Branch Out & Barter Your Way to a Better Book!

I am an indie writer, which is simply a spiffy phrase for being self-published. Why I chose this route is another story, but the bottom line is, I am on the hook for it all. In addition to writing my snippets of suspense, I also have to make sure the book is edited, designed, marketed and sold. I don’t know about you, but all of that stuff is much more daunting to me than the actual writing of the book!

ON TENTERHOOKS was my first novel and that means that writing for me occupies that nebulous space between engaging hobby and primal passion. It doesn’t pay the bills so I had to be very judicious about how much cash I spent to get things geared up.  Below are some useful tips I discovered that helped me produce a professionally edited book, an engaging cover and a polished book trailer to help me get the word out on a barebones budget.

Make Two Lists – What You Need and What You Can Offer

What You Need will center on your book – fact-checking or proofreading services, a good editor, a graphic designer, etc. What You Can Offer can be anything. What are you good at? Maybe you speak another language or you are good at installing a car stereo system. Take stock of the skills you have to offer that somebody might be interested in.  Next, use those lists to find meaningful connections through whatever channels you have available – critiquing groups, social networks, friends and family. Let people know that you’d like to barter with them to match up needs with skills.

In my case, I found my most excellent editor, Rachael Garrity, through a writing conference. When it came to a cost discussion, I sheepishly explained that I didn’t have a very big editing budget. It turned out that she was in need of a new logo and website for her business and I happen to be a fairly accomplished web and graphic designer. A few refinements later and both of us got exactly what we needed with not a single dollar trading hands! I got a professionally edited manuscript and she got a new self-maintained web presence. Professional editing – check!

Mix,  Mingle & Crowdsource

Social networks are a great resource to vet your ideas, check your storylines and help you connect with the information and services that will make your book all the more real.

I used connections in my social network to help me accurately document the time it takes to travel between Cozumel and mainland Mexico on a passenger ferry during heavy seas. There was no way I could Google that!

One of my long-time pals is fluent in Spanish. He helped me translate a particular conversation into broken (and therefore more realistic) Spanish.  There is no automated translation service that I know of that will do that!

In a few scenes from the book, a handgun plays an important role. I didn’t know squat about guns, but I had several police officer connections that did! By the time my research was over, I had the opportunity to visit a live police training range and I got to shoot a standard police-issue sidearm. I even got a nice little gem of flash (non)fiction out of it!

Detailed fact-checking and proofreading-check! All of these details helped my story come to life – with more accuracy and realism than I could’ve ever done on my own. And best of all, none of them cost me a dime! If you don’t have a personal network, GET ONE. It’s easy. It’s free. Start with the basics – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and then hone in on the specifics of you genre through great networks like GoodReads or the Indie Writer’s Network or through online resources like Newbie Writers.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!

After the writing and editing process was complete, I tackled the next big hurdle:  how was I going to get the word out? I was a nobody in a crowded sea of successful writers vying for the attention of readers. I needed to market myself. I needed to look good, sound good and be good. I had to have a good cover. I needed something that would force people to pick up the book. As I pondered my sad attempts at design, the idea popped onto my screen – literally. A friend of mine, David Sullivan, is an accomplished photographer and he had just blogged about an eerie photo he took of a mist-covered cemetery (which can be seen in the book trailer). It was creepy beautiful and very much in line with what I wanted for a cover. I reached out to him and he was very game to provide me a cover photo. We exchanged a few emails. I sent him a draft copy of the book and he sent me back several ideas. We discussed, we refined and ultimately settled on a cover which we are both very proud of. Engaging Cover – check!

Next I needed to get some positive reviews of the book (from somebody other than my Mom or my college English professor). I had recently read Vanish by author Tom Pawlik. His style was somewhat similar to mine. I looked him up, emailed him and after a few emails, I asked him if he would mind if I sent him an excerpt and get a snippet from him that I could use as promo materials. He was kind and generous with his time and his words and we are still connected today. NOTE: please find your own successful author to pester lest Tom disconnect from me for starting a torrent of requests in his Inbox!  I also discovered through my networks that I had friends who had authors in their own social networks. I connected with several and they were all very generous with their advice and feedback for me. They offered me pointers and most importantly, encouragement! Positive review – check! Useful advice – check!

Next, I used iMovie to create an acceptable trailer, but I wanted a dark musical score to set the tone of the story. I found a few online resources with some great pre-packaged tracks, but they were somewhat generic and [GASP!] they weren’t free!  Instead, I took a shot and contacted the manager of a band whose music I had been listening to during the writing process. I asked her if I could use a specific song as the music track for my trailer. To my surprise, she agreed enthusiastically and like magic, my trailer had a new life and depth thanks to a perfect musical accompaniment.

A couple hints if you try this – don’t aim for the top. Find an up and coming artist who style matches the tone of your work. Somehow I doubt that Springsteen or Taylor Swift would’ve responded to my request! Also, DO NOT use somebody’s music without their permission. You are infringing on someone else’s creativity and besides, you can get yourself into a lot of legal troubles (and that will cost you some of those hard-saved dollars!)

Be Thankful, Show Your Gratitude and Return the Favor!

So there you have it – I got my book proofread, edited, designed and promoted for free, all because I spoke up, marketed my skills and had the guts to ask. It’s the same for you – I am not any more talented than you are. Do it. And when you do, make sure you show your thanks. I’ve given major thanks to all of the people who helped me and of course they are in my book’s acknowledgements. I’ve told them many times how much I appreciate their creativity, wisdom and the time they spent on this newbie. Any chance I have to return the favor to them or pass on the same spirit of gratitude to someone else, I take it!

I hope these pointers help you get started and I’d love to hear more about your experiences – what creative processes have you used to build a book on a budget?

2 comments on “Branch Out & Barter Your Way to a Better Book!

  1. Allison

    It’s interesting how things work out, really. I just read this post and it helped me feel a little bit better about what’s been on my mind recently. I’m sorry, I know this probably sounds really weird. I’m a senior in high school and I’m having an extremely difficult time figuring out what I want to pursue as a career. I love writing and drawing. But everyone around me basically says I’ll end up living in a cardboard box or should think of a “real” career and do writing on the side. The only problem is I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do that I would enjoy just as much. I know this is running on so I’ll sum up quickly. Basically, I found your website and this post in the heat of my frustration and you made me feel better. I know you said it doesn’t really pay the bills. But you showed me that writing isn’t as far away as I thought, and I wanted you to know that. So thank you.

    • Greever Post author

      Allison – definitely don’t give up on any dreams! You might have to find something else to do in the meantime to put some food on the table, but keep working on your writing and your drawing – the passion will propel you forward. Best of luck to you!


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