New Indie Author Advice

Reader Hardwicke Benthow asked some excellent questions about what a new indie author should do in the comments to a recent post, but instead of answering Mr. Benthow in the comments section, I think a separate post is more appropriate. I wanted to create a “Self-Publishing Checklist,” and will do so in the future, but for now I’ll answer Hardwicke’s questions to the best of my ability.

Hardwicke’s comment is below: 

This isn’t directly about the writing process itself, but I’ve been wondering what the best tactic is for a beginning self-published writer when it comes to anonymity or the lack thereof.

What got me thinking about this was this recent post by David Stewart:

https://dvspress.com/the-dangers-of-social-media-in-2020-what-you-need-to-know-as-a-creator-or-a-user/

In it, he advised, regarding social media, “Be anonymous if possible.”

During one of his YouTube livestreams, I asked him (via the chat) some questions about this, particularly whether it also applies to publishing. He said that if he had it to do over again, he would probably have published under a pen name, and briefly talked about the benefits of using a LLC to shield one’s identity when self-publishing.

I’m interested in your perspective on all of this, especially since you are both a self-published writer and a lawyer.

What would be your advice to someone who is in the beginning stages of becoming a self-published writer regarding the subjects of pen names and anonymity?

Under what circumstances is it best to use one’s real name, and under what circumstances is it best to hide behind a pen name and/or an LLC? What are the pros and cons of each in your view? And what about using one’s real name, but partially obscuring it by using initials for the first and middle names?

What about those situations in which one is not yet in a position (due to various reasons, such as financial ones) to obtain a LLC? Is it worth trying one’s luck at publishing without one? And if so, would it be best to publish under one’s real name, or under a pseudonym (possibly with the intention of later obtaining a LLC, hoping that no one has unmasked one’s secret identity before this is possible)?

If one has been careful to only ever engage in online discussion using a pseudonym, is it better to self-publish under one’s real name, or to come up with a second pseudonym and publish under it?

Is it best to use social media platforms (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc) to promote one’s work, or to stick to a blog and nothing else?

I’ll go through each question in turn and hopefully provide some useful insight to anyone deciding to be an independent, self-publishing author in the Year of Our Lord 2020. And let me state that NOTHING IN THIS POST CREATES AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP, NOR IS THIS CONSIDERED LEGAL ADVICE. THE INFORMATION IN THIS POST IS HYPOTHETICAL AND/OR FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY. ANYONE READING THIS POST ASSUMES ANY AND ALL RISK FOR THEIR OWN DECISIONS WHETHER OR NOT THEY ARE BASED ON ANYTHING CONTAINED IN THIS POST.

What would be your advice to someone who is in the beginning stages of becoming a self-published writer regarding the subjects of pen names and anonymity? 

I strongly suggest using a pen name. I use a pen name myself. I also strongly suggest remaining anonymous and self-doxxing as little as possible. Like David V. Sterwart, whose excellent post Hardwick referenced in his comment, I began my life as an author with the legacy understanding of social media. We are in a brave new world now where you WILL be made to suffer for wrongthink. As such, anything you can do to protect you, your family, and your livelihood is smart. 

I show my face and some details of my life, not for the sake of being an exhibitionist, but because I had thought, and read advice to this point some years ago, that you need to build a connection with your audience to really make them interested in reading what you have to write. Has this worked? I can’t say because I really don’t have anything to compare it to. I know that, for example, Brian Niemeier reveals his name and nothing else about his life or his physical appearance, and he is very successful. On the other hand, Jon Del Arroz is very open about his life and he is also very successful. So the best answer is the level of risk you are comfortable exposing yourself to.

Under what circumstances is it best to use one’s real name, and under what circumstances is it best to hide behind a pen name and/or an LLC? What are the pros and cons of each in your view? And what about using one’s real name, but partially obscuring it by using initials for the first and middle names?

This answer is similar to the previous one, but here’s a good rule of thumb: IF YOU ARE RELIANT ON OTHER PEOPLE TO PROVIDE YOU WITH YOUR PAYCHECK, USE A PEN NAME AND BE ANONYMOUS. In the alternative to this, you could also just never engage in discussion or reposting of any political content. This requires discipline, but it can be done. 

As far as LLCs go, their primary benefit is to shield you from personal liability for anything; only business assets can be seized via court judgment, etc., except in very extreme circumstances. However, LLCs cost money to set up, anywhere between $500 and $1,000 dollars depending on your state, and there are annual filing fees of several hundred dollars per year ato maintain your LLC. So for someone starting out, the chances that a self-publishing fiction author will say or do something related to writing and publishing that can get them into legal trouble is pretty small, so again, it all depends on your risk appetite. 

What about those situations in which one is not yet in a position (due to various reasons, such as financial ones) to obtain a LLC? Is it worth trying one’s luck at publishing without one? And if so, would it be best to publish under one’s real name, or under a pseudonym (possibly with the intention of later obtaining a LLC, hoping that no one has unmasked one’s secret identity before this is possible)?

See above, with two additional points. First, I’m a fan of pseudonyms.  The use of authorial pen names has a long and noble history, and these days has the added benefit of keeping your real life separate from your online life. 

