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Eight Things Every Independent Author Should Know

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Being an indie author is not exactly something I wanted to do. I wanted the more traditional route; find an agent who will in turn find a publisher that will dump bucket loads of money into marketing for my wonderful stories.

Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, one year later and 600+ query letters (10% which were rejected and another 90% that were never responded to) I decided to try the indie route with Ruins of the Mind. What an eye opener that was.

I had a rough idea of what I was getting into. I knew that I would need to hire an editor, an illustrator and find a print-on-demand company to put out the books. What I (and most indie authors) neglected to do was think about the marketing side. I know what you’re thinking, “I’ll just tweet it like crazy and mention it on Facebook as much as possible.”

Those are important, but it’s going to take a lot more rubber burning than a little social media blitzing. So I’ve come up with some important key facts that I have discovered in getting my two books (and two upcoming novels) out.

You will see links at the bottom to sources that I have personally used and will discuss throughout the article.

1. Marketing is critical

Word of mouth will by far be the best advertisement for you, but word of mouth won’t take off with you only getting your books into the hands of a few dozen people. You need to get it into the hands of hundreds or thousands of people.

  • Publicity trumps Advertising. Ads are generally a waste of money. You spend a lot of money, reaching a few people and of those few people you get even fewer who are actually interested in your book. A targeted publicity campaign is a lot more bang for your buck and it gets news agencies to make some noise about you which is what you really want. It costs some money up front, but it’s worth it. It should run you anywhere from $2000 – $3500 for a good international campaign. Be forewarned, you’ll be sending out a few books for reviews – most likely 50 – 100, so budget accordingly.
  • Go social media crazy, but do it logically. Don’t settle for just Twitter and Facebook. Use everything at your disposal: Google+, StumbleUpon, Digg, Goodreads, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.
    • Do not post constantly. Social media works best if you schedule your posts (through a service such as HootSuite) for every four to six hours. If you post too often then sites will see your posts as spam, if you don’t post often enough, your readers won’t see the posts.
    • Every post counts. Always keep your professional image in mind when posting. Do not post things like “I’m depressed. My books never sell.” Your readers want to see exciting things that are going on with your writing world. Always keep upbeat and match your genre. For example, if you’re a horror author – talk about the gore and the insanity of reality. If you’re a romance author – keep your audience hot and bothered. If you’re a humor author – post some funny quips.
  • Provide a professional image. Set up author profiles on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble and anywhere else you can. IMPORTANT: Include a real picture of you. Fake people, cartoon characters, abstract images, etc., do nothing for your professional image. Your readers want to see you. If you don’t like getting your photo taken, get over it. You’re in a public business now and you are your best sales image. Hire a good photographer or get someone who knows what they are doing to take a good picture of you.

2. Hire an editor

Nothing is more valuable that an experienced editor and they are not astronomically expensive. Your book could be the first thing your readers ever see from you. You want every word, every sentence and every nuance of your writing to be reflected in a professional manner.

Now, I have done professional typesetting, so I was able to save money there by laying out my own books, chapter headings, etc. But the editing, I hired out to Written Word Savvy and it was well worth the money.

One thing that a lot of authors don’t think about is the fact that an editor not only needs to edit the content of the book and check for grammatical and spelling errors, but they also need to not lose your ‘voice’ in the process. Nothing sounds worse than having one writing style throughout a book and then switching from time to time to a different writing style because an editor doesn’t know how to maintain an author’s voice. This comes from experience. The reality is you will also develop a rapport with your editor. The more you work together, the more streamlined and effective your final product will be.

3. Hire a Professional Illustrator

An ideal illustrator should know book design, what captures someone’s eye and what doesn’t. If your cover doesn’t grab your eye, chances are it won’t grab anyone else’s either. So don’t be afraid to criticize your illustrator’s work. It is your book after all and it’s their job to represent that.

4. Rome wasn’t built-in a day

I am not a patient man. I want things to happen now and when publishing a book, you see lots of money going out and nothing coming in for what feels like forever. I was certain that word of mouth would get around about my books, but I wanted it, needed it…now!

Then a friend said to me, “Jason, how long does it take you to read a book?” to which I responded, “I don’t know, a few weeks.”

They then said, “So, it’s okay for you take a few weeks to read an author’s book, but everyone else should be reading your book within a week?”

Good point. It takes time for people to read a book and then it takes time for them to tell their friends about it. Be patient, if it’s good…it will take off.

5. Do not order batches of printed books; use Print on Demand

I have known too many authors who order 1000 or 5000 books to get caught with a massive stock, money invested and possibly even discovering errors after the book was produced that they now have to live with. Use a high quality Print on Demand service. This means that every time someone orders a book on Amazon or a bookstore orders 20 books, that is all that is printed. It costs a little more per book, but it’s negligible. Then they simply send you the royalties every month, quarter or semi-annually depending on what you setup.

