Book Reviews, Writing & Publishing Articles

Indie Book Review: Business For Authors

Business For Authors. How To Be An Author Entrepreneur
Business For Authors. How To Be An Author Entrepreneur by Joanna Penn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now that I have explained the three forms of publishing (traditional, vanity, and independent), I wanted to use this “Feedback Friday” to share with you all the book that secured my decision to independently publish: Business for Authors: How to Be an Author Entrepreneur by Joanna Penn.

As I described before, until April 2014, I knew basically nothing about independent publishing and held the same stigmas about it that most academically trained creative writers do. Of course, as you know, this stigma dissolved completely, but I was still left with a lot of questions and self-doubt. Could I make indie publishing work for me? How can I do this with little-to-no business knowledge? Well, thanks to Business for Authors, I now have the confidence that I can achieve all my indie dreams.

In her book, Business for Authors: How to Be an Author Entrepreneur, Joanna Penn outlines basically every aspect of turning one’s love of writing into a business. Penn begins by describing the mindset one must have to be a successful entrepreneur, and I imagine, quickly weeds out those who see themselves too much as “artists” and not enough as “business people.” This approach may be off-putting to some readers, as many writers do not like to think of their art as business, but it also sets the tone of the book and instills confidence in those who are (or want to become) more business-minded.

The content of Business for Authors builds similarly to an actual business. Penn helps the reader identify her potential business plan by outlining the various business models authors can have as well as the products and services they can offer. However, where the book really gains momentum is when Penn explains how to run one’s authorship like a business by hiring contract laborers (editors, cover designers, etc.), defining a customer base, and determining sales, distribution, and marketing strategies. Even someone with a highly limited knowledge of business can follow along up to this point.

Where Business for Authors becomes more complex is when Penn discusses the financial aspects of running a business. While her explanations are clear and concise, the subject matter still requires the reader to have a solid knowledge of finances, and if this knowledge is not existent, it may be difficult for the reader to follow along. This is not necessarily a critique of Penn, as she clearly states that technical financial knowledge is outside the realm of this book, but there may be some additional research necessary on behalf of the reader to understand this part entirely.

In the final content section of Business for Authors, Penn provides tactics for strategizing and planning one’s author business. This section takes the business knowledge from the rest of the book and shows the reader how he can apply it moving forward. For this section, Penn relies heavily on her personal experience, as she does throughout the book, and while this anecdotal approach is full of great examples and extremely helpful, it would have been beneficial to draw more upon the experiences of other authors and business people for more diversified insights into how an author entrepreneur business could be approached.

On a side note, while Business for Authors is intended for independent publishers, it is also useful for those looking to traditionally publish. Most notably, Penn has entire sections dedicated to agents, publishers, and contracts, and she lists multiple questions one should ask before signing away his rights as well as describes tricky situations and contract language to look out for. Likewise, authors seeking to traditionally publish can benefit from learning to view their novels as products and figuring out ways to market themselves and their products to potential agents, publishers, and readers.

My one advice to prospective readers is to buy the e-book edition and not the print book. Penn has loaded Business for Authors with dozens upon dozens of links to other reference books, articles, and videos, and of course, in print form, you cannot click on these links and must physically type them into your browser. I have not yet re-purchased the book in e-book format (I am considering it, because it is that great of a resource!), but I strongly encourage you all to learn from my mistakes and buy the digital copy to have those resources close at hand.

Additionally, Penn provides a Business for Authors worksheet on her website, which I highly recommend. The worksheet is free, and it contains questions to help guide the reader’s framing of her author business as well as a business plan template that the reader can fill out and revise as necessary.

If you are dreaming of or seriously considering turning your writing into your full-time career, Business for Authors by Joanna Penn is the perfect place to start. The book will walk you through the basic process, step-by-step, with personal examples from how Penn built her own author entrepreneur business. Where the book lacks, Penn will direct you to more detailed resources, either from herself or other publishing professionals. I strongly recommend this book to anyone looking to independently publish and considering going the extra mile to full-time entrepreneurship.

