Traditional publishers usually provide their authors with an editor, cover designer, and book formatter. If you’re traditionally published and receive a five-figure advance, they may also provide marketing and sales support for your book.
But if you’re independently published, you oversee all of the above. You can do each task yourself and be a self-publisher, or you can hire independent contractors and run your own independent publishing company.
When we’re talking about publishing your own books, we use the term indie author. But what we mean is that indie authors run independent publishing companies. Indie authors are a real company in the eyes of the law, the people who pay them, and those whom they pay.
When you create your own company, you get to choose your editor and hire the best cover designer you can afford. You also control how your book is marketed and sold, and you have access to the data so you can see what’s working and what isn’t.
But with great power comes great responsibility. Savvy independent authors know that doing everything themselves is not the path to success.
Just because you’re the best author in your subcategory does not mean you’re the best cover designer in your subcategory. In fact, I feel like I can confidently say that you are not the best cover designer in your subcategory. If you’ve designed less than 100 covers, you’re not the best designer. But that’s okay because other people have the talent and experience to create the best book covers.
Savvy indies know they need to create their own company and build their own team.
Starting an independent publishing company may sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. The key is to know what you’re doing before you get started.
Whether you’re indie or traditional, published or unpublished, or simply considering the indie publishing path, you should understand the benefits of running your own publishing company.
I recently interviewed Jynafer Yanez, who walked us through the process of starting and running an independent publishing company. She’s the co-founder and CEO of Archimedes Books and Wolfpack Entertainment.
She and her husband publish books through their independent company. Their books have sold 1,000,000 copies and have been translated for foreign markets and adapted for graphic novels and film.
How did you start your own independent publishing company Archimedes Books?
Jynafer Yanez: We founded Archimedes Books after being published by a boutique publisher for a season in a series. My husband is the author, and as he continued to write, we began to grow.
We had more titles, responsibilities, income, and costs. After researching and talking with other experts, we knew it was time to create a company that could hold all this responsibility and liability, and from there, we grew into creating a brand.
For a season, it’s been all about Jonathan’s brand. Our brand isn’t about growing name recognition for Archimedes Books. We want readers to know the names of the authors. That way, if any author wanted to move off and do something different, they could carry their credibility and brand with them.
Thomas: The author’s brand matters most. People don’t usually know who published the last book they read.
What are the pros and cons of having a small publisher?
Thomas: You began publishing with a boutique company. The advantage of starting with a small boutique publisher is that you don’t have to learn everything yourself. You can surround yourself with experts who can do the editing, the cover, and the rest of it.
But the downside of working with small publishing houses is that they do not offer any marketing help. What’s more, they hurt your marketing efforts because they don’t give you marketing data.
You’ll be forced to do the marketing yourself, and you’re forced to do it blindly. That means you’ll sell fewer books with a small publishing house than if you had been a fully independent author.
Small publishing companies are simply indie authors who’ve gone through the publishing process many times before. They’re using KDP and all the same tools that you have access to.
There’s nothing special about a small house. They’re not spending thousands of dollars to offset print 50,000 copies of your book, and they don’t have an army of salespeople getting those books into bookstores. They don’t have the funding for that.
Once you realize you can do everything a small publisher does and get the marketing data, there’s a big advantage to going indie.
Jynafer: That’s exactly what we found. Jonathan spent a few months sending out 100 queries. He went to those speed-dating conferences where an author meets an agent or someone from a publishing house. As he began to step into the publishing world, we understood more about it.
I still remember the phone call from the agent who picked up Jonathan’s first series. We were in the tiny kitchen of our first little duplex and were so excited he got picked up by this publisher! We were so grateful. He had quit his other job, cashed in his 401k, and said, “Hell or high water, I’m going to make this author life work.”
That publisher was supportive and communicative. They walked him through the entire process, and the handoffs were very smooth. That experience enabled us to see what the steps were.
My background is in advertising and marketing, which also worked to our advantage. I spent about 15 years at agencies in Orange County, so I understood the mechanics of the thinking process that goes into development, art, design, quality control, and printing.
We were thankful for that first step into publishing with the small publisher, and later on, we gave them another series. But in the meantime, we made sure there was no conflict of interest between our independent publishing company and theirs, and we started to produce our own books.
