My Indie Publishing Plan

I was talking with my friend, Don Anderson, at lunch today about the state of the publishing industry. I’ve been doing a lot of research lately into this subject because I’m trying to jump-start a second career as an SF writer. Frankly, publishing is in turmoil — and any time an industry is this disrupted by new technologies, there are opportunities to be seized.

My first strategy is simply … writing. Writers write. Everything else is extra.I’ve wanted to be a writer for almost as long as I can remember. Now, it’s time.

But how?

I did a lot of research to try to figure out what was going on in the publishing industry. Along the way, I discovered a number of key blogs that have dramatically influenced my thinking. Some of the best blogs are listed below:

  • John Scalzi: Favors traditional publishing because it’s worked so well for him, but he’s intelligent and reasonable about discussing the current state of publishing.
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch: Serious advocate for indie publishing, and she practices what she preaches.
  • Dean Wesley Smith: Husband of Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and advocate of indie publishing, and an experienced and prolific writer of media tie-in novels and original works.
  • Michael Stackpole: A former traditionally published SF/Fantasy writer gone mostly indie now.
  • The Passive Voice: A blog from David Vandagriff, a contract lawyer. He provides a survey of external articles about publishing, and adds commentary concerning legal issues.
  • J. A. Konrath: A blog from author J. A. Konrath, a top-selling indie-piblished writer in the mystery, thriller and horror genres. He’s got a lot to say, and he’s remarkably honest about his sales numbers and corresponding dollar amounts.

Check them out, they all have extremely interesting, and informative, blogs.

Based on my research, I came up with the following five strategies, which I have already begun to execute. I’d love to hear what people think about my approach.

Strategy 1: Writing  My first strategy is simply … writing. Writers write. Everything else is extra. I’m trying to write a short story every two weeks. It doesn’t matter how long the story is, it just needs to be complete.

Strategy 2: Free Stuff  OK, so what am I going to do with what I’ve written? Well, my initial stories have been short shorts (mostly because I’ve been trying them out as short speeches, between 7 and 10 minutes, for my Toastmasters club). And believe me, you will discover if a story works when you try it out on a live audience.

So, these stories are longer than so-called flash fiction (which is typically under a 1000 words), but too short to be viable for sale at places like Amazon or Smashwords. I’m going to make those stories available for free on my web site. Everybody likes free stuff.

I’m going to license these stories with a Creative Commons license. Specifically, I’m using the license listed below:

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

Clash by Night - by David KeenerStrategy 3: Make It Professional  Look, there’s a lot of dreck out there when it comes to stories in digital form. A year or two back, anything might sell, even if it had a crappy cover image and poor editing. Now, there’s a lot more content available, and the ones that are most likely to be noticed are the stories that are professionally presented.

There’s a reason why people like Kristine Kathryn Rusch are spending money on producing good cover images, paying copy editors to detect/fix grammar issues, and making sure their stories look good on diverse reading devices. If you want to compete with these people, then you need to be playing the same game.

This isn’t too much of a stretch for me. I come from a web design​ background, and I can do my own graphics. Every one of my stories will have a cover image, even my free stories. The cover image for my free story, “The Match,” appears to the right.

Strategy 4: See What Sticks  Write lots of stories, and make them available on numerous platforms. Let your audience tell you what resonates with them.

Hugh Howey has a bona fide bestseller now with his “Wool Omnibus,” which collects the five stories (each of increasing length) that made up his original story arc. But when he wrote the first one, it was just another 20-page story with a downbeat ending. He had no idea it was going to prove so popular. The fans clamored for more, and he gave it to them.

I want to write a bunch of fantasy stories, all set within the same continent and featuring different characters — a bounty hunter, the bodyguard of a princess, a demon hunter, the female captain of an aerial warship, a mute knight, a dragon warrior, etc.

I’ll initially make the stories available for $0.99. Yes, I know, on Amazon that only nets me 35% of the cover price instead of 70% if you price it at $2.99 or higher. I want these stories to be an easy entry for readers.

If the readers like particular stories, I’ll write sequels…for $2.99. I’d also hope for some synergy, i.e. — “I liked that story set in this world, so let me try another one.”

Strategy 5: Go Wider  Seek out new paying venues for the stories to appear in, such as print magazines, SF web sites, etc. These publishers usually buy a limited set of rights for a period of time, after which you can continue to do what you want with a story.

There are certain advantages to working with magazines and online fiction sites. They typically have professional editors. Don’t underestimate the impact that a good editor can have on helping you to improve your work. They can also introduce your work to a wider audience. Finally, they add a certain amount of street cred. You were good enough to get published in a professional venue. Your work was bought by a professional editor. It’s not just bragging rights, it’s a way to start widening your audience and enhancing your reputation as a professional writer.

These are my strategies for embarking on a writing career via the indie-publishing path. You may rest assured that I’ll continue blogging about it as I go, so stick around. It could get pretty interesting around here.

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