Making the move from hobby to business requires treating your writing like a business.
Disclaimer: I am not an accountant or business advisor. I’m simply sharing a few things I’ve learned over the past decade. Always consult industry professionals before making business decisions.
How to make Writing a Business
Write and market on a consistent schedule to keep readers interested. This is important to your success as a writer, and to being able to claim your writing as a business for tax purposes. U.S. Fderal tax laws have specific rules for claiming a business vs. a hobby. Talk to an accountant for more details.
Set up a doable schedule and plan releases, marketing events, newsletter schedules, and blog schedules according to the time, energy, and ability you have at this point in your life. Plan as far ahead as possible so you’re not always scrambling last minute to find content or submit deals or newsletter spots.
Ask other writers or writing professionals about things you are unfamiliar with or don’t understand in order to avoid mistakes that could hurt your career or slow you down. Most writers are very willing to help. The indie writing community is wonderfully supportive in most cases. Research as much as possible (The Write Life, ALLi, Jane Friedman, Udemy, etc.), but then ask question about things you aren’t sure about or need help with.
Find a professional familiar with self-employed creative arts businesses or LLCs. Royalties have specific rules that not all accountants are familiar with. If you know local authors or artists, ask for recommendations.
Learn about options for business setup and associated laws/taxes/liability. If your town has a local Small Business Center, set up an appointment and start learning. They have a lot of knowledge and a wide variety of contacts to help you.
The IRS has specific definitions of a business (purpose is to make a profit, it is engaged with continuity and regularity, etc.). You need to meet these requirements in order to claim your writing as a business for tax purposes. Again, consult a professional for advice on this!
If your business is reclassified as a “hobby” you will lose deductions, among other repercussions. Don’t begin claiming writing as a business until you can show at least some profit. You will be required to show a profit on a regular, yearly basis to keep from having your writing being reclassified as a hobby.
Whether an author hires out marketing duties or takes them on personally, it’s important to understand the basics.
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is still the best way to sell anything because the recommendation is coming from someone the person likes and trusts.
To get good word or mouth for your books, you need a professional, high quality product. Make sure your editing is clean and the book cover does not look homemade.
You should also actively encourage readers to share your book and talk about it publicly. This can be accomplished through street teams, contests that require sharing a post or writing a review, or putting a reminder the back matter of the book.
Post on your social media platforms regularly to keep people engaged. Utilize a mix of informational, funny, promotional, or talking point types of posts.
Utilize social media ads to sell directly to interested readers who already like/follow you. You can also target lookalike audiences of similar authors and unique to reach new customers.
Free advertising options including posting to book-related Facebook groups (there are tons of these), newsletter swaps, blogging, creating Pinterest boards for your books or characters, and adding books to book sites like My Book Cave and Goodreads.
Paid advertising options include social media ads (pretty much all platforms are willing to take your money in the form of ads hosting), Amazon ads, book-related paid newsletters like FreeBooksy or BookBub, print ads in literary magazines or your local newspaper or circular, sponsorships, and paid online takeovers and parties.
DON’T pay for reviews, ever! It’s against retailers’ terms of service and you can be penalized. Paying a fee to have your book listed in a review catalogue is okay because you are not paying for individual reviews, just the listing.
Get involved with group promos and events with other authors. You can usually find out about these by joining online authors groups like Alessandra Torre Inkers. These types of collaborations expands your reach and allows you to share fans with and of other authors.
Learn to write engaging ad copy and book cover copy in order to catch the interest of readers. Blurb writing is challenging, and can be hired out if you don’t feel comfortable writing in short form.
Test different ads through A/B testing and determine what type of wording and what styles work best with your audience. Update your ads often because tastes change frequently. Study blurbs for books in your genre to learn more about the style and conventions readers will look for.
Use professional graphics (Pixabay, Canva, Deposit Photos) in all promotional material. DO NOT pull images from a Google search, because the may be copyrighted and you could end up with legal action and fines. There are plenty of free options out there, like Pixabay, if you’re on a tight budget. The same rules apply to music if you post videos.
Determine how much time you REALISTICALLY have each week to put toward marketing, and build your marketing plan around that. Set daily, weekly, monthly tasks AND stick to them. Good things to include are social media posts, submitting books to newsletters, reviewing and updating ads, and engaging with readers.
Plan major campaigns (new releases, holidays, etc.) at least a month in advance, more if possible. Holidays need advanced planning more than almost anything else because newsletter slots will fill up quickly and ad costs may be higher than usual. Bloggers are also much busier and so are readers.
