Another question I get asked a lot is how I got started on the indie publishing route instead of going traditional, as well as what I think about the process. I thought it’d be neat to discuss that in my Musings post today, since it’s a question I get asked more frequently than one might think.
The start of my indie publishing journey actually began when I was eleven years old. I had written the first book in what would become a middle grade trilogy, and I dreamed of getting published super young. My parents, being the fab supporters they are, learned about the free Create Space and KDP programs on Amazon, and all of a sudden my dreams of being published were born. I had books on Amazon! Family and family friends were buying them! I had books with my name on them on my bookshelf! At the time, I didn’t know that publishing myself was called “indie publishing” or even “self publishing”; but through my parents’ help, my knowledge of the free publishing programs Amazon provided began my love for it.
Since then, my knowledge of indie publishing has grown tremendously through talking with other indie authors, as well as studying books, blogs, and more. While indie publishing was once frowned upon, the stigma is being broken a little more every single day, especially with the rise of famous indie authors, as well as new programs being created, such as Ingram Spark or Barnes and Nobles’ online service.
But that doesn’t quite mean that it’s easy yet. In fact, it’s far from it. There is still the stigma that indie publishing is the “easy way out”, or that it’s “unprofessional.” Since anyone can publish nowadays, it really isn’t a surprise that indie publishing gets a slightly bed rep due to all the not-so-great books being put out there. The difference between today and a couple years ago, however, is that more and more people are starting to recognize that there are authors that take indie publishing seriously, and those are the only ones to pay attention to and help out.
One of the marketing books I read while writing Smoke and Mirrors and beginning to take my writing career into my own hands was that indie publishing can be a great tool to use prior to querying to traditional agents and publishers. If you could indie publish and not only sell your books but also have a good following on social media and have good crowds at events, it meant you were doing a pretty dang good job, and traditional publishers would be interested in you. At the time of writing my debut, I thought that I would eventually move on to the traditional publishing side of things, but first I should try my hand at that marketing strategy and see how I did.
What started as a mere marketing strategy became my love of indie publishing, and now I can honestly tell you that I’d be surprised if I ever tried traditional publishing at all.
*The thing I do want to note here before explaining myself is that I’m not degrading traditional publishing at all, and I hope none of you take it that way. Something I tell all aspiring writers is that the differences in traditional and indie publishing are so vast that you have to figure out which is best for you as a writer. There is no right or wrong way; it’s just making sure you follow the correct path for yourself as an individual, as well as for your career.
The first thing I want to mention is that indie publishing is hard, but rewarding. If someone had told me how hard it was prior to me launching in, I probably would have reconsidered my goals. But since then, I have learned so much and grown so much, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m most likely going to be an indie for life, unless God has some other plan for me and my writing.
Here are some things I love the most about indie publishing and why it felt right for me:
- You’re writing on your own time. Yes, this can scare a lot of people because setting deadlines and sticking to them can be really hard work. Most people might actually need a traditional publisher that sets hard deadlines for them so they can answer to someone else instead of themselves; and that’s fine! But for me, family is one of the most important things in life. I would never want a deadline set by someone else to get in the way of that. So for me and my crazy life juggling living in a state away from family and thus having to travel to visit people, as well as working two other jobs and going on adventures with my husband, setting my own deadlines is amazing. Of course I set hard ones. *winks* I’m always telling people about how my biggest problem with deadlines is not the following through part, but the part where I think I’m crazy invincible and can churn out three different projects by the same date. My only issue with setting my own deadlines is that I try to overachieve; but don’t worry, I’m working on that. Overall, the point is: writing on your own time and setting your own deadlines (and sticking to them; very important) gives you FREEDOM. And I covet that freedom because it means more time with my husband, more time to take trips and see family without worrying about work, etc.
