State Of Self-Publishing And 5 Things To Get Sorted For 2013

In today’s podcast, I give you an overview of the state of self-publishing and some of the things you need to know about, as well as suggesting there are 5 things you need to get sorted in 2013 if you’re taking writing seriously as a career.

penandinkMy Update

Before the content section, I update you on my own progress.

Exodus was published in December and on Dec 21 was on Amazon’s Daily Deal with the 99 authors, 99 books, 99 cents promotion, amusingly categorized as Literary Fiction. I explain a bit about how the promotion came about and the impact it had on sales.

The Creative Penn has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers for the 3rd year running. Thanks for voting! And also one of the Top 10 Blogs for Self-Publishers, so I’m glad you find the site useful. I guess I’ll keep running it then :)

State of Self-Publishing

Here are some of the things I go through in the podcast:

  • Smashwords is now accepting ePub versions so you can avoid the Word Meatgrinder. Fantastic!
  • I highlight some of the top points from Mark Coker’s 2013 Book Publishing Predictions – including ebooks going global, tablets and ebook readers, and the glut of ebooks now trad pub is releasing backlists as well as the algorithm-generated books. Your lesson: Focus on the fundamentals. Write great books and build a readership slowly.

5 Things You Need To Get Sorted In 2013

If you want to get serious about your writing in 2013, here are my recommendations (based on changes I have made and am making to my own process).

(1) Commit to creating art. For more, read my review of The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin, and Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield

(2) Streamline your idea capture and sorting process, as well as your To Do list. We wear so many hats these days it’s easy to lose track and I was personally drowning in my Inbox before Christmas. I now use Things app on my iPhone and Mac for any kind of ideas or notes for books, as well as my To Do items. It doesn’t matter what system you use, but you need to use something. Your memory is not good enough.

(3) Sort out your writing process and your production goals for 2013. Read this post by Dean Wesley Smith. I also just read 2K to 10K by Rachel Aaron which had some excellent suggestions.

(4) Get your books into the global market. If you haven’t already done so, look at publishing on Kobo Writing Life and iBookstore (through Bookbaby/Smashwords) because they are entering new markets faster than Amazon. The latter has the US and Europe pretty sewn up but the rest of the world is currently up for grabs. Your books need to be out there. Use KDP Select for the initial period if you want, but then, publish everywhere.

(5) Focus on building your own tribe and stop scatter-gun marketing. Obviously, write more books. But also, get your homebase website sorted and make sure you have an email signup on it, as well as a link to it at the back of your book. This is #1 – everything else is extra and everything else should point back to it. Here’s more help if your book isn’t selling.

I’d love your comments on how you feel the state of self-publishing is right now. Are we moving into a mature space where the stigma is gone and it’s now just ‘publishing’? Please leave a comment below.

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons This Year’s Love

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. Mica says

    Hi Joanna, happy new year.

    I would vote for this blog to be the number 1 on the top blogs for writers. Not to offend anyone but I have got more out of the articles and interviews on your blog than any other blog including some on the top 10 list.
    There are too many people giving out advice and tips with no real meaty or concise information.
    You get some great interviewees and I look forward to your videos.

    Thank you for your hard work and dedication. Good luck in 2013.

    • says

      Thanks so much Mica – I am so glad you find the site helpful – it makes it so worthwhile for me to keep posting here when I know the information is useful to people :)

      • mica says

        Thank you for your reply Joanna.
        I just purchased Rachel Aaron’s book 2k to 10k, thanks to your recommendation.

        I am hopeful that you interview more debut indie authors this year.

        • says

          Hi Mica, I don’t really interview debut indie authors unless they have a specific story to share that can help everyone. The point of the podcast is to always be taking our learning further, so I mainly interview people who have a difference experience to myself. I want to keep learning too. Mostly, these are people who are a lot further along the path!
          Let me know if you have any specific questions though – and check the backlist for more audios to learn from

  2. says

    I really like your practical approach to writing – I feel the same about organisation and streamlining – I think I have to because I’m not a naturally organised person! I actually wrote a software programme to formalise my writing process and help others. I don’t suppoose you’d be willing to have a look at it and let me know if you have any comments?