Another huge benefit is, if you find an error, you simply upload the new revision and only those books that were ordered before the revision will have the error.

6. Do Not Use CreateSpace to print your book

Companies like CreateSpace and LuLu are great for vanity press or for printing a rough draft of your book, but they lack one critical thing if you plan on your book getting into bookstores – return-ability.

I printed my first book with CreateSpace. Don’t get me wrong, they have tons of very helpful people and their process is very well designed, but the fact that bookstores can’t return the books will prevent most stores from ordering it. They will require you to sell them on consignment and then you get into paying for shipping, stocking and everything you wanted to avoid with Print on Demand in the first place.

My recommendation is to use LightningSource which is owned by the major book distributor Ingram. They have printing facilities in each region (U.S., U.K., Australia, etc.) and can ship locally for each region. They also accept returns.

7. If it sounds too good to be true, it is

There are literally hundreds of companies that will try to take your money and will give you little to nothing in return. I’ve seen almost all of them and have sampled the waters as well. If you ever aren’t sure about something, email me (using the contact form at the top of this site) and I will look into it for you.

8. Pay it forward

I can honestly say that I wouldn’t know half of what I know if it weren’t for my fellow authors. People like Joshua Graham, Ashley Fontainne and so many more that have helped me along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask people for help or ask questions. Most of us have been in your shoes.

The major advantage of being an independent author is, your competition can help you and you can help them. Get to know fellow authors, network with them and get news out about their books and in turn they will get information out about yours. I regularly interview authors on my YouTube show Author in the Headlights as well as interview for my blog various authors. Help out fellow authors and they will help you out.

Wrapping it up

It’s not cheap to get your book out there, but there are great crowd-funding sources like IndieGoGo and Kickstarter that can help you raise funds for your book. Just keep in mind that projects should only be in the $1000-$3000 goal for optimum success.

Here are some services I’ve used and highly recommend:

  • Smith Publicity: Awesome publicity firm and very good at communication (five star as far as I’m concerned)
  • Lighting Source: The best POD (Print on Demand) service I’ve found yet.
  • Bowker: Buy your ISBN numbers direct from Bowker. It saves you money and you have control over what shows up out on the databases.
  • Written Word Savvy: The owner Linda Sickinger is a phenomenal editor and works hard to make sure that your work comes out sounding like you.
  • Hootsuite: Lets you connect all your social media together so that you can blast out a message to all social media at once. Also lets you schedule your posts.
  • Blue Harvest Creative: Very good illustration company that will design your book covers and more.
  • Book Bub – Great service to get your book out, but extremely picky about what they choose.
  • Book Daily – Another book marketing channel. They transmit blurbs about your book along with links. I have seen a real increase in sales since I started using them.
  • Babelcube.com – A service that translates your book to other languages.
  • Ebook Services to Publish on:

Places to steer clear of:

  • Xlibris: Complete rip off and extremely pushy.
  • CreateSpace: Not a bad company and Amazon owned, but their books are not returnable and often are frowned on by bookstores.
  • LuLu: A good vanity press (creating books for family, or friends) but not a professional choice. Their books are not returnable.
  • “Award” companies – There a ton of companies out there offering “book awards” that you can paste on the cover of your book. Basically, you’re just paying for a no-name award to put on your book. Try and get real quality reviews by major newspapers and media for your cover. That will carry more weight with readers.


I.T. by Day, Author by Night

I.T. by Day, Author by Night 150 150 Jason Stadtlander

Network AdministratorNo Right to Write

“What makes you think that a network administrator can write a novel?” a friend asked me a couple years ago – well, an ex-friend. Any friend who doesn’t support your ideas isn’t a true friend, in my opinion.

It’s a good question, however. The truth is, I suppose any network administrator out there may not be able to, but this network administrator was going to do it regardless of what people said.

One day back in 2004 while riding on the train, I pulled a notebook out of my backpack and scrawled:

The old lighthouse on the small rock island stood ominous, thirty feet above the water at its base. The weathered building raised four stories tall and attached to it was a light tower which reached another forty feet above that. The house, built in 1814, was well weathered and the shingles that covered it were missing in small patches on all four sides.

It was the first thing I had composed as an adult since several short stories I had written back when I was in middle and high school. I never did write more than two paragraphs of that story, and I don’t know if I ever will complete more with it. But since I first began writing back in sixth grade, I have one hundred and sixty-three short stories sitting on my computers and in notebooks (yes, the paper type). About a third of them have yet to be finished; be it from boredom with the story or life distractions such as children, I have yet to wrap them up. I would say another third are stories that either fascinated me or interested me at one point, but I decided for one reason or another that they don’t anymore.

