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March 25, 2022
By PW Staff

On March 19, indie authors from across the U.S. and beyond gathered for the first-ever BookLife Indie Author Forum, a full-day virtual event devoted to the vibrant and thriving world of self-publishing. Panelists included bestselling indie and traditionally published authors, as well as editors, publishers, social media experts, cover designers, and other book professionals. Here are just a few highlights from the Indie Author Forum. Stay tuned for info about more BookLife events and next year’s forum!

How Can Self-Publishing Work for You?

Authors Melissa Marr (the Wicked Lovely series), Tarryn Fisher (An Honest Lie), Christina C. Jones (the Wright Brothers series), and Michael Anderle, founder of publishing company LMBPN, kicked off the event with a panel called "How Can Self-Publishing Work for You?" The authors, who collectively have experience self-publishing and traditionally publishing, spoke about how indie publishing has evolved and how perceptions about it have changed. When Jones first began publishing her books, the stigma associated with indie publishing persisted: “Self-publishing was seen as a last resort… books were seen as poorly edited. There was an undercurrent of negativity.” While the authors agreed that a degree of this stigma remains and that self-published authors continue to fight for attention, more and more readers are trusting independently published writers with their time and dollars. “So many readers are willing to take that chance,” said Jones.

For all the panelists, the benefits of self-publishing over traditional publishing are numerous. Most notably, these benefits include having flexibility and maintaining control over the artistic, publishing, and marketing processes. It’s clear to Fisher that “we [self-published authors] have a very intimate connection with our art and our readership.”

Michael Anderle expanded on the benefits of and misconceptions about indie publishing, noting that authors can and do make a substantial income through self-publishing. However, he emphasized that to truly prosper as an author requires a lot of hard work and that burnout is a real possibility. “Indie is the proper way… if you like business…if you don’t, that’s when it’s a good time to connect in with someone else, someone who enjoys the publishing side of things.”  He urged authors to look after themselves: “Don’t compare yourself to others. Compare yourself to yourself.”

In closing, Marr encouraged writers to focus on diversifying their body of work, to look after their mental and emotional well-being, and to avoid reading negative reviews. Fisher similarly encouraged writers to focus, tune out the noise, and “keep your head down and write.”

Beyond Amazon

Authors and publishing experts gathered for a discussion titled "Beyond Amazon," devoted to navigating avenues available to authors outside of the quintessential platform. Panelists were Paige Allen, director of Ingram Spark; Karen Anderson, associate publisher with hybrid publisher Morgan James; Enrique Parrilla, chief editor of Publishers Weekly en Español and CEO of the Lantia Group of Companies; and Marcus Woodburn, v-p of digital services at Ingram Content Group. The speakers addressed the many challenges and opportunities facing authors who self-publish. “Once you’ve finished writing a book, you’ve just started,” said Woodburn.

"Our experience is people buy the same book in multiple formats. "
While the panelists agreed that a presence on Amazon should be a given for indie authors, there are many other publishing, sales, and marketing outlets at authors' disposal. These include publishing with a hybrid press like Morgan James, where they have the benefit of maintaining their intellectual property rights, while also accessing professional expertise and guidance. However, even with a hybrid option, “it’s always on the author to get your book off the shelf,” said Anderson.

Parrilla commented that, while Amazon is essential, the crowded nature of the platform can make it difficult for individual authors to get noticed. “It is crucial to find yourself in one of these curated lists or platforms that will give you this ability to rise above the noise of the wild jungle of Amazon KDP… whether it’s getting featured in a library list or going to an audio platform, these are the distribution opportunities that an author has to seek," he said.

Suggested marketing and distribution channels included Ingram Spark, Kobo, Overdrive, Kickstarter, Ingram's iPage, Google Ads, and BookTok.

Woodburn said that one key to getting books off the shelf is: “you have to have really good metadata that gets spread around the world…[via] platforms that can pump that metadata out worldwide.”

The panelists spoke about the value in publishing across formats, including paper, hardcover, digital, and audio. “Our experience is people buy the same book in multiple formats. It’s really a fun time in terms of looking at how books are being consumed these days,” said Anderson.

Woodburn added that he also advocates for diversifying across platforms. He noted that e-books are not only relatively inexpensive to create, but they are “an incredible accompaniment to the physical book…Having [an e-book] done once and done well is well worth doing. Allowing your consumer to decide how they use that book or how they buy that book is tremendously important. If you restrict yourself to one format, you’re just not going to reach the audience that you could otherwise.”

