Five Challenges Indie Writers Face (and How to Overcome Them)

Independent publishing is not easy. Oh, it may seem that way at first. Kindle and Smashwords make the process quick, but quick and easy aren’t the same. I know I’m appreciative for any advice on self-publishing I find; maybe you’re the same. I offer these challenges and some ways to deal with them.

Challenge 1. The Donna Syndrome (aka IWIAIWIN)

I’m known among my family and friends for developing obsessions about particular consumer goods and wanting instant gratification of said obsessions. I saw a cool netbook last year. No, I couldn’t wait for Christmas. “I want it and I want it now.” I don’t really say those words, although my husband ascribes them to me, but the effect is much the same. Let’s just call it the “Donna Syndrome” for short.

How does the Donna Syndrome affect indie authors? I upload a manuscript to Smashwords. Why is it taking so long? Now I wait for it to go into the Premium Catalog. Why is it taking so long? I WANT IT AND I WANT IT NOW. Smashwords is an amazingly fast system of publishing, given what it does. Think about the number of formats the “Meatgrinder” produces your work in. How much the system has improved just in the past five months I’ve been using them. The responsive customer service. But I see complaints all the time about how slow it is, or indirect complaints about how it “finally” is ready.

How to deal with the Donna Syndrome? Be patient. Spend the time while you’re waiting working on your marketing plan, so that by the time your manuscript is ready for sale, you’ll know exactly what your next steps are.

Challenge 2. Marketing

And speaking of  your marketing plan, do you have one? I read recently the wise observation that the skills required of a marketer are not generally those of a writer. Marketing doesn’t come naturally to most writers. Even traditionally published authors have to market their own works these days. Marketing your book is an overwhelming prospect, and there’s no shortage of advice online.

How to deal with marketing? Create a plan. Make a list of all the “chores” you see in various blogs and e-publications that seem reasonable to you: Blog about your book, blog about a related topic, guest blog, promote another author on your blog (see Challenge 4). Assign a frequency to them, then arrange them into a schedule. That way you stay on track and hold yourself accountable. This idea isn’t original with me. Tony Eldridge wrote about it in an excellent blog post.

Challenge 3. Exclusionary Thinking

E-publishing opened up the world to people who wouldn’t have had the chance in the past. Traditional publishers are casting about, often aimlessly, trying to figure out what the future holds for them. Don’t fall into the trap of exclusionary thinking, though. By that I mean the idea that “E-publishing is only THIS,” or “You can’t do both e-publishing and traditional publishing,” or “Anyone who accepts a traditional contract after e-publishing is selling out.” Thinking this way limits your options, and reduces your mindset to an unhelpful “us versus them” mentality.

How to deal with exclusionary thinking? Remember that each author comes to publishing in her (or his) own way. Your path isn’t the only one. Gather up great ideas from both worlds.

Challenge 4. Isolation

Writing is usually a solitary activity. Even with a co-author, you put your own words down in pixels or ink. The problem with isolation is you miss out on other opinions and perspectives. Relying only on  yourself skews  your perspective as much as challenge 3 does.

How to deal with isolation? Join a group, in person or online. Read blogs about writing. Improve your craft at every opportunity. The Indie Book Collective has some great tutorials on publishing and marketing. Promote other authors on your blog to develop collaborative relationships.

Challenge 5. Good Enough

By “good enough,” I mean the temptation to publish your manuscript whether it’s really ready or not. You fall prey to the Donna Syndrome (see Challenge 1). Publishing is so quick that you may “want it and want it now.” I’ve read many comments lately about e-publishing to effect that “readers don’t care about editing, they just want a good story.” E-publishing suffers criticism because of this attitude. Careful editing and grammatical sentence structure enhance the reading experience.

How to deal with good enough? As I said in Challenge 1, be patient. Edit your manuscript, then have someone else edit it who knows editing. Spend the time and effort to make it the best it can be. I talked about that in another post.

All of these challenges are about your mental state. Improving your craft, approaching it as a professional, seeking the camaraderie and advice of others: these activities don’t just improve you and your writing. They contribute to a strong and vibrant independent writing community.

Please let me hear from you in the comments. What challenges that you face have I left out?

Total Control

[Note: This blog entry was originally posted on the I love Smashwords website on May 15, 2011. It has since been taken down. I recovered it from the Wayback Machine, because it has particular significance to me. I don’t use Smashwords anymore, but the sentiments are still valid.]

I suspect nobody but me knows this one, but have you ever heard the old Michael Nesmith song, “Total Control,” off one of his solo albums? It’s a lighthearted song about how the singer wants “total control of the airports. Total control of the sea. And total control of the freeway. Total control of police” (Source ). Smashwords gives me just that feeling–that I have total control.

I hit a bad patch of crazy at work a few months back where I was demoted from a job I created about 12 years ago, completely out of the blue or left field or from whichever cliche abrupt changes come. It arrived on top of negative self esteem issues related to my weight. And turning 51. My inner voice felt like the complete opposite of total control. (Good thing I was already seeing a therapist!)

And along came Smashwords.

I’m not even sure now where I found out about this marvel of the e-publishing world, but discover it I did. And ideas starting churning in my head. I had two novels whose pixels were covered in dust. The first novel, Second Death, had been turned down by multiple publishers, with numerous “almost, but not quite” rejections to its credit, despite paying a professional editor a lot of money to edit it (and she loved it too). Why not publish them? What could it hurt?

First, I threw myself into Research Mode. When I get enthusiastic about something, I get enthusiastic in a big way. (Obsession is an ugly word. I prefer euphemisms.) I researched the marketing of e-books, particularly J. A. Konrath and his irascible style. I read every detail about how to upload to CreateSpace and Kindle and Smashwords, their requirements and caveats. I was excited.

When at last I held my breath and pressed the upload button, I felt such a feeling of control. “Total control of all variables,” as Mr. Nesmith would say. I realized I’m not bound by what a publisher thinks of me, what an editor might say, what the fashions and trends in publishing might be. Granted, I’m a firm believer in editors, and cringe at the low quality of many Smashwords descriptions (dang, if the description is that poorly written and edited, I sure won’t read the book). But that’s all up to me. I choose what I want to write, what my cover looks like, all within the boundaries of what Meatgrinder the Mighty will accept. I’m fine with that stricture. (Again, it’s a quality thing. E-published authors won’t get rid of the reputation of “vanity publishing” if we don’t produce quality work.)

Smashwords has given me freedom, and challenged me to write more. I want the instant gratification (well, nearly so) that comes with uploading my own manuscript. I want to see lots of books written by me in my list. So I’d better get busy and write them. I don’t even stress over work anymore. I’m a writer first. My job’s way down the list of importance.

And I have Smashwords to thank. Now I have control of some aspect of my life. And I’m grateful for it.


I’ve finally completed reformatting Second Death for Smashwords. This means it will be distributed to Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Apple and Diesel, as soon as it finishes being reviewed for inclusion in their Premium Catalog. I’ll post links when it’s ready.

I’m formulating my marketing plan now for it. Publication is just the beginning!