GUEST POST: H.C. Newell’s Indie Author FAQ is Here to Answer Any of Your Publishing Questions!
Hey there, in case you missed the giant banner above, I’m H.C. Newell: author of a pretty cool dark fantasy series, dog owner, and occasional consumer of chocolate chip cookies. I am here to answer some of your most burning questions.
Before we begin, let’s wind back the clock to 2021 when I published my first book.
FREEZE FRAME: I never actually wanted to publish. Crazy, right? I spent 10 years writing and creating this story just for me, and I had no desire to publish it. But I wanted to brag about it once it was finished because HELLO – it took ten years, and I just wrote a mf book. The initial response was incredible; people were wanting to grab it up, and I thought ‘okay, that’s cool, let’s do it.’
And so I did.
The rest is history. Just publish your books and hope for the best. BYE!
I went into publishing completely blind, and after some very miniscule attempts at traditional publishing (I thought about it for approximately 6 hours), I decided that self-publishing was the direction I wanted to go. That’s because self-publishing comes with a lot of freedom, bigger royalties, and retention of all the rights of your books. (I want to add that each traditional publisher is different, so be sure to research more to find out what is the right fit for you.)
Getting back on point, I did ALL of my marketing through Facebook, and I actually saw REALLY great results from that. 150 sales my first month, in fact. But don’t let that fool you, because oftentimes those who see major success in the beginning will find that it tapers off as time goes on, especially if you only have one avenue of expertise or no business model in place. I went from 150 sales in the first month to 6 sales over 6 months. It wasn’t fun.
The first thing you need to know about self-publishing is that IT IS A SMALL BUSINESS. That’s right folks, sorry to tell you, but it’s a business, and you HAVE to treat it as such. You will spend hours and HOURS researching so many different things, and it’ll be exhausting, but don’t give up. It’s worth it. This is your business – it’s your pride and joy! Enjoy the process. You put so much of yourself into this, don’t stop now. No one will know about your book if you don’t put it in front of people.
For example, I spend a good 40-60 hours a week marketing my books on social media, interacting with other authors, scheduling interviews, updating my website or creating newsletters, submitting my book to contests, researching new ways to offer my readers even more. It’s a lot of work, and you don’t have to do as much as I do, but this article is about me, right?
So do your research. Lots of it. Understand your genre, your audience, your brand, your market, how to create blurbs and which print service is right for you. Don’t skip out on the business side of things because your book will never succeed if you hit that “publish” button and just wait for sales to happen. Sorry to pop your bubble gum, but they won’t happen until you do the extra work. So be vigilant. But don’t lose hope, it isn’t as awful as it seems.
Now that we know it’s a business, and you’ll be treating it as such, the next thing you need to do is join the community. It’s imperative that you make connections with other authors, reviewers, bloggers, readers, etc. This is the LIFE BLOOD of your success, plus, these people are pretty awesome. We’ve formed a genuine community of friends and it’s incredible to be a part of.
If you’re unsure of where to start, you can always find me on Twitter or Instagram and search through my followers. You’ll find TONS of bookish friends to connect with. Discord is another great way to meet authorly friends. There are several to join, but my favorite is the Page Turners Discord. Join that, say hi, and above all, just be yourself. We’re a friendly bunch, I promise!
Once you’ve integrated yourself into the community and learned the ropes a bit, now it’s time to start reaching out to readers and bloggers to get your books into their hands. But no one likes a pushy salesman, so don’t go blasting on and on about how amazing your books are while neglecting to promote or uplift your fellow authors or readers. People want to know YOU and they want to know that you’re not only in it for yourself! Make genuine posts that highlight specific parts of the book such as quotes, reviews, the cover, your excitement for publishing, any pre-orders or some fun insight you have as an author that you’d like to share! It’s okay to promote your books, of course, but be mindful not to be too pushy or salesy about it. Just be natural and allow the book to sell itself.
When reaching out to reviewers, just be kind and strike up a conversation. Let them know that you think your book would be perfect for their audience and that you would like to send them a free paperback in exchange for an honest review or feature post. Keep it casual, keep it friendly. Reviewers are people, too, so don’t badger them to read your book, and don’t push them if they haven’t read it yet.
