Lina C. Amarego walks through the pros and cons of indie publishing so you can decide if it’s right for you!
Publication: the ultimate goal, the final frontier for many aspiring writers. The gate between calling oneself a ‘writer’ and an ‘author’. So many of us dream of the moment when we can finally hold our book baby in our hands; a physical, tangible proof of the fact we did it. We created something out of nothing and are ready to share it with the world.
But the gatekeeping and daunting, arduous task of the query trenches leave many people feeling discouraged. I’ve seen some of the best manuscripts I’ve ever read get rejection after rejection, simply because agents weren’t looking for that type of story at the time, or because it wasn’t on brand with the agency’s agenda. Which is disheartening, to think of the many brilliant works we’ve never had the chance to read because some random agent decided it wasn’t worth their time.
Fortunately, there are many options for self-publishing or independent publishing available for those willing to take the reins and make the leap. Self-publishing comes with it’s own unique set of challenges. While many can also be advantages, it is not as easy as uploading your book to Amazon and calling it a day.
The Wearer of Many Hats:
It’s important to know that as a self-published author, you are in control of your own fate. Which in many ways is part of the appeal — there are no gatekeepers to success and publication if you’re the one with the keys. But, that also means you are the one in charge of everything. I’m a writer, and that is hard enough. But now I am also a one woman marketing team, merchandise designer, business owner, tax consultant, and shipping company. And for the things I can’t do myself, like cover art, proofreading, map-making, editing, and beta reading, it is still on me to find quality contractors willing to invest their time in my story for a reasonable price. It gets overwhelming fast, and it’s important to have a road map going into the process. If things don’t get done, there is no agent or editor invested in your success you can call for advice. If there is a misprint on ten of your books three days before release, you’re the one to call the printer and sit on hold for six hours with customer service to try and fix it (real story).
Small Fish, Big Pond:
Traditional publishing can be a nightmare in a lot of ways, and it does not guarantee your book will be successful. But, there is something to be said about audience. Generally speaking, it is a lot harder for indie authors to get their work out in front of an audience. We don’t have the money, the time, or the manpower to make it big. So sometimes, it does feel like we are shouting into the void only to hear it echo back to us. If you are in this business for money or fame, self-publishing might not be the option for you. Not that it doesn’t occasionally happen to the lucky few, but it’s rare. And to be clear — traditional publishing isn’t a guarantee for money and notoriety either. But it is different when a traditional house is willing to throw their weight behind a book. Self-publishing means you will probably never have a huge book tour or a banner with your title on it in every Barnes and Nobles. It’s important to be clear about the expectations you have for yourself and your book as a result.
The Lonely Road:
Social media can be deceptive. You post about your book, and people will rally around it and tell you how excited they are — but it doesn’t always translate to sales. The reality is that no matter how good your book is or how much you promote it, no one cares as much as you do. No one else has a stake in the success of your book. Now, you will find writing friends and colleagues you collaborate well with that will genuinely help you. And eventually, readers will invest their time, and that’s the best feeling in the world. But it takes time and concentrated effort to get there, and it can get very lonely. You have to be sure of yourself and your own abilities because external validation is hard to come by. Especially when there are stigmas to fight regarding self-publishing. The expectation is slowly shifting, but the narrative from others is often that self-published means a reduction in the quality of the work. It’s unfair and entirely untrue, but it makes it all the more difficult to advocate and take pride in your self-publishing journey. It takes a remarkable amount of self discipline as well. There isn’t an external force holding you to your deadlines or making sure you give your best effort. At the end of the day, self-publishing is exactly that; a by yourself process.
So at this point, you might be asking, “Why bother?”
The road is lonely, but there is a light at the end…
Sweet, sweet freedom:
While the aforementioned “do it yourself” can be so intimidating and daunting, guess what! YOU CAN DO WHATEVER YOU WANT. You want your cover to have lions on it? Go for it! You want to include that one sentence that might be controversial, or that trope that has been deemed ‘cliche’ by traditional media? Nothing is stopping you! You are entirely in control of the vision and message of your story and all the ways it presents itself. If you want to have a live vlog and read some of your book, no one is going to yell at you for spoilers. You are the last set of eyes on your project, and it reflects the goals and dreams you have. When you enter a traditional publishing contract, you sign away the rights to tell your story the way you want it. Editors and marketing teams can change essential elements to fit their brand, and you have very little say. As a self-published author, you retain all rights to your intellectual property, and you can tell your story the way it was meant to be told. That means that you aren’t caged by the expectations of the industry or the market. The potential is limitless, and it’s well worth the work you put into it.
Ain’t nobody got time for that:
Another element of control you gain as a self-published author is TIME. The traditional publishing route is particularly soul crushing because for many, it takes forever. Years querying to find an agent. Months and months to have the book edited and the marketing team finally publish it. By the time your book hits the shelf, there is so much time spent and wasted to get it there. During the wait? You have a finished product but aren’t making any money from it. For some people, the wait is well worth it. But for many, the proverbial limbo is too much. As a self-published author, you can work at your own pace. There is no deadline, but there is also no “paying your dues” or wasting time. When time is one of the most valuable resources on earth, there are no rules to how you spend yours.
Any self published author you meet will probably say the same thing- they don’t make much. But, we make more per book than traditionally published authors. The resources of a publishing house come at a steep cost, and some authors make mere pennies from each sale. So, if you are able to get your book out there, you stand to make more as a self-published author and can keep your hard earned profits to yourself.
Community over competition:
For every way that the self-publishing journey is really an individual process, it’s also an extremely collaborative, community-based affair. While you are your own boss, it also means you get to choose your own team. You aren’t assigned an editor that the publishing house picked for you — you can hire your friends or people you know are passionate about your work and share your vision. Self-published authors know first hand how hard it can be and are often willing to connect and share resources. We aren’t competing with each other for limited resources but instead expanding our circles together to collaborate. There is no gatekeeping, simply because we are not hoarding something finite — instead, the community is there, willing to grow and learn together. And, you can connect with your readers too! You aren’t a representative of a publishing house that has to protect their image. You can chat and communicate with your readers at your own discretion, which is one of the most rewarding feelings ever. After all, it’s why we publish. Our stories need telling, and they need to be heard.
All in all, self-publishing isn’t for everyone. It’s difficult and daunting, and it has many unique challenges. But, if you’re willing to give it your heart and soul, it is a rewarding, freeing experience that gets your book out to the world the way you want it to be.
Growing up on the east coast in small-town New Jersey, Lina spent her early days playing pretend and making up stories for her friends and family. Little did they know, that pastime would soon turn into a lifelong passion for storytelling in all of its forms. While she’s a family therapist by profession, she’s a writer at heart. When she’s not scribbling ideas about fictional worlds into the margins of her notebooks, Lina spends her time reading anything she can get her hands on, driving her fiancé crazy with her wild daydreams, and snuggling her adorable pups.
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