Working with self-publishers

Posted on: 14/05/2024

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An introduction to working with self-publishing writers

Did you know self-published authors sell over 300 million books annually? This burgeoning market presents exciting opportunities for indexers seeking to expand their clientele. However, working with self-publishing authors (also known as independent or indie authors) requires a different approach than working with traditional publishing houses. In this article, Magda Wojcik introduces working with self-publishing writers, including what self-publishing is, how to work with self-publishing authors, and how to find self-publishing clients.

What is self-publishing?

Self-publishing authors independently produce and distribute their work without involvement from traditional publishing houses. The processes typically handled by a publisher, such as cover design, formatting, printing, distribution and marketing, are handled directly by the author, often through online platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

Self-publishing offers authors more creative control of the manuscript, quicker time-to-market, and higher royalties. However, it comes with challenges like limited distribution, financial investment (and associated risks), and navigating the publishing process independently.

Working with a self-publishing author

Indexers transitioning to working with self-publishing clients should be aware of several differences and considerations compared to working with a publisher. First, they will communicate directly with the author rather than the publisher’s editorial or production team. Thus, they may encounter varying levels of professionalism and communication styles compared to traditional publishing houses. Some may prefer more casual communication via email and others may request an update via Zoom. It may also be worth checking the time zones because a ‘5 pm deadline’ means different dates for an indexer in London and a client in Melbourne. In any case, clear communication and setting expectations are crucial. For instance, when starting a new project, I find it helpful to schedule a kick-off call with the author to discuss their expectations, timeline, and preferred communication methods. During this call, I provide a detailed overview of the indexing process, including key milestones, dates, and deliverables, to ensure we are aligned from the outset.

Additionally, self-publishing authors may require more guidance regarding manuscript preparation and formatting. For instance, authors may not know the difference between a set-out or run-on index or have no preference concerning eliding the locators. This means that the indexer should explain the potential styling options and provide their recommendation. The trick is to do this without overwhelming the client with the choices and terminology. For instance, I use a simple Google form that is divided into two parts. The first part enquires about the more general aspects (file format, target audience, etc.), and the second, asking about styling, is optional (and not filling it in will not affect the quality of the index). This gives the client an option to be as involved in the index creation as they feel comfortable.

Moreover, indexers should also anticipate handling their own marketing and negotiating payment terms directly with authors. Self-publishers often work on a budget and are self-funded. Thus, it is crucial to introduce the current industry rates. It may be helpful to justify the final quoted amount with something along the lines of ‘Indexing a …-page book would take … hours, and at my hourly rate of £…, indexing would cost £…’. This conversation should also concern the payment terms (all in advance, instalments, deposit, due date, etc.). A related point concerns revisions or lack thereof. It is important to highlight in advance how many (if any) revisions of the index are included in the service and what are justifiable reasons for revisions or even cancellation of the project. Creating a detailed project agreement outlining the scope of work, revision policy, and payment terms can help ensure clarity and avoid misunderstandings.

Furthermore, maintaining professionalism and managing expectations is essential, as self-publishing authors may have different perspectives on the indexing process compared to traditional publishers. Self-publishing clients may wish to be involved in the content of the index, not only style or structure, to a much larger extent than an indexer would experience working with publishing houses. To manage these expectations, before I start a new project, I let the self-publishing client know that I welcome their input on the cosmetic side of the index. However, in all other aspects, when creating an index, I follow the standard code of practice and indexing conventions set out by the UK’s Society of Indexers, of which I am a member. This way, even if they try to influence the content of the index (i.e., what entries should be included or how the terms should be phrased), I may take their suggestions under consideration, but I can treat them as such — suggestions rather than instructions.

How to find self-publishing clients?

Like everything, working with self-publishers has its pros and cons. The pros may include a much more personal (and potentially rewarding) working relationship and greater creative freedom over the content and styling of the index. There are a few options where to start looking for self-publishing clients:

  1. Freelance platforms: Indexers can find clients on online freelance platforms frequented by self-publishing authors, more general like Upwork, Freelancer or Fiverr, or dedicated to self-publishing, such as Reedsy.
  2. Content marketing: Creating informative content related to indexing and self-publishing, such as blog posts, articles, and video tutorials, and sharing them on one’s website and social media channels can help attract clients.
  3. Network of self-publishing service providers: Partnering with other self-publishing service providers, such as editors, cover designers, and book formatting professionals, who often work closely with self-publishing authors, can lead to referrals.
  4. Self-publisher organisations: Registering with organisations and associations for self-publishing authors as a service provider can help find clients. For instance, the Alliance of Independent Authors has a directory of vetted service providers available to thousands of its members. (The membership numbers are not public, but the organisation has been around for over a decade.)

Final thoughts

In conclusion, working with self-publishing authors can be a rewarding and profitable experience for indexers. However, it requires a different approach than working with traditional publishers. Clear communication, managing expectations, and professionalism are keys. Utilising various channels to find self-publishers, such as freelance platforms and content marketing, can help find new clients. By following these tips and guidelines, indexers can expand their client base and tap into the exciting world of self-publishing.

About the author

Magda Wojcik is an indexer and editor with a PhD in literary history, working with self-publishing authors and publishers. She is a student member of the SI and an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading.

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