In the first post for this series, I gave a checklist of items authors need to consider before actually publishing based on my own, recent experience. One of the things not in that checklist, which you still need to work out, is what publishing route to take? I’ve written a few blogs on this during my own journey. The truth is there is no easy answer. I think a lot of us crave the legitimacy and validation of a traditional publishing deal, but given the nature of the industry at the moment, this isn’t going to be an option for a lot of people. From my perspective, there isn’t a generic right answer. The direction you go depends on what is going to work for you.
When I chose to go indie, it was because I realized that getting a book deal was actually within the realm of possibility, but it meant levels of commitment I couldn’t hold to. I have a job that pays a living wage and benefits, two essentials for my family. Had I gotten a good publishing deal, and managed lots of sales, a debut author wasn’t going to make enough to live on. Not that it couldn’t happen, because it does, but that’s more of a Cinderella situation having more to do with luck and persistence.
Still, choosing to go traditional is a solid route for someone committed to making this their career while being both willing and able to make necessary sacrifices. As I said, you will need to supplement your income even if you sell tens of thousands of copies. One approach is to write lots of things in lots of different venues or working another job until you ‘make it.’ This was the case for the most famous and successful writers out there, though you hear plenty of anecdotes of success on the first try – again, think Cinderella.
Choosing to go indie means several things. First, it means that this is going to be your side-gig unless you get very lucky. Second, it means that you’ve got a very, very steep hill to climb in terms of getting exposure and making sales. This is why the checklist from the first post is so essential. You need to be prepared every step of the way to make a successful launch. It could mean the difference between having ten book sales over a year on Amazon and getting to the point where people you don’t know are picking it up and sharing your work with friends. Also, luck isn’t particularly kind to folks who aren’t prepared to take full advantage of a break.
The third thing to keep in mind about being an indie author is that you’re going to be doing ALL of the work. On the one hand, it’s nice, because you’ve got 100% full creative control. On the other, you’re going to be responsible for every aspect of book production from choosing the font to developing targeting for your advertising. It’s exhausting and will take away a lot of writing time. Remember, you’re also probably working a full-time job too or perhaps you’re a stay-at-home parent with multiple competing priorities.
There are also other options to consider, such as small presses and crowd-sourcing. These are also good options, but again, you’ve got to look at these for how they fit you as an author and your goals. For example, crowd-funding is much harder than self-publishing but can pay out bigger rewards if you can pull it off. My best advice for any author on the fence about what to do is the following:
- Look at traditional first. Submit to agents, see what comes back. I’ve had an agent practically beg me for work, and simultaneously shit on me so hard I very nearly quit writing. It was instructive and helped me gain perspective. Another benefit is that this takes a long time and will give you time to continue developing your back-list or hone your skills.
- Look at small presses. This option isn’t for everyone, but there are quite a few, and they can help you get out there and get exposure. They help with marketing, editing, and general book production. I didn’t go this route because I couldn’t find a press that was reaching out for the sort of stories I produce.
- If you have a large enough platform on social media, consider crowd-funding. There are options out there that will act as a traditional publisher if you can get enough pre-orders. That said, if you have fewer than about ten thousand followers on any given platform, this may not really work out for you. When I tried this route, I got probably 25 or 30 pre-orders from folks on social media who have supported me. At the time, I needed a total of 500. This might be an option for folks producing under a platform like Wattpad who have gained a following and are ready to take the next step. I don’t write for Wattpad, so I’m not sure if this makes any sense.
- If you’ve gotten this far and you’re coming up dry, it’s time to consider self-publishing. Before you do, however, revisit the pre-publication checklist I put together as a starting point.
Before you really steam ahead with self-publishing, assuming you’ve done your research and so on, you need to stop and ask yourself: Is your book really, actually ready, and do people want to read it? One of the things I’m struggling with right now is whether or not I have published a book that should have been published. So far, the feedback I’ve gotten from virtually all the readers of Wine Bottles and Broomsticks is: That was actually pretty good. Several people have finished the book in the span of a weekend and asked for book 2. My previous book, which I didn’t publish, was read by a total of 3 people and I gave it out to a lot more than that. It was enough for me to stop and re-evaluate things. At the time, I decided to try something different, if nothing else, to take a break from that first story. It was possibly the best writing decision I’ve ever made.
My point here is that if you’re experiencing a situation where your proof-readers or beta-readers aren’t finishing or can’t provide much feedback, you may need to consider taking a very hard look at the story and thinking about whether or not it’s time to try something different. This is extremely difficult advice for writers to take. Most of us don’t, and that’s okay, but being stubborn isn’t going to help you out much in your writing career.
I don’t know if that helped you, but it’s been my process, and I think it was pretty good. If I had to do it again, I would probably have done it in the same order, except I’d have skipped trying out crowd-funding. That was a dead-end for someone like me.
Did you have a different experience? Leave me a comment for discussion on what you decided to do and why.