Ideas for major campaigns include hosting virtual parties, running giveaways, participating in takeovers or having other authors takeover your pages (especially popular on Instagram lately), running sales on your books, or hosting a live or online event to celebrate new releases or writing milestones.
What is an author platform, and what is it used for?
An author’s platform is their ability to market their work using their overall visibility to reach reader. This includes:
Reach of social media accounts
Connections with other authors, publishers, agents, literary people
Relationship with media
Measured by their ability to use their influence and reach to sell books and boost their career
What do you need to start building an author platform?
Setting up a website is an important step in building an author platform. It provides basic information about you and your books, and is an easy way for readers and industry professionals to make contact with you.
Email list are key in developing a platform that can be used to sell books. An email list is a direct route for sharing news, sales, and updates with readers who are already interested in what you’re doing. You’ll have much better return on your time an investment than cold advertising.
Social media is necessary in today’s publishing and marketing world. Social media allows you to share updates and expand your visibility easily. Regular posts and accounts are free to setup and use. Social media also helps you start cultivating a community and building trust with your readers. It also help readers to forms bonds with other readers as well as with you.
How do you make use of your author platform?
Make the best use of your website by listing all of your books (in order if you have series!), contact info, official bio, other platforms readers can find you on, and your blog if you decide to have one.
Start building your email list as early as possible. Don’t wait until you have a book published. Send regular updates about you, your writing, and what sales or releases you have coming up in the next month.
When getting started with social media, start with one account and expand in accordance with the amount of time you have to put toward social media. Don’t go overboard and overwhelm yourself! Share regularly, and keep in mind that pictures and videos often get most engagement.
Share updates, personal info you’re comfortable sharing, news releases, sales, funny posts, informational posts, whatever else you think your readers will find interesting. Limit advertising posts to 25% of total posts. Use social media to build a community more than to push sales. Engage the community with questions, polls, giveaways, and ask for input when you need it or when you think your readers will enjoy participating in the process.
Branding is often associated with big companies, but an indie author needs a brand as well.
What is an Author Brand?
An author brand tells readers what makes your work unique. It implies a promise to readers of what they can expect and what you will consistently deliver. It should also say something about YOU as an author and what your WORK is like.
How do you develop an Author Brand?
Develop a clear concept of who you are as an author by asking yourself a few questions:
What type of writer are you? What type of books do you write? What steam level are your books? What makes your books unique in your genre? What makes you as an author unique?
Use the answers to these questions to develop a slogan/tagline and/or logo to communicate your brand to readers. A slogan/tagline should say something more than what genre you write in. Here are a few examples to consider:
Jennifer Laslie: Merging imagination and reality
Harper Kincaid: Because sassy romance is your drug of choice
Lori Ann Bailey: History with heat and heart
DelSheree Gladden (me!): A little bit of everything…A whole lot of romance
Many author use their slogans on their logo, but it’s not a must. Plenty of authors have their names or initials stylized for their logo instead. Whichever you decide to do, make sure it looks professional and that it encapsulates you as a writer, your personality, and what makes you unique in your genre(s).
Organizing your own event can be intimidating, but knowing what to expect and how to prepare can make it a little easier.
Book signings are often the first type of author event that comes to mind, but don’t limit yourself to only one mode of celebrating your work. Consider setting up a reading, author talk, educational presentation, workshop, release party, themed or holiday event, or join a local arts event.
If you intend to approach a bookstore for your event, there are a few important factors to consider.
Many bigger, chain bookstores will only schedule events with agented authors whose books have buyback options (most POD printers do not offer this). It can be challenging for indie authors to set up book signing or author talks at these stores, but it is always worth speaking to someone in person to see if they alternate arrangements.
Smaller or independent bookstores have more flexibility to work with authors. Many will take books for a signing on consignment and offer the author a profit split for those that are sold during the event. Some may even agree to stock consigned books for a specific amount of time.
When contacting book stores, you often need to reach out to the buyer for your genre. If they aren’t listed on a website, call the store and ask to speak with the books/fiction manager about setting up an event. Do this 1-2 months in advance.
Be sure to ask: whether they will order the books or if you will nee to provide them and when they will need them by, what the profit split is for consigned books, if will they stock leftover books, what equipment they will provide and what do you need to provide, where in the store the event will be held, where you can hang posters to advertise the event, and if they have any other rules or restrictions you should be aware of.
