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.
- 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:
- Write. Publish. Repeat.: The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-Publishing Success by Johnny B. Truant and Sean Platt
- The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide: Every Indie Author’s Essential Directory to Help You Prepare, Publish, and Promote Professional-Looking Books by Joel Friedlander and Betty Betty Kelly Sargent
- 1001 Ways to Market Your Books: For Authors and Publishers, 6th Edition by John Kremer
- Discoverability by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
- Let’s Get Visible: How to Get Noticed and Sell More Books by David Gaughran
- How to Choose a Self-Publishing Service by Giacomo Giammatteo and Orna Ross
- Business for Authors: How to Be An Author Entrepreneur by Joanna Penn
- Self-Publishers Legal Handbook: The Step-By-Step Guide to the Legal Issues of Self-Publishing by Helen Sedwick
- The Step-By-Step Guide to Self-Publishing for Profit! by C. Pinheiro, Nick Russell, and Cynthia Sherwood
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne and Dave King
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!