The other day I read a blog post by Toby Neal, where she addressed whether indie publishing was worth it, and if she had to do it all again, would she still indie publish or try the traditional publishing route. It’s a fascinating post and I encourage you to read it, and Toby asked me my thoughts, so I’m doing my own post.
Indie Authors – What Started You On This Path?
As I read Toby’s post and she talked about how she’d written 179 query letters, it took me back. You see, I’m a writer who started on my journey a long time ago. I sent out my first query letter in 1995. I’ve queried a number of different books, and I’ve come close to getting an agent multiple times (I heard things like your book shows promise – if I had more time, I’d take you on and I like the book but horror doesn’t sell). I knew I was close to getting an agent (which told me my books were worthy of publication as well) when I decided to self-publish Nephilim Genesis of Evil. This was before Amazon and the Kindle. And I sold over 500 copies and even got the book into Barnes & Noble (it’s sold a lot more since the ebook came out a few years later). I learned a lot through that, wrote some other novels (one of which is sitting on a shelf that I will someday edit and publish), and then I read about Amanda Hocking and I decided to take the leap.
Indie Authors – Jumping In To Self-Publishing
I was not like Toby, who spent a lot of money producing her books. I was unemployed at the time and I had to do almost everything myself to keep my costs down. If I had to do one thing over, I would get more feedback on my covers. Nephilim’s cover was already done (see above) and I believe it’s very good, but the Reed Ferguson mystery series was new and I had to hire a graphic artist for that. Unfortunately, the one I chose did an okay job with the covers, but not nearly as good as the new ones I had done about a year later (he did a great job with The Emerald Quest, but I knew then how to direct him better so that he created a better cover). The new ones capture the film noir feel much better. If I had more money, I’d consider hiring out more things because it would leave me time to write, but I don’t :). One thing that struck me with Toby’s blog was she said that she spent $12,000 to produce and market her first book, but made that back in two months. I would love to know what marketing she did to get those kind of results, as most indie authors, even with a great product, don’t see that with a first book (and neither do traditionally published authors).
Indie Authors – The Business Of Writing
I love that Toby speaks to the business side of publishing, as this is an area that many new authors neglect. They write a book, assume it’s good (maybe, maybe not) and they put it up on Amazon with little thought to how professional the book is. Toby notes it as the difference between being an author/publisher versus a hobbyist. This is a great point. Unfortunately, too many people are hobbyists, not taking their writing or publishing seriously, and it makes it more difficult for those who take writing and publishing seriously (more on that in another post). If you’re someone who puts yourself in the first category, then treat it as a business. In a business, you have to spend money, and spend it wisely. This isn’t magic. It’s hard work.
Indie Authors – Hard Work
I also agree with Toby on this, and I’ve been preaching this on my blog since I started it. Writing it hard work. It takes time to learn your craft, to know how to write a good book, and it takes time to market books. It takes time to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in the publishing world. New authors need to know what works now. What worked for me early on to help sell a lot of books doesn’t work now. Social media doesn’t work to sell books like it once did. Free isn’t working like it once did. This comes back to spending your dollars wisely. Research before you plunk down your hard-earned dollars. And be careful of quitting your day job. I’ve heard of many indie authors who have a great few months or year and they quit their day job, only to find out that sales tanked down the road. Fluctuating sales are normal – be aware of this before you assume you can make a living with your writing. And if you can, congrats to you!
Indie Authors – Resources
As I said above, I tend to do everything myself if I can. I hire two editors for all my books (and they edit for both grammar/spelling and content/story structure etc), and I hire out most of my covers (although I’m looking at doing this myself in the near future). I use CreateSpace for print books (don’t buy into those that say you don’t need print books – many, many people still buy print books), although I do hear that LightningSource is great as well. And CreateSpace does distribute worldwide and to libraries. I’ve learned to format both ebooks and paperbacks, and I now consult and help others with this. It’s not hard, once you know what you’re doing, and it’s an area where I can save money by doing it myself.
