Thursday, February 19, 2015

Help!!! I’ve Dived into the Indie Ocean—and I don’t know how to swim!!

with guest blogger Helen Gray.

Publishing is an ocean. And its ever-changing tides and currents can be frightening. So what are some rules for “swimming” in this indie ocean? I looked at some water safety rules to see how they might apply.

1. Swim at your own risk. No one else will be responsible for accidents or injuries.

In indie publishing you have total control of your work. You also have total responsibility. And reap your own rewards.

For me, it was having six manuscripts with my editor when the Heartsong Presents line closed. They were written to fit the HP guidelines, and a couple of them had already been near misses with traditional publishers. So my choices were to (a) lengthen them beyond what I felt I could do without diluting the stories, (b) let them molder on my hard drive, or (c) publish them myself. 

2. Avoid diving headfirst into shallow or murky water of uncertain depth. You may find yourself in too deep.

I’m a timid soul. Rather than plunge, I decided to stick my toe in and test the waters. I had a four book series and a two book duo. I chose the smaller risk.

Back when I first began to consider going indie, I signed up for the January Seekerville class, Amazon KDP for Beginners, by Rogenna Brewer. Then I took some more classes. I printed all the handouts and put them in a binder. When I made the decision to go indie/hybrid, I got out that manual and read through it again. I still refer to it when I run into questions. If I don’t find the answers, I contact a friend.

3. Obey all pool rules. 

There may be some tough requirements (undertows). Be aware of current movement. Change is ever constant.When preparing a manuscript for traditional publisher submissions, you need to follow publisher guidelines—genre, word length, etc. There are rules in indie publishing as well. 

COVERS: You must have covers that fit specifications. I decided I couldn’t do a professional enough cover, so I went looking for cover designers. When I contacted Rogenna Brewer, she immediately grasped what I wanted, and her prices were a little more attractive than the other designer I was considering. It only took a few days for her (with my input) to come up with a pair of covers that I really like. You can find samples of her work, ordering and pricing information at her site. 

EDITING: You need to have your books edited. Which I had done, but I knew they needed fresh eyes. Ruthie recommended an editor (her daughter) and gave me her email address. I contacted Beth Jamison, and she did both manuscripts at a very reasonable price. 

FORMATTING: You have to format your books to meet specifications. I decided I could learn to do that. So I went to my manual and pulled out instructions for both digital and print formatting. I also went to the Kindle Direct Publishing (Amazon’s digital publisher) and CreateSpace (Amazon’s print publisher) sites and printed the instructions provided there. Then I went to work—and got both manuscripts done, except for a couple of elusive glitches. I went to Springfield and met with author Carol Moncado for a tutoring session, and she guided me through the uploading of both these books. 

If I can learn it, you certainly can!

4. Never swim alone. Swim with a buddy.

Join groups, like CIA (Christian Indie Authors), a private Facebook group for Christian indie and hybrid authors who are focused on providing resources and discussions for Christian indie book production, publishing, and promotion.  Attend conferences. The only one I regularly attend is ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers), but I know a number of Seekers and Villagers attend RWA (Romance Writers of America). The workshops are great, but being able to network with other writers, editors and publishers is invaluable.

Find a mentor or critique partner, someone who can encourage you, pick apart your work, and make you a better writer.

5. Dive only in designated areas.

Choose where you will publish. Amazon’s KDP and CreateSpace are popular, but there are others, and they require different formats. 

Smashwords is a distributor of indie/self-published ebooks. They distribute to online retailers such as the Apple iBookstore (51 countries), Barnes & Noble, Sony, Diesel, Kobo (multiple countries), Flipkart (India’s largest online bookseller), Oyster,Scribd, Baker & Taylor (the Blio platform and Axis360 library service), Page Foundry and many others. If, like me, you shudder at the idea of formatting and sending to all those places, you might going to the Smashwords site and reading about them. 

Be prepared to keep learning.    

6. Watch out for sharks.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams out there. 

When you set out to publish your own work, be careful who you hire for services. Watch for those who advertise support and instruction to authors, and then include fees. Or ones who try to tie up your rights so you can’t publish the book elsewhere. Or make you pay for formatting and then not release the files to you unless you pay a further fee. These people are pitching for business, not offering a publishing contract. Legitimate publishers don’t operate that way. You might find this Publishers Weekly article helpful. 


