Thursday, August 09, 2018

Path to Success: Writer as Entrepreneur

By Ray Flynt

(Part of the Indie Author Series)

If you’re reading this Indie Author Series, you’ve probably already made the decision to become an “indie author.” Congratulations!

Or maybe you’re just beginning your journey in the world of publishing and trying to learn more. Good for you. Knowledge increases your chances for success.

I’ve signed on to contribute a monthly column on the business of writing, but I’d like to spark conversations, prompt questions, compel debate, and explore alternative ideas through your comments.

Chime in. Sound off. We’ll learn together.

I promise not to bite.

Like a movie director establishing that a story set on a remote island, in the middle of a desert, or in a different part of the galaxy, for this first column I’d like to pull back and look at the big picture.As an indie author, you’ve chosen to be an entrepreneur.
noun en·tre·pre·neur \ ˌäⁿn-trə-p(r)ə-ˈnər , -ˈn(y)u̇r \
: one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise
The most common synonym is “businessperson.” When we think of an entrepreneur, perhaps Oprah or Mark Zuckerberg come to mind. For indie authors, the owner of Dottie’s Deli might be a more apt comparison.

Like you, Dottie had a number of decisions to make before opening her deli. She picked her product line the same way you decided the kind of books you want to write. She established a signature dish designed to generate thumbs-up from reviewers and attract diners from miles around. Let’s imagine it is fried chicken with potato salad. Mmmm!

Step 1: Put your best foot forward.

What you write is your signature dish. It’s how you want readers to think about your work. Naturally, you’ll want to put your best foot forward. It is Step No. 1 in becoming an author. Your goal? This phrase I’ve heard at writers’ conferences: “A good story, exceptionally well-written.”

This first step is as true for a traditionally published author as it is for the indie author. Getting there, however, is where differences emerge. A major publisher has a staff to edit a manuscript, check grammar and spelling, clear permissions if other author’s quotes or lyrics are used in the manuscript, come up with the final title (even if it wasn’t the author’s first choice), format the pages (font selection, size, chapter mastheads, etc.), develop the cover art, and compose text for the back cover. Indie authors must manage all those tasks.

Dottie must decide if she will serve fried chicken and potato salad on white dishes placed on red-and-white-checkered tablecloths or paper plates on rough-hewn picnic tables. Those creative choices have the power to enhance or detract from potential customers.

Step 2: Package the product. 

We’ll delve into these at greater length in future columns, but while there are lots of cost-effective tools for helping with each of the aspects of Step 2, a large part of being a successful entrepreneur is knowing when and the degree to which you need expert advice.

Step 3: Choose your purchase platforms.

On a recent flight, I bet you heard a flight attendant say, “We know you have choices when you fly, and we’re glad you chose _______ airline.” You have similar choices about the platforms where your book can be purchased.

Do you want to put all of your eggs in the Amazon/Kindle basket? Or would you prefer making your book available at a wider variety of locations (Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.)? The fact that you’ve chosen not to go the traditional publication route will affect your book’s availability in traditional bookstores. But you might be able to make inroads in bookstores near where you live and with independent bookstores.

What about audio books? Good question. It’s another way of getting your story out there and expanding the numbers of people familiar with your work.

Before discussing the next step, let’s talk money. Indie authors must be prepared to invest in their product if they expect a return. Much of the early investment is in sweat equity—the amount of time and effort you put into your writing. In reality, you can have an “indie published” book online for little cost.

But at some point, you should be prepared to spend money to make money. The average small business owner is happy to stay afloat, draw a salary, employ others, keep timely on rent, tend to maintenance, and hope that at the end of the year profits overcomes losses. At a recent writers’ conference, I had a conversation with a fellow writer who, based on all appearances, is successful. She remarked, “I’d at least like to make back what I’m spending on these books.” Good point!

