Why Would Anyone Settle For Being An Indie-Author?
The first question I’m asked when people discover that I’m an Indie- Author is whether I’ve approached or considered approaching agents or publishers.
‘Your books are good, Mark. You should submit to publishers.’
It doesn’t seem to occur to some that being independent is a choice, not a necessity. I never considered the traditional publishing route, although I have had offers from several Independent publishing houses and one large agency over the years which I chose not to accept for a variety of reasons.
I was very lucky to benefit early in my writing career from the advice of several authors who’ve spent some years in the publishing industry. In particular, I had a long chat with Gavin Bain, a friend of mine who has had long-term experience in the music and literary business. We chatted about agents, contracts, advances, small publishers versus large ones and I spent months doing my own research on the business. With a push from Gavin I followed my gut instinct to go Indie. I’ve never regretted this.
So…Self- Publishing or Traditional?
Asked by every writer to spurt ink.
When I started writing my debut novel, I stood firmly in the self-publish camp. As I progressed with the book, I wanted to be thorough, so I researched the industry more and more. Royalties, advances, agents, services performed by the publishing house and or the agent, big or small publisher? Did I want to write for and market to a specific genre? How could I set about building a readership?
There was and is a lot to learn. I did weeks of research, seeking out those agents and publishers (mostly independent) who I thought would like me and my book, and whom I thought I’d like to work with. After ten completed projects, that list remains unused at present.
More and more, as I immersed myself in the snaking and shaded corridors of the literary industry, the same nagging questions came back to me.
Is it worth giving away control of my work for the miniscule chance at the potential exposure a big publisher might bring?
It seemed to me that if these guys deigned to take you, they’d in all probability change your work endlessly, until it fit their formulaic idea of what a commercial novel should be, which is fine for some writers, but not for me. It seemed that most of the promo and marketing would be done by me rather than them anyway, so why should I give them such a huge chunk of my potential earnings (ha!) and, more importantly, complete control over the words that I had spent so many hours writing? What was more important? Potential earnings or creative control?
Advances: For many authors, it seems that an advance, especially a huge one, is the holy-grail. I don’t understand this mentality at all. Sure an advance is a nice pat on the back, and an indication that your book is commercial enough (or at least can be made to be, in the payer’s opinion) to perhaps recoup the investment. It also seems like a good way of allowing the author the privilege and means to write full-time. For me, it’s a scary prospect.
An advance simply means that you’re in debt to the issuer until your sales repay the money. If the sales take years to do so? Well, you’re in hock to them for years, and quite probably on a deadline for at least one more book. No thanks. Add this to the fact that a large portion of publishers give their newly-published books only a very short time to hit serious sales before shifting their enthusiasm and attention elsewhere, it added to my unease.
I know several authors who exist by paying one advance off with the next to recover the rights to their books.
Agents: Whilst there are of course many good quality agents, who work hard for their clients, let’s remember two key things about them.
Firstly, they do try to get the best deal for their authors, but that may mean something different to them than it does to the author, in terms of cash, advances or the prestige of a particular publishing house over creative control or effective care from the publisher. Your agent represents a business; the more money (debt) they get for you, the more money they themselves make, and that is their primary objective.
Secondly, agents will take around 15% of your money, which is already a very small percentage (somewhere between 7 -15% for traditionally published writers) when considering the fact that you worked so hard on your book and will continue to work your arse off promoting the book, publisher or no publisher (unless of course you’re very high on the publishers’ radar). Whilst the services of agents can be very valuable, if you take the traditional publisher out of the picture, there’s really no place for an agent until you’re selling enough books on your own to gather interest from publishers and have deals to negotiate.
Smaller publishing houses offer a more personal service and are generally more engaged with and passionate about the work they’ve chosen to represent. They are also significantly more pro-active in reacting to the market and in developing their authors than their traditional counterparts. Whilst working with small publishers can be rewarding, particularly if think you haven’t the skills or contacts to produce a decent standard of book for yourself, in my view there’s not always a need to hand your work over to a small publisher, unless they can add value that you cannot on your own. Indie publishers like Bloodhound Books have made great strides in the market and appear to put their authors first.
