The Many Hats Of An Indie Author
One thing you'll learn if you're an indie author is that you don't just have to wear a hat that says "writer", you have to wear a lot of them. While certain things, like editing and graphics and such may not be within your own abilities, everything else has to be. You can, of course, hire people to do your editing (which I highly recommend doing because it's hard to edit your own stuff) or designing your covers, but everything else will fall to you.
So, what are the hats that you as an indie author will have to wear? How many can be farmed out to friends or other people? This writing piece will give you an overview of them all.
Hat #1 - WRITER
This one is obvious. You're the writer, which means you have to actually do the writing! It's probably the one you'll feel most comfortable wearing, and the one where you don't even realise that it's an official hat as it were, but still it's the first and most important one in your collection.
Hat #2 - EDITOR
Now, as I said above, I highly recommend using someone else as an editor. I do, and I also know of other freelance editors who focus their work on mostly indie authors. They are all very good, but even when you send your work out to one of them, you're still going to need to keep hold of that hat because there is always some editing that needs to be done BEFORE you entrust your work into the hands of an editor. Not every writer feels that way, but personally, I like to make sure that what I send my editor is the end result. That it's what I want my story to say and although I've technically written the story and declared it finished, there are always tweaks you need to make to your first draft. The last thing you want to do is send off your completed manuscript and find that it had some part in it that you didn't even want in there. That's why I have kept this in as a hat to wear.
Hat #3 - GRAPHIC DESIGNER/COVER ARTIST
Some writers, like me, have no talent when it comes to designing or drawing graphics and/or cover art. For that reason, I personally, have someone who does it for me. I do a lot of the other graphics though. The majority of the graphics in my posts I have to make myself and I know that there are a lot of other writers who do have talent with art and they take on the job of making their covers and any promotional graphics. As with a lot of these hats, you can choose to have someone else do it but when you're just starting out as an indie author, unless you have access to serious funds and/or friends who will work for a pittance, then you need to wear this hat yourself.
Hat #4 - ADVERTISING/PROMOTIONS
Now, when you get signed with a traditional publishing house, one of the things they will take off your hands is promotion and advertising. They'll have a whole department whose job it is to get the word out about your book, get you likes on Facebook and everything to do with that. As an indie author, that falls to you. You need to be the one to tell the people your book is aimed at that it's out there. It's a lot of work and sometimes you don't even know where to start - at least I didn't in the beginning. Once you have got some following online such as through a blog or Facebook, you can start to rely on word of mouth.
Now, there are a lot of great indie author communities on Facebook - groups and pages alike - that will help you get noticed. You need to keep your ear to the ground as it were and make sure that you connect with other writers of your chosen genre as well as general groups who will be of some use when you need help with promotion. BUT it works both ways, you can't expect an author to spend their time promoting you if you're not willing to help them out as well. But you don't want to spend so much time promoting everyone else that you don't get the word out about your own works. So, with a lot of things in the indie author world, it's a balancing act. You need to work with the communities and other authors, do guest blogs, interviews and reciprocate when and where you can. While some of your fans on Facebook will be other writers who are all looking for the same thing, others will be people who have heard of you through these other writers. You need to strike a good balance of advertising yourself AND other writers if you want to keep a good working relationship with them. It's all about give and take and you'll get there in the end.
Hat #5 - DISTRIBUTION
This is more of a minor hat to wear because with the advent of e-books and places such as Amazon KDP and Smashwords, it's pretty easy for an indie author to publish their books through those platforms and have them feed into other online stores. Even when it's paperbacks, the great resource of CreateSpace allows you to have some control over distribution and selling your work. It takes time and cost will come into it, but as an indie author, it is down to you to get your book in the stores that you want it to be in.
Hat #6 - ACCOUNTANT
As an indie author who uses Amazon KDP and Smashwords, I have the final say - within reason - as to how much my books cost. If you use the same platforms, you'll find that you have that choice too. As an avid reader, I know that I would not try a book by a new author (or most authors to be honest) if it costs more than a paperback would. I also know that because the cost of producing e-books is minimal, that also has some impact on what I would be willing to pay. This is reflected in the prices I have chosen for all my books. However, you may decide differently.
Alongside choosing prices for your work, you also have to do things like work out income tax that needs paying. And you'll have to do that for other countries than your own if you live outside of the USA and use the Amazon KDP or Smashwords programs. They do have the option to pay 30% tax and will do that automatically, but should you wish to, you can get hold of a tax ID from the USA which will make sure you pay the correct amount of tax. It also applies to your home country too. Whether you hold another job or not, you have to declare what you earn from your books and pay taxes on that. A lot of writers, indie or otherwise, hire outside people who are better skilled at that then they are. I am one of them. If there's one thing you don't want, it's the tax man breathing down your neck because you didn't declare an income.
Hat #7 - GENERAL GO-FER
When you make it as a big name author - a dream of many writers, myself included, you'll probably find that you don't have time to do everything that needs to be done. Your life will revolve around word counts, writer's block and other appearances necessary to keeping your book sales up, which means that you'll probably have an assistant. If you're an indie author, unless you know someone or have the means to pay someone, that job falls to you. Even before you've made it big, you're still going to have some jobs that need doing that interfere with your writing time. That means that another hat you have to wear is being your own personal assistant or general dogsbody. Basically, you're gonna have to do the jobs that no one else will. That includes things like answering emails, making calls, drumming up interest, posting to Facebook, organising promotions and other such things. Some of these jobs overlap with the other hats you will wear as an indie author, but some of them are just basic admin work that has to be done to keep your books selling and your career moving forward.
So, those are the seven big hats that you will have to juggle as an indie author, all of which (except the first) can be assigned to other people if you have the funds and/or the friends willing to work for free or minimal wages. As with a lot of things to do with writing and the creative process, it is a big juggling act. You have to strive to find the balance so that things don't fall by the wayside, so that you don't drop one ball whilst trying to keep the others in the air because if you're not careful, they'll all come crashing down around you. As someone who has been a writer for the past twelve years, and has been an indie author for the past eight, I can tell you that it does get easier. You will learn a pattern, fall into a schedule and things will become second nature. I have been blessed with helpful friends like my cover artist, B and my editor, Kim, who both have worked for me for a number of years.
When you're just starting out, learn to recognise the importance of triage, as I spoke about in another piece (found here). Working yourself to death is not going to help anyone and will only lead to the need for time away from doing what you love - writing. After all, if you don't love writing, or at least have a passion for what you write, then it may seem like you're in the wrong profession. Good Luck, and happy juggling!
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