I often get questions from writers regarding how to get started, what software I use, who I recommend for services (e.g., cover designers, editors, web designers), and how to market a book. I have run a business offering in-person workshops for writers for the past decade. I’ve now expanded that business to be live online in small classes of up to seven people via Zoom. I also offer coaching, as well as one-time concierge services. You can learn more at POV Author Services.
If workshops aren’t your thing, then you might invest in some good books. After preparing many workshops and answering countless questions over the past decade, I decided to write a series of books for career authors. It takes the new author through the basics in Secrets Every Author Should Know, to the publishing process in Secrets to Pricing and Distribution, and then through marketing options in Secrets to Effective Author Marketing. They are available in both print and ebook, and will be available in audiobook sometime in 2022.
There are numerous excellent options for software, for cover designers, and editors. I will list the ones I use at the bottom of this page. However, just because that is what I’ve chosen doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right answer for you. Each author’s career is unique and where you are in your career makes a difference as to what services you might need and who you use for those services.
NATIONAL WRITER ORGANIZATIONS I RECOMMEND
There are many organizations a writer can join, both locally and nationally. Sometimes deciding where to spend your money is difficult. Local organizations, or chapters of national organizations can be critical to feeling that true sense of community and being able to see and talk to people face-to-face. It helps to know local people who will celebrate your success with you and listen compassionately to your challenges. However, here I’m only listing National Organizations that I believe are worth your investment.
Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). ALLi is an indie author advocacy organization. Membership for authors is only $119 per year. You get a lot of free resources and books to help you succeed as an indie author, as well as access to a Facebook private group where authors, like me and others, will answer questions. Membership also provides numerous free educational benefits and discounts with their vetted business partners. They have a Watchdog list that evaluates various services and they put out a regular newsletter monthly and podcasts weekly with invaluable information to keep you up to date on what is happening in the publishing world.
The Authors Guild is the nation’s oldest and largest professional organization of writers. Founded in 1912, they are both a membership organization that provides excellent benefits to dues-paying members, and a foundation that effectively advocates for all authors.This is what the AG says about their advocacy work:
“The Guild defends and promotes the rights of all authors to write without interference or threat, and to receive fair compensation for that work. We advocate for authors on issues of copyright—a right enshrined in Article 1 of the Constitution, guaranteeing authors the right to own and profit from their work. We fight for fair contracts. We work with Congress to make sure authors are treated fairly in tax law. We fight piracy. We push back against the “information wants to be free philosophy” that would impoverish authors in the name of free digital content. The Guild vigorously represents authors’ concerns in Washington. We educate and advise Congress on legislation that would help—or harm—authors. We develop and shepherd legislation. When necessary, the Guild takes to court those corporations and other malefactors who have trampled on the rights of authors or taken their work without permission, winning millions in compensation.”
It used to be that AG was only for traditionally published authors. I joined in the late 1990s after my books on creating, managing, and teaching online learning were published. However, in the past five to six years they have opened to self-published authors as well and to what they term “emerging authors.” They have three levels of membership. Member and Associate Member are $135/year. The Emerging level is $100 per year.
The two member level benefits include contract reviews by AG attorneys; publishing industry updates and advice; legal advice and forms; marketing and social media advice; website building and hosting; access to members-only online forums, workshops, seminars and events; a print and digital subscription to the Authors Guild Bulletin, a listing in the member profiles; and exclusive discounts on services and goods designed to help you with your writing business.
The emerging member level includes everything above except the access to AG attorneys.
The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. For those who write books aimed at children–this includes picture books, middle grade books, and YA books–this is the national organization that focuses on that. Of the three organizations here, this is the only one that also maintains regional chapters, so there may be an opportunity to find a chapter close to you where you can meet people in person. The only criteria for membership is an active interest in children’s literature. This means that members include writers, illustrators, booksellers, librarians, publishers, and agents. The fee is $95 in the first year (covers setting up your account) but then renews at $80 per year.
Genre Specific Organizations. There are many national genre-specific organizations. Romance Writer’s of America, Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers, SF Writers and probably many others. I have belonged to some of these in the past but no longer maintain a membership. However, if you are a genre writer you might want to look into it as it is a great way to meet people who know and love your genre.
MY LIST OF PEOPLE AND SOFTWARE SERVICES
No author is an island onto herself. Though I tried to do most everything when I first started out, I quickly realized where my weaknesses were and looked for a team of service providers that could do what I wanted. As an independent author, over the past decade I’ve had two cover designers, three editors, and a variety of virtual assistants for various projects. Really, I’m not so hard to work with. I just kept finding people who decided to leave the business for a variety of reasons.
I believe I am now settled with people I absolutely love and trust, as well as people who are going to stick around. So below is a list of who I use and software I like.
