Indie/Self-Publishing (Publishing 101 Part II)

Recently I wrote about traditional or commercial publishing.  This post addresses the pros and cons of indie or self-publishing.

Writers are turning to self-publishing after running the gauntlet of publishers and agents – it’s an exciting time. In the strictest definition this means you will handle not just the printing, but also the editing, distribution and marketing; you will be in charge of every facet. That said, there are so many companies out there that will handle different aspects of this for you.  At a minimum everyone will tell you to hire a good editor – and they are right. An editor can help make the difference between a mediocre book that never takes off and a scintillating read.

In the old days there was the stigma of “vanity presses” and that was just about an indie author’s only option outside of traditional publishers.  In fact they are still out there: beware being talked into paying thousands of dollars for books that could end up in your garage (unless you have a stellar marketing plan).

But times have changed and the quality and reputation of self-published books has gone up. This is where the greatest growth in publishing is occurring. The grand prize winner at the San Francisco Writers Conference this year is a self-published book, A Chair with a View by David Sabine. (And I can’t bypass the opportunity to say A Place in the World came in second in the Indie category). 12756072   thumbnail cvr

Actually there is a history of self-published writers ranging from James Joyce and Gertrude Stein to Mark Twain. Even Margaret Atwood has joined the group. Authors are publishing their own books because of opportunity,  speed (relative to the year{s} it takes to publish traditionally)and to garner a bigger share of the sales.

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There is a veritable gamut of companies ranging from strictly print-on-demand (POD) printers to Indie publishers who are a bit more selective and offer a menu of services similar to the traditional (“Big Gun”) houses. The costs are as varied as the companies so you need to comparison-shop. One book I found thorough and helpful is: The Fine Print of Self-Publishing by Mark Levine – which by the way is a highly successful SP book.Fine Print of SP

Not only will he teach you the basics of self-publishing, but he gives information on over two dozen companies, rates them and tells you what to look for in a good POD.

With traditional publishing you send a query letter to agents and the smaller publishing houses (the big ones will not look at a query unless it is from an agent) – fish around for awhile – perhaps a long while in what Levine calls the “black hole.” Let’s say you land your fish and give your rights to a traditional publisher for 5-8% royalty – then if you are very lucky (or famous) they will give you an advance. But an advance  must be paid back through book sales before the author receives more money –like a loan you are given against future royalties. Next you will probably get the bad news that the marketing rests with you as they do not have the budget – although they do have the contacts for you. Marketing can be expensive. Thus to my mind, IF you are paying for your own promotion, you might as well go the indie route and keep a much bigger royalty.

Will you get rich with a traditional publisher? Probably not. Will you get rich in SP? Probably not.  It’s difficult to earn even a modest living from writing.  A newbie author might have a more realistic ambition to try to break even, for the joy seeing her/his book in print and sharing it with the world.

So to sum up, the bad news is that you have to do practically everything yourself or hire professionals to help you. Make no mistake: it is a lot of work to do it right. You have to invest money as well as time; while it is possible to publish a book for less than $500 it isn’t possible to have a professionally edited, designed and marketable book distributed for anything like that. Although shop around, because there are deals to be had – I found professionals who were not out to gouge people (in fact in two cases I felt like telling them “you could charge more”!)  Alternatively you can hire a publisher who offers a complete range of necessary services (and usually pay a bit more). I opted to hire my own editor and book designer (but I had contacts, so I knew mine would be as good and I thought probably better, than the in-house ones) although my publisher, Virtual Bookworm would have done these things for me. (BTW I choose this small company a year ago because the owner was willing to hold my hand and walk me through the process – many will not even speak to you by phone.)  I even got my own ISBN so technically I am the publisher – known as Multicultural Press. I have been pretty happy with the decision and A Place in the World has won two modest awards recently.

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Contented indie author.

On the plus side SP gives you an option to traditional publishing (see my post Publishing 101 – the Three Routes from July 17, 2014,) you have a larger slice of the pie, independent control and almost anyone can do it – I say “almost” because it does take drive and organization – but hey you just wrote a whole book didn’t you?

So you have your decisions and work cut out for you (and you thought writing was the hard part?). Before you  give up any rights and/or money  please do your homework – it will pay off in the long run. Another book I can recommend (this one covers all your publishing options from traditional to SP) is: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Eckstut and Sterry.     519UsIKw2gL._AA160_

Please share your experiences and opinions. If you have questions I will endeavor to answer them. (Please comment below rather than on FB).

Good luck!