Maybe you’ve had a book idea in your head for years and have just now arrived at a season in life when you have a bit more bandwidth available to write it. Maybe you’ve been working diligently on a project for the last six months and have finally committed yourself to a deadline. Maybe you’ve supported yourself with your writing for most of your career and are in the middle of your latest work.
Whatever your ambitions or situation, you’re engaged in the process of releasing a written piece into the world. And unfortunately, the world didn’t check with you before going a bit haywire.
Though economic recessions can tighten belts and restrict resources, the good news for indie writers and authors is that working independently on a written work negates any risk that a recession would adversely affect a publishing deal. Even during a recession, your audience still wants to be informed, entertained, or moved.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate the independent authorship journey even when the economy has taken a downturn.
Networking Is Worth It
Whether you’re open to a publishing deal or definitely planning to self-publish, networking is a vital part of the process of writing. Networking can yield co-release arrangements, marketing partnerships or deals, editors, financial backers, or even simply fellow writers to commiserate with. Networking can take a variety of forms and is well worth practicing. Networking events can come in different contexts and formats.
In the aftermath of COVID-19, many networking events are held virtually, making it possible for just about anyone to find a suitable entry point.
Networking events don’t have to be tedious or intimidating. It’s ok to be friendly and enjoy your time. It’s ok to not have a polished answer ready for every single question you might be asked.
Practicing interactions with new contacts and individuals in a networking setting makes it much easier to have the conversations that will really matter down the line when you’re negotiating book release events, getting your book into retail locations, or working with the media. Take advantage of the low-threshold opportunity to practice.
Build Your Audience First
It’s a common trap for authors to assume that once they decide to write their book, they should squirrel themselves away in a cabin somewhere and not emerge until they have a completed manuscript in hand, ready for the world to revel over.
In reality, if you disappear to write your book and emerge months or years later with a completed manuscript ready for release, only your mom and the four people you’ve told about your project might be ready and waiting to read it. The rest of the world doesn’t have a clue about you or your brilliant masterpiece. It takes quite a bit of time to build any attention or traction.
Instead of taking this ill-fated route, the most successful indie writers choose a different path. They begin curating an audience well before they have anything to release. Who are the types of people that will be most likely to be interested in your book? Who will it benefit most? What are they reading right now? How are they engaging with other blogs, websites, and social media accounts? How will you put yourself, your ideas, and your book in front of them? How can you begin doing that now?
There are many ways to do this. Creating social media presences on Facebook, Instagram, or similar for your book, or for the type of community you hope to market your book to, is a great way of building this traction so that you’re ready for release.
If you’re able to create a simple website explaining the vision for the book and what value it will create, even better. Put up a simple email capture form to start building a list of interested people you can announce your release to when it’s ready. Release tidbits of your work for feedback and to start building interest. Interact with like-minded authors and community members on socials and forums. Anything you can do to create awareness and begin building a platform for your work before you release it can fundamentally change the trajectory and success of your release.
Set Goals. Then Stick to Them
Writing a work can be a daunting, tedious process. For many authors, the timeline they hope they’ll be able to follow when they begin their process doesn’t pan out. Projects can tend to drag on, meander, and take much more time than originally expected. Many authors never reach a completion point at all.
To avoid this, it’s imperative that you set concrete goals and parameters for your project – and then hold to them. Yes, sometimes adjustment is necessary. But as a creative and a writer, try to practice holding to deadlines and goals and keep yourself accountable to meeting them as much as reasonably possible.
The act of finishing things – meeting deadlines and expectations, whether an entire project or a mid-work milestone – is like a muscle that needs to be strengthened. Similar to willpower or exercising any other kind of discipline, the process of completing things can be practiced in small doses. Those small wins will contribute to the likelihood that you’ll finish the bigger ones too.
When using goal-setting strategies or frameworks, it’s important to assess what will work best for you and your process. Some people need hard deadlines for the entire project to work towards and can keep themselves on track with that final finish line in mind. Some people need detailed steps or midpoints to help flesh out a roadmap to completion and have mini-accomplishments built into the process. Some people use spreadsheets; some people use post-it’s. Whatever your needs and style preferences for maintaining a goal/deadline framework, it’s simply important to find something you can use and stick to that works for you.
Be Aware of Available Resources
Authors don’t need to assume they’re destined for a starving-artist livelihood. You might be surprised at what kinds of resources might be available to you that you can find with a little bit of research. One area of little-known resources can come in the form of public assistance programs. During the COVID-19 pandemic for instance, unemployment aid became a lifeline that supported many individuals during a period of limited employment opportunities and afforded many writers the opportunity to support themselves while concentrating on their writing endeavors.
