12 Tips for New Indie Authors – Part One

(As with my first novel, this post kept creeping up there in word count, so I’ve split it into three posts! Haha I do that a lot!)

It’s been a year!

Alright so technically it has been a year and a half, but as we bid farewell to 2022, I have achieved the initial goal I set for myself: to publish three books in the span of 12 months.

I thought it would be nice to share 12 things I learned in my first year as an Indie Author. One for each month of the year, or one for each of the 12 days of Christmas… whatever you prefer!

1. It’s a lot of work, but a lot of fun!

It probably goes without saying that being an Indie Author is a lot of work. You have to be the writer, the editor, the typesetter, the marketer, the salesperson, and everything in-between. There is a reason why the traditional publishing industry exists – most writers don’t have the time or the resources to wear all of these different hats.

Of course, me, I love wearing hats – the more the merrier. Bring on the hats. 

The important thing to remember is that this will be an unbelievable amount of work. But if you’re anything like me, you will simply adore all of it. You won’t mind putting in 16-hour days, in fact, you’ll actually want to put in those hours!

But if you’re not really jazzed about the prospect of wearing so many hats it makes your head sweat, you might prefer to pursue traditional publishing. Or, if you’re in a strong financial position, you could still go the indie route and just outsource lots of work. However, one of my favourite perks of being an indie author is that it gives me all the power (POWER MUAHAHAH!). I like having all the control, and frankly, outsourcing work means giving up bits of control…

(Don’t touch my hats!)

Yeah, I’m not a great delegator, but maybe you are. I hope so, for your sake.

I can tell you, though, that having this much control over my creative dreams and investing my time and money in myself is the most satisfying, rewarding, engaging, and exciting work I have ever done. And as you may recall, I love to work, so this is saying a lot.

2. Figure out what you have the bandwidth to do

So, given that being an Indie Author is an unbelievable amount of work, you also need to be practical about how you spend your time. I like to pretend I can do all the work all the time, and all by my lonesome.

Wrong. So wrong!

It is impossible to do everything all the time. I know I’m only human and I know I can’t do everything. All through this process I’ve made decisions about what I do and don’t have the bandwidth to undertake myself. For example, cover design is not a skill I have. My stupid workaholic control freak brain wanted me to go get training and become an amazing cover designer, but my practical brain put its foot down. (I know, right? My brain has feet. So cool!) So I hired a cover designer, and she is amazing!

Another example is typesetting. I researched how to properly typeset a book and I was all prepared to do it myself, but that would have taken a lot of time and likely led to a lot of frustration and nit-picky work. So, I decided to invest in Vellum instead.

So, my advice to you is to figure out what your own limitations are. Definitely push yourself to try new things! But be strategic in how you spend your time (and money). What can you do and what can’t you do? Or no, not “can’t” I don’t like that word. So, let’s say, what should you do and what shouldn’t you do?

And remember that this is a long journey. You may end up doing different tasks as you get better and more efficient at this.

3. Trial and Error

There are a lot of vloggers, bloggers and Indie Author authorities out there who will tell you the right way and the wrong way to do something (I guess I am guilty of that too… sigh… sorry). But it can be quite stressful trying to follow everyone else’s guides and rules. I got all worked up about trying to make sure I did it the “right way” and then I was disappointed when I didn’t immediately sell a gazillion books. 

Over time I realized that some of the “surefire” tips I was following simply didn’t work for me. Maybe they will work later or maybe they only work for people who publish in a very specific niche genre. Who knows, really? But I realized that there is no guaranteed, surefire strategy. So all you can do is trial and error. 

Try a little bit of everything (within reason and still respecting your budget), assess its success and adjust. Keep researching new strategies, and keep trying new things. And remember that everything will change as you publish more books. What didn’t work on book one, when no one knew who you were, might work amazingly well on book 3 or 4. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be afraid to stop doing something if it isn’t working right now. 

4. Building an Audience Takes Time

The number one recommendation I encountered on the Indie Author vlog-blog-o-sphere was to “build my author platform and audience”. It was always presented to me as if it were step 1, the crucial starting point, without which you could not hope to be successful. 

But here’s the thing. Nobody wants to follow you if you have nothing to show them. Nobody cares about an author who hasn’t authored a book. So how the heck are you supposed to build a following before publishing your book?

But if I can’t sell books if I don’t have a following, and I can’t have a following if I don’t have books, then gah! Where do I start?!

Well, I realize now that it was my error to assume that “building an audience” was step 1. In fact, it isn’t really a step. It’s not a task you accomplish, it’s an ongoing development and conversation with a growing, changing community. It takes time to get your name out there, to find your readers and to get reviews.

It. Takes. TIME.

So don’t worry about it too much. Just have fun. Do some more trial and error. Be authentic and cherish the members of your audience that already exist. Who are they? Why do they care about you? Maybe these questions will help you to find more of them.

