Indypub: Roadmap

I get to talk at the Pikes Peak Romance Writers about indie publishing on October 23, and I’m trying to brainstorm a handout.

Here’s a draft…


Want to put up an ebook but don’t know how?  (Or just want more facts before you make up your mind?) Here are the bare minimum steps you need to consider when self-publishing an ebook:

  1. Material. Short stories that are not under an exclusive contact with their publisher are probably ideal (they’ve already been edited). However, any story to which you own the rights will work.  If you don’t know if you have rights to your story, please read The Copyright Handbook by Stephen Fishman at Nolo Press. (Nolo Press = lots of good business of freelancing books.)
  2. Freelance Writing Business. Even if you are not going to be a full-time freelancer, you need to set up your business to help prevent IRS issues and other problems. See Nolo’s checklist, “Start Your Own Business: 50 Things You’ll Need to Do.” You will not need to do most of the things on the list. You may want to consider setting up a small press; see Dean Wesley Smith’s Think Like a Publisher series to help clarify the issue.  You can decide to be a small publisher later; however, simplify your life by setting your writing business up first.
  3. Marketing. 1) Author website. 2) Social media like Twitter or Facebook (I love Goodreads, too). 3) Keep an eye out for reviewers; expect to send them FREE copies.  Someone recommended the list at Step-by-Step Self-Publishing, and I’m going to use it on the next book. 4) Specialty markets relevant to your specific book – e.g., fishing websites if you’re selling a fishing murder mystery. 5) Local writer groups = word of mouth.
  4. Editing. If you know how to edit and are confident in doing so, you can edit your own stuff.  If not, get editing, by hook or by crook. Think of it like hiring a babysitter and ask around; if you’re on social media, you can put out the call that way, too. (I’m a former tech editor, so I do my own on most things–although I have something coming up that I plan to hire an editor for, because it’s outside my usual genres.)
  5. Formatting. Read the Smashwords Style Guide.  Follow it.  As you become more advanced (or if you already have the skills), you may want to do the formatting directly in HTML; that’s beyond the scope of this blog.
  6. Cover. Create a cover using images for which you have the rights, either 1) your own private images or 2) images that you have obtained from a stock photo company or have a signed contract from the artist.  Do not do an Internet search for images that can be modified; just because it has that label doesn’t mean that you have the right to do so without contacting the artist.  I use Dreamstime, then modify the images to add design elements, title, author, and tagline information using GIMP or Scribus.  Look at the cover sizes at Smashwords: your cover must look readable & interesting at teensy size.
  7. E-Publishing. I recommend publishing at Smashwords, which feeds to all kinds of other sites, like Sony and Apple.  I also publish directly at Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon) and PubIt! (Barnes & Noble). IF you follow the Smashwords style guide but remove all references to Smashwords from your ebooks, you can use essentially the same files to publish to PubIt! and KDP.  There are more advanced ways to do this, but this will get the job done. You can publish at B&N and Amazon via Smashwords, but SW always takes forever to report sales that aren’t from Smashwords, and B&N/Amazon are not too terribly high on the learning curve.  If you do publish at all three sites, make sure you turn off the Distribution Channel Manager for those two channels, of B&N/Amazon might get annoyed at having two copies of everything.
  8. Validating. After you have published, check your files and decide whether you can live with any weirdness.
  9. Announcement. Announce publication via any marketing you have set up.
  10. Patience.I hate being patient.  Hate it, hate it, hate it.  Least favorite part of the whole thing.


  • DRM or not?  I do not. In a digital age, I am more afraid of being ignored than copied.
  • Pseudonyms or not? I do, mostly because I don’t want kids to unintentionally read my adult work.  This causes problems: 1) I had to set up as a small publisher, to keep things at least somewhat organized, which has its own headaches; 2) You have to do all your marketing efforts all over again for each pseudonym AND for the small publisher; 3) Building a reputation is that much slower, because you’re splitting up your writing time between authors.
  • Will I sell a million copies? No.  From what I hear, things start to take off when you have about 25-35 things (short stories, etc.) posted.  PER AUTHOR.  If you go by DWS’s estimates (from the Think Like a Publisher series, above), ~5 copies/short story or collection/month, ~25 copies/novel/month.  AFTER you have those 25-35 things up.  I’m not seeing it yet.
  • What if I mess something up? You will.  Take the story down, fix it, and repost.
  • Can I sell a story if it’s online elsewhere for free? Yes, if you have the rights.  Ebook cover/format = value added.
  • POD or not? Get comfy with epublishing first.  POD is fun but probably won’t make you any money, unless you’re really good at marketing.  Personally, I LOVE IT!  I’m currently using CreateSpace.  I suggest doing a few gift books first to get a feel for it, and read up on how to lay out professional-looking interiors.
  • Will big publishers hate me for being an indie writer? This should not be a problem UNTIL you are offered a contract.  If so, read the fine print very, very carefully to ensure that you can live with their requirements: they may stipulate that you have to stop epublishing anything under the same name or that will compete with whatever you’re publishing with them.  I would check out The Passive Voice blog, written by a lawyer whose wife is indie publishing.  He has some really good caveats and is available to review writer contracts.  Laura Resnick also has good information about this.
  • Should I epublish or submit to markets (novel publishers, agent, short story, or otherwise)? I try to keep one foot in each world and have submissions going to short story and novel publishers all the time.  As I feel satisfied that I’ve been rejected from the markets I want most to get into, I epublish.  I also epublish stuff that’s been published and I have the rights back on.
  • AM I A GOOD ENOUGH WRITER TO DO THIS? Only you can answer that question. I have an ebook up about writing, failing, and getting better at it: How to Fail & Keep on Writing.  My personal rule of thumb was that if I was getting published with short stories (for money), then I was writing well enough to epublish, too.  However, I have a goal to write a story a week, so I have a lot of stories out there; YMMV.  If readers are buying your stories: you are writing well enough to epublish; sometimes the only way to find this out is to throw the story out there and let the readers decide.
  • More questions? Follow other authors who are indie publishing; we talk about our trials and tribulations all the time.  Like me! I have posts about publishing, editing, etc. up here all the time–lots of good stuff in my archives.

Anything I’m missing for first-time epublishers?  This is a front-back, one-page handout.  Is this too much?


Fiction: The Edge of the World


Indypub: Basics of Ebook Design and Formatting


  1. Liz

    Too much? God no. This is perfect, and very timely. I’m so grateful for everything you post here. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  2. De

    I know you’re good 🙂

    I’m more worried about my group that I’m talking to!

  3. Great information, the Romance Writers are so lucky to have you speak to them.
    What I’ve noticed in using my e-reader: footnotes do not work. It seems they get relegated to the end of the book, so clever commentary is probably best handled parenthetically. Also, ellipses look really weird on a Kindle.

    • De

      Thank you 🙂

      I have been putting footnotes (for clients) at the bottoms of sections, before the next break. That seems to work okay. And I’ll have to check out ellipses on a Kindle…they do okay on the Kindle app for my phone, but AAAAAUUUUGGGGHH stuff is different from device to device.

  4. Liz

    When I first read this, I thought I could deal with waiting for the BN sales to show up on Smashwords… but holy cow does it take forever! I know at least one person has bought “Moon Prayer” on BN, and Smashwords has yet to show it in my dashboard.

    However, that gives me hope that maybe someone else has bought it, too, and I’ll just have to wait and see.

    Or at least, that’s what I tell myself. :p

  5. De

    YES!!! It takes nerve-wrackingly long. I’m starting to think about switching all my B&N stuff over to .epub submissions, incidentally. The more I know, the more control I want over formatting, that kind of thing.

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