So You’ve Decided to Become an Indie Author…

You’re one of those people with a vivid imagination and a way with words. Your friends all tell you you are smart or deep or articulate or funny or witty or creative. You spin stories and people love those stories. They have been telling you for years you should write a book, because they would definitely buy that book.

Maybe you have characters in your head whose stories are demanding to be told, who will not leave you alone until you sit down at a computer and let it flow. Maybe these characters in your head talk to you, and you talk back to them, and the medication doesn’t seem to be helping at all.

So, you’ve decided to become an indie author. Wise choice. Now you’re thinking about:

  • Fame
  • Wealth
  • Critical Acclaim

These are just three of the things that won’t be happening anytime soon. But don’t worry, all is not lost. I’m here with some helpful tips on how to survive on an indie author income of tens of dollars a year. You won’t have to do this for long, of course, because your big break is right around the corner. I can feel it. But, until then, this may be a big adjustment if you’re used to having things like spending money and electricity. Here are 7 suggestions that will help ease the transition:

Hey, is that Konrath on my corner?

1. Look for opportunities to supplement your income

Be aware that it may take a while for those royalty checks to start rolling in. Outfits like Amazon seem to have an aversion to pay-as-you-go. They like to hang on to your money for you – because you know us writer-types. Financially irresponsible. Better for them to manage it for us, right? So don’t expect a check after your first sale, and no matter how many times you e-mail them from the public library, they will not cut you a check for thirty-eight cents. So you have to keep your eyes peeled for opportunities to make a buck till those big fat royalties start rolling in.

For instance, I like to do speaking gigs at Universities. I hang out in the parking lot and when the students and faculty are passing by, I speak to them. “Hey man, could you spare some change?”

2. Be prepared to vary your diet

An author must have a rich and varied diet to keep up the strength needed for writing and also to maintain consciousness. Some of the foods to which you’ve become accustomed (like the kind one buys at grocery stores) may not really be in reach anymore. Don’t let that sort of thing concern you though. There is plenty of nutrition in non-traditional foods. Like my pappy always used to say, “Meat is meat.”

Dressed for success!

3. Dress the part of an indie author

The way you present yourself is critical to your image as an author. Let’s face it, the tweed jackets with the leather patches on the elbows are so last year. No need to go blowing a lot of money at Goodwill for a wardrobe, when you can simply keep an eye on the coat rack at your local Chili’s, and avail yourself of your choice of the fine garments “abandoned” there. You can shop wise and still look stylish on an indie author’s income. To be fair, women have a little more flexibility here, but for gentlemen, hat and coat are still a necessity. Remember, to the public, you are your book.

4. Protect your legal rights to your work

Remember, your books are your work product and the source of your future fabulous wealth. The two big issues that plague indie authors are plagiarism and piracy. Plagiarism is when somebody copies your work and passes it off as their own. The law in this area is complicated, but I can tell you this: it means nothing to a court that some other author used exactly the same consonants and vowels in his supposed original work as you happened to use in yours. They only see that the genres, stories, characters, plot lines and word counts are completely different and look at you like you’re the crazy one. Well, live and learn, I guess.

Sadly, very little can be done to address the other major issue of piracy. There is the off-chance that pirates may happen upon your book and start making illegal reproductions of it while you are not making one thin dime. Unfortunately, about the most you can do in this situation is to console yourself with the notion that maybe your book really sucks and the pirates won’t make any money from it either.

My new bookmarks

5. Think proactively about the costs of merchandising your books

One of the things that baffles me is the time and energy authors put into coming up with original titles for their books. Why? You can’t copyright a title. The other thing is that most titles stink on ice anyway. They don’t tell you anything about the book. Moby Dick. What’s that about? Sounds dirty.

Here is the problem: people love free stuff. You want them wearing and drinking out of and bathing in stuff that carries your book’s title, helping spread the word about your outstanding writing. You want the buzz, but who’s got the kind of money to have all that crap made? Why not consider riding on the coattails of an already established brand? Perhaps you’ve seen people wearing tee-shirts emblazoned with the title of my last book, “I’m With Stupid.” My next book, “Starbucks” will have pre-made bookmarks. I have a really good feeling about that one.

6. Keep writing – build your back-list

It is important to put out multiple titles. There are two reasons for this. First, consumers evidently don’t want to take a chance on an author with a single title. People think, “One title? What if I really like it, but the author doesn’t write any more? Then I’ll be screwed, like with J.D. Salinger. Forget that!”

Second, you’ll probably be netting around ten bucks per title when all is said and done, so you are gonna need to crank those babies out to make any money. For instance, I have published over 100 titles. Some of these are just old grocery lists, mattress tags I ripped off, K.S. Brooks’ diary, and the owner’s manual for my old Sega game system. Oddly, my shortest title was also my best seller—Laurie Boris’ home number scrawled down on a cocktail napkin. The point is to think quantity. You think Hemingway sat around crapping out pearls all day long? Think of some of his lesser-known titles, A Hello to Arms, The Sun Also Sets, For Whom the Cowbell Tolls, The Old Man and the C-Cup. Maybe not his finest efforts, but they paved the way for better efforts later on.


