July 15, 2024

Career Advice from a Seasoned Indie Author

Before I published my first book, I sought out advice on becoming an author by calling a friend of a friend who had self-published some books. On the call, the author told me he had been around the block and kicked all the tires. At that point, I didn’t even know what to ask, but his guidance put me in the right direction and helped me take my first few steps toward publishing with confidence.

Now I’ve been around the block and kicked a hell of a lot of tires. I’m at a point where I feel like I can confidently share not only advice I’ve heard and used but also strategies I’ve learned on my own along the way.

Not everything works for everyone, so I’ve whittled this list down to the absolute core advice that I believe will apply to most writers. I could expand quite a bit on each of these topics, but for this post, I’ll try to keep things brief and moving along.

You Need a Critique Group

If you only take one point from this post, let it be this one. You NEED a writing critique group.

Writing is a mostly solitary endeavor, so I encourage new writers to connect with other writers and authors. This recommendation isn’t only to prevent loneliness but also to help hone your craft as a writer and produce the best books you can.

All of us have blind spots that we’re unaware of, and our stories are no different. Another set of eyes will help you spot plot holes, inconsistencies in your setting, weak or offensive character descriptions, and so much more.

In addition to helping refine your manuscript, your writing critique group will likely include members at different places in their publishing journeys, and they may be able to share their experiences and expertise with you.

Keep seeking out writing groups until you find one that’s a good fit for you and your writing style.

Set up a website and newsletter

A web presence is a must for marketing, with a newsletter as a close second. Every time you talk to someone and your writing comes up, you want to provide them with a second point of contact where they can learn more about you and your books and follow your writing journey. Your website is the perfect place to act as that contact point.

Go ahead and set up a domain name that’s easy to remember. I usually recommend your pen name along with a word like “writer,” “books,” or “author” if the domain of just your pen name is already taken.

You might say that you could direct people to your social media account or Amazon page, but you have more control over the information presented on a website and can really tailor it to match what you want to say about your writing. Sharing a social media account also relies on that other person also being on that social media platform, which isn’t a given. Also, asking someone to look you up on Amazon or Google introduces more steps, more possible confusion, and more points of failure.

I’ve taken this one step further to include setting up a newsletter. An email newsletter will be the best way to contact your fans, and this will be invaluable when you have a new release. Yes, you can announce things like this on social media and your website, but that’s relying on all your followers finding you in their feed or reaching out to your website at just the right time. Again, it’s too many possible points of failure. Just set up the newsletter and check in with your fans occasionally.

Social Media isn’t for what you think it’s for

I’ve already dissed social media a little bit, and now it’s time for me to sully it even more. So many people will tell you that you need to post regularly on social media if you want any chance of becoming a successful author. I’m here to tell you, “No, that’s not the case.”

Yes having lots of followers on Social Media does give you an ego boost, and some people may find you through a funny post you’ve made. However, social media isn’t set up to introduce you to new accounts you may enjoy, it’s set up for the platform to make as much money as possible. You won’t get much reach on social media unless you pay the platform to boost your posts, and even then, the returns on your investment aren’t great.

Social media is more of a way to stay connected with your community on a day-to-day basis. It reminds your followers and fans that you exist. It does not sell books. It’s much more likely that someone will Google reviews for a popular book, find your website because you posted a book review, and sign up for your newsletter because they like what you have to say then they’ll buy your books after finding you on Instagram.

Put Out a Great Product (book)

I’ve had this same conversation several times with aspiring authors:

Writer: I’ve written a book and just want to get it out there so other people can read it.

Me: Then you should post it on Wattpad.

Typically, the writer gets visibly upset at this suggestion. They haven’t admitted to me, or perhaps even themselves, that they want to make money out of this writing endeavor.

Although I agree that artists should be paid for their work, we also live in a day when tons of content is freely available. If you are asking people to pay for content, it needs to be a good and professional piece and not a rough draft you simply want to share.

