Working as an indie author is sort of like working several dozen jobs at once. Actually, let’s cut the ‘sort of.’ Working as an indie author is the act of doing several dozen jobs at once. Not only are you your own boss as a writer, but you’re also every boss and every single employee in the publishing company. ‘Overwhelming’ can often sound like an understatement.
While you can’t know and do everything, there are SO many tools out there to make running your indie empire a smoother process—so many tools, in fact, that even finding the ones that work for you can be a hassle. I’m always on the lookout for new systems that will help my life make a little more sense, and there are a few tried and true options that I always find myself coming back to.
Today I’m dropping some quick tips about my top five author tools. These range from story development strategies to marketing aids. They’re some of my most used resources, and I believe all indie authors should give them a go.
A note before we dive in: none of the tools mentioned are sponsored in any way! I really do just love these things and stand by them as great resources for authors.
This is my top recommendation when anyone asks me for story and character development advice. While a lot of character questionnaires focus on the ‘fun facts’ surface level stuff (think ‘eye colour’ and ‘favourite food’), Rachel Giesel’s resource is a treasure trove of questions and prompts that will get you thinking about what actually MATTERS when it comes to creating characters that are complex and human enough to jump right off the page. I’ve tried other character worksheets, but I always find myself coming back to this one. It’s saved my butt many a time when I’ve started a draft only to find myself totally stuck, and it always helps me find a character’s voice when that voice seems to be missing.
This program was the first sizable investment I made in my business, and it has paid for itself several times over, in cost, convenience, and lack of headaches and stress. If you’re planning on self-publishing more than even just one book, I’d say Vellum is a MUST. It’s an incredibly well designed and easy to use formatting tool. It makes BEAUTIFULLY formatted books SO QUICKLY. You’re guaranteed to stand out from the KDP crowd with the reader experience it creates, and your books will be perceived as so much more polished and professional than with the KDP built-in options.
While there are some aspects of book design I’d recommend handing off to a professional, formatting definitely doesn’t have to be one of them if you’re using Vellum. You also have the convenience of not having to get in touch with your formatter (and possibly pay) every single time you want to update your back matter or tweak some typos. It seriously only takes a few clicks with Vellum. While the program is only available for Mac (I’ve always used PC laptops), I own a Mac Mini JUST for Vellum. It’s seriously that worth it.
This is a new discovery for me, and I can’t WAIT to use it to prepare for my next release. I was literally gasping with joy the first time I looked at the website and thinking, “It’s like somebody hacked my brain and made EXACTLY what I need!” This is such a simple and perfectly streamlined tool for creating gorgeous book graphics, ads, mock-ups, and social media images. It’s so superior to anything I’ve managed to learn to do myself on Photoshop, and WAY faster! If you’re sick of slaving away over graphics that never turn out quite as good as you’d like, Book Brush is THE place to go. I still haven’t gotten over my excitement about its existence.
Let’s face it: KDP has bad graphs. They are not appealing or particularly insightful, and it can be hard to get the full visual impact of the data you need. If you’ve ever sat there clicking between your individual book sales trying to figure which titles are doing best, you’ll know what I mean.
Enter: Book Report! Full disclosure: I use the free version, and I’m still not sure I’m doing everything correctly, BUT I do find this tool isn’t totally flawless. There are a few quirks that irk me or things I find less than streamlined, but it is SUCH a relief to be able to log in and easily see the sales data I want in a way that makes sense and actually tells me the things I want to know. Book Report is basically a detailed sales report with WAY better organization than KDP. It imports automatically, so it’s super easy to login and get the data. It also calculates royalties, so you can see how much you’re making on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis, rather than waiting until two months after the fact to get the KDP fund update if you’re in KU. There’s a free trial period (which is extended depending how much you make with KDP), so it’s definitely worth checking out!
This is also a relatively new discovery for me that totally blew my mind. I had NO IDEA this existed, and I’m sure many others are in the same boat; I first learned about it during a workshop led by Kandi Steiner last month, and the whole Zoom group was SHOOKETH when she talked about this. I’m looking to expand my Facebook advertising this year, and the Ads Library has already been such a helpful resource. Basically, you can pop anyone’s Facebook page name in and see all the ads they’re currently running. It exists for ad transparency, but as an author, it’s a great way to get your stalker on and creep what everyone else is doing so you can get inspiration, see what the big players are up to, and find out what seems to be trending amongst author advertising efforts. This in turn can help you make better and more informed ads choices.
These are a few of the tools in my indie author belt that I find myself whipping out most often. I get so excited when I find a resource that perfectly fills my needs, and I hope this little list can help other authors discover some new tricks to up their game and keep achieving indie greatness!