3 Biggest Reasons It’s Good to be Indie

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this desire to be chosen by an agent/publisher. There are nights when I beat myself up, when I wallow in self-pity [I am notorious for that, but at least I’m self-aware] because I couldn’t get an agent to represent me and my novel. To have chosen to go down the indie route because I couldn’t get an agent at times feels like a cop-out, like if I’d just tried a little harder then I would have been good enough.

But during those dark nights, when the wallowing gets extreme, I tell my self the following:

I wrote a good book, a quality book, and no matter what these agents think, it’s worth publishing.

And then I think, why would I want to go down the traditional publishing route anyway? I’ve never been known to embrace the norm, to fit in the box whether at work [ask my managers, if you don’t believe me] or in relationships. Or in writing. I don’t want to be normal. I want to be more, better. I want to live my life, not a life that fits someone else’s standard. I want to live outside the box. To be unique, authentic. Different.

So why this desire to be normal publishing wise? We’re told, time and again, that vanity press, that self publishing is only done because you’re not good enough to be a real author. But I’ve found that isn’t true. I’ve read Indie books that surpass many of the traditionally published books on the market. And yes, the indie world still has a lot of growing to do, but that doesn’t diminish my work. I’m an individual and should be treated as such.

I’ve found that there are three reasons that it’s good to be indie, publishing and lifestyle wise:

(1) I get more.

Somehow, even though I’ve managed to annoy my management, sometimes to the point that they loathe me, I’ve always worked hard and have a reputation of delivering what I say I’m going to deliver. And I make a very good salary in my big Corporate America life-style. But I also have the satisfaction that I won’t sell out, won’t deliver my soul up for better pay or some manager’s fleeting approval.

So why would I sell my soul to a publisher? Why would I want to get 7% of my royalties, which is what the traditional publishing route would net me, when I can get up to 70% of the royalties? Especially when with a traditional publisher, I’d have to do most of the work anyway. Gone are the days of the big promotions for new authors. So my book wouldn’t do any better, sales wise, than it is now.

If I was a purely business oriented person, I’d say that the traditional route ROI is crap. I write a book. I set up my social presence and much of the advertising. I do all the things you, Mr. PublishingHouse, don’t want to do for a new author. And you give me 7% of the sales? That’s not a smart investment.

(2) I control everything.

Yes, I am a control freak, but in this case, it’s a good thing. My manuscript isn’t sitting at the bottom some agent’s or some publisher’s I’ll get around to this one day pile. No delays due to re-formatting or waiting for an interior design person, one with low enough status to rank working on a newbie’s book. I control how fast my book goes to market.

I control the number of words, the editing, the title, the cover, the design. I control what percentage of the royalties I’ll get by deciding how the book will be distributed.

There are no long-term, dead-end contracts. If I want to pull my book from X distributor, I can do that.

I control everything, but mostly I control how successful I am.

(3) I own the rights.

Does this need explaining? In the case of publishing, if I pitch the story to a movie house, it’s mine to do so. And if I do so, I get the proceeds from the sale, not a small portion of them. There are a hundred other examples. Basically, if a publishing house has the rights to my book, I control little or nothing.

In life, I own my success and failure. I own my soul.

Not one of these reasons indicates that an indie writer will have an easy time of it, that they will be an instant success, that they don’t have to edit or produce quality work. Writing is hard work. Why would anyone think that publishing is easy?

But what the reasons do indicate is that we newbie authors should get more for the work we’re doing, we should look for the best ROI.

So you see, it’s good to be different, to be indie.

Authors: Established vs Newbies

I’ve been following the Amazon/Hachette melee, and maybe because I’m a new author, I am leaning toward Amazon’s view of the world. No, I’m not in favor of monopolies, and Amazon is heading that way, but I’m also not the least bit happy about the way new authors are treated by the traditional publishing industry.

My view of the world is that there’s a double standard when it comes to established, well-known authors versus new authors.

