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Indie authors of Mumsnet, come talk to me...

(71 Posts)
CakeRage Wed 11-Sep-19 17:54:02

Have you self-published? It’s something I’m looking at at the mo and I’d really love to hear more from people who’ve done it. I follow the 20booksto50k FB group which someone on here recommended to me in my agent thread and over the last few months I’ve become captivated by the stories on there.

I’m 5 months into querying agents and honestly I’m hating it. It’s stripping everything I love out of the writing process, and it’s making me doubt myself and my work to the point where I’m about to give up. The more I think about it, and the more I read, the more I want to just f it all off and publish my own books.

I’m not in it for the big time, or to win awards, or to hob nob with the rich and famous. When I really think about it, all that’s important to me is that I’m writing the kind of books I want to read, and that I have creative control over all of it.

Have you done it? Are you happy with your decision. Are there any pitfalls I might not have thought about? And how do you deal with people being snobby about the whole indie game?

Oceangirl82 Thu 12-Sep-19 01:20:50

I haven’t self published but am planning to either this year or early next. So would be interested to see what replies you get. I have never really considered a publisher as I want more control than that would allow. Planning to do a picture book series and a cookery book.

zonoverlords Thu 12-Sep-19 13:00:28

I'm self-published. Happy with my decision, and don't really give a fuck about any snobbiness from the literati. I write pulp/genre, so the literati will always look down on my work no matter who's publishing it.

Some things to consider:

--You'll be essentially running a small business, probably as a sole trader so start, so all the legal obligations that come with that (tax specifically).

--It's not just writing. It's marketing. It's advertising. It's editing, sorting covers. Probably a website, social media, newsletter.

--It's much harder to get visibility now than it was even a year ago. A lot of the people making big bucks started before 2016, but it's still possible to do it.

--Title. Cover. Blurb. Look inside. Those 4 things can make or break your book. Your endings will determine whether people will buy the next book.

--If you do want to go with traditional publishing in the future, you'll probably want to query a book on a different pen name. Agents want the shiny new debut rather than baggage.

--Do not read your reviews. Most people cannot handle bad reviews. Save yourself the misery and stay away from them.

CakeRage Thu 12-Sep-19 15:51:25

Thanks for this, zon. I hear you on the looking down. I write women’s fiction and get a lot of eye-rolly oh that sounds nice comments when I tell people!

I run my own small business, so am already up on the financials and marketing and all that good stuff. I know book marketing is a little different, but I’m ready for it! I’m not expecting to just pop it out and then magically make a killing. I’m happy to work for it. But at the same time I like what I do now, so if I only made £20 in royalties it wouldn’t be the end of the world. It’d still be £20 more than I’d make if I put it in my bottom drawer and forgot about it smile

Hellomatey001 Thu 12-Sep-19 19:42:03


One question, how much money could you expect to realistically make self publishing? I'd be happy with £20k per annum. Is this realistic?

CakeRage Thu 12-Sep-19 19:58:53

Matey - I’d definitely recommend the 20booksto50k group if you’re interested.

There are quite a lot of people on there earning £20k and upwards (some WAY upwards), although as has been said, they are working hard to achieve it. The figures they post don’t take into account what they’re spending on marketing or editing, but it’s still a healthy income. Lots more are doing it around full time jobs and pulling in a few hundred a month.

If you can write quickly and put lots of time and energy into marketing yourself then it definitely seems achievable.

Hellomatey001 Thu 12-Sep-19 21:14:05

Thanks Cake!

Interesting what you can achieve when you look at all your options. At a writers festival I spoke to a traditionally published author who got a well publicised 6 figure deal. She told me this deal included the agents cut and was meant to last her 3 years (up to publication). In reality, she said she was making in the region of about 30k a year. Made this huge deal seem very different once broken down.

themental Fri 13-Sep-19 08:25:44


I think I was the one who recommended 20books to you 😊

As a pp said, people are going to look down regardless. But it's readers who are king in this game, and there is enough of them without the snobby attitude that you can make a healthy income (and more!).

You said you want to write the books you want to write. I have only been publishing since April and in hindsight my first book was absolutely a hot mess. I didn't even know basic grammar rules and kinda cringe at it now, but what I did learn to do from the very first book was give the readers what they wanted. The people who make the big £ in the indy game are the ones who write what they want to write in the way the readers want it. I don't pretend to be some literary genius, I reckon I probably could do it if I put my mind to it, but it would take me 6 months to write a book and my readers would have moved on by then.