That contract came at a time when we had no idea about the whole KDP world. We didn’t know about this massive group of independent authors who were making money publishing books. We didn’t know ebooks were such a hot thing. We grew up on paperback books and were still reading paperbacks. The number of people who were reading on ereaders just blew our minds.
We went to a conference, learned so much, made some great friends, and that’s how we launched. We came out of our cave, so to speak, and began fumbling our way through the world of indie publishing.
We made all the mistakes but learned so much that’s allowed us to be where we are.
What were some of the mistakes you made?
Jynafer: First, I designed the book covers!
I’m not even on the creative or design side of marketing. I do strategy planning, spreadsheets, and budgets on the client services side.
But at that time, we didn’t have the overhead to pay a designer, and we didn’t even know where to find a book cover artist.
I did the art for the first series that we launched independently. I fumbled my way through Photoshop, and then I edited the books. I still had a daytime job, so the process was long.
We didn’t know about timing the releases or preorders to establish a cadence and build momentum for the series. We didn’t know about writing to market.
We made all the classic mistakes, but it was great because we made those mistakes early on. Our losses were small, but the lessons we learned were huge. Even with the mistakes, it was absolutely worth it because it reinforced our quest to find the right answers.
It also made us value our investment in hiring a professional editor, getting the beta readers and ARC readers, and finding professional book cover artists and formatters.
Thomas: And failure is not as permanent in the indie publishing world. Are those covers you created still on the books today?
Thomas: That is a key difference between traditional and indie publishing.
I would say 80 to 90% of indie books launch initially with a cover that is not “good” in the sense that you can profitably run ads with the cover. It’s not because the covers are ugly. They’re just not the kind of cover that gets clicked on.
I was talking with a marketing director for a traditional publishing company who explained that he is down to just two weeks per book.
After two weeks of marketing the book, he’s pressured to move on to the next one. If a book doesn’t sell in two weeks, he doesn’t touch it again. You rarely, if ever, see a book cover swapped out for a better cover on a traditionally published book, but it’s very common in the indie world.
If your indie book cover isn’t working, you can put a new cover on there. It’s easier for indies to redo the cover because most indies make most of their money on ebooks, not paperbacks. It’s super easy to change out an ebook cover. As soon as you upload the new cover, every book purchased from that moment on has the new cover.
A traditional publisher would never shred 50,000 paper books with the old cover just to print more with a new cover. That’s not financially feasible.
Jynafer: It’s also easier to relaunch backlist books. Maybe you have an older book that was published before its time, before the genre was hot. Maybe you didn’t launch it in the correct genre category. Whatever the case, it’s easier for indies to relaunch. You can have the cover redesigned, or the book re-edited, and the book can have a whole new life.
Another advantage is that indies can breathe life into their backlists. If the series you launched didn’t do as well as you expected, the adage says, “Nothing sells the last book like the newest book.”
Keep writing because your writing, storytelling, and marketing will only improve.
You’ll have all that data, and you’ll learn what readers liked about your books, stories, or brand.
You don’t have to chase trends once you find people who love your work. You can simply keep writing books they love. Over time, it begins to compound, and you’ll gain more readers.
Thomas: I talked with Chris Fox about his excellent relaunch method in an episode titled How to Relaunch a Book. If you launched an indie book years ago and it didn’t go well, Chris Fox has a method by which you can relaunch it.
A relaunch won’t fix a bad book, but it could fix a bad cover or bad marketing. Or perhaps you just uploaded your book to Amazon, hoping people would find it without realizing you needed to find your readers first.
As a marketing professional, I imagine that was one mistake you were able to avoid?
Jynafer: Publishing a book is not like Field of Dreams, where “If you launch it, they will come.” You have to remember that thousands of books are uploaded to Amazon daily.
People are looking for books, but we must make our books easy for them to find. We love to write and sell books, and we like to have money to live our lives. It was great to know we could do that from wherever we needed to go.
Thomas: If you want to be a professional author running a business, there is a legitimate path to success. You don’t have to be a “starving artist.”
Some authors are independently wealthy or have wealthy spouses. Those authors might publish one book that’s on their heart or mind, and typically they want to hire me to do the marketing after they’ve written the book without ever thinking about the reader. I always turn them down.