While that particular type of program will not last indefinitely, it provides an example of resources that have the potential to change the game for you if you are willing to look for them. Grant funding can be available for certain types of projects through nonprofit organizations, university programs, or government funding.
Research or funded creation tenders can also exist and might turn into funding sources that can lessen your need for other work and allow you the flexibility to concentrate on your writing endeavors.
The Detailed Outline is Your Friend
Each author has their own process for creating written works. This strategy doesn’t work for everyone. But many authors spend a huge amount of time line-editing a complete first draft only to discover later in a more formal editing or proofreading process that entire structural elements need to change to make the story compelling or cohesive. This can be demoralizing and frustrating for authors, and can cost large amounts of wasted time perfecting prose that ultimately needed to be scrapped and fundamentally changed anyway.
Because of this, a strategy that helps many authors streamline their process, stick to deadlines, and avoid large amounts of wasted time is to develop a detailed outline before doing any line writing. Penning a story from start to finish on a blank page is a romantic notion, but in reality it can make it difficult to keep the story cohesive and smooth-flowing. Using an outline structure and filling it in from start to finish in increasing detail until you have a robust, fleshed-out map of your work will help you streamline your process.
Utilizing this strategy can help you evaluate the piece in its entirety before spending boatloads of time on scenes, sections, or chapters that ultimately won’t make it to the final work. It is also an efficient way to present your concept to early-stage editors and external feedback sources to help you hone the backbone of your piece and strengthen its plot, sections, and cohesiveness before setting in on the nitty gritty details.
Know Your Stuff Before You Need To
Especially if you plan to do any networking or promotion for your piece, now is the time to have a few concepts and “pitches” honed to effectively communicate your project to others.
First, know your target audience. Every work should be aimed at a specific market. No piece should be “for everyone” – anything general enough to be “for everyone” cannot be relevant or specific enough to add significant value. Know the person most likely to pick up your book off the shelves, to read it through, and to gain the most value from it. This could be a few distinct target audiences, but you still need to have an idea of what they may be and what the primary target audience will be.
In addition to knowing how to articulate your audience, it’s important to be able to express the value you intend to create for your readers. What is the point? What would a reader expect to get out of it when he or she starts reading it? How do you hope his or her life will be different after they finish?
It’s also valuable to have a crafted “elevator pitch” to succinctly explain the project and those two pieces of information (its target audience and its value-add). People will ask. You may have unexpected opportunities to talk to industry professionals or potential contacts along the way. Being ready to effectively communicate what you’re doing can make the difference between a promising partnership and an awkward conversation.
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
Just because the current economic landscape is a bit more dicey at the moment, tried-and-true principles of best practice don’t cease to exist. They remain advisable strategies for achieving success as an indie writer. Though resources might be a bit more thinly spread, people still need value. They still need to learn. They still want to laugh and cry and be touched emotionally. Crafting a strong product will always create benefit and value for readers. This method is as tried-and-true as they come.
Coupled with creating a strong work is effectively getting it into the hands of those who want and need it. The work of making those who would be interested aware of your piece’s existence will always be that – it will always take effort and persistence. Though specifics may shift and best practice may evolve over time, be willing to prioritize those two central tasks and much of the rest will work itself out.
Reinvent the Wheel
To counter that previous point – there is also a degree of wisdom in carefully evaluating each of the steps and assumptions that guide your authorship process from start to finish. It is easy for an author to fall into one of two effort traps:
- Doing busywork rather than putting effort towards something that will meaningfully move the project forward.
- Doing things because that’s what you were told you had to do, because that’s how it’s always done.
As you approach and navigate your work, question everything. Will this particular effort or strategy move your project forward towards completion and a successful release? If you answer yes, can you articulate why and how? If you struggle, question again whether you should be doing it. Similarly, are you approaching this phase in a way that makes sense and seems like it is the most efficient and effective way of accomplishing what you need to accomplish? Are underlying assumptions driving your actions that should be questioned or challenged? Is there an innovative way of doing this task that might be more effective or take less time?
As you engage with the indie writer’s journey, remember that the road can often be long and hard. It often takes significant amounts of effort, work, and grind to achieve the result you ultimately hope to enjoy. However, it is worth it to engage with this process – especially if you thoughtfully execute your vision in ways that will keep you on track, help you manage the hard bits, prepare you for the best-case scenario, and put your effort towards the things that matter.
Andrew Deen has been a consultant for startups in almost every industry from retail to medical devices and everything in between. He implements lean methodology and currently writing a book about scaling up business. Twitter @AndrewDeen14