As it stands I am releasing my 5th book, and half way through writing my 6th. I quit my job in July because I was on track to make double my salary, and this month I'm on track to quadruple it. That might sound really easy but in reality I have treated this like a 24hr a day job. When i'm not writing, I'm researching the market. I'm studying. I'm reading openings of King and Cabot and analysing how they build depth through character. I'm taking courses on AMS and FB ads for when I have a big enough backlist to start running them. I'm networking with reader groups, making teasers of the latest release, organising ARC teams, replying to fans.

The writing is only really a tiny fragment of what you do, so to keep up you cannot think of a book as a snowflake. It's not special, it doesn't have to be perfect, it has to be good enough. You can't redraft and polish like the myths of publishing would have you believe is mandatory. If you really love writing, just write the book and let it go, and move on to the next one.

Maybe some would see all of this as the downside of indy publishing? I personally don't, because I came from a 8-5 where I had to work for someone else. I'm a really hard worker, so I wanted to do something where the more I worked the more I would reap the rewards. And I get to drop my kids off at school now which is something I could never do in corporate office work.

I am probably preaching to the converted with some of this since you're in 20books and will have picked up what works and what doesn't by now.

But if you have any questions then let me know grin

CakeRage Fri 13-Sep-19 09:41:48

Thank you so much. To be honest the writing is the only bit I know I can do, it’s just all the rest which is a leap of faith!

To put it all into perspective, April is when I first started querying agents. So in the same amount of time, you’ve published 5 books and quit your day job while I’m just still exactly where I started but with slightly shitter self-esteem. It’s starting to look like a no-brainer.

Do you mind if I ask what genre you’re writing in? That seems to make a difference from what I’ve read.

Also are you writing standalone books or a series? I’m in a position where I have 4 good ideas, each with a rough synopsis, and i’m not sure which to tackle first. One could be book 2 in a series with the one I’ve already written, and the others are standalones or potential books 1s of other series, if that makes sense? I’m just not sure which to tackle first.

Apologies if this post makes no sense, btw, I’m typing it one-handed on my phone while eating grin

themental Fri 13-Sep-19 10:38:04

Genre does make a difference, but none are easier than others, and all have their own bunch of dedicated readers and expectations. I write in romance (which is one of the ones people always think is easier!) but the readers are harsh and the competition is fierce, so it brings its own set of challenges. The positives are the readers do a lot of your marketing for you if they love your books, and they're generally a really engaged audience re. Social Media.

I think you said you write womens fic? I can't speak much about that from an indy front but if you can find similar authors who publish indy, and find where they hang out, then that's a really good step. Join their reader groups on FB, study what they're doing. I met a few WF authors at 20books conference so they definitely exist!

I did that when I first started and have had some amazing opportunities that way (newsletter swaps, participation in anthologies, help with things I didn't understand etc).

My first two were a duet, second two were a duet, fifth book standalone and sixth book standalone. I chop and change depending on how long I think it will be, I'm not a plotter at all -- I write completely into the dark so there was nothing intentional about that, there are positives and negatives to series/ standalone. The duets were good because both book 1s ended up being popular, so I had a decent income from book 2s but I can imagine it would be really discouraging if book 1 flopped, having to continue with it because you've left a cliffhanger for the few people who did read the book.

But the good thing with indy is you learn from your mistakes, and you implement them on the next book. Duet didn't work? Write a standalone!
Book 1 was a hot mess so I got Pro Writing Aid for Book 2. I then learned being a grammar nazi was killing my character voice in Book 2, so for Book 3 I scaled right back on the grammar and just fixed spelling. Huge success. Book 4 I didn't give a good enough ending, so for Book 5 I went to town on the ending and gave them a 4k epilogue.

You get the idea. You can't learn all the lessons before you've hit publish, it's definitely a journey and as long as your willing to keep pushing forwards, tweaking things, learning, adjusting, and not take yourself to seriously then I do believe anyone can do it smile

ReanimatedSGB Fri 13-Sep-19 10:44:51

There is a huge circuit of indie authors out there, and some of them are making decent money. However, it is luck, as much as hard work, which brings in the cash: there are also lots of indie authors making sod all money and, in some cases, running up debt to pay for marketing/covers/editing/signings.

