Toni Anderson struggled for several years before breaking out as an independent publishing success. She claims she overcame her early challenges “by perseverance, pure bloody-mindedness and strategic good luck. By becoming a better, more focused writer who observed the market, but wrote what I wanted to anyway. I stopped listening to the people who said, “You can’t do that” and did it anyway. I persevered because I can’t imagine doing anything else. I was, and still am, consumed by the act of creating stories.”
Toni Anderson is a #KWLWonderWoman—a savvy entrepreneur building her writing career into a successful independent business. Follow the stories here and on Instagram. Do you have a story to share? Tell us here.
By Toni Anderson
My journey to success as a writer has been so convoluted and occurred in such slow increments it’s like trying to track the progress of a glacier. I started seriously writing when pregnant with my first child, and she’s about to celebrate her eighteenth birthday.
I sold my first book to Triskelion in the early 2000s. Triskelion then went bankrupt. I then landed an agent, only to have her drop me when the global financial crisis happened in 2008. I sold three books to Carina Press but I still wasn’t making any money. The first truly pivotal moment of my writing career was probably when Montlake Romance offered me a two-book deal. Which was fantastic. But they didn’t want the third book in that series…
I decided to write a series based around the FBI and set primarily in the US. I called it the Cold Justice series.
Initially, my new agent couldn’t get any interest in this series from publishers. Editors weren’t responding to her queries, which she told me was a sure sign they weren’t interested. So, after a lot of internal debate (and while finishing the second book in the series) I decided to self-publish. I hired a cover designer and two editors, spent money we couldn’t afford getting the books into shape. Naturally, that’s when a New York editor started to show a little interest.
This was late 2013 and I was at a crossroads in my career. I needed to make a decision. According to my agent, the dollar advance a debut author could expect (yes, after six published books I’d still be considered a debut author) was only a few thousand dollars. Some might consider money to be too puerile a reason to choose one option over another (as opposed to the illusive concept of prestige), but we were struggling financially. Really struggling. I’d wake up in cold sweats at night and knew that if I didn’t start making a living wage soon, I’d have to go back out to work, and that would kill my writing career. Writers have to eat; writers’ children need clothes, and school supplies. We need reliable cars and, when it’s minus thirty outside, we need heat for our homes.
So I had to make a choice and that choice was to either keep doing what I was doing, or abandon everything I’d striven for over the last decade (being traditionally published) and throw myself into the new and exciting world of self-publishing.
Guess which option I chose?
At first, figuring out the intricacies of self-publishing was like taking on a new full-time job, but it didn’t take long to figure it out.
So how should you go about this if you don’t know anything?
There are several Facebook groups and Yahoo loops for writers who want to self-publish and a vast amount of information is available on the internet. Actually, the amount of information can be overwhelming, but you don’t need to know everything to get started. The Naked Truth About Self-Publishing written by several successful indie authors is another good resource.
What’s involved? First there’s the book itself (assuming you’ve written it). Finding editors and proofreaders. A cover artist. A formatter (although I did this myself for a long time). Even this amount of work can seem overwhelming at first. How do you even find these people? My advice is to ask for recs on those writer loops, or from author friends, and do some online research. For cover artists, find books with covers you love in the genre you write, and look inside at the copyright page to see who designed it. Writers often thank their editors and designers in the acknowledgements section, too. But don’t copy covers or title/name fonts to match another author. It’s unprofessional and potentially illegal.
After the book is polished then there’s figuring out how to load it onto all the different self-publishing platforms. Kobo, Google Play, iBooks, Nook [now Barnes & Noble Press] and Amazon are the main vendors. I use a distributor called Draft2Digital to get my books onto Nook as I’m not in the US. There’s a lot to learn. A lot to do. You won’t just instinctively know how to do everything. It’ll be confusing. You will make mistakes (I still do!). This is all okay. Normal even. Break it down. Start one platform at a time if you need to, or start off with a distributor until you have more confidence. First, you need an account with each vendor, and need to set up banking details, tax information, etc. If you’re outside the US you’ll need to register for an ITIN number and then fill out W8-BEN forms so tax isn’t withheld (as appropriate to your situation and tax treaty laws). You can do this before you even finish your book and start figuring out how these different platforms work.
I find Kobo and Amazon to be the most user-friendly platforms. iBooks is tricky because files are uploaded via iBooks Producer (you need a Mac or a distributor) and then managed with iTunes Connect (I’m probably describing this wrong because I’m still confused!). In terms of data, I love iTunes Connect. I also love how Kobo and iBooks allow you to plan and control short term sales in any geographical region in advance. You can do that on Google Play too, but it’s less straightforward until you figure out the system. You can’t plan sales via Nook using Draft2Digital, nor via Amazon. You just adjust the price and hope the change happens in time. There are issues with price-matching between some platforms, and other issues with vendors changing the price of the book without author’s knowledge or consent. There are also rules about having free books on Amazon-yes, really!
None of these issues are insurmountable, but they are things you need to be aware of. There are too many finicky details for me to discuss in a single blog post, and who’s to say it won’t all change next week? Every author you see doing well was once a newbie and the only real way of learning is by doing. Diving in. Getting wet. Getting messy. Sweating. Pulling your hair out in frustration. That’s what it takes. Dedication, drive and determination. Kinda like writing a book.
As for me, I have no doubt I made the right decision back in 2013. I can’t imagine giving up the control I now have over my books and career. Since deciding to self-publish I’ve sold nearly 300,000 copies of those books, and given away a further 650,000 copies. That’s not counting books with other publishers or books sold as part of author collaborations. So there are easily a million copies of my books out there and people have even read some of them.
I’m pretty happy with that.
Toni Anderson is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, RITA® nominee, science nerd, professional tourist, dog lover, gardener, mom.
Originally from a small town in England, Toni studied Marine Biology at University of Liverpool (B.Sc.) and University of St. Andrews (Ph.D.) with the intention she’d never be far from the ocean. Well, that plan backfired and she ended up in the Canadian prairies with her biology professor husband, two kids, a rescue dog, and two laid-back leopard geckos.
Toni started writing while pregnant with her first child and never stopped. Her greatest achievements are mastering the Tokyo subway, climbing Ben Lomond, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, and surviving fourteen Winnipeg winters (fingers crossed). She loves to travel for research purposes and was lucky enough to visit the Strategic Information and Operations Center inside FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 2016, and she also got to shove another car off the road during pursuit training at the Writer’s Police Academy in Wisconsin.
Watch out world!