The jury is still out. I’m treading water, dog paddling, hoping I can learn to float. I’ve got this two book series out. Whether I continue with more will depend on whether these two swim or drown.

If you are considering a plunge into the Indie Ocean, you can download Mark Coker’s The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success  FREE. 

Is this the route for you? What are your reasons for going indie?

As a giveaway I’m making Bandit Bride free for download today and tomorrow to launch my big dive into the deep end of the pool. Help yourself. If you enjoy it, go ahead and play life saver and write a review. I’d appreciate it!

Bandit Bride is available FREE today and tomorrow. 

She's Robin Hood of the Prairie. He's a Texas Ranger. Can they possibly be a duo? 
Having lost her parents, and in danger of losing her ranch to an unscrupulous opportunist, Jackie (Jacinda) Laughton is surviving in Dodge City's heyday, but not without a load of guilt and estrangement from God and the church. In desperation she and her best friend have resorted to banditry. Donning disguises, they are the popular "Whip and Blade" who hold up the lender's stagecoach runs, keeping the money they need and distributing the rest to more of the man's victims. No one suspects they are young women. 

When Hoyt Travers, a Texas Ranger, arrives in Dodge and shows an interest in her, Jackie finds herself drawn to him, but wary of the danger he represents. He learns the truth and offers to marry her to protect her, but can she accept such a sacrifice and hide her love that might never be returned? She must learn to accept God's forgiveness and trust God for her needs.

Prairie Bride is set to release tomorrow. 

Bryn Farrell grew up during Dodge City's heyday as a cattle town. Rudderless since her fiancé's death, she crashes into Ty Shelton, an old nemesis from school, as he is racing to the last of the big fires of 1885 with a bucket of water. She is drenched with freezing water, but her spirit is not quenched, and she returns to help fight the fire. 

Practical and reserved, Ty is a wheat farmer who takes care of his widowed mother and younger brother. When he rescues Bryn from the first blizzard of the big "die-up" of 1886 and must take her home with him, he is trapped in more ways than just the storm. He does not need the disruption of flighty Bryn Farrell in his life. But forced proximity during the storm forces him to have just that--and new feelings for her begin to change, as does his perspective of her. 

Can Bryn fall in love with a farmer and live a life of housework and washing dishes? Can Ty love the lively prairie girl who has intrigued him for years, but is his opposite?

Helen Brown grew up in a small Missouri town and became Helen Gray when she married her pastor. They have three grown children. If her writing in even a small way touches others, she considers it a blessing and thanks God for the opportunity.


  1. I set the FREE price for the 19th and 20th, but I don't know what time it becomes effective.

    Hoping everything works right.

  2. Hi Helen:

    You are an inspiration!

    I am going to follow your progress as I must go down the same trail myself. I loved your first three books. I can't wait to read your first Indie book.

    BTW: Your link to "Prairie Bride" goes to a different book. I think the below is the link you want.

    Also, in addition to all the beautiful fiction covers Rogenna has created for me, she also did five real estate covers for my courses and I think these are the best any publisher has out. You can see them here:

    Rogenna creates great nonfiction books.

    Please keep us up to date on your new experiences.


  3. Ugh!

    Thanks, Vince, for letting me know about the link. Hopefully Tina will fix it for us soon.

    I looked at your covers. They're great.

    At times I think this Indie business is going to be a breeze. Then something glitches and throws me into a tizzy. Right now it's watching for the Free price to show up, and wondering if I did something wrong.

  4. Vince, is correct, Helen, you are an inspiration!!! Making coffee and hot cocoa in your honor!

  5. I'm in total agreement on the inspiration bandwagon!

    Helen, I love that you're doing this, and here's my only bit of advice: Don't wait until the first two sell like crazy to launch the others, because launching them will help the first ones to sell like crazy. In a numbers world, it's amazing that you already have the numbers, my friend!

    My advice is to get those books ready. Life doesn't come with guarantees on time and ability... God opened a sizable door for us with this indie publishing opportunity and it's got amazing potential. I love having a foot in both ponds!

    Thank you for sharing your good advice! Wonderful!!!

  6. Grabbing coffee and leaving Frittata!

    Because cold, wind and snow require frittata!

