My First Five Years of Indie Publishing – How Things Have Changed

written by Lee Strauss | Lee Strauss, musings

September 29, 2016

This month is my fifth Indie Publishing Anniversary!


Yay me! And “Yay!” to a lot of other Indie authors who will tell you it's their fifth or sixth year, because basically that's how old this industry is. Kindle Direct Publishing was the new kid on the block back in 2010/11. Before KDP the only way to get published was to be selected first by an agent and then by a publisher, or DIY with a vanity press that left you thousands of dollars in dept with as many print books stuffed in your garage with no way to distribute them.

KDP through Amazon changed the way the game could be played. They opened doors to authors that had previously been closed, but even so, they were new and had a lot of bumps to iron out.

We could now self-publish, but it wasn't easy.  So, what did you have to do back in 2011 to make this happen?

You had to edit.  You had to have a great cover. You had to format. You had to make mobi files and epub files and learn magic to get a print version formatted. You had to search for book bloggers and reviewers and ask friends to read and leave reviews.

You see, this was before the cottage industries had sprouted up around this brand new industry. Now you can easily find a freelance editor, you have a choice of dozens of book cover makers, you can format yourself in minutes with Vellum and make beautiful mobi or epub files that ALWAYS work, or if you prefer, hire it out. You build a review team.

There are oodles of writing communities on Facebook and indie-writer organizations, and many, many blogs were you can advertise your books like Bookbub and Freebooksy.

There are marketing and promotion strategies (and lots of people giving webinars to tell you how).

Imagine trying to do this gig without any of that in place! That's what it was like for us early starters.

Let me run through with you what it was like to publish my first book CLOCKWISE.


(btw- Clockwise is Free this week – Get it from the vendor of your choice)

First of all this is the third version of the cover. I think I got a handle on what makes a good cover, but back then I didn't really have the resources. I didn't know or could afford Photoshop, and well, lets just say there was a reason people poo-pooed self-published book covers. Ninty-eight% of them were horrible. This cover was created by Steven Novak a couple years later. People rave about it and the rest of the series. I love it too.

To get this up on KDP I had to convert a word file into a web page .htm. I don't know how many people remember that. KDP wasn't set up to accept all the different formats it'll take now. They took this file and converted it into a mobi file, a file type that no one in the world had even heard of ( I don't think) much less used. It was special to them.

Other vendors were quick to enter the race. Barnes & Noble put out the Nook, itunes put out iBooks (but didn't start calling it that until a few years later) and Kobo put out well, Kobo.

The thing with these vendors was they all needed epub files and no one knew how to make those. Another cottage industry sprung up to meet the need, an aggregate called Smashwords. Smashwords was a life saver at the time because you just had to upload a word.doc and they would convert to epub and distribute to all the other vendors. You got paid your royalties every three months instead of every month, and they took a cut but hey, it was worth it if you could just get your file to pass their fickle meatgrinder.

But then, after awhile the other vendors made it possible upload directly and you didn't need to give away that cut. There was still the matter of creating an epub, but by then there was a new software available: Calibre, which would even make you a mobi as well as an epub. This could only do very simple formatting, and it wasn't easy to fix a problem if there was one. A lot of people just hired out.

People were starting to see real sales on iBooks, but the problem here was you could only upload directly if you owned a mac. PC users were not happy about that. Some would even hire mac owners to upload for them. Eventually I had a mac given to me which I only used to upload to iBooks. However, it was really tricky to get an epub to pass mustard with them. You had to use a program called Sigil and basically do the whole file through html code. O.M.G. I have to say I learned a bit of coding that still comes in handy, but the learning curve was huge and I pulled out a lot of hair.

Then Jutoh came along setting us free from Sigil, but it was still cumbersome and not that user friendly. Around this point everyone was trying to put in fancy title and chapter images, which you could do with Jutoh. Still, you needed a bottle of wine to get through the ordeal.

Other things we didn't know: the value of building a mailing list, choosing and sticking to a genre (some did this by intuition, but I don't know if they realized at the time what a good business move that was), the importance of series, the importance of social networking/website, that a pen name might be a good idea because you'll appreciate the privacy if you happen to do really well, how to successfully launch a book, and more.

People who are jumping into Indie Publishing now don't know how good they have it. They have access to so many resources and teaching on writing and publishing that those of us who started out had to learn by trial and error. They don't have to deal with the stigma that came with self-publishing ( at least not to the same degree). They missed out on all the mud-throwing.

At least we early adopters had each other. I thank God for the writing groups I've been blessed to be apart of.

How about you? Were you there in the beginning? Have I missed anything?

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