View all my reviews

Business For Authors. How To Be An Author EntrepreneurIf you are interested in reading Business for Authors and would like to help sponsor my writing and research, you can purchase it at my Amazon Associates Store. By doing this, you will not pay a cent extra, but I will receive a small commission on the sale. Simply click the book’s title or the book’s image.

Thank you!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Updates

Why I Will Independently Publish

In my “Kate’s Publishing Crash Course” series, I gave a general overview of the three main publishing options: traditional, vanity, and independent. In this article, I want to share with you all my personal reasoning behind choosing independent publishing as my writing career path.

It is no secret that I am planning to independently publish my novels and run my own author-entrepreneur business. However, I realized that, while I have shared my plans with you all, I have not shared why I have made this decision. Therefore, in this post, I want to explain how my views on writing and publishing changed entirely in less than a year.

Kate and DanielTo his endless satisfaction, I have to credit my husband, Daniel, with planting the seeds of independence in my brain. You see, as I described in a previous post, I have known that I am a writer since I was a child. I began writing simply for the love of it, and then when it came time to “grow up,” I decided to pursue writing in university and as a career afterward.

During my time in university, I was a standard “wannabe” writer. I say “wannabe,” because outside of my creative writing classes, I barely wrote for myself. Everything about university creative writing was a double-edged sword for me. On one hand, I loved having creative writing classes to help develop my craft skills, give me constructive criticism from other writers, and provide me with a creative mentor. On the other, they also turned writing into a chore. I felt limited by the prompts and subject matter allowed in the university setting. In all honesty, I received a fantastic education and nothing was actually wrong — it just didn’t seem to fit right with me for some reason. Long story short, I did a lot more talking, whining, and lamenting about writing than actual writing.

Likewise, my academic creative writing experience allowed me to attend national writing conferences. On one hand, these were great: they boosted my self-confidence, allowed me the thrill of sharing my work aloud, and helped me feel like part of a larger writing community. On the other hand, they forced me to face the fact that I am a small fish in large pond of writers desperate for publication and exposed me to a watered-down version of the writing industry’s competitiveness. While I adored surrounding myself with these creatives, I never felt 100% at home in their world.

As I neared graduation, I had my plan in place. I would take a year off to handle Daniel’s immigration to the United States and get married. Then, I would go back to university and get my Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. After this, I would be a creative writing professor and attempt to publish novels, creative nonfiction essays, and memoirs. For those of you who don’t know, while this plan sounds simple and straight-forward, it is not. Perhaps I’ll write more on that later. The point is: I was overwhelmed at the idea of immersing myself in a potentially hostile and definitely competitive MFA program and growing less and less enthused about the concept of teaching writing as opposed to writing myself.

Graduation 1 (2)As you can imagine, if I was this unexcited about the idea of competing with an MFA cohort and playing the academic game, I was even less excited about the process of traditional publishing. I knew my journey to publication would be long, arduous, and possibly never get me anywhere. Even if I wrote a great book, it could be passed over for any reason from it lies between genres (and is therefore “not” marketable) to someone else had a slightly better book or knew the right person. Then, even if I did get published, I would have to adjust my novel purely for the sake of marketability, accept whatever cover the company decided to slap on it, and maybe do something as drastic as re-title it or change the ending. BUT — traditional publishing was the only way, and if I did make it through all the gatekeepers, I would have the title of published author, which seemed worth the years of waiting, financial struggle, and heartache.

Then, in April 2014, Daniel introduced me to The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast. After listening to only one episode, I knew I had to reconsider independent publishing. You see, in the womb of academic creative writing, the words self-publishing were almost never spoken, and when they were, it was in relation to vain, talent-less authors who were too lazy, too arrogant, and too bad of writers to “earn” traditional publication. With this stigma beating around in the back of my mind, I kept listening to the podcast and went into further research.

I think it took all of two weeks for me to change my mind. That is how perfectly independent publishing aligns with my values.

