As indie authors, we have it pretty good. We get to write what we want, control each aspect of our publishing process, and decide how much time to devote to marketing and promotion. Want to write books as a hobby? Great! You can do it. Want to write books that will help you pay the bills? You can do that, too.
If there’s one thing that’s not optional for indie authors, though, it’s reading. As much as we want to write books, we need to read them even more. When we read, we find clarity for our goals, inspiration for our own books, and essential information we need to write, edit, and publish successfully. As authors, we don’t just need readers. We need our fellow authors, too.
Whether you need to expand your reading list or you simply want a new book to provide your writing life with a breath of fresh air, here are 10 essential books for indie authors:
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While this book isn’t geared specifically toward writers, it was one of the first books that pushed me to take my writing career seriously. It helped me clarify my professional goals and cut the excuses I’d been hiding behind for years. It also helped me take myself more seriously as an author and admit to myself that I could do what I knew I was meant to do. This is a must-read not only for writers but for people who have professional or creative goals they aren’t currently fulfilling.
Favorite quote: “Often, discovering what you’re meant to do with your life doesn’t happen until you have spent significant time serving someone else’s dream. We learn what a calling looks like from mentors and predecessors before we can even begin to trust our own voice of calling. Only after you’ve put yourself in the shop of a master craftsman can you understand what your craft requires. Humility is a prerequisite for epiphany. Without it, your dream will be short-lived and self-centered.”
The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner
This was one of the first writing books I ever read, and I’ve reread it multiple times. As a writer and editor, Lerner speaks from extensive experience and offers helpful insight not only on writing but on publishing. If you’re anything like me, you’ll feel like this book was written directly to you. I found myself saying “me, too!” in almost every chapter. Whether you publish independently or traditionally, as an author you want to feel understood by someone out there. This book will make you feel understood.
Favorite quote: “Telling a writer to take anything on the chin and move on is a little like telling a boxer not to hit back.”
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Is it a cliche to add this one to the list? You know what, I don’t even care. It’s that necessary. It’s just one of those essential writing books that shouldn’t be ignored. And it spent years on my reading list before I got my hands on it, but let me tell you, I’m so glad I did.
Favorite quote: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a whole lot more fun while they’re doing it.”
Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them by Francine Prose
This is another book that lived on my reading list too long before it landed on my bookshelf. As an author, you probably love to read as much as you love to write, right? Right. If so, this book will be a treat. It will guide you through the subtleties of reading not just for entertainment, but as a writer. Also, her name is Francine Prose. I mean, come on.
Favorite quote: “To be truthful, some writers stop you dead in your tracks by making you see your own work in the most unflattering light. Each of us will meet a different harbinger of personal failure, some innocent genius chosen by us for reasons having to do with what we see as our own inadequacies. The only remedy to this I have found is to read a writer whose work is entirely different from another, though not necessarily more like your own — a difference that will remind you of how many rooms there are in the house of art.”
Discoverability: Help Readers Find You in Today’s World of Publishing by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Be honest: Does the marketing aspect of being an indie author scare you as much as it scares me? I love to write, and it’s something I believe I can do well (with a lot of work, revision, and polishing). But marketing and self-promotion don’t come as naturally to many of us as writing does. But that’s totally fine, so take a deep breath and relax. There are tons of resources out there to help you figure out how to get your book discovered, and this is one of them.
Favorite quote: “Everyone ignores two important facts: one person’s crap is another person’s beloved book, and publishing has always produced books in great volume.”
My favorite thing about Joanna Penn’s books, besides their clear, actionable advice, is that they’re written from experience. Joanna Penn is a wildly successful indie author who figured out how to make this whole indie author thing work. And the best part is that she isn’t keeping it to herself. She wrote this — along with other books like Successful Self-Publishing and How to Make a Living With Your Writing — to help indie authors navigate every aspect of indie publishing more successfully.
Favorite quote: “Being a writer is not just about typing. It’s also about surviving the rollercoaster of the creative journey.”
Self-Publisher’s Legal Handbook: The Step-By-Step Guide to the Legal Issues of Self-Publishing by Helen Sedwick
Remember a couple of paragraphs ago when I said marketing was one of the scariest aspects of being an indie author? This one’s scarier. I’m not even going to pretend to know everything there is to know about writing and publishing legally. In fact, my first novel came to a screeching halt when I remembered I’d need permission to quote song lyrics in my book — which required me to make a few serious changes to my manuscript (including the title). Since then I’ve been more careful about covering my legal bases, and I’m extremely grateful for resources like this to help me through the process.
Favorite quote: “Writing and publishing a book is a significant investment in both time and money. It is tough enough to make money in a business where fewer than five percent of books sell over 1,000 copies. You don’t want to lose that money (or sleep) by hiring the wrong self-publishing service company or getting sued for copyright infringement.”
Gotta Read It!: Five Simple Steps to a Fiction Pitch That Sells by Libbie Hawker
If you’re going to be an indie author, you’ll have to know how to write your own pitch. This doesn’t seem as difficult for nonfiction books. You can simply identify a specific need and target it. But it’s a little bit trickier with fiction. You have to know how to connect with your ideal reader so she’ll actually want to read your book. That’s where this book comes in. I’m currently reading this as I work on the pitch for my novel, To Lennon, With Love, which I’m releasing this May.
Favorite quote: “The human mind evolved with story as its guidepost and constant companion, and nothing signals ‘compelling story’ to the human mind like the promise of a character struggling against something in order to emerge as a better person at the end of the tale.”
Searching: A Research Guide for Writers by Elaine Marie Alphin, Joan Broerman, Mark Haverstock, et al.
Admittedly this book is ever-so-slightly outdated, especially because technology has evolved so quickly over the last decade. But it’s still a really helpful resource. You can search the Internet for anything, but a quick search won’t always yield the best results. This book gets specific about where to look for certain names, dates, government documents, natural disaster statistics, interviews, letters, and more. I hated research projects in high school and college, but now that I’m an indie author I see why they were actually necessary.
Favorite quote: “Research will lead you to amazing discoveries — some of them quite unexpected. And research rarely proceeds in a straight line — by its very nature, it’s a winding path. So enjoy the process. Research will dramatically improve your writing, and it will also change you.”
Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt
This book, like Discoverability, tackles one of the less glamorous aspects of indie authorhood: getting noticed. If you’ve been avoiding self-promotion for any reason, or if you’re discouraged by your current self-promotion efforts, then pick up a copy of this book. It’ll help you kick your desire to hide right in the arse.
Favorite quote: “If you catch yourself apologizing and then using the word but, stop dead in your tracks and back up. This little conjunction should be like a blinking red light, indicating that you are not taking ownership.”
In addition to these books, one of the best things you can do as an indie author is constantly read within your genre. Reading what you want to write is often the best source of inspiration. I have a steady queue of contemporary women’s fiction novels on my “to read” list because that’s what I write. When I stop devouring books like that, I begin to struggle with inspiration in my own writing.
No matter where you are in your journey as an indie author, keep writing, keep reading, and keep learning.
***Before you go, don’t forget to pick up your free copy of The Complete Social Media Cheat Sheet for Novelists.***
What books have helped you as an author? Do you have any to add to the list? Let me know in the comments below and join the Ladies in Read on Pinterest for tons of writing tips and inspiration!