Book Reviews, Writing & Publishing Articles

Indie Book Review: Bootstrapping for Indies: Self-Publishing on a Budget by Simon Whistler

bootstrappingBootstrapping for Indies by Simon Whistler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Bootstrapping for Indies by Simon Whistler is a quick, informative guide to help beginning and/or would-be indie authors find cost-effective and/or free ways to publish their books. To give a frame of reference, the book took me roughly an hour to read. The book is divided up into concise sections, making it just as easy to read out-of-order as it is to read it chronologically.

Despite the brevity of the sections and entire book, Bootstrapping for Indies does provide a comprehensive overview of all aspects of indie publishing. Whistler provides tips for cover design, editing, formatting, marketing, etc. In each section, Whistler gives multiple options for how to accomplish the stage of publishing cheaply or for free. He also warns authors about ways in which they may end up spending more than their budget in each area. This transparency helps authors choose the right methods for them as well as avoid costly strategies.

Likewise, Whistler gives several outside references for authors. These either direct authors to services that may interest them or explain in greater detail the concepts discussed in the book.

Most importantly, Whistler helps authors prioritize where to spend their budgets. His general ethos is to spend what you can in vital areas and then, once your book starts earning money, reinvest in the areas you did not spend (as much) money on originally. This mentality may be difficult to embrace, given that authors want to put out a fantastic book right away, but Whistler makes a compelling argument, especially in the spirit of saving money.

I only had two criticisms about Bootstrapping for Indies. First, most of the information in the book will be old hat for authors (even unpublished authors) who have done research on indie publishing already. However, for those who have not done much research, it is a great starter guide. Second, the last section of Bootstrapping for Indies cautions authors to the risks to “bootstrapping.” Specifically, it warns authors that bootstrapping may not always create the best impression for readers, which of course, could result in poor sales and/or reviews. On one hand, this honesty is necessary and well-placed. On the other, it is a bit intimidating and could, in many readers’ eyes, undermine the “perfect it later” mentality that Whistler tries to instill in his audience.

Overall, Bootstrapping for Indies contains several clever cost-cutting strategies and resources for new indie authors. It is a clear, concise read that indie authors can digest all in one sitting or refer back to section by section as needed. I recommend it to any new indie authors who are on a tight budget and looking for creative ways to make their dreams come true despite financial restrictions.

View all my reviews


bootstrappingMy normal associates store message will not appear today, because Bootstrapping for Indies is entirely free! If you are at all interested in reading it, there is no reason not to grab your copy today!

 

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

Building Your Author Platform: 8 Essential Elements for Your Author Website

So, you’ve set up your author website. Now what in the world do you put on it? First and foremost, know that it is your website. Your brand is unique to you, and there is no cookie-cutter model that will fit it perfectly. Only you can determine what features and content should fill your author website.

That being said, there are a few elements that I strongly suggest every author include. I will keep this post relatively simple and expand on some of these features in later posts. This is simply a “what” and brief “why” post — not a “how” tutorial.

1. Author Head Shot

Your readers want to connect with you, and nothing does that quite like seeing your face. Don’t worry — this doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Simply find or take a photograph of yourself that focuses on your face. It should be clear (high resolution) and cohesive with your brand. For example, romance authors may want to look dressy and sophisticated, while thriller authors may want a more brooding, black and white photo. You can read a more thorough post on this topic here.

2. Author Biography

You can read a detailed post on writing and placing your author biography(ies) here. However, no matter how much research you do, make sure you say something about yourself on your author website. Your biography can be written however you like, but it should definitely include: your publications/writing experience, any relevant education, and/or something personal about yourself.

3. Your Books or Works-In Progress

If you already have published books, fantastic! Make sure to advertise them! Include your book cover, book description, and links to purchase your books everywhere they are available. You never know where your reader may want to buy, and only including “big names” like Amazon could limit your market. Likewise, I strongly suggest allowing your readers to buy directly from your site. You cut out the middleman and keep 100% of the royalties yourself this way.