Over the next few months, I listened to every single Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast episode as well as expanded my listening to include The Creative Penn Podcast, The Self-Publishing Podcast, and The Sell More Books Show. I watched YouTube videos, I began buying books, I read blogs and interviews. If you want to see more of my research, check out my resources page and my suggested independent publishing books.

If my mind weren’t made up before, after all of this research, it certainly was. The pros of traditional publishing were reinforced by my research, especially the prestige aspect, but my research also taught me new cons I had not thought about before. Previously, my hesitations about traditional publishing revolved around artistic control. However, when I learned that an advance is not a signing bonus, that the royalty rate is 10-20%, and that I would lose a whole basket-ful of rights, rights to the product that I slaved over, that represents my artistic center, I abandoned any notion of traditional publishing.

WriterFor me, independent publishing is the answer. It will allow me to retain all the rights to my creative products, control every aspect of production and distribution, and pursue entrepreneurship (another dream of mine). Yes, I will have to deal with the self-publishing stigma, at least until it changes. Yes, my decision has damaged my relationship with writers who want to traditionally publish. Yes, I will probably never see my book in a physical bookstore. And while those things suck, the fact that I get to protect the integrity of my creative products, be my own employer and source of livelihood, and live out my dreams on my own terms makes up for any negatives a million times over.

While my personal journey may romanticize it, I need to stress that independent publishing is not for everyone. Indie authors have to do it all: write, edit, hire contractors, make decisions, handle finances, produce, distribute, market. It takes a lot of time and even more work, and it is still a long road to full-time authorship.

However, indie authorship also comes with a few unique perks. The indie community is full of authors and creatives who want to help each other succeed. It is not plagued by the same competitiveness as traditional publishing; it is full of transparency and helpfulness. There are hundreds of indie authors paving the path for my generation by putting out quality work to break stigmas, maintaining an unparalleled professionalism, proving that indie authorship is more financially viable than traditional publishing, and generally being awe-inspiring superhumans.

I am chomping at the bit to join their ranks. I want to be the CEO of my own international creative business. I want to write and publish the novels that inspire me and bring joy to my readers. I want to establish an author brand that reflects the truest sense of my personality. I want to build close, personal connections with other writers and become one of the helpful, honest mentors that have helped me so much.

I want to be independent.

I’m going indie.


Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How and Why to Independently Publish Your Book

In the final installment of my “publishing crash course,” I will be discussing independent publishing, also known as “self-publishing.” If you missed the other two days, feel free to go back and read my crash courses in traditional and vanity publishing.

Lay-Person Definition

Independent publishing is a publishing model in which the author does not seek the assistance of a publishing company or press. Instead, the author takes on the role of the publishing company by managing the book’s production and distribution, often with the help of professional contractors. Because the author does the majority of the work by herself, independent publishing has been called “self-publishing.” However, many authors in the this model prefer the name “independent” or “indie,” for short, because they do not produce the book entirely by themselves, but rather, as an independent/non-affiliated business with the help of contracted professionals.

independent writerFor some, independent publishing does carry a stigma in the publishing world. This is because independent publishing has its origins in vanity publishing. Before recent technological advancements, such as the e-reader, photographic design software, and print-on-demand services, the independent author could not produce books of the same quality as traditional presses and were dubbed “vanity” publishers. However, nowadays, most independent authors are entrepreneurs and professionals who can produce the same caliber of books as traditional publishers and have entirely separated themselves from anything resembling the “vanity” model of publishing.

The Steps to Independent Publication

1. Write your manuscript. 

2. Revise your manuscript. I would argue revision is most necessary for independent authors.

3. Start your business. This step is optional. As an independent author, you can choose to operate as a sole proprietor (essentially, just as yourself), or you can opt to start an official business for your products, the most common choice being a Limited Liability Company (LLC). I will cover the pros and cons of each of these options in a later post. For immediate assistance, do a quick search or read “Section 1.5 Should I Start a Company?” of Joanna Penn’s book Business for Authors.

4A. Find beta readersBeta readers are people who will read your manuscript before it is published and critique it for you. They can be anyone from your mom to a retired editor, but it is best to find individuals within your target audience. Beta readers should tell you how your book will be perceived by the reading public, hence the desire for them to be your target demographic, and leave more intensive editorial critiques to you and your editor(s).