So now that I’ve talked your ear off, let’s get into the thick of it, shall we? Grab a taco or 12 and a drink (margaritas, anyone!?) and let’s get to your questions!
Today’s topics will include:
- What do you wish you had done differently?
- How do I get started with publishing?
- How do I find editors, artists, or content creators?
- What are alpha, beta, and ARC readers?
- How do I format my book?
- How much does it cost, and will I make a lot in royalties?
- How do I get my book featured on blogs or booktube?
- How do you get awards, reviews, book tours, etc?
- Extra stuff
This advice comes from my personal experience as I’ve navigated the treacherous and rewarding territories of self-publishing. Results may vary. No refunds or exchanges shall be given.
To begin: the two questions that I get asked most often would be:
How do you get so many sales?
What is your marketing strategy?
And my truthful answer is: I have no f*cking idea. But it’s caused me to take pause and really figure out what it is that I do to make my books so easy to pick up.
I attribute most of this to:
1) The cover.
2) The hook.
3) My brand.
- “Don’t judge a book by its cover” can bite me. We all do it. You do it. I do it. Don’t deny it, you heathen. I suggest that you make sure your cover art is professional, or that it at least looks professional. Do not skimp on the cover art. It’s the first thing your readers see and they will judge you for it (tsk tsk) so make sure it’s eye-catching, on brand, instantly tells the reader what your story is about or sets the tone, and that it matches the quality of your work. Quality art is an investment, so be sure to look around and find an artist that works for you. If you can’t afford a cover artist, that’s okay! You can still create gorgeous covers yourself using free sites like Canva, or you can find pre-made covers by artists online for a more affordable price! Just be sure whatever you use matches the quality of the work you’ve written.
- The hook can be daunting. It’s a 1-2 sentence line that encapsulates your story and makes readers intrigued enough to grab your book. Put some MAJOR thought into this. You will use it everywhere you advertise. My hook is: “This Child is not the chosen one… she is a demon to be destroyed.” This hook tells you two things: one, that I’ve strayed away from the chosen one trope, and two, that the MC is evil and needs to be eradicated. This tells you a lot in a little and will weed out any readers who may not be looking for a darker story.
- Your brand is who you are and how others will view you. It’s important to understand what this means and how to implement it into your online presence. My brand is a bit wonky, because I’m a very dorky, extroverted, talks-too-much-for-my-own good kind to person, yet my books are pretty dark and brutal. So anyone who stumbles upon my Twitter might think I write children’s books, when I actually write dark fantasy with epic and horror elements. I just like to watch you squirm. Honestly, though, I just like to be myself. It works best for me. Many authors create a more professional brand, having nice headshots, well written social posts, and keep their personal lives separate from their business life. Research more about what having a “brand” means and do whatever is most comfortable for you. You’ll want to stay on brand so readers know what to expect from you and your products (books)
My marketing strategy isn’t really a strategy, per se. I just understand the ins and outs of social media (through HOURS of research) and know when to post, what to say, how to say it, and what will get the most attention to my page. Aside from that, the best I can offer you here is to do your research. Take free classes in social media marketing, watch YouTube videos and study what other successful authors are doing and try to cultivate your own marketing plan from what they do. Don’t copy them – learn from them.
That being said, I think a HUGE component to finding success is just building a community with your audience. You can do this by creating a newsletter that provides your readers with insight into your personal life or behind-the-scenes tidbits on your writing, creating a social media fan page for your works, hosting YouTube live events to hang out with your fans and discuss your books. There are several ways to involve your readers and make them feel valued. We all want to feel included, and readers will appreciate your honesty and knowing that you value their time. So take the time to value them. We wouldn’t be anywhere without our readers. Remember that, always.
I strongly believe that we are all in this together.
Cue the cafeteria dance from High School Musical EVERY DAMN TIME.