Some of it I can understand.  I can see that a publisher may not want to take a risk on a thousand page novel by a new author, one which may tank after they’ve made a major investment in physically creating a tome that size. Most new authors start out with a novel significantly less than 125K words [approximately 400 pages], and so I had a hard time selling An Untold Want to an agent. In fact, I never was able to get an agent to represent me. Several specifically said they wouldn’t even consider a manuscript with more than 90K words from a new author. One agent told me to cut it down to 85K words and then come talk to her. She wasn’t offering me a contract up front. No, she was just saying she would possibly consider it if I cut my novel in half. I passed on that offer.

Some of the issues I don’t understand, like quality of writing. Awhile back I did a review of The GoldFinch. If a newbie author had submitted The Goldfinch to a major publishing house, let’s just say Hachette, that author would have been laughed out of their office.  The book is long and convoluted and badly edited. And yet, the publisher is pushing it. And it won a Pulitzer. Yes, it has some beautiful prose and is an interesting story, but it would never have seen the light of day, a book that won a Pulitzer would never have been published if it had been written by a new author.

Agents and publishers expect newbies to come to them with a complete, fully edited manuscript. With a social presence already in place. From what I’ve read, in multiple articles from well respected news outlets, publishers now only focus on supporting their big draw authors, the J.K. Rowlings and James Pattersons of the book world. If I were to get a contract with Hachette today, I’ve no doubt that I would have to do a large majority of the advertising myself.  So for a whopping 7% of the sale price [yes, that’s what new authors tend to get from publishing houses], I would get to do 70% of the work, not including writing the novel.

When I couldn’t get an agent, [Your book is too long. Your book doesn’t fit our genre. Your books just wasn’t for us.] I went down the indie route. By self publishing with Amazon, I get 70% of the royalties and I own the rights to my book. Yes, I did all the work, but the ROI is significantly better than if I’d gotten an agent and gone down the traditional route, say with Hachette.  There are tons of agent/publisher horror stories out there. My favorite, the one I tell myself at night when I’m trying to boost my ego about why an agent wouldn’t want my book, is that many authors finally get an agent only to have their books placed at the bottom of a huge pile of I’ll get around to this later.

The Huffington Post posted a great article that sums up the indie versus traditional situation: Are There 5 Reasons to Stick With Major Publishers? No, There Are Zero Reasons

Just to be fair, there is a down side to self publishing. Indie books are still considered substandard. All self published authors are lumped into a huge ball of what appears as mediocrity. Those who do the work to polish their novels are pulled down by those who don’t. Even I shy away from indie authors because I’ve paid for too many books that were badly written. I wrote about this phenomenon in my post Do Yourself a Favor: Edit Your Book. Too many new authors write what is in essence a first draft and then rush to publish it. As one web article said, we are drowning in indie books, and my take is that many of them are sub-par.

With that said, the best reason to be an indie author is that I’m in control of how successful I am. I can edit or not. I can create a great cover. Or not. I can do what I want, but what I do is in direct relation to how successful I am. I am not waiting on someone else to promote my book.

Do Yourself a Favor: Edit Your Book

IMG_20140627_165856Yesterday, Lorraine Devon Wilke was a guest blogger on Indies Unlimited. After starting out with the Amazon/Hachette debate, her post, The Persistence of Self-Publishing Stigmas and How To Transcend Themmoved to a topic that’s a constant source of irritation for me.  Lorraine’s opinions on why indie-authors are typically thought of as sub-par was spot-on, and you can read her opinions for yourself.

I agree with Ms. Wilke, but not because I’m an uppity my-writing-is better-than-yours author. No, I agree with her because I’m an avid reader, and I have pulled down far too many badly written indie books, rife with typos, poor grammar, and just plain bad writing. So many that I have a “Don’t Like” folder on my Kindle so that I won’t forget the author’s name. So many that I now shy away from most authors I haven’t read before. I paid for many of those poorly written books. But even if a book is free, I’m investing my spare time reading your work. And if you’re one of the ones who is putting out these obviously unedited books, you won’t get my repeat business. Sadly, it doesn’t affect just you. Actions like this reduce the chance of readers investing in other unknown, indie authors’ work.

