The Independent Publisher
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Today's Author Friendly resources for indies are brought to you by Karla King.
BIO: Carla King is an adventure travel writer, web expert, and pro-blogger who started a successful self-publishing journey in 1995 after she was turned down by traditional publishing houses.
Today she offers Author Friendly resources to help authors self-publish well, and the Self-Publishing Boot Camp education program of books and workshops.
Find out how you can ease your publishing journey atAuthorFriendly.com.
Carla, you have an impressive team and array of services for authors. How did you come up with all this?
When the self-publishing systems started to launch—starting with Mark Coker’s Smashwords in 2008—I would talk with the founders to figure out how the technology worked and to discuss their business models. I was fascinated and wanted to figure out who was serving authors best. They were always very forthcoming and we’d have a great time discussing the future of publishing as well. A lot of these folks created their companies to solve their own problems, and so they put a lot of heart into their businesses. The network grew over time and we’d meet at least annually at the San Francisco Writers Conference where I run the self-publishing track, as well as in my Self-Publishing Boot Camps. So, over the years, I just know the who and the how and can convey it very quickly. So authors hired me to tell them how to go about it so they didn’t spend time and money going around and around in crazy cul-de-sacs and dead ends. This became the core of my Author Friendly business, and then I started adding people I really trust to provide editing, formatting and design, website development and social media establishment, branding, and basically everything an author needs.
You started self-publishing in 1995. How did things change in the indie world over the last two decades?
The changes in self-publishing since I started in 1995 are massive. It was all technology driven and tech and the web were really booming! It’s natural that when something becomes easy people will do it. (We saw it with indie music, first.) So when Big Pub experienced a big fail, technology was there to fill the gap and put power into the hands of the artist.
How many books have you written?
Ha! That depends on what you call a book. I’ve written seven books that could be called “normal” books, but the definition of "book" is changing. I’ve written or created a dozen more in digital formats—anthologies and collections—that people read as books online or as downloads on their devices. It’s worth noting here that the construct of a book was defined by the abilities and economics of the printing press. We can throw that out the window now, but we’re still subconsciously constrained by it.
Do you still have time to write, with a thriving business for authors to run?
I have less time to write than I’d like, but I’ve got a plan to use the holiday lull to catch up on my creative writing. I’m creating online courses for Author Friendly to electronically duplicate myself and it also has the benefit of a lower price tag for authors.
What is your daily work schedule?
Work starts with writing—blog posts or working on my self-publishing book (I’m on the 4th edition, now). I try not to look at email until about 10am. Of course, this all changes if low tide is happening in the morning because I cannot resist the beach at low tide.
If I am working on a big project like a book or a course, I try to set three hours aside both in the morning and the afternoon to work on without interruption. I use the Pomodoro method with Focus@Will and I also employ an essential oil diffuser or take some along when I’m traveling. I always take time out to exercise, at least once but maybe twice a day—the low-tide walk or run, and yoga, bicycling, paddle boarding, or the gym. I get my best thoughts when my body is moving. If I’m traveling it’s a bit more challenging, and I’m happy if I can work on a project for an hour without interruption. I still use the same tools, though, and get lots of exercise.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever gotten (or read)?
There’s no such thing as writer’s block. Just sit your butt down and do it.
What is the best marketing advice you’ve ever gotten (or read)?
I tell people to market to their most intimate tribe first and radiate out. In self-publishing, my closest tribe was a group of travel authors in San Francisco whose publishers failed them. You see how very niche that is? Then people talked to people and, because I used the right metadata on my website, that tribe expanded to all travel writers and then pretty much all authors. So market to your tribe, find out where they are—social media, forums, physical events and cities—and meet them there.
What has been your best marketing decision so far?
My best marketing decision was not intended to be a marketing tactic. I felt called to empower authors who want to publish their books, because I had done it myself and it wasn’t really that difficult. I’ve also worked to empower people who want to explore Baja on their motorcycle. To empower women who want to travel solo. It turns out that being helpful and selfless is a marketing superpower.
What has been your worst decision as a writer and how did you bounce back?
Aarg. This is embarrassing. I bought an expensive marketing training package and used their templates to create email newsletter copy. It really had been proven that the wording in this series of email blasts worked, but it was an epic fail for me. It didn’t sound like me, it didn’t feel like me, it wasn’t me! People had signed up for my email news to hear from me. So I got massive unsubscribes. Duh! Since then I have learned that my best voice is my most honest voice in both creative writing and copy writing.