Finally, the latter third I love and believe most readers will enjoy as well. I have dozens more trapped within my gray matter that have yet to make it on either paper or computer, but I’m always rolling them around in my mind, trying to decide if they will be published as a short story or expanded into a book.

WritingCreativity Begets Solution

Why am I successful as an I.T. professional and technology teacher? As I see it, it boils down to two things that not only help me as  the I.T. professional but also assist in my pursuits as a writer.

  • Creativity – In information technology, it’s important to be able to think outside the box. The means of achieving a goal may have dozens or even hundreds of solutions. Being able to think through several different ways for achieving those goals is critical. People don’t usually come to me because they want an answer to a problem they don’t know an answer to. They come to me because they have thought of  every solution they could think of and know that somehow, I will be able to come up with a few more.
    This obviously applies to writing as well. Creativity is critical with fiction (and some non-fiction) writing. Being able to dream up places, people, creatures, scenarios and settings that either never existed or have existed but you have no way of going there, requires a level of creativity.
  • Relatability – Being able to relate to others is one of the critical parts of helping people with computer problems, unless you plan to be like “Nick Burns the Company Computer Guy.” Being relatable helps me teach. Trying to put myself in another’s shoes, picture what they are going through, understand their frustration – this really is key.
    The same follows for writing. You can’t effectively write a character if you can’t imagine what it must be like to be that character, whether they are human, alien or animal. It’s part of the magic, getting to pretend you’re someone you aren’t.

“Dead or Alive, You’re Coming With Me…”

Ahhh, the famous words uttered by the wonderful B movie character RoboCop. So true though.

After writing for a while (as an adult), I came to the conclusion that, regardless of whether I published or didn’t publish, writing relieved stress. It let me escape from the mundane crap of my daily routine and detestable commute. Do I like taking the train into Boston every day, day in and day out? No. I hate it. In fact, I hate that I hate it, and that it hates me back most likely. Yeah, ponder that for a while.

Do I like my job in Boston? Yes. But not because of what I do. I like it because every once in while I hear “Thank you – you saved the day” or “Wow, I’m so glad you’re here – I never would have gotten that” to which I usually respond “No problem” or “You would have gotten it eventually, but I know you’re in a crunch.”

I work as a network administrator to pay the bills, put food on my children’s plate and keep a roof over our heads. I do enjoy being in Boston, but really, people…I hate the commute. There is absolutely nothing pleasant about having to leave my children every day and deal with the road-rage assholes all the way to the parking garage just to be crammed in a train that breaks down half the time full of people who don’t want to be there anyway.

So – I write. After work, I get on the train, put on my writing shoes…crazy isn’t it – that I wear different shoes for writing? Then I paint worlds that don’t exist, killers that never lived and situations that only the absurd would enter.

And I happily drag you along. So dead or alive – you’re coming right along with me!

Getting the most from a Book Signing – Authors and Readers

Getting the most from a Book Signing – Authors and Readers 150 150 Jason Stadtlander

Book signings benefit three people:

  • The Fan (reader)
  • The Author (and the publisher a bit)
  • The Bookstore

First, lets look at how each benefit from book signings.

The Fan or Reader

There is more to a book signing than simply showing up and getting a signature on a book.

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Meet the author

Author Jason P. Stadtlander with fan Tina at The Beehive Bookstore in Delaware, Ohio

Meet the Author – A book signing is a chance for you as the reader to actually meet the author and if you’re lucky enough for the bookstore to not be busy at the moment you are there – perhaps even have a more personal conversation with the author.

In many cases you will get a chance to see if the author is at all like their characters, which you may be surprised at the similarities. It also gives you a chance to ask the author questions you may be wondering such as: Where did you come up with xx idea? What inspired you to write? etc.

Photo Op – One other benefit that you and the author will enjoy is a photo opportunity. Most authors really enjoy connecting with their readers and enjoy getting photos with their readers. It is a chance for other fans to see that ‘yes, this person is real’.

Read on Author, Read on – Another less talked about aspect is the chance to possibly hear the author do a reading. Okay, at first this may sound a little strange… you sit around and listen to an author read some from their book. However, you may find it intriguing to hear an author read their own work. I can speak from experience in that I enjoy my characters I’ve created. I tend to give “voices” to them and provide a personality to them that you may not hear in your head when you’re reading it on your own.

The Author

Here are a few reasons that book signings benefit authors and some dos and don’ts for authors.

Publicize! – Probably the most obvious reason for doing a book signing is to publicize your work. You may not think that hitting one book store at a time will make a difference, but people talk. Word of mouth is probably your most powerful marketing tool. An author who is out there meeting the people who the book is reaching, is naturally more talked about than those who do not.