    • says

      Thanks Katja, but I am a little snowed under with my own projects, so not looking to review any software! All the best with it though and I’m glad you enjoy the practical tips.

  3. says


    Great podcast! I discovered 2000-10,000 this summer, if you take the book to heart it can literally change your writing career. This message summarizes just about every thing I have observed and started to implement in my business mid 2012. Especially the aspect of tribe building and creating a hub site to brand and promote your work.

    Publishing is a business! More authors should take note of that.

    • says

      Thanks Glendon, and it’s great to be able to talk about writing books as a business here. I think it’s an important angle that people miss sometimes. Looking at the long term is critical.

  4. says

    Congratulations on having this blog among the top 10 for writers and top 10 for self-publishers. I’m very glad I found The Creative Penn. I’m learning a great many things I can put into practice right away. I had downloaded Scrivener, for example, but it wasn’t until I heard your podcast that I started using it, and, wow! What a great tool! I’m also keeping Creativeindie Covers in mind for my next projects and recommending them to other people. Thank you for sharing all this information!

  5. says

    Thanks Joanna, great stuff….
    In regards to point (4) I definitely agree but would recommend authors/publishers try to first submit directly to iBookstore themselves to see if they get accepted instead of through Bookbaby/Smashwords. It appears that Apple is getting more permissive with direct submits.

    I did with my book – no problem.

    • says

      I thought Apple was for US publishers only? which means the rest of us are still excluded! But you’re right, the rule should be – submit direct where you can and then use a middleman if you have to.

      • Ed says

        Hey Joanna, you are correct. Currently, Apple is just for US publishers. Agreed, publish direct whenever you can….It’s sad to hear of authors giving up an extra 10% or more of the profits of their book for the lifetime of its sales only because they didn’t upload themselves.

  6. says

    Hi Joanna,

    First time listener and reader! Excellent Podcast with lots of exciting ideas. Sorting out my idea capture process is definitely something I could improve on. I will definitely check out the Things app to help me get organized. Keep up the great work!

  7. says

    Thanks for the motivation Joanna. I really want to at least draft two books this year. One fiction and one non-fiction (either about living with Sickle Cell Anemia or something teaching people web development).

    The tips you’ve given have been helpful, and I’ve subscribed to the self publishing podcast. I’m hoping that going self-employed will give me more time and freedom to work towards my goals.

    • says

      In my opinion it’s a practical option, as long as you write about something worth while that people will actually want to read.

      Some people just want to write a book for bragging rights, and end up self publishing a low quality book. Those are the people who give self publishers a bad name.

      But if you have a message that translates through your product, and it’s something people actually want to read, then I think it can be very practical.

  8. says


    What a wonderful podcast today. I’m always encouraged by your thoughts on the industry, especially now that you’re delving into the traditional aspect of it as well. I think it’s wonderful that you’re pursuing a hybrid journey – it’s my goal for my writing career!

    I’m in the process of learning everything I can about self-publishing, especially the e-book aspect (formatting, marketing, etc.), and will be moving some of my material in that direction as quickly as possible, considering how RAPIDLY things are changing. But in the meantime, I’m also actively pursuing agent representation, because I KNOW that I’m a writer first, an entrepreneur second. I desperately WANT a team who will take on some of the more business-ended stuff. But I also feel like it’s important to KNOW the ins and outs of the whole system, even when I do have someone else doing some of that for me. Ignorance is NOT bliss, not in this industry.

    Thanks for sticking with us,

    • says

      Fantastic Becky, and it’s encouraging to hear you sound so sure about what you want. Knowing yourself is important on this journey! I oscillate between author-entrepreneur – I am both, truly halves I think :)