- You’re in control of literally EVERYTHING. Did you know that most publishers don’t give you any say in what your cover looks like? Some publishers (and I found this out by two well-known traditionally published authors) actually change minor things in your book without your knowledge if they don’t like it. (Note here that they are typically ONLY minor things, but it still gives new authors whiplash.) Where’s the fun in that? As a super independent person myself, I want to know that the story I’m telling is my own and that if I make any changes, it’s because I made them — NOT because someone went back through and decided they would like something better if they changed it. I also want to have complete say-so over my covers. Now this is, of course, a bit tricky because if you have the wrong one created, it can make or break those sales. But if you get one professionally made and it fits the tone of your book and your book’s genre, you’re good, my friend.
- Marketing is hard, but since it’s always changing, you are always learning. Most people think that if you go with a traditional publisher, they’re going to do the marketing for you. Spoiler Alert: they won’t. They do up to a certain extent, and yes they’re there to offer tips, but otherwise you’re on your own. Well, indies are ALWAYS on their own when it comes to marketing anyways! It’s scary at times. Marketing strategies ebb and flow and change with each new piece of technology invented. But if you love learning and growing like I do, and you love being challenged, then you’ll succeed at marketing. One of the best parts about the ebb and flow of marketing today is the amount of resources we have at our fingertips — libraries! Podcasts! Books! Blogs! Fellow authors! I’m following and reading many right now, and I enjoy and treasure every single new thing I learn.
That being said, I feel like it’s only fair to mention some hard parts about indie publishing because nothing is ever a complete walk in the sunshine:
- You do have to do everything yourself. You’re writer, publisher, marketer, deadline setter, cover artist (sort of), editor, formatter, etc. And the thing is, you can’t skip a hat. You have to wear all of them, or at least find good people to help you out with them (though this takes money), or you won’t succeed. If this thought overwhelms you, then the truth is that indie publishing may not be the best choice for you. You have to be dedicated to a long term road, especially one that will be full of bumps and ruts at times. This was definitely a mindset shift for me because I tend to like doing things right away and knowing of the reward IMMEDIATELY. Instead, I’ve had to challenge myself to use my writing, business ideas, and marketing strategies to think long term. Once you do alter your mindset, though, you can settle down and get to the real work.
- You probably won’t go on tours unless you do so with money from your own pocket. Obviously there’s no guarantee that you’d be able to go on a book tour with a traditional publisher either — most authors don’t blow up enough to do so. I just thought it’d be good to clarify.
- Unless you go through Ingram Spark (and on occasion, sometimes not even then), you will have a hard time getting into bookstores. You probably won’t ever get into major bookstores like Barnes and Noble or be featured in stores like Walmart or Target either, unless those places change their policies. (Which, with the rise of great indie authors, this could be sooner than we all think!) I’m not saying it won’t ever happen. In fact, I have a resource that gives a list of MANY bookstores around the USA that do allow indie authors space in their stores! And I have heard of an indie author that was able to at least get some book signings in at a Barnes and Noble in her area, which is an amazing feat! Also, I have partnered with independent bookstores in my area who have not only taken my books and allowed me to have signings, but they’ve celebrated my indie author-ness! (More pics on that below.) I’m just saying that if you’re looking to be in any big stores, you’re probably not going to get there unless you go the traditional route.
- Marketing is hard. Unless you devote a good chunk of time to it and put the work in, you aren’t going to sell books. If you aren’t willing to constantly learn and flow with new marketing techniques and strategies, indie publishing definitely isn’t for you. Maybe that’s a tad bit blunt, but it’s just the honest truth.
Again, indie publishing isn’t for everyone. It’s like anything in life — one size doesn’t fit all. Some of you reading this may be going “Alright, indie publishing sounds perfect for me!” and others may be going “Well crap, I’m going to query to traditional publishers from now on.” I just wanted to share a little bit about the indie publishing world and why it’s right for me. If it’s not right for you, that’s perfectly fine! You. Do. You. That’s the lesson I want you to take from this, most of all. <3
Before I close out this blog post, I wanted to link back to three different blog posts I wrote for my “On Writing Blog Event” back in March. You may find them helpful building off of this blog post or just for more info about indie publishing and marketing in general. Hope they help!
Is there anything you’d like to add? Anything you’d like me to clarify? Just let me know, and I’d be happy to answer any questions!