3 steps to project management for indie authors…


For much of the last twenty years I’ve wrestled with project plans for a living. What’s that got to do with writing and indie publishing? Quite a lot as it happens.

Being an indie publisher isn’t just about writing a book and hitting publish on Amazon (or your platform of choice). As soon as you make the decision to publish independently, you become…wait for it…an independent publisher. And that means that you need a budget (we’ll talk about that next time) and a project plan. At the very least. In short, you need to do for yourself all the things that a traditional publisher would normally do for you.

Really? Yes, really.

The hard fact is, publishing a book is a project in itself- and all projects have three key steps:

  • Quality or scope
  • Time
  • Budget

Any decision you make in any of these areas will have an impact on something else:

Quality or scope

Every project has what we call CTQs- or Critical To Quality. It goes without saying that you want this book to be the absolute best version of itself that you can make it, but you may have other deal-breakers as well.

Amongst other things, you need to decide on the platforms you’ll release to, the editor/s you’ll use, the cover design process. You’ll also need to consider how long you have to write the book, and what you’re prepared to do to make it the best it can be. Another question at this point you’ll need to think about is what success for this book looks like. Is it reviews, sales, or something else?

What comes out of this exercise are the tasks you need to complete, the time in which you’ll need to have them completed, and the budget you’ll be working within.


It’s here that you need to determine your release date- and what you need to do to get there. Do you need to pay someone to complete a task that you planned on doing yourself? If so, you’ll need to re-cast your budget. Are you moving the date forward? This could mean having to make do with one editorial pass rather than two. Perhaps you decide to save time and money by designing the cover yourself? The choices you make in regards to time will impact both quality and budget.


This is the tough one.

We’ll work through this in a separate post, but you’ll need to make decisions regarding your spend on:

  • Editing
  • Cover design
  • Marketing
  • Sale price

There could be other expenses too that need to be factored in. Say you want to use a line from a song? That will cost. Sometimes a lot. The resultant impact to your budget could mean you need to re-draft part of your story. That could have a flow-on effect to your release date. Maybe it means you miss your window with your editor and have to wait for another. Now your whole schedule is out.

What are your financial goals for this book? Do you expect to earn back your investment or are you taking a longer view? How many copies do you want to sell? In what time frame? What do you need to do to achieve this? Do you need to factor in marketing or advertising spend? If your objective is to break even with this book, you’ll need to work out how many copies at different price points will get you there.

As indies, we need to do all of this for ourselves…it’s not just about turning up for the fun stuff. Such is the life when you head up (ahem) a publishing empire…

Next time: Project planning for indies.

Why I pay for stock photos…

Depositphotos_70713707_original copy
The image I purchased for Big Girls Don’t Cry

You know how I told you the other day about how I’m in the middle of the cover design process? It occurred to me that there was one aspect I didn’t talk too much about: images- not just what to use, but whether they can be used.

I’m a creative, and don’t give my work away for free- although reserve the right to do so if I choose. That’s why I pay for every photo that I use on my blogs- unless it’s a photo that I’ve taken myself (most on and anyways are my own images).

There are plenty of stock photo companies out there with image packages available. I’ve purchased image packs from Shutterstock, istock and Dreamstime in the past, but now mostly use Deposit Photos.

I sign up to appsumo and wait for their annual offer on deposit photos image packs. Last time I bought three packs of 100 images for around $100 in total. It’s worth signing up and keeping an eye out for the specials. There’s no timeframe within which you need to download the images, and they look better than the photos I take.

The thing is, most images you purchase will be licensed for particular purposes. Deposit Photos do a great job of showing what’s allowed under a standard license and what you must buy an extended license for. In short, if you intend you use the image to make money, you probably should be buying the extended license- although I’m not a lawyer, so please do your own research and seek your own advice.

When it comes to book covers, it’s all a tad confusing. One line states that a standard license is sufficient for a book cover, but further down it also states that an extended license is required for ebooks that are offered for resale or distribution.

As I said before, I’m not a lawyer (so naturally nothing in this post is intended to be used as legal advice), so when it comes to images I intend using on my covers, I play it safe and but the extended license. It costs more (I paid $89 for the extended license for the image I used on Big Girls Don’t Cry, and prices do vary) but I know I have the rights to use it- and that peace of mind is worth the extra expense. Besides, I know that I’m helping another creative pay their bills- and as creatives, that’s what we all aspire to.

How to choose a cover design…

Path through bluebell woods in early morning sunrise

Wish You Were Here is now safely off being copy edited- which means I need to think about all the other millions of tasks that need to be completed in order to get it onto the virtual bookshelves at the end of October. Highest on that list is the cover.