If that’s your path, that’s fine! But that’s not the path of professional indie authors who run their own companies for profit long-term. Professional indie authors own for-profit companies. We’re trying to make money.
To make money in a free market, you must create something people freely want. You can’t force them to buy your book. That’s illegal. You must give them what they want, which means their wants matter.
How did you learn to write to market?
Jynafer: The first series Jonathan wrote was a YA new adult urban fantasy. The character was an 18-year-old-male protagonist, and he didn’t jump time in that book. That’s not necessarily what that market wants.
Urban fantasy tends to feature female protagonists, YA age or older, who are living a different lifestyle. So, Jonathan’s book didn’t suit the genre.
Then he wrote a supernatural book of angels and Nephilim with a male protagonist in his early twenties, which put the book in a different category for different readers.
But when Jonathan got into writing sci-fi, things really kicked off. Sci-fi has male readers. As a male writer, Jonathan could get into all the spaceships, space travel, and adventure, so he leaned into that.
He loved to read about superheroes, supernatural things, and combat, so he had a lot of fun writing it. Once we found the sci-fi readers who were more conservative in the content they liked to consume, he found his audience and has been there for a while.
Jonathan also has a bit of humor in his books, which was another lesson we learned. One of his books had more humor than the others, so we marketed it as humorous or comedic, and it didn’t do well. All his existing readers liked it, but we couldn’t get the new readers to come on in.
We learned that the new readers enjoy comedy but are not looking for it. So when our marketing said the book was comedic and funny, it undermined the thrilling adventure and character interactions those readers were looking for within those supernatural worlds.
Thomas: That is partly due to trends. Comedy is not a popular book or film category right now. The only place humor is selling right now is in stand-up.
Stand-up comedy is antagonistic, competitive, and unorthodox, and it works in that context. But people don’t trust that your book is funny because so many so-called comedies promised to be funny and weren’t. As an author, you must build credibility and prove you’re funny.
Your readers know you can deliver on the action. The humor is a sweet bonus that makes them love you all the more, but it’s not what attracts them to you.
Sometimes what you keep people with is not what you attract people with.
Jynafer: I agree with that last sentiment, especially because when I look at the reviews and comments about what readers loved, they say things like, “I was laughing so loud I woke up my fur baby.”
Comedy may not be doing as well in this season because there has been a shift in what’s considered funny. It used to be antagonistic, but many stand-up comedians are learning to tailor their comedy and modify their delivery.
Thomas: I read a fascinating book called The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny. The author was trying to scientifically analyze humor. Their theory is that humor is a benign violation that depends on the context of the audience. Whether or not the humor is benign depends on the audience, and whether it’s a violation also depends on the audience.
One challenge Hollywood faces is that their target audiences are so broad, and the culture is so fractured that there’s no way for humor to be a benign violation for enough of the audience.
Potty humor and Minion-level humor seem to be the only universally benign violations. Minions do great almost everywhere in the world because their childish slapstick humor is universal, and kids are universally funny.
But a benign violation requires a specific audience.
A benign violation for a conservative readership may be too much of a violation for a more progressive readership. Both groups are offended by different things. That’s why stand-up works. Comedians get a sense of who their audience is, and the audience gets to know the comedian.
As an author, you have a smaller target audience and a specific target reader. Testing your jokes on your readers can help you determine if they are funny. But it’s not easy for authors to test their jokes because they’re not on stage watching the audience reaction to see if they find it funny, offensive, benign, or boring.
It’s easy to fail in humor. It’s a very high-risk, high-reward communication strategy.
Jynafer: If readers don’t like it, you will get poor read-through rates on a book or a series.
Kindle Unlimited can give you an indication of how many downloads and page reads you get on a book, so that will often tell you if or when people stopped reading.
The comedy bit was a major lesson in knowing the audience, missing the mark, and trying to recalibrate.
How do you use the read-through rate to make decisions about writing and marketing?
Thomas: Read-through is how many pages of your Kindle ebook a reader has completed. Kindle Unlimited pays authors per page read. Most indie authors make their money from Kindle Unlimited page reads, to the tune of half a billion dollars per year, split between authors according to how many pages readers have finished.
