Independent Authors writing

5 Things Independent Authors do that are a Dead Giveaway

Indie authors are at a disadvantage. We self-publish without the selective screening of agents and objective publishers. Our works are not scrutinised by hard-nosed editors, rejected, rewritten, polished until they’re deemed suitable for showing to the world. All of that has to be done by ourselves or with minimal help on a shoestring budget. We’re marking our own homework and it shows.

As a writer, I’m in the same boat. It’s hard to judge one’s own writing and I’m never certain of the quality. Perhaps my prose is too ‘purple’. Perhaps my sentences are too long. As a reader, though, I know what jumps out at me and I’ve noticed a few things that independent authors often do that signpost ‘amateur’ self-publishing.

Format badly

Some indie writers give it away at a glance. No professional publisher would allow inconsistent indentations, split lines, strange fonts and ugly chapter headings, but I’ve seen all these in otherwise well-written novels.

My advice: look at books in your genre from big publishers and copy the formatting style. It’s not too difficult to learn how to format on common word-processing software (such as LibreOffice). Then be scrupulous with consistency.

Use clichés

It may not be ‘a dark and stormy night’ but if the phrase comes too quickly to mind and to the page, perhaps it’s mundane and over-used. Lack of crafting and originality in prose is very obvious in many of the self-published books I have tried to read.

My advice: Be judicious in your use of well-worn expressions. Try to spot the common phrase. Is it a cliché for a reason? If not, change it. Actively control the language you use.

Write in the present tense

This is a matter of personal taste, but the present tense in fiction is an immediate deterrent to me as a reader. Past tense is the standard, ‘invisible’ tense; it doesn’t distract the reader from the plot and the characters. The present tense can be managed skillfully in the hands of an expert, but runs the risk of sounding infantile.

My advice: Choose the past tense by default. Write your novel in the present tense only if it’s a positive stylistic choice and you know the reason. Be very careful not to mix tenses carelessly.

If you’re interested, here is my slideshow on the named English tenses with examples.

Use too much dialogue

Like primary children, some independent authors write their stories like radio plays, dominated by conversations between characters. Perhaps this is because it’s our first use of language, or perhaps it’s the influence of film and TV, but stories written in this way are a chore to read. Dialogue holds up the pace of the action and leaves little room for description and setting.

My advice: Use dialogue like spice. Choose carefully and use sparingly. If it doesn’t enhance the plot or tell us more about the character, leave it out.

Punctuate poorly

The problem with punctuation (and grammar), is that many writers do not know that they do not know how to punctuate properly. Generally speaking, professional editors hired by big publishing houses do know how. They may let the odd famous author get away with a few run-on sentences, but misplaced apostrophes, stray commas and incorrectly punctuated speech will be filtered out pretty ruthlessly.

My advice: Unless you are very confident that you have expertise in this area, use grammar checkers, electronic and human. Then proofread again. Beware editors who have comma splices on their home page. I have seen some!

Local area Press Publicity writing

Coverage in the Local Papers

Local papers generally do a great job at covering local authors. Articles like this benefit everybody involved. It would have been great if they had gotten my name right! Ah well.


The Positive Feedback Loop

For independent authors, one of the most challenging aspects of writing is not the writing, it’s the marketing. Not being signed to a traditional publishing house does have a lot going for it, including the freedom to write to your own deadlines, to retain the full rights to everything you publish, including international and foreign language versions, television and film adaptations etc. and to not have your work withdrawn if it dips in sales one month. But the big downside is that everything that is normally done by professional promoters and with considerable financial resources, needs to be done alone, by the author and that’s a long, hard slog in the dark.

Without publicity, nobody knows about the books. If nobody knows, nobody reads the books and if nobody reads the books then there’s no point in having written them. For me, it’s not about trying to make a living writing. If it were, I’d be writing the kind of thing that makes money, sells quickly and disappears as quickly. I just like to know that people have enjoyed the stories I’ve written, particularly my target demographic, the age group I used to teach and the teachers who still teach them.

This week has shown an upsurge in interest in ‘Ice Cooper and the Depton Shadelings’ almost certainly due to a positive review by Love Reading and resulting in Ice rising to 11 in Amazon’s ‘Bestsellers in Paranormal Fantasy for Children’. ‘Bestseller’ here is a tad moot since it appears to have very little to do with actual sales, but it was nice all the same. It was even nicer when, having tagged Anthony Horowitz into a tweet pointing out that our books were side by side, to get a friendly reply! (Sometimes the Internet is wonderful).

Most of us like some positive feedback, of course, and independent authors in particular need a critical eye and the affirmation that a complete stranger does like what you’ve written. But it’s ‘positive feedback’ in the other sense of the phrase too, meaning that what goes back into the system increases the recurrence of that same thing. This is how it is with publicity. The more you have the more you get. Certainly I felt encouraged enough to approach Kenilworth Books to ask them if they might put my books on their shelves. They’re known for being friendly to independent authors and that sets them slightly apart. You’d think all independent bookshops would at least consider it, but that’s not necessarily the case.

It’s entirely appropriate though. Depton is pretty much Kenilworth, after all.


Winning Pictures

Thank you to Peter and Walter who sent me these delightful monsters from Goblin Earth! I’m not sure if they can be tamed, but they look quite fierce.

‘Monster’ by Peter (6ys)
‘There may be Dragons’ by Walter (2yrs)
publishing writing

The Dominance of the Big ‘a’ (and Why it’s so Hard to Resist)

It’s a wonderful moment the first time you hold in your hand a physical copy of a book that you’ve written. No amount of digital text can compete with that solid artefact. It’s also comforting to note that people still love love them. Reading the real thing has not been killed off by all the putative threats of the past two centuries: not radio, not TV, not audiobooks, not e-books. None of these has stopped the purchase of the printed word on paper. And bookshops have survived, though by their own account, not all and not without great difficulty.