EDITOR. My editor is Jessa Slade of Red Circle Ink. She has won two Rita awards for editing and has an amazing sense of story. I use her as a developmental editor. She is VERY busy and does not edit in all genres. So if you need services, check out her page and then decide if she is right for you. She tends to schedule pretty far out, so don’t expect instant turnaround on a project you need tomorrow. Any errors you do notice in my books are completely MY fault, not hers. After I get it back I always end up adding and subtracting things and sometimes a typo or errant comma finds it way in.
Another editor I can recommend is Christy Carlyle at Gilded Heart Publishing Services. Christy is a historical romance author herself and has several series with Avon. She has also been an editor for several publishing companies as well as for independent authors. She does developmental editing, line editing, copy editing, and proofreading and has package deals if you need more than one of those types of editing. As an a author herself and having edited manuscripts for a variety of publishing companies she knows what is needed in terms of story, craftsmanship, and production.
COVER DESIGN. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with two great cover designers in my career. One is no longer doing this work, but the other has returned after a hiatus and I am thrilled. Christy Carlyle through her company Gilded Heart Design is an amazing cover designer. She did many covers for me. I have a selection of them below. She is able to do designs from simple to complex. She has changed hair color for front page characters when needed, and in the case of my fantasy series melded a tree with my heroine to reflect her magical powers and travel through trees. She can do ebook covers, print covers, and audiobook covers. Highly qualified and highly recommended.
EBOOK AND PRINT FORMATTING. I’ve always done my own formatting. I have a technical background and it came fairly easy to me. I’ve used several different software programs over the past decade, including Legend and Jutoh. Though I liked them, new options have been developed that use templating systems to help ensure things are consistent, look nice, and the code works across all devices, including creating print books.
I highly recommend authors learn to do their own formatting. With these new template-based software options you really can do it yourself and control your books from writing to design, and for doing your own box sets and easily changing out covers, adding new chapters or sneak peeks of new releases without going back to a formatter to do them again.
Two FREE formatting software options are Draft2Digital and Reedsy. They both have free programs that are fairly easy to use. In the D2D offering you upload a Word file (preferably DOCX) and select a template. In the Reedsy option you copy and paste each chapter into the Reedsy program. Both offer template-based designs. Both compile the books for ebook and print. Authors have had different pros and cons about each. I would say try it and determine for yourself if it meets your needs.
VELLUM. I’ve been using Vellum for the past six years and absolutely love it. It produces both ebook and print book formatting that is beautiful with clean backend code, making it easy to upload to any vendor or aggregator you wish. It comes with 8 template designs to choose from, seven font designs, and the ability to customize heading images and scene break look and feel. It also makes it very easy to create multi-volume boxsets and to switch out back matter or links based on vendor specifics.
You pay a one-time cost for a lifetime licensing which guarantees updates. The cost for both ebook and print capabilities is $297 a bit high but after your fourth or fifth book it has paid for itself in the fees you would pay for the least expensive formatting services. Big downside is it only runs on MAC systems. They have no plans to make it run on PCs.
ATTICUS. In October 2021, Kindlepreneur founder, Dave Cheeson, released Atticus. It is the closest equivalent to Vellum I’ve seen to date. It runs as a web app, which means you can use it online from anywhere you are in the world and you can download the program to your MAC or PC desktop or laptop and use it there. You have the choice to synch it to an online space to make sure you always have backups and have the latest version available should you be on the road without your laptop or desktop. It also uses a template based system (17 to choose from, with 127 different options and combinations). The biggest differentiator from Vellum, for me, is that it also allows you to create a custom template that you can use again and again. Great for series books where you want the interior to be the same feel from book to book.
In addition to formatting, they also have created it as a way to write within the system as well (similar to Scrivenir). I haven’t tried the writing side yet, as I’ve been with Microsoft Word since their founding and I’m not sure I want to give it up. However, the formatting side works well. The cost is $197 ($100 less than Vellum) for creating both ebook and print and using the other services it provides. It is a lifetime license which also guarantees updates in the future.
The downside to any template system is that there are things you can’t do. I’ve figured out how to fool Vellum to do some things I want, but there are other things that just don’t work. I don’t know yet what the limitations are for Atticus, but it seems to be designed to be more easily customized.
SOCIAL MEDIA POSTING AND SCHEDULING. For social media posting and scheduling I now use Publer. It allows me to schedule posts to all my social media locations at one time and to schedule up to 500 posts in advance. It also will save my media and posts for reuse and allow me to setup reposts in advance. They are great at providing ideas for posting monthly based on holidays, calendar events, and what other users are doing. If you need integration with image creation, like CANVA they can do that too. Though I do some posts individually as they are needed and relate to changing events or schedules, for the most part I schedule my posts in advance–often a month or more in advance. This saves me a lot of time and I know my platforms are posting for me even when I’m on vacation, with family, ill or in any other way not available.