However, I would still recommend self-publishing to someone who is writing for their own enjoyment and would like to make a little money on the side. Or, indeed, to anyone who wants to write but doesn't want to have to fit their writing into boxes.

The thing to consider, though, is that a lot of the time the ones making vast amounts of money are the ones writing books that are... pretty generic. It can be just as 'soulless' as writing for a commercial publisher: you have to include these tropes and ^that story arc and your cover has to look similar to this one/that one/the other one...

CakeRage Fri 13-Sep-19 18:47:07

Thanks both for your advice.

I do write women’s fic but it has quite a lot of crossover with romance so it is still interesting to hear about as a genre. I don’t think my audience will be quite as hungry as the romance crowd seems to be but you never know until you try, right?

It’s also comforting to hear that you can throw yourself in at the deep end and learn on the job, as it were, rather than agonising for months over a manuscript as I have been doing. As I said, I don’t harbour delusions of making it big or anything. I’m quite happy to bumble along happily and see where the journey takes me.

My career until I started my business was in commercial writing and marketing so I’m quite used to writing to audiences. I just hope I haven’t completely lost my mojo!

themental Fri 13-Sep-19 21:32:00

On the agonising for months over a manuscript part you might find this video useful?

Fair warning, it's 40 minutes long and there is quite a bit of fluff in there, but there are a lot of gems too which I found really helpful.

The guy (Dean Wesley Smith) is a prolific writer and he does touch on some of the (what he calls) 'myths' of trad publishing. He also talks a lot about creative voice versus critical voice, and how when we're 'polishing' we're normally doing it in critical voice.

Hth and good luck with whichever way you choose to go. If you need any help with specific things then feel free to contact me smile

CakeRage Sat 14-Sep-19 09:03:18

Thank you. This is very helpful!

ReanimatedSGB Sat 14-Sep-19 11:04:37

I have to say, the advice to 'put it out there even if it's a mess' is not what I would recommend. the least-worst result of that is that no one takes any notice of you. But if some book blogger having a bad day picks up on the fact that your book is unedited, makes no sense, is derivative etc and writes about this then, well, you'll need to get a new pen name at the very least.
There is a big writing community out there, which is mostly supportive (though, as with any community, you will get feuds and bitching): it might be a good idea, if you're not sure about your writing and too skint to pay an editor, to look for beta readers. But, again, you can come unstuck with this: it's a bit of a thing for indie authors to all beta-read for each other and reinforce each other's mistakes.

But there's only one piece of writing advice that really works, which is write lots and read lots. If you don't like reading, you'll never be much of a writer.

Hellomatey001 Sat 14-Sep-19 11:10:52

>there are also lots of indie authors making sod all money and, in some cases, running up debt to pay for marketing/covers/editing/signings.

This has become a feature of traditional publishing too, with an entire industry dedicated to helping you make it as a trad. published author.

I went to a 3 day writers festival ticket price and travel cost £500, the organisers promoted their self edit/novel writing courses which ranged from £1k to £4k. I was tempted and then stopped thinking, "how much money am I willing to spend on a dream?"

I talked to a writer who had quit his day job to become a writer. He did the Curtis Brown course, which with travel, cost him £6k. He had been to every festival going and had been on other writing courses too. In 3 years he spent £10k on his dream. He was still unpublished and living with his mum.

PreparingForDisappointment Sat 14-Sep-19 11:13:42

I'm joining the thread to read the advice - as I've said on Cake's agent thread, I'm in a similar position with agent queries.

themental Sat 14-Sep-19 12:20:57

* I have to say, the advice to 'put it out there even if it's a mess' is not what I would recommend. the least-worst result of that is that no one takes any notice of you.*

Just to clarify, because I don't want that to come across as being my advice for if anyone comes across this post... I'm saying the book was a hot mess but that's by my own standards now with hindsight. The book was still 5 star or 4 star reviewed, the story was actually solid, its just that my own execution of how to tell stories has improved. A more experienced writer could probably tear it apart but the readers still liked it and it still makes me money every day.

