur to get the books in front of as many people as possible.

To do this you will need what they call a "platform"; a blog that has a good readership. And social networks with a large enough reach. Now, suddenly, you don't just have to worry about writing good books and self publishing good quality products but also building a platform. You need to create more content for your blog and social networks. Like everything else you create, it has to be top quality but that's not enough in itself. There are even more bloggers out there than there are indie authors. Now there are two needle haystacks and you have to get people to find one needle in one haystack in order to find the other one in the other haystack.

Not only do you need money for publishing books, but you also need money to do something we indie authors like to call, "feeding ourselves". And this seemingly unnecessary expense can't wait till our first breakthrough novel, 5 years from now. It's an ongoing expense. You can get a traditional job for that but that makes it even harder to succeed because now you have to write your books and get them self published and build your platform, all in the little bit of time left after working at your day job.

It's like trying to win a war but spending most of your time and energy on knitting sweaters. Oh no doubt war is your passion and you'd like to win it, but you are getting massacred because you have to spend most of your time knitting sweaters.

If you have something called a "family", it becomes even harder. I've heard that families expect to be fed and loved and spent time with doing silly things like watching movies.

Seriously, it ain't easy being indie.

I think for most people the best path is still the same old one. Write a novel. Then rewrite it. Then rewrite the rewrite. Repeat till you have a brilliant novel. (This will take about 5 years.) Then start pitching it to publishers and editors and agents and brace yourself as these people reject years and years of your hard work. Persist like a stubborn fungal infection till you are picked up by one of the publishers. (This will take another 5.) Have your book published. (About 1 to 2 years.) Then face the indignation of critics calling it names and the audience choosing other crappy novels over yours just because they have been turned into movies. Earn a little bit of money but not enough to quit your day job. Keep writing your next novel and as you get closer to death, find some peace in the thought that maybe your novel will become a classic after you die.

This is still the "easier" path. But if you want to choose the other path then do the following:

  1. Start blogging. Even before you start writing your novel. Your blog will be the most important thing in your life.
  2. Start connecting with people on social networks. That means going beyond just your high school friends. In fact, don't expect your friends and family to be of any help. If all your followers are friends and family then you have 0 followers.
  3. Aim to produce 3 to 6 novels every year. I didn't say write, I said produce. Which means writing the first draft, throwing it away, writing the second draft, editing it, writing the third draft, getting it edited by a professional, writing your final draft, getting it proofread by a professional, getting a cover designed, getting your book formatted for different formats, publishing it on all of the different sites, getting some advertising going, maybe create a book trailer, doing giveaways and virtual book tours and guest blogging, putting out a press release, getting people to write reviews, dealing with bad reviews, learning from good reviews and then repeat for the next book.
  4. Get a divorce and send your children to boarding schools.
  5. When you are not writing novels, and blog posts, and sharing on social media, and working on your day job, and doing other things normal human beings do, spend all your remaining time, all 5 minutes of it, on reading books. No reading, no writer.
  6. Stop eating more than you need to survive.
  7. Stop sleeping unless you faint.
  8. Do this for at least 5 years.

5 years later you'll be a successful indie author. Or in other words you'll be just about getting by. But it will be only on your writing! You might also have stress related disorders but who cares, right?

Then it's just a matter of persisting long enough till one of your books becomes a bestseller and you become a household name, you know, in those houses who have read your books.

A few more years later and maybe a traditional publishing deal or a movie deal later, you will be a successful author. And if at that time someone points out that you are not a particularly nice human being, then tell them to go to hell so they could see what you've been through to get here.

Disclaimer: This is all presumptuous on my part based on what I've researched about self publishing and indie authoring. I'm still trying to get good enough at my chosen day job, "freelance writing", after which I'll be on the indie author path. By the way, choosing freelancing as a day job is the stupidest thing you can do, but more about that later.

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