Going indie — is it for me?

September 27th 2014

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my writing career. A lot. And where I see myself in a few years. It was always my intention to submit another book or two to Red Adept Publishing (with whom I have had an awesome experience) and I do still plan on doing that, but then I had wanted to shop my YA historical mystery (which has not been written) to agents in hopes of getting a Big 5 contract. That was my plan. But recently I’ve been reading up on self-publishing and that route is looking more and more attractive to me for several reasons. Of course, like anything (and I’m a realist) there are pros and cons to self-publishing.

Pros:

1. I write what I want and I publish it. Many of my outlined projects are historical mysteries. Unfortunately, it’s also not the most popular genres for the big publishers to acquire, or so I’ve heard. I can’t imagine writing a book that might not see the light of print, not because it’s bad, but because a publisher doesn’t think anyone will buy it. I have three young children. If I’m sacrificing family time to write, then it better be worth it.

2. I am in control over my writing projects, my cover, and pricing. I’ll pay for good cover art and editing, but if I want to run a sale, I run a sale. If I want to price my book at $2.99, I can. If I want to release two books at once, I can. I am my own boss.

3. My earning potential might be greater than a traditional publishing contract. Emphasis on might. Some indie authors make good money (check out this article by Hugh Howey) and I’m not just talking about the big names in indie, but authors who would’ve been called “midlisters.” Some of these midlisters are earning $1000 or more a month. Some authors are earning more from their self-published titles than they ever did at traditional publishing houses. These authors bust their butt and hustle. They are prolific, but they make money. By going indie, I also wouldn’t have to worry about not earning out an advance and not being offered another contract. I’ve heard quite a few horror stories about authors not earning out their advances and subsequently not selling another book. That sounds demoralizing.

Cons:

1. Visibility is tough. Very tough. I’m having a tough time getting visibility on my traditionally, small press novel. It’s not easy to separate yourself from the pack; to get bloggers to notice you. I’ve come across many blogs that do not accept indie books for review. Some bloggers won’t take books that aren’t Big 5 pub’d. It’s a tough business to get noticed.

2. There’s an investment. Self-publishing requires a sizable monetary investment. Cover art. Editing. Formatting. ISBN numbers. I estimate the cost to be between $1500 and $2000. My husband just about balked at that number. For good reason, there is no guarantee I will recoup that money in sales. And if you’re not getting sales and making money, your author career has just become an expensive hobby.

3. Writers who make money, write a lot. I’m a slow writer. Outlining alone can take me a month, not to mention drafting, and constant editing. It took me years to write GG&G. If I’m going to go indie, I’ll need to increase my input to at least two books per year to stay viable.

4. Indie authors are not always perceived as ‘real’ writers. Do some self-published writers put out crap? Yes. For every Hugh Howey, Colleen Hoover and J.A. Konrath, there are other writers who don’t put out a professional product. Readers depend on the NY publishers for quality control. I understand that. Indie authors need reviews to show that their books are worthy reads and those reviews are hard to get.

5. I would be in charge of everything. I will pay for editing, covers and formatting. But I’m also in charge of ISBNs, uploading my book, dealing with Amazon’s constant fluctuating programs, and marketing (which I do now anyway). From cover to cover, that book depends on me. And that sounds overwhelming. Not to mention, I’ve never been a detail-oriented person.

6. I won’t be in libraries. I’m a librarian and as of now, indie books, and many small press books, do not get on library shelves. Why? Because libraries base their collection development on professional reviews (Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist). Right now, GG&G is in five libraries and that’s because I have library connections. And in one case, my brother donated his copy to his local library (thanks, Justin!) And that’s the only reason. It would mean the world to be on a library shelf — way more than a bookstore. I love libraries — that’s how I discover new authors. So this con is quite crushing.

Am I definitely going to indie publish? Well, I can’t say for sure, but I’m leaning in that direction. Like any smart person, I’ll do my research thoroughly and weigh my options. In the meantime, I will get back to writing, because none of this will matter if I don’t have a book done.

I’m a strong writer and I’ve always been a strong writer. I know that if I do choose to publish independently, I will put out quality, professional, good books. Because I don’t even let my critique partners read my work until it’s polished.

Are you self-published? Traditionally published? Hybrid? What are you thoughts on the road you’ve taken? Would you do anything differently? Sound off in the comments.

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9 comments on “Going indie — is it for me?