4B. Find editorial services. Because you will not have a publishing company to assign an editor to you, you must find your own editor. If you don’t know where to start, read this post. There are plenty of contract editors out there as well as websites to help you find freelance editors. The main thing is that you must determine which types of editing your book needs. I discuss editing types more in this post, but the three main types are:

Content editors — Help you refine your story by examining its character growth, plot arc, plausibility, etc.

Copy editors — Check to make sure that facts are correct, details are consistent, and grammar is sound.

Proofreaders — Hunt down typographical and grammatical errors.

5. Find a Cover Designer and/or Formatter. Once the content of your book is perfected, you need to find someone to make it look good. Again, because you will not have the assistance of a publishing company, you will be responsible for finding someone to design a cover for you book as well as format it for e-book and print forms. As with vanity publishing, you do have the option to take care of this yourself, but it is not recommended unless you have design education or skills.

e-book and print books6. Distribute your novel. After your book is edited, designed, and formatted, it is time to distribute. Most independent authors have their books available in e-book and print format on online retailers, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks, etc. It is important to note that, since you do not have a publishing company representing you, your chances of getting into a bookstore (especially a large chain store) or library are slim-to-none. Therefore, if that is your big dream, independent publishing may not be for you.

7. Market your novel. You are entirely in control of gaining attention and attracting sales for your novel. This gives you a great amount of flexibility in your strategy, but it also means that you have a lot of work ahead of you. Luckily, social media, active blogging and podcast communities, and myriad other strategies exist to make this task surmountable  for independent authors.

Pros of Independent Publishing

  • You retain ALL of the rights to your creative product.
  • You are not locked into long-term contracts and receive much higher royalties (35-70%, depending on retailer and book format) than traditionally published authors (10-20%, depending on contract with publisher).
  • You have complete control over every stage of production and distribution.
  • You can hire contractors who best fit your business and branding model.
  • You have a more direct relationship with readers.
  • You have the pride of knowing you organized every stage of your book’s life.

Cons of Independent Publishing

  • You do not have any help from a publishing company.
  • You may face stigmas associated with vanity publishing.
  • Others may pre-judge your work because it has not been “approved” by publishing authority figures.
  • There are upfront costs that authors who are traditionally published do not have.
  • If you choose to start your own business, there are expenses and risks associated with it as well.
  • Your chances of your book being sold in physical bookstores, available in libraries, or made into a movie are slim-to-none.

Who Should Independently Publish?

Independent publishing is the best option for authors who want to have a full-time career as a writer. It is also best for writers who enjoy both the artistic side and business side of being an author, and who feel comfortable making final decisions in each field. Likewise, independent publishing is for authors who want to retain the rights to and control over their product and who are willing to put in intensive amounts of labor to compensate for the lack of assistance provided by a publisher.

If you would like a more personal look into the reasons behind independent publishing, read Why I Will Independently Publish.

What are your feeling about independent publishing? What other process steps, pros, and cons of indie publishing would you add? Let me know!

Author Business & Publishing, Writing & Publishing Articles

How and Why to Vanity Publish Your Book

For this edition of my “publishing crash course,” I lay out the different approaches “vanity publishing” and discuss when it may actually be a good publishing option for someone. If you missed the other days, I strongly encourage you to check out my posts on traditional publishing and independent publishing so you have all of the information you need to make your publishing decisions.

Lay-Person Definition

Vanity publishing refers to a type of publishing that lies somewhere in between the traditional model and the independent publishing model. With vanity publishing, an author can pay a publishing company, usually referred to as a “vanity publisher” or “vanity press” to publish her work. Or, she can do all of the work herself, in a less collaborative model than independent publishing.

vanity publishing
“Talent Optional. The Customer is always write.” via Tendence Coatesy

Vanity publishing gets its somewhat negative name from the idea that many authors who choose this route are “vain:” they only care about seeing their work printed and either do not care about quality or do not realize that the quality of their novel is lacking. Also, it may be derived from the fact that these books are not verified as worthy of publication by the authority figures of the publishing world. Of course, this is simply the stigma attached to this form of publishing, and it is important to note that there are fantastic and horrible books produced in every form of publishing.