  7. Helen, thanks for all your information and great advice! I hope your indie books are a great success. Most writers seem to be either considering indie as a good road to take.

  8. So just how many books DO you have ready to be launched into the indie sea?

  9. Helen, you are my hero. I thought about all you had been through and then things changed yet again.

    But did you give up? No.

    I'm making a poster of you and putting it up in my office!

    Peace and continued blessings, Julie

  10. Hi Helen,

    Glad to see you posting this morning!

    What a journey indie publishing is and you gave good info to those contemplating sticking their toes into the water!

  11. I finally gave up last night and went to bed. But now that I'm back up, I see that the FREE has kicked in!!

    Tina, I had six books with my editor when the HP line closed. These are two of them. So I have the other four, plus three more completed ones on my hard drive. And I just finished the second book of my current WIP, a trilogy.

    Thanks for fixing the link. I'm sure it was my mess-up, not yours.

  12. I just logged in to KDP and see that 76 people have already downloaded my freebie.

  13. Hi Helen, Thanks for posting today in Seekerville.

    And good for you. Its always scary yet exciting to jump in new waters.

    Best wishes on your endeavors and thanks for all the helpful links and advice.

  14. Thanks, Helen. I know that an indie that comes from a Seekervillager will be great. So here goes.

  15. Hi Helen:

    The free “Bandit Bride” is up on Amazon and it is already on my Kindle. I also secured “Prairie Bride” for delivery tomorrow. I just couldn’t leave the twin “Bride” behind! : )

    One comment: under books by Helen Gray, at the end of "Bandit Bride" did you really mean “Mozark Weddings”? Also, in the spirit of what Ruth said about all your books acting to sell all your other books, I’d suggest putting a selling blurb under each of the titles of your other books as they appear at the end of your Kindle book. Readers just read your book and that’s when to strike -- while the iron is hot off the stove top.

    Speaking of ‘hot irons’, while readers are getting a copy of “Bandit Bride” I recommend they look at “Ozark Sweetheart” which is my favorite one of your books. I believe that book has the best use of history that I’ve read in many years. I call it writing history from ‘the inside out’. This is explained in my review on site. Anyone who writes historical novels or loves to read novels for the history, should really enjoy the way you crafted this book.


  16. Helen, you brave girl!! I admire your 'forward spirit' so very much.:-)

    Thanks for the good links to information. I've been on some of those sites lately. I'm still looking into ISBNs and barcodes. The price has gone up on a block of ten ISBNs in the past year.:-\

    I'm checking out Rogenna's covers this afternoon.:-)

    Thanks for sharing what you've learned! :-)

  17. Vince, Mozark (Missouri Ozarks) Marriages is the title of that series.

    Thank you for you kind comments about my debut book, Ozark Sweetheart.

  18. HELEN!!!!
    You ARE an inspiration of perseverance. I am going to go download your book and read it and post a review asap. I love the covers Rogenna created for you. Isn't she a wonderful blessing????

    I'll be praying for the Lord's blessings on your endeavors and hope my little bit will help promote you too.

    Thanks for sharing your learning process (and swimming rules analogy...perfect!) with Seekerville. You're helping make the way easier for those more timid than you, and perhaps give them a bit more courage to follow the dream the Lord has given them.

    *now off to download Bandit Bride**

  19. Ruthie,

    The first book in my four book contemporary series is a holiday story. Wouldn't it be best for that one to release in the fall?

  20. Cara Lynn,

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    This is a plunge I never thought I'd take. A lot has changed in the past three or four years. And I don't know of any other place the books I had with Heartsong would fit.

    I hope the lifeguards are keeping their eyes on me. :)

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. Julie HS,

    I don't feel like a hero. I'm just groping my way along.

    But thanks for your kind words.


  23. Helen, thank you for all the wonderful advice on indie publishing. While, I'm not ready to pursue indie publishing at this time, I do believe at some point down the road I will. I've bookmarked your post for future reference.

    I've downloaded Bandit Bride and moved it to the top of my to-be-read pile. Wishing you all the best with this new phase in your publishing career.

  24. Rose,

    Thank you for always being such an encourager.