At the very least, every book should get:

  • Thorough editing using feedback from early readers
  • A thorough line edit by an experienced editor (I choose to hire a pro)
  • Nice enough formatting so the layout isn’t distracting
  • A well-designed cover
  • An engaging description that lets readers who would enjoy the book know that this book is for them

What if you can’t do all of these on your own? Well, that leads me to the next point.

You’ll probably need to pay someone at some point

I look at it this way: I am asking people to pay for my book, so I should expect to pay something to put it together. As much as I’d like to be a one woman show, I know that I have a few blind areas I could use some help in.

As you grow as an indie author, you’ll likely learn to do a lot of tasks for yourself. However, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that you don’t have a great eye for cover design, need a little help with grammar, or are totally lost when it comes to marketing (or all three!).

Now, there are a lot of author service providers with their hands out, asking for your money to help with this task and that. I won’t say a lot of them are scams, but I will say that there are a number of businesses out there that are only looking to make money. This is one of those avenues where your writing group will help out. They’ll be able to recommend services that were worth the money they spent.

When I first talked to my friend-of-a-friend, he recommended contacting Bublish.com to learn about book marketing, and I’m so glad I did! I learned so much through them on how to present myself as an author, build my writing brand, create consistent content for my website, and structure my social media.

Even with fancy grammar software, I still pay for a human editor. I buy stock photos and use paid newsletters to help market my books. As you get further into your career, you’ll get more comfortable investing more money in areas that really see a return. It just takes time to learn what works for you and the books you write.

Book Reviews aren’t for you, but you should still read them

I always feel bad when writers read the first one-star book review left on their debut novel, and some authors recommend never reading your book reviews because the feeling sucks so much. That, and book reviews are meant to inform other potential readers what to expect in a book, not give helpful feedback to the author.

This is all true, however, I do believe that writers should be aware of the general content of their book reviews. If a book receives bad reviews, although it’s possible the book is a bad book, it’s also likely that the book has been marketed to the wrong readers. A romance book with light sci-fi themes that has a big spaceship and planets on the cover will get ripped to shreds by hard-core sci-fi fans in the reviews. Similarly, a contemporary family drama with a romance subplot that doesn’t have a happy ending will be poo-pooed by romance readers.

Beyond making sure you’re marketing to the correct type of readers, reviews will let you know what people like about your books and allow you to write more of that in the future. Similarly, you’ll see what really turns readers off. Reader reactions to your work if valuable feedback to grow your story-telling skills.

Even if you do everything right, you still might fail

I hate how much luck plays into things, but it absolutely does. Like, mathematically, it does. (Here’s a great video on the topic) No matter how hard you try and how ‘right’ you do everything, your writing career still might fail.

I consider it luck that I came up with the idea for an escape room puzzle book when I did, luck that I figured out Amazon ads just in time for lockdown when people would be buying lots of books, and luck that someone who works at a publishing house came across The Terrifying Haunted House on Mystery Lane and loved it so much, the publisher decided to reach out to me (OMG this is so exciting and I can’t wait to tell you more!!!)

Don’t Quit

I don’t want my thoughts on luck to dishearten you. If anything, I point out the role of luck in success to encourage you to keep at it. Keep working hard and producing great books until you do catch your lucky break, and your book’s popularity explodes on TikTok, gets picked up by a popular movie producer, or gets featured at just the right time by an online retailer.

The seemingly random events that have led to the success of my puzzle book series wouldn’t mean much if I hadn’t already really honed my craft, put together a tight and well-working puzzle book structure, and produced the absolute best puzzle book possible on my own.

Keep working and putting out amazing books for as long as it takes. I encourage you to stick with it as long as you're enjoying the ride and writing is fun.

I also encourage you to stick with your day job. Don’t rely on your author career really taking off until it actually does take off. Because sometimes it takes a little longer to catch that lucky break, and that’s okay.

July 1, 2024

Time For a Picnic

Inspired by the hot days of summer and upcoming Independence Day celebrations, I picked “Time for a Picnic” as the theme for July. I wanted to highlight outdoor activities, both big and small, and the pleasure of a simple meal enjoyed outside.