Do you think of yourself as an author or as an entrepreneur?
I am both an author and an entrepreneur. I left my Silicon Valley tech writing job to start freelancing, which made enough money that I could take off to travel and write. My travel writing career has never made much money so I funded it with the tech writing jobs. But when I started helping people publish I saw that was a viable business and I really liked it. So I became a consultant, a teacher, and then a business owner, too. But I still love writing, though lots of it is how-to rather than creative writing.
What have been the key factors to your success?
People have called me lucky, but luck is where preparation meets opportunity. My dad always said that--especially when he was dragging me off to do something like help him fix the brakes on the tractor. I really appreciate all the mechanical skills I learned from him now and I tell him that every opportunity I get. Because that alone gave me the confidence to become independent and solve my own problems.
My career in high-tech as a tech writer and web editor stemmed from that early experience of problem solving. Following that, the experience in computer technology and the Internet helped me navigate this new world that is knitted together by the interwebs.
With this basis of confidence-building problem solving and my subsequent knowledge of things mechanical and technological offline and on, I was empowered to wrestle down my fear enough to take action—whether that was writing, travel, publishing, even relationships. Gee. Does it all come down to learning basic auto mechanics? I think it might!
Riding the wave of technology continues to be super exciting and empowering. Technology allowed my voice to come through in the 90s as a solo female motorcycle adventure traveler, which was unique at that time. I was also one of the first bloggers ever, though they didn’t call it blogging, then. My job test riding the Russian sidecar motorcycle for the American market, test riding the concept of realtime dispatches to the Internet, and then self-publishing the subsequent book, launched both my travel writing and publishing careers. It launched me in front of an audience of women who had feared taking a solo trip of any kind. It also launched me in front of motorcycle magazine editors, lifestyle magazine editors, prominent bloggers, and other people who helped spread the word about my writing and my businesses.
Editors saw it as a salable story and I got a lot of press. I was asked to speak at women’s conferences, motorcycle conferences, and writer’s conferences about not only the travel experience but about writing and publishing. And that is what eventually led to my other career in self-publishing as a teacher, consultant, and how-to book author. Self-Publishing Boot Camp and Author Friendly were born of those efforts, that need.
Looking back, I have seen that I have done what I loved—travel, technology, writing, and publishing—and in some sort of miracle it has all come together into a life that I love.
What do you think traditional publishers should learn from self-publishers?
Self-publishers know all about going lean and fast. Big Pub does things very slowly and will continue to be slow. Why does it take over a year from manuscript to retailer? I can’t think of any reason but bloat and bureaucracy. They use smaller teams or something. Their snail’s pace is typical of large companies but unnecessary, just the same.
What should self-publishers learn from traditional publishers?
Traditional publishing insists on quality and self-publishers need to slow down and make their books look as good as any that come from Big Pub, especially in editing and design. There are too many sloppily edited, badly designed self-published books. I encourage beta publishing as a way to find audience and market along with perfecting the book and learning about the publishing process. The tools are there—Gumroad, Leanpub, and Patreon—and they also empower you make money from your writing and other content before you publish.
What do you think the publishing landscape will look like in 5 years?
I think that the publishing landscape has just about leveled out after the last decade’s huge upheaval with its constant surprise and excitement.
In Big Pub’s big fail they’ve laid off a lot of the workers who made the books so beautiful—I find errors in books all the time now. But all those workers are now forming companies that do editing and design very beautifully. Big Pub makes most of their money from something like their top three percent of authors and I can’t see that changing. E.L. James, Danielle Steele, Dan Brown, Steven King.
There is an ongoing attempt to outsource the author discovery process and make money with tech, demonstrated by Penguin Random House’s acquisition of Author Solutions, the vanity press technology company that powers Balboa (for Hay House), Westbow (for Thomas Nelson), Archway (for Simon & Schuster), plus iUniverse, Trafford, Author House, Xlibris, and a host of other vanity imprints. It doesn’t work out for anybody because it has no heart. I’ve helped many authors extricate their books from these companies. Penguin Random House bought Author Solutions in 2012 and sold it in January 2016. They had it long enough to try to make it work, and, obviously, it didn’t.