    We have ten inches of snow on our long, uphill driveway. A wintry mix is predicted for tomorrow and freezing rain Saturday. I can't get out with my car, so Ken has promised to take me to town in his truck this afternoon to get groceries.

  25. Thanks for sharing your process and for sharing your book.

  26. Sandra,

    Yes, it's scary. And I'm probably the worst candidate for this. Now only am I afraid of water (nearly drowned as a kid and never got over the fear), but I'm terrible at social media/promotion.

  27. Marianne,

    Thanks for being a reader.

    I guess you noticed I didn't bring coffee. Someone told me in a previous post that I was not to do that when I'm posting.


  28. Mary Hicks,

    You don't need an ISBN for KDP. They provide an ISIN.

    With CreateSpace you have three options, their free one, a $10 one that will keep your book from showing CS as the publisher, or purchasing from Bawker. All that info will be provided in the forms you fill out when you publish.

  29. DebH,

    THANK YOU!!!

    Some promotion sites require a certain number of reviews before you can list your books with them. So reviews rise in importance.

  30. Rhonda,

    You're on the right track.

    I started saving information last year when going indie was only an idea deep in my mind. All that info was useful when I got more serious about it.

    Bookmark away.

  31. Jackie,

    You are most welcome.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  32. Helen

    You're a brave and smart woman, testing out the waters. I, along with my daughter, am learning the ropes now. Our prototye is a crochet pattern book.
    Testing the patterns now, and over half the photos are done.

    As far as my fiction, I'm editing the novella series now as they'll go first, followed by the 4-book long historical series. Has to be that way, they're all connected. How long that'll take depends on the learning curve.

    Thanks for the free books. Count on me for a good review. Love your books.

  33. I'm so proud of you Helen!

    Not only for taking the plunge but for all the books you've completed. You're a true inspiration.

    Now I must go. I have a book to download.

  34. Elaine,

    I said it in my post, and I'll repeat it now. If I can learn it, you certainly can!!

    Thanks for the encouragement, and look forward to the review.

  35. Connie Q,

    Thanks for the encouragement. That helps keep me afloat.

    Hope you enjoy the read.

  36. Helen, you get knocked down and you get right back up. You are an inspiration to us all. I don't know if I would be so gracious about it all. Yes, guess I would, because we're doing this for God and not ourselves.
    Kathy Bailey

  37. Congratulations on diving into the indie waters, Helen! It sounds like you're doing everything right!

    It was really sad for so many Heartsong Presents authors whose books fell into the void after the line closed. And it's so true--a book written for HP guidelines usually wasn't a good fit anywhere else without a lot of rewriting and fleshing out. Glad you're getting those stories out there!

  38. Kathy Bailey,

    I don't know how gracious I am about it. I just have to find a way to move on. I can't just sit and let the "gray" matter atrophy. :)

    Thanks for your kind words.

  39. I don't have an e-reader so don't put me in the drawing for now. Sigh.

  40. Myra,

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    Yes, the loss of the HP line was sad.

    I'm afraid the amount of fleshing out I would have to do to get these manuscripts up to word count of other lines would only succeed in slowing the action to the point of boring. All scenes need to be necessary to the storyline, and how many can be added that are "necessary" when the books are already complete?

  41. KB,

    It took a long time for me to get a Kindle, but I finally did. I still like print books though.

  42. Helen, always fun to see you out of the kitchen--grin--and posting in Seekerville! I'm impressed by your dive into the Indie Ocean. Love the clever title and appreciate your excellent advice to authors planning to do the same. Wishing you much success with your books! Go you!!


  43. Janet,

    It's always fun to be with this group.

    I need to take a break this afternoon, though, to run some errands before the wintry mix and freezing rain predicted over the next two days.

    Your never ending support and encouragement is appreciated.

  44. HOORAY for HELEN!!!!
    Wonderful post, Helen - - I've not seriously looked into Indie publishing, but if/when I do YOUR post will be in my Keeper File - - great information here. Thank you so much for sharing this (and making it easy to follow for this former Kindergarten teacher, LOL) and I'm praying all goes well for you in this venture.
    Hugs from Georgia, Patti Jo

    p.s. Please enjoy the warm Peach Cobbler I just took from the oven (with extra cinnamon). ;)

  45. Helen, do you know if the $10 ISBN from CP will allow you to register your book in 'Books in Print'?

    I understood you had to get an ISBN from Bowker to register there.