I’m even more excited this month about the second Badger Camp my writing Discord server, “Write All the Words,” will be hosting! As one of the server’s admins, I’ve been working hard to put together details for Badger Camp to make sure it’s a helpful and fun event. If you’re a writer and feel like having fellow writers badger you to work toward your goals, check it out!

Badger Camp July 2024 - Hosted by Write All the Words

The deadline for stories set in the Starship Blunder universe has finally passed, so my goal for the month of July is to select and edit stories for the anthology. I’m hoping for a fall 2024 release for this project, and am thrilled to see it finally come together!

Join me this month as I embrace the simple pleasures of a (likely poolside) picnic and the fun challenge of Badger Camp. I’ll try not to get waterlogged in the pool or melt in the July heat!

June 18, 2024

Why I Finally Purchased ISBNs

I wrote this post on why I chose not to purchase my own ISBN. The post was very much a reaction to the passionate and loud advice to indie authors at the time that you had to buy ISBNs to give your books any semblance of respectability, and I just wasn’t buying it (the advice or the overpriced identifiers). I felt the world also needed a passionate retort to the discourse: No way! I do what I want!

Coming back to this topic, I feel like an absolute hypocrite because in the time since I originally wrote about it, I’ve purchased my own ISBN. Not only did I buy some, but I ordered a whopping 100 identifiers for my books past, present, and future.

ISBNs are Stupidly Expensive

So, what changed after I first waxed poetic about my hatred of the book-number industry? Honestly, not much. They are still priced way too high, with one ISBN costing $125 in the United States. And I still believe the other points I made, like books seldom having only one identifier their entire lifetime and readers don’t care about the publisher on record.

I was fortunate when the sales of my Puzzling Escapes series absolutely took off during lockdown. I finally had real money from my author career, and I wanted to reinvest some of that cash into my publishing business.

In addition to increasing the budget for the art in subsequent Puzzling Escapes adventures, I hired a narrator to create an audiobook for my favorite novel, Quality DNA. But I also wanted to add more legitimacy to my publishing brand, and I acknowledged that ISBN under my publishing name, BETH MARTIN BOOKS, was a decent way to do that. $125 for one number, however, is way too expensive.

$295 for only ten numbers is still like $30 per number, and I’d likely need more than 10.

The next step up is $575 for 100 numbers. Regardless of what I’m getting, $575 is a lot of money. It’s a stupid amount of money for a list of numbers. However, it’s also an investment in me and my business. Now, as long as I write 100 books, that comes to a little less than $6 per number, an amount I can more easily stomach.

Am I going to write 100 books? Abso-freaking-lutely.

Books Still Get the Benefits of Having ISBN with the Free ISBN

On Bowker’s website (Bowker is the only company where you can purchase ISBNs in the United States), they list all the reasons why books should use an ISBN, and a lot of these reasons are valid and valuable.

Retailers, including online retailers like Amazon, require books to have an ISBN before they can be sold. ISBNs allow for standardized book identification and enable the book’s distribution worldwide.

Something that people shilling author advice tend to ignore is that your book will enjoy these benefits even when you use a free number. There are limitations imposed on your book when you use the free identifier usually including that only that retailer/printer can print your book. However, that doesn’t prevent authors from utilizing multiple (free) ISBNs for use with multiple book distributors.

IngramSpark Now Offer Free ISBN

The only point I had no good argument against was using IngramSpark. Ingram is the largest book distributor in the world, and in the past, if you wanted their print-on-demand subsidiary IngramSpark to produce your indie title, you needed to provide your own ISBN. However, in late 2019, even IngramSpark started offering free ISBNs.

Honestly, I never saw the draw of using IngramSpark to print my books. Their print quality is no better than Amazon’s KDP since both companies use the same machines and materials. In fact, a lot of KDP books get printed outside the Amazon ecosystem, so your KDP print book might get fulfilled by IngramSpark.

