Skip the Slush Pile: The Case for Indie Publishing

This is a post I would have written somewhat reluctantly as little as a week ago.

First, I’ll start with some trivia: I’ve been writing for literally longer than I can remember. My memory does not go back as far as I’ve been writing. According to my mom, I used to write and draw books as a child and staple them together. I don’t remember doing this, but I trust my mom’s recollection (she was in her 30s) over mine (I was, like, five).

Fast forward to my young adult years–think high school and college–when I devour book after book by some of my favorite authors: Sophie Kinsella, Emily Giffin, Marian Keyes, Jennifer Weiner, all of whom have encountered wild success through traditional publishing. Hasn’t that always been The Way? Isn’t landing an agent and scoring a high-paying contract what every writer aspires to?

For some, yes. But for everyone?

Mmm… Not so much anymore.

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Let me confess that as little as a year ago, I never would have considered going the indie route for publishing my fiction. Instructional or inspirational nonfiction, sure. But novels? Those were the treasures that were meant to be saved for “real” publishing. I thought self-publishing my novels would doom me to anonymity forever, that I’d never experience the rush of joy that came with walking into a bookstore and seeing my book on the shelf.

Now, let me also confess that I was wrong.

Indie publishing is becoming a norm for all kinds of writers and a lucrative and fulfilling one at that. I’ve heard enough success stories from other authors to know that with the right amount of work, self-publishing can pay off much more than letting someone else publish your book so it can sit on the shelves for a few months. I admire those authors who are consistently writing, promoting, writing, marketing, and writing some more. They are doing their work and building authentic fan bases, and they’re learning along the way.

Here are some reasons to skip the slush pile and self-publish instead:

  • Creative control. When you independently publish, you have control over your cover design, your marketing strategy, your pricing strategy, and your distribution. You don’t have to relinquish control to a publishing company that always has its best interests at heart, but not necessarily yours.
  • Timing. When you write a book and sell it to a publisher, it could be years before you finally see it on the shelf. And even when it is, there’s no guarantee you’ll get paid beyond your advance. As an indie author, your book can be for sale tomorrow, and you can start marketing it to your readers yesterday.
  • Relationships. As an indie author, you’re most likely blogging regularly and building your email list organically. If you like the idea of connecting with your readers, you’ll have a much easier time doing that because you’ll be right there with them, announcing every release, every promo, and every freebie. Not that this is impossible with traditional publishing, but when you’re responsible for your own promotions, you learn how to reach people more effectively.

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  • Technology. Think about your own book buying habits over the last few years. Do you download more books than you purchase in a bookstore? As much as I adore spending an afternoon wandering through a bookstore with coffee in hand, that has become more of a luxury than the norm. Most of the books I purchase are either downloaded directly to my Kindle or if I prefer to have the paperback, I simply order it on Amazon and have it shipped to me. It’s just more convenient, and often more affordable.
  • Reinvention. There’s more room for it. If you have a title or cover you’re not satisfied with, you have complete control over whether or not you use them. You have the authority to make those changes, and you don’t have to rely on permission or fall prey to strict contractual obligations. Besides, if you wind up with a book you hate, then what’s the point? (Don’t say money. Unless it’s, like, a lot.)
  • Money. Speaking of money (which is NOT the primary reason we write, remember), indie publishing generally allows you to earn money more directly. You can offer other products for sale with your book, such as t-shirts or mugs or a free novella or prequel for download. You can customize your income streams and earn the way YOU want to, not the way your contract tells you. Plus, if you publish within a certain price range on Amazon, your royalties will likely be higher than they would be with a traditional contract.
  • Ya learn more. When you have to earn everything yourself, you have to learn everything yourself. I don’t see how that can be a bad thing. Plus, the more books you publish, the more you learn and the easier it gets. (Prolific indie authors, feel free to correct me if it does not, in fact, get easier as you go.)

In her book How to Make a Living With Your Writing, Joanna Penn distinguishes between the terms “self-published” and “independent author.” Self-published, she says, implies more of a hobby, whereas indie authoring is a business. Anyone can self-publish, but not everyone has the drive, desire, or even talent it takes to be a successful indie author.

Remember that while there are plenty of perks to self-publishing, there are also perks to traditional publishing, too. (That post is coming later.) What you do depends on your personal preferences, goals, and ideas of success.

It’s a lot like gambling: You can take a chance on one or the other, but you have much more control over one than the other. If that’s important to you, then your decision should be easy.

If you work hard, write well, and persist, you can make it. And by “make it” I mean you could sell millions of copies and have your book optioned by a major motion picture company, or you could simply make a decent living doing what you love. But you have to take it seriously–both your writing and your treatment of it once it’s done. Don’t publish every single thing you write. (I mean, come on. Nobody writes everything well.) But don’t belittle yourself either.

