Monday, July 30, 2012

When To Go Indie

So you've written a book and you're not sure where to put it. Do you submit and wait the requisite 6 months to a year to hear back? Do you go traditional print or ebook? Publish it yourself? Have you been through countless rejections and decide to throw caution to the wind and publish it yourself? 

I think it all depends on the writer and what she/he wants. In my case, I started out writing for (electronic) publishing houses, and I'm glad I went that route. I write for small press, and my books typically release in electronic format before print. I also write for several publishers. This has been a very good thing for me because:

1. I'm used to the editorial process.
2. I understand there's more to the story than the actual story. There's cover art, editing, proofs, marketing, etc.
3. Having many editors makes me look at my writing from several perspectives, which typically results in a very clean finished work.
4. I've built an audience, so that when I published my first book myself, I wasn't starting from scratch.

For me, self-publishing was an experiment. I took a book I'd released with an ebook publisher years ago, had the reverted rights, and revised it, designed a cover, and put it up for sale for .99. The book sold well, and I decided to try a second book, then a third. I now have five self-published works with more in mind. And though I'm still confused as to why one particular book will sell more than another, I'll take what I can get when I can get it. 

The book cover above is for a book I love called Tip of the Spear. I came up with the idea for it in 2009 at the San Francisco RWA conference (thanks Cat and Teri). I wrote it soon after. Then I sat it on it, edited, reedited, and passed it around for publication. Publishers didn't want it because it's hard to market. It's an Amazon/Western/futuristic/dystopian/erotic romance. Basically the old west with some paranormal twists, too much apart from cookie-cutter to be comfortable to the big 6. Agents didn't want it either. Many said they liked the writing, but they weren't sure how to sell it in this day and age.

I wrote this 92,000 word story years ago. The first of four books. And it's been languishing on my computer ever since. I could have submitted it to any of my current publishers to see what they think (no book is ever a guaranteed contract), but I'd mentally targeted the book for mainstream print. I don't think longer books sell as well in smaller publishing houses, because any ebook priced over $5.99, in my opinion, is too much. I understand that publishers have to set a price to cover fees for edits, formatting, cover art, marketing, etc, but by publishing a book myself, I can set my own price.

There's also the control factor. I get to control the content, the edits, the cover art, the release date. Anything and everything to do with the book goes through me.

For Tip of the Spear, indie is the right choice. No one seems sure what to do with the book, but I love it. I think it fits because it doesn't fit, if that makes sense. 

Now, some authors preach that indie is the only way to go, while others say never try it on a first book. There's no right answer. I'm glad that the stigma of self-publishing is slowly fading. Oh, it's still there, but not as prevalent anymore. From an article I read online, it appears most authors make less than $10000 a year, and half of them actually make less than $500. (Note, I'm not going to argue the validity of the actual statistics, but from the many authors I know, the aforementioned figures seem to be closer to the truth than that every self-published author will clear fifty grand with one book the first time out.)

If you're brand spankin' new and no one has ever heard of you outside of your immediate family, who will know to buy your book? Granted, you could be a breakout like Amanda Hocking, but she's one in a million. Because if it was that easy to write a million-dollar-earning best seller, we'd all be doing it. Then too, you could alway sink a small fortune into PR and advertising, only to start out your writing career with a negative balance. At some point, spending $300 to advertise your .99 book makes less and less sense.

This isn't to say you shouldn't self-publish. You just need to look at why you're doing it. To earn a living? To self-validate? To start a writing career? Only you know the answer to that question.

For what it's worth, I would advise new authors to try the more traditional route with a publisher, whether a print publisher or an e-publisher. Learn how to edit, what makes good cover art, and use the connections a publisher can give you (other authors, editors, etc) before striking it out on your own. Build an audience, get people to know you, then strike out on your own if you want to. And I know that's easier said than done, but if I had published my first few books myself because--at the time--I thought they were stellar, I might not be writing as much as I am today and making a full-time career out of it.

My two cents on a Monday morning. And it's a Raven Brew day. Cheerio.

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