This is part two of an ongoing series in which I identify key skills and aptitudes which I have found necessary in order to have the best chance of succeeding as a self publisher or indie micro publisher. These articles are based on both my professional training as an author, editor and commercial artist, and my experiences in the industry, running my company for the last 5 years. They are not intended to refer to any particular individual without permission, and are merely my opinion. Please read lots of opinions and only use mine if they resonate with you.
I really believe in the power of indie authors to be great, and carve out a place of respect for themselves in the market and among their peers. But, to do that, we all must engage in a process of continuous self-improvement and learning about quality and industry best practices. I am still in this process myself, but I would also like to reach out and help those newer to the community. The better you do, the better we all do. It’s time to raise the standard and earn respect for everyone!
This article builds on the arguments previously made in this installment of Unsolicited Indie Advice. I highly suggest you read it before continuing on, as it elaborates psychological concepts that not everyone may be familiar with.
Beginning indie publishers usually have one, maybe two or three skill sets that they do well that are applicable to the publishing process. If they’re lucky, those three skill sets are writing, visual art and marketing. If so, great… but guess what? There are way more than three skill sets that go into publishing a really good book, and it is quite literally impossible for one person to do them all flawlessly, especially at first, and most especially if they are publishing their own writing. Many people don’t even know what all these skill sets are when deciding to publish a book. Even if you were to execute a perfect performance in all of the technical aspects of producing the final book, no writer can edit themselves. That’s another weird human psychological thing for which I don’t know the technical name, but it is nonetheless true.
So, you’re starting out with a dream and very little technical knowledge, and you have decided to wing it mostly on your own. Sometimes, due to budget or lack thereof, there is little choice but to go some of the process alone. But, you’re inexperienced, and everything we know scientifically (and a lot of what I’ve experienced over the years) has shown that you are highly likely to overestimate your own abilities and be blind to the ways in which your product needs to improve in order to meet the standards of the wider industry. How do you avoid the exceedingly common pitfalls caused by the Dunning-Kruger effect that will affect how seriously people take your products?
Based on my experiences, I have compiled a handy list of key skills to develop in order to be more successful at self-assessment. These will be a common feature of all the Unsolicited Indie Advice columns, and are intended to be used as jumping-off points that can be easily implemented in daily practice.
1: Approach all tasks with an attitude of humility.
This point applies even more strongly to disciplines that you think you know than those that you know you don’t. Read. Listen. Explore what others have done and been successful with. Sit at the feet of those who have come before and absorb their insights and process. Read up on what steps go into any given task, and what the risks are for taking shortcuts. When you are humble and take the time to listen, you absorb the attitudes and mental orientation that you need to be successful. That brings me to the next tip:
2: Be patient.
It is better to bring out one amazing book in five years than five terrible books in one year. Books are a slow medium. They take time to read, and time to produce. Make peace with this, and take the time you need to learn and work with the appropriate professionals to develop your product right. I budget at least six months between the delivery of a finished manuscript and release, and many people would say that’s far too short a time frame. I’m actually working at lengthening my production window to enable further quality safeguards and better strategic planning.
If you’re anything like most indie publishers, you haven’t bet the farm on publishing. You’ve got a life outside of publishing, so live it. Keep doing what you do for your day job, as hard as that may seem sometimes. The project will keep while you’re learning to do it right, I promise.
3: Learn to seek out, and take, critique.
This one can sometimes be a sticking point for those who have never pursued the arts professionally before. Critique is hard to take, and often when we are unused to listening to criticism of our work, it can raise feelings of low self-worth, anger and resentment. For me, critique has been a part of how I do things since my late teens, and I like to think that I’ve worked through most of the bumps and jolts that come from exposing my work to others. You might still need to go through that process, and it can be a very vulnerable one. But let’s be clear: if you want to avoid Messrs. Dunning and Kruger, you cannot avoid taking critique. And, once you receive critique, you must make every effort to listen to what the critiquer is trying to convey to you and actively make changes.
4: Enlist professional allies to help you find your way.
Once you’ve identified your areas of weakness through humility, patience and seeking out critique, you will want to find experts who can help you smooth over your weakest areas. This can be done on a variety of budgets. Editors, professional, experienced editors, are an absolute must for any self-publisher. Barter, save, pay however you must, but you must get a good editor on board somehow or your book will be severely lacking. This is the same for writers of all levels of fame and quality. You may also find that there are other things, like layout and cover design, that are actually cheaper to farm out if you don’t have the proper software licenses. Once you know what you don’t know, don’t ignore this information and cut corners. Every dollar you don’t spend to make your book right will inevitably be compounded by poor sales when the book doesn’t look as it should, and vice versa. While there are no guarantees, a fine looking, well-produced book will inevitably sell far better than an amateurish offering. Also, don’t fall into the false economy of hiring less-qualified artists because you’re getting a deal. Consult with experts before signing on with any amateurs! Deviantart is often not your friend, especially when you still don’t know what you don’t know.
If your budget really is rock bottom, my advice is to put your money into good editing and glean the rest from study and information gathering with design professionals. After all, services cost money, but advice is often free, and many professionals use free advice as part of their online platform these days. Be aware, though, that with this route comes a steep learning curve. I went this way, and even with a lot of professional design training, I still made rookie mistakes for ages.
So, that’s my list, and those are my unsolicited tips for beating the Dunning-Kruger effect. This advice is going to serve as a base for the other articles in the series, as we should always begin each phase of learning with humility and understanding of our lack of knowledge. Coming up next, I will break down book production into its various stages and skill sets, and provide a no-nonsense guide to making it work with little previous experience.
I hope you enjoyed this article, and found it helpful! Feel free to ask for some solicited indie advice in the comments section, or to weigh in on my strategy!