I’ve developed a good relationship with the freelance designer I used for Baby, It’s You and Big Girls Don’t Cry, but Wish You Were Here is different- we’re going almost immediately to print on demand with this one- as well as all digital platforms- so there are different specifications required for the cover. For starters, she’ll need to design a back cover, and a spine, as well as a front cover that will look great as a thumbnail. Also, the print version of the cover won’t be able to be nailed down until the file is converted and we know how many pages there will be. Yep, I agree- it all sounds a tad too hard.Big Girls Don't Cry

So, what do I tell my designer? As much as I can. The more information she knows about the book, the genre, the location, the themes, the characters, the better. The basic specs are relatively easy:

  • Title: Wish You Were Here
  • Author: Joanne Tracey
  • Tagline: yet to be determined
  • Notes on text: Please use same fonts as on Big Girls, but switch the size so my name is larger than the title this time.
  • Front cover to be 2500 pixels tall, 1563 pixels wide and no more than 2MB.

As for the rest, I’m after a cover that’s in a similar style and theme to Big Girls Don’t Cry. I want it to have the same sense of place. Where I used one of my own photos in the cover for Big Girls (a Balinese rice field), I can’t for Wish You Were Here. The book is largely set in a fictional village named Brookford in The Cotswolds.

Early morning view looking across to Chalford

Brookford could be an amalgam of any of the villages we visited when we were over there last year, but it’s somewhere near Cirencester and Stroud, close to Sapperton and Frampton Mansell.


I tried to take some photos of the landscape in and around the farmhouse we stayed out just outside of Chalford- and some of the cottages- but the light was so dull and flat, that none of my pictures are usable as high res images. I wanted that soft light that warms the yellow of the Cotswold stone- on both the houses and the stone walls.  I need the light to show promise and the potential of a happy ending.

As a result, I suspect I’ll need to purchase extended licence stock photos instead. But again, of what? There’s a pivotal and emotional scene set in a bluebell wood that I’d like to capture the moment and mood of…

Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown

The book is also partly set in Queenstown- a place where I have plenty of great landscape shots- all in good light- yet, that’s only part of the story and this is contemporary women’s fiction- not travel.

Like I did last time , I went searching for covers- what else is out there? What’s been winning the contests? What’s coming up on my Amazon searches? What can I pin to my pinterest covers board? (If you want to know how else I use pinterest in my writing, check out this post).

I googled the top contemporary romance books on Amazon and saw absolutely nothing that I ended up pinning. I checked out last year’s winners  of the Romance Australia cover contests and pinned a couple. Tears of the Cheetah won best romantic suspense cover. It’s a lovely cover, but it tells me nothing about the book or genre other than where it’s set. It could be a travel book. Luna Tango won the contemporary category. I love everything about that cover. This year’s winners are here.



Next up was best-selling Aussie contemporary writers. I liked Rachel John’s covers, but again, didn’t get that sense of place I was after. The ones who do that best are the rural romance girls. The majority of covers I pinned were in that genre.

One thing, though, they all had in common was a picture of a person- or persons. I get that this immediately tells the reader that there are romantic elements within, but it causes me even more indecision.

In a not very scientific poll, I asked the question of Facebook and Twitter friends: do you like people on the front of your books? Generally the answer was no, yet there is virtually nothing on the romance shelves that doesn’t have a picture of either the gorgeous guy, the thoughtful heroine, or the happy couple. People say it turns them off, yet this is what readers seem to be buying.

Escape Publishing, in particular, have a thing about showing full faces (see Evan and Darcy on the pinboard), Momentum (for Pan Macmillan) do the same (see The Peppercorn Project on the pinboard). It obviously works for them, but do I want to put a pre-conceived picture of Max and Richie into my reader’s minds? I’m not sure about that.

The other questions Jacinda usually asks  in order to get a feel for the story and the design are:

  • What are some of the most powerful/ important scenes/ ideas of the book?
  • What feeling are you trying to get across in the book? (Name 3 emotions you would describe your book as)
  • Is there an item or concept that is thematic in the piece?
  • What’s your target market?

As for the answers to these? Well, that would be too much of a spoiler alert!

Sunrise near Frampton Mansell
Sunrise near Frampton Mansell

What To Expect From A Copy Edit…

closeup of a pencil eraser correcting an error

Wish You Were Here is about as done in the structural editing stakes as it can be. I’m doing a final pass through for the big stuff and then it’s off for copy edit. I’m also sending it off to my beta (or first) readers at this time too.

