Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step One: Write Your Story

This is the first post in what will be a continuing series called INDIE PUBLISHING FOR INTERNATIONAL WRITERS, a step-by-step guide for getting your stories into (digital) print. I’ll be doing each step with you, learning as you do, because I’ve never done this before either.

For the purposes of this project, I am aiming to publish a series of short stories, and bundle them into collections of five or six as I go along. I’m also working on second novel (set in New Orleans and Honduras at the beginning of the 20th century), writing this blog, and learning as much I can about digital publishing.

I have a few shorts already in the bank, a few more half-written, and a bunch of ideas I haven’t stretched past a sentence yet. I also have a novel (set in 19th Argentina) that is gathering dust. I haven’t decided whether to self-publish that or not. Watch this space.


This goes without saying, right? Don’t let yourself distracted by all the other stuff you have to learn (covers, marketing, formatting, pricing, setting up your accounts), we’ll get to that. After all, if you don’t have anything to sell, you can’t make any money.

All of the top-selling indie authors have a wide range of titles, often across many different genres, a mixture of short fiction and novels. I’m planning to publish a series of short stories and collections.  Set your own goals.

And forget all those shiny new toys you have to play with, make sure you are writing every day. Set aside the time. That time is golden.

You should aim to be producing new work on a regular basis. It’s this content that people will buy (and will hopefully want more of), so don’t let the process of publishing distract you from regularly sitting down and writing. Every day.

Be disciplined. If you want to be a professional writer (i.e. make money), you have to have a professional attitude. I learned this the hard way, and it took me way too long. Don’t make my mistake.

Write the story you want to read.

A lot of writers hate being asked where they get their ideas from, because the answer is really in the question. They make them up.

The most common cliché doled out to writers is “write what you know”. Now this isn’t bad advice, if you were a CIA field operative during the Cold War, you might have a good spy novel in you.

But it’s limiting advice. I’ve never fired a musket, eaten a horse, or had sex with a sailor, but I’m pretty sure I could imagine what it is like, given a little research. And if you can imagine it, you can write about it.

Instead, write the story you want to read. If your bookshelves are filled with police procedural novels, maybe you should reconsider your idea to write fantasy. If you are serious about this, you should be reading regularly in your genre.

If you love reading thrillers, and have the perfect high concept for a new series, but think you should be writing literary fiction, think again. Write the book you want to read.

Just remember to write every single day. Make the time. Force yourself. It will get easier with time. Slightly.

Sending your story out into the world.

So your story is finished. Are you ready to publish? Not quite. It’s always best to let a story stew for a few days (a few weeks in the case of a novel) before you check it over again. This distance allows all the things that are not on the page to fall from the forefront of your mind, so you can read it as a first reader does. What do you do in the meantime. Write another story. That’s your job.

You need to print the story out. You would be surprised the errors you catch when you see it on the printed page. Reading the story aloud is particularly clever at catching clunky phrases and awkward dialogue. When you are done with that, leave it another few days then have a look again.

As you gain more experience you get a sense of when something is done and you can skip some of these steps, but stick to them when you are starting out, or until you found a way of working that suits you better.

Getting a second opinion.

Done yet? Nearly. You need a second pair of eyes (called a beta reader) to look over it. I guarantee you they will catch something, because a writer can never read their story like a fresh reader will, it’s simply impossible.

This beta reader can be anyone you like, but what you need is someone who can give you more feedback than a simple thumbs up or down. You need them to look at grammar, sentence structure, usage and so on, as well as whether it works as a story, if there are any plot holes or unresolved threads, or if the characters engage the reader.

Fellow writers often make the best beta readers, and if you don’t know any, writers’ forums (such as Absolute Write) are the best place to find them. They also provide password-protected areas where you can post work and get feedback. While this can be useful for checking if something works in a general sense, or provide you with general critiques, I find it more fruitful to develop a relationship with a beta reader who you can email stuff back and forward with.

Remember, don’t abuse your beta reader! Only send them your most polished work. But you knew that, right?


David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

13 Replies to “Indie Publishing For International Writers, Step One: Write Your Story”

  1. Good stuff! I’m reading ’em all up to date. It’s interesting that you say to write what you want to read – SO important! I’m writing a post myself (for a future date) about the joys, or lack thereof, of writing in a genre I hate to read. Makes research rather unpleasant for starters. Good luck man!

  2. Hi David, great new blog series. I’ll be following with interest. And I’m especially interested to hear what you have to say about cover design. Well-designed covers sell books; especially in the digital age, when thumbnails are all a potential reader sees.
    ~ Charlotte

    1. Thanks Charlotte, that post will probably go up in a couple of days. It’s pretty much written already, but I want to try and break the series up with some other stuff. Thanks for reading, Dave.

  3. Hey David,

    Some words of wisdom there! There are definite parallels with the writing/recording and publishing process of the music world which is in some very murky waters at present! I think you are dead ‘write’! (Ha Ha!). Writer’s write – it may seem obvious but one can easliy get side-tracked by the marketing/publishing end of things. The truth is that everything comes from the art and that is the best use of the artist’s time. Here’s a few tips that I find very useful:

    Best of luck!


  4. Hi David, I found your story on SSA and submitted one myself (no joy). I’m Irish too, living in Co Wicklow, and, like you, I have about 35 short stories and 3 novels in the bag. I’m working on a YA dystopian that I will make into a trilogy if I live long enough. Like you, I have been thinking about ePublishing some of the shorts. I have about 8 or 10 SF’s that would go well together. I also plan to ePublish the YA when it’s written.

    At the moment, I’m researching ePublishing, and yesterday I joined Twitter to see if I can establish some sort of following before I dip my toe into ePublishing.

    I’ve asked a friend to build me a web site, and to help with cover art.
    I will be following your blog closely from now on. My immediate concerns are about the need for professional editing of material before publishing, and the ideal/max length of an eBook.

    PS I have eaten a musket, fired a sailor and had sex with a horse, so no worries there!


    1. Hey JB,

      If you are just e-publishing (not print), your only real expenses will be editing and cover art (presuming you go through the hassle of Kindle formatting yourself). I will be positing a piece about editing your stories in the next few days.

      With regard to ideal length, the beauty of an e-book is that there isn’t one, you can do whatever you like. The market demands a certain amount of value for certain price points, but at this stage, everything is in such flux that there are no hard and fast rules. My take is this: the lowest price point is 99c (US), and readers seem to feel ripped off for a 2000 words story (if you don’t have a big name), but some are okay with that price for a 4000 word story, as long as everything is labelled clearly and you don’t upset someone who thinks they are getting a novella or longer. I will probably release story collections (with five or six stories) with a total count of 20,000 to 30,000 words or so, for $2.99 I think, but that could change.

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