Everyone is on the same team, and we need to encourage, uplift, support, and love each other, both as readers and authors. Make genuine connections – not because you want to weasel your way into Library of a Viking’s esteemed and super exclusive review channel, but because you genuinely want to find friendship and community with likeminded people. Don’t do this because you want anything in return – do it because you love the community and want everyone to succeed. Do it because you love the devotion your fans have and the time they take to read and review your book.
Now, let’s move on to the actual topics at hand:
What do you wish you had done differently?
I published my first book in 2021 and had no knowledge of anything. I researched a little bit, but honestly, I was incredibly ignorant. Facebook was my only social media presence, I had no clue how to use paid ads (still don’t, actually) and I was completely lost on the business side of things, such as SEO, marketing, public relations, advertising, etc.
If I could do it all over again, I would have had a plan in place first and been part of the community. As you can see from my series, it’s never too late to start again, so don’t worry if you’ve already published a book or two and are finding yourself reading this article. Create a business model. THIS IS A BUSINESS. I can’t stress that enough – it’s a business, and if you want it to succeed, you will HAVE to treat it like one. Investments, time, energy, plans, budgets… it’s all inclusive, my friend. Many of these things you can pay someone to do for you, but if you’re broke as a joke like me, you can do it all on your own. It’s stressful, but I like to save money.
My biggest advice? Join Twitter, Instagram, and Discord. TikTok does see success, mostly in YA or romance fantasy, so if those are your genres you can go there too. Think of these platforms as the plastics from mean girls. You want to sit at the table with Regina George and Gretchen Wieners, except at our table, Regina actually loves your vintage skirt and Gretchen definitely made fetch happen.
But my professional life changed when I joined the Twitter book community. If you don’t know where to start – don’t fret! You can always find (and follow) my page (right here!) and browse through my followers. It’s chock full of humble nerds like me who are just itching for a new book friend!
You can learn a lot and meet some amazing people just by joining the community, so that’s where I would start. It’s where you should start. Go do it now. I’ll wait.
How do I find editors, artists, or content creators?
This was a tricky one for me, because I have a hard time trusting people. There are scammers everywhere – so beware. My rule of thumb – don’t trust anyone selling stuff on social media, especially those who reach out to YOU first. There are genuine artists/marketers/content creators out there, but social media has become a cesspit of scammers and bots, so I always err on the side of caution. Always go through the artist/editors website for payments and ALWAYS ask them for references that you can reach out to personally.
This is where integrating into the community is important, as you will get to know authors that will happily refer their own editors/artists, etc, and it’ll ease your mind to already have a trusted reference to back them up. Many editors will do a sample sheet to make sure your styles align before they have you sign a contract. For artists, there are lots of groups on Facebook, as well, where artists will sell their pre-made covers for affordable prices. These artists typically have websites that you can follow for secure payments, but again, always ere on the side of caution and try to find references where you can.
How do I get started with publishing?
Finish your book WHEN IT’S READY TO BE FINISHED. DO NOT – I REPEAT – DO NOT RUSH IT. Okay, now that I’ve said that – DID YOU HEAR ME I SAID DON’T RUSH! – out of the way, the first thing you should do is research traditional publishing vs indie. Learn what agents are, how to query them, how to stop ripping out your hair and smashing your PC with a baseball bat when you DO query them, and then give up and join the dark side with me.
I recommend KDP, which is Amazon’s platform. It’s a free service that’s really easy to use, offers 30-70% royalty options, and is print on demand, so you aren’t purchasing bulk copies of your books in hopes of people buying them. We’ll get into the royalties in a bit, but to stay on topic, KDP is the only platform I’ve used and so far it’s been great. I also recommend signing up for Kindle Unlimited, as you’ll have opportunities for sales and Prime Reading, which can extend your reach.
You should also look into IngramSpark. A LOT of authors use it. This is a print-on-demand shop that will sell your books to bookstores and retailers. Having your book in front of as many people as possible is the key to success, so I highly suggest signing up for IngramSpark and having them be your print service (for expanded distribution only. You will want KDP to print your Amazon paperbacks because the royalties are much higher than with Ingram). This way, you can contact independent bookstores like SilverStone Books or The Broken Binding and see if they’ll offer your book in their online stores! I don’t use Ingram yet because I’m the worst with technology, but I do recommend that you use it.
