1. You’re already going it alone in traditional publishing. For many years the goal of most new fiction writers has been to get an agent. This paragon would open the doors to editors, guide your career, and send you flowers when you sold or hit the bestseller lists.* An agent would be your ally against the harsh world of publishing. A “good” agent was a status symbol, and landing one was frankly a big relief. Of course, some writers are able to view this milestone as the business relationship it really is, but most are sucked into the myth that you’re buddies with your agent and that the agent’s interests are the same as yours. This is a lie.
2. It’s no longer the land of misfit toys. Until recently, I admit I subscribed to this, conflating the old vanity publishing with indie publishing. There will always be dreck available, but it won’t last and neither will its authors. The tremendous success of Amanda Hocking(a paranormal writer, yah!) and the migration of fairly big name authors to self-publishing has raised the status and opened the eyes of many to the notion that going Indie can be a positive choice made by smart, talented writers.
3. Traditional publishing has lost its monopoly on the channels of distribution. What this means is that an indie can get her books in any outlet anywhere, in any format that a traditional publishing house offers. You can have paper copies of your book in your local independent bookstore or Barnes&Noble, Books a Million or where ever. POD printing is where it’s all heading anyway. The indie publisher just has a smaller list, but you can offer discounts and create flyers to show off you books just like the big guys. Dean Wesley Smith is offering a mini-camp in thinking like a publisher that is fantastic. Check him out. He knows what he’s talking about.
4. Traditional publishers already expect you to shoulder most of the marketing. Every writer is expected to have a professional web presence that is kept updated and to do their own book trailers, spend their own money on advertising (unless they’re Nora Roberts) and have twitter and facebook accounts, at a minimum. The romance community was way out in front on self-marketing, but even if you writer thrillers, you don’t get to leave that to the publisher. Those days are gone.
5. The need to be a smart, business-aware creative has never been greater. A contract from Harlequin or Grand Central, even a multi-book one, doesn’t protect you from being dropped, having the editor who loved your work move on, from not selling through or from any other career-ending pitfall, but the dark side of this is that most new and midlist authors (except YA) are currently being offered ever smaller advances and draconian terms on e-rights and rights revision. This trend should give any good business woman pause. In the near future, paper rights will become less far valuable than e-rights and authors who are now accepting 25% of “net” (a term publishers can define as they wish) on e-rights are poorly informed and guaranteed to be screwed.
6. The physical learning curve must be separated from the emotional. What does that mean? The separate tasks/skills you must master in order to bring your books out yourself can be emotionally overwhelming To quote Ann Lamont, take it bird by bird, baby. And talk to other writers about their experiences with self-publishing. Teaming up with one or two other writers to split up the research on formatting, covers, editing, etc. might make sense for some. But please don’t make your decision based on fear or ignorance of the process.
7. One size doesn’t fit all. The business case for going indie isn’t the same for all writer at all stages of their career. Well, duh. But humor me. This is a plea for gentility and respect for the choices others make. An older writer with active contracts and a huge backlist isn’t an idiot if she chooses not to self-publish that backlist. A midlister with a medium-sized backlist that doesn’t fit with the current direction of her career is wise to ponder whether putting most of her energy into writing new books isn’t a smarter use of her time than converting old ones. And finally, the case of someone without any backlist. The key words here are patience and product–lots of it. You need to build an inventory of books, not stake your business life on one book. And you need to give those books time to grow before you condemn self-publishing as worthless.
This is the first in a series of short articles on self-publishing. I hope to provoke thought and provide links that might make the process easier for those who want to try this new model for getting their stories to readers. If you have suggestions about areas to explore, or links to helpful sites, let me know.
*In the interests of full disclosure, I had an agent for a number of years, and we parted amicably. But authors need to be very honest with themselves about why they want an agent. Status and friendship should be low on any smart business woman’s list.