“My name’s Gareth Baker, and I’m an Indie Author – and a proud one at that.”
It took me a long time to feel that way, especially as some writers I’ve met often look down their nose at me. At first, I didn’t blame them. I felt the title tried to sound grander than it was, and for the first year or so I referred to myself as a self-published author. Looking back, it was like I was apologising for myself. That yes, I agreed with the nose starrers that I wasn’t good enough and was cheating by jumping the queue. But then I slowly came to realise, about a year ago, that I had worked hard – very hard – to achieve what I had and that I was more than a self-published author, but a creator, a learner, a writer and an Indie publisher.
This April I will have been an Indie for three years. That length of time both seems like a lifetime and a blink of an eye. To be honest, I never wanted to be an Indie. I’d sent off a handful of applications to agents and publishers (not many really) and did what most people do – gave up. Then my friend published on Kindle, and not to be outdone, I did the same. My plan was to self-publish for five years, writing at least one new book a year, and use it as an apprenticeship, learning my craft. By April 2018, I will either be successful or be aiming at the traditional route (as well as being an Indie) as my apprenticeship will be over.
So far my business (and I do see it as a business. I don’t write for art, but I do write for fun), Taralyn Books, has published six books, with around another five waiting to come out in 2016. I now write under two names: Gareth Baker for children’s fiction and G H Mockford for thrillers and, coming later this year, fantasy. Whether Taralyn Books will publish other authors in the future is something I’ve yet to decide, but I have considered it.
Being an Indie’s no easy task, and after three years I am finally beginning to reap some rewards. By that I mean I am financially breaking even. This next year, my fourth, I hope to begin realizing my ambitions of making it a viable source of (realistic) income.
Over the course of the last three years, I have learned many valuable lessons. If you’ve researched how to be a successful Indie (there’s plenty of people willing to give you advice, and many who will charge you for that information too) you may have heard some of what I’m about to say before. When I started out I did some research, but, in the end, decided to throw myself into the ring and learn from my own mistakes. Learning to write a novel – and I mean learn – has been my most valuable experience and one I can’t really outline here as each novelist has to find their own style/path. Did I waste time by not standing on the shoulders of giants? Perhaps. But for me, making my own mistakes was very powerful.
I call the lessons I’ve learned “The Five Challenges of The Indie Author”, and here they are.
Challenge 1 – Time
The biggest enemy of all non-professional writers (by that I mean people who do not make a living solely from being a writer) is finding the time to write. If you’re holding down a full-time job and have a family, where do you find the time? My blunt answer is this: if you really want to tell that story, you will. Get up an hour earlier than you need to. Go to bed an hour later. Most importantly, turn off the TV. It’s as simple and difficult as that.
Then there are writers who have the time but can’t settle or get sucked into Facebook or other distractions. Those writers need to learn some self-discipline and join what I call the Writers’ Gym, or ask themselves what are you afraid of? These words might sound harsh, but only one person is going to write that book – you. Focus. Show some dedication. Get the book written.
In short, while time is an issue, if you want to write a book, really write a book, you will.
Challenge 2 – Money
Some people will tell you that being an Indie is low risk financially, and if you want to present a poor product (or you are highly skilled in editing, Photoshop, marketing etc), or only an e-book, it may well be. In the first two years of being an Indie, I lost money and not because I spent it unwisely (well, maybe sometimes). Producing a quality book, especially if you want to create hard copies, is going to cost you money.
With this challenge, I think you have three options open to you:
- Publish with what money you have and then pour any profits back into the product. This is what I did.
- Find a source of money (several thousand) – your own, a family member, take out a bank loan. I did consider the last of these options last year.
- Rob a bank or win the lotto. I advocate neither of these as one will land you in prison, the other is unlikely.
Now you have some money, you have to decide what you’re going to spend it on. Cover? Editor? Formatting? There are many people who can help you with these, and many of them will charge you a lot of money to do it. Unless you have money to burn, learn to do as much of this as you can for yourself. If you only have enough to pay for one of these, get a great cover. If you can’t afford an editor, get at least four friends to read your typescript and then save up and use an editor as soon as you can. They can be invaluable.
Challenge 3 – Knowing your Audience
Are you writing the book you would want to read? If you’re not, give up. You need to be enjoying yourself. Are you writing a book that fits a genre that you read a lot? Make sure you know what your audience expects. I’m not saying don’t experiment and put new angles on things, but you need to give your audiences what they want. Having said that, many successful Indies find a niche market.
Challenge 4 – Marketing
I’ll be honest with you, this is the area I still have to master, especially in the e-book market (most of my sales are hardcopies). The advice is to use Facebook, Twitter, a blog. I’ve tried all of these with no effect. Perhaps I didn’t persist for long enough. In the end I chose to focus my energies on being a prolific writer so that I have a large catalogue of work.
Challenge 5 – The 3 Ps
Patience, persona and persistence. These three words are probably the key for all writers, traditional, Indie or otherwise. It’ll take time (unless you’re incredibility lucky) and it’ll feel like you’re treading water, or, worse yet, sinking. If you have the drive and the talent, it will happen. Give it at least five years.
Here’s my final piece of advice. Write the story. Don’t worry about getting it word perfect, just get it finished. I spend at least three times as long rewriting and editing than I do writing the first draft. That’s okay, and everyone works differently, but if you keep polishing the same bit over and over, you’ll never finish.
So, those are the challenges I’ve faced and some of the lessons I’ve learned. I’m about to enter my forth year and this will be a critical one. I feel I’m finally hitting my stride in terms of finding an audience and a style. If you want to be an Indie, go for it, pursue your dreams, but know this; it won’t be easy.
If you’d like to find out more about me or my books please visit www.taralynbooks.com or if you’re more interested in my books for children, www.gareth-baker.com. You can also find me on Twitter and Facebook. Please follow the links on my website, and sign up for my newsletter.
Take care, and look after yourself,