PS: I’ve also been asked how I got my book into The Broken Binding bookstore and featured on exclusive sites such as Grimdark Magazine. Honestly, I just emailed them and asked. This community is generally pretty receptive and friendly, so if you’re looking to be on a big blog or have a major reviewer read your book, just email them!
Amazon also offers affordable options for audiobooks as well. But before you look into that, send a request to Podium Audio. They offer FREE audiobook recordings to authors, with the catch being that you won’t get royalties until the narrator gets paid in full through royalties first. Honestly, it’s a great deal, and one I wish I knew about before I created my audiobook through ACX. Audiobooks can be really pricey, and many people read exclusively through audiobooks. Again, it isn’t about your income right now – it’s about exposure. You want top quality and to be able to offer your readers everything, so I would highly recommend checking them out.
If you don’t want to go that route and would prefer immediate royalties, then ACX is your best bet. This is the narration side of Audible. They offer “Royalty share” options which allows you and the narrator to split royalties with no up-front cost to you, so it’s affordable and you still get your royalties. Plus, it gives lesser-known narrators a chance to shine!
Once you have your books ready for publication, you need to set a release date. I recommend doing this 4-6 months in advance. This way, you’ll have the chance to integrate yourself into the community, reach out to bloggers, reviewers, book tour agencies, and readers that may be interested in your book, build your mailing list, and start gaining reviews through ARC readers. Hype sells, so make sure your presence is known and that you or your books are likable/relatable/engaging BEFORE you publish that book.
What are alpha, beta, and ARC readers?
Alpha and beta readers are readers who volunteer (or you can hire them, but most volunteer) to read your book and give their honest feedback on different aspects of the novel. This feedback is at the reader and author’s discretion, but it’s usually generally feedback a reader would have while reading the book (opinions on plot progression, prose, character arcs, dialogue, info-dumps, etc.) There is no limit to how many alpha/beta/arcs you should have, and my philosophy on this is: the more the better.
A good way to get alpha/beta/arc readers is to create a reader magnet that will build your newsletter. A free chapter, novella, or some other enticing goodies that will compel readers to sign up for your newsletter. Remember to make whatever you give away exclusive to your brand so they’re signing up for your content and not some cool, trendy item or gift card. You can use sites such as BookBub or Booksprout, which allow you to upload your ebook file that readers will receive for free if they sign up for your newsletter. These sites are for readers who agree to read and review your work in exchange for the free ebook.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering ‘what the heck are alpha, beta, and ARC readers?’
Well, my friend, it’s quite simple, really:
Alpha readers are those who read the book either before it’s finished being written or as a very early finished draft and give their feedback.
Beta readers read the final draft before editing
ARC readers (Advanced Reader Copy readers) read the book once it’s completely finished and ready for publication. Sometimes, the ARC copies will be missing a few final details, but they should be as close to finished as they can possibly be. These readers will read the book (that you will send to them for free) in exchange for leaving an honest review before and/or on the day of release. This helps to build hype and gather your audience/fanbase.
Alpha/beta/arc readers are very important to the success of your book, so I highly recommend using them. I was too scared to send my book to strangers before I published, and I really regret it now since my book wasn’t NEARLY as good as it could’ve been, and I wound up doing a second edition after many less-than-stellar reviews. You can always upload your manuscript to google docs and disallow the readers to save, print, or copy any of the file. This will allow them to leave comments without worrying about if they’ll steal your work (which is extremely rare, by the way, but it happens, and I’m paranoid)
Most authors create a Google Forms sign-up sheet asking for beta readers and will then send them the ENTIRE manuscript in google docs or a word file / pdf. This terrifies me, so I send my manuscripts to my readers 10 chapters at a time. Once they finished their first set of 10, I go through, check their comments, and then send the next ten. This weeds out any potential thieves and also gives you peace of mind, because most alpha/betas will DNF your book. It’s just part of the game – they’re volunteers after all and life happens. Much like reviews, you usually get less than 10% ROI (return on investment) which means that less than 10% of your readers will leave a review, and the same was true of my alpha/beta/arc readers, so take in as many as you can. But always be mindful of who you’re sharing your precious files with. I told you I’m paranoid.