Do yourself a favor, okay. Edit your book.

~0~

First of all, the idea that you can’t afford an editor is ridiculous. If you don’t barter, beg, or pay for an editor, chances are you won’t ever have the funds to pay for an editor because after reading your first book, no one will ever buy another one. If you can afford a $5 Macchiato every day, then you can afford to save up, budget, and pay for an editor. At the absolute very least have beta readers. There are a ton of groups on Facebook alone where people are willing to read your book, free of charge, and comment on it.

Do yourself a favor: let someone else decide when it’s ready to release.

 ~o~

That leads me to the idea that you can finish the last chapter on Monday and have your book available on Amazon on Tuesday. It is enticing, and it is prompting many new authors to “rush to publish”. Even though the rush to publish idea is a perfect metaphor for today’s society, it’s a bad, bad, bad idea. Did I mention it’s a bad idea? Have you not heard the term shitty first draft? If you publish right after finishing the last chapter, then you are publishing a first draft. I’d even bet that you haven’t gone back and re-read your book, probably not even once. This is not even a money issue. This is an arrogance issue, a stupidity issue. What is the big hurry? If you really believe that you can finish your book and publish it right away, you probably aren’t going to be losing any awards/money/readers by waiting a month or a year, because books like that don’t get awards or tons of royalties or loyal readers.

Do yourself a favor: wait, re-read your book, several times.

 ~o~

With many new authors, especially those who are still totally in love with their own work, there’s this attitude that their work is as good as it’s ever going to be and they may as well publish it now. Wrong. Every now and again, I go back and re-read the work I wrote in my first writing classes, and even though I see the potential in my writing, I also see what a huge pile of crap my writing was at that time. And at that time, I thought everything that came out of my pen was pure genius. It wasn’t.

Do yourself a favor: attend a class, join a critique group, learn your craft, polish your work.

~o~

I could go on and on about poor workmanship, bad writing, and ridiculous cover art. [gimp is free, folks, figure out how to use it to create an attractive cover.]

But I still wonder why some new authors believe that they don’t have to do the hard work, that just telling a story is enough?

Is it possible that someone has told them that their work is the greatest writing since [fill in the blank]? It’s possible. Which leads me to my biggest indie-world pet peeve: coercing your friends into writing 5-star reviews. If that person is your friend, and if you’re a good writer, then you should be able to take an honest, constructive critique. Several close, long time friends have given me a 3-star rating because literary [women’s literary] fiction isn’t a genre they enjoy. I’m okay with that. Personally, I never give a 5-star review unless I’ve read the book multiple times, or I think that I would want to read it again.

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While perusing books on Amazon, the first thing I do is to look at the review graph. If that graph shows anything other than an inverted triangle, then I don’t even bother. There is not a single book that’s been published that everyone likes. So don’t try to bullshit me that your book is so good that it has fifty 5-star reviews and nothing else.

On the flip side of this review/ratings coin are the people [usually indie authors themselves] who always give 5-star reviews, no matter how bad the book is. Maybe they want all the other authors to like them. Or possibly, these people think if I give Sara a 5-star rating, she’ll return the favor. That is not going to happen, and not because I like being a bitch. If I’ve read your book all the way through, and I see problems, then I feel it’s my responsibility to respect you and your work, and tell you the truth. This is not a mutual admiration society. We are authors. Stand up and be honest. Give constructive criticism.

Do yourself a huge favor: accept constructive criticism, use it to make your book(s) better.

~o~

Finally, I’ve re-read this post at least five times. There may still be typos because it’s hard to proof your own writing. You see what is supposed to be there. And I’m a terrible speller. But, no one can say that I didn’t spend the time trying to make this post as good as it can be.