25 January 2011

5 Rules for Indie Publishing

Back in September or October, Heidi and I really started kicking around the idea of flipping the Big 6 the bird (more my idea, I don't think Heidi approves of flipping of said bird) and following the course Joe Konrath, David Morrell and others are plotting.

We spent a week or two trying to figure out what criteria we'd use to ultimately make the decision to publish on our own, and came up with 5 rules or guideline we'd use to aid in our decision-making.

Here they are (count 'em, kids) for your perusing pleasure:

1. Know why you're publishing independently

This is a no-brainer. Independent publishing can not be a last resort after years spent collecting rejections from agents, big publishers, small publishers, ePublishers, etc.. The decision has to be--HAS TO BE--the writer's first choice.


If you are not going to treat your book the way a publisher--who'd spend thousands of dollars to print, market and distribute--is going to treat it, then independent publishing probably isn't going to be for you. You have to love it enough to make sure it receives the attention it deserves and have to be 100% committed to selling the crap out of it and believing in it. You have to believe you know what's best for your book.

It's your baby. Don't leave it locked up in a hot car while you drink beer.

2. Know risk to gain ratio

Our experience with a major travel publisher taught us a few things. It taught us that a publisher isn't always going to do the things it says it's going to do. Our publicist's campaign for our book consisted of sending .jpgs of our cover to bookstores prior to signings that we'd set up ourselves. Our publicist contacted no local media and couldn't even get us postcards or promotional material to take to conferences and conventions we'd attended on our own dime. We didn't expect subway posters and bus stops, but c'mon. Don't pee on my leg and tell me that's what I paid for.

Then the publisher printed a second edition of our book while continuing to call it a first edition and we haven't seen a royalty statement in months.

I know that some people have great experience with publishers. We haven't.

I'll gladly collect 70% instead of 12% to do the work my wife and I have been doing since our book was released--to promote a book that I've sweated and lost more sleep over than a publisher ever would. And I know that if I fail, the failure is my own.

But I'd rather fail on my own than fail because my query wasn't good enough, because a publisher cut my print run, because I got a contract for a print run I could never sell out, because marketing decided my book was urban fantasy instead of supernatural suspense, because the release date coincided with a release by Snooki or Nicole Richie.

And I'd rather take 70% of $2.99 for a book I spent 10,000 hours on than take 10% of $19.99 for a book a publisher spent a week on.

3. Know what you're compromising

->I'm losing the valuable experience of thousands of cumulative hours shared by the agents, editors and marketing departments who'd have a hand in publishing my book.

But I trust my associates from Seton Hill and the friends I've made at conferences and conventions to give me the same type of support. I know the relationships wouldn't be the same--some would be less personal, some more--but it's a price I pay. (And I wouldn't trust some of the professionals I've met at conferences and conventions with a laundry list or a recipe, let alone a manuscript. I'm looking at you, ------ -----------!)

->I'm losing national distribution.

We know that's not true anymore.

->I'm losing credibility.

I'm not sure that a Big 6 contract guarantees credibility either. I have a master's degree, am adjunct faculty at a distinguished university and am a member of The Authors Guild. I've worked with a major publisher on a big non-fiction project. I'm not Stephen King. But neither is Snooki.

4. Know that you are the company

You pick your release date. You choose a cover. You market it. You go to conferences and signings to represent yourself and the book. You are responsible for your own finances. You deal with complaints from readers. You contact local media. You set up signings and purchase all of your own promotional material. You pay somebody to format the book or you format it yourself. You get the pat on the back. You hang your head when readers point out typos and plot holes that you've missed.

5. Know if you have the time and energy

In addition to writing the book, you do all of the things mentioned above. And then you have to write another book. There's a lot of discussion on Konrath's blog about authors with multiple books doing better than authors with only one. Check out http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ to read what people who have a hell of a lot more experience in independent publishing (and 'real' publishing) than me have to say about it.

I don't know if independent publishing is for the faint of heart. But seeing that I'd have the freedom to write what I want instead of writing what I hope an agent would want is a very liberating experience. And if it bombs it bombs. I change my name and write something else. Or not. I can do whatever I want.