If you do not have published books yet, don’t worry! At the time of this writing, I don’t either! Instead, share the title of your work-in-progress, its genre, a short description, its production stage, and/or an estimated release date. Informing your readers about what is coming builds anticipation and creates a connection even before your creative product hits the shelves.

4. Email List/Newsletter Sign Up

You should have an email list. Seriously, it is your best marketing tool as an author. For more on why you need an email list, read this post. Make sure to include a link or widget to allow readers to sign up for your newsletter. If they are on your site, they probably want to hear more from you, and reaching them directly will be key to building relationships and generating sales.

5. Social Media Links & Widgets

Social media is a great way to craft an identity for your author brand and get in touch with your readers. There is so much to be said about what social media sites to use and the best way to use them (more to come). However, when you do commit to social media sites, make sure that it is easy for your readers to A) find you on them, B) see what you are doing on them, and C) share your content on them all from your website.

6. Contact Information

At some point, your readers will want to contact you. Maybe they want to tell you how much they love your book, maybe they want to tell you about a typo, maybe they want to offer a guest post on your site. Whatever the reason, make sure they know how to do it. Being accessible will make you likable and probably be a lot of fun for you, too!

7. Testimonials/Reviews

If you offer a service, make sure to have testimonials from previous clients on your author website. After all, knowing you offer editing services and seeing John Doe rave about your editing services create two drastically different impressions in the minds of your readers and potential clients. Likewise, knowing that you have a book on the market and seeing that other readers judged your book “Brilliant!” “Fantastic!” “The best YA book I’ve ever read!” give two incredibly different messages.

8. Content (Preferably lots and a variety)

If your author website never changes, readers will view it twice (the first time and once again to look for updates) and never return. Moreover, if you only ever update when you have a book for sale, readers will feel you are just a salesperson and never check your site. You have to figure out what works for you. Some authors blog, some vlog, some post interviews, some share book reviews, some write stories and poems. Whatever you decide, figure out content that you can put out consistently that is relevant to your reader and cohesive with your brand. As with other topics, more on this in a later post.

Remember, as I wrote at the beginning of this post, ultimately, your author website simply needs to work for you, your brand, and most importantly, your readers. Think carefully about which of these features you would like to include and how you can tailor them to your unique website. And, of course, have fun with it!


For more on building your author platform, click here.

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

Building Your Author Platform: What, When, and Why

With the new trends in publishing, especially the independent (indie) publishing revolution, creating and maintaining an author platform is more important than ever. If you plan to publish via the traditional route, building an author platform is a huge plus, as publishing houses love it when an author can bring his/her own readers and guarantee some sales. If you intend to indie publish, establishing a reputation for yourself and cultivating a readership is 100% necessary to your survival (and profitability). An author platform is the best way to do this.

What exactly is an author platform?

platformThink of your author platform like your personal soapbox. It is the raised crate on which you stand and shout your proclamations to the busy street of passerby. In less metaphoric terms, it is anywhere and everywhere you have a presence and a voice and display your brand. (Yes, you are a brand from the second you step into the public domain.)

Today, author platforms are mostly online. The core components of a virtual author platform are: an author website, a blog, an email newsletter, and social media accounts as well as all the content featured in these places. However, author platforms can also encompass “real-world” engagements, such as speaking events and services you offer.

The last main aspect of your author platform is your products, your books. Some authors do not think of their books as part of their platform, because generally a platform is considered places where the author engages with readers, networks, and markets. But think about this: what shows your brand and speaks to your readers more than your books? They definitely count.

When should I start building my author platform?

Now. I would say yesterday, but unless you have access to the TARDIS, that probably won’t happen.

I am going to assume that, if you have read this far into this article, you are serious about being a published author and making a career for yourself. If not, no big deal — you can take as long as you want to decide. However, the moment you decide, 100%, that being a published author is your goal, start your platform.