Second, publishing without an LLC set up in no way precludes your ability to establish an LLC later. 

Regardless, this is a great time to be a self-published indie author: https://amatopia.wordpress.com/2020/06/16/its-so-hard-or-your-competition-has-never-been-weaker/

If one has been careful to only ever engage in online discussion using a pseudonym, is it better to self-publish under one’s real name, or to come up with a second pseudonym and publish under it?

This is all up to personal preference. It depends on how linked or separate you want each sphere of your online existence to be. Are you a politics guy? If your political following is into fiction, maybe they’re good people to market to and will spread the word about your work. If not, then maybe a secondary pen name is the way to go. There’s no easy answer here. In my case, I came onto social media and all of that with the intention of writing and publishing, and as such I try my damndest to keep the political talk to a minimum . . . but since I find the macro cultural issues as well as my religion so fascinating, and since those bleed into my writing, I talk and blog about these things from time to time. That said, I’m careful about it, and increasingly more so in today’s climate. But at the same time, if you ARE attacked, doxxed, etc., you have to fight back. Lawfare works. 

Read these posts:

Is it best to use social media platforms (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc) to promote one’s work, or to stick to a blog and nothing else?  

I contend that you need a blog as a writer. Read this post: https://amatopia.wordpress.com/2020/04/26/why-you-need-a-blog-if-youre-an-author/. That said, I deleted my first Twitter account before my first book was published, sold like garbage, and only started to sell books when I got back on Twitter. So I recommend Twitter, though other indie authors say otherwise. The fact of the matter is that, indie or tradpub, YOU HAVE TO DO YOUR OWN MARKETING. No one will do it for you. And in order to do that, you go where the people are. And lots of people are online.

I found Facebook and Instagram utterly useless in selling books. The blog has been helpful though, and the blog gives you your own place on the web for people to find you, to promote your work, and provide value for free to entice others to pay money for your writing. I recommend at a minimum a blog and a Twitter account. I also recommend running crowdfunding campaigns after you’ve published a book or two in order to both fund your writing and truly gauge audience interest. As Brian Niemeier is fond of saying, neo-patronage is the future. 

So there you go. I hope that these have been useful for everybody. Stay tuned for more, and always feel free to ask me questions like these. If I can inspire anybody, the way other authors like Rawle Nyanzi, Brian Niemeier, Jon Del Arroz, David V. Stewart, and Adam Lane Smith inspired me to write and publish, I’ll consider this entire blogging endeavor a success.


See the fruits of my own writing, marketing, and networking labor by buying one of my novels: The Last Ancestor is awesome–and don’t take my word for it; here’s Jon Del Arroz’s review–and a good place to start since I’ll be releasing Book II later this year.

And don’t forget that my IndieGoGo campaign for Dreamers and Misfits: The Definitive Book About Rush FANS, is still live and over 50 percent funded. Let’s push this over the finish line!

8 comments

  1. Alexander

    Thanks for the advice.

    Let me refer you and the commentators to Kirk (kriswtites.com)
    She has lots of war stories about the business side. She’s a published authour in both old pub and indie publishing.

    Her advice is never get an agent or dump him if you have one and self publish
    thepassivevoice.com has some business oriented post by a lawyer

    xavier

    xavier

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Xavier. Kris Writes has some good stuff. This post in particular: https://kriswrites.com/2020/07/01/business-musings-time-and-money-again/

      I checked out The Passive Voice too. I’ll be reading these blogs for a while.

      The important thing is that there’s no right answer to any of these questions, just suggestions about what has worked in the past. Everything is unique to everybody’s unique situation. So along someone else’s path to the letter is not likely to produce the same results for YOU.

      Like

      • Alexander,

        Absolutely. I’d have to keep an open mind. For example, if a small press offered me a contract, I’d still take to a lawyer to make sure might rights and obligations are reasonable and mutual as well as ensuring I don’t sign away any rights.Small doesn’t mean honest either.

        But it’s clear that you don’t agents. Nor should content creators delegate the book keeping to anyone but yourself or agents you pay (i.e the accountant you pay, etc)

        I find both website and the-digital-reader.com (aka Nate) are positive redpills. They tell the reality of the publishing industry in the English speaking world but they also offer orientations for content creators to take into account.

        And to keep being snobby purists and get involved in your business and act like the entrepreneurs you are.

        xavier

        Liked by 1 person

      • Right on. There’s nothing wrong with consulting with experts. But agents are just middlemen. They add little value and take a cut. Some might call them “parasites.” The best thing is, with today’s tools, nobody needs them.

        Like

  2. For some reason, I didn’t spot this post until today, although I’ve been reading various other articles on your blog nearly every day of the past week, including some from your front page.

    Thank you very much for your answers to my questions. I find them very useful.

    There’s one point that I’m still not clear on regarding LLCs, though. From what I had previously heard, LLCs are useful for (among other things such as those that you mentioned) shielding one’s identity from prying eyes that might try to trace a pseudonym to a real name by finding personal information in such things as one’s Amazon self-publishing account. I was under the impression that if one has a LLC, it can be used to hide one’s identity from Amazon and the like. Is this correct, or do LLCs lack usefulness for that particular purpose?

    Liked by 1 person

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