12 Tips for new Indie Authors – Part Two Coming Soon

How do you know you’re a writer?

The first draft of The Relics of Illayan, completed in September 2019.

Childhood – Oh How I Wish I’d Realized

When I was a child, I was always playing make believe with my friends, writing stories about anthropomorphic animals and acting them out at recess. Then, when I was about 9 or 10, my teacher invited me to read one of my stories out loud for the class. I remember this day clearly in my mind (or what my mind chooses to believe is true). I remember reading with such animation and comedic gusto, that the entire class was in hysterics. My teacher was crying she was laughing so hard.

In retrospect, this was it. This was the moment I knew I should be a writer.

But for whatever reason, it took another 15 odd years before I really understood it. In all that time, though, I never really stopped dreaming up story ideas. I wrote and self-published a children’s picture book one summer because I was bored at work. I remember my friend looking at it and saying, “Oh my God, Kathryn, this is what you should do!”

But friends are supposed to say that sort of thing, right?

I drafted some more children’s book ideas and sent them around to publishers and agents, collecting a fun little stack of rejection letters. Fortunately, being a classical musician, I have learned to appreciate the art of the rejection and I don’t take it too personally. But since no opportunities were arising in this direction, I moved on to other activities.

Teacher, Composer, or Writer?

Burned out from my masters in business, I moved to New Brunswick to teach cello. The benefit of living in New Brunswick is that I had a lot of quiet time to recuperate and get my creative energy back. During this time, I wrote some more projects for fun, including my first musical. I obsessively wrote an entire book and all the lyrics in roughly one month, and somehow still didn’t clue in to the simple truth…

You see, right around this time, I started to doubt myself. Despite the fact that I was already a professional cellist and composer, I didn’t think I had enough training in order to write the music properly. If I wanted to be a real composer I definitely needed a masters degree in music. So off I popped back to school to learn all the magical things that would somehow equip me to be a truly successful artist.

[Insert mirthless laughter] Oh, how naïve I was.

One does not learn how to be an artist at school, one learns how to be an academic. And in a graduate music program, one often learns how to judge and criticize all other artists and sneer down from a great lofty height of one’s own erroneous self-importance.

But I digress…

Another Masters Degree – Gotta Collect them Beanie Babies

While I was at The University of Toronto, studying to become a very important composer, I dealt with writer’s block for the first time in my life. I could not, for the life of me, bring myself to care about my thesis composition. So instead, I started writing one of the many stories I’d been carrying around with me for years, waiting until I “knew what I was doing.”

I sat down, thinking, “Eh, why not? Why not just start writing and see what happens?”

What happened was this: I could not stop writing. My thesis deadline crept ever closer, and no music was written, but pages and pages of story planning, character descriptions, and plot outlines poured out of me at an intoxicating speed. It was, quite simply, the best.

I blasted through an entire outline and then forced myself to stop. I returned to my music studies a little bitterly and composed my final thesis. As the degree ended, I realized I didn’t want to be trapped by institutional learning anymore. Neither of my masters degrees had been as rewarding as I’d hoped, and I was tired of learning what I was told to learn, and writing what I needed to write in order to pass courses. I wanted the freedom to choose and create my own dreams.

I’m Not a Workaholic, You Are!

This period of time, I refer to as my “Wtf is Wrong with You” period. This was the period of my life where I was finishing my second master’s degree while working a part-time job and a brand-new full-time job, and somehow still working on my novel in the back of my mind. Yes… I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I’m working on it.

With the master’s degree finished, I launched myself back into the novel (still working two formal jobs and freelancing as a cellist and composer… because, you know, I like to have a really light workload). Part of me wondered if I really had what it took to be a writer, to follow through on the project all the way to the end. After all, anyone can plan a book, but a writer needs to sit down and actually write it.

Needless to say, I did follow through on the project and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It was an enormous undertaking, but – and this is not an exaggeration – I have loved every single minute of it.

I still work as a composer, cellist, conductor, teacher etc. And I love that work, I really do. But writing stories and being in charge of the entire process with absolute creative freedom is something I never want to stop doing.

Part of me still thinks musical theatre is the best blend of all my interests, and I am working with a collaborator on a new musical right now (working with Morgan-Paige Melbourne on a musical titled, Between Fires, funded by the Canada Council for the Arts)! But I have an entire notebook full of story ideas calling to me. So this whole being an author thing… well, I think I’ll keep doing it 🙂

So, How Do You Know You’re a Writer?

I believe we show who we are as children, and it takes growing up to learn how to understand. But at the end of the day, I think you have to ask yourself, “is there a love of storytelling in me?”

If the answer is yes, then you are a writer. It’s up to you decide how that manifests in your life.