Do-It-ALL-Yourself Indie Publishing

by Tosh McIntosh

What follows is the text of my talk on “How to Publish Your Own Novel,” presented to the second meeting of the Lake Travis Fiction Writers on November 17, 2012.


Good afternoon, and thank you for inviting us to attend the second meeting of the Lake Travis Fiction Writers.

I think it’s generally accepted that four of the most outspoken proponents of indie publishing are authors J.A. Konrath, Barry Eisler, Dean Wesley Smith, and Kris Rusch. Together they have blogged more words on the topic than anyone can count, and Smith’s extensive series of posts titled “Think Like a Publisher” encapsulates the core philosophy that any author must embrace when deciding to go indie.

With that said, I’m not here this afternoon as an advocate of indie publishing with an agenda of trying to convince anyone to choose this path to fame and fortune as an author. My role among the four Austin Indie Writer presenters here today is only to provide an overview of what Pat termed the “total independent” approach, which I will paraphrase as “Do-It-ALL-Yourself Indie Publishing.”


For those of you in the audience who might not appreciate the significance of the term “backstory” as applied to writing fiction, my short definition is anything that happened of significance to the story prior to page one. How best to insert backstory into current story time is an essential skill that writers need to master.

In April of 2011 I had three full manuscripts and one partial in the hands of literary agents. And while that was an exciting time in my lengthy and ongoing writer’s journey, I had enough prior experience with the submission process to realize that getting an agent and a contract with a legacy publisher remained a long shot.

At the urging of a fellow writer who is here this afternoon, and who at the time had already blazed a trail in the wilderness of indie publishing, I decided to prepare for the most likely outcome of my submission efforts by investigating what it would take to follow her lead.

In retrospect I’m glad I did. Although I still had one full manuscript under consideration by an agent who asked for more time, after three months of active submitting I had run out of patience. This wasn’t my first rodeo, and all the signposts clearly pointed to an industry operating under a caution flag. Securing an agent’s representation and being offered a publishing contract by one of the Big 6 publishers had become even more elusive than ever before.

What follows is a highly condensed description of why and how I indie-published my debut novel as a trade paperback edition and two eBooks, one for the Kindle and one for all the other eReaders, to be sold on a number of outlets, including Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords.


The answer to this question has four parts:

  1. The cost of hiring someone to accomplish each of the steps necessary to indie-publish a novel can represent a significant amount of venture capital expense.
  2. I had no intention of going deep in the red before I’d sold the first book and end up paying for the privilege of being an indie author if the income from sales didn’t cover the initial investment.
  3. I had the time available to invest sweat-equity hours teaching myself how to accomplish each of the tasks required to produce the books.
  4. And last, due to genetic propensity, upbringing, and/or 43 years of flying jet aircraft, I’m attentive to small details and invigorated by the challenge of learning new skills.


Like most writers, I use Microsoft Word to create my draft manuscripts and format them according to the commonly accepted guidelines in terms of fonts, indents, line spacing, margins, etc. But even the most impeccably formatted draft manuscript has two major problems that must be solved by the indie author.

  1. The format for a submission to an agent has no relationship to how a book should appear.
  2. Any Word document that has been revised enough to reach the point of being acceptable as the final draft of a novel is cluttered with what can best be described as potential “troublemakers,” consisting of tabs, extra spaces, multiple hard returns, etc. (Note my emphasis on the operative word, which refers to the fact that the troublemakers cause problems not with the Word document, necessarily, but with conversion from Word to eBook format. They can result in extra spaces, empty lines, blank pages, and other unsightly glitches.)

After all three editing chores were complete, which included content/developmental (story issues), line and copy editing and proofreading (dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s), here are the production steps I used:

  1. Scrub the manuscript to remove all troublemakers with a series of Find/Replace actions.
  2. Apply the formatting for an eBook, which in comparison to a print book contains fewer text embellishments in terms of font types and sizes, drop caps for chapter starts, etc. This became my source manuscript from which all else flowed.
  3. Convert this manuscript to both eBook digital formats .mobi and .epub, which required learning how to use two free applications I downloaded from the Internet.
  4. Using a copy of that manuscript, I added the text and formatting embellishments I wanted to appear in the paperback version.
  5. Although not absolutely necessary, I imported this Word manuscript into an application called Adobe InDesign to create the final print interior layout. Note: Word’s built-in .pdf converter  has a reputation for being “glitchy.” After a series of frustrating attempts to use it, I gave up and purchased a half-price version of InDesign, knowing that it was a one-time expense that could be spread out over multiple books.
  6. Design a cover for the eBook. I already had Photoshop Elements (the amateur version of the application) that came bundled with a scanner, so I opened it up for the first time and got to work, consisting of a little trial and a whole lot of error.
  7. Designed the wraparound cover for the paperback by adding a spine and back cover to the eBook cover.
  8. Uploaded the eBook interior and cover files to each sales outlet.
  9. Uploaded the paperback interior and cover files to a print-on-demand service for sales and distribution.


This is a multi-part question because each of the presenters here this afternoon has taken a different path to becoming an indie author, and your personal answer needs to consider the following:

  1. Does your completed novel represent your very best effort at this point in your writer’s journey?
  2. Do you believe that it’s worthy of someone’s hard-earned money and commitment of time to read it?
  3. If your answer to both questions is “Yes,” are you well informed about the ongoing turmoil in the world of publishing and the crucial pro-and-con comparison between the new indie option and the traditional, legacy route through a literary agent to one of the Big 6 publishers?
  4. If your answer is “Yes,” you have a choice to make: Do you want to explore the legacy route first? For writers who have never before submitted their work to agents, a strong case can be made in favor of this tactic to see what happens.
  5. From my perspective, however, for many reasons beyond the scope of my presentation here this afternoon, the direct-to-indie option needs careful consideration by any first-time author.


I predict that very few of you, if any, who choose to go indie will travel the do-it-ALL-yourself path as I’ve described it. You’ll more likely pay someone to assist with some or all of the production tasks. With that said, let me offer the following bit of advice.

No matter which path you choose, make up your own mind. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it yourself. Or that if you do, the results will be non-professional and have a negative effect on the ability of your book to attract readers.

My advice, however, comes with a caveat, like the notices that appear in virtually every automobile commercial on TV. You know the one: Professional drivers on a closed course. Do not attempt.

In this case, it reads: Do not attempt to do it all yourself while enveloped in the cocoon of your writing desk.

From the very beginning of the effort to indie publish my debut novel, I asked for help from my fellow writers with specific expertise. I visited forums and asked questions at every step of the way, so that I can now scrub a Word manuscript and convert it into both eBook formats in a few hours, assist with covers, and help design the interiors of print books. In other words, I’ve got production skills to offer in exchange for expertise I don’t have.

And although it may not sound like it, this isn’t about what I or my fellow writers can do. It’s about what you can do.

If the seed of Lake Travis Fiction Writers in this room ultimately takes root and grows into a viable group, you have a source rich in individual talent with the potential for creating a collaborative community of writers helping writers.

Maybe there’s a graphic designer sitting near you; or an eagle-eye proofreader; or an expert in using Word who can teach you how to use styles to format your manuscript correctly and avoid the troublemakers; or even that rarest of individuals, one who knows exactly where to put those pesky commas and where not to use them.

From my perspective, this has been the most rewarding part of the indie experience: mutual, collaborative exploration of the craft, dedication to improving our skill as writers, and assisting each other to think like a publisher.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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