Goal: Beautiful Books Selling Well

The manuscript for my first self-published book, *Freein’ Pancho,* sat in a drawer unread for many years. Early on I’d sent it to a literary agent, waited with anticipation, received a kind letter of rejection.

So there it sat until I mentioned the manuscript to Jenny, a fellow writer in storyteller Jay O’Callahan’s writing group. Jenny asked to read it. Loved it. Said, “You should definitely publish it!”

Long story short: I self-published *Freein’ Pancho* on CreateSpace. Solid 5-star reviews on Amazon. Sold a few. But never topped double digits.

Turns out from experience of writer friends, and from what I’ve gleaned on the net, this is not atypical.

My second self-published book, *The Gospel of Ashes,* was also urged into publication by fellow writers in Jay’s writing group. Carmichael, a principal character, popped out of my head and into a weekly writing exercise. The writing group loved him. “More Carmichael,” they said. I struggled each week to figure out who this hard-bitten character was and how he was going to save the world. And each week, “More Carmichael!,” the group said.

I self-published *Gospel* on CreateSpace and, again, 5-star reviews but—once again, double-digit sales.

My third self-published venture was a technical programming book co-authored with Jesse Gumm. Puny sales on Amazon, but gratifying three-digit sales as a PDF on Leanpub. Still selling. Nice to see my 50-percent share of 80-percent royalties trickling in.

## Maker, manager, marketer

Ok, more than enough war stories.

Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance for Independent Authors, puts the bottom-line lesson learned quite well:

You must wear three different hats as an indie author: Maker, Manager and Marketer.”[^ross]

Take home: good writing isn’t enough. If you care about book sales, you must:

  • Think about marketing the minute you conceptualize a book
  • Keep writing and publishing to find a welcoming niche market
  • Refine your workflow to attain peak efficiency
  • Your computer and the web are your best friends

Maker, manager, marketer—let’s translate that into requirements for our indie-publishing hardware/software system:

## Maker

As makers we:

  • Capture and refine ideas
  • Research content and markets
  • Craft a publishing plan
  • Compose the first draft
  • Copy edit the first draft
  • Revise the first draft
  • Write and edit front matter
  • Collate back matter

This suggests that we need:

  • A browser to search the web
  • A comfortable and efficient text editor
  • Tools to save and access notes and data

But as indie publishers we have much more on our plate:

  • Design or supervise design of book interior
  • Design or supervise design of book cover
  • Secure and manage illustrations and images
  • Secure copyright permissions
  • Typeset interior pages or farm it out
  • Proofread typeset pages
  • Correct typos, misspellings, and grammar glitches
  • Generate cover and interior PDF files

So, we need:

  • Design and typesetting tools
  • A PDF page viewer

## Manager

We need tools to manage:

  • Projects
  • Contacts
  • Events
  • Memberships
  • Income and expense transactions
  • Book inventory
  • Assets such as IBSNs, domain names, and hardware info
  • Print-on-demand vendors

## Marketer

As book marketers we:

  • Research market opportunities and demographics
  • Develop marketing strategies
  • Set book prices and compute royalties
  • Design and publish marketing collateral
  • Conduct publicity and advertising campaigns
  • Manage book distribution
  • Sell books at book events and through consignments to booksellers

This suggests that we need:

  • A spreadsheet program
  • A calculator
  • A credit card processing tool

## Whew!

Seems overwhelming—powerful evidence why we need well-integrated and efficient software tools and as much process automation as possible to streamline our workflow.

That’s what the Empire Builder newsletter is about. Best-of-breed open source software tools. How to install and use them. How to integrate them into a powerful indie book publishing production system.

The secret sauce:

  • Compose copy, style for publishing, and typeset with a plain vanilla text editor
  • Use the same tools to design, typeset, and publish marketing collateral
  • Automate workflow with open source programs that come free with the operating system

The goal: become masters of your computer rather than contented prisoner of hardware and software proprietary black boxes.

Baby-step by baby-step

Imagine:

Beautiful books, selling well, with your name on the cover.

A playful 15 minutes a day, well focused, will release your computer superpowers faster than you ever imagined.

[^ross]: Self-publishing in 2021, https://selfpublishingadvice.org/self-publishing-in-2021/