Indie Authors – Marketing
When I first published, I was on Amazon only, and I tried KDP Select. In looking back, I might’ve given that more time but I bowed out, then got back in when I heard about Bookbub. But I’ve since bowed out again and I’m distributing all my books everywhere I can. I look at it as every place I can sell is a potential revenue stream. I’ve sold well at Barnes & Noble, and my sales at Apple and Kobo are picking up as well. At this point, it wouldn’t be worth it to go back to just Amazon (especially since I’m exploring more foreign distribution, where sadly, Amazon is greatly lacking).
As I said before, what once worked for marketing doesn’t necessarily work now. And what works for one author won’t for another. There is a lot of luck involved in this, but if there’s one thing that stays the same it’s reaching readers. That’s why Bookbub has worked, because they reach a lot of readers. I wonder if in the future the old way of doing things, where an author actually went out and met readers, will become the thing again (going to libraries, schools, book clubs, anywhere where you can connect with real people). Who knows? This again is where new authors have to be aware of what’s going on around them. Sometimes those that utilize a new thing first (like KDP Select or Bookbub) see the most success, and those that jump on the bandwagon later are too late. Stay connected and ask around.
Indie Authors – Earnings
It’s funny when I read a post like Toby’s. I have so many mixed emotions. I’m incredibly happy for her and the success she’s having, but I find reading the posts authors write about their successes somewhat discouraging. Yes, it’s amazing that in this new age of publishing that indie authors are doing this, but I keep waiting for my ship to come in. Sure, I’ve made money at this, but not to the point where I can quit my day job (and yes, I finally have one again, thank God).
I question things I should’ve done differently, and then have to refocus to what I can do now. And it’s not all about the money (don’t get me wrong, it would be nice). Ultimately I love to write and create stories, I love to see a project come to fruition, and I love to connect with other authors and readers. So I won’t stop until those things cease to be fun. And I do make some money at this. If the big money comes, that’ll be great, but for now, I keep plugging away. But would any of this make me decide to go the traditional route?
Indie Authors – If I Could Go Back, Would I Go The Traditional Route?
No, absolutely not.
Because I’ve done more than I ever could have with a traditional publisher. I’ve published more stories than I would’ve with traditional publishing, I’m teaching a class on self-publishing at a local college and I likely wouldn’t have done that unless I’d gone this route, and yes, I’m making some money – more money – than I would’ve with traditional publishing. Novels that agents said wouldn’t sell do sell, and I’m creating a fan base. And for all my self-doubts, amidst the times I get discouraged, there is one constant – I have an incredible amount of fun doing this.
The only thing that a new writer might consider when questioning what route to take is genre. In all the hoopla about Hugh Howey’s report about sales data, not a lot focuses on genre as it pertains to traditional publishing. What genre you’re in makes a huge difference in your potential sales, especially when considering indie versus traditional publishing. Edward W. Robertson has a great post on this, and how those of us who publish mysteries have a much tougher time with sales than other genres.
That being said, I still agree with the indie authors who say they would only sign a traditional publishing contract if it was for a lot of money, was print-only, and was slanted in my favor. Will that ever happen for me? Who knows? But in this new age of publishing, I do know this – anything can happen.
One thing I do think should be noted, and that’s that there is some benefit to getting a traditional deal. Like it or not, it still gives an author credibility (although this is changing), but beyond that, it allows for consideration in major awards (many associations still won’t consider indie authors, although hopefully this will change), and it’s harder to get speaking engagements at major conferences as indie authors (I’m talking about unknowns here, not those who’ve sold a lot of books and have established a name). And these are ways of connecting and gaining more readers.
Thanks again to Toby Neal for her great post, and for reaching out to me for my thoughts. I hope you find both posts helpful. Okay, now I need to get back to writing the fifth novel in the Reed Ferguson mystery series…