Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why I did it. (self indie-publishing vs. traditional publishing)

Hang in there, folks. This is going to be a long one.

In the past couple of months, I've received the occasional message from a friend or acquaintance asking how to get published. And since publishing is the biggest "new favorite thing" I've developed since Jurassic Park introduced me to velociraptors, I am happy to respond--and at length. Sometimes, I get so excited about the topic of publishing that I'll spend the better part of an hour on a response. So, in order to save my keyboard and provide more thorough information to you, I'm just going to get it all out in a short series of posts.

I say 'series', because again, it's a subject I can wax long on. (Ew, that sounds dirty.)

So this first post is going to be about WHY I decided to indie-publish. I feel like there's no need discussing how to publish your work unless I first explain the options we all have prior to publishing. In theory, I could just call this post "How to GET your work published, and why it's not worth your time", but then you'd probably stop reading.

These are my sincere opinions, but they are opinions made after much research, physical sampling, actual application, and frequent eating of cake (cake erases all the bitterness). But seriously, no bitterness here. This is just publishing, as it is viewed by one author. Me.

Traditional Publishing
Up until about two or three years ago, this was the only chance you had at selling your book anywhere beyond your local bookstore and your own personal website. Getting a publisher is a very strict, formal process, and no one gets around it. You don't just mail a manuscript to the publisher like they do in the movies. To get a publisher, you need an agent. To get an agent, you have to pitch to multiple agents in your genre with a query letter. Just Google "query letter", or visit the blogs of either J. A. Konrath or Nathan Bransford, and you will find more information on this process than you can ever possibly read. But I won't waste more of this post explaining how that's done.

Because--and is your alligator onesie zipped up?--it's not going to work. Bottom line: there are too few agents, and too many of us.  Luck and timing factors in, even for the best novel you can chuck at these patient people. A typical, respectable agent views 12,000 or more query letters a year, and they generally pick up less than four new clients a year. And though you may be absolutely certain that your work is good enough to make you one of those four, your odds still SUCK. You have about the same chances of getting anally raped by an office chair at the speed of sound. Which is great news for your anus, but not so much for your book.

If you do find an agent (expect to query at least 40 of them individually, on their own individual terms), and that agent is able to get you a publishing deal, your book won't hit the shelves for at least another year. If the marketing efforts allotted to your book do not create projected sales, you may wind up paying back part of your author's advance (usually a couple thousand dollars). If projected sales are exceeded, you start earning at a 10% royalty (on average). The publisher can take the book out of print anytime, and unless you've got another book lined up to publish, you're done. Yes, there are tons of perks to getting published by an established house. For one, they are able to spend more time and money than you have on marketing--not only to retailers, but to booksellers, wholesalers, and libraries. That alone frees up A LOT of time for you to actually write, which is well worth the effort.

If your efforts could get you published.

For realsies, no bitterness here. Agents are nice people. This is just reality---if you're a first-time author with 1) no previously published work, 2) no money, and 3) no author/publisher inside connections. Are you? Then this is the obstacle course you are looking at. I ran through it, and it was a good learning experience, but somewhere between the revolving bridge and the gladiator with the giant padded Q-tip, I realized it wasn't going to work. It may work for you, and if you give it a try, then I wish you the best of luck and extra padding.

This guy didn't even send a form rejection letter.

And when you're done with that . . .

Indie Publishing
Welcome. How was that? Your face looks swollen. Did you try the traditional publishing route? You did, didn't you? Slap some meat on it. Your trials are far from over.

So if traditional publishing is so tough and risky, indie-publishing must be a cakewalk, right? Wrong. Publishing independently is a quantifiable ass-ton of solid work. It's also relatively expensive; you foot the bill for editing, web hosting, graphic design, printing, shipping, marketing, all of it. You spend hours emailing, researching, adding your book to listings, creating web content, and building your reader base. And eventually--as long as you've written something appealing--it starts to work. (PS, you still don't earn a dime, but you're not here to make money). 

How then, did I personally decide which large pile of work to dive into? Why publish on my own, if it's just as hard, if not harder, than finding an agent?
1. The work itself is progressive. It goes somewhere. Instead of bleating day after day for agents' attention, my efforts go directly toward reaching readers.
2. It's stuff I'd have to do anyway. Authors who sign on with established publishers must still do a lot of marketing legwork if they expect their work to sell. 
3. Higher royalties. Because I'd be lying if I said that wasn't nice.
4. More control. If the book fails, it's on me.
4. I was relatively certain Vessel would do okay. . . and so far, it's holding its own, thanks to all of you who've read it.

Why I don't call it 'Self-Publishing'.
I prefer to call it indie-publishing. To me, 'self-publishing' sounds like a one-track pursuit--one individual, one book, one mantra, gotta publish it, gotta publish it, gotta publish it. Indie-publishing implies an approach which is much harder to stigmatize. I am not publishing my self. And I may be publishing for myself, but not solely. I also publish to honor a project that is years in the making. I publish for the 200+ people who got behind Vessel prior to publication. I publish because I want to eventually publish the works of others. And I publish to say SUCK IT to anyone who's ever thought that writing was an unprofitable waste of my time. Unprofitable? Yes. A waste? A waste is what I would be if I didn't power up and do it anyway.

Good lord, I love it.

So that's WHY I did it, and why I hope you'll consider doing the same for yourself. Next up is HOW I did it, a magical tale of hope, ISBN blocks, and windowsill sludge. It will probably contain more practical information than this post, which is as earnest and gentle as I could possibly make it.


  1. Thanks Tominda for this post. One of my BFF's is working on a kids book that I'm helping to edit and this will be helpful to him. :-)

  2. I love your candid and random take on things - your posts always make me laugh! - and from what I know, the world of traditional publishing has never drawn a more apt comparison than the parallel to American Gladiators. ;)

  3. Thanks for this. It's a lot less effort to direct people here than try to sound convincing. Nicely done.

  4. Well said, Tominda! I cannot comment on this new kind of publishing that has formed since about 2003, where an individual author is practically doing every single thing, but it seems to be completely different than the old days. I was once actually employed by a vanity press that shall remain forever, did I learn a LOT. That particular industry seems to be pretty much dead, as I don't hear much about them anymore. Good, informative piece! :)

  5. Wonderful post, Tominda! One of the greatest things I've learned about the indie author community is how eager everyone is to share information. The support is amazing!

    It's pretty clear that your passion for indie publishing is genuine and that you're having a blast doing this. It's contagious, too. So keep it up!

    By the way, your book is will be featured on my blog as of Monday morning! Good luck with everything. Indie authors unite!

  6. Thanks all, and thank you for the feature, David. I have indeed found so much free info from other indies--I feel it's only right to give back by sharing what's worked for me and what hasn't. : ) By the way, I noticed you've got a Relay for Life Promo coming up. I'll be sure to blog/tweet/fb it!

  7. elf-publishing is getting notoriety, as it has become less demanding, and the examples of overcoming adversity unmistakably talk about its advantages.self publishing vs traditional publishing