Don’t limit yourself to bookstores for you events. Coffee shops and restaurants are great alternatives for release parties, readings, or speaking events. You may need to rent the space or purchase a certain amount of food/drinks. Each business will handle this differently, and it may take some negotiating and shopping around to find something that works with your budget. Hotel conference rooms tend to be more pricey, but can host larger crowds.
If your book has a specific theme or character’s job central to the storyline, you may consider approaching a related organization or business. One author posted about hosting a signing at a fire station because her main character was a firefighter. It was a great success, because kids were able to see the trucks while the adults chatted about books, making it a fun family event.
Pay attention to what community events are available in your area. Craft fairs and makers markets are often open to a wide variety of artists, including authors. Many of these events require paying either a booth fee or a share of sales. Consider not only your potential sales, but your chance for exposure at these events.
It’s often a good idea to sell books for a rounded price to make it easier for people to pay cash and not have to worry about providing change. Also, consider having a way to take credit card payments on a device such as Square.
Art walks, festivals, Comic Cons, and holiday events are also great options for authors to sell books. Look for separate booth fee pricing for artists. Not all events will offer this, but if the option is available, the booth fee is usually significantly cheaper than those for businesses. Be ready with a tall banner sign and business cards or postcards for people to take to remember you and your books later.
Set up or sign up for events as early as possible. Events like this often sell out quickly and venues have a variety of events all year that you will need to schedule around.
Bring you own bags (personalized if possible) to events not at bookstores. Books are awkward to carry around all day without a bag.
Have smaller, cheaper items available for sale. Book themed bags, pens, bookmarks, jewelry, etc. make great small gifts for book lovers even if visitors aren’t particularly interested in your books.
Have a short pitch ready to tell people what your book is about and don’t be afraid to sing it’s praises!
Reaching out to media and bookstores can be intimidating for many authors. Initiating those contacts can be an important part of your marketing plan.
The first thing many authors might think of when considering contacting a newspaper is getting their book reviewed. Fewer and fewer newspapers provide book reviews anymore, but there are other opportunities available.
There are always paid ads with newspapers, but many papers also offer free briefs/PSA spots for announcements and events. Each paper will have their own guidelines, but in general: submit at least 2 weeks in advance of an event, write the in third person and don’t use passive language (Say “will host” instead of “will be hosting”), write in an informational rather than sales-y style, and provide all the relevant info (date, time, location, contact info).
You can also submit events like books signings or readings to newspapers’ community calendars, A&E section, calendars or event listings, or suggest a story idea to the Arts and Entertainment editor or reporter (especially if it’s a local paper and your book has local ties.)
If you do want to submit your book for a review, keep in mind that most papers will only accept paperback copies, not ebooks. You will also want to have a media kit ready with JPEG files of the cover and an author photo, as well as a description of the book, availability, ISBN, etc.
Radio interviews can be challenging to arrange. Most private radio stations will charge you a fee to be interviewed. It’s basically like buying airtime. Public radio stations will usually do interviews for free, but there may be fewer opportunities. Check out what types of interviews local radio stations typically do, and where you might fit best.
If you’re not familiar with podcasts, they’re basically downloadable radio programs. They’re great because listeners can access them any time they want, and easily listen to older episodes.
Another great thing is that there are tons of writing-related podcasts out there, many of which accept guest hosts or interview authors. Check out The Author Hangout, Kobo Writing Life Podcast, The Self Publishing Show, and many others!
How do you get onto a podcast? Take the initiative and reach out to the host via their contact information published along with the show (Apple Podcasts) or on the podcast’s website. Follow the guidelines and pitch a topic, interesting writing-related story, or area of expertise.
It also a good idea to keep an eye out for posts on author groups. Many podcast hosts will post calls for participants in these groups.
Ignore people who say blogging is dead or irrelevant. Lots of writers are still blogging and lots of industry professionals are too. It’s a great way to share content and spread the word about events and announcements, especially for people who don’t want to read long posts on social media.
Blog opportunities for writers include interviews, guest posts, promotional posts, and character interviews. Promotional posts or guest posts are sometimes paid opportunities, depending on the blog.
To get featured on a blog, pitch yourself! Check out the blog’s pitch guidelines, then make a case for why you have an interesting story, a book worth featuring, or a great topic to blog about. If it’s a smaller blog that doesn’t have guidelines posted, use their contact form instead.
Bookstores love writers, but setting up a book signing or author event can be a little tricky, depending on the store.
Independent stores are more likely to work with independent authors. Traditionally published authors will often have an easier time getting in with big, chain stores than indie authors will.
The main reason for that is because big stores usually won’t take books on consignment, and if an indie author’s books don’t have a buy back option (most POD printers don’t allow this) then the store won’t order the book. Independent stores are more flexible.