For this reason, I’m told, there is huge resentment amongst sellers of printed books, of their online, megalithic competitor that has almost (but not quite) wrapped up the entire market. If you’d like to see your book in a bricks-and-mortar store, you’d better not use the distribution services of that notorious company, nor have mention of it in your book. You’re unlikely to receive a sympathetic response. Apparently.

But then, bookshops have to accept some of the blame, don’t they? Certainly from the point of view of an independent author and publisher, this is how it feels. Because I really did try to find alternatives to the services provided by ‘a…’ but it was pretty unsuccessful in so many ways. Much as I might feel ethically compromised, they really do offer a fantastically easy and well-priced package for the likes of us. Nowhere else is as cheap, as easy or as flexible. No printing company offers POD (print on demand) on the same terms with as little fuss, with the same distribution for as little cost. No bookshop, large national or small independent is welcoming to independent authors and publishers or has a straightforward system to submit books for consideration.

I contacted by email, two nearby independent bookshops, knowing that they sometimes hold titles from local authors, and I asked: Here are my books. Would they be interested? What were the terms and normal procedures? Would they accept books ‘printed by a…’ or would they rather that I found a different printer? That was a month ago and I’ve yet to hear back at all. We’re in a pandemic, so I can forgive a little lack of communication. But the thing is this – knowing that they probably wouldn’t want the ‘a’ word anywhere near their store, I looked at alternatives for printing. Nothing comes close. One local printing company quoted me £11 per book for something that I sell for £5.99 and for which I currently pay £2 per book! Even the biggest rival POD company which offers a great service all round the world, charges more, is less simple to set up and requires an up-front payment for the service.

Then there are the national chains. One of the most widely-used makes a policy of not accepting anything from authors, though they have a self-professed policy of ‘Finding and championing publishers that are small, new, or hard to find on the high street’. That’s great and it’s a start, but it’s not easy, even after you’ve been down the standard route of obtaining an ISBN and making sure your book is properly listed on Nielsen (as I have). Publishers have to use one of their named distributors and are encouraged to go down the specific route of one in particular. This requires setting up a trading relationship with that wholesaler/distributor and then applying to the bookshop after that has happened.

Yes this is all doable, but they don’t make it easy, do they? Who does make it easy? That online company that is taking all the trade whilst making a bad name for themselves in a multitude of other ways. A finished book can be ready for the virtual bookshelves within an hour and on sale worldwide within a day.

Now at the back of people’s minds is that proviso, ‘Yes but it could be any old rubbish and that’s the problem.’ Well that’s true, but it does not mean it is any old rubbish and there almost certainly will be independently published books that are far from any old rubbish. They just might not be filling up the shelves of your local or national bookshop because really, how could they?


Free Summer Competition for Young Book Lovers !

As the Summer Holidays begin, enter this FREE COMPETITION for a chance to win a copy of

The Improbable Adventures of Dexter Duckworth!

Open to all children aged up to 11 years.

All you have to do is create a piece of artwork based on your idea of a creature that lives in Goblin Earth, take a photograph of it and get a parent to email it to me.

Entries will be judged by an independent panel and artwork will be anonymised. They’ll be looking for imagination and presentation.

Prizes will be awarded to the winning artwork in three categories based on age: 0 – 4, 5 – 8, 9 – 11.

All entries will be displayed on my website (with permission).

Competition Rules

  • The artist must be aged 11 years or below.
  • Artwork may be any medium.
  • Artwork must be the artist’s own.
  • Work should be photographed and sent by a parent or carer as an attachment in an email to
  • Please include in the email:
    • Artist’s name or nickname
    • Artist’s age in years
    • Parental permission in the form of a statement: “I give permission for my child’s name and artwork to be posted on the website of J A Bowler”.
    • A photograph or scan of the artwork!
  • For GDPR purposes, no other details apart from a first name or nickname and the picture of the artwork will be posted.
  • Judgement of winners is final and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • The competition is open now and closes on 20th August 2020.
  • Winners will be contacted by email and announced on this website on 21st August.
  • Prizes will be sent directly to the winners.

Have fun and I very much look forward to seeing your pictures!


Welcome to my author site

If nothing else, the combination of retirement from teaching and Covid-19 has provided ample opportunity for all the things that are required of an independent author/publisher. They are many and varied and the website is just one.

So this is new, but in fact I am not new to making them. I think my first website was back in the 90s in the bad old days of the Internet when it was like the Wild West – populated by late night surfers, techy types from Holland and Australia and intrepid folk who could withstand the harsh criticism of strangers. I’m a survivor of the original Flame Wars. 21st Century trolling has nothing on those days!

And yet, here I am, still trying to get it right. That original site was all bad html and a jumble of things all thrown together. It’s easier now – and harder. I don’t think design was ever my strong point. Portraits, I can paint – there you’re just observing light and shade and blocks of colour. Putting it together creatively is trickier.

And then there are the features. What to include and leave out? Should I have a separate page for the artwork? Should I include links to anything else? Would the academic writing be a distraction? Some authors have freebies to help develop relationships and build mailing lists. Would some short stories be appropriate? I’m independently publishing too. Would that be a new link or a new website?

Anyway – those questions are bound to be answered over the coming months as my learning curve in this business goes up exponentially. In the opposite direction to Covid-19, I hope.

Stay safe and happy reading!