Adjusting The Sails: Is It Time To Go Indie?

Okay, maybe I’m not quite *that* old.

**Warning:  This is a much longer post than you usually see here.  Just sayin’.**

I’m old school, I’ll admit that.  I remember the days when manuscripts were carefully typed on one of those things pictured to the right — double spaced on bond paper, bundled together in a box and sent directly to a publisher via the United States Postal Service.  You know, that building where they sell stamps and you can actually mail a letter?  Yeah, that place.  There were no other options for getting a book published.  Agents were something you got after you made a couple deals.  If your manuscript was picked up, the publisher handled everything while you, the writer, continued to write more books and run to the bank to cash your royalty checks.

It appears those days are long gone.  Or, if not totally gone, at least facing a slow demise.

Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the whole Indie publishing movement.  It all started when I began researching small presses as a possible option for BD&L.  What it turned into was a ton of (on going) research on the Indie world, and a questioning of my motives for wanting to go the traditional route in the first place.  Basically those are (among others) validation, that old school hang up mentioned above, the dream of that big (or at least decent) advance for a multi-book deal, the idea that I’d be “giving up”,  and the feeling that readers would look down their noses at me.  Yeah, I agree, some of those are pretty darn silly.

One of the first articles I stumbled upon, and the most pivotal for me at the moment, was this one:  Publishing Is Broken.  The quotes below are from that article but you should go read it when you have the time.  Remember one of my hang-ups, the one about readers caring who published my book?  Well . . . duh!

No customer going to Amazon knows what is traditionally published or independently published – and they don’t care.  They’re interested in an experience that will educate or entertain them.    ~ Robert Bidinotto

Sounds pretty much like a no-brainer but because *I* actually do check out the publisher, it honestly never occurred to me that not everyone else does.  But I’m not the average reader.  I’m a writer.  That’s professional curiosity on my part.

Most of the rest of my reasons for seeking the traditional route are all addressed in one way or another in the above article.  Of course, I’ve been hearing this same thing from writer friends, but sometimes you just have to hear it — or read it — from someone else for it to really sink in.  Or could be I’m stubborn and hard-headed (it has been rumored).

And when you start to pick apart the “benefits” of the traditional route — well, it provides more than food for thought, it lays out a whole freaking feast.  As if on cue, I ran across a comment by an agent on my “dream list” who said their agency saw over 36,000 queries over the past year and of that number they only asked for 78 full manuscripts.  How many of those they actually signed, I don’t know.  But 78 out of 36k — even taking into consideration that a chunk of those were simply wrong genre — wow.  That’s an eye opener.

Time is another factor that sneaks into the equation.  It took me roughly 4 or 5 years to write BD&L and polish it to the gleaming gem I believe it is.  Now I’m into book two and book one is getting paraded in front of agents.  Let’s say I get an agent and we sign and after I’m done doing the happy dance and the glitter wears off, it’s more months as the agent tries to land a deal which, debut author, multi-book project, is going to be a tough sell.  But my agent does, so Yea!  We get a deal.  Now how much longer until BD&L sees the light of day?  Another year at least?  More?  And then book two has to follow.  There’s definitely a book three.  More years in between.  But BD&L is ready *now* and I’d love nothing more than for complete strangers to actually be reading and (hopefully) enjoying it and asking, “When’s Book Two coming out?!!?”  Why do we have to wait a year or more for sequels?  (Okay, besides the simple fact that it could take that long or longer to write the blasted thing.)  There are two series I follow, published traditionally, and that’s my biggest gripe.  By the time the next book comes out, it’s a good year later and I barely remember what I read in the previous one.

And then this smacked me between the eyeballs:

Tell me this: why is self-publishing antithetical to “honing one’s craft?” Who ever received writing advice in a rejection letter as sound as the worst 1-star review out there? There’s far more to learn from engaging the market with your product than there is in form letters that tell you not-a-single-frickin’-thing. What’s wrong with testing the waters? Instead of wasting one’s time writing query letters, why not work on that next manuscript instead?   ~ Hugh Howey,

Huh.  The man has a point.  And a very good one at that.  Because I worry that the public’s perception is that there’s a lot of tripe out there in the self-published world.  But how would they know?  They don’t care who published it, remember?  What they do care about is who wrote it.  If it’s tripe, they won’t buy from that author again, regardless of how it was published.

As if I needed more at this point (my brain was already edging perilously close to complete meltdown) this article on E-Books Becoming Bigger Than We Imagine gets into some of the financial aspects and the amount of profit the writer can expect traditional vs Indie.  Which is just fuel for the burgeoning fire.  Sure, going Indie there’s no hope of that multi-book, big money advance but these days that’s about as likely as winning the lottery, and I’ve never managed to win more than a few bucks at that.

One of the other benefits of traditional publishing used to be that they handled the marketing.  This is a biggie for me.  I used to work in advertising & marking.  I’m familiar with the game but there’s a reason I don’t still work in that field.  I didn’t enjoy it.  And when it comes to tooting my own horn, quite frankly, I suck.  I don’t want to be in the spotlight, I want to be the one behind the scenes, the recluse writer, remember?  However, all my research tells me most traditional publishing houses, and definitely the small presses, require the author to be very involved in the marketing of their book — by “very involved” I mean totally handle.

So if I’m going to be doing all the work anyhow, why should I be sharing the profit with a publisher and/or agent?  Well, there are arguments for both sides.  I’ve probably argued it myself.  I’m just not sure I can back it up any more.

