Hello there my lovelies! This week we're hosting guest blogger Kathryn Kincaid! Today's post is an AMAZING resource for indie authors who are trying to wade through all the things you have to figure out during publishing . Should I start and LLC, where should I publish, how do I get reviews and so much more! If you're a writer, trying to learn more about the WHAT, WHEN, and WHYs of publishing this post is for you. So, buckle-up-buttercups and prepare to catch some knowledge bombs!
Kathryn Kincaid writes contemporary romance featuring sports and characters finding the love they deserve. Her goal is to write stories that allow her readers to escape reality and walk away with a smile on their faces.
She lives in North Carolina with her husband and four adorable but high-maintenance cats. When she’s not working or writing, she spends her free time devouring books, binging TV shows, cheering on the Carolina Hurricanes, and getting her butt kicked at OrangeTheory.
You can find her on social media:
Her debut sports romance Play Your Part is reviewed in an earlier blog and you can read it on Kindle Unlimited: https://a.co/d/2VMyDMB
Thanks for reading my lovelies! I hope you enjoy Kathryn's piece and I'll be back next week!
-Rose Rayne Rivers
Author: Kathryn Kincaid
Title: Kathryn's Two Cents on Publishing an Indie Novel
This year, I made a lifetime dream come true by publishing my debut novel, Play Your Part, an enemies-to-lovers, fake dating hockey romance novel. I’ve been a reader and writer my entire life, but I had no clue how to get my book published. I’m here to share my experience with self-publishing my book, why I approached it the way I did, and what I learned in the process.
Why did I decide to publish indie?
I surprised myself when I chose to self-publish because I always figured I’d try to go traditional. But when I thought about sending query after query, it filled me with dread. I’m a highly sensitive person so I knew that I would take the rejection hard. I also wanted to spend more time writing and to get my book intoreaders’ hands as soon as possible. The quickest way to make that happen was to publish it myself.
The biggest obstacle for me was financial. Self-publishing takes money and might not turn a profit. I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could invest money in my dream, knowing I would be okay even if never made it back. I knew I would regret not taking the big swing and betting on myself, and always wonder what-if.
Writing the book
One piece of popular advice is to write to market, meaning to write what is selling well. I wrote a hockey romance, so you might think that’s what I decided to do. But I started writing this book well before hockey romance launched into the stratosphere in 2022 thanks to Icebreaker. I wrote the book I wanted to read,and I lucked out that hockey romance was popular when I released it. Trends come and go, so I’m a big proponent of writing what you want to read rather than what is popular at the moment. If you read a lot in your genre, then it’s likely that you’ll find other readers who want to read your book, too.
I went through several rounds of editing on my own and with four critique partners (CP)/beta readers – three writers and a friend of mine who reads a ton of romance. I connected withthree writers through social media (shout out to the FridayKissFacebook group which is an amazing community for romance writers). There were others that I didn’t connect with, and I learned that’s okay. It can take time to find CPs/betas who provide feedback in a way that works for you.
Professionally editing the book
Indie authors take on responsibilities that the publisher does, including cover design, editing, and formatting. Editing was the biggest financial investment I made. I looked at editors listed in indie books (either in the acknowledgments or on the copyright page) and asked indie writers in a writing forum if they had referrals.
I received an example edit from two potential editors. One editor cost about $600 more than the other, but I chose her because I liked the insight she provided and the changes she suggested in the sample edit. Another author also referred her to me. I also liked that my editor did two full passes through the book. Since I was going to rely on myself for proofreading, this was an attractive part of her service. I don’t regret spending more on editing because I think it improved my manuscript enormously.
Something I wished I had known before I started was how far out people booked editors. Several editors I reached out to weren’t available for 6-12 months. The editor I chose wasn’tavailable for two months, which slowed my publication timeline. Next time around, I now know to reach out to my editor sooner and request an extension if needed.