How do I format my book?
Formatting is a pain in the you-know-what, especially if you’re a perfectionist like me and add TONS of extra content and features to your book. I format my book on my own through Word, and it’s a nightmare. You can find various tutorials on YouTube, and I’ve been planning to do my own as I get NUMEROUS requests for it. But the best programs to use are:
· Vellum (I believe it’s Apple only and can be a bit pricey, but it’s extremely easy to use and well worth the investment)
· Atticus (universal for Mac or PC and also very dynamic, though not as user friendly as Vellum for some)
· Word (again, it’s a nightmare. Not many people use word, but I like to live dangerously)
· Kindle Create (for ebooks, if you don’t have vellum or atticus, you can use this) It’s a free program offered by Amazon that allows you to create an ebook file that can be uploaded to KDP. Be aware that you can only create KPF files, which are only able to be uploaded to KDP… so epub files aren’t possible and you’ll have to go through another program to create those. Most reviewers and contests want epubs.
How much does it cost, and will I make a lot in royalties?
This is a VERY popular question, and one that I also had before publishing. The honest answer may not be one you want to hear, but this article is meant to be as transparent as possible, so I’m going to rip that cute little Scooby-Doo band-aid right off: publishing a high-quality book is expensive.
Your two biggest investments will be editing and cover design.
- Editing can run anywhere from $500-2000 USD
- (BTW: I get asked this a lot, so I’ll give my own personal advice. This will vary depending on the author, but for me, a developmental edit isn’t entirely necessary, especially if you have alpha/beta readers. You can get a dev edit if you’d like, but if you’re looking to stay within budget then I’d suggest only doing a line/copy edit and proofreading. You definitely want more than one editor looking at your manuscript, though, so hire two – one to do the line or copy edits and another to do the proofreading)
- Covers can be anywhere from $250-500 USD for pre-made to upwards of $2000 for custom designs. These vary depending on the artist, so use this as a rough estimate.
Bottom line: you will invest a lot, and you’ll want to price your book accordingly. But try to remember that in the beginning you need to set your expectations appropriately. If you’re a new author with a small fanbase, chances are, you’ll struggle to sell if you price your book in an attempt to break even on your investments. This means charging close to $20 for a paperback in hopes of making $5 in royalties per book. KDP actually has a really nice royalty calculator you can use that will give you an estimate of what you’ll make, because 70% does sound nice, but the truth is that you only get a fraction of that 70% as shipping, printing, and taxes are all taken from that portion.
Example: My book is priced at $10.99 (USD) and I make a measly $1.07. It isn’t fair, and we’ve all had a nice little cry over it, but toughen up, buttercup. You’ll be able to raise those prices once you reach Ryan Cahill levels of fame. Until then, you’ll have to panhandle like the rest of us.
Now, going back to that $20 beautiful paperback that you spent months investing your time and sacrificing the soul of your firstborn to finish – while this seems promising for you, the author, it isn’t realistic for most of us readers, as we aren’t typically willing to spend that much on an author we don’t know. So, keep that in mind as you go to price your book.
It’s best to price low in the beginning, build the hype, get your book into as many hands as possible, and once you’ve gained a bit of momentum then you can raise your prices. But in the beginning, focus on getting your book out there. 99 cents (USD) for your first ebook is a really good price, even though it won’t see much ROI, you’ll be rewarded with much more readers, which will eventually turn into a bigger investment. This is a long con, my friend. You can’t rush success. It will come, if only you nurture it like a wounded dove.
Pass out ebook arcs (before publication if using KDP exclusive, as they’ll pull your book off their shelves if you’re handing it out after you publish with them) Do free promos through KDP and use services like Freebooksy to promote your free book to their 1000s of subscribers, which offers you the chance to have your book in SO many hands.
- I want to add that I don’t recommend this strategy for your long-term plan, as “freebie” readers don’t often convert to consistent sales, but I still think it’s a great option when you publish your first book (whether it be your first ever or first in a series) if nothing more than to get more eyes and attention on your work.