  9. says

    Hi Joanna, I too love your blog and always read it! I’m glad you’ll continue and provide your valuable insights to all of us poor indie authors!
    You ask about the stigma of self-publishing. It may well be gone but the fact is that self-publishing remains a very hard business to succeed in. Basically as an indie you’re a small enterprise (one person, 5 or 6 titles) against big ones (hundreds of people covering all the publishing functions and hundreds of titles). You have to outsource everything (book cover design, editing etc) which means that you don’t have the same control over quality. A trad publisher’s editors have to do the best job they can with manuscripts because their career is on line. An editor who’s hired as a consultant by an indie author acts like all consultants always do: try to make it as quick as they can and move on to the next consultancy without totally blowing the job of course. Whether they’ve blown it or not, the author will only find out much later when the book is published and readers start complaining about typos etc. Okay, as an author, you’ve learned your lesson and you won’t hire that person ever again. Fine and good. But how do you know that the next editor you hire won’t play that game too?
    Even assuming an indie author manages to solve that problem and set up a reliable relationship with an editor – or a series of professionals for each aspect of book production – , there are still outstanding problems an indie can’t solve: no access to the book critics that count at the NYT and elsewhere, no access to the major book prizes (the Pulitzer, the Man Booker etc).
    So the stigma may well be gone, but the problems remain!!

    • says

      “self-publishing remains a very hard business to succeed in”
      True, but so does traditional publishing. 80% of traditionally published books don’t make any profit so the authors sink back into oblivion, and of course nowadays, authors are expected to market themselves and their books even if they have a publisher.
      So I think there are problems in both circumstances – but no one said this was an easy business – and actually I’m glad it’s hard, because only those who are dedicated will make this a long-term career. I hope you’re in Claude!

  10. Pam Stucky says

    Great post as always, thanks so much!

    Have we moved past the stigma? I’d say I’m too busy writing and marketing to worry about it! That said, self- or indie publishing still has some growing pains to sort through. I frequently get asked to read “final” drafts of books that are nowhere near ready. I do my best to kindly guide the writers to the editing and work their books need, but thousands of books are getting into the ebook stream without much editing or vetting at all, thus perpetuating the stigma. Still, the industry is moving at such a fast pace that I’m confident very soon the stigma will be gone, and also that readers will find ways to help each other sort through all the drivel to find the good stuff.

    You (Joanna) commented: “I’m glad it’s hard, because only those who are dedicated will make this a long-term career.” I agree. I get asked for help and advice a lot (not that I’m an expert by any means; I’m just the most experienced writer these people know), and I do my best to answer questions or point people in the right direction. Still, knowing how difficult it is, and how precious my own hours are, more and more I now try to gauge a writer’s dedication before giving him/her too much of my own time and energy. Writers need to be ready to do the work, and persevere, and persevere, and persevere. And persevere. It’s not easy.

    Regarding book sales: Adam Thurman has an ebook/free pdf on “Authentic Arts Marketing” that I found to be really inspirational:

    To paraphrase/adapt one of his points, which I found really powerful: No one needs a book. What?? you say. Everyone needs books! Not true. If you’re marketing books, you’re doing it wrong. Everyone needs *stories*. Everyone needs what they GET from books. The thrill of a thriller. The scintillating escape of a romance. The hope offered by a how-to book. Those things – the thrill, the escape, the hope – THAT is what we should be marketing, not “books.” So we have to know what needs our books fill – what craving, what desire – and market that. For example, I’m still working on this concept myself, but I’d say my books fill the craving for humor, community, wisdom, and discovery, so I work on including those things in my marketing and my branding. Thurman’s guide is an excellent ebook/pdf, and I highly recommend it for those looking for some inspiration!

    Question for others who self-publish: What software do you use to convert your book to epub? I tried it once a year or more ago and was pulling my hair out. I’m sure things have evolved since then. I currently have uploaded my books through BookBaby, but would love to figure out how to do it myself (and keep my hairline intact).

    Wishing everyone all the best!

    • says

      Thanks Pam and I’ll check that ebook out – I am always keen to learn from others! and I agree that we are selling an emotional experience of some kind. My focus has always been to help people escape – the commute they hate, the job that’s killing them – through my fiction and also non-fiction, and also think about some deeper issues around faith and death (interspersed with explosions of course!)

      On ePub conversion, I use Scrivener for all my formatting and the ePub it outputs is what I use on Kobo and BookBaby – it’s fantastic :)

      • Pam Stucky says

        I use (and LOVE) Scrivener for my writing but have not tried the ePub output feature – I’ll give it a try! Thanks!!

