Alex McKechnieReprinted with permission
from Slightly Drunken Book Review
Podcast by Alex McKechnie
February 2015

Depending on which publishing avenue you want to go down, there’s probably never been a better/worse time to be a writer. Traditional publishing is getting more and more conservative, taking less risks, publishing more of the same to stay safe. Indie publishing is flourishing, experimenting with genres usually reserved for fringe novelists in the past. 

But there’s obviously a downside.

Along with the undeniable freedom of indie publishing, it also lacks the many pros of traditional publishing. Namely, publicity. 

Wonderful, that dinosaur erotica epic is finished after three years of intense work. In the traditional publishing world this would more or less be the end of the process, for a while anyway. The publisher would review the manuscript, proof it, edit it, and eventually take it to print. Sure, you may well have to go on a few book tours afterwards, but come on, first world problems. 

Indie publishing however, the fun has only just started. You’re still essentially nobody, and poor in the only currency which matters in the game: reputation. 

(Before I go on, don’t get me wrong. First and foremost, the only thing which will stand you in good stead in either of the publishing worlds is actually writing a good book. I don’t mean to denigrate that by any means. I’m often amazed how little attention that gets on writing forums, compared to the amount of attention directed at just increasing sales. A few indie authors seem to have been picked up on the merit of their work alone, such as Hugh Howey and Amanda Hocking. Neither are particularly up my street, but you can’t deny that they’ve touched a nerve. They wrote their respective genres well, and profited as a result.)

I was almost completely new to all of this a year ago. I took the usual snobbish approach and considered it a form of self-aggrandizement, not being good enough to get noticed by a traditional publisher, and trying to put your own work out there by yourself instead. I was won over by a few incredibly well written self-published ebooks, and eventually was forced to eat my own words. I’d been sitting on about 8 novels for an age anyway and thought what the hell?  I broke off a traditional publishing deal midway through and went indie instead. 

I chose two of my favourite novels, spent two months editing and proofing, then self-published them under a pen name. At first almost nothing happened. I was flabbergasted. Why wasn’t the internet flocking to buy my books?! Didn’t they know how long  I’d spent on them?!

No. Of course they didn’t. No one knew anything about me whatsoever. I was an outsider. I’d given nothing away, spoken with no one; I didn’t affect a presence. Why would they have bought my books? Again, this is one of the unavoidable cons of self-publishing. You take on all the aspects of publishing, not just the distribution but the publicity too. However, there is an upside. Since your publishing house is essentially a business composed of exactly, and no less than, one person, you only need to pay one person. This makes it considerably easier to live off of your pet projects. Even better, save for the royalties your platform takes, the rest is entirely yours. Admittedly no advance, but equally well the fate of the book is entirely under your hands. 

So, on that note, here are a few things which have worked for me over the last year, and brought me to the point I’m at now, a full-time indie writer. 

1.  Book Reviewers

I’m astounded these people even exist. I’m not talking about The Sunday Times book supplement. Rather, bloggers whose entire free time appears to be taken up by reviewing books by indie writers. For free. Admittedly, there are some paid services, though I’m yet to see any hard evidence either way about their efficacy. However, indie bloggers most certainly have a voice. And really, the most it takes is a polite email asking if they might consider your book for review. It’s that simple. If they enjoy your work (again, if you’ve written a good book) then they generate good publicity. If not, well, I suppose that’s down to them. Either way they’re utterly invaluable, and doing wonders for the indie world. Incidentally, try the Indie Book Reviewers List for a great directory. 

2. Free Giveaways 

If you’re on Amazon you may well have noticed something called Kindle Select. Enrolling in this feature will give you the choice to set certain days as free giveaways. My book sales soared after trying this, first just as free giveaways, then as sales, presumably as people actually came back and bought more of my books. The new indie model is built on giving something away, just as heavily as it’s built on trying to turn a profit. For a great book and TEDtalk on this, try Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. She puts it better than I ever possibly could, but ultimately, it’s about establishing a relationship. For as long as we’re all sat behind screens and typing at each other, a relationship is difficult to forge. There’s little to distinguish us. Entering into a relationship with a reader by just giving away your work does wonders in the indie world and your future books.

3. Details, Details, Details

Brutal truth time. One of the biggest hurdles in the indie world is detail. Granted, the publishing gatekeepers are stepping aside, but this has brought with it quite a slew of badly edited, unproofed, and sloppy prose. This is to be expected. However, readers have obviously wised up to it. I know I have anyway. It’s certainly made me more cautious about which ebooks I go for.Again, I often base my choices on reputation, going by someone’s reviews or previous books. If the initial product – your book – is faulty, it doesn’t matter how much marketing you throw at the wall, nothing will come out of it. There are scores of editors out there who’d love to give your book a look, everything from ludicrously expensive to modestly priced. Editing makes an enormous difference, and will ultimately stand you very well in the long run, distinguishing your work from those who didn’t go to such lengths. Details. Always details. 

4. Build A Relationship

This one was arguably the biggest surprise to me. Every now and then a reader would email me saying something touching, or just friendly, for no good reason at all. They’d sometimes follow me on twitter, check out my music, go looking for my other projects, all the while being supportive. For no good reason at all. They had nothing to gain from me. They just liked my work, for whatever reason. And I have done exactly the same for artists I love. David Berman, Elliott Smith, David Mitchell (the novelist, I mean). I’ve consumed all their work a hundred times over. I’ve followed them on twitter, gone looking for their blogs, learned about their lives. And really, in a sense, they’ve given me something already, lit me up with whatever art it was that they were making. If you’re making good art and these people come to your digital door, welcome them. They’re your fans and they want you to do well. Be courteous and always reply to their emails. They are why you got into this. 

5. Find Your Audience 

Again, this is something that took me by surprise, but knowing it now, I can’t believe it was ever a mystery. My general picture of an audience was that of everyone. If I wrote well, if I got enough publicity, everyone and their mother would buy my book. This is obviously insane. You have an audience, and depending on what you’re writing and in which genre, you need to find them. The tech crowd have little interest in erotica. The history buffs don’t covet much of a hankering to learn about life hacks. But I guarantee that whatever you’re writing, there will be an audience out there. And you’re living in literally the best age to find them. Courtesy of those fiber optic cables connecting you at lightspeed to the rest of the planet you’ll find no problem in seeking them out. You can correspond instantly, share your work, and get noticed by the people who will actually appreciate your efforts without ever needing to leave the house. Again, be good to them. Be courteous. Always reply. They are the reason you got into this.