A book’s format and genre will also determine which approach authors take to marketing and distribution. For example, when publishing his children’s book, Parrilla focused on reaching librarians to tap the school market.  Parrilla also spoke about the potential for authors to sell foreign rights and have their books published in other languages. He also pointed out that “Amazon is a juggernaut in the U.S. The ability to get into platforms that may be predominant in foreign markets is a way to find potential success.”

While thinking globally is certainly important for self-published authors, Anderson encouraged authors to also form meaningful connections on a local level. “Another thing that’s really important is relationships. Make friends with your local bookstore! Build relationships with people so you’re letting people know about your book. When people are thinking about distribution, there’s also that personal connection that happens. It’s still word-of-mouth that moves books," she said.

Become a Social Media Master

During a panel titled “Become a Social Media Master,” authors and experts took a look at the most popular social media platforms—including Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn—and the benefits of utilizing each one to engage with readers. The panelists were: Suzie Elliott, a social media manager and blogger; Janine Hernandez, author and founder of the Book Publishing Academy; Sassafras Lowery, author and freelance content creator; and Tiffany Richardson, author and cofounder of the indie author platform Big Black Chapters.

A few takeaways from the presentation...

Share your personality.

“Definitely put your own personality in there. Definitely try to engage. Don’t just try to sell.” - Tiffany Richardson

“When I share a story that is impactful that my reader relates to, they are more likely to purchase my book because they are interested and I connected with them.” - Janine Hernadez

Don’t just say “buy my book.” Be creative.

“Instead of posting a link, post an excerpt. Post you reading a part of your book. Go live...People like to see you as part of their lives." - Tiffany Richardson

“People really like to connect with the author and learn more about what went into your process.”  - Janine Hernandez

"Relationship building is so key. It's about building that storytelling relationship with readers." - Sassafras Lowery

"Create content focused around a character." - Suzie Elliott

Establish a consistent presence for readers.

“Consistency is so important. If you’re going to post three times a week or five times a week, do that over and over and over. You’ll start to see results when you’re consistent.” - Janine Hernandez

Embrace efficiency.

"Rather than thinking about how much time you need to spend, it's what message you actually want to send out and the quickest way of doing that." - Suzie Elliott


Authenticity: Writing It Right

In a panel discussion titled “Authenticity: Writing It Right,” writers and book professionals discussed finding the right story to tell and creating characters that feel authentic on the page. Participants were: Raquel Shante de Lemos, cofounder and creative director of the author platform Big Black Chapters; Renee Harleston, sensitivity reader and founder of Writing Diversely; author Chloe Liese (the Bergman Brothers series); and author Marshall Thornton (the Boystown Mysteries series).

Liese, who frequently writes stories with characters who are neurodivergent like herself, described authenticity as “the work of crafting an accurate, nuanced, and respectful portrayal of an identity or a condition… recognizing that no one identity or experience of any condition is going to represent the totality for everyone.“

The authors spoke about how crafting realistic, genuine characters simply makes books better. According to Marshall Thornton, “there are a lot of different reasons to read… two of the strongest are to find yourself, or to find a window into other people. Authenticity is incredibly vital in both those cases.”

The speakers approached complex questions relating to authors writing about characters beyond their own lived experiences. “I think you really need to sit down with that story and that character and think about what your reason is for wanting to include this culture that is maybe different or that you don’t know anything about. What’s the reason and does it make sense. Is it from a genuine and authentic place?” said De Lemos.

Harleston said that she believes authors should have the creative freedom to write what they are moved to write, but authors must proceed with awareness and care. “I think a writer really needs to do a lot of hard work into examining a culture or tradition or a people and be ready to think about how all the facets of that culture affect how a character moves, thinks, talks, and interacts with other people.”

While Liese shared that she writes outside her immediate experience, particularly about those experiences that she feels are “adjacent” to her own, she avoids writing first-person characters with decidedly different cultural backgrounds. She also noted that authors can get creative by teaming up with a coauthor who might have a different perspective that can inform a particular character. For those who want to write about cultures or experiences beyond their own, the authors spoke about the services provided by sensitivity readers, like those available through Writing Diversely.  “Inauthenticity perpetuates stereotypes and stigma,” said Liese. “Authenticity promotes empathy.”