I wrote this post for Sue Coletta’s blog. Sue is a crime writer and a lovely lady, who offers plenty of great tips and advice on getting traditionally published, pitching to agents etc. As she has focused on that side of publishing, she asked me for a post that explores the Indie side of things, to help her readers choose the route most appropriate to them. I love and support Indie authors, but am upset when people assume this must mean that I hate traditional publishers. In fact, I believe that most professional authors will be hybrid ones in the future. So, here is my guest post.
The Ups and Downs of Indie Life
I was watching a hilarious Mike & Molly episode the other day. Molly is a new author whose manuscript was recently accepted by a publisher, along with a nice cash advance. She is showing her publisher the first draft of her contemporary erotic novel.
As soon as he enters the room, he claps his hands in admiration. “I love it,” he says. “The story of a woman who sleeps with a lot of men while searching for her one true love is brilliant. I only want to make a tiny suggestion.” He leans towards her. “What if, every time she has sex, she travels through time. That way, she still has to sleep her way to her one true love – only, through time.”
After trying to ignore the suggestion at first, Molly finally protests, declaring her refusal to do so.
“I apologize,” the publisher says and steeples his hands. “I’m sorry if I gave you the impression you have a choice. Now get out there and write me my book!”
Sitcom hyperbole aside, this is how many Indie authors imagine the collaboration between author and publisher. As a hybrid author, I have been lucky enough to have been on both sides of the fence. That is how I know that having a good publisher is a major boon to you and your work.
Most Indie authors will rave about the fact that they can publish whenever they felt like it, not when a higher authority gives them their stamp of approval. They will grin when thinking of how they can choose the perfect book cover or change their prices at will. They have the freedom to organize as many giveaways and promos as they desire. They can make changes to their book whenever they wish. In short, they have complete control. And they keep both rights and the majority of money made through sales.
All this is important, especially if you are a published author with an established readership and platform. There is a flip side to all this, though.
I started writing professionally in 2009. I had a few short stories published in magazines and in an anthology, then, in 2013, I self-published my first book. I was shocked to find that mine was one of some 3,000 books published each day. To set my book apart from the other 2,999 ones, I had to develop some serious marketing skills – and fast.
The other day I saw the number of books published daily has now climbed to 6,500.
You need all the help you can get to make this work, and most Indies will forget that self-publishing turns them, effectively, into a small publishing house. They have to deal not just with writing, but with editing; proofreading; cover and swag design; organizing blog tours; marketing; social media campaigns and giveaways. They have to watch out for poor deals, with marketing companies promising authors the world, only to take a large chunk out of their limited budgets. They have to adapt to a rapidly shifting environment on a daily basis.
Indies will seldom mention the long hours all this entails, or how exhausting it can get. It’s not a coincidence that most Indies have published a single book – I literally work all day to build a brand for my epic fantasy series, Pearseus, and for myself. Having expanded into children’s books lately, I now have to make twice the effort.
Don’t get me wrong. Personally, I love it. I have some 20 years of Internet marketing experience, and have founded or co-founded eight startups in that area. I have approached writing with the same passion, dedicating my every waking hour to it. Still, I sigh with relief whenever my publisher sends me some promo material for Runaway Smile, my children’s book, knowing that I didn’t have to design it from scratch. I smile, cause I don’t have to negotiate deals with bookstores or distributors. Nor did I have to find the perfect printers for my book.
That’s why I always say that I’m not against publishers. I’m against the poor business practices sometimes associated with bad publishers – such as unnecessary retention of rights, dodgy book-keeping practices, ridiculous pricing and dreadful book covers. A good publisher, however, can be your best friend. I chat regularly with mine (hi, George), about everything, from politics to the future of the publishing industry.
Before signing with him, however, I had already rejected the first publisher I had approached, because of the terrible terms their contract offered. In the back of my head, I knew I could afford to do this, as I had already self-published half a dozen books. I knew the ropes, and self-publishing had helped me understand much better the limitations and benefits of traditional publishing. It gave me the confidence to walk away from a bad deal and negotiate a good one.
So, if you’re lucky enough to find a publisher you can work with, definitely go for it. If, however, you feel you’re getting a poor deal, remember there is an alternative route. It’s not for everyone, but it has its own rewards.