Friday I got to reveal the cover of my first published novel, and last week in my writing journey I talked about quitting writing and getting an offer of publication. The timing of those blog posts is coincidental—in fact, there’s a much bigger leap between those two steps than it would seem.
That offer was not for I, Spy. I’m actually publishing I, Spy under my own imprint, Durham Crest Books.
The decision to go indie
It’s definitely not easy to decide to “go indie” in publishing. It’s much, much easier to let someone else take all the financial risk. And for a while I was very tempted to let someone else take that on. However, it’s also much, much easier to go indie than it is to get an agent and a trade publishing contract at a large house.
Small publishers are definitely another option, but for me, going indie is what I want. Every author has to think through this decision for his/her career and comfort level, but here’s what helped me make this decision:
- The book itself—often, if a book isn’t something that fits neatly under a genre & marketing label, or it doesn’t have a big hook (or if people just don’t seem to see it!), agents and editors can be more hesitant about taking on that kind of risk. (Smaller presses may be an exception.) That doesn’t mean no one will buy it or there’s no audience.
- To me, it seems that most (not all) small presses have such a limited reach that it’s not substantially better than self-publishing—especially considering how much bookstores seem to be struggling, and knowing that small presses would have a very hard time getting placement, co-op, etc.
- Unless you are a BIG NAME or a BIG BOOK (and at a BIG HOUSE with a BIG BUDGET), 99% of the time, the vast majority of marketing falls to the author, no matter who pays for printing.
- I’ve been running a very small business online for several years, and have very few expenses—meaning I have the capital to invest in self-publishing.
- I have friends who’ve been there and done that, and models for success (that are attainable, I hope!). I’m part of a writers’ support group and there are dozens of successful self-publishers there who are selling thousands of books every month. I can see it happening to people I know, and I can pick their brains for advice.
- The biggest issue for me: keeping control of my book, both creatively and legally. I know I can get exactly what I want. Some publishers are better about rights, author input, control, etc., than others, but it’s a huge weight off my mind not to have to worry about getting stuck in a crazy contract, or with a cover or a compulsory editorial “suggestion” I don’t like. (I mean, heck, I get to choose whether I use serial commas or not! [Not.])
There are drawbacks, of course. I have total control, but I also have total responsibility. If I can’t think of a title, I’m stuck. (Well, partially true—I always have my friends who are eager to help!) I’m assuming the full risk, financial, emotional (very real), etc.
Going indie vs. self publishing
There’s no codified definition of “indie publishing,” and everyone from small publishers to self-publishers use the term. To me, the difference between plain old “self-publishing” and “indie publishing” is all about the outlook.
So why do I consider myself “indie”?
- I’m willing to invest in money and time to produce the best possible product.
- I set up an entire business to support this venture.
- But most of all, I’m in this for the long haul. I’m not self-publishing hoping that I’ll sell a bajillion copies of this one book and have New York banging down my door to buy this book and everything else I ever write. I don’t believe for a minute that indie publishing is a fast track to a contract or any other form of success. It’s work, and I’m willing to put in that work.
I’m not going to rule out trade publishing. Sometimes as I’m sitting here hyphenating my entire book by hand, I do wish I had someone else to handle this stuff for me. But for right now, I’m making multi-year projections for publishing in at least two series. The prevailing wisdom is that most indie publishers don’t really see great success until they have multiple books on the market, so I’m planning for that. (My planning calendar goes into 2016 and includes books that have been sitting around collecting dust as well as books I haven’t even written yet!)
What about my publisher?
Things are on hold with my publisher for now. One day I might be ready to talk about why. We’ll see.
The truth about how I feel about going indie
Two years ago, I would never have expected to self-publish. It’s a hard decision to go indie, and to be honest, I do still second guess the choice. Despite the money I’ve put into editing and covers and ISBNs, it’s not too late to pull the plug and run and hide.
It’s very scary to put yourself out there, and there is still a bit of a stigma associated with self-publishing. There are certain avenues that are simply not open to an independently published person, no matter how professional and talented and successful, that are open to any trade publisher, no matter how unprofessional or feckless or unsuccessful. In some ways, I’m letting part of my dream go as I do this. Sometimes, even though I’m doing everything right and crossing every t and dotting every i, I feel like I must be cheating, that this is less legit.
But in the end, I think I’m reaching for the larger dream. No, I don’t have a high-powered agent or an eleven-figure advance or PW and Kirkus banging down my door for a review. I probably wouldn’t say no to any of those things (depending on the strings with that advance 😉 ).But I’m not going to let the lack of those things hold me back from the real goal—reaching readers. Getting my books out there. Making something I’m proud of.
And as one wise friend (who I totally can’t remember who it was, sorry!) pointed out, having the backing of a trade publisher usually entails less financial risk, but in the end, it doesn’t guarantee success. You can fail either way, and putting yourself out there is always scary. I won’t let that fear win.
What do you think? What publishing path are you pursuing now? How did you decide what’s right for you? Come share your writing journey!