I don't know why. It's not my first time in this rodeo. THIEF is my fifth novel release so I should be used to this. I shouldn't be fretting at the computer, obsessively checking Twitter and email and Amazon.
But I am. It does feel like the first time because it's my first time flying solo. THE HEARTBEAT THIEF is completely, utterly, perfectly indie. It's a feeling that's almost too big to contain.
Indie publishing isn't an entirely unknown venture for me. My other novels are small press published, and I've published ebook collections of my short work that had been published in print and on-line magazines.
However, I've never self-produced a full-length novel before. The journey was an eye-opener, allowing me to see the publishing process in an entirely new light.
While I was writing THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, there was a separate channel in my brain that streamed an unending debate on its marketing plan. (What a switch from when I was writing my first novel, when nary a marketing thought entered my head until the fifth or sixth draft, at least.) The biggest question at the top of the list—the one question that the rest of the list would depend upon—was simple.
Do I sell it or produce it?
It wasn't as easy a question to answer as I'd hoped.
Back when I was preparing for the release of my previous novels, I had the opportunity to work with talented editors and visionary artists and amazing publishing teams. It was very exciting to know there was a group of people who were as excited about my books as I was. It felt like more than team—they were my book's family.
And I love family. I never, ever wanted one of my books to grow up an orphan.
But as I neared completion of the first draft, I realized something. If I did choose to self-produce, my book wouldn't be an orphan. It had me. Plenty of single parents have happy, successful families. Difference is, single parents have to work harder because all the responsibilities of raising and rearing a child fall on them.
So a new question rose to the top: am I single parent-strong? Do I have what it takes to be this book's publisher?
So began a period of research, self-discovery, and professional growth that, in the end, really surprised me.
The Art of the Business
Over the last few years, I’ve done my best to pay attention to what the indie authors and author entrepreneurs were saying. I’m a veteran of Indie ReCon and name Hugh Howey, Susan Kaye Quinn, and Joanna Penn amongst my personal list of superheroes. These folks know and understand the business side of indie publishing.
But there was a another side to it all, one I was delighted to discover. What is a publisher if not, in great part, an artist?
We, the writers, use our craft to create manuscripts—stacks of pages of words. Stories, worlds, races, individual characters...great book potential but, in the unpublished state, they are simply words on stacks of pages.
A publisher uses a different craft that turns our pages into books, pure and simple works of art.
The cover: the artwork, the color, the emotional invocation. The interior: color of the paper, the look of the font, the accent of the chapter headings. The binding: the feel of a print book in one's hand. All of it, art.
Publishers are expert artists. They put a lot of time and craft and personal investment into creating a book out of a manuscript. As I learned more about the business side of writing and publishing, I received a secondary education in art appreciation.
The idea of artesian publishing really attracted me. So, while I was still writing the draft of THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, I bought some credits on a stock photo site, updated my Photoshop, and the next thing I knew, I had my cover. I hadn't even completed the first draft yet but I knew what my book needed to look like. (Apart from a few tweaks, it's the cover you see today.)
And, the closer I drew to completing my manuscript, I knew without doubt that I wanted to be the artist behind the creation of the book itself.
So it wasn't royalties or marketing control or any other of a million aspects of the publishing business that made me realize that The Heartbeat Thief would be independently produced. It all came down to art. The artist in me was willing to do what it takes to see this project from start to finish.
And I can't think of a more satisfying reason to call myself an indie author.
Was it a “Picture Perfect” Process?
Producing a full-length novel isn’t an easy job. I have more respect for publishers now than I’d ever had before. Formatting alone could be a full-time job and I spent many nights yelling at my Surface and cursing the local upload speeds over what I swear must be dial-up Internet. But I went to bed every night satisfied because, no matter how treacherous a challenge I'd encountered that day, I was still doing something that I absolutely love doing.
And, like any respectable artists, I developed a proper artist's temperament and have done my fair share of ranting and raving.
Here's a look back at my publishing journey for THE HEARTBEAT THIEF, rants, raves, and all:
- Creating the cover: Rave, rave, rave. I'm a stock photo junkie and a Photoshop addict. I'm trying to wean myself off on Pinterest but, so far, I'm hopeless. (I just ended up making a Pinterest board for the book.)
- Formatting the print version: Fair share of ranting until I realized my track changes were going to print out if I didn’t approve them. That single aspect led to re-do's and lots of them. Last time I checked, I had just uploaded version 24, and it's not even going to come out until September.
- Formatting the ebook: lots of work but I'd have to vote it a rave. Too many guides available online to goof it up. Time-consuming, yes. Rant-worthy, no.
- Pre-publication marketing: Rave. I loved querying the book to reviewers and setting up the book blitz and getting my teen daughter to mention it on Instagram. Authors have so many ways to generate book buzz for new releases and most of it is actually really fun.
- Swag: RAVE. Another aspect that satisfies the artist in me. I handcrafted Victorian chokers, made stylish bookmarks, and even designed a tea on Adagio.com that pays homage to the main character. (Tea is brewing now.) Arts and crafts were always near and dear to my heart.
- Distribution: I have to say it's a rant, only because there are too many good options that have their pro and con side. I know it will all work itself out in time for the full release in September, so eventually I will call it a rave. But, right now, I'm still doing a lot of back and forth muttering to myself about it. Since I look like I'm a crazy person when I do it, I gotta call it a rant.
Regrets? I have 99 problems but regret ain't one.
Now, maybe if my neighbors would shut off Netflix for an hour so I can get enough bandwidth to update the Amazon page, I could settle down a bit and wait for the tea to finish steeping. (And blame my release day nerves on the caffeine.)
My advice to anyone seeking the indie path is: Do your research. Make a solid plan and give yourself at least a year before you release it because there is a ton of work to do. Don't think artwork and formatting are willy-nilly things that one can simply whip out--hire someone to do it for you if you must.
Remember... your book is a work of art. It takes a great amount of craft to turn a vision into a book. As an artist, I truly enjoyed being the force behind THE HEARTBEATS THIEF's creation. Now, I step back, frame the book in my outstretched fingers, and think: It's beautiful.
And the journey was worth it, rants, raves, and all.
THE HEARTBEAT THIEF by AJ Krafton
is on special for 99 cents two days only.
Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer who, despite having a Time Turner under her couch and three different sonic screwdrivers in her purse, still encounters difficulty with time management. Visit Ash at www.ashkrafton.com for news on her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde. Ash is also a contributing editor at the QueryTracker blog. She also writes for New Adult audiences as “AJ Krafton”. Her first release, a Victorian dark fantasy called THE HEARTBEAT THIEF , is now available on Kindle.