InspireInspire – Although I have only done a few book signings, at each book signing I have met other people aspiring to write who have stopped out for nothing more than inspiration. After all, you have achieved what they are dreaming to… You’re a published author! Say a little something to fellow writers, everyone’s writing is important. Do not be concerned with competition or anything silly like that. Everyone’s writing is different and in my opinion; EVERYONE has something to contribute to the world of literature.

At a recent book signing someone stopped out to let me know that her friend was starting out as a novelist and that it would mean a lot if I could write a little something to him. I was honored that she thought my words might make a difference (See: http://dougdutcher.livejournal.com/5066.html).

Photo Op – Pretty much the same reasons as I gave fans… it’s a chance for you to be seen as a real person as well have a few photos for your Facebook Fan Page or Twitter accounts.

Connect with Bookstores – Connecting with small bookstores is very important. Yes, there are the big guys like Amazon.com and Barnes and Nobles who are going to carry your book but may not give it much more shelf space than the latest copy of People Magazine. Small booksellers will promote you if you promote them. Talk about them, tell your fans about them and they in turn will be very happy to have you out for book signings and events.

Connect with Teachers – Something that you may not think about is the chance to connect with English and Literature teachers and professors. Yes, they too attend book signings. I recently had a teacher attend a book signing who wants to use “Ruins of the Mind” to teach his class about short stories. This means a couple dozen sales of my book as well as an opportunity for me to possibly speak to his class later.

Don’t sit at the table – Big, HUGE advice here. You are there to promote yourself and your book as well as the bookstore. Get up, go meet people, ask them what they are looking for and get a store representative to help you help them. Find out what the customers like to read and suggest your book. It can often surprise customers when you’re walking around and mention that you wrote “this book”. Nothing is more boring than an author who is just sitting there like a limp noodle with a stack of books around them. Get personal and be personable.

The Bookstore Owner

An author event may seem like a pain, some promotion, having to set up a table, posters, etc. However, it brings people in to your store and if planned right it will be beneficial for you and the author.

Promote – Promoting a book signing costs almost nothing for a bookstore (other than getting some Promote your Eventsinventory in for the signing). Most authors will send you photos, press releases and posters for free. If the author knows what they are doing, they will send you a ‘press ready’ press release that you can email off to your local newspapers and TV stations. My biggest advice here, bug your local press to put something in the paper or get a TV station down to your store. It may not sound like a big deal but the public loves a reason to get out of the house and if they don’t know about it, they won’t come.

Social network your author events in newsletters, on your bookstore’s Facebook page and on twitter.

As an author, I usually do a lot of the promoting of my book signings on my website, Facebook page, Twitter, LinkedIn, Goodreads, etc.



Get the most from a book signing

As a reader, attend it! Buy a book to show your support for your author and ask the author to say something personal. Talk to the author so they know a little bit about you, it will make the signing more personal.

As an author, promote your event! Talk about it on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, LinkedIn, newspapers, TV, anywhere you can talk about it, do it.

As a book store owner, setup a small display of the book with a little poster of the author a few weeks before. Send out an e-newsletter. Talk to the press.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Broaden Your Literary Palette

Broaden Your Literary Palette 150 150 Jason Stadtlander

I stand and look at my sad excuse for a library (actually just a single wooden bookshelf) and let out a sigh as I see a nice collection, but very few names. Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Clive Cussler, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Saul and a smattering of other authors.

I find it it a bit depressing. First, that I don’t have a monster library that stretches the walls of my enormous library with ladders that roll back and forth so that I can ride along the walls as I read my rare Stephen King signed first edition of Carrie… Well, okay, my ten foot by ten foot office that is tucked into the corner of my basement, and the closest thing I have to a signed copy of Carrie is the library stamp in the cover that says “Used”.

Secondly, that there are so few names. Granted, I do have a few more names on my Kindle app on my iPad. However, expanding one’s reader palette requires three things:

  1. Money. Something I do not have much of, being a fledgling author.
  2. Time to read more, something I do not have much of working full time… being a fledgling author.
  3. Most importantly, the ability (or desire) to step outside one’s comfort levels when it comes to reading. This I have.

Don’t get me wrong, I too see a stack of books at the bookstore or online and can’t help but gravitate towards the authors I already love. However, as of late I have been trying more to concentrate on diversifying my literary palette.

With each new author you will find that their style is different. It takes a while to get comfortable with how they create characters and how they paint a scene. However, in time you (and I) will find it also broadens your vocabulary, understanding and quite possibly your intellect as well.

So, step out today and buy a new author you’ve never read. And I, shall do the same.

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