Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Great Self-Publishing Lie

Most people relax and go to the beach when they're on a tropical island. Apparently, I just have deep thoughts, such as the state of the great indie / self-publishing movement. Are self-published authors also independent publishers going it alone, with every intention of continuing that way? Or, are we putting our books on Amazon, while awaiting the “real” deal?

Are self-published authors honest with ourselves about what we really mean by going indie?

Someone once asked in Kindleboards whether authors there thought of themselves as indies for life. I do. My books will never have mainstream / commercial mass appeal, because they're foremost about people and periods which I find interesting. In six years, I've worked with two agents. Yes, that's past tense. My last "break-up" wasn't the most amicable, in part because my agent felt I wasn't patient enough. As of last month, she still wishes I would just stop all this “self-publishing nonsense” - her words, not mine. Right now, I’m not looking for an agent or publisher. That's my plain and simple truth. What happens tomorrow is anyone’s guess.

Each time another “indie” signs with a traditional house, I wonder, what motivated the decision? No, it's not just about dollar signs. The two-million dollar check doesn't go out the day after the deal. Is it the potential for increased exposure? Some of the recent signings are for authors I’ve never heard of – hard to believe in our little microcosm of writers, isn’t it? Does the cachet that supposedly comes from traditional publishing affect the indie author’s choice? Maybe. Are there people for whom the publisher’s name, not the author’s own, still matters? Sure. Judging by some of the best-selling indies, some readers don’t care.

As an aside, in my 13-month stint as a self-published author, only a former member of a critique group has ever asked about my publisher. When I answered, I should have also mentioned I was Hitler and Satan's misbegotten hellspawn, for the look she gave me. Still cracks up when I remember it. Anyway, I'm more likely to get questions about the cover art on my books.

What does an indie's crossover to traditional mean for authors who choose to remain indie, or see a new future in self-publishing? Some have passed on deals most would kill for, but they seem to be writers in two categories: (1) indies who make a boatload of money on their own and don't need a publisher's "help" or (2) established, traditional writers with a backlist, who've figured out they can control their sales 100%. A no-brainer, but it doesn't mean we'll all have that choice. 

There's only one real reason for me to surrender my indie-for-life card: marketing. Did I mention I LOATHE marketing AND would rather endure a root-scaling at the dentist EVERY DAY for the rest of my life(!), than spend time marketing my own work? Ok, now I've told you. If a publisher took me on and would actually market my work (I’ve heard this still happens with newbies, sometimes), I’d sign the deal. I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't. Maybe.

I’d love to hear your opinion. In particular, what does the “indie” label mean to you?

P.S: M. Louisa Locke, best-selling, self-published author of Maids of Misfortune posted a FANTASTIC article on her blog this month, which sums up the current state for indies better than I ever could.


Consuelo Saah Baehr said...

Where do I start! I WAS traditionally published for many years and then I went silent because they had sucked every trickle of confidence and ambition and the will to write out of me. Traditional publishing as I've written many times is bleak and soul crushing with one happy day - the day your agent calls to say she has sold your book. After that a year of 'PRODUCING" the book and a small print run with poor distribution. The writer has no control - they don't even want to see you once the manuscript is delivered. If anyone thinks that's better than having total control, uploading in a matter of minutes, selling 24/7 and having the camaraderie of a group of like-minded generous people, then go be published. This writer would never go back.

Lisa Yarde said...

Wow, Consuelo, I am so amazed each time you talk about your experiences. I have never seen any other industry that treats its SUPPLIERS quite like publishing does, but I suppose that's also because there are lots of suppliers. Increased exposure is a good reason to try trad publishing first, but it assumes you have an effective marketing machine behind you. Does that exist to give everyone a level playing field? It can't under the current model.

Rory Grant said...

Lisa - You hit the nail on the head. If perchance you found yourself in the comfortable and happy position of being able to promote your work on a mass scale - then there is no justification I can think of for anyone ever going down the traditional route. Even then I'm thinking 'Indie' is still the favoured choice.

My wife's book (she's a complete unknown indie author) just keeps selling. It's not going to break any records but after three months now the sales figures continue to rise, with no dips on the graph. This is with virtually no advertising other than on message boards and networking sites.

Her work is sound, it's articulate and intelligent and she would have been happy to sell 100 copies - she's already well over 20 times that amount. I think a key...*pause while I think of the right word* 'element' which has changed in the social activity that is 'buying a book' is that 24 hours a day, people can, and do, seek out work which they want to read with no pressures bearing down on them and no filtering of their choices unless they themselves select them. In a bookshop you can only tempt yourself and be tempted with what's there - but 'you have to get home for the kids', 'You gotta catch that bus'.

I think, (and I may be wrong as I'm thinking this through as I type now) as an author now, you no longer need the big money advertising (just good presentation and reviews) because people are seeking you out and will spend all day doing so for the right book/author. Sure there's still a role for advertising but it's not as crucial or imperative as it once was. Advertising was always trying to 'seek out a market' - now the market is seeking out the authors for themselves.

I haven't checked that over. It's late, I'm tired and still typing with one hand as the other remains dead for now. I've probably contradicted myself at least twice.


Michelle Gregory said...

indie means i can control my cover art, i can control my content, i don't have to worry over some agent or publisher picking up my story, i don't have to write for the market, and i don't have a deadline (unless i impose one on myself, which i have discovered will kill my creative flow almost as fast as writing the story for anyone but me).

Lisa Yarde said...

Rory, your wife's experience is akin to what I've seen. I've finally achieved enough momentum to sell books everyday, with no overt advertising on my part. It's a great time to be a self-published author and if you're willing to invest the time, you can learn all the marketing steps on your own. Our books are worth it.

Lisa Yarde said...

Michelle, you've struck from the start as an indie lifer too. That guest post you provided last month still rings true, especially in this topic. I think, as writers, we're always told we should be chasing after the dream of traditional publication, but the premise is always built on emulating someone else's success. Time to make our own, by our own definitions.

Love the comments so far, thank you again, Consuelo, Rory and Michelle.

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