Indie Basecamp

When it comes time to make the decision about publishing path, too often indie writers overlook the fundamentals until the lack of foundation feels overwhelming. Once overwhelmed, the situation doesn't get any better. For this year's Colorado Gold, I put together a list of things to do - and the sequence I believe makes the most sense.

Here's my checklist*:

Day 0:

These are the things you probably didn't think about while you were writing your book.

  • Hang out a shingle. Get the URL and establish a website. Your website is the place where you gather fans. Set up a shell so you have a place to link to when you need it. Don’t worry about content there yet.
  • Set up a mailing list. Your mailing list is the one channel you have that goes directly to your audience. Don't abuse it. Mailchimp is your friend. Start an account and add their signup widget to your website.
  • Write your author bio. Make three versions – 50/100/300 words long. Don’t recite the facts. Tell a story. Add them to a page on your website (often labeled "Press Kit") so you can find them again when you need them.
  • Get a photo of your face. Professional is good, but a selfie that says “Hi there!” will do at this stage. Add it to your "Press Kit" page
  • Get a Twitter account. Use the short bio and the headshot. You'll use this to talk with readers.
  • Get a Facebook account. Use the medium bio and the headshot. You'll use this to talk with readers and writers (via closed groups)
  • Get a Google+ account. Use the long bio and the headshot. You'll use this to talk with writers.
  • Put the links to all three on your website.
  • Decide if you want to play in any other gardens.
  • Begin cultivating your network of peers

Week 1:

A lot of these things need more than a week to do. My editor asks for a month to work her magic. I only give my betas three days. I've bundled these together because you can't really get ahead in the process until you've done all these things. While you're waiting, you could start the next book and reach out to indie authors in the niche you're about to become part of.

  • Pass your final manuscript to beta readers. First time authors find this difficult because they have no betas. (It's easy. Ask me how.)
  • Decide how much of the feedback to incorporate. Just because they said it's a problem, doesn't mean you need to fix it.
  • Pass your final manuscript to your editor. You'll need at least a copy editor. Plan for this.
  • Decide on how much of the feedback to incorporate. Just because the editor noted it, doesn't mean you have to change it.
  • Get the cover art

Week 2:

These are the "publish it" steps. There are a lot of different paths. Mine is more complicated because I'm fussy about the ebook formatting. I've taken the time to learn the skills necessary to publish the ebook in the format I want. In the beginning, I'd have done this if I could have. While I've labeled this week 2, it shouldn't take more than a morning.

  • Get an account at Draft2Digital
  • Upload your final manuscript but don’t publish it there
  • Upload your cover art
  • Download the resulting .epub file
  • Get the Amazon Offline Previewer
  • Open the epub with the previewer to convert to mobi.
  • Decide what markets to participate in (Amazon, Nook, Kobo, iBook)
  • Upload your files (cover and interior) to each one directly

Week 3:

After you've hit publish, there's not much you can do. Especially not with a first book. What you need to do is start the next one and work on your foundation.

  • Profit. (not really)
  • Work on growing your network of peers
  • Join RMFW

I appreciate that this laundry list doesn't actually tell you everything you need to know - like what to do with your new accounts (play with the people you find there) or how to get people to sign up for your email list (I support the "one at a time" strategy as most valuable). One of the difficulties is that there are as many different ways to use social media as there are people.

Leave me a comment and I'll do my best to answer.

* The steps assume you're writing long-form fiction (novels) and have a completed manuscript in your hands. You can't get fans for a book you're going to write so having the manuscript done is a watershed event. Non-fiction authors may discover their process works a bit differently.

This post tries to answer the question "Now what?"

Image Credit:Image Credit:cotaro70s: Everest Base CampCC BY-ND 2.0
Nathan Lowell

Nathan Lowell has been self-publishing his science fiction and fantasy since he started releasing his books in podcast form in 2007.

He frequently writes about social media, marketing, and the life of a full time self-published author.

17 thoughts on “Indie Basecamp

  1. One “problem” with using the same basic manuscript for all distribution channels is back matter. I prefer to have hot links to all my other books in my back matter, and those have to be linked to the store where the book is sold. Also, Amazon insists on an internal TOC. Most of the other channels can ‘find’ your chapters if you use the h1 style. Smashwords looks for the word “Chapter.”

    All channels are getting better about being able to make a decent epub or mobi file from a word manuscript, but they’re not perfect. I agree Draft2Digital makes an excellent epub, but there’s still that back matter issue. You can’t have Amazon links in an iBook, etc.

    • That’s a good catch on the TOC. I *thought* D2D put the NCX base table in automatically and that’s always been sufficient for Amazon but I haven’t had a new release for a few months. I also process my epubs through Sigil because I do some customization of the ebook file for chapter breaks and let Sigil create my TOC. That process is so automatic for me, I don’t even think of it any more.

      Backmatter hot-links aren’t generally an issue for the first time author who’s struggling to get that first title posted so I didn’t include that. The only link for backmatter is probably going to be the website.

      I’m also a minimalist when it comes to front/backmatter. Even with 13 titles, I don’t cross link them. I link back to my website where the titles are all listed. That way I don’t have to update every existing book whenever I add a new title to my catalog. The downside of that is adding an extra step between “just finished” and “buy the next” – it’s also the case that – at least on Amazon – the series all have an automatic Amazon link for “buy the next book in the series.” Since I’m all in with the 60,000 pound gorilla, I’m not sure what’s happening with the secondary and tertiary markets these days.

  2. Thank you for sharing your path. For me it is very timely, especially step 2, which is confusing/daunting. And reading the response from Terry, I still have things to learn, such as internal TOC and hot links. Such a huge learning experience.

    • Small steps. Sometimes it seems like there are a lot of them, but each one is relatively simple.

      You can always check in with other RMFW authors (like me) when you have a question. 🙂

    • I don’t use ISBNs on ebooks. Amazon uses their own ASIN and none of the other markets pay any attention to them.

      They only really apply on paper and audio – and each format requires a different number (so the hardcover is different from the paperback which is different from the audio).

      For those, I bought a pack of 100 years ago when I started. It cost me $500 but that brings the price down to $5 each. It was one of my first business expense tax deductions.

      I’ve used more than I thought I would (about 20) but they’ll probably last me the rest of my life.

    • I’ll add my side. I write middle grade/ YA, so print is important for me. I signed up for Bowker’s mailing list and waited for them to have big sales. I got 20 ISBNS on sale like 5 years ago…WAY before I was ready to use them!

      My understanding is that if you publish a print book through Createspace, it will list CS as the publisher and not your publishing company.

  3. Nathan, what a wealth of useful info!

    I’m a marketing slug, I admit it. I love lists, though. I had not joined Google +. I did so, but it’s a literal flood of info. I could not find a place where I could indicate areas of interest (novels, genres, etc.). How do I navigate to that page?

    • The Plus is organized by communities and circles. You circle the people you want to hear from and join the communities you’re interested in.

      I’d recommend

      “Writer’s Discussion Group” – for general interest conversations about writing and the business of writing.
      “Self Publishing Your Book” – for specific self-publishing information

      There’s also a “Writer’s Critique Group” that offers critique (what else?) for poetry, fiction, covers, and blurbs.

      None of those groups allow self promotion and all have rules for posting that helps to keep the discussions focused and relatively free of spamminess.

  4. Ok, Nathan, you asked for it: How do I find Beta Readers? I’m so afraid to ask friends in RMFW because it seems like a horrible imposition, and outside of the group, I don’t know a lot of writers who I “trust” with my baby, either because they aren’t at the level a Beta needs to be at (at least I don’t think so), or they’re too busy to do this in a timely manner, even if it’s reciprocal. I have a current Beta reader who is a friend, but a good enough friend and heavy reader that she’ll tell me my writing is crap if she thinks it is. I can’t afford a professional editor yet and I’m leery of total strangers on the on-line loops. Help?

    • Depends on what kind and how many betas you want.

      I’d use Writer’s Discussion Group on Google Plus. There are over 50,000 writers there, most of whom are inactive but there are several dozen who regularly participate.

      The Self Publishing Your Book community is almost entirely indie authors and new authors regularly ask for betas there. I’ve done some of them, myself.

      Writer’s Critique Group is smaller but you could do something like post the first chapter there and see what comes back from that to see if somebody there might be a good fit for beta.

      RMFW is probably your best bet – at least until you get a book out and start building a fan base. It’s not an imposition to approach an established writer in the group. It’s a “pay it forward” kind of thing. At some point, you’ll be in a position to get asked and you’ll remember what it was like in the beginning. It comes with the turf.

      What’s the genre? How long is it? If it’s something in my interest area, I’d do a beta for you myself.

      • Sorry it took so long to get back. I’ve been swamped at work. My book is a mystery with a female classic car restorer protagonist who has a “slight” psychic ability that allows her to get images when she touches cars. Her latest project tells her it belonged to a serial killer, and he’s very close to home. She has to figure out who he is (the psychic ability doesn’t help) before he succeeds in getting to her, or her friends and family. It’s about 80,000 words. Probably needs cut down some and I’m working on that now.

        • Nice hook. 80k sounds like a great length to me, but I’m SF and not UF.

          I’d check around RMFW and see if there’s somebody that this is more in line with. (I know there are a couple of people you know who are in this niche – at least roughly)

          It’s not an imposition to ASK and a “no” doesn’t mean you’ve offended anybody. (Well, at least it doesn’t mean you’ve offended me.)

          Keep truckin’

  5. Hi Nathan, read your article the other say and red lined it this AM. I’m going to initiate your steps from this. But I have a question about YOU. Do your Lit efforts provide your living, contribute to your living, or is it an avocation?

    • I started publishing in 2007. I started selling in 2010. I’ve been a full time author since 2012.

      This year, writing provides the sole income for my family. I currently pay more income tax from writing than I used to take home as a PhD from my last day job at the university.

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