My 2017 Publishing Goals:

I have two–potentially three–fiction manuscripts I’m planning to publish, in addition to at least one nonfiction e-book. I plan to focus my effort on writing and self-publishing, but for the sake of experience, I want to traditionally publish more poetry, including my first full-length collection. I don’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket because that’s not only financially unwise, but it also means I’ll learn less.

10 Helpful Books on Self-Publishing:

BONUS: Before you go, grab your free copy of The Complete Social Media Cheat Sheet for Novelists!

What are your 2017 publishing goals? Are you going the indie route? Tell me what you’re working on in the comments below and join the Ladies in Read community on Pinterest


Skip the Slush Pile: The Case for Indie Publishing from | indie publishing, self-publishing, indie authors, books, writing

About Meghan

Meghan is a novelist, blogger, and copyeditor fueled by coffee and red lipstick. When she's not typing away you can find her reading, organizing, or watching old sitcoms and superhero movies with her husband, cat, and baby-to-be.


  1. All great points. I’m still thinking on it. As a digital marketer I’m in a good position to be an indie author but I haven’t made up my mind yet for my current wip. Thanks for the thoughts.

  2. Great article! I’ve no desire to wait and wait and wait. I will indie-pub my first novel in a few months–it’s almost ready. Maybe the next book I’ll try the traditional way, but I’m a bit of a control freak and having the say over all the aspects of my book is just wonderful.

    • Thank you, Carrie! I’ll be doing the same, though since it’s my first novel it’ll mostly be for the experience (and to work out all the kinks of self-publishing). It’s nice that we have the option to pursue one or the other — or both — nowadays. Good luck with your novel!

  3. I self published my first book last year, and while I see the merit of many of your points, I’ve learned that the contrary may also be true.

    1. Creative control: it’s true that being independent lets us decide everything we want… but do we have the expertice to do so? Gaining this expertice isn’t fast nor easy, and even if we decide (as I did) to turn to a professionals, do we have the money for paying a good one? My cover cost me a fortune, and I’m not even happy with it.
    2. Timing: I don’t see publishing faster as a true value. When you work in a team preparing your book, timing is an investment. True, traditional publishing has a slower move, but the time in between is often used to make your book as good as possible. I know many indies who barely edit there books before publishing, and I don’t think this makes for a good job.
    3. Relationships: in today publishing world, the relationship between a indie author and their audience and a traditional author and their audience is exactly the same. There’s no author that can afford not to have a relationship with their readers.
    4. Technology: I don’t see how this wouldn’t apply to trad pub as well.
    5. Reinvention: this is probably the only point I agree with.
    6. Money: let me tell you that this is a myth. If you go about indie publishing with a professional mind, you’ll spend a lot of money (on the cover, on the editing and possibly on the promotion). To earn that money back is a very hard job and unless you are very successful, there is the possibility that you’ll never earn it back. Of course there’s the option to do everything by yourself and spend nothing on your book before publishing. See point 1 on this.
    7. Ya learn more: again, this is in theory, and again, I don’t see why this wouldn’t be the case with trad pub. Especially considering that in trad pub you’ll work with professionals who do that for a living and have likely done it for a number of years.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do think indie authoring is a wonderful opportunity for authors, I’m happy it exists and I’ll probably self-publish again. But I still think that the trad pub world is where you truely learn. Like yourself, there has been a time where I thought I’d never self-publish (I wrote about the reasons why I deceded differetnly on my blog), when I decide, I read extencivelly, I followed all the advice that made sense to me, I’ve worked with professionals on every aspect I thought I should. But after nearly a year from my book, I feel I’d like a guidance on my own work. Reading about how you promot a book is a completely different thing than actually promoting that book. I’m far, far away from gaining back the money I invested in the book… although, in spite of this, I’m happy I tried, because it was a learning experience.
    I’m still going to try and trad pub my trilogy of novels. Besides, I firmly believe that all authors will be hybrid authors in the future. Every project is different, we should be able to decide when to self-publish and when to seek a publisher.

    • Sarah, thank you for this input. You make some excellent points here, especially since you’re speaking from personal experience. You cover some of the thoughts I’m planning to cover in my upcoming post on the merits of traditional publishing that I mentioned. You are so right about the lack of editing, too. There are far too many indie books out there that don’t even seem like they’ve been proofread, let alone edited comprehensively. Then again, I can pick up a book like Twilight or Fifty Shades on the first shelf I see in a major bookstore and find horrendous typos and sentence fragments within the first paragraph.

      This is also why I’m hoping to pursue both publishing options throughout my career: for the experience, the range of exposure (or lack thereof), and so I can decide what’s right for me as I pursue my writing goals from both angles. Plenty of authors have explored both options to find what’s right for them. I think that’s the main thing. It’s up to each author to define his or her own goals and figure out what it will take to reach them effectively. For some, it’s traditional publishing. For others, it’s indie. Like you said, every project is different, and I also believe we’ll see more hybrid authors in the future. Luckily for us, we have both options!

      Thanks so much for reading!

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