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Reasons to Brave the Indie Publishing Jungle

What to consider before taking your work indie.

Sarah Hoyt


October 19, 2013 - 9:00 am
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Selling your writing in 13 weeks — week two.

Before you go it alone in publishing, you should consider some things -- and find a cool hat.

Before you go it alone in publishing, you should consider some things — and find a cool hat.

So, you’ve looked at your options, studied your product, and are considering just taking it indie, which for the purpose of this article means either self-published or with a small publisher.

Very well. Last week we examined the potential pros and cons of going traditional, and this week we’ll do the same for indie.

Sometimes, it’s just clear cut that you should go indie.

Some of these cases are, say, when you’re writing a book about something that doesn’t have a ready market in traditional publishing. Very often these are cross-genre things, and your reception at the two or three places you sent it to was “I love this, but I don’t see a market.” Or if there’s only one or two houses you’d consider in the field you’re writing in, and they’re known to take forever to answer or, for whatever reason, you’ve come to the conclusion you have no chance with them.

In most cases, things are not that clear cut. You’re sitting there, with your finished manuscript and considering “Indie or traditional.”

Well, traditional will give you money upfront, but after that you only get at best 8% of cover price. And your book is not fully in your control. Someone could slap an awful cover on, and nine times out of ten you have absolutely no say in it.

On the other hand, in Indie Publishing most of the time you have full control. (At least if you’re self-publishing. If you are publishing with a small press, you might still relinquish some of the control, such as you might have cover consultation, but it’s doubtful you’ll have cover decision.)

That’s good and bad.

Let’s take indie publishing pros and cons.

The most important advantage of indie publishing, at least in my opinion, is that in a market that’s as volatile and unpredictable as the publishing market is just now, you don’t stand at risk of losing the copyrights to your books to someone else’s lawsuit. (This might not be true with small presses, so investigate them carefully and, as always, have an IP attorney read any contract.)

The con in this case is that no one is going to pay you big money for the licensing of that copyright. You’ll put the book up and you might make a few thousand dollars in a year or you might only make a few hundred. There is no telling.

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All Comments   (3)
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Because the Traditional Publishers have a limited number of slots, we are left wondering if our work is not good enough for the readers, or just not good enough to muscle into the crowd at the top. Or, doesn't fit the publisher's political/social slant.

The stuff I put out Indie in the early days, I now realize was seriously in need of copyediting. And better covers. Both of which they are now getting. But those were my second string, so to speak. And still, they sold. My best work was with an agent, collecting rejections--and no money.

I think the transition to Indie is probably harder for the already published writers, in that they depend on their writing income. I never reached that exalted peak, so there were minimal financial hurdles, for me.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
-- Some of these cases are, say, when you’re writing a book about something that doesn’t have a ready market in traditional publishing.--

That covers a lot of ground, as economics and the terrors of marketing compel the conventional publishing houses to avoid virtually all such experiments. Pub World can afford only about one Jerzy Kosinski per century.

-- It is your job to make sure that book goes out with the best presentation possible. Best cover, best text formatting, best layout, best everything you can do. --

All true. However, these are things for which help is available, admittedly at a price -- but it's a FIXED price, one that doesn't involve sacrificing either the bulk of your revenue or control over your book.

-- You’ll also have to learn the idiosyncrasies of keeping accounts at various online merchants. You’ll have to decide whether Amazon Prime’s increased royalty is worth it to you or if you get more money from being in all outlets at once, whether to launch a book off with a few free days, or just toss it out to sink or swim. --

In the usual case, these are things one can experiment with, and one's errors are correctable rather than permanent.

-- your book written at a level that you’re comfortable letting vast numbers of strangers see it?

-- Look, I’m going to be absolutely honest here: gatekeepers are no guarantee that a book is good. A lot of mainstream publishing books, some of them bestsellers, are cringingly, mind-bogglingly bad: bad research, bad writing, bad characters. --

The sins of traditional publishing do not excuse those of the indie writer / publisher. Indeed, we have even less excuse, because our personal investment and control are so much greater. But once again, help is available (sometimes for a price) from the ever-expanding list of freelance editors and critique circles.

-- In the same way, before you throw your story out at the mercy of the cold, cruel world, find a few unbiased readers. (I always like to get between six and ten.) --

Glory be to God, Sarah! Most of us don't have that many people who owe us money! Besides, "unbiased" is a big assumption to make about 1) anyone whom you know personally well enough to ask for such a favor, and 2) who would agree to provide it.

Going indie is an adventure, and no mistake. But it's also quite educational, and it's sometimes rewarding. Sometimes. Which is the same thing one might say about traditional publishing.

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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Couple of 'not sure I agree' comments, from the viewpoint of a reader not an author:
- "best presentation possible" - eh, there must be a point of diminishing returns. For example: Personally, I care a lot more about content than cover; i.e. the most important element of said cover is the author's name. Some percentage buy because the cover 'said' something to them, but how many in your genre's customer demo are heavily influenced by image?
Even less influential: some of the interior design things people seem to agonize about... Anything you can't automate in your word processor should be looked at twice as to whether it actually creates more sales... or would your time be better spent writing one more story a year?
- "Unbiased readers" - if it's ok that I'm biased toward the genre you're writing in, I'll volunteer to read & comment! Honestly, if you have discussed your writing with anyone - your librarian, your grocery-store clerk, literally anyone - enough to believe they like your genre and can read somewhat analytically, you can get useful feedback. If your writing's good, it's not a one-way favor, you know.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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