Things you need to start an author platform:

  • The desire to be a published author
  • The drive to make it happen, one way or another
  • Access to the internet
  • Working knowledge of the internet, social media, and the publishing industry
  • A pen name (either your real name or a pseudonym)

Things you DON’T need to start an author platform:

  • A finished book
  • Any other publications
  • Readers

That’s right — you don’t need a book when you start. I began my author platform in August 2014. I started a blog, created every social media account I wanted to use, and put myself out there in the indie community. I wrote my book in November 2014, and as of the writing of this article, it still isn’t published. But do you know what I have now?

  • A community of writer friends who support me
  • (Growing) authority as a blogger and indie author
  • Loyal followers who intend to buy my book when it is released
  • Non-writer connections in the indie publishing industry (editors, podcasters, designers)
  • The support, knowledge, and confidence to make my dreams come true

If you don’t have a book written or published yet, you may feel a bit intimidated by starting an author platform. Who are you, a wannabe author, to get in public and talk about your unwritten book and spout writing advice? You’re youYou have a unique, valuable perspective to offer. Don’t feel silly or un-entitled. Stop asking for permission. Just do what feels authentic and others will appreciate you. I promise.

Why should I build an author platform?

Just in case you skipped to this part, here is a quick list of the reasons:

  • You will meet other writers to help and support you.
  • You will meet a few readers who will be ready to buy your book when it is finally released.
  • You will make connections with other publishing industry professionals.
  • As an indie author, if you do not have an online presence, it will be nearly impossible for readers to find you and your books.
  • As a hopeful traditionally-published author, an author platform will gather readers and connections that will make your more attractive to agents and traditional publishers.

If you are an established author, this article is probably old news to you. But, if you are a new author, or simply a writer interested in pursuing publication one day, building your author platform may be the farthest thing from your mind. Don’t let it be. If you have the desire, drive, and dedication to pursue being a published author, you will succeed at it eventually. And having an author platform will make it 100x easier.


Resources

Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt – You can read my review here.

Developing an Online Presence with Lindsay Buroker – The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast – This is an older episode, but still relevant. If you don’t listen to Simon, you should.

A Definition of Author Platform by Jane Friedman – This is a slightly different take than mine (I still agree with her) and much more geared to the traditional publishing route.


This post is the first in a series on building an author platform. Check out the Author Platform category page for related topics. 

How are you creating your author platform? What questions do you have about an author platform? What related topics would you like me to discuss?

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

Moving On: The Next Steps in My Writing Journey

Okay, I have been vague and not at all enlightening about the upcoming changes in my writing journey. Today, I want to tell you all exactly what my plans are and how I will be sharing them on this blog.

Point blank: my goal is to begin my own author-entrepreneur business through which I will publish my books and offer other services. 

Now, this is a long game. I am not going to just slap my NaNoWriMo manuscript up on Amazon and call myself a published author. No way! The journey to publication will take me several months, and the journey to being a full-time author will probably take me several years. However, now that I have my first drafted manuscript, I am ready to begin.

Below is the list of steps that I will be taking to move toward publication by November 2015. They are in rough chronological order, but there is some overlap and flexibility based on how my journey unfolds. For those of you who are also looking to independently publish, I hope these steps will serve as a very rough guide for one approach to the process.

1. Begin writing my next novel.

2. Edit and revise my NaNoWriMo novel.

3. Find beta readers for my first novel.

4. Start my author-entrepreneur business as an LLC.

5. Hire professional editors (developmental, copy, and proofreading) to help me polish my first novel.

6. Hire a cover artist to design my first novel’s cover.

7. Refine and expand my online author platform (starting with an update to this blog!).

8. Create an email list.

9. Expand my online writing community through guest posts, book reviews, and forums.

10. When my first novel is ready to publish, send out advanced reader copies (ARCs) in return for reviews.

11. Market and publish my first novel on multiple platforms.

12. Diversify my income by turning out more products (not just books!).

13. Continue researching, self-educating, and keeping up with industry changes.

If you do not know what I mean when I refer to these steps, or if you are interested in learning more about how to take them, don’t worry! I will be detailing each step as I take it on this blog, and I will also be rewinding the clock to explain the steps I have already taken.