Designing the book cover
I found my cover designer from a cover reveal posted by a favorite indie author of mine. I absolutely loved the cover and immediately reached out to the designer. Thankfully, she had near-term availability (FYI cover designers also book up far in advance!). I didn’t have a vision in mind for my cover, but I knew I wanted it illustrated and for it to convey an enemies-to-lovers vibe. My designer asked me questions about my book, sent three sketches, and then produced a full draft based on the one I liked most.
Something I learned along the way was that I would need to provide specifications to my designer for her to finalize the paperback cover. Amazon has a tool here that gives you a PDF you can send to your designer. You’ll need to know your book dimensions and your page count (including front and back matter) to produce the PDF.
Two lessons learned here:
When getting the dimensions, I made the mistake of choosing white paper instead of cream. When I later learned cream was standard for my genre and changed it, the page count changed. So I had to ask my designer to revise the cover after Amazon rejected it because it wasn’t within their dimensions.
I didn’t purchase a barcode at first but ultimately decided to. I sent that to my designer before she finalized the cover. You’ll need to have your ISBN purchased for your book before securing the barcode. You can buy both from Bowker.
Formatting the book
Writers can hire someone to format their book but I read thatmany indie writers used formatting software on their own. I used Atticus, which required a one-time purchase for lifetime use. Most of the program was intuitive to me. But when I didn’t know how to do something, Atticus’s customer service team quickly answered my questions.
One thing I realized late in the game is that the Sans Serif font that I used to denote text messages (an option in Atticus) did not show as a different font in the Kindle version of my book. This meant all my text messages looked like regular text which annoyed some early readers who commented on it in theiradvanced reviews. I fixed it before my pub date and checked the formatting using the free Kindle Previewer program before publishing. I also sent it to my personal Kindle app.
Handling the business side
I’m so relieved that most of these tasks were one-time onlybecause they took so much time. I first had to choose what name I would publish under. I settled on a pen name because of my day job and researched Google, Amazon, and Goodreads to make sure no one well-known had the same name. After that, I…
bought the website domain
reserved handles on the social media platforms I planned to use
created my Amazon author profile
created an email address
setup a Limited Liability Company (LLC)
applied for copyright
created my author website
set up an account on a mailing list platform
I chose to publish under an LLC to keep my personal information from the public record. I also wanted to have abusiness bank account so funds did not comingle with my personal account. Setting up an LLC required using a registered agent in my state if I wanted to keep my address from the public record. I used a registered agent company that also prepared and submitted all my paperwork and would remind me to renew annually.
For the website and mailing list platforms, I asked other indie authors in a forum what platform worked well for them. I opted for Wix and MailterLite, which have worked well for me so far.
Phew. Just writing that brought me back to that overwhelming feeling of doubt that I could do this. There’s a lot to tackle, but don’t worry, there are a lot of resources out there to help you along the way. I’ve found that indie authors are also more than happy to answer your questions. They’ve been there and remember what it was like!
Getting the book out there
If indie authors want to have their book included in Kindle Unlimited (KU), the subscription reading program that Amazon runs, then they cannot publish it anywhere else. (The same is not true for traditionally published authors, by the way.) Because I wanted my book in KU, my research into other ebook platforms stopped there.
I initially thought I would only publish my paperback viaAmazon too, but later decided to also use IngramSpark, a print-on-demand company that will distribute your work among their large network. I would love to see my book in libraries and bookstores, which was my main motivation for using them. There’s also no setup fee with IngramSpark any longer. Another author advised me to discount my book to compete with traditional publishers. I set mine at 45%, which meant that a purchase on IngramSpark net me about half of a sale on Amazon did. It’s also important to understand the ramifications of allowing returns. I did not allow returns because if someone bought my book and then returned it because it didn’t sell, I would owe money to IngramSpark (and that could get super expensive!).
I was very intimidated about getting everything set up through Amazon and IngramSpark but it went pretty smoothly for me. There’s guidance on both platforms about what to do and most answers can be found easily via a Google search. Don’t hesitate to ask fellow indie authors, too!
