Building a Career as an Indie Author: Introduction

So you’re writing a book…

25388685974_833db69cb6_zAs recently as 2008, an author who’d finished her first book could begin writing her second book at the same time she queried agents or publishers about the completed one.  If an agency accepted the book, the author could wrap up her second book while the agent shopped it to publishers; if it was accepted by a publisher, the author could find an agent to negotiate her contract or try to do it herself and then get back to writing. Either way, as long as the contract didn’t contain rights grabs or other draconian language, the author had a real shot with that first acceptance and the best thing she could do to build her career (aside from sell a few thousand books her first time out) was focus on writing her next book.  Of course it was important for her to turn in edits on time; participate in any publicity tours for a few weeks around the book’s release date; and double check her royalty statements every quarter or so…but a conscientious, prolific author could have a reasonably successful career without ever drilling deep down into the business of publishing.

Those days are over. Today, you have to do a lot of legwork before that first book is even finished.

…now what?

Independent publication involves a lot of non-writing work that many authors simply would prefer not to do. Today, however, even traditional publishers want their authors to spend time actively building their social media platforms. There’s also much more work needed to protect your rights with traditional publishers, since most of them are now pushing terrible contract terms on new authors as a matter of course.

Whether you decide to self-publish or hold out for a decent contract through the traditional publishing houses, your chances of long-term success as an author increase the moment you make the decision to treat your writing career like a business…and that involves learning an awful lot of things that have nothing to do with writing.

A quick side note here: success means different things to different people; for this series, I’m going to define a successful author as someone who makes enough money that they can afford their writing career (and all that entails) to be their primary focus…depending on your responsibilities and where you live, a good ballpark figure is probably $40,000-$70,000/year.

There was never one “right” way to be a successful author, and in the past several years that’s become even more true. Authors have never had so many different ways to make a good living from their writing – but learning how to navigate all of the different platforms and wading through all of the available options can be overwhelming.

The most important thing you can do for your writing career is to set aside time not only for writing the best books you can, but for learning how to build your business. You’ll need both short- and long-term business plans, and some concrete steps to follow through on those plans. Do that, and work faithfully toward your milestones, and you will find your readers and increase your sales over time.

This weekly series is for authors who are just diving into self-publishing. It will be most helpful for authors who are planning to write several books throughout their lifetimes, or for traditionally published writers who own the digital and/or print rights to their backlist and want to know how to begin putting out-of-print titles back into circulation. Some of the tips will apply to authors who only intend to write one book, but this series is really designed to help nurture long-term writing careers.

These articles won’t help you quit your day job this year, or even next year…but they will help you learn what you need to know so you can make good choices for yourself and your writing career.

I’m putting up two articles today just to kick things off; after that, I’ll post new articles every Thursday.


Photo by WOCinTech Chat (Flickr); used here under a Creative Commons license. Original image was cropped.

Dora Badger
Dora Badger is a writer and designer living in Detroit. Her short stories can be found in several small press publications, and her books Lemonade Songs, Charley Cat's Carnival: A Dark And Bloody Business, and more can be found on Amazon.

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