That’s my plan in the broadest of strokes. There is a lot to do, but luckily, I can take it one step at a time AND I have you all for support.

If you see anything that I may have forgotten, have any questions you cannot wait for other blog posts to answer, or want to share your own plans and tips, please hit me up in the comments!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

The Puffin Rule: How to Make Your Writing Marketable AND Unique

You have the motivation to write your novel, screenplay, or poem. You’ve done your research and are brimming with inspiration and references to help bring your ideas to life. Now comes the fun (and difficult) part: sitting down to write.

Wiliam ShakespeareWithout doubt, as you start writing, you’ll start asking yourself questions. Is what I’m writing unique or am I falling victim to clichés? I think this idea is really cool, but will anyone else actually want to read this story? If you’re like me and you ponder these points as you write, you are thinking of your writing as both art and business — a great first step!

Many writers and readers argue that there aren’t any new stories out there to tell. After all, even Shakespeare borrowed ideas from his playwright predecessors. While this debate warrants its own post entirely, here is what I will say on the matter for the purposes of this post:

While it is possible to write original works, it is almost impossible to keep your work entirely devoid of old themes.

For example, if you have a pair of lovers who face an obstacle to be together, you have produced thematic relatives of the characters, Romeo and Juliet. If your story features a vampire or reanimated corpse, you have crafted thematic relatives of Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. 

The point of writing should not be to write something 100% original. It is almost, if not entirely, impossible to write something that does not remind someone of anything else that’s ever been written.

The point of writing should be to write something original to you that is thematically or elementally related to another work in a way that captures a mood, embodies a zeitgeist, or catches some other reader sensibility. You can use other stories or genre staples to your advantage by knowing what they’ve done, and then doing something similar, but different. By honoring literary traditions and then making them your own, you are left with a product that is identifiable and marketable but also unique to you.

penguinsHerein lies The Puffin Rule.

Stick with me on this. Penguins are super fashionable right now. They are adorable, waddling creatures that are in movies, in children’s books, on clothing and accessories, and generally receive a squeal of adoration whenever encountered. I swear, this isn’t just me. People love penguins.

Penguins are popular, and you could easily incorporate them into your writing. However, I wouldn’t advise this. Yes, if you publish your penguin book while they are still a hot topic, you are likely to get a sales boost. However, you are more likely to get swallowed up in the market and lost. Likewise, if you miss the craze by even a minute, you will look like you were simply trying to cash in on the mania and missed.

This is where puffins come in. Puffins are a lot like penguins. They are black and white with orange beaks. They fish and live in cold climates. The differences? Puffins are cooler than penguins (they can fly — even underwater!), and no one seems to have picked up on puffins. Therefore, if you alter your story to be about puffins, you can hit the same general feeling as penguins while being a dash different and a splash cooler.puffins

Okay, leaving the bird metaphor behind, let’s look at a recent literary example. There are millions of vampire books out there. However, to my knowledge, Stephanie Meyer’s vampires are the only ones that sparkle. She took a popular literary creature and made it different. Whether you think this is awesome or stupid, the fact remains: her books exploded. By making sparkly vampires, Meyer cashed in on people’s love of vampires and adolescent girls’ love of “bad boys” and “danger” as well as diamonds and pretty things. (Of course there are plenty of other factors that made The Twilight Series a huge hit — but I would say this twist contributed.)

In short, sparkly vampires were Meyer’s puffins.

Here is the point: by taking well-known literary concepts or trends and reinventing them, you can create something unique and fresh while remaining in a marketplace that sells.

IMPORTANT: I’m not encouraging you to sell-out and only write what you think will make money. I’m also not advocating genre monogamy.

I’m simply saying, if you choose to write about popular topics or in popular genres, figure out how to make them your own.

And, if you choose to attempt a totally new mixture of writing elements, remember to include some literary aspects that will resonate with your readers.

If you mix your art and business this way, you will come out with a writing product that is both marketable and unique to you.

Good luck and happy writing!


What techniques do you use to keep your writing original within its genre? How do you reinvent literary traditions to make your writing fresh? Share your tips below!