  1. Anonymous

    So I was telling you about my friend’s theory that traditional structures (she was talking about academia specifically, but her argument can be extended to publishing, etc) are increasingly on their way out for lots of reasons, including organizations’ tendencies not to hire for full time/permanent positions, peoples’ desire for flexible work arrangements, and technology that lets people work/study/etc from anywhere. I don’t necessarily think this is a good thing all around, but I agree that it does seem to be the way things are headed.

    In some ways this trend is good for writers: indie publishing is family-friendly (you make your own deadlines), it doesn’t require convincing a big corporation to invest in you, it’s tech-friendly (e-books). We’ve talked about this-all, but here’s something to add: do you think public libraries’ structures will shift too? (Some, umm, people do, which is what we’re seeing in the, umm, “restructuring” of former library schools.) I for one think public libraries – and communities – would have a lot to lose by going the new-academia, everyone’s-a-contract-employee, everything’s-online route…but the idea that former sacred cows might be on the table for slaughter suggests that other formerly-set-in-stone structures might be up for re-evaluation too. Like reliance on review journals? (Or is that sufficiently important to the core mission of a public library – *curation* of texts – that it would remain the same even if other structures dissolve?)

    1. Kimberly G. Giarratano Post author

      You are so smart and my brain is mush, I feel like I can’t properly respond to your comment because it is smart and I don’t have anything smart to add. I can say Kirkus will review indie books for a fee — $425 and that might allow for libraries to include indie titles in their ebook collection.

  2. Anonymous

    Aw, thanks for the compliment! In this case I think I’m mostly just interpreting what my insightful friend T. said, though. šŸ™‚

    But oh! I didn’t know that about Kirkus, and it makes steam come out my ears! I can see how it could be a good thing, because as you say, it can provide the review backbone that libraries need for collection development (a backbone that, as you know, exists for a number of reasons, including for C.Y.A. purposes in the case of a book challenge. Er, everyone knows what C.Y.A. stands for, right?). But to me, it smacks of the same sort of reasoning that charges the poor more for everything. Starting out at an advantage, having gotten a Big 5 contract? Sure, we’ll review you! Starting out at a disadvantage, not having the various benefits of the Big 5? It’ll cost you to join the party!

    (Of course, the counterargument to this kind of thing is that poor are a greater lending risk, say, which is why it’s “okay” to charge 600% interest on payday loans, say. Indie books are more of a “risk” in the sense that they haven’t been pre-vetted by a Big 5 editor. But in both cases, the objectivity of the numbers can be easily overshadowed by the unpalatability of the *impression* given: “Let’s go after the vulnerable – they’re easy victims!” (And as you know, it takes a lot for me to acknowledge that impressions can sometimes overshadow hard, fast numbers.)

  3. Leandra Wallace

    Great, great post! You hit the nail on the head in so many ways. There are a lot of things to consider before going indie, which as you know, I want to do some day too. I’m like Bob w/the overhead cost at first…ack! No biggie if you knew you’d earn it out, but… Also, I wonder, would a library stock a sp book if it was donated to them? If it was a nicely done book, they probably wouldn’t even know. Unless they go through and vet all authors they shelve.

    1. Anonymous

      Hi Leandra, my favorite Mailer of Interesting Things! šŸ™‚ As a former public librarian I can say that yes, we do vet all donations to make sure they fit our collection development goals/policies/etc. But libraries also love local authors – some even order special stickers to mark books by locals, or have prominent displays featuring local authors’ works. Adding a local author’s book to the collection is great public relations and facilitates community-building, as well as all the other arguments in favor of small presses (diversity of voices, support of small businesses, etc).

  4. Dianne Salerni

    I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no easy path. It is darn hard work, no matter what you choose, and wherever you are, the grass looks *slightly* greener somewhere else. I have self-published. I have re-published that same book with a small publisher, un-agented. I’ve had an agented deal with a mid-sized publisher and another with one of the Big Six. (Er, it’s Five now, right? I lose track.) Every single one of them has me working my butt off, with little support from “the system” — only the connections I’ve forged myself.

    1. Kimberly G. Giarratano Post author

      I was thinking of you when I wrote this post because I know you first self-published We Hear the Dead. I thought, Dianne has done it all and she’s knowledgeable. I will pick your brain when the time comes if that’s okay. I agree about the grass always seeming greener somewhere else. And I know all writers hustle for everything — for reviews and sales and visibility. I’m trying to be smart about this — research all avenues, talk to everyone, get as much info as I can….

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