Katherine D. Graham is a fantasy author, developmental editor, and Reedsy reviewer from Tennessee. Her debut novel The Vow That Twisted Fate shook the self-pub world in 2021 and made Katherine Amazon’s bestselling indie writer. By now, she has already published five books and two more are coming soon.
What does it take to make a dream of becoming an indie author come true and go from zero to hero in self-publishing? Read the story of Katherine D. Graham.
Katherine always loved the idea of maintaining creative control of her work, from the content and cover to where her books would be available and what the pricing would be. That’s why a career as an indie author was a natural choice for her. Yet, if someone told her at the start of her path to self-publishing that she would meet so many amazing readers and fellow authors who would help her become a bestselling author, she would have been totally blown away by this news.
Making the first steps in self-pub was quite a challenge for Katherine. In the very beginning, a lack of funding resources limited her ambition to self-publish. Katherine admits that indie publishing (even if you have connections to swap edits with) is not always cheap, so starting out can be rather challenging. Katherine also struggled with figuring out how to find readers when she was a nobody: social media was extremely overwhelming, and starting a newsletter list seemed impossible at the start of her career.
Completing the first book was another great challenge. Even though the writing phase was fine, Katherine felt like giving up during the editing phase. She got the developmental edit back for The Vow That Twisted Fate and actually quit writing for an entire year because she wasn’t sure her writing could ever be “fixed” enough to publish. It took her husband (who never really reads fiction) telling her there was something special about the book to convince her to pick it back up again.
Self-publishing taught Katherine that it’s essential to be flexible and teachable. To succeed as an indie author, you must humbly accept constructive criticism not as personal attacks but as helpful tools to improve your writing. And, of course, never forget to be kind to oneself. Writing is an art, and you get better the more you do it. That’s why it’s vital to give ourselves the grace to grow and not expect perfection from the start.
If you asked Katherine what tools she uses to make writing easier, she’d tell you that there are so many that she even started a YouTube series about them. Still, her top 3 list includes AutoCrit online self-editing software for improving the text, Fiverr for finding and connecting with industry professionals, and MiblArt for covers.
Marketing is probably one of the most challenging aspects of self-publishing, but Katherine believes that even if you don’t have a big fanbase at the start, it is still possible to attract “your” audience if you do everything right. When she was just starting out, Katherine found that genuinely connecting with her readers and other authors (not to “sell” them anything, just to make real, meaningful connections) turned into a huge source of her sales when The Vow That Twisted Fate came out. Looking at readers not as numbers, but as other human beings whom her work resonates with and makes feel “seen” drives all of her social media, and social media is Katherine’s main traffic source.
Now, as a working mom of two very young toddlers, Katherine has to take advantage of writing time whenever it pops up. This means jotting down words for 5-10 minutes here or there, dictating her book (to transcribe later) while doing dishes or other chores, and staying up far into the night after the kids are in bed. She doesn’t really have any special rituals to make the writing easier, but she does love sitting down with a Black Cherry Soda and the oldest of her three cats when it’s time to write.
Here’s what Katherine would advise to all beginner authors who plan a career in self-pub, but doubts and fears prevent them from making the first step.
- Find your “why” before you ever start. Not all books thrive as self-published novels, just as not all books thrive as traditionally-published novels. When considering committing to the indie journey, ask yourself “Why” for the very first book. Keep this “why” (whether that’s to make money, transition to full-time author life, or just connect with other readers while maintaining control of your content) front-and-center for every hard day and as the center of what you celebrate accomplishing. It’s always worth it when you know what’s driving you.
- Surround yourself with peers who want to see indie authors rise and succeed. Unlike traditional publishing, your fellow indie authors are in this with you as peers, not competitors. If someone dislikes a traditional book, they say “I don’t like XYZ’s book”, but they still read other books by that publisher. If someone dislikes an indie book, they say “I don’t like indie books” and they may never read any indie author again. Find a positive community of fellow authors who are dedicated to furthering indie writing overall, and be open to learning from the trials/successes they share. Katherine admits that she would not have ever hit the Amazon bestseller list without her amazing fellow authors.
- If you don’t know where to start, consider partnering with a mentor. Indie publishing is a career move for a lot of aspiring authors. While a good mentor may not be “cheap”, their knowledge can be the foundation of what brings in readers and sales for the rest of the writing career. Katherine cannot thank Lindsey (from Of Ink and Pearls Publishing) enough for being her mentor when she wasn’t sure if she could do this indie journey. It was Lindsey who took an overwhelming monster of a mountain and turned it into bite-sized chunks of work that helped Katherine succeed.
For Katherine, being an indie author means taking the dream you have in your heart, spilling it onto a page, and “owning” the entire process of seeing it “born” into this world. If you also dream big and have amazing stories to tell the world, then join the creative, inspiring, and brave community of indie authors. It’s an exciting and transformative journey that will take you to the most unexpected but definitely awesome places and people.