Something I wished I had known ahead of time was that Amazon’s review process moves fairly quickly. I was so worried about it that I submitted my paperback to them more than a week in advance. They reviewed it within a day or two, so my paperback was live at least a week early. One benefit to this wasthat advance readers could add reviews before the release date because the paperback was live. Next time, I’ll aim not to have it live more than three days before my pub date.
Indie authors are also their own marketers. With a crowded book market, the biggest challenge is making readers aware of your book, especially when you are a debut author with no platform (aka me!). I read many articles online and looked at how otherindie authors approach this. I focused my efforts on:
Providing free copies of my book (also known as an Advance Reader Copy) in exchange for an honest review. I decided to use NetGalley to find these readers since I didn’t have many social media followers and zero people on my mailing list. Victory Editing has a co-op that allows indie authors to rent a NetGalley slot for their book for a very reasonable price. Victory Editing sets the book up on the platform and then the author fields the requests for their book. Because hockey is having a moment, I ended up receiving nearly 2,000 ARC requests which blew me away. I approved about 20% of the requests. Of those, ~58% have read and provided feedback so far. These reviews have been invaluable because someone is more likely to give a book a shot when they see positive reviews.
I decided to go the NetGalley route because I’ve used NetGalley as a reader and know many bookstagrammers do as well. It was cheaper than doing a Goodreads giveaway and I hoped would help me reach more people (which it did).
Post on social media. I’ve enjoyed this aspect of marketing, though it’s not a strength of mine. I purchased a Canva Prosubscription and use that to design images and reels that I post on Instagram and TikTok. It’s been fun creating the content and seeing what readers connect with. I do think that this has helped make people aware of my book, though I think the ARC reviewers who posted on social media had a bigger impact.
Advertise on Instagram. On release day, I decided to try boosting a post to get my book in front of more people. Ispent $5 per day for 5 days, which led to about 2,000 accounts seeing the post. About 14% of those users clicked the link to go to my book’s Amazon page. During that time, I did see more orders and higher page reads but I wasn’tsure I could attribute that to the ad because my book was also on the top 100 new releases in sports romance list on Amazon during that time. A month later, I tried it again – this time with a $2 per day ad over 3 days right before theweekend – and had another boost in page reads and purchases. I’m thinking I might keep boosting a post once a month, especially if there’s a lull in earnings.
Write a reader magnet to entice newsletter sign-ups.Although this is in the marketing section, I did have to complete this step before I published the book. There was a chapter I cut from Play Your Part that I liked, so I rewrote it and made it available as a bonus chapter. In the back of the ebook, readers can click a link to sign up for my newsletter and get a copy. For physical book readers, there is a QR code they can scan to go to my website (which I created here). I have about 60 people who have signed up so far, and only one signed up to get the free chapter and then immediately unsubscribed.
Before I published, I wished I knew how much time I would invest in marketing my book. I’m in awe of authors who appear to be naturals at marketing. That’s not me, and sometimes it can feel frustrating to invest time and not gain any traction. I decided to put less pressure on myself and only post a couple of times a week on social media. I’ve found I enjoy marketing more after that.
I’m happy I took the risk to self-publish, both because of the sense of accomplishment and the connection with readers, which has been so rewarding. I know what it feels like to love a book as a reader, and it’s amazing that my book gave some readers that feeling. After my release date, I’ve spent my time replying to readers, reposting their reviews, and posting quotes and videos from the book.
My book has been on the market now for about five weeks. I’ve made about 23% back of my investment so far, which has primarily come from Amazon since I’ve only had 2 sales on IngramSpark. About half of my royalties are from Kindle Unlimited, so even though it’s more profitable for me if a reader purchases an ebook or a paperback, I don’t think I’d reach as many readers without being in KU. I’m a KU reader myself and I’ve found many new authors that way. So I’ll be keeping my book in KU.
I know the more books I have available, the better shot I’ll have at reaching more readers who want to read them. So I’m hard at work on my next one!
If you’re an indie author, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about the lessons you learned while self-publishing. If you’re looking for answers or just want to connect with another writer, feel free to reach out to me(@authorkathrynkincaid). Writing is a lot more fun when you have a network.
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