06 September 2011

5 Rules for Indie Publishing (Updated)

I originally updated these rules for a blog post for Cynthia Ravinski of Greater Portland Scribists. I'd wanted to see what, if anything, had changed since starting this process earlier this year. I'd be curious to hear how you all feel about the 'rules', should they be amended? Do they stand?

Here's the post:

This month I'll reach the one year anniversary of making my decision to ePublish. This is a momentous milestone for many reasons, the largest is that it commemorates a resolution to step away from publishing as I knew it. Twelve years writing, three novels, a Masters degree, a hundred writing conventions, conferences and workshops, five hundred queries.

I was not an amateur. A hack. A wannabe.

I'm an Authors Guild member who received a four figure advance from a major travel publisher. I'd written for newspapers, magazines, travel journals, literary journals. I'd won writing contests and had received awards for my writing.
I'd spent a thousand hours writing and rewriting queries, synopses and drafts on my three novels, one of which was scrutinized extensively by mentors and peers in Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction Program. I'd travelled hundreds of miles and paid hundreds of dollars to pitch to a single agent at a writing conference.
The decision to ePublish did not come easy. My wife and I thought long and hard about why we wanted to go this route, and even took the OCD course of creating five rules we had to agree to before we'd even consider it.

Here's the list, the reason we felt the rule was important and what has changed since last September:

1. Know why you're publishing independently

Why the rule?

We knew that ePublishing couldn't be pursued as a last resort. We believed that before we could take the plunge, ePublishing had to be our FIRST choice. We knew if we weren't going to treat our book the way a publisher--who'd spend thousands of dollars to print, market and distribute--was going to treat it, then independent publishing probably wasn't going to work for us. We had to believe we knew what was best for our book.

What has changed?

Nothing. The process has been amazing. Since releasing my book in March I have worked with the amazing folks at Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee to create a fantastic cover, and I loved every second of it. I have interacted with readers, people I did not know until they mentioned they'd read my book. I loved every second of it.

2. Know risk to gain ratio

Why the rule?

Before taking the plunge we had the fortunate experience of knowing exactly what a publisher was going to do for us, and what we'd be doing ourselves. The publisher-supplied publicist did little more than send .jpegs to a few newspapers.

You also have to know how finances are going to break down for you. Many writers are tight-lipped about sales, and for good reason. So finding reliable information about what a new small press or mid-list writer earns will be difficult, if not impossible. Most are lucky to sell-out their advances, and fewer still ever see a royalty check.

What has changed?

Nothing. The reward has outweighed the risk a thousand times already. That may sound trite, but in a few short months I've had experiences that are beyond description or monetization.

3. Know what you're compromising

Why the rule?

When we devised these rules legitimacy was a huge deal for us. We worried about what other writers--specifically our peers from Seton Hill--would say about our choice to jump ship. I had a huge list of Big Six-published books in my arsenal, books from people like Snooki, Nicole Richie, Lauren Conrad, that I could whip out whenever Big Six publication as a path to true legitimacy was mentioned.

But we knew all this before we ePublished.

What has changed?

Everything. Readers legitimize you, not editors, agents, publishers or your peers.

4. Know that you are the company

Why the rule?

This rule let us make a list of all of the things we'd be doing ourselves, almost a checklist to let us know if we had the stomach for it. Editing, publicity, formatting, art, author photos and on and on.

What has changed?

I think we're going to need a bigger boat.

I've never worked so hard for anything, and I have never in thirty-seven years been so proud of an accomplishment.

5. Know if you have the time and energy

Why the rule?

We have jobs, lives, and friends. Stuff we didn't want writing to interfere with.

What has changed?

Writing is my life. Which was always what I wanted, why else would I drop $40,000 on a degree? For a hobby? This pursuit has moved writing from the backburner to the hotplate.

And I learned to love coffee.

These rules were written pre-Borders collapse, and I think they've stood up pretty well. Something else that's stood the test of eleven months' time--the conclusion to my original post, presented here unaltered:

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 marketing department or CFOs. 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.

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