My point was that aiming for perfection on your first book can sometimes be counter productive, because you learn more lessons from writing the next book than you do from rewriting the same thing over and over again. I just want to clarify that smile

CakeRage Sat 14-Sep-19 13:47:26

This has become a feature of traditional publishing too, with an entire industry dedicated to helping you make it as a trad. published author.

This is so true. I have even had referral links to (vastly overpriced) editing and reading services in rejection letters from agents. This industry is booming at the same time that the average UK author’s take home pay is dropping below minimum wage, and it really annoys me.

One of my friends is also an aspiring author and he spends so much time, money and energy going to conventions and workshops and courses and is, in my opinion, encouraged to keep going and strung along by these people and it works because he is so desperate to be published. Honestly his books aren’t brilliant, so I’d be surprised if he ever got a book deal, but they aren’t bad, and he writes in quite a niche sci-fi genre so I’m almost positive he could grow a following if he published them himself. He tells me all the time how it’s not ‘real’ publishing, but the people reading and the money you make are no less real. I’m all for anyone following their dream, but at what cost?

CakeRage Sat 14-Sep-19 13:58:26

My point was that aiming for perfection on your first book can sometimes be counter productive, because you learn more lessons from writing the next book than you do from rewriting the same thing over and over again. I just want to clarify that.

I understood what you meant, and it makes sense. Obviously there’s a happy middle ground between rushing through a first draft and publishing it without so much as a second thought, and where I am now, which is on draft number 6, fully edited and beta-read but still fannying around with comma placement and changing the occasional ‘there’s’ to ‘there is’ and then back again! grin

Editing and proofreading has been part of my job for nearly 20 years and my standards are stupid high, but I don’t think it hurts to relax them a little. I have literally never read an indie book that I wouldn’t correct in some way, given the chance, but 90% of the time it doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of them at all. If the plot is sound and it has strong characters and a voice that I like I can forgive a few repeated phrases (the normal offender, in my experience), or a ‘you’ that should have been a ‘your’. Obviously if it’s total trash I’ll stop reading, but I give other writers a lot more leeway than I would give myself.

ReanimatedSGB Mon 16-Sep-19 00:56:06

@themental fair enough.
@cakerage there's also a fairly substantial industry feeding off self-published authors: lots of fairly pricey tutorials, courses, books etc. Writing is one of those things that lots of people want to do, and lots of people think they can do - in a way that people don't believe they can dance, or play an instrument... or do brain surgery. All the courses in the world won't make a great writer out of a crap one. At beset, they will teach someone a few technical skills, but they may also squash any relevance or originality out of someone who did have something to say...

RosaWaiting Tue 17-Sep-19 12:44:43

This has been a really interesting thread

I had 99% given up writing and something that massively puts me off is that I’m introverted. I don’t want to do much publicity etc, certainly not in person.

I’m curious to know if anyone here is in the same position. I don’t want to give away work for free, I don’t want to be well known but I still feel an urge I say “I published this and my words were helpful to someone, somewhere...” if you know what I mean?

I’m working part time and looking after mum, so I do have time to devote to it, but I’m no longer sure what I want from it when even a small profit looks unlikely (though that group has made me more hopeful).

CakeRage Tue 17-Sep-19 22:06:25

I’m introverted too, Rosa. I’m fine behind the cover of the internet, but would need to majorly psych myself up for anything in person!

The feeling I get from the self-publishing way of doing things is that you very much get out what you put in. The people I see raking in money are working their arses off writing a lot of books and marketing them very aggressively.

It all depends on what you want to achieve. If you’re happy just to get your books read by people and to be able to call yourself an author, then I don’t think there is much to lose from taking an independent approach, and the more research I do the more that view is confirmed.

ReanimatedSGB Wed 18-Sep-19 08:45:58

I would also very VERY strongly recommend Writer Beware to those of you who are new or new-ish to writing, particularly if you would like to be published rather than self-publish, or if you are interested in 'learning the secrets of success'. Because there really are a lot of scammers out there.

BogglesGoggles Wed 18-Sep-19 08:53:27

If you have the skills and connections self publishing is better. I know a few people who published down the traditional route. They made very little from their work and one of them signed away the rights as well (turned out to be a multi million spin off business, he’s feeling pretty sorry for himself but I doubt he would have put in the effort to do that himself). The other one is lecturing creative writing and still chasing that booker prize (and getting more depressed each time he misses out).

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