Thursday, January 03, 2019

5 Tips for Success from an Indie Author

By Shaz Kahng

Part of the Indie Authors Series

JH: Writers have multiple options for publishing, and going indie is a viable path many authors choose. Please help me welcome Shaz Kahng to the lecture hall today, to share her tips on successfully self publishing. 

Shaz Kahng writes from her own experience, having led teams in a few male-dominated industries. She is a retail/apparel chief executive who has previously worked as a research scientist, a global consulting partner, a builder of e-businesses, and a brand strategist. Shaz was one of a handful of female senior executives at Nike. She was also the chief executive of Lucy Activewear and worked with her team to make the company profitable for the first time in history. She graduated from Cornell University and has an MBA from the Wharton School. Shaz lives in San Francisco with her husband and twin daughters.

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Take it away Shaz...

Did you know that out of 325 million people in the US, over 80% have wanted to write a book at some point — but only about 0.005% have managed to actually do it?

This trivia comes to you courtesy of Bestseller, the podcast that follows indie authors on their self-publishing journeys, providing information and insight for readers and aspiring authors alike. My name is Shaz Kahng, and I’m honored to be the subject of Bestseller’s very first season—which is all about how I wrote and self-published my debut novel, The Closer.

That’s right: I am part of the elusive 0.005%. And having gone through the self-publishing process myself, I can only hope to help other writers do the same! I’m here today to share with you five key tips for self-publishing success, from someone who knows exactly how the process works. Without further ado, let’s get started.

Tip #1: Don’t compromise on your vision

Before becoming a self-published author, I worked as a senior executive at Nike and became the CEO of Lucy Activewear. When I started thinking about writing a novel, I knew I wanted to base it on my own experience in the sports industry, striving for success and respect from my (predominantly male) peers. More importantly, I wanted to present a fresh take on women in business and offer a protagonist who was smart, strong, and able to solve problems creatively. I also wanted the tone to be positive, inspirational, and about women helping women.

From this came the story of Vivien Lee, the protagonist of The Closer. Vivien is a female executive who gets the chance to become CEO of a company called Smart Sports. She’s highly driven and focused on advancing her career, yet also down-to-earth and likable. In other words, she’s a rare breed of female character, one that I wanted to spotlight in order to empower other women.

However, not everyone understood the importance of this vision. My first editor recommended changes that would have diminished the story’s fundamental message— she later admitted that she “didn’t like books about strong women.” Later, as I was considering going the traditional publishing route, various agents asked me to rewrite the book as a romance; to make Vivien more girly and “obsessed with shoes”; and even to change the character to be a man instead.

Needless to say, any of those changes would have severely compromised my vision. Luckily, I was determined to write the story of a successful female executive, no matter what editors or agents said. I knew that there would be an enthusiastic readership and substantial market for my book, even if I had to publish it myself… which, of course, is exactly what I ended up doing.

Tip #2: Collaborate constructively

All that said, you’re not going to get very far—even as a highly independent self-publishing author—if you can’t collaborate with your trusted professionals. The key word here is “trusted”: as I learned the hard way, not everyone you work with is going to care about your literary mission. But once you find the right people, you have to make the effort to work with them rather than against them.

My second editor and I were much more compatible. We didn’t always agree, but we had an extremely communicative and constructive working relationship. She knew I’d remain open to suggestions as long as they didn’t change the spirit of the story, and I did end up revising quite a bit on her advice. I shortened my first chapter, compressed my story’s timeline, and ultimately deleted about 300 pages from my original 800-page draft.

Most of us writers already know how hard it is to accept feedback— and especially to make big cuts—when you have a strong vision for your project. But I knew that in order to produce the best possible version of my novel, I needed to listen to my editor. As a first-time author, I was also appreciative of all the coaching my editor provided on the craft of writing.

The same proved true when it was time to design my cover. The final cover design for The Closer didn’t look the way I thought it would, but instead turned out even better than I imagined—all thanks the innovations of my fantastic designer, Mark Thomas.

The lesson here? Once you’ve found good collaborators, make the effort to actually collaborate. Stick to the essence of your vision, but keep an open mind when it comes to the details, and really work together for optimal results.

Tip #3: Sweat the details

Speaking of details, there are tons of administrative duties involved in self-publishing that most people never even consider. As an executive, I was already accustomed to doing certain kinds of admin myself, but that doesn’t mean it was a walk in the park.