    I'm doing paperbacks as well as e-books. I know each version requires a different ISBN.
    I sure like the idea of $10 over $295! ( But $295 is for ten numbers. )

  46. Patti Jo,

    I tend to think and organize in a "kindergarten" fashion.

    The beautiful thing about all the posts here in Seekerville is that they are archived where we can look through the index when we need certain information.

    You going to Dallas this year? I haven't made up my mind yet. Might have to choose between doing that or publishing more books. :)

  47. Mary Hicks,

    I don't know the answer to your question. Maybe someone else can provide that information.

    Help, anyone?

  48. Helen!! I'm so excited for you!! You have done all your homework and I can just see you doing really well in self publishing! Congratulations on your book birthdays and can't wait to see where this leads you next.

  49. Helen, I wouldn't let that stop me... Because that's six months away.

    That's a long time at our age, LOL! :)

    You could do two things. Market the other three and then bring that one out as a "prequel" done afterwards. That's probably what I'd do. (Mind you, we know that I'm wrong, wrong, wrong most of the time, but I watch these numbers constantly... and I want this launch to be as successful as it can possibly be!)

    My first series for Love Inspired was done out of order, and while I had to explain why to a few readers, they loved it and cheered for all the right people.

    Or, you can re-write the Christmas book to be a less important holiday book or no holiday at all. We've got the power, my friend!

  50. Virginia,

    I don't see myself achieving your heights, but so far I'm having fun.

    Homework never ends though. :)

  51. Ruthie,

    That's a lot to think about. But one other possibility has just occurred to me.

    Maybe I could revise/edit the other three I have on my hard drive and put them ahead of this series.


  52. Helen, I just downloaded you book! I look forward to reading it. Thanks for all the great information about indie publishing.

  53. Sandy,

    You are most welcome. Hope you enjoy the book.

  54. Everyone is right, Helen you are an inspiration. With the way things are going in the publishing business, we may all need to follow in your footsteps. I got your free book and preordered the other one. I will add them to the books I am currently reading so I can help you get some reviews.

    Not just in this step you are taking, but you have been an inspiration and encouragement to me since i first started hanging out at Seekerville.

    Stay warm everyone. It is a balmy 10 degrees with a windchill of -2!

  55. Thank you, Wilani.

    Yes, we are all looking at the publishing business through different eyes these days.

    I do still have a series under consideration with a traditional publisher. But this seems the route for these books.

  56. Wow. Thank you for all the help. You are adding to my folder of tips for Indies :)

  57. Helen, CONGRATULATIONS on your venture into the indie waters....and thank you for your EXCELLENT post! Love your analogy. Your safety rules are valuable advice.

    I agree with thoughts on the CIA...a generous group of authors providing an amazing amount of help and encouragement so we are not entering the waters alone.

    Indie publishing is the way I plan to go. I will regret not seeing my book on the shelves and having interactions with big house editors, but I want control over my books with a faster publishing schedule and flexible deadlines. Plus being my own publisher is fun with all the things to learn.

    Did you go with the Kindle Select plan or the regular plan? Do you feel it is worth doing a CreateSpace print copy or just do digital?

    Thank you for leading the way! I'm praying for your continuing success. Thank you also for Bandit Bride!

  58. Becky,

    Those folders can save your life when you venture into the depths.


  59. Sherida,

    I did the KDP Select.

    Yes, you have full control this way. But you also have full responsibility.

    I'm motivated enough to produce the books and get them out. But the thing that scares me silly (not that I'm not already silly) is promotion. This is the first special promotion I've tried.

    As for print copies, I understand that many authors are not bothering with them because they don't sell enough copies. I did them because so many of my first three books were sold here in my local community. I've only sold about 50 so far, but I plan to do some more signings soon for book two, with copies of book one also available.

    And you're welcome. :)

  60. Just reading that Publishing is an Ocean makes me want to go wash the salt off my skin!

    But then I'll just keep diving in. :)

  61. Mary, at this point you're a fish.

    I guess you're aware that I'm invading more of you turf tomorrow. I'm to be over at Petticoats and Pistols.

  62. Helen, thanks for the additional information.

    Do you want your free book mentioned/promoted on Twitter?

