Photo Credit: ktoine ~ Flickr.com ~ Creative Commons

Even with the indie revolution firing cannonballs at the floundering megaship of traditional publishing and raking in the doubloons, writers are afraid to jump ship…even unpublished writers who have nothing to lose. Why is this?

Blind faith.

It’s understandable why so many writers still believe in traditional publishers. After all, they’re the ones who brought us all of our favorite books growing up. It’s the paradigm we know and are familiar with. It’s our childhood. It’s been this way all our lives. And you know how people just love change.

Digital books are still very new. No one’s yet grown up on them. That, of course, is changing as I write this. One day, my daughter will find an iPad 5 in her childhood belongings and say, “Aww, remember this old thing? I read such-and-such on this! I wonder if it’s still on here….” The artifacts will change, but stories will always be stories.

Clearly, there are a lot of factors that go into a book’s success, only half of which is writing it. Many important decisions have to be made in order to produce the book before it can be deemed fit for public consumption, from editing, copyediting, and formatting, to cover design, jacket copy, and distribution. Traditional publishing houses have been handling these decisions all along with beautiful results. They built the foundation upon which we stand — they have been in the business of making and selling books for decades — some publishing houses for over a century! — and for that, we are grateful.

So what makes me think an indie writer can do better for themselves than a publisher?

Because traditional publishing houses are in the business of making and selling books, those paper-and-ink artifacts that require manufacturing, warehousing, shipping, and for the estimated 40% of books returned unsold by stores, pulping. But more importantly, they are in business primarily to make money for their shareholders, not necessarily further an individual author’s career and financial well-being (ie., YOU). It’s extremely important for authors to remember that.

Indie writers are not in the business of selling books. They are in the business of writing and selling primarily ebooks, stories packaged and formatted into electronic files under their own unique brand. Most importantly, they work only for themselves; every decision is based on how they can benefit their own bottom line, their own career, and, of course, their readers.

Even though digital publishing is still in its infancy, it’s gonna grow up to be the biggest kid on the block. By now, everyone knows it…including publishers. Still don’t believe me? Check out any of the Kindle Bestsellers’ Lists and count up how many indie titles are up there.

So why are people so scared? I think it’s because they still equate indie publishing to being a substandard sort of DIY approach to traditional publishing, but indie and traditional are in truth two entirely different animals. And who’s to say who knows best in these wild and woolly times? But one thing I know for sure, indie writers are laying down the foundations of digital publishing now, and there might be no better time than now to jump in and take a chance on  yourself and be a part of the shaping of this new and exciting industry. (Dang, I feel like I should be passing out brochures and finger foods here. Scone?)

If you’re still in doubt, here’s the question you need to ask yourself: Do traditional publishers really know what’s best for your book?

Let’s take a look:

1. Editing and Proofing:

Traditional?  Once your book is sold, you work closely with your editor to make your manuscript the best it can be. But the truth is, if you’ve been fortunate enough to attract an agent/editor’s attention and gotten the thing sold, you’ve probably already invested hundreds of hours vetting it with beta readers, and revising and spit-polishing the thing into a gleaming supernova. Even so, once within the stables of a traditional publisher, you still must work with an editor until your manuscript is deemed “accepted.” Then you get another portion of your advance payment. (The rest is usually released upon publication, typically months down the road.)

Indie?  The work’s the same. You’re still going to spend hundreds of hours vetting your novel with beta readers, revising and spit-polishing the thing into a gleaming supernova. Only once you’re done, you get to choose the editor you want to work with — and there are hundreds of experienced and talented freelance editors out there — and make the final decisions on any changes.

2. Format:

Traditional?  Your publisher decides the best format, paperback or hardback, to manufacture.

Indie?  Digital publishing is instant…and free. You also happen to know that your target audience likes larger font and enjoys dragons drawn in the margins. You can do that. You want to make your work available in paperback or hardback? You can do that easily for a few hundred dollars or less with POD publishing, and you don’t have to worry about warehousing or shipping.

3. Print Run:

Traditional?  Somebody in sales is talking to someone in marketing, and someone else is mixing it all together to somehow scry out your future sales (assuming a 30-40% return rate) and basically setting a limit to the number of your books they will sell.

Indie?  Ebooks are limitless and available for order 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (assuming servers are well-protected from the forecasted zombie apocalypse), for all practical purposes into perpetuity.

4. Distribution:

Traditional?  It is up to your agent to solicit or entertain offers from foreign publishers and work out all the legal mumbo jumbo that goes along with this. It takes a while. It also takes a while (and many percentage cuts) before a check comes your way.

Indie?  But you know your story would appeal especially to German readers. You don’t need to wait for anyone’s permission or approval. You can make it be so on your own. Do your research and invest in a good translator. Don’t have room for that in the budget? Get creative. We are living in an age where out-of-the-box thinking is not only revered by the masses, but essential to survival.

5. Launch Day:

Traditional?  You may or may not get a launch party hosted by your publisher, but you most certainly will get about 30 days to see how your book is going to fare. If it doesn’t perform well in this 30-day time frame, it doesn’t bode well for its longevity on the market.

Indie?  You can throw your own launch party if you like…you can even attend in your jammies from the comfort of your own home. But whatever you decide, it doesn’t matter. In fact, some folks quietly slip their book online and promote it later when they have time. There’s no expiration date, and you can promote it as long and as often as you’d like. But keep in mind — and you’re going to see this on every indie writer site you come across — there’s no better promotion than the next release. As a writer, your time is almost always better spent writing new stories.

6. How Much Money Did We Make?

Traditional?  In addition to an advance, authors typically receive 8-15% royalty on trade paperbacks sold. Authors receive two royalty statements a year, and so it’s difficult to say exactly how a book is doing on any given day. And check out Simon & Schuster’s weighty royalty statements.

Indie?  There’s no advance money, but authors can earn up to 70% royalty on the sales of their digital titles, 30% for the lower price range. And compare the above with the instant! reporting available from Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing or Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! sites, not to mention payment of royalties in about 60 days via check or EFT.

7. What’s Next?

Traditional?  It depends on your contract, but really, your publisher decides this based on what they feel they can sell.

Indie?  It’s up to you. You can do whatever you want. You can write short story series, illustrated screenplays, or goth children’s books. Whatever makes you rub your hands in glee and lean forward over your keyboard. Because you know down here on the ground floor, in the shoving and pushing that goes on in Twitterverse, you will find your own.

 ~ In Conclusion ~

Jesus, the guy who works in sales and marketing, does not love you. He is there to further the goals of the company he works for. He can only follow the directives of his superiors. The numbers will be the numbers, and even Jesus can’t change those for you.

At the end of the day, the only person you can count on to work the hardest with your best interests in mind is yourself. Keep in mind, the work is the same. To be successful in any kind of publishing, you still need write with all your passion, edit with all your sensibilities, and reach out to readers with all your genuineness.

And, of course, you’ve gotta have faith in yourself.


Check back tomorrow for the final installation in this series: Losing My Religion, Part 5: You Are All Powerful.


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