Like most people, being a published writer was always a bucket-list, daydreaming kind of goal. It wasn’t one I actually thought I’d accomplish, but if it ever did somehow, it would be really cool. (What that meant in
actuality was that I never wrote any books, but if one somehow popped onto my computer screen and some publisher wanted it, I’d go along for the ride.)
I can now say with certainty that I’m glad I didn’t get bitten by the novel writing bug until recently. The reason is that the self publishing industry has opened up avenues to writers that have not been available before, and ones I am fully enjoying taking advantage of.
Consider: Until five years ago or so, with the dawning of the e-reader and the integration of the internet into publishing, any aspiring author had to write the book, then write queries to agents and publishers, then send them via snail mail with a SASE and wait months for a response. Which was usually, “Thanks but no thanks.” Even now, while you can submit to most agents through email, you still wait from weeks til forever for a reply; a large number of people never, ever reply even with a form email.
If you did manage to get a contract, the publishers had (and still have) a ridiculous amount of contractual control over your income, your product, and your future sales. Unless you are already famous, traditional publishers do very little marketing, so you are still left to your own devices to take that precious book from being just another colorful spine on the shelf to something people will read. It also can take a year from completion to publication, and you are not encouraged to write multiple books a year.
Now, everyone has a chance to publish their book and be successful. Sure, the self-publishing opponents are right in saying that a lot of garbage is published, much of it then given away for free or for ninety-nine cents, flooding the market. But readers (and I am one) are smarter than that. It may take a lot of effort, but if your book is good and entertaining, you can get it out there to the world.
When I found out about the one-sided contracts in the traditional publishing world, and that I would be on my own for marketing, I didn’t even try to go the traditional route, and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. I don’t have to keep my books in any one genre (which is good, because I’m not sure I could!). I don’t have to keep my books to any certain length. I can design the cover that I think is the best for the novel, and I can change it if I discover it isn’t working. I can publish as many books a year as I can produce well.
My grandfather and father were self-employed, and my husband and I have owned a business for twenty years. I’ve also started and run a non-profit in Uganda. So I do have an advantage over most, in that I understand business and the work and risk involved to start one. To me, being an author is just another business. It’s a lot more fun than the others, but it’s still a business. Being self-published as opposed to traditionally published, however, means that I am the only person responsible for my success or failure, and I like that.
When I was first out of college, I was living in the DC area, and, because I’d worked part time in my dad’s real estate office for years, I thought getting my real estate license was a good idea. What I hadn’t counted on, coming from Florida and a totally different style of home, was what I would do when I was supposed to sell what I thought was an ugly house. Trust me, it didn’t go well…
And that’s why I like being in control of my product. What appeals to me isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but I don’t need to appeal to everyone. I want loyal fans who like my work, and I don’t worry about those who don’t. I am confident in my books. But if a traditional publisher designed my cover and I hated it, or changed the title of my book and I thought it was awful, I would have a very hard time marketing it. I wouldn’t be confident in the work or proud of the end result, and that would show in my marketing efforts, just as it did with those ugly houses.
If you’re struggling with the idea of going the indie route because you think the traditional route is harder, I encourage you to do some research and really know what you’re getting into. If you like the idea of being an indie author but know you don’t have all the skills mentioned above, never fear! Neither do most of us; we just know how to find good sources to hire out. Indie authors are incredibly generous with their information, which is making all of us better. It’s a brave new world out here, but one that offers a lot of chance for success.