I remember when I first got the copy edit back for Baby, It’s You. It was terrifying- this marked-up document full of deletions and comments. The page was full of them. Every page was full of them. I started to sweat. Seriously.

As I plodded through the first chapter though, it got easier. Most were minor grammar and punctuation changes- commas instead of semi colons, quotation marks the wrong way round (something scrivener tends to do for conversations where the sentence starts with S) that I hadn’t picked up on. Others were style changes to keep things consistent. Some were comments with suggestions to tighten the words.

It’s a detail and consistency thing- and I’m the first to confess that I’m crap at both detail and consistency.

When it came time for Big Girls Don’t Cry to come under the attention of the track change equivalent of the red pencil, I had a better idea of what to expect.

So, what exactly is a copy edit? The difference between them is a trees and forest thing. In a structural edit, the forest is of interest; in a copy edit, it’s the trees.  A structural edit looks at the big picture: plot and flow and characterisation etc. A copy edit, however, is about detail, style and consistency.

In a copy edit, the editor will go word-by-word, line-by-line, page-by-page through the manuscript,  looking critically for errors, issues, typos, clarity, repetition, cheesiness etc. As an example, at one point in Big Girls my leading lady, Abby, says something like ‘I had plenty of leave up my sleeve.’ Really Jo? Really? I’d completely missed it.

Then there’s the pacing and clarity thing- a tiny rearrangement of words can sometimes make a whole sentence read so much better. Occasionally, Nicola will suggest a change: ‘re-worded, edit ok?’ – at other times she’d leave a comment: ‘I think this sentence needs work.’ It’s about placing the words in the location and order where they will be of the most service.

Putting all of this together, the process of copy editing is time consuming- and that’s why it’s also the most expensive part of the self-publishing process. If you’re even half as detail-challenged as I am, it’s also a step that you can’t afford to miss- especially if you’re an indie author.

As an aside, I was reading a book the other day- traditionally published, where I counted no few than around six errors- jarring errors. Ironically, one was in a chapter about editing. The book was beyond fabulous, and I forgive easily, but given the money that traditional publishers have for editing and proofreading, it’s also not a good look.*

I use the same editor- Nicola from ebookedit– for the copy process as well as structural editing- but you don’t have to. I do- partly because I’m lazy and don’t have the time to go out and look for another editor and go through the whole getting to know you and your work business. Mostly though, it’s because she “gets” what I’m trying to do, the story I’m telling, and she understands my voice- and that is invaluable.

Because most editors charge by the hour, you can make it cheaper by ensuring that your work is as clean as it possibly can be before it goes out. Ebookedit have some suggestions to help you through this. The link is here.

If you’re working with someone for the first time, most editors will ask you for a sample of your writing so that they can quote you an approximate figure. Some will set a maximum price, some will not. Before signing the contract with your editor, make sure that you know (and have budgeted) for the maximum charge.

Check also whether your editor is doing one pass or two of the document- it does make a difference to the cost. If your manuscript is non-fiction, there could be a lot of fact checking required- in addition to the grammar, spelling, style etc. A second pass will pick up the details missed on the first round.

When she was working on Baby, It’s You, before proceeding too far down the track, Nicola sent me a sample chapter she’d edited- just to ensure that I was ok with the style and method she was using. I was. This step wasn’t necessary for Big Girls Don’t Cry.

A lot of authors will say that the best way to copy edit is by printing out the manuscript and going through it manually. This doesn’t work so well for me- I like to work straight from a document with all the changes marked up. I can then deal with each change in order. The whole idea of a red pencil and a manuscript is evocative, but not practical for me. You could be different. My point? Check how your edit will be done, and the method by which it will be returned.

What’s next?

While Wish You Were Here is off being copy edited, I’ll work on the cover. I have some ideas to send the designer, but more on that next time.

*If this post contains typos or grammatical errors, please see this as a reason why I invest in a good editor!


10 Reasons Why I Love Scrivener…

10 Reasons I Use Scrivener...

I’m a pantser rather than a plotter. This means that sometimes I truly have no idea what’s going to happen until it does. I write scenes as they come to me, and generally get a draft out quickly. Because of this I need an app that doesn’t mean that I’m cutting and pasting whole rafts of words through larger rafts of words.

So I use Scrivener. For these reasons:

1. Project Targets

I need this. I set myself an imposed deadline and tend to stick to it. I pop this into the targets, decide how many days a week I’m going to write, and hey presto I have a daily word count.

The little line graph starts off red, moves to amber, and becomes greener as you get closer to achieving your daily target. You can even set it to alert you along the way.