When contacting a book store or business to set up an event, do so one to two months in advance. They may have other events planned or need to make sure they have staff on hand. Bookstores usually have a specific person in charge of setting up events. If that person isn’t listed online, call the store and ask who to speak to.
Be ready with specific details about you and your book, and have multiple dates to suggest. Ask if they charge a fee, if they will order the books or take them on consignment from you, what the profit split is (60/40 is common), and what equipment they will provide.
If you want to give an author talk or do a reading, ask specific questions about audio/visual equipment, location in the store/seating, and time frame.
Approaching a business requires most of the same rules, but you may also want to address why you want to have it there and what their fee is for renting the space. Coffee shops, libraries, conference rooms, restaurants, and business specific to the topic or theme of a book can be great alternatives to a bookstore.
Collaborating with other authors helps to increase your marketing opportunities and exposure to new a wider reader audience.
There are several popular options for authors collaborations.
Collaborative box sets are often themed, with each author contributing a novella or full novel that fits the theme. The books are then published together as one product.
Holiday themes are popular around holidays, but trope themes (bad boy, billionaire, sweet romance, paranormal, etc.) are also popular year-round.
Box sets can be list-making runs (selling a high number of books at a low price in an effort to make the USA Today Bestseller list), reader magnets that are usually low cost or free, or profit-centered sets focused on collaborative marketing with the box set at full price.
Joining a box set may be free or require a buy-in. Free-to-join sets usually require authors to invest their own time and money into marketing. Box sets with a buy-in usually have one person assigned to handle the finances and schedule promos, with individual authors promoting through their social media and newsletters.
Collaborative “worlds” feature multiple books in same world, each one written by a different author. The world rules are set by the organizer or agreed upon by the authors involved. Instead of publishing the books together as a set, each book is published separately by the individual authors with the “world” or series name tying them all together.
The same general rules for free-to-join and buy-ins apply to “worlds” sets.
Teaming up with other authors to promote multiple books at once is a great way to expand your reach and attract new readers.
Many group promos are themed or holiday related. Authors often volunteer for certain tasks such as submitting to promotion sights, contacting bloggers, creating graphics, etc. Each authors then also promotes on their websites, social media, newsletters, and anywhere else they can reach authors.
Promoting the books in a group introduces readers to new authors, and because the recommendation is coming from an author they trust, they are more likely to branch out and try a new book. This works best when their are several authors with big followings involved in the group.
My Book Cave is a great place to get involved with newsletter-building group promos using their reader magnet system. Make sure to sign up for their author newsletter to get updates on what magnet groups and accepting members.
Participating in newsletter swaps help you share fans and find new readers. These are most beneficial when authors have a large amount of subscribers, but any extra eyes on your books is always helpful.
Newsletter swaps tend to work best when the books involved are similar genres and styles. Good times to participate in swaps include sales, new releases, holidays, etc.
The writing community is generally very supportive and helpful. Don’t take everything on yourself if you don’t have to!
These are just some of the few I’ve found helpful, but there are many more out there! Many are genre or topic based, and you can pretty much find a group for anything you’re interested in.
Networking with authors is also a great way to learn more about agents, publishers, and services in the publishing industry. Getting someone’s honest experience with one of these can save you a lot of headaches or steer you in the right direction to find that perfect fit.
Joining a writing group (online or in-person) is a great way to find support along the often-lonely journey of writing and publishing. If you can attend an in-person group, I highly encourage that route, because we all need to get away from our computers and out of our own heads once in a while. Online writing groups can be beneficial as well, especially for getting feedback and asking questions.
The biggest plus of networking with other authors is learning from them and getting help when you need it. Many authors who’ve been in the indie publishing world for a lot of years had to learn it all on their own, because there weren’t many resources ten or fifteen years ago.
Most of these authors know how hard it is to start at square one and are very willing to help newer authors and aspiring writers. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice!
Marketing is one of the biggest chores for indie authors. There are so many avenues it can be overwhelming. Breaking it down to the basics can help you get started developing a plan and getting your book in front of readers!
Websites are important, even though readers often tell me the biggest reason to go to an author’s website is to find the order of books in a series.
Readers aren’t always your main target with a website, though. So who is? Media, agents, publishers, and other industry professionals. They go to websites to find a bunch of information all in one place.
Many website services are free or low-cost for a basic setup. Popular sites include WordPress, Wix, and Square Space. Yearly hosting fees for paid websites are usually in the $60-$500 range, depending on how intricate the website is and what special features you want.
