What Writers Learned at Indie Author Day

By |

On Indie Author Day, nearly 300 libraries across North America simulcast a panel of publishing experts who answered questions from authors about writing and self-publishing. The panel was moderated by Jon Fine, former director of author and publisher relations at Amazon, and included Robin Cutler, director of IngramSpark; Jim Blanton, library director at the Louisville Free Public Library; award-winning author L. Penelope; and Allie McKinney of Bibliolabs and SELF-e.

Fine opened by noting that while the means of publication had been democratized for authors wishing to reach readers directly, challenges still remained in the infrastructure necessary for authors to succeed in reaching an audience, including library readers.

The panel discussed this and other challenges, such as formatting, distribution, marketing and craft. Bookmark the full webcast to watch when you have time:

In the meantime, we’ve put together some of the top takeaways.

You can get your book into libraries

Panelists discussed how libraries decide to acquire books and how indie authors can get their books into circulation. Blanton said that in his 17 years at libraries, genre-based selection committees often go through review journals to make their purchasing decisions. But there are also tools, such as SELF-e, that allow indie authors to submit their work to library collections. “The doors are opening, more than they have in the past, to indie authors to get their works in the collection,” Blanton said.

McKinney explained how SELF-e makes it easy for librarians to decide whether or not to provide indie books for their patrons. “When people submit their books [to SELF-e], they go through to Library Journal, who is a very trusted review source, so when they look at those books, they’re able to say yes this is a good book that your library can be proud to share with the community and that allows the libraries to be inclusive,” McKinney said. Libraries also buy from distributors, including IngramSpark, which Cutler noted is another way to ensure that libraries can purchase your book. The goal of getting into the library of course, is not to sell a handful of ebooks, but to expand your potential audience.

Your book doesn’t have to look self-published

There are no limitations on the trim sizes or formats (hardcover, softcover, color, black-and-white, etc.) that independent publishers can use when they’re doing print-on-demand and distribution in a cost-effective way, Cutler said.

With the advent of print-on-demand, you also no longer have to invest in boxes of printed books. You can upload your book and copies are manufactured one at a time when people order them. “[Authors] don’t have to worry about predictive ordering anymore. Books are actually printed and you pay as you go,” Cutler said.

Interior book design is more accessible to authors too, McKinney noted, with lots of formatting software options such as available that you can use at low cost (or even no cost if your library has Pressbooks Public). This is particularly helpful if you can’t afford to hire a pro to manually design your interior or ebook files.

It’s important to make your content available in as many formats as you can, panelists noted. “You don’t really know how your readers prefer to read,” Cutler said. Or what platform they buy ebooks from, for that matter. In other possibilities: consider translations of your book, or making an audiobook version, to reach larger audiences.

The experts suggested investing in quality measures such as editing and cover design, at minimum, noting that as a content creator, other indie authors aren’t your main competition–you’re actually competing with authors who are household names, as well as with other forms of entertainment and content, such as television, the internet and social media.  

Analyze your goals before you make your budget

The costs of publishing–from editing to book covers to ISBNs and marketing–can add up quickly. But your goal may not be to write the next breakout indie novel or use self-publishing to garner a traditional publishing contract. If you’re just creating a book future generations of your family can enjoy–a family history or memoir, for example–you can take some shortcuts and cut costs.

Writing is important, and so is business

A major theme of the session was the responsibility of self-publishing writers to also serve as publishers.

Fine asked author L. Penelope, “You’re not just writing a book, you’re not just telling a story. You’re also serving as publisher. How do you create a discipline that enables you to craft great stories and also essentially run a business?”

It’s challenging to wear both the creative and the business hats, Penelope said, but it’s about time management. “It’s almost like having another full-time job.” Penelope balances her time by spending several hours a day marketing and another several writing, shifting the balance between the two when she’s deep into writing mode or has just released a book.

There are good reasons to go indie (or not)

Why publish as an indie author? Penelope said as an independent filmmaker, she was compelled by her indie nature and desire to have her hands in all the aspects of the creative product, adding, “a little bit of impatience played in.”

Cutler said independent publishing is great for authors who’ve been traditionally published but had some rights to their older work returned to them or even new books that don’t quite fit the traditional mold.

“There are some people who just want to focus on writing. For them, traditional [publishing] might be the better route,” McKinney said.  

Indie publishing doesn’t have to be an either or, she added. Some authors may want to do both, as some of their works might be perfect for traditional publishing, whereas others won’t. “You can do them simultaneously; you can do them at different points in your career,” McKinney said.

Social media and mailing lists for authors

Among worthwhile social media sites for authors, Cutler recommended BookBub, Wattpad and Facebook.

But “social media is social,” Penelope reminded authors, not just a place to send out one-way, all-about-you broadcasts when you release a new book.

Building your mailing list is even more important than building your audience on social, she added, because you can communicate directly. Third-party platforms stand in between you and your fans’ contact information and may limit how big of an audience has the chance to see your posts. “Whatever you can do to build that up–a group of people who want to hear from you and who opt in to hearing from you.”

Don’t wait until you’re finished your book to build an audience for it

Start promoting your book online and in local venues such as your library or independent bookstore before you’ve finished writing it. It takes time to build an audience!

For more on Indie Author Day or the webcast, visit