How do you use the read-through rate to make decisions about writing and marketing?
Jynafer: We look at cumulative read-through on a series, which tells us the percentage of readers who read all the way through from book one to book six. We also assign a dollar value to that based on revenue from the book.
After you subtract your delivery fee and Amazon’s percentage, you figure your actual take-home pay on a book. Then you add that to the percentage of readers who go on to read book two. There are formulas to help you figure out your read-through revenue.
I consider that total per-reader revenue as I’m marketing and investing in a series. So the sale of that first book may actually make us $13.38 rather than the $4.99 we sold it for because those book-one readers will go on to buy and read the next books as well.
If a book has a huge reader drop-off somewhere, we know that there was an issue in that book. We’ll read the reviews to see whether we missed a typo or if there was a page missing. Maybe we made a story choice that readers didn’t like. We try to understand better why there was a drop-off in read-through.
We had a series that came out where book one did phenomenally. Book two was fine, but we saw a significant drop-off through the series. We had to ask whether he should continue writing a series that wasn’t selling through. Or would it be better to start a new series or continue another series that already had a great following?
That data helps determine our writing, publishing, and marketing efforts.
Thomas: Many TV showrunners are facing that same decision. Do we end our show now? We still have a big viewership, and we can end the show well with a satisfying conclusion. Or we could try to produce one more season to see if it improves, and if it gets canceled, we don’t have a chance to give viewers a satisfying ending.
Have you ever rewritten a book after realizing it took a direction readers didn’t like?
Thomas: Have you ever rewritten a book after realizing it took a direction readers didn’t like? Or does that data just inform your decisions next time?
Jynafer: Most of the time, it’s just informing us for next time.
We published one series all wrong. We had the wrong genre, wrong launch, wrong page count, and all the wrong.
Jonathan rewrote it and told it from multiple perspectives rather than just a 14-year-old kid’s viewpoint. He brought in more of the female element. Her story was there, but he enhanced it and included more of the steampunk element.
That allowed us to change the genre and the page count. That is the one time we’ve done that. Everything else has just informed future decisions.
Thomas: Did the rewrite work?
Jynafer: Yes, it did. Every time we’ve done a new cover, changed a blurb, improved the book description, or changed how we’re marketing our books, the books have done better. Those are the decisions that are affected by the information.
We’ve also republished books under a new ASIN on Amazon a few times to feed the algorithm with new data.
Thomas: Your husband, Jonathan Yanez, is writing books quickly. He’s following what we would call a rapid-release strategy.
Releasing books at a regular cadence is important because readers need to know you’ll finish what you start, especially in fantasy and sci-fi.
How do you maintain your book release cadence?
Jynafer: We used to do rapid release where we’d have the first three books written and ready to release every two weeks or every month. Jonathan used to write and release 12 books per year.
We had to have everything ready to go and then dive into that next book because when one book would launch, the next book had to go on preorder, and you had to commit to the dates.
Amazon penalizes you if you miss uploading your book by the preorder date.
Everything had to be rigorous, but it was also taxing. Folks can only sustain that pace for a limited time.
Since we’ve grown, we now have a backlist and a large, committed base of readers.
Because of that growth, we’ve slowed the cadence to six books per year. Our goal is to get to four and then two per year. We’re committed, and the reader trusts us to deliver even if the time between releases increases because we have a history of showing up and delivering.
Jonathan is also very transparent, active, and present within his reader groups on social media.
He posts a monthly video telling people where he is in the writing process and what’s coming up next. I used to think that was boring, but he said, “That’s what they’re here for. They came here for the books. They want to know what’s going on.”
It wasn’t until I saw readers asking whether his book would get finished that I realized how important it was. Readers would say, “I’m not going to preorder because who knows if this author is even going to deliver.”
That is so outside the realm of where my mind goes on how to run a business that it was hard for me to fathom.
But I try to remember that I’m working with aspiring authors. They didn’t go to business school or come from the corporate world. They didn’t come from that type of small business where they had to live, learn, and die by their quality and professionalism. They just had fun stories to tell.
They’re jumping into this as storytellers, but they become author-preneurs. The jolt of realizing all that’s required to run an author business can kick a lot of bums.
