Indie Publishing Must-Haves, Part I: Writing

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I’ve done it. After seven years of writing, researching, editing, researching, querying, researching, (I think you get the point), I’ve finally published my first novel, Hiding Haelo. Which you can find here.

When I decided to give the book I’d written a real chance, I knew I wasn’t going to give it halfway effort. If you want to throw a book together, upload the text to KDP, and then blast about it on your Facebook account, go ahead. You’ve got all the advice you need.

If you want to be a professional indie author/publisher (meaning you present your work with the same – or higher – level of professionalism and attention to detail as any traditional publisher would), then read on. This is the series I wish I would have read at the beginning of this journey. Take my advice from seven years of trudgery and do with it what you will.

Part I: Writing Must-Haves

Okay, Part I must-haves are a few paragraphs down. But first, and take note because this is very important. . . .

Some say that to plan, or to cater your book to an audience/platform/niche takes away the creative realism. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that advice is 87% crap. It’s true, the more authentic and from the heart your work is, the more your readers will sense that. However. You’re reading this article because you’re an aspiring indie author. Which means certain aspects of the publishing world are a whole lot harder for you than someone with the backing of one of the big five publishers. The more you know about your audience and how you will market your book, the better. Just trust me. Learn from my time-consuming mistakes.

That said, I did not start writing this book with a marketing plan and audience in mind. My first three chapters were for a creative writing class in college. It was what I wanted to write. (Which is great! Don’t get me wrong!) Then, over the course of two kids, two degrees, and a cross-ocean move, I finished that book. Do you want to know who my “audience” was? Young-ish women-ish. AKA Not-Old-Butch-Men. Yep. A marketing labor-suck.

I wisely narrowed down my audience. 16-22 year old women who have an interest in clean novels, mermaids, and/or paranormal adventure. Does this mean that those women are the only women who would enjoy my book? No! Does this mean I’m settling for too small a niche and it’ll never go mainstream? No!

But a clear cut audience or niche helps you narrow your marketing, your writing tone, and voice. One of the problems with my second draft was that I tried to cater the book to everyone’s likes. As in, humanity. It was a horribly boring book. Write a book that will capture a very specific audience. It actually gives it the realism and authenticity and voice that can capture everyone! But first, you must grab the attention of the specific audience that will spread the word about this wonderful book you just wrote!

Okay, now back to the writing. There are certain things that are a writer’s must-haves:

#1 – The actual writing program.

I used Microsoft Word. At the time, I thought I needed to format as I wrote, and Word was what I knew. This mistake cost me a ridiculous amount of time. (Formatting, that is.) You don’t need to format your book right now. If you’re using Word, just make sure that your paragraphs auto indent. (Do not “Return” and then “Tab.”) And make sure your chapters end with a page-break. If you’re going to be sending this doc to someone (because beta readers are crucial), then add a header or footer with your name, title and copyright. The end. Just write. Real formatting comes later and your Word doc formatting will get in the way.

If you’d prefer to avoid the nuances of Word, try something else. Scrivener ($40) is a program for writers and gets great reviews. Also, Reedsy now has a “Reedsy editor” from which to write and export (perfectly formatted) for both print and ebook! For free! I’m a big fan of Reedsy. I ended up copy/pasting my novel into the Reedsy editor, and wish it had been around when I originally wrote it. The copy/paste job worked, but because of Word hidden formatting quirks, it required a thorough read-through to catch weird issues.

Don’t be the idiot that uses pen and paper. Or, heaven help me, a typewriter. Leave the hipster fluff for Instagram photoshoots. At some point, you will have to put it in a computer. You might as well enjoy the incredible time-saving writing/editing solutions the computer has to offer.

#2 – A social media presence.

I don’t care if you “don’t do Facebook.” If you want to be an indie author, the only way your marketing is going to be effective is with online presence. Choose the social media platforms that your audience niche is gathering on. Young adults? Instagram and Pinterest. Women’s lit? Facebook and Pinterest. Tech savvy crowd? Twitter, Reddit, Tumblr. Older audience? Facebook. Cosplay, fanfic, etc? Tumblr, online chat forums. Cookbooks, Design, parenting? Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook.

Find where your audience lives online, and become a part of it. Your first social media posts should not be “Buy this book!” to your seven followers. You should already be an active, contributing member of the online community. A blog is also something to consider.

Eventually, you’ll have a website. You. Will. Have. A. Website. But you can hold off on this for now, if you’d prefer.

“But when am I going to have time to write my book if I’m internet-ing all day!?” Deal with it. You can write a book, or you can write, publish, and sell a book. If you want to sell it, you’ve got to connect with your buyers.

#3 – Browser bookmarks.

I love these things. I have an online thesaurus, a greek word translator, a google map time-distance calculator, my blog (the “new post” page), and a google+ writer’s forum bookmarked right in my browser toolbar. These were sites that I used often while writing my novel. Don’t google and hunt for a website you use frequently.

Later, when you get to the publishing and then marketing phase, you’ll add lots more!

#4 -Note taking app or notebook.

Inspiration will hit you at the grocery store. Or your mother-in-law’s house. Have a dedicated spot to write all these things down. A wrinkled handful of napkins, gas receipts, and junkmail envelopes does not a reliable system make. Set yourself up for success. Save yourself hours of hunting for a lost Post-It and the regret from forgetting what you wrote on it.

#5 – Organizational docs & notes.

I have a “calendar” for my novel where events are written out in actual calendar format so I don’t lose track of time. There’s no chance of me saying on one page that it was Friday, then the next page mentioning two nights later was Taco Tuesday. Also, I have a character who must dive in the ocean every so often to prevent deterioration. You better believe each dive is on that calendar, in red, so I don’t lose track of when she’s up for a dive.

I also have character profiles, research gathering, the features/government/capabilities/history of my characters’ world, future events, etc, etc, etc. All in their own docs. My characters’ world is fleshed out and accounted for, which is especially important for fantasy for authors.

I created most of these things way too late. And out of necessity. I’d get confused, or get a weird comment from a beta reader, and finally threw my hands up in the air and decided to take the time to organize. Had I done this from the beginning, I might have published this novel two years ago.

#6 – Pinterest boards.

This one probably depends on the type of book you’re writing. But, FYI, there are so many incredible resources right at your fingertips for writers on Pinterest. Word banks, grammar infographics, publishing tips, writing prompts, the list goes on and on.

#7 – Your laptop’s power cord.

You’d think this one needn’t require mention. But alas, I’ve left this behind on more than one occasion. Don’t do that.

#8 – Chips & salsa.

Or dark chocolate. Or coffee for those of you who like drinking pungent hot bean water. I prefer my addiction in the form of jalapeños. But hey, whatever floats your boat and boosts your writing enthusiasm!

#9 – A maid/chef.

#10 – A day-job, or SugarDaddy/Momma.

Okay, fine. I’ll stop.

My fellow writers, set yourself up for success! Don’t waste time. Streamline your workflow so your creativity can flourish unencumbered.

Anything I missed? What are your favorite writing “must-haves?” Feel free to let us all know in the comment section below. Follow along for the next part in my Indie Publishing Must-Haves series, Part II: Publishing.

Until next time,

TM Holladay

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