Domain name registration is $10-$20 per year and well worth the cost! A .com site looks WAY more professional than a .wix.com or .wordpress.com site.
Custom designed sites are the most expensive options, for the design work and for hosting costs.
Blogs can be a great way to drive traffic to your website on a regular basis, but only if you’re willing to put in the time to blog consistently. If you don’t have time for that, don’t start a blog.
Social media account are vital in today’s marketing world. Not only are they great places to grow your fan base and develop relationships with your readers, an account is required on most platforms to be able to run ads.
This doesn’t mean you have to run out and join every social media site known to man. ONLY sign up for the ones you’re actually going to use consistently. The most popular and effective right now are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Amazon ads.
Most social media platforms are free to set up and running ads can be done even on a very small budget.
Sign up for author profiles and popular book related sites. Unlike social media, you don’t have to actively do anything on these sites. Having a profile allows you to add your books, run ads, and gain followers, though.
Popular book-related sites right now include BookBub, Goodreads (don’t read reviews!), and My Book Cave. Most of these types of sites are free to sign up, but may be a bit pricier to run ads or features on and you have to be approved for features.
There are a million book-related newsletters out there that accept free and paid feature spots. The biggest the list, the higher the price. However, many smaller ads (free or $5) can be very effective. Most writers have a hard time getting features on bigger lists without a lot of reviews.
Making a Plan
There’s a lot of trial and error involved with book marketing. Everyone’s book is different and will speak to readers in different ways.
Start small. Test out multiple avenues and keep track of what does and doesn’t work. As you evaluate the effectiveness of different tactics, you’ll be able to start making a solid plan.
What does it cost to be an indie author? It’s question many new writers want to know. When you take on the production cost of a book, you need to know where those costs will fit into your budget.
***Quick note to say I will be moving my weekly posts to Tuesdays***
The cost of editing depends on what type of editing you need for your project.
Developmental editing is the most involved and the most expensive. A developmental editor will help you work out problems with the story/characters and help improve the flow and style . It will cost you about $0.08/word or $20/page.
Copyediting is less involved and doesn’t dig into story or character problems. It mainly deals with improving sentence structure and readability, as well as generally tightening up the writing. It will cost you about $0.02/word or $5/page.
Proofreading in the least involved and least expensive, but requires the writer (or a previous round of editing) to have cleaned up the manuscript as much as possible. Proofreading aims to catch typos and punctuation errors, not fix major issues. It will cost you about $0.01/word, $3/page.
The cost depends on whether you want an ebook cover only, a full wrap cover for a paperback, or both, as well as whether you want a customer cover (with stock or exclusive photos) or a premade cover.
Premade covers are the least expensive option, but offer the least ability to customize. Most quality premades are in the $30-$50 range. Most premades are only ebook covers, but many designers offer an add on option to turn it into a full wrap if you need it.
Stock photos in a custom cover will be less expensive than using exclusive photos. Custom covers are usually in the $50-$150 range for ebook covers and you can plan to add another $30-$50 to add a full wrap to the package. The range has to do with how many photos are need for the cover. More photos means more cost.
Exclusive images guarantee no one else will have your same cover, but you’ll pay for that privilege. Plan on $500 and up for a custom photo shoot.
Formatting for ebooks and paperbacks can be learned by those with knowledge of Word or the willingness to learn software like Jutoh, Kindle Create, or Calibre. InDesign is a professional level software that has a steep learning curve, but is doable if you’re on a tight budget and willing to put the time in.
If you want to hire out formatting, the cost will depend on the type and difficulty. Images will up the difficulty in any project, as will graphics like charts, table, multiple frames, etc.
For fiction ebook formatting, plan on $150-$250. For print formatting, plan on $200-$300. Most formatters will offer package pricing to do both at once.
Setup and Extra Help
Most authors with basic computer skills will be able to create their accounts and upload their documents without help. Those who run into problems or have limited computer skills or access, having someone tackle this part of the publishing process is available. An average cost is around $20/hour.
Production on a Tight Budget
If you are working with a small budget and want to do as much yourself as possible, be honest with yourself about your skill level in each category.
Learning to format in Word is a great way to cut costs. Designing your own book cover when you have no design experience is not. Start with a premade cover and upgrade when your budget isn’t as tight.
Editing your own book is extremely difficult. If you can’t afford a professional editor yet, trade with another author or see if a local teacher could help out for a lower fee.
The goal is putting out a professional product. Save money where you can, but not at the cost of putting out a subpar book.