7. Keep honing your craft

You need to keep adding to your skill-set. Find someplace on the internet where you can go to get lots of valuable advice about writing, someplace that will help you build your social media footprint, provide helpful tutorials, maybe even a place that has flash fiction contests to help build those writing muscles. Someplace like Indies Unlimited. Except there is no place like Indies Unlimited, so you should just come here. You should also buy a mug or a mouse-pad or something.

Anyway, the point is that if you are willing to make the sacrifices, you will do fine as an indie author. Sure, it may seem like a hard bleak seemingly pointless frustrating and lonely existence, but with enough talent and effort and Indies Unlimited Gear, you’ll soon be rolling around on a big pile of cash like Scrooge McDuck. Maybe not real soon. No need to hurry to the mailbox. Just sayin’.

*     *     *     *     *

Stephen Hise is an author and the Founder and Evil Mastermind of Indies Unlimited. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and his website:


Author: Stephen Hise

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind and founder of Indies Unlimited. Hise is an independent author and an avid supporter of the indie author movement. Learn more about Stephen at his website or his Amazon author page.

51 thoughts on “So You’ve Decided to Become an Indie Author…”

  1. LMAO! 100% True! I always tell new Indie authors that you're going to starve for a while–a LONG while! But keep at it and you too can have royalties checks rolling every month for $50. Yup, doesn't get any better than that. LOL!

      1. Well, I've only been at it for 2 years, so I'm still trying to make a name for myself. Better than the $3/mo I was getting. 🙂 Yes, laptop is getting tired.

  2. Great, absolutely hilarious Mr Hise. You've got being an Indie Writer down to a tee. Damn, it was so funny I almost bought a T-Shirt 🙂

    1. What? It's not 867-5309 anymore??? Took me forever to remember that number. I had to make up a little song to help me remember. I forget how it goes now…

    1. You are way too kind Linda. What kind, I'd hate to say. Go ahead and treat yourself to a tee-shirt. It'll be Ed McNally's treat. Just pick up a copy of my newest book, "Ed McNally's Credit Card Numbers."

  3. Absolutely High-sterical Mr. Hise – but what's with all this reality and telling it like it is? I'm a writer and I want to be an author. I think it's much better for me to live in my imagination.

    Now, come sit with me on the lanai, enjoy the beachfront view, have a tropical inspired drink and let me tell you about how I intend to set up off-shore bank accounts with the $profits from my first novel.

  4. I needed a good chuckle today–thanks for this!

    ps: is that you on the floor under the pile of books? I hope you got paid well for that modeling schtick.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Elle. No, that's not me under the books. I offered to pose, but they wanted to go with someone who might not frighten children. 😉

  5. The thin line between making an income off of writing and sticking with your passion is a wobbly force. Most writers have the romantic idea of just writing all the time – no promotion – now investment in their sales – just produce beautiful words. Well that ship has sailed for the small percentage of writers that was able to enjoy it. Now it's time to get your hustle on, be realistic and understand that if you want writing and to have a published book means helping it grow and selling it.

    1. Exactly what it is that does sell any individual author's books needs close examination. Ask any single successful author, and many can't – or won't – answer the question.

      Exactly what it is that sells anything needs study.

      Ask yourself what prompted your ten most recent book purchases, and your ten most recent impulse purchases of other items.

      Be really honest. The results will dismay you.

  6. Is that phone number for Laurie Borealis & will it bring in royalties or just royal pains? Wait… This was written by Stephen Hise-terical, say I! About food, you know if you acrue enough roylaties to buy an egg, if you add it to your mud pie it will make it more appealing by making it shiny. Never mind. The closest I'll ever come to the wit & talent of Stephen (what's-his-name Hise)is that the spelling of our names is similar. You rock, S.H.!

  7. Top post Stephen- I got enough money out of Amazon to treat the family to a meal out (no drinks of course). I too supplement my income by hiring myself out…oh, you meant as as a speaker!

  8. Thank you so much for the laugh for this Sunday morning. Got the tee shirt, can’t wait to wear it next weekend at my writers retreat.

  9. I can laugh about it now, but last week when the electric company truck was parked in my driveway, it wasn't so funny. After lots of tears and begging, I was able to keep the lights on for another month. I came in and checked my sales – another book sold. That another 85¢ in my pocket. Woo Hoo! I'm so excited!

    Honestly, I really am!

    1. I know that drill all too well, Pam. The smart play is to have a partner who can siphon gas out of the electric company truck while you distract them with begging and pleading and possibly some cleavage.

      That way, you get a little something out of the visit and even if they end up shutting off the power, you'll have enough gas to make it to a relative's house.

      1. Good idea. I'll keep it in mind for the next time, and the way things are going, there will be a next time. Until then, thanks for making me laugh.

  10. just keeps getting better and better. Haven't written a single solitary word of The Book yet but after this post I feel as if I could write an encyclopedia before lunch! And we all know /they/ sell 😉

    Thank you. Now that I've discovered where the funnies come from I'll be back.

  11. I didn't find this post until Monday morning; but, hey! Who doesn't need a laugh on Mondays? (even in retirement, there's still a twinge). Thanks, Stephen, for your slant on the starving writer! Taking it to heart!

Comments are closed.