The solution I like to think will trend in the next five years is an influx of Big Pub money into indie author tools. For example, Macmillan bought Pronoun (formerly Vook), which is an ebook creation and distribution tool. Macmillian funds Pronoun’s future development, which also inherently gives them the right to identify and offer contracts to the most successful writers using the platform. I think this kind of arrangement feeds the whole ecosystem quite nicely. That is, not trying to hammer the market into their shape, but to encourage and incubate and allow for a multitude of opportunities for success.
The new hybrid publishers also play a very important role in publishing by curating books, offering services, distribution packages, and marketing assistance to authors that fit with their interests and readers. The technology already makes it easy to organize us into tribes where authors, publishers, and readers can converse and trade. Hybrid presses are springing up everywhere. I’ve even been experimenting with the model by publishing adventure travel author friends under my Misadventures Media brand. Ron Martinez’s Aerio helps this along by easily allowing curation and a small percentage of sales from books using the platform. Ingram hopes so, too—they bought the company in late 2015.
Because publishing tech can only get easier there will not be any shortage of very badly written and self-published books in the marketplace, which is unfortunate. My hope is that reader recommendation sites like Goodreads (powered by Amazon), and Bookstr (which acquired The Reading Room), will continue to help sort through the slush pile. Word-of-mouth recommendations can never be replaced with tech, but they can amplify voices, whether it’s on social media or curated sites. In the end, the reading public is the gatekeeper. I also think that the local independent bookstore and library will keep their place in the ecosystem. I am very glad to see that their predicted demise has not come to pass.
In five years, as in today, any author who is self-publishing may choose to continue to enjoy earning 100% of their profits by self-publishing or they may be thrilled with a contract, as was self-published author Amanda Hocking. Authors Bella Andre (romance) and Hugh Howey (science fiction) sold print rights to publishers but kept the ebook rights.
It’s all a beautiful mess, and five years from now I see this mishmash of tribe-empowering technology, publishing options, and wheeling dealing continuing, along with super easy book production and recommendation engines that really work.
Please share some words of encouragement to authors who are still struggling.
I think of writing as the ultimate gift. Whether it’s a how-to manual or a mystery novel, your words have the potential to make a huge impact on a person’s life. The personal is universal. The more generous and intimate you are with your story or your knowledge, the more impactful it is. When I overcame my fear about sharing intimate and personal moments, thoughts, fears, and theories, I found surprisingly little criticism, a wider audience, and a boatload of appreciation and subsequent sales. Yay!
Where can we find you online? Do you have any presents for us?
AuthorFriendly.com is my resource for authors and self-publishers, where you can find people to help you or you can hire us to do a lot of the work for you. Go there to sign up for my email newsletter so that I can send you little presents to help you publish successfully at least once a month.
CarlaKing.com is my personal website and right now I’m blogging a lot about Baja as I pop back and forth between San Diego and my casa in Mulegé on the Sea of Cortez. I also blog for Discover Baja and Expedition Portal. If you are interested in adventure travel, motorcycles, 4x4s, paddleboards, boats and all the associated gear, go sign up there!
MisadventuresMedia.com is my small press, and I’ve started publishing other adventure travel writers there as well as my own books.
Yes! I have presents!
1) Metadata cheatsheet: http://bit.ly/afmetadatacheatsheet
Don't be afraid of metadata! This cheat sheet will help you organize your descriptions, biography, and keywords and phrases in the right word count needed by the various online retailers and distributors plus your Bowker ISBN record. It's possibly your most important marketing task—creating keywords and metadata, that is. Because these words will filter to Google and Amazon and all the places readers look for your book it's very important to choose them carefully. I think of metadata as a writer's best marketing partner. I write a lot about this in my self-publishing guide--4th edition is coming in 2017!
2) Travel writing presentation: http://bit.ly/hu16travelwriting
If you're a travel writer you'll appreciate this overview of the elements of a good travel story - theme, plot, scenes, and narrative arc - as well as how to edit, enrich, and get your writing published. These are the slides from a four-hour class I give sometimes, but I think you'll find a lot of the information stands on its own.
3) How to make more money from your writing and related works:http://bit.ly/2e6qAI3
Here are the slides from this popular presentation that explores the various ways you can repurpose your writing to make more money and get your work into the public eye, and maybe even do a little crowdfunding and pre-publishing as well. I think it will inspire you to get out there and connect with your readers, too! This is my favorite presentation because you can get results so quickly.