Here are just a few bits of admin that self-publishing authors have to perform:
  • Upload your edited manuscript to a formatting tool, like the one on KDP or the Reedsy book editor (which allows you to convert easily to EPUB, mobi, or print files)
  • Create your own publishing imprint and register with the government as DBA (doing business as)
  • Order proofs—I’d recommend hard copies rather than just digital, so you can really see how your book comes together physically
  • File a copyright for your book and send copies to the Library of Congress
  • Get an ISBN number (which are cheaper to buy in bulk—I used Bowker to do this)
It’s easy to become overwhelmed during this process, so make sure you’re well-organized before you begin. Create a list of all the tasks you need to accomplish before you can publish your book and research how to conduct them as efficiently as possible. Have a checklist of to-do items and a timeline. Most of these things can be done online, so definitely take advantage of that accessibility.

Tip #4: Do your own market research

If you’re a self-publishing author, you’ll probably want to hire a professional to help you market your book… but you shouldn’t just hand them the reins and be done with it. After all, the point of self-publishing is to stay involved throughout the process. So don’t shy away from any part of it, even those that seem intimidating.

Marketing was already part of my executive background, so I had a bit of a leg up. I understood the importance of having a cover that stood out from competitive fiction books, which led me to look at recent cover trends in similar books before designing my own. Then, after Mark and I had created a few samples, I tested them out on friends and family before selecting the final design. Basically, I took matters into my own hands to ensure I’d have the most reader-enticing, marketable novel possible.

You too should have strong ideas about how your book should look and to whom it should be marketed. With the help of your marketing professional, think up a “proto-persona” for your typical reader—for example, the proto-persona for a reader of The Closer might be a young career-oriented woman. By generating this concept, you’ll be able to create a more specific campaign to appeal to your ideal audience. The great thing about this process is that you are in control of the decisions and how all aspects of your book are executed.

Tip #5: Narrow your focus to maximize publicity

I knew I was in a unique position to reach out in a very personal manner to my target audience—namely women and people interested in executive life and/or the sports industry. However, in order for my story to reach them, I had to select my publicity vehicles very carefully.

In the end, I did tons of interviews with outlets that were already catering to members of my target audience— e.g. publications like BOSS Magazine, Her Magazine, and Women’s Running. Narrowing down your outreach is one of the best pieces of advice I can give any author, self-publishing or not. You’re much more likely to attract your target readers if you focus your efforts on outlets they already consume.

I also reached out to my own contacts, such as corporate women’s groups and my school networks to spread the word about The Closer. Finally, I did a standard email campaign and “product seeding,” meaning I sent advance reader copies to prominent businesswomen and influencers so they would promote it. This was another endeavor with which I was very hands-on; although I did hire a publicity firm to promote The Closer, I ended up doing a good portion of product seeding outreach myself.

Indeed, I’d say the primary lesson to be gleaned from my experience is that if you want something done right, you often have to do it yourself. And while it can be daunting at times, the self-publishing process—if it is, in fact, done right—will ultimately yield that book that you’ve always dreamed of creating and the ability to reach your audience in exactly the way you want.

About The Closer

The decision was irreversible. . .Vivien would become either the most remarkable female executive in the sports industry, or the biggest failure.

Vivien Lee has spent her entire consulting career helping CEOs look good, so when she finally has the chance to go after her dream of running a business, she grabs it. A lifelong athlete, Vivien arrives at the Smart Sports campus in Portland, Oregon and is introduced as the first female president. It’s one of the highest-profile jobs in an industry inhospitable to women. Principled but slightly na├»ve, Vivien believes her male peers will give her a fair shot.

Stumbling early, Vivien makes a series of rookie mistakes. With guidance from the Ceiling Smashers, a secret society of successful professional women, Vivien learns to navigate the treacherous business terrain. A tight-knit group of male sports executives is determined to show that an industry outsider cannot prevail. The challenge is all too clear: will Vivien triumph in the sports industry against impossible odds?

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indie Bound |

1 comment:

  1. Christina Glover1/03/2019 9:34 AM

    I feel like this lecture directly addresses some things I didn't know I was frustrated about. Thanks so much for giving such detailed and concrete examples!