The Steps to Vanity Publication

Traditional-esque Model

1. Write your manuscript. 

2. Revise your manuscript. As always, this is an optional step, but one that is highly encouraged.

3. Find a publishing company to publish your book. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of vanity presses out there that will be willing to publish your book. Unlike in the traditional model, where the publishing company pays the author to publish his book and then shares the profits, a vanity press (usually) takes its entire cut up-front and does not share in the majority of a book’s profits. However, each company is different. Some will want the author to give over his rights entirely, while some will simply want a publishing fee and allow the author to retain the rights. It is important to be careful when selecting a publisher, as some of them may be scam artists who take your money and do not produce a quality product — or any at all.

4. Production of your novel. Depending on the contract you sign, the vanity press will most likely handle the production of your book. Likely, there will be no editing process or the editing will be far less intense than that of a traditional publishing deal. Again, as with a traditional publisher, the press will probably handle the cover design and formatting of your book, leaving you little to no say in the process, but also little work to do. These services will vary based on which packages the press offers and how much you are willing to spend for your book’s production.

5. Distribution of your novel. If you go with a vanity press, it will distribute electronic and physical copies of your book for you. The extent of this distribution depends on the particular package that you have purchased.

6. Marketing your book. Again, the vanity press is more a mechanism to produce a book, and once it is produced, the author receives the responsibility of marketing the product. In other words, just because the vanity press has distributed your book, this does not mean your book will sell or that the press will help you sell it. There are some vanity presses that may assist with marketing, for a fee (in the same way that they charge for production), but this is not likely.

Independent-esque Model

1. Write your manuscript. Noticing a pattern yet?

2. Revise your manuscript. Again, optional, but encouraged.

3. Determine how much production help you want. By this, I mean, do you want a professional editor, cover designer, format designer, etc.? Typically, authors going the vanity route do all of this work themselves, even if they lack education or skills in the area.

books in boxes4. Find a printer. There are dozens of printing companies to which you can submit your manuscript purely to be printed. In vanity-independent publishing, the author will likely pay a company to print copies of the book in bulk to be sold later. Alternatively, the author can choose the “print-on-demand” option. In these programs, the author will list her book on an online retailer, and copies will be printed only as they are purchased. However, this model is more typical to independent publishers.

5. Distribute and market your book. If you have chosen to have a large batch of books printed, then you are responsible for marketing and distributing them to retailers and individuals. In contrast, if you have chosen the print-on-demand option, the online retailer will cover distribution for you, you simply have to market your book well enough for individuals to find and buy it.

Pros of Vanity Publishing

  • Instant gratification – there are no hoops to jump through; you can publish almost immediately after your book is written.
  • You can keep most (if not all) of  the rights to your creative product.
  • You retain more control over the production, distribution, and marketing of your product.
  • If you use a vanity press, your book’s ISBN will be associated with a publishing company, which may protect you from some of the stigma associated with purely “self-publishing.”

Cons of Vanity Publishing

  • The stigma associated with vanity publishing will cause others to take you less seriously and pre-judge the quality of your book.
  • You have little-to-no help in publishing your book, and the help you do receive may be low quality.
  • Vanity publishing can be a big financial risk: you pay a lot up-front to a publisher, have little control over quality, and may receive little profit from sales.
  • Because of the lack of professionalism involved, authors who vanity publish have a very little chance of making a full-time income from their writing.

Who Should Vanity Publish?

Vanity publishing is the best option for authors who simply want to see their artwork in book form and are not looking to make a living from writing.

What are your thoughts on “vanity” publishing? What process steps, pros, and cons would you add? Tell me in the comments section!

On an unrelated note, my follower count surpassed 200 yesterday! Thank you all so much for your continued support. Please let me know if there is anything else I can do to answer your questions, entertain you, and generally enrich your experience here. Much love, Kate.