This week, Steph and Joni sat down with David Wind, author of The Indie Writer’s Handbook. Wind has written 59 titles and started his author journey with a traditional publisher, before becoming a very early adopter of indie publishing in 2008. He talked to us about the lessons he’s learned along the way, how he engages with readers across multiple genres, and offers advice for authors just starting out!
Journey to Self-Publishing
David started with traditional publishing in the 1980s, writing romance novels under a female pen name. He remained secretive on his pen name, but says that his romance titles are still floating around on publishers’ backlists. David felt that romance was the only way he could break into publishing; his editor gave him five romance novels to read for reference, he submitted a proposal, and he was offered a three-book contract. While in traditional publishing, David worked with Kate Duffy, who was considered one of the most prominent romance editors before she passed away. David’s first book outside of the romance genre was a medieval Sci-Fi/Fantasy titled Queen of Knights.
David Wind got into self-publishing in 2008, right at the onset of its establishment as an industry. He wanted to experience the freedom of being completely independent and choosing what to write. As a self-published author, David writes 1-1.5 books per year across four different genres. David started with Amazon (the first available platform), then Smashwords, followed by Draft2Digital and Kobo. Now, David is exclusively a self-published author and has different readerships for each genre. He likes to engage with his readers on a 1-1 basis through email and appreciates what they have to say. We asked David about the best thing he has done for his self-publishing business. This is what he had to say:
“Getting new readers who are able to let me know what they like and what they don’t like is the single best thing that indie publishing has to offer. Authors can’t get to know their readers with traditional publishers. [Second best thing is] letting myself go and letting myself write what I want to write.”
Thoughts on Vanity Publishing Versus Indie Publishing
In David’s upcoming book, he discusses the distinction between vanity publishing and indie publishing. Just to clarify: a vanity press/publisher is a business through which authors pay to have their books published. David strongly disagrees with the mentality that these forms of publishing are one and the same. He explains that indie writers who publish themselves properly and approach the business as professionals are not vanity authors or associated with this category of publishing. He prefers the term independent authors, as successful authors in their industry treat publishing as their own business.
Early Days of Self-Publishing and an Evolving Industry
David Wind is uniquely qualified to offer advice on self-publishing, particularly through his transition from traditional to independent authorship. Though he had decades of experience with traditional publishing before making the switch, there was still a considerable amount of learning at the beginning of his self-publishing career. Amazon had just come out with their print on demand feature when he started in 2008, and it took him 3 months to really work through the formatting, figure out covers, etc.—he knew all the steps from his previous publishing experience, but not how to do them himself. eBooks came out 8-9 months after he switched to self-publishing, which was an entirely different process.
When he first started self-publishing, he turned to a graphic illustrator who designed his first cover. Formatting was very time consuming: “I think Amazon was winging it as much as the authors were … Today’s indie world is amazing.” Rather than putting out a course on indie publishing, Wind wants to advise writers on the steps necessary to create a professional book that they can be proud of forever.
We asked David the biggest change he has observed in the self-publishing industry since 2008. Rather than one definitive change, he views it as a process of evolution, where successful self-publishers established a formula that future writers could work from.
What’s worth spending money and time on?
David calls attention to crucial areas indie writers need to focus on: editing, cover work, and marketing. Typos are annoying and distracting, and like a poorly-designed cover, make your work appear less polished and professional. In terms of marketing, David says you don’t need to spam the world to sell your book—you just have to take a strategic approach.
David provides a rule of thumb when it comes to typos: it is quite common to see them, even in traditionally published novels, yet more than 10 per book is unacceptable. If your editor does not catch them, readers will certainly tell you about them and mention the errors in their reviews. Editing can cost between $100-$1500 depending on the experience of the editor and the quality of their work, as well as the manuscript size.
“You can’t catch all the errors yourself … What you see, your brain already knows what you’ve written there. So a typo, you may not see—your brain is telling you ‘this is correct.’” In traditional publishing, an author usually has 2-3 editors working with them (primary editor, copy editor, and proofreader).”
How does David find his editors? Within author groups there are editors who you can connect with and hire. David has an editor who looks over the book initially, then his wife reads it, then it goes to 3-5 beta readers who have instructions to inform him of anything that is wrong. If there are words they don’t understand, he wants the beta readers to let him know. If you are writing to a specific audience, you have to use words that they will understand. Your language has to fit them. If you are in a writers organization, you ask other authors to read your book. Family and friends won’t be completely honest with you or dedicated in a professional way. Beta readers get a free book and they do not have to give a review. There are many services to get beta readers, some legitimate, others not, so David warns authors to be careful.
Cover design can range between $50 (for pre-made work) and thousands of dollars if the cover artist thinks they are worth it. In David’s experience, a few hundred dollars spent on cover design has been sufficient. David is very happy with his cover designer’s work. He partners with Steven Novak at Novak Illustration and combined print/ebook costs $150 per book. Many of the covers on Kobo have been designed by Novak.
You have to be careful with cover designers, because sometimes they use artwork that they buy. They may only own this artwork for a set period of time, so be aware of copyright laws. Additionally, cover designers won’t read your book unless you pay them their hourly rate to read it. This is why you have to give them a good, short, concise synopsis. You have an idea of what the cover will look like, and the illustrator will know how to design that better than you do. It’s a creative, more than collaborative, process. You give them information, then they create a design based on that. Writers and artists think in different ways.
David shared some of the marketing strategies he employs for his titles. For instance, the first book in his popular Sci-Fi series, Tales of Nevaeh, is free. This title, Born to Magic, has been downloaded 70,000 times! After a book launch, David runs monthly or bi-monthly specials on specific titles, such as free for a day, $.99 sales or $1.99 sales. He posts to different Facebook groups and tweets about his books and is careful not to overdo it. He tries not to post about the same book multiple times in one week.
Parting Words: The Indie Writer’s Handbook
David Wind’s upcoming title is geared toward writers who want to learn how to establish their publishing business in a very crowded market. Self-published authors have to be entrepreneurial in a way that traditionally published authors don’t and David’s book aims to offer practical, applicable advice to help writers succeed. The Indie Writer’s Handbook is out on September 1st and available for pre-order.
International award winning author David Wind, has published forty novels including Science Fiction, Mystery, and Suspense Thrillers. He lives and writes in Florida, where he and his wife Bonnie, share their home with their dog Alfie, a Moyan standard poodle. Moyan is French for middle—he is between a standard and a miniature poodle.