by Amanda Clay
What’s this self-publishing nonsense all about, anyway?
Aww, that big mahogany desk in New York. Martini lunches with your editor. Maybe it’s sipping cafe au laits in a Paris bistro or the suffering artist, burning the midnight oil in a boho loft.
Whatever the image, when you first set pen to paper, you had a vision of what it means to be a published author.
For me, growing up there was really only one way to become an author. You secured an agent, then they secured you a big new york publishing contract. Cue the martini lunches.
Sure, self-publishing existed (John Grisham’s A Time to Kill was originally self-published—He sold it out of the trunk of his car.), but it was costly. You had to pay for everything out of pocket, pay for books to be printed, then sell them out of the trunk of your car…
Then in 2007, something miraculous happened. Amazon introduced the Kindle. In the subsequent years, ebooks would revolutionize the way people read. Now you could instantly download a book with one click from the comfort of home. You could take 1,000 books with you across the world. Publishers could offer digital-only deals.
You could discreetly read that dinosaur erotica you so love but would NEVER want anyone to know about.
Kindle changed EVERYTHING.
Perhaps the most shattering shift with this new digital technology came the crazy idea that an author could publish their own work, both ebooks and print-on-demand, and Amazon would distribute it for a slice of the royalties.
Whoa. Mind. Blown.
Here we are, more than a decade later. The publishing landscape changes daily. With the introduction of self-published (we like to say Indie) authors, it’s more competitive than ever. There are roughly a gazillion titles in the Kindle store. How can anyone keep up or compete?!
Let me tell you a secret—it’s actually the best time it’s ever been to be an author.
With more ways to consume media than ever—from unlimited subscriptions to audiobooks to Netflix deals, the market is HUNGRY. With more ways to reach your audience, there’s more room in the market for those little niches that aren’t right for the big traditional market (dinosaur erotica anyone?).
What should you do? Could indie publishing be right for you?
The Indie/Self vs. Traditional publishing debate can be a little like politics in some circles. Ask a group of Trad authors about indie publishing and they may scoff, telling you you have a better chance at getting struck by lightning than ever making money from your work (I was actually told this exact thing by a poet. A poet. Ouch).
Ask Mark Dawson, Bella Andre or Marie Force what they think about that (hint, they’re all rolling in seven figures a year indie pubbing).
Conversely, ask a group of indie authors about Trad and you might get an earful about the evils of Trad, how no one makes any money, how they once had a deal with a small press and got no marketing and now they’ll never get their rights back.
I’m sure Karin Slaughter and Dan Brown disagree with your experience.
My point, dear reader, is with this vast and diverse publishing landscape there is no one right way to publish. Each path comes with its own rewards and challenges. Not every book has the market reach for a Big-5 publishing house. Not every author is cut out for the daily work of an indie.
Writing is a passion, a calling, but if you want to make a living, it’s also a serious business. To be a successful indie author, that’s the first thing you have to accept. Indie requires dedication, passion, organization and the willingness to go all-in.
But you know what you get in return? Total creative control, 70% of your royalties, the ability to market your own work, publish on your own schedule, and, very importantly, complete ownership of your IP/rights for life.
So how do you know if the path of the independent author it’s right for you? There are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Do you enjoy having control over your work? As an indie I get to write what I want, as niche as it may be. I have ultimate say over my covers and editorial decisions. I can make updates to my manuscript, covers and product pages wherever I want. The downside to that? I have to trust my instincts. Knowing what works takes research and practice and most importantly, the ability to pivot and try again when things don’t work.
- Do you have it in you to write more than one book a year? Some indies make a good living publishing one book per year but it’s tough, especially while you’re trying to build a readership. The most successful indies put out a few books a year, staying top of mind for their readers. Not every book is going to be a home run, so the more (quality) work you can put out there, the better your chances. I personally love this aspect of indie life! The only editorial calendar I need to follow is my own.
- Do you enjoy running your own business and managing your marketing? Wait! Don’t stop reading. I know, I’ve just made you want to hide under the bed. I’m a writer, not a CFO!! Yes, this part is tough for a lot of creatives. It takes some practice. But once you start seeing the fruits of your labor, adding up your royalties in real-time (you can track by the hour), you’re going to start loving those spreadsheets and advertising dashboards.
- Can you commit to quality? Perhaps the biggest reason why an indie author isn’t successful is they cut corners—mostly on covers and editing. As an indie, your books should be indistinguishable in quality from that of a traditionally published book.
- Lastly, can you be honest with yourself about areas where you need to improve? I see a lot of authors who haven’t quite gotten their craft where it needs to be but refuse to recognize that and improve. They sit back and pout about how nobody understands their genius or conclude that indie publishing just doesn’t work. No, it’s just that bad books don’t sell (sure, this is mildly subjective to taste, but you get my point.) Every craft from photography to cooking to music takes practice and ongoing refinement. Writing is no exception.
Still with me? Still excited? Then indie publishing might be for you! Have more questions about the indie path? Feel free to drop me a note at [email protected].
Amanda J. Clay is the Amazon best-selling author of gripping romantic thrillers and suspense with unforgettable characters. A Northern California native, she currently lives in Denver, CO.
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