But what about libraries and bookstores? The best way to get your indie book into libraries is by donating it, and the simplest way to get indie books into bookstores is through consignment. In both those situations, you, the author, are providing the book, so it doesn’t matter what the identifier is or which company printed it.

Making New Editions

Moving forward with free ISBNs, I knew that I could change my mind down the road, and it wouldn’t be a huge issue. And it absolutely wasn’t. Many books go through several different editions, and each new edition requires its own ISBN. So, if you have a published book and you want to assign a new number to it, you release a new edition of the book.

I had fun with some of my new editions. Mental Contact got a new cover, and I updated the formatting. I actually changed the title for At Fault to The Earthquake Anomaly. When I originally published The End of Refuge, I did so on a shoestring budget. For the second edition, I hired an editor since the previous one had done a lousy job (I still don’t recommend Fiverr because of this) and commissioned a professional cover.

Other books like Puzzling Escapes: Trapped in the Bookstore barely changed at all between editions, only the barcode on the back cover and ISBN listed on the copyright page getting updated while everything else remains the same. However, there’s no requirement that the copyright page includes an identifier (or that the book even contains a copyright page), and print-on-demand companies add the barcode on the cover for you, so most indie authors wouldn’t need to change a thing in their book files in order to release a new edition with an update ISBN.

Other Publishing Endeavors

I must admit that the authority provided by having my own identifiers has opened an avenue I hadn’t really thought of as an indie author publishing their work: I can publish other people’s books under the Beth Martin Books imprint. However, for the most part, I’ll remain a one-woman show, only distributing my work.

However, I have published a fun word-search book my husband put together. Also, I never would have taken on the Starship Blunder project if I couldn’t go down as the publisher on record. And I imagine it would be harder to get other writers to submit to the project if they didn’t already view me as an industry pro.


In short, who do I think should buy ISBNs? For starters, anyone who plans on setting up a publishing company and publishing work other than their own should purchase their own ISBN. Also, in some areas of the world, these identifiers are more affordable than they are here in the US, and in those places, definitely go for it.

And then there’s my case. If you have money burning in your pocket that you want to invest in your publishing career, and you plan on publishing as many books as possible, then you have my blessing to buy some numbers.

June 1, 2024

New Short Story Release: Worth a Thousand Words

I recently gave a talk for the Maryland Writers Association on using AI tools for creative writing. I felt confident giving this talk because I’ve fully integrated tools like Chat GPT and Midjourney into my workflow.

Specifically, Chat GPT was been a wonderful tool to bounce ideas off of (no worries, I’m not using AI to write my stories and all my words are still my own). I pulled up the chatbot on my desktop and asked for some sci-fi or thriller short story ideas. It gave me a list of quite a few, but this one intrigued me the most:

Perception Alteration: A young artist discovers a mysterious painting that seems to change every time they look at it. As they become obsessed with unraveling the painting's secrets, their perception of reality begins to shift, blurring the lines between what is real and what is imagined.

I decided that instead of centering the story around an artist, it would be about a young woman who inherited a peculiar painting and that the changes in the artwork over time would be subtle. I also didn’t want my character to devolve into total madness–not in this story at least. Coincidentally, I named the main character Doreen before realizing the clear parallels between my story and Portrait of Dorian Gray.

I’m really excited to share this story, but also a bit apprehensive. I’ve had friends tell me this is the best thing I’ve written, to others saying that they hate the romance aspect and I should change the love interest. Ultimately, I decided diverse representation is more important to me than ruffling a few feathers, so if you don’t want to read sex scenes with a non-binary character, maybe skip this story.

To help celebrate the launch of “Worth a Thousand Words,” I’ll be featuring artistic endeavors throughout the month on my social media. I’ll share tidbits about my favorite artworks and the artistic activities I do in addition to writing.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of “Worth a Thousand Words” directly from me, you can do so here:

Buy “Worth a Thousand Words”

You can also purchase the story from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Eventually, after I release a few more shorts, I’d like to compile them into a paperback anthology. But for now, releasing the individual pieces allows me to continue releasing fresh content while working on my next novel.