Thomas: And that’s why readers are so cautious and want updates. They’ve been burned so many times by writers like Rothfuss and Martin, who didn’t finish the series.
Many indie authors have also overpromised. They start with gusto, and then life gets in the way. Somebody gets sick, or the writing is harder than they anticipated. They first miss their deadline by a little and then by a lot. Readers become afraid that the author won’t finish the story, and they regret starting it.
A monthly video update about what you’re writing and what’s upcoming is a Thomas-approved use of social media! You can record one video, post it on YouTube and Facebook, and use the audio as a podcast. That’s not a big-time commitment.
It’s spending hours in Facebook groups every week talking with authors about writing that keeps authors from actually writing their books.
How do you write 12 books a year per year?
It’s very doable. Check out the following episodes:
- How to Write Faster and Better with Chris Fox
- How to Write 5000 Words an Hour with Chris Fox
- The Tortoise Release Method: Why Slow and Steady Beats Rapid Release
The Tortoise Release Method prescribes a one-book-per-year cadence, and I received a lot of pushback from people who thought that was too fast. But many authors would be massively slowing down if they only wrote one book per year.
Many authors write and release a book every month and make good money. But you don’t have to do it that way.
The Tortoise Release Method of releasing exactly one book per year on the same date every year is a valid strategy. But no matter how many books you launch in a year, you must stick to your promised cadence.
Deliver on your promises. You’re a business now, and if you don’t deliver on your promises, if you lie to customers about when your next book will come out, their trust in you will be broken, and trust can’t be rebuilt easily.
Jynafer: Jonathan used to be a personal trainer. He used to tell his clients, “You don’t have to go at my speed. You go at your speed.”
Go at your own speed, one step at a time, and keep going. It’s the only way you’ll get there.
How do you stay on schedule?
Jynafer: A good production schedule will help you maintain your cadence. If you want to release your book on February 14th, work backward to the date you need to upload it. Determine when your book needs to go to beta readers and when you need to have it back from the editor. Based on that, how many words per day or week do you need to write to hit that deadline?
Thomas: That’s how you run a business. If you work at a job, your boss typically makes those plans. Now that you’re the boss and running your publishing company, you must make the plan and do the work.
If you’re running behind because life happens, you can update your readers with your monthly video. They’ll give you some grace, especially the first time it happens. You can explain, “My mom got sick and has moved in with us, so I’m running behind on this book. I’ve moved the release date back a few months, but I’m hoping to release it on this new date.”
Jynafer: Jonathan makes my job as his publisher easy. His discipline is sickening. He gets up at 5:00 a.m. and writes 4,000 words six days a week. Even on holidays and vacations, he’s up early, getting his words in.
He also does not get car sick. If we’re traveling to see family, he can write in the car if we’re not too loud. It’s always so impressive to me. But he didn’t start that way. He had to find his own rhythm. He also read Chris Fox’s book about writing 5,000 words per hour and how to get into that flow state so he can execute on that regularly.
Thomas: If you need a writing boost, get Chris’s book. Even if it helps you write 1,000 words per hour, I’m guessing that’s more than you’re writing now. Check out my interview with him, How to Write 5,000 Words Per Hour.
Connect with Jynafer and Jonathan Yanez or see their work at the following links:
- Website: Jonathan-Yanez.com
- Publishing Company: Archimedes Books
- Film Company: Wolfpack Entertainment
- Current Film: Forsaken Mercenary
- Short Film: Infinity System—Full Pilot Episode
Want to learn more about running your own independent publishing company?
I talked with Jennifer Yanez for over an hour, and instead of cutting that interview to accommodate the shorter podcast format our survey respondents requested, I’ve posted the extended edition of our entire interview to Patreon. In the 60-minute version of this episode, we discuss book covers designers, publishing company names, logos, LLCs, S Corps, and the nitty gritty details of indie publishing.
Novel Marketing Patrons get the extended edition of this episode in addition to the monthly Q&A episode and exclusive discounts on my courses like the Tax & Business Guide for Authors.
You can become a Novel Marketing Patron here.
Jenny Fratzke, who is writing a non-stop, action-oriented Christian Suspense about friendship and forgiveness in Montana. You can find her at jennyfratzke.com