As the writer I should've always had that power--not the marketing department or a CFO. Sometime I get the impression that a lot of editors and agents and publishers put writers at the bottom of a very tall ladder. I think independent publishing puts writers at the top.

And look, I wrote this whole post barely mentioning the way the publishing industry has eaten itself into a very awkward and ugly corner. Let the agents have Snooki. I think the readers are smart enough to follow the writing.


  1. You're right, I'm not exactly fond of 'said bird,' but I'm with you on everything else!

  2. All great points, Jack.

    I was having this same discussion with an author friend of mine just yesterday (he's been published by WOTC and Five Star) who's getting nowhere with a book. He's ready to give up on submitting novels entirely and just self publish.

    The main thing I get from all this is that we are ALL Indie authors now. I have a New York agent who won't send out my latest novel, a book that I LOVE, so I'm left to submit it to editors myself or publish independently. So why have an agent at all?

    Publishers are running scared and agents are working themselves out of a job by trying to act as (unpaid) editors for the publishers. The problem with that is they are killing the source of their potential income.

    What publishers are doing now is in fact just the opposite of what they should be doing. With the explosion of Kindle sales and ebooks in general they should be signing every author with a decent book they can find, put out their books in ebook format, give them decent covers and titles, promote the books via their media platforms, and split the profits 50-50 with the authors. Then take the top performers from that list and publish them in traditional paper formats.

    I myself think that Independent authors need to form promotional networks based on their genre'. Group blogs, cross-promotion, facebook ads and the like. In fact, I'd like to propose we do just that. I know more than a few authors who are ready to move on that idea. If you and Heidi have interest, I would like to explore those options further.

    Drop me an email: david.bara@yahoo.com.


  3. Another awesome post!

    I live near Philly, so I'm pretty fond of "said bird," and now seems like a good time to make use of it :-)

    When you factor in the generally poor treatment of writers, the way the Big 6 seem to have missed the mark on pricing e-books, and the fact that everyone is sick of the Snooki's of the world landing huge book deals, is it any wonder there is a revolution going on?

    Your first point - "Know why you're publishing independently" - is one that I think is way too often overlooked. Frustration is great for that initial spark, but publishing on your own simply to flip that bird is a good way to guarantee failure. Uploading a book is th easiest part. Crafting a quality book, and then getting behind it all the way, are what will have the biggest impact on success.

  4. Thanks for the different perspective, Jack.

    I've heard even ePublishers say, "Try for traditional houses FIRST and then if you can't get in, go self-publishing."

    My husband thinks I should self-publish my memoir.

    The agents I've pitched to are all excited to get the proposal and like the writing, but .... I've got no platform. So the answer is 'no.'

  5. Valerie, good luck with the pitching and querying. If it was easy...

    Chris, we're obviously 100% with you on #1. The idea is to see what's at stake and what's gained by doing it yourself. I sent my last query letter out in June. Didn't know what I'd do until the kindle thing really started taking off. (Heidi and I actually came up with these rules back in September, so it's not like I came to my conclusion on a whim.) Now I'm certain I'd never query again.

    Dave, sorry to hear about your luck with you latest novel. I think your observations on the industry are much more astute than mine, so I won't say anything else about that. But your idea about forming a support group is an excellent one--an idea that a few Seton Hill grads have been kicking around for a while. I'll send you an email to discuss.

    Thanks all for posting.

  6. I'm so glad to hear what you and Heidi are doing, since I'm in a similar boat - waiting and waiting, knowing my writing is good, but wondering why that call hasn't come. BEST WISHES to two talented peeps! By May or June, we'll all have stories to share. :-)

  7. Yeah, not to dis the New York crowd and the way they do things, but I think their model is broken. That's why Kindles have taken off--more freedom for readers and writers. Everything available 24/7. It's easy for me to say this because I don't have a deal, but like I said above, I'm not using this as a last resort for a rejected novel. This is my first choice, and I get less envious of authors with big book deals all the time.