If you choose to go it alone, given the time and will you can learn do it yourself with the right assistance and a commitment to pay professionals for the services you can’t do for yourself, i.e., editing and proofing.
Many of the industry professionals I hire do the exact same work but at higher rates to small publishers. Good freelancers are easy to come by and needn’t be expensive.
This is where the effective Indie-Author exists. In the centre of a web of professionals; editors, proof-readers, formatters and cover designers (if needed), hired by the author to polish his/her work and free the author up to do what he/she does best…Write.
Are the potential benefits and rewards of being a writer great enough for me to expect to earn a living from writing?
For me the decision to go Indie was a no-brainer. However, a small part of me, the one that’s low on self-esteem, told me that I needed the recognition from an agent or publisher that my book was “good”.
I ignored that needy version of myself and ploughed on, buoyed by the research I’d done into the standard of eBooks out there. As far as I could see, my first book was as good as many self-published eBooks, and better than most (there’s the tiny little bit of ego/confidence I do possess asserting itself).
In hindsight, my first work was of a good standard but just good. I was judging the quality of my work against other independents, when I should have been planning ahead in my development and thinking bigger in terms of the standard I wanted to reach and surpass.
As a writer, I’ve developed a massive amount and learned many more writing devices and techniques during the process of writing nine more books. This kind of development time, I wouldn’t be allowed with such a public analysis and feedback in traditional publishing. Like the music industry, the days when a publisher will take a punt on a new talent and invest in developing them are long gone for the most part. “Bring us the next copy of a copy of ‘a girl who kicked a hornet in the nuts on a train’.”
As things stand; using several industry professionals who are competitively priced, and more importantly better at editing etc than me, I’ve published my stories across a range of genre, exactly as I intend them to be.
The financial rewards?
Here’s the thing few writers will tell you, mostly because you don’t want to hear it. You will most likely not make money as a writer.
You will devote thousands of hours of your time to writing the very best books you can. Time to develop your skills and broaden your writing palette. Hours and hours to learn what you can about marketing and promoting your book effectively. Building an audience. Writing some more.
None of this will guarantee you readers or an income. If you make more than £500 a month from writing novels, you deserve a pat on the back. I regularly outsell much higher profile authors who are tied to restrictive contracts and huge advances. How the hell they pay their creditors back, I have no idea. Living from one advance to the next doesn’t appeal to me.
The truth is, that for all the professionalism you will have to employ; all of the dedication and sacrifice of your time to write and to present your writing as well as it can be, writing will be nothing more than a very time-consuming hobby that you love. If you build a small readership who enjoy your books and earn enough for a little holiday once a year, give yourself well-deserved handshake. Focus instead on being proud of a back catalogue of books you poured yourself into writing.
So, why ‘settle’ for being an Indie- Author?
That’s the key, you’re not settling, you’re making a determined and smart choice to control your own literary destiny and produce your work the way you desire. No changing characters ages or sex or motivations to appeal to this demographic or that genre. No committees making a product of your labour. No debt to a corporate master which for most writers you haven’t a hope of recouping form advances.
If you’re one of the lucky writers who have a breakthrough hit of a book, your work is entirely in your own hands. You can make that deal when the big boys/girls come calling, but you can make it on your own terms. Use their distribution. Use their contacts to get a TV deal or international translations or Movie deals. Use them. Not the other way round.
As an independent, you can still choose to publish with an indie-publisher, or a larger one if that’s your bag, but have the choice to work with people who truly feel passionate about and can add value to your novel, rather than jumping at the first publisher or agent who shows an interest at all cost.
Do not settle for being an Indie-Author.
Fucking aspire to be an Indie-Author.
Mark is the proudly-independent author of nine works of fiction and one non-fiction
You can find Mark Wilson and his books at Amazon.