Self-publishing is not for every writer. Here are ten qualities that you will need to have, or develop, if you are to succeed as an indie author:
Positive and Proactive
So many writers wait for permission, from an agent or publisher or PR campaign. The flip side of this is chronic complaint syndrome. You won’t be in a roomful of writers too long before somebody starts to moan about the vagaries of their agent or publisher. Not indies. Maybe indies don’t have time to whine, maybe we’re different by nature, but it’s probably something to do with being willing to take responsibility for the risks, as well as the rewards, of publishing ourselves.
Risk is our core activity. We risk time on ideas, or promotions, or concepts that may come to naught. We risk money to pay for editorial and design upfront. We also risk confidence and reputation. ALLi’s UK Advisor, Joanna Penn, has written of how her self-esteem plummeted when she left her high-paying job to become a self-publishing writer. Similarly, though I know I am a more authentic, more connected, and a better writer now, I also know that many think it’s a second-best option. “Wouldn’t you rather go back to being ‘properly’ published?” a family member asked me recently. Short answer: No.
This is an absolute essential. Indies are full of energy and commitment, not only to their writing but to educating themselves about all aspects of craft, editing, design and promotion. They work hard and they work smart, so they can recognize opportunities and figure out how to make the most of them, without derailing their writing, the engine of it all.
Indies love their work but most confess to having to having a constant stream of tasks awaiting attention and to needing to consciously block out times of rest, meditation, exercise and downtime into their schedules.
Know Your Readers
Some authors become self-publishers because they are recognized experts, or to enhance their standing in their field, or to justify an increase in their fees. Some because they are committed to a cause, or have a story that just has to be told. Regardless of their primary motive for writing, successful self-publishers all share a marketer‘s sensibility. They may not use marketing terms but they will not survive, never mind thrive, if they are not attuned to the needs of their readership and able to communicate with them.
Know Your Niche
Niche markets addressing special interests are often seen as too unprofitable to be of interest to trade publishing. In these overlooked niches is where many indie authors prosper. Sometimes in the course of their endeavors, they create new genres and go mainstream (like S&M erotica for middle-class females — who knew?).
The indies who do best have an entrepreneurial mindset — always on the lookout for new ways to reach readers, new communities who might be interested in their books, new opportunities to get their message out. They are savvy users of social media and know how to engage resources like email lists, newsletters, promotions, competitions and book giveaways to extend their readership. They are open to failure and willing to learn from mistakes and excited by the prospect of new projects and creative collaborations.
Successful self-publishers, by definition, are those who have kept on keeping on, adapting where necessary, and following their hearts. As ALLi’s Creative Advisor, Mark McGuinness says in his new book, Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success, in going indie writers need to ensure they haven’t exchanged traditional forms of rejection and criticism for others that can be just as painful and costly. “Anyone who says ‘don't take it so personally' doesn't understand what it's like when you are hit by a major rejection or biting criticism,” says Mark. “Successful indies have found ways to acknowledge the pain – and bounce back from the impact.”
Indies follow gut feelings and intuitions but successful indies generally back horse sense with research to stay smart, sharp and up to date, to search out their readers, stay in touch with influencers in their field and give their books an advantage. Whether it’s keyword research, marketing studies, direct mail tests or just dear old Professor Google, indies enjoy learning and growing and getting it right.
Successful self-publishers don’t tend to be the kind of writers who say, “I don't care about money”, unless they have a benefactor or obliging day job. Controlling costs is important for all businesses, and successful self-publishers take care of their resources and make sure they spend money where it will produce the biggest effect.
Collaborative and Supportive
That literary communities can be a tad bitchy is well known but the camaraderie within the indie author community is outstanding. Maybe we need each other more than other authors, but successful indies tend to operate out of what ALLi’s social media manager, Karen Lotter, calls Ubuntu, an African philosophy of inter-connectedness that says “I am because you are”.
Even if they are not that esoteric about it, indies are likely to work from the co-opetition model, where competitors co-operate for mutual benefit. Again and again, ALLi members attest to the benefits of sharing and learning from each other in this way and when asked, this interaction, support and encouragement is their number one benefit of membership.
What do you think? Are these qualities essential? Did we miss one out?