When I first finished a novel and the glimmer formed in my eye that I might one day be published, I remember being cautioned (in how-to books and gatherings with other writers) against using a “vanity press.” We were warned that they would gladly take thousands of dollars and send you cartons of books that you could distribute to friends and family.

With the advent of indie publishing, having a finished “book” in hand is even easier. Unless you take the next logical steps to ensure sales of your books, financially you aren’t much further ahead of those who once used vanity presses.

Step 4: Marketing. 

I’m sure we’ll devote future columns to various aspects of marketing. What works and what doesn’t? I’m counting on your questions and comments to guide this discussion. If you’ve tried a technique that worked for you, I’d like to hear about it. While no one likes to publicly admit mistakes, if you’d like to share a story of a marketing disaster (privately via email), I promise not to name names.

Step 5: Building your brand. 

If you’re throwing up your hands proclaiming that you aren’t ready to go that far, let me suggest that writing that second or third book represents the beginning steps in building your brand.

As I wrap up this “big picture” view, take a look at the following chart. I’d like to suggest that the differences between being an indie author versus traditionally published are found in Steps 2 and 3. Unless a publisher has invested heavily in a novel (meaning a huge advance), even a traditionally published author will likely need to tend to Step 4.

Let’s hear from all you entrepreneurs. Share your take on this subject. Feel free to quibble with me. (I ate a good breakfast, so I’m ready for arguments).

In the meantime, I see that another synonym for entrepreneur is “mogul.” Hmmm. Maybe I’ll become the Mystery Mogul.

P.S. Thanks to David Ryan, author of DEAD ODDS, for his contributions.

Ray Flynt authors two series: Brad Frame mysteries, and one featuring journalist Ryan Caldwell. He’s also written a political suspense, KISSES OF AN ENEMY. A native of Pennsylvania, Ray wrote and performs a one-man play based on the life of Ben Franklin. Ray is a member of Mystery Writers of America and active with their Florida Chapter. He is a life member of the Florida Writers Association. Ray retired from a diverse career in criminal justice, education, the arts, and human services.

Website | Goodreads |

About Unforgiving Shadows

Brad Frame lived a serene but aimless existence on Philadelphia’s Main Line until his mother and sister were kidnapped and murdered.

The tragedy transformed his life.

After helping the police catch their killers, and with the aid of his mentor, Philadelphia Detective Nick Argostino, Brad opened his own private detective agency vowing to help bring justice to others whose lives had been turned upside down.

Eleven years later, Brad is invited to the execution by lethal injection of Frank Wilkie, one of two men responsible for the death of his mother and sister.

Thinking that Wilkie might have something to say, Brad reluctantly attends. Wilkie remains silent, but as Brad exits the prison the chaplain races after him, thrusting the condemned man’s Bible into his hands.

Within hours another man is anxious to get his hands on Wilkie’s Bible, and Brad suspects the motivation could involve the still-missing ransom money.

But as the reason becomes clear, Brad’s world is once again turned upside down. Aided by his associate, Sharon Porter, Brad unravels an eleven-year-old mystery that casts new suspicion on family, neighbors and business associates alike.

UNFORGIVING SHADOWS is the first book in the successful Brad Frame Mystery Series.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble |Indie Bound |  


  1. On marketing: a good warning from something one of my favorite authors is doing currently. In previous years, when he was building his base, he wrote frequent (once or twice a month, let's say) blog entries about writing, about his craft, about how he does his research, etc. It made him an absolutely fascinating person to follow, on top of being an excellent author. He regularly responded to comments. I got on his newsletter list and was always excited to see the emails show up in my inbox.

    However, these days his blog posts are about nothing but book sales, upcoming releases, etc. No more interesting information or tidbits from his world. He built his brand and then lost track of what worked.

    If you are going to put yourself out there like that- don't stop once you become successful!

  2. Good post, Ray. The key beyond a good book is the marketing. It’s a merry-go-round that never stops.

    1. Thanks Nancy! Love the "merry-go-round that never stops" analogy.