I’m an unabashed and unashamed indie author. For those unfamiliar with the book industry, that means I’m on my own. I don’t have a big publisher behind me to help promote my books or arrange for editing and cover design. In the bad old days, indie was known as vanity publishing or self-publishing. There are many in the `traditional’ publishing industry who still look down their noses at indie authors. But here’s the thing, indie is here to stay thanks to the ebook — and the Kindle — it’s growing, and it’s only going to get bigger. Like the music and news industries, the Internet has been a huge disruptor to the book publishing industry. It’s never been a better time to be an author. Where once aspiring authors had to run the gauntlet of gatekeepers — agents, publishers and the like — today it’s possible for almost anyone to become a published author. All you really need is the patience to write a book and a little bit of technical savvy to get a book up on the Amazon Kindle store or any of a number of other ebook outlets. Amazon even offers a print on demand service, meaning indie authors can very easily get their books into the hands of readers who prefer physical copies.
So it’s relatively easy to publish, but there’s the rub. The indie industry has rightly been criticized to some extent because some of the early efforts were, well, crap. Poorly written. Poorly edited. Amateur covers. But, again, times are changing. Today, some of the most successful indie authors produce books that are indistinguishable from offerings from the big publishers. Don’t believe me? Check out the works of Mark Dawson, J.F. Penn or L.J.Ross. Like these authors, I do my best to make sure my books are of the highest quality and that means a fairly significant investment on my part. What does it involve? Besides the time I spend writing, I also must pay for development editing, copy editing, formatting, cover design, web hosting services, email services — for my newsletter — and various other expenses related to the design of logos and other promotional material.
Professional covers are one of the biggest investments, but to me it is also the single most important investment outside of spending the time to write the best book possible. I have been very fortunate in that I have found an outstanding cover designer who has been invaluable in helping bring my vision to fruition. It’s a funny thing. Often, months pass between the initial idea for a book, the drafting, the writing and the rewriting. But it isn’t until I see the cover that the book is `real.’ For The Kill Gene, Hammer Time, and the upcoming The Dragon’s Dollar, my covers have been designed by Jeroen ten Berge. I came to know Jeroen’s work after reading a blog post by author Barry Eisler who’s best known for the John Rain series of thrillers. Barry had been traditionally published but he was embarking on a hybrid career where some of his books were being published through Amazon’s thriller imprint while he was publishing others by himself. In his blog post, Barry mentioned that Jeroen had done some of his covers. I reached out to Jeroen and, well, the rest is history as they say.
For Hammer Time, a short novella based on an early case involving my main series character, Jonas Brant, I had wanted a cover that was simple and strong. But it also had to be different from the covers used in my series novels in order to distinguish it from the main series and to communicate to a prospective reader that Hammer Time is a slightly different type of book. The brief to Jeroen was actually pretty simple. I gave him one or two examples of a few other novels in the same genre, told him I wanted Hammer Time to be distinct from the other books in the Jonas Brant series, and set him to it. Within a few days, Jeroen came back with a cover that blew me away. In fact, I was so impressed with the cover that I rewrote one of the final scenes of the novella to kind of tip my hat to his artistry. Here’s what Jeroen had to say about the cover: “The cover shows a Boston Police badge, with a mourning band, as well as fresh blood droplets on it, lying on a grungy dirty wooden floor. It is immediately clear this is a story about a cop, someone (a cop) dies and this is where the story starts. I briefly considered mirroring the R in the title, to hint at a Russian element, but it felt contrived.”
Initially, I was going to publish Hammer Time only as an ebook and only for subscribers to my newsletter, but I was so happy with the cover and the way the novella turned out that I decided to do a paperback and make the book available on Amazon after a short time as an exclusive offer for subscribers. It was the right decision. The paperback is beautiful. The book is fairly short — just 160 pages or so — but it really is a beautiful thing to hold and admire. And it would make a wonderful stocking stuffer for Christmas!
For readers interested in some of the other tools I have in my indie author tool kit, I use Scrivener to write the first and second drafts. The manuscript is then converted into an almost final format using a piece of software called Vellum. Though I purchased Vellum for the final formatting, I’ve found it to be extremely useful to make a series of copy edits while at the same time being able to see what the book will look like when it’s published. For my website, I use Squarespace. For my newsletter, I’m using MailChimp. To help with free giveaways and the distribution of advanced reader copies, I use a service called BookFunnel.
As I said earlier, it’s a pretty good time to be an author given how open and democratic the process has become. But it’s also a long, lonely road. Often, there is little in the way of feedback and then when it comes, often in the form of very blunt, very terse reviews, it can be pretty hard to take. But that’s okay. Every reader will have their own experience with a book and that is as it should be. If a review is written with the intent to hurt, that’s tough. But if a review is written from the perspective of a reader wanting to share what she or he found problematic, disappointing, cliched, and THEN the reader points out ways they see could be improved, well that’s the best feedback. For someone to engage in the work and invest even a little bit of time —even if the feedback is negative — is very rewarding and invaluable for an author.
It’s just a few days to go before HAMMER TIME is on sale through the Kindle store. I hope readers enjoy this short novella. Through my newsletter in coming weeks, I will be offering up a few tidbits about the writing of HAMMER TIME, including a chapter that didn’t quite make it into the final draft. I’ll also be offering a free giveaway of a few paperback copies to celebrate the Kindle release. But more on that in coming days. Finally, I’m well into draft 2 of The Dragon’s Dollar. I have the cover but I won’t be releasing it until I’m closer to finishing the book. I’ll also be putting out an early peak at the first couple of chapters.
So lots to come and lots to keep me busy. I hope everyone is having a good fall. Remember, Michael Connelly’s Dark Sacred Night is released on Oct. 30. I have my ebook copy on pre-order at the moment. And consider signing up to my newsletter. I can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.
Happy reading, Phillip