  11. says

    Smashwords has grown so much, it is amazing.
    I hadn’t understood the nature of the ‘Wool’ deal; very interesting, and different to previous self publishers who have been picked up, like Amanda Hocking, for instance. Her publishing deal included re-editing.
    I use Evernote to put images, links and notes together, mostly because I am still Windows chained.
    Glad to hear about more podcasts on writing fights; that’s my weakest skill.
    Congratulations on the awards. Fantastic job. Glad to hear you will still do the help site; I’ve found it hugely useful.

    • says

      Thanks AM – I’m glad you enjoy the podcast – and the fight one is coming up in the next month or so, with a prizewinning fighter no less :) Hugh Howey’s Wool deal is a gamechanger, and good on him for sticking to what he wanted. He gets the best of both worlds – digital income monthly and then whatever print deal he got and the kudos and print distribution of traditional publishing. Hopefully that will become much more common going forward.

  12. says

    I’ve been listening to your interviews/podcasts for a while now and I love it when you’re the only one talking… it’s a change. You should do more of these :)
    Great information and tips! And congrats for your amazing success!

  13. says

    Hi Joanna! Congrats on the awards! I voted for you knowing you’d win!

    Great podcast! Sorting out my website to be more reader focused and relate more strongly to my writing, as well as, writing a new story idea is what I’m working on the next few months. My ‘writing business’ will continue to evolve. I’ll check out Rachel Aaron’s book, too. Thanks for all you do!

  14. Footnotes says

    Another new reader here – this is truly the best blog for writers I’ve seen. This site is a treasure trove of useful information, encouragement and spectacular advice! Thank you, and please keep doing what you are doing.

  15. says

    Hi, Joanna. I’ve thought a lot about genre as I write my books. And I have to say, it makes me a bit crazy. Personally, I don’t understand (other than aiding book sellers in placement) why books have to be categorized so stiffly. Why can’t a thriller be literary? I think that’s exciting. I’d like to see things like memoir have the same possibility. That’s not the way I write, but I don’t see why it can’t be categorized as a “literary memoir.” You know?

    Anyway – another nice podcast. Thank you for the time it takes you to put these together! ~Karen

    • says

      Hi Karen, you have no choice re genre, because we HAVE to choose a category to put our books in stores online or in physical bookstores. But, you’ll be pleased to know that there are signs that categories will become more nuanced, as discoverability changes on the internet. You can also outfox it by creating your own author brand and educating your readers on what to expect from you, e.g. I write reasonably literary thrillers and although I loaded them to Amazon as thrillers and action-adventure, Pentecost was categorized by them as literary fiction for a Amazon Daily Deal in December – so they must have algorithms that look at language and things like that.

  16. says

    I hesitate to comment adding to your potential response load, but…. !

    I appreciate the thoughtful commentary here along with the valuable podcasts.
    And I’m thinking the genius of any artist or practice, is tuning in to the common thread of personal struggles and elucidating them for those who are receptive – I mean who out there, apart from your good self now, and perhaps 3 other people, doesn’t struggle, as an independent creative person, with organising their thoughts and processes, let alone life. These are all life skills.
    I do use Evernote, but will check out Things as it just ain’t all coming together yet and just maybe I can still blame my tools.

    You commended the Alliance of Indie Authors which I checked out, but not sure I see the real value in throwing another fist full of dollars at another thingy – maybe at some point you might care to back up your recommendation with some insight from the inside?

    The tribe! I’m looking for my tribe! Anybody out there wanna play?

    Thank you for your motivation and inspiration Joanna

    • says

      Hi Nik, In terms of the Alliance, I get a number of things out of it:
      * Community – both live and also online – as I work alone, at home or in a library a lot of the time, I need to meet with people who understand what I do and who can support me, and who I can help support. The Alliance is increasingly this community. As well as the Meetups (growing all the time), we have an awesome, active Facebook page where people post their lessons learned, questions etc and lots of people help – it also helps build relationships for marketing potential etc … and friendships, let’s not forget that!
      * A whole load of resources for members
      * Advocacy and a voice from a group – we are increasingly speaking out at publishing events, in the media etc – together we are stronger than alone.
      As with any Alliance/ group, what you get out is a lot about what you put in.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *