My Indie Author Experience

Things I've learned, what works for me!


8/21/20234 min read

MacBook Pro near white open book
MacBook Pro near white open book

I started writing my first novel a year ago, in August 2022. My insights this week are on the topic of self-publishing. Y'all, it's a grind. Of course, writing and editing a book is hard work in itself. But then you have marketing, formatting, cover design, marketing, beta readers, ARC readers, self-publishing software / companies, marketing... You get the idea. And for most of us, this isn't our full time job, it's a side gig.

So how do we indie/self published authors do it all? The answer varies from author to author. Most of us hire out for at least one aspect of the process, whether that's editing, cover design, formatting, etc. (The fact that self-publishing is all out of pocket expenses for the author can be challenging!) There are free services for formatting, and of course most marketing involves social media, which is technically "free." (That's debatable, but I digress.)

Here's how I make it work with my personal budget and allotment of time/energy.

Writing, editing, & formatting: I don't pay for any special software for drafting. I use google docs and/or MS Word. As far as editing, I have been fortunate enough to have editors willing to edit my work for free or for trade, up to this point. For my fourth book coming up, I honestly don't know how I'll make it work, because I can't afford an editor out of pocket. I'm crossing my fingers for another lucky opportunity to come my way, or some sort of unexpected financial windfall. LOL. For formatting, my first two books were formatted with Reedsy, which is free. Being free, it's also pretty limited, so for my third book (and all books going forward) I purchased Atticus. It's not cheap, but it is a one time purchase and worth it, in my opinion,

As far as time and energy for all of the above, this is basically my (non-paying) second job. I write whenever I can, I edit my own work to the best of my ability, and fortunately Atticus does the heavy lifting for formatting. I don't watch tons of TV or go out much, I spend that time writing and editing. (Or creating covers, more on that below.)

Book cover design: All over the internet, self-published or indie authors will tell you that you absolutely HAVE to pay for two things in the book publishing process - editing and cover design. While I agree with the sentiment that the cover is incredibly important and a good cover is essential to the success of your book... I have been able to design my own covers and people comment on how amazing they are all the time, and definitely purchase my books based on those covers. I can't afford a professional cover artist, so I have used the following tools: my own innate artistic/creative ability, research, and Krita (digital drawing/editing program), MidJourney (AI image generator), and Canva (paid pro version). People raved about my covers so much that I started an Etsy shop where I design covers for indie authors for a low price, because I know I'm not the only indie that can't afford a pro cover artist. Speaking of the Etsy shop, that leads me to the next topic...

Marketing: Social media! I have had the best luck with followers and engagement on TikTok/BookTok, despite my initial reluctance/terror about joining, but YMMV. I'm also on IG and FB and I have other internet presence that everyone says is necessary like this website and my newsletter. Although the platforms might be free, it is still going to cost you some money to thoroughly market your books. That might be for ads, or it might be doing giveaways, or sending out physical ARC copies or PR book boxes. My books don't make enough (yet) to pay for all of this, but fortunately my Etsy shop (see above) has been filling in that gap.

I also use Canva for creating and editing content for social media! Between marketing and book covers, I make sure I get my money's worth out of that subscription!

Publishing: I have so far used KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) which is Amazon's self-publishing company. KDP is free to use, as is IngramSpark and Barnes and Noble. I have had problems with B&N that I can't get anyone from customer service to help me resolve, so I haven't been able to pursue publishing with them. I am using IngramSpark for the first time with Order of Terra to order limited edition hardbacks with dust jackets, because KDP doesn't do dust jackets. The only "set up" type of cost with KDP and IngramSpark is when you order proofs. That will cost you the print cost of the book plus shipping. (Yes, you pay shipping with KDP even if you have Prime... Blah.)

Misc: To keep all of the above organized, I have a separate author email connected to my website and I use Google Forms for beta and ARC reader sign ups. I also have a Google form for my indie authors who want a cover design.

I didn't know much of anything about this journey when I decided to write my first novel. The past year has been quite a learning experience, but I think I'm getting the hang of it all. I've written five novels and I'm working on the first drafts of two more. My only goals for this "career" or hobby is that I continue to enjoy writing and hopefully at least one reader enjoys each book I put out... But it would also be super cool if I could sell enough books for them to pay for themselves. ;)