So, in short: it’s an investment that will take a while to see a full return on, but we don’t publish our books because we want to get rich quick – we publish because we want to share our stories and imagination with others.
How do you enter contests, get reviews, schedule book tours, etc?
Contests: Being invested in the author community and making connections with other authors is key to this. SPFBO, BBNYA, Indie Ink Awards, Indie Best Awards, and several others are very esteemed contests that many of us enter and talk about. You can google “indie book awards” and enter your own. Most of them come with a fee, but the best way to find out about legitimate contests and competitions is to talk to other authors.
Reviews: Leave a “call to action” in your book encouraging readers to leave a review, hype up the glowing feedback you get and thank the reader for leaving it, and reach out to reviewers who may be interested in your book and offer to send them a free copy of your book in exchange for an honest review.
ARC readers are also important to gaining reviews as they’ll hype up the book before and during your release which will help boost your presence with Amazon’s algorithms.
Important note: Make sure to add a call to action to the back of your book. You can do a “note from the author” that has a call to action in the front as well, but definitely add one to the back. Be genuine, honest, and relatable here. Remind your readers how important reviews are to us, and when they do post them it never hurts to share their feedback on social media, not only to boost your book, but also to show your appreciation to your fans. The more reviews, the more hype; the more hype, the more sales; the more sales, the bigger your royalties.
Book tours: Reach out to book tour companies such as Escapist or Love Book Tours. There are many more, but these are who I’ve used and really enjoy. It’s a paid service, but well worth it. Do this anytime, but if you can schedule a tour around the launch of your book I think it’s best. This will get tons of attention to your novel and could be a great start to your career.
Escapist focuses mostly on bigger blogs and has the best results on Twitter, while Love Book Tours is kind of random and doesn’t seem to vet their reviewers quite as well, but they still deliver in getting your book in front of people, mostly on Instagram.
- Fiverr is a great place to find professionals that offer affordable rates for services such as formatting, editing, book trailers, beta readers, and art. Book trailers aren’t entirely necessary, but I like to use them to help hype up my book. If you do decide to use one, I would suggest sharing it on social media and in a newsletter blast at least 6-8 weeks before publication. This can vary depending on who you ask, but that’s what I would recommend.
Be mindful, though, because Fiverr is known for having some scammy patrons on there. Read the reviews before hiring anyone. I’ve used Fiverr a handful of times for art and book trailers and have always been pleased, but I wouldn’t use it for a major investment like cover art or editing. But you do you, home girl.
- Do your own research and market your book in a way that works best for you. Study what other successful authors in your genre are doing: look at their websites, merchandise, Amazon page, book interior, formatting, cover design, social posts, newsletters, etc. See what they do and how they do it and structure your own business plan in a similar fashion.
Search their followers and network with those who you feel would enjoy your books. Form friendships with other authors or readers you have similarities with. Give back to the community, read other indie books, and leave them reviews or give them nice a shoutout.
All in all, I just want to remind you that we’re on the same team. Readers and authors work together to make this community a great place to be! Keep writing, don’t sweat the first drafts (they’ll be awful – they’re always awful) and when it comes time to publish, don’t be afraid to reach out to a fellow indie author for help. We’re a good bunch and are willing to help wherever we can. We all have to start somewhere, so take the plunge and join the self-pub crew.
I hope to see your name in lights soon.
About the Author:
H.C. Newell is an American author of epic fantasy. She is best known for the Fallen Light fictional universe, in which her fantasy novel Curse of the Fallen, is set.
In 2014, Newell started her first novel series, Forthwind, which was a young adult trilogy. As she grew as an author, she found her niche in adult fantasy, and created the Fallen Light universe. This six-part novel series took Newell over seven years to create. She published her debut novel “Curse of the Fallen” in April 2021.
Newell’s works have been compared by readers to authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien, Brandon Sanderson, Andrejz Sapkowski, and Robert Jordan among others. Newell lives in Nashville, TN with her husband.
You can find her books here
Follow her on socials here