2. The Folders

I allocate each chapter a new folder, and then add sub-folders for each new scene.

I label the folders with a sentence that tells me what that chapter is about, and each scene gets a few descriptive words too.

3. Flexibility

As I said, I tend to write in scenes.

Scrivener allows you to pop a synopsis of each scene, sort of like a post it sticker. This means that when I’m looking for something, a passage, whatever, I can just browse the synopsis. In Scrivener, this is available in a corkboard view, document view or outline view.

More importantly, you can drag scenes, and chapters around- before or after other scenes. There’s no cutting and pasting, no risking losing chunks of words.

You can even drag scenes down to a deleted scenes folder at the bottom of the page, so you can easily retrieve it if you change your mind later.

4. Word Count

Aside from the project total, Scrivener also keeps track of the words per scene. I don’t like my scenes to drag on too long, so this helps me work out where some trimming is required.

Apparently in The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton decreases her chapter length in proportion to the previous so that it spirals into an ending. It’s supposed to mimic the waning cycle of the Moon. The astrologer in me can appreciate it, the commitment-phobe in me hasn’t yet committed to reading it. Having said that, Scrivener would be good for that.

5. Character Sketches

Ever had to trawl through thousands of words trying to remember what you named the best friend’s husband? How old her kids are? Their names? Don’t stress it. There’s a handy little character section especially for that.

I sometimes find a celebrity who I think could look like my character and attach that image. I’ll also attach images of outfits that they might wear to work, or coffee, or on a date. It’s almost like having a pinboard.

I use this space to write any backstory that I need to write, and to keep track of things like goals, motivations and conflicts.

6. Location Settings

Similar to character settings, I find it helpful to pop in a pic or two, as well as some descriptive words. If there’s any history that can help me with backstory, it goes in here too.

7. Colour Coding

This is a new discovery for me. I Want You Back is an ensemble cast and is written in three different points of view. Colour coding allows me to see at a glance who is saying what. I also used this when I was editing Big Girls Don’t Cry to indicate which scenes still needed work.

8. Research

There’s a whole folder where you can store your research. Cut and paste directly into it, or write back stories to your hearts content. It’s all here, all handy.

9. Trash

I prefer to call this folder my “out-takes”…the words that when they first came out of my brain seemed so clever, but in the context of an actual story, are a tad too contrived. I save them down here. Just in case.

10. Compile

Then when you’re done, the whole thing compiles into a word doc (or pdf or whatever) at the touch of a command.

Too easy! I can’t say the same for the writing, or the editing…

Scrivener isn’t just for novels- there’s a format for all types of long form non-fiction as well. I use Scrivener for mac (purchased through the app store), but there’s also a version for windows users. Google it.

Continue reading “10 Reasons Why I Love Scrivener…”

Pinterest for writers- how to make it work for you

Pinterest For WritersI’m about two-thirds of the way through the current re-write for Wish You Were Here. All going well it will be done next weekend and off to Nicola at ebookedit for copy editing at the end of the month. Yes, we’re nearly there.

As I’ve mentioned before, this story is about movement, and it covers a lot of physical territory- some places that I’ve seen and taken inspiration from, and some I haven’t been fortunate enough to visit myself.

That’s where pinterest comes in handy. Pinterest? Get off the internet and keep writing, I hear you say. The thing is, it’s not all about procrastinating…truly…

I’m yet to fully explore pinterest as a method for growing my list or my readership (although this post will be my go-to when I do…) but I do use it as a pinboard or ideas board as idea triggers for when I write. It helps to fill the gaps, to add the layers.

I pin pictures of locations, houses, outfits, pubs, foods, tracks…you name it. Essentially I pin anything that my protagonist might do, the places that she might go, things that she might see, and looks that she might wear. It helps me picture places that I’ve never been- or didn’t take enough notice of when I was there. For those places I have visited, the pins show me what they might look like in other seasons.

In the early days of Wish You Were Here , I also pinned pictures of celebrities that I thought could be inspirations for Max and Richie- so that I’d start with a picture in my head of how they looked, the way they smiled. As I got to know them better, I took those pins down- partly because I didn’t want to feel tied to these images, but also because I didn’t want anyone else to have a pre-conceived notion of who Max and Richie are.

Without giving too much away, here’s the link to my board for Wish You Were Here…make of it what you will. The bluebells in the main pic in this post represent a major scene in the story.

Over the next few weeks I’ll create another board- inspiration for my cover art…naturally I’ll share that with you too…

As for the actual locations I’ve used? I’ll tell you about those sometime soon…

Continue reading “Pinterest for writers- how to make it work for you”