EBOOK DISTRIBUTION. I currently use an aggregator, Draft2Digital (D2D) to get my ebooks distributed widely. I do a combination of loading directly to some vendors (Amazon and Google) and then use D2D to get everywhere else like multiple library sites, some subscription-based sites, and wide distribution throughout Europe, the UK, and Australia.
PRINT BOOK DISTRIBUTION. I use Ingram Spark for distribution everywhere around the world, except Amazon. Their platform includes over 39,000 locations around the world: bookstores, libraries, online vendors, and schools. For distribution ONLY to Amazon online stores, I use AmazonKDP Print. There are many good reasons for using both platforms that I won’t go into here. However, if you prefer to only use one, or you live in a country that Amazon does not serve, I would strongly recommend Ingram Spark. They do distribute to Amazon as well.
AUDIOBOOK CREATION AND DISTRIBUTION. I use Findaway Voices for all my audiobooks. They are the largest audiobook distributor in the world and distribute for most major publishers. They reach all the major audiobook outlets around the world, including Audible, Apple, Google Play, Nook, Kobo, Libro.fm, Hummingbird, Audiobooks.com, eStories, numerous library distribution services, and many others. They make it easy to find the right narrator for my book, to schedule and pay for the narration, and they get it out to all of their partners quickly once the files have passed QA and are finalized. I also have the option to narrate my own books (which I am doing for my nonfiction and for short stories) and load them there and still get the same wide distribution. With Findaway Voices I own all the files and can take them anywhere I want at any time. That’s really important to me.
VIRTUAL ASSISTANT (VA) – A virtual assistant, sometimes called personal assistant (PA) is someone who can help you with a variety of administrative tasks an author needs to undertake. A good VA is hard to find. The really good ones get booked up quickly or they leave the profession to become authors themselves, spend more time with family, etc. A VA is someone you are trusting with your author business and you want to know they are up to the challenges you will throw at them. I’ve had three VAs over the past 15 years. They each had good qualities and they all were trustworthy and helped me. However, none of them could do all the things I needed and in each case they shut down their business after two or three years.
Some people use a virtual assistant to keep up their newsletter, or to post to their social media. Others uses a VA to do things on their website or to coordinate all their marketing efforts. VAs come with many different skills. Some are very limited in what they do (e.g., only social media posting) while others do many things from creating images for campaigns, to running contests for you, and keeping you on task with reminders.
My wonderful VA is Emma Setterfield at VirtualM. She is located in the U.K. but that has not been a problem for us, even though our timezones our 8 hours difference. She is an amazingly organized and talented person who understands publishing, authors, timelines, and many parts of running and author business. To date, she has been the most organized and fully-rounded assistant I’ve employed. The best thing about Emma is she is a great communicator. You always know what she is doing, the cost, and if she has questions she raises them. If there is something she doesn’t know how to do, she is a quick learner. Highly Recommended!
WEB DESIGN AND HOSTING. Beginning in 2018, after evaluating 20 WordPress design firms and interviewing three of them, I chose DesignWorks Northwest, owned by Rick Cano. I am ecstatic I did! The site you see here was designed and implemented by him and his team. It is hosted on his servers which come with the appropriate security, backups, and database access. He is knowledgeable, honest, professional, and reasonably priced. Once he has completed a design, he will do training for anyone who wants to maintain or make changes on their site. Or you can pay a reasonable monthly fee and have his team do all the updates for you and never worry about it again. For those who don’t need a new design but want secure hosting with someone who takes care of all the backend complexities, DesignWorks NW also offers that option for reasonable monthly fee.
I have been designing and coding my own websites since the early 1990’s. I began with coding HTML and eventually CSS and a little PHP. Around 2006, I moved to Drupal but found it required even more technical skills and coding than I wanted to invest. In 2011 I moved to WordPress because it was the fastest growing, open source platform in the world and provided a large diversity of plugins to handle the functionality I wanted. The community of developers are amazingly dedicated to keeping it up to date and meeting the needs of most entrepreneurs. In addition to the core developers, there are thousands of theme and plugin developers that provide ongoing functionality integrated with WordPress core. I still highly recommend WordPress to anyone serious about having a professional Internet presence.
Though I still maintain my own WordPress websites, I made an important decision in 2018 to stop designing this website. (I’d already redesigned it three times). I no longer keep up with the constant changes and the design needs of modern sites as my business has become more complex AND my time has become more limited. Rick Cano and his team are the perfect fit for me. I still have plenty of control but I can turn to them at any time for help or turn all maintenance over to him in the future.
NOTE: I get no commission or affiliate money for recommending any of the above people or their companies. However, I feel confident that for those authors or small businesses who want a team that knows what they are doing, are trustworthy, and will treat you with the respect and integrity you deserve, I can highly recommend each of these people/companies and I use them myself.