11 Things Every Indie Author Needs to Stop Worrying About (Part 2 of 2)

Write Craft with Sean and Johnny

Did you miss Part 1? If so, check that out here first...

Now that you are ready, we'll head right into Part 2.


  1. How Much Money You'll Make

I’ll answer this now so you can stop worrying: Not much at first.

You’ll work really hard for months and months, and won’t make much money at all. Keep at it, and that should turn around, but in general, this stuff takes time. But you knew that already. Only deluded people think they will publish one book and retire.

The fact that everyone spends so much time thinking about something they already know the answer to reveals the “How much will I make?” question to be not much more than a delay tactic. Get over it and move on. You won’t make much at first, but the sooner you start, the sooner “not much” will become “more.” 

The issue of money does matter, but how much is the wrong question to ask. Don’t think in terms of dollars and cents (euros, pounds, whatever) in the beginning. Think about creating books that are truly worth buying, doing it over and over, and getting it into as many hands as possible. Think about gaining a better understanding of what makes prospective buyers tick. Think about forging better connections with your readers and growing your mailing list.

Do those things faithfully, and money will (eventually) follow.

  1. What Anyone Else Thinks

You’re probably going to get pushback as you build your indie writing business. You may get it from well-meaning family and friends, or from fellow writers who think you should try to publish traditionally, that your decisions about what to write are somehow incorrect, or that you’re going about your marketing all wrong. You’ll get advice on your work, your titles, your covers, the genres you write in, your pricing, and so on. Some of it will be good, and you should listen to it all. But in the end, once you know what you’re going to do, cut it off and stand firm — and at that point, some of the advice and pushback will start to sound like criticism … or even pity. 

Don’t worry if your friends think you’re wasting your time. Don’t worry if you write some saucy, horrific, or profane scenes that Grandma wouldn’t approve of. Don’t worry if your writing group disagrees with your marketing or branding. Once you’ve listened, assessed, and decided, your decisions are yours to make. They are no one’s business but your own. 

This isn’t about selfishness or bullheadedness. Once you have a group of ideal readers and true fans, you’ll be making those decisions based on what you know about them that the critics don’t. Your job is to serve your audience and yourself. If you’ve done your job and cultivated a group of readers that are indeed ideal readers, your aims and your readers’ desires should nicely align.

You’re an adult. You’ve earned the right to do what you want, regardless of what anyone has to say.

  1. Making Your Book Perfect

Your book will not — and cannot — ever be perfect. Even if you get all of the grammar and spelling and punctuation in line with the official rules, your plot could always be a bit more exciting or heartfelt. You could always foreshadow better. You could always make the dialogue ring more true. 

Worrying about perfection sounds noble. That’s how you justify holding a book back: “I owe my readers the best, and this can still be better.” But it’s not noble; it’s self-indulgent. You aren’t refraining from publishing because you care about readers; you’re refraining because you’re afraid. You aren’t ceaselessly revising and tweaking your book to improve its selling potential; you’re doing it to avoid writing the next one. This is all fear and resistance, not quality control.

As Seth Godin wrote in Linchpin, “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.”

Your book will never be truly finished or perfect. Competent indies understand that while that may be true, you must publish anyway, so you can move on to the next one.

  1. Other Activities That Probably Aren’t Worth Your Time

To close, let’s cover some miscellaneous things that fall firmly into the description of “probably not worth your time” — activities that may give you some results but will likely require too much time relative to what your efforts will yield. 

I’m not discouraging you from doing these things, or saying they won’t generate results. I’m saying that in most cases, the potential returns are small enough that your time would be better spent writing — the one activity from which almost every indie stands to reap the most benefit.

  1. Print

I love print. There’s something about holding a book in your hand that makes you feel like a real writer. 

But wanting to feel like a real writer isn’t enough of a justification to set aside new production to create print versions of existing books, so only do it when you can shove it in or when there seems to be another reason. There can be value in handing out or selling print books in person, and the way Amazon makes your e-book price look better if there’s print on the page for comparison is a nice psychological anchor. But even with all of that, print is still firmly in the “probably not worth it” category for most indies. 

If you choose to spend time on print, just know you’re not doing something likely to yield large monetary results.

  1. Book Trailers

Book trailers are like movie trailers, but for books. They typically have dramatic still photos creeping across the screen and dissolving into one another, and higher-end trailers will include video. They may or may not have a voiceover, and usually have theatrical-looking text moving around and/or quotes from the book. The idea is to stick the trailers on YouTube or your website and use them to fuel anticipation for your book among an audience that’s more visual than your core reader group.

Personally, I don’t understand book trailers at all and have no interest in them despite hearing that they can be worthwhile. Ryan Holiday has a fantastic and effective trailer for Trust Me, I’m Lying, and Jonathan Fields has one for Uncertainty. But they are rare. Ryan Holiday is a born marketer and Jonathan Fields’ trailer mined perfect emotion. Both look like they had a substantial budget behind them. Odds are that your trailer will only be a waste of time and money. 

As with print, you can do them, but know what you’re likely to get. Make sure the time, expense, and effort is something you’d rather spend on trailers than on writing more books.

  1. Algorithms

There’s been a lot of talk about various platforms’ algorithms — especially Amazon’s ranking and recommendation engines — and it’s a good idea to know something about how they work. But Amazon especially guards its algorithms very closely so that no one really knows exactly how they work, so try to minimize time spent thinking (or ruminating) about them. 

Luckily, understanding most of what you need to know about algorithms doesn’t have to take a ton of time. Ed Robertson and David Gaughran are well-known in the indie space as being the people who know a lot about how Amazon’s algorithms work. You can pick up David’s excellent book Let’s Get Visible, which is all about understanding the various ways that Amazon puts recommended books in front of prospective readers. 

Once you’ve done your initial research, incorporate “algorithm thinking” as a by-the-way thing. Let’s Get Visible has a great section on choosing categories for your work, so maybe you’ll decide to tweak those categories. Maybe you’ll wonder at the algorithms when you publish and keep them in the back of your head. Beyond that, they’re probably not worth worrying about. 

Think about them, yes. But don’t put algorithm optimization above writing good books and bonding with your readers. Trying to ride algorithmic waves is usually a procrastination tactic. You can increase your visibility by spending five minutes thinking about algorithms, but beyond that your best strategy for increasing visibility is to write more books, hence making your publishing footprint harder to ignore.


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