Education of an Indie Writer, part 2, PLUS story excerpt

published29 days ago
6 min read

Hello!

I'm writing to you on a very cold and windy day here in Wellington, with the road in and out of the bays here awash with high seas and debris. I sent my daughter off to school on the bus, thinking it would be safer than driving her in our station wagon, only to see someone go by on a scooter!

The cats are all curled up next to the nearest available radiator, and I'm pressed up against my cup of coffee. It's going to be one of those days...


The education continues... publishing on a budget!

After the rush of getting everything together for the first book release, I basically turned into a puddle of goo for a while. I'm pleased to report however that the goo is starting to assume a human-shaped form again, that can talk and write and everything...

Here are a few things I've consolidated in my brain this month about self-publishing, and doing it when you have a bit of a budget.

rime of the dunce

Hendry, Hamish, Red Apple and Silver Bells. A book of verse for children, Illustrated by A. B. Woodward, [1897], London

I wrote a post earlier in the week on some of the tools and other resources I discovered when I was getting everything together for the book launch. I've started up a resources page on the blog as well, which is a little sparse at the moment but is something I'll keep adding to as I go on.

One specific thing I mentioned in that post, is that if you are going into this with a small budget, it can be a bit of a challenge to produce something that looks professional, but there absolutely are some good ways that you can cut back on your costs without looking like you wrote your book on a shopping bag with a broken crayon.

Covers

A good cover is a must, and there are a ton of resources on the net discussing what makes a book cover "good".

Pretty much no-one recommends creating your own cover, and as someone with pretty poor skills in that department, I opted for a pre-made cover (a sort of middle ground between commissioning the perfect cover from an award-winning artist, and attempting the deed yourself). I got mine from Go On Write, but there are certainly others around doing similar work for similar prices.

It can be hit and miss though, especially if you have a specific image or character in mind. But if you don't have a spare $800+ to spend on a custom cover you pretty much have to accept that there are going to be some compromises.

Another option is to license a stock photo yourself, and then use something like Canva to make a cover. They have some good looking free templates and it's the option I would go with, over designing my own from the ground up with Gimp or Photoshop. Just as an example, here's something I've been playing with for Felathia:

(Think I need to tweak the spacing on the author text now!)

In any case, one of the most important things I've seen repeated again and again is how important it is to create a cover that doesn't necessarily stand out, but rather one that fits in well with whatever your genre might be. You want to be able to imagine it sitting between the books in the top twenty list on Amazon.

(The contrarian in me always resisted this line of thinking; I like to read in many different genres and while I admit some covers are really beautiful, if the story doesn't interest me I'm not going to buy it. But then again, covers are a sort of shorthand, aren't they? A direct line to "this sort of thing," whether it's Edwardian satire or robo-dragons in space. I'm still very much on the fence in terms of wanting my books to look like everyone else's. Go your own way too much though, and people have no idea what sort of book they're actually looking at.)

Editing

Editing is another aspect you really don't want to be taking on solely yourself. A good line editor can set you back some significant cash (I hear), and all the advice I've seen says you really don't want to scrimp on this.

However if you honestly don't have the funds, then a editing swap with a writing group (or your favourite pedant) is a viable option, though I notice with my writing group we often devolve into fixing every comma and typo. So in that regard it's important to ask your reader/s the right questions, and let them know what level of feedback you're looking for.

It's still always going to be hit or miss, I suspect, until you're in a position to shell out the big dollars for every book you're producing. But ultimately putting myself hugely into debt before I've really even started isn't really an avenue I want to pursue.

Your author web site

Getting hands on with web sites isn't for everyone, but if you're even a little bit technical I'd really recommend Github Pages, at least as a starting point for creating some sort of author landing page. But there are no costs other than setting up your domain name, and if you're really skint you can just go with <yourname.github.io>.

The benefit of going with Github over someone like Wordpress is that you keep the structure of your web site on your computer locally, and then sync that directory to Github where the site is hosted. Your posts, your pages, your images--everything is there, on your computer. No-one else has control over your stuff. (But if you do somehow delete it, then Github provides an extra layer of redundancy, and if you find you get used to using git it can be a really useful way of backing up your writing work too.)

Buying a domain name for a year might set you back something in the vicinity of $25 NZD (cheaper if you buy for multiple years in advance). You'll need to take a bit of time to learn about how Git works (and I recommend using Github Desktop to push your files and changes to the repository on the web, where your site will be hosted), but it's pretty foolproof. There are all sorts of different site templates you can download, and lots of them are free as well.

Learning more!

The Reedsy courses are a good place to start. For starters, they are free! And while Reedsy offers paid services that look fantastic, there's no obligation to purchase anything. (They also offer a free book layout tool that I used when I created The Dark Offering, and I think it worked really well.)

A course (also free) that I'm really enjoying right now is Starting From Zero, by David Gaughran, and I'm finding it really good. It's all about, well, starting from zero as an author, and how you can build up your audience, market and release your books. He outlines several strategies, regardless of whether you are just starting out or have many books under your belt. I've always felt rather icky about personal promotion (and that includes writing newsletters to be honest) but he makes some very good points that I'm definitely going to be carrying forward with me for my subsequent books.

Also, he's not too in-your-face about it, which I appreciate.


Other news

I'm finally on the downhill with my story for the anthology I spoke about last time. Rather than telling you yet again that I'm working on it, I thought I'd post a small excerpt on the blog. You can find it here:

Enjoy!


Newsletter format changes

You've probably also noticed that the newsletter feels a bit different. (Unless you've just signed up. In which case, hi! And thanks!) That's because I've moved the newsletter over to ConvertKit. It's early days, but they appear to offer greater integration with several services I'd like to make use of in future, including the ability to link up with Book Funnel, which is what helps you give away free books and other nice things to your email subscribers.

Also, the formatting is just better. (I do apologise for those very ugly early emails.)

ConvertKit is free if you have fewer than 1,000 subscribers, so that's another way to get your feet wet with starting a newsletter without too much financial commitment upfront.

Also worth noting: I did migrate everyone over who had subscribed via Buttondown. Please email me as well if you have any concerns about this!


Posts for the month

In case you missed them, here are the posts from ze blog, in June:

Winter but not blue

Testing short codes

Telling stories

Getting organised


Well we've just had some hail now, so I think it's time for another cup of coffee (and maybe a scarf)!

Thanks again for subscribing! I’d love to hear from you about anything. Just hit reply, or email jess@jessicanickelsen.com.

Until next time,

Jess

P.S. Found a link to a video someone took of the scooter guy! If you scroll down on this news article you'll see it.


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