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.
A great deal of food for thought. There are so many different things to think about when it comes to publishing. The decision on which route to take is not one to be taken lightly. Thank you for giving your perspective on it.
A pleasure. I hope it helps 🙂
I am glad you mentioned the hours which Indies put into their craft and not just writing.
Oh, it’s never-ending! 😀
Brilliant post. I find it incredibly hard and I do like the idea of finding a publisher. A lot. Like you, I made a career of marketing, so I enjoy it, but it’s tough to sell your own product.
It is a bit of a challenge, isn’t it? With my clients’ products, I have no shame. When it comes to my own, though, I cringe 🙂
Yeh, at least we can console ourselves knowing we’re not the only ones.
There is some great advice in this post. Thank you for sharing. Rae.
Thanks for reading! 🙂
While I’ve self-published two books now, I’ve been keeping an eye on two friends who went with small publishing companies.So far, I’ve not been impressed that having a publisher is any better than doing it yourself. You still have to turn yourself into a small marketing firm. While the publisher can open some doors for their writers, the writers still have to do a lot of work themselves in terms of getting their book out there. For me it;s still six of one, half dozen of another.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience! 🙂
Excellent points all! One last thing I would advise all indie authors to remember is that it is a marathon, not a sprint. It can take a long time to build up a readership. If you feel burned out, take a break. Most of all, listen to your heart. 🙂
Couldn’t have put it better myself. Thank you! 🙂
Thank you for your kind words, Nicholas. This was a great post then, and it still rocks. On an unrelated matter: I’ve been neck-deep in revisions so I’m way behind in my blog reading. I’ve discovered something amazing, which led to those revisions. I’ll either email you or write a post about it. Being as prolific as you are, you will love it!
Cool, looking forward to it! Thanks! 🙂
I think I do rave about those benefits, but I make sure to bemoan the darker side of this. Being someone who wants to wander off when stressed and just write until I feel better, the marketing is the grinder. I’ve actually stopped sugar-coating the whole thing when someone asks me about being an indie author. It’s fun, but the real work kicks in after the book is published. There are only so many marketing sites out there too and reusing them can making you part of the background. If you wait too long on another book then your promos can get stale and you find yourself in a low/non sales period. There are just so many pitfalls, obstacles, and natural slow periods, so this isn’t for the faint of heart.
Keep in mind I’m saying this during a really bad sales month and not much confirmation on if my next book will be ready by April. I’ve been told that it wouldn’t be much different with a publisher since they don’t do much in the way of advertising these days. The big benefit there is being sold in a bookstore and adopted by a library. The trick is just getting the right deal.
You’re right, getting the right deal is paramount. Thanks for sharing your experience 🙂
You’re welcome. It’s definitely been an experience.
Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
More from Nicholas 😉
When I first set out back in the mid nineteen ninety-five Nicholas, I spent forever submitting to various publishers (all small press), as not one literary agent, or any of the then big six publishing houses wanted to know.
Eventually I found one, but not until twenty-ten. For a while everything was rosy until the day I asked a simple question of my publisher – how come that apart from preparing my MS for publication and its cover, you expect me to do literaly everything else such as promotion?
Needless to say, soon after asking that pointed question we parted company. It wasn’t until I followed the Indie route, which I might add,I do not regret, that I found practically all publishers whether conventional or independant want you to do all the work while they reap the financial benefits.
If anyone thinking about taking up writing as a career were to ask me which to chose, it would be Indie every time. So far I have enjoyed success as a mid list writer. Out of the eight titles I have written, one became a best seller for two years.
Currently I’m busy writing my ninth. This time I have gone back to my first love – science fiction.
As I often say, I’m against the poor business practices that some publishers follow. However, I still think that having a good publisher can do wonders for your work.
Of course, you may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your Prince Charming 🙂