Does this mean I’ll turn down a deal if I hear from Harper Voyager in the next month or so that they’ve chosen BD&L?  Or if an agent calls and says they’d like to have “that” talk, will I tell them I’m no longer interested?  Are you nuts?!!?  Well, obviously, I’d probably say yes to Harper Voyager, I mean, come on.

Or would I?

Yes, the brain is exploding.  But the gears are turning.  I embrace change and new technologies in every other aspect of my life.  Why is this one so hard to accept?  Especially when it seems so obvious.

And, just because this quote seems to be relevant, I leave you with the words of William Arthur Ward.

The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.


  1. I keep telling myself (even in blog posts and comments) that I’m going to query the first novel when it’s ready. But slowly, more of me thinks the indie route is the right way for me. I’m already thinking of expanding the short stories I’m writing on the blog into a self-e-published compilation.

    As long as we make the manuscripts the best they can be and get them formatted properly with a sharp cover (whether by ourselves or with help), we’re well on our way. Personally, I would create a small business for the “publisher” and have that business purchase the ISBN numbers so the book can get professional notice in the trade.

    Success isn’t guaranteed either way. But it’s also possible either way!

    • Exactly! There’s still a part of my brain that dreams of that big deal . . . of course, parts of my brain are scary at times and I should know better than to pay too much attention to them. 😀 Definitely requires more research, especially regarding ISBN numbers and the best route to take with those options. I see more blog posts following.

  2. E-books have utterly, completely, and irrevocably changed the publishing game. *You* can be a gatekeeper, and you can keep the profit. Write a good book, then write another, and another, and so on. Those books stay alive for-freakin’-ever. Sell a manuscript to one of the biggies and it’ll be on the market for — maybe — two months. Small press publishers will keep it out longer, but they don’t pay worth a damn. And if your book does make it big, YOU are the last one to see any money.

    Tell me how any of that makes sense?

    Go indie, girl! Let me know if I can help. Maybe between us we can figure out how to build our audiences.

    • I’m thinking not only e-books, but hard copy as well, and am doing research into the best route to follow there. Not everyone has an e-reader and even some who do (raises hand) like the physical book itself. (Especially when signed by the author. ) You’ve got an excellent point about longevity as well. I think I’m done leaning and about to tip over . . .

  3. These are very big decisions and things I have had to reconsider myself recently, most of it came down to I just didn’t know how. That last quote though and specifically, “the realist adjusts the sails”, is so important to grasp because its just that the reality of it all. Everything changes and we just got to go with the flow, always adapting and evolving.

    • It’s hard sometimes to adapt — especially for those of us who are stubborn about joining the band wagon. Sometimes we just have to say what the heck and dive in. Trial by fire, I guess. I can spend another couple years seeing BD&L grow old on my jump drive, or I can put it out there and hope all my readers weren’t just feeding me a line about its worth, and that other readers will find it something they enjoy as well.

  4. I totally feel your thought process. I’ve been sending out queries to agents as well as Harper Voyager, but the longer time goes on the less hope I have. Not to mention even if I do get a deal the payout may not be worth all the trouble. There is a point where you have to ask if you believe in your writing enough that you think it can sell without the help of an agent/publisher. If your answer is yes, then maybe the indie route would be better.

    Sure, there is a bunch of self pub books that never should have seen the light of day, especially when they are typo riddled, but there are some real gems out there too. I read one recently that is getting rave reviews and great sales, but was rejected repeatedly when queried. It was an awesome book. I’m not really so sure the gatekeepers have any idea what will really sell. It’s enough to not let me trust their judgement anymore when I see some of the crap they did accept. It’s not to say they don’t put out really good stuff too, but it’s almost as hit and miss as the self pub books (minus the typos).

    • In some respects I still feel going Indie is akin to giving up. But that’s the old school mentality kicking in, and that bit of my brain is slowly fading. You hit it right on the head, “if you believe in your writing…”

      Besides, I’m kind of a control freak. LOL You would think going Indie would be right up my alley!!

  5. Wonderful information in this post, Kathi! As you know, I’ve been published via traditional publishers (Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books, Heyne Verlag in German, and Dogan Egmont in Turkey), a small press, and also done the indie thing. To this day I still do a combination of the above: ie. WITCH HUNT was just published in Turkey by Dogan. I have two NY literary agents working for me (both traditional – one for domestic sales, one for foreign) and my advice is to be open to all options. It doesn’t have to be either/or. Go indie. If something traditional comes up, embrace it if that makes sense at the time. The thing not to do is to sit around waiting for something to happen for you. Make it happen yourself!

  6. It’s almost as if you stepped into the recesses of my brain and regurgitated all of my thoughts regarding e-publishing versus traditional publishing. You make some really valid points that actually made me feel better about my situation. At least we have options now, whereas 20 years ago writers were solely dependent on agents and publishers.

    I have the same worries as you regarding whether my book(s) would be considered garbage because they were self-published. But I think I would have those worries if I was traditionally published too — I mean there is a lot of crap out there that was bought by a big house.

    But I can’t be spending all this time querying. It doesn’t make sense when I know I can self-publish. The tide is definitely turning.

    • When I started asking myself what one of my writing goals was, the answer kept coming back — being read! Hmmm. So, I want my finished book to be read, yet I’m waiting on someone else to make the decision it’s worthy of being read and then putting it out there. Jeez, sounds rather silly when I put it like that.

      We just have to believe our books aren’t garbage. If they are, the public will let us know and then it’s up to us to write a better one.

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