    Thanks again for being an inspiration!

  63. You're a prime example of knowing your audience, Helen. You know yours wants print and you have heavy community involvement with your background as a padtor's wife. For you and your book signings print makes sense.

  64. It will be interesting to see how these books effect the sale of your past Heart Songs!!

  65. Tina, the print copies aren't doing much online, but I didn't expect much there.

    FYI: Almost 700 downloads thus far.

  66. I brought a giant antipasto salad and fresh Italian bread to share.

  67. Tina,

    Amazon shows no more copies of my first Heartsong available, and only 4 each of the other two. So I don't know what the possibilities are there.

  68. Helen, thanks for sharing what you've learned about indie pubbing! I'm standing on the side of the pool, wondering if I should jump in. Thanks for making it sound doable!

    A keeper post for sure!

  69. Helen, folks that like this free book will buy the Kindle edition of your Heartsongs backlist.

    Those never go "out-of-print", darling!

  70. Debby,

    A bit of redundancy here.

    If I can learn it, you CEARTAINLY can!

    Thanks for your steady encouragement.

  71. Okay, Ruthie, I'm still old school and think print first. Having them available in digital is a win win, right?

  72. I just downloaded Bandit Bride, Helen. Looks wonderful!

    Also told my friends on Facebook!

  73. Thanks, Debby. Hope you enjoy it.

  74. Okay, I have to venture out in the weather now to get my groceries and run a couple of errands.

    Be back in a couple of hours.

  75. Hi Helen, Looks like you're doing fine. Sometimes you just need to jump in. LOL

  76. The grocery store was a madhouse! Apparently everyone had the same idea I did. Get all errands run today before the next storm hits.

    The downloads have now topped the 1,000 mark, and the Amazon rankings have me at #7 in one category and #16 of another in the Kindle Store for Free listings.

  77. Helen, this is wonderful!

    Anything you can do within the limits of the laws of these United States and the Bible is wonderful!!!!

  78. Hi Helen,
    Just coming up from editing land for a quick breath!! Wonderful post which I will keep for future reference!
    Congratulations on your indie career. I know it will go well. ANd thank you for the free book!

  79. Susan Anne,

    You are welcome. Hope you enjoy.

  80. This is so exciting, Helen! Wonderful guidance. Thank you for the free download. It'll be on my iPad right beside your other books.

    Good for you that you forged ahead when Heartsong Presents closed. You're an inspiration.

    Wishing you all the best.

    Nancy C

  81. Nancy,

    Glad you got the book.

    The loss of the line was sad.

    I don't have another 30 years to repeat my journey, and the opportunities have broadened.

    So this seemed the thing to try.

  82. Sorry I missed the bulk of the conversation today, Helen. Kudos to you for going Indie with these books. You sure did dive headfirst into deep waters!

    Thanks for the free download. Best of luck on your Indie Adventure.

    (Why does that make me think of Harrison Ford? ;) )

  83. Helen, congratulations on your Indie success! I admire the courage of everyone who takes the jump!

    Thank you for the free book!

  84. Helen, I agree with the others. You are indeed an inspiration. I won you're first 3 books last year and loved them. I'll definitely get the others. Congrats on your successful dive :)))

  85. Mary Curry,

    I think I fell off the diving board today. 1760 downloads at this point!

    Hope you enjoy it.

  86. This comment has been removed by the author.

  87. Donna,

    I don't know that I'm a success. But I'm giving it a shot.

    Hope you enjoy it.

  88. Pat W.

    Glad you enjoyed the first ones.

    Hope you like this one. It's my first attempt at a western.

  89. I found this post informative. I appreciate your wisdom in taking the smaller project to press first. I would have probably paid for teh formating as well because I don't feel comfortable with that technology. It has taken me a while to work around my blog smoothly.
    Cindy Huff

  90. OH. MY. GOODNESS!!! I just now realized I forgot to leave a comment yesterday when I read your fabulous blog, Helen, so PLEASE forgive me!! I read it (LOVED IT -- SOOO CREATIVE!!), then got side-tracked by the free download, WHICH I immediately downloaded and then shared on Facebook. Whoops ... forgot to come back and leave a comment.

    Anyway, CANNOT wait to read it, my friend, so I hope you download A TON!!