Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part II)

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Part I of this blog summary focused on my personal experience contracting with a small press. On the whole, it was a valuable learning experience, especially for a new author who knew nothing about anything. My publisher treated me fairly and respectfully, I improved my craft and happily published 6 books. For many authors, this approach may be the perfect publishing route.

Yet, publishing through a small press has significant challenges that are worth considering. As I gained knowledge and skills, it became clear to me that the obstacles outpaced the advantages. In 2015, I experimented and self-published 2 books. The results drove home the stark differences in the two approaches.

In December, I decided to go all indie. I began the process of canceling contracts with my publisher and reclaiming my books with the intention of republishing them myself.

Below, I explain my reasons.

So what were my small press challenges?

Control

This is one of those “know thyself” suggestions.

I like control when it comes to my writing. Going with a publisher means sharing control, and quite often, having no control. There is a good chance that you will have minimal control over timing, cost, promotional discounts, and post-publication changes and corrections.

Timing

When contracting with a publisher, you are one of many authors. The publisher is juggling priorities and trying to keep a lot of clients happy. They want to get books out there, but they can’t get everyone’s book done next Saturday. A small press is “small” and the employees are probably wearing multiple hats.

Manuscripts come in and land at the bottom of the pile. Slowly they cycle their way to the top. Even a pristine manuscript has to go through all the steps, and I had to wait my turn like everyone else. Realistically, it took 9 months to a year to get a book to the public from the time I submitted the manuscript. I did have to follow up routinely to keep the process moving.

When self-publishing, a manuscript still needs other eyes, but the time frames are much shorter because you’re not cycling and recycling through the “pile.” Time frames can be very short if an author is willing to use critique groups, enlist alpha and beta readers, and do some serious editing and proofing work up front.

Costs

There is one big disadvantage in the do-it-yourself road – you can’t actually do it yourself. You need other eyes on your work and there’s often a cost. When indie-publishing, the purchase of services comes out of the author’s pocket. This includes editing, proofing, and cover design.

Most indie authors seem to have identified reasonably priced and capable resources within the indie community. Swapping services with experienced peers is an inexpensive way to get this work done, but requires a significant time commitment. Mom and your BFF are usually not qualified to provide these services.

I can’t stress how important editing and proofing is to the reader, the indie community, and the author. A poorly polished book can ruin a fantastic story and discourage a reader from picking up another book by the author. If you haven’t the money or time, pursue a publisher who will handle these important steps for you.

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Royalties

When going through a publisher, be aware that the author’s revenue is a percentage of the publisher’s profit, not a percentage of retail. This means low earnings per book and download. The publisher is entitled to their cut – they’ve invested upfront time and resources into the book.

For me, royalties came to about $.65 per book whether ebook or paperback. Now, even though I sell my indie books at a lower price than my small press books, my indie income is higher because I don’t have to share the profit.

In one month, my 2 self-published books earn what I make in a whole year with my other 6 traditionally-published books combined.

Yes, you read that right. If you didn’t, read it again. Can I pay the mortgage? Not even close. But the difference floored me.

Now, it’s a little more complicated than that, because it’s not an apples-to-apples comparison. Which leads me to marketing and promotion…

Marketing and Promotion

I didn’t start writing to get rich. Of course, making money at something I love to do is nothing to scoff at, but what I really wanted was readership. Increasing readership usually requires advertising and promotion. Advertising and promotion requires money. So there you go; they’re connected.

Big publishing houses have marketing departments! Small presses don’t.

When publishing with a small press, 99% of marketing will fall to the author.  Marketing and promotion without any ability to control pricing is a long, frustrating, expensive uphill battle.

  • Higher prices will discourage many readers from taking a risk on a new or unestablished author.
  • Higher prices and lower per-book royalties mean that advertising is often at a loss. I never recouped my advertising costs, not once.
  • I had no ability to offer discounts or free days to sell more books and increase readership.

With my indie books, I control pricing. This has a huge impact on marketing and promotion.

  • I sell my indie books at a lower cost which invites more sales.
  • My per-book royalty is higher than it is with a small press.
  • The higher profit allows me to advertise more effectively – I have to sell far fewer books to break even and can actually turn a profit.
  • The profit goes into more advertising which brings more readers and generates more profit which pays for more advertising, etc. Around it goes.
  • I can offer discounts and free days to increase readership and propel sales.

Updating

When a small press publishes a book, they are finished with it and on to their next project. They make no money going back to fix those typos that everyone missed. They don’t care if you want to make a change to a scene in chapter 7. They aren’t the anxious, obsessed, perfectionist author. They run a business.

Typos drive me nuts. My small press books sit there with their handful of typos, and I stew. The name of one of my characters was misspelled on the back cover and it took a year for the publisher to correct the mistake. The name is still misspelled in the Amazon blurb, 3 years later.

If my indie-published book needs a correction, I fix it, and four hours later, it’s live!

The same challenge applies to book covers. Covers are reader eye-candy. Covers sell books. A book may benefit from an update of an older cover or a completely new cover. Just like going back and making text changes, publishers aren’t eager to update covers. As I take back my books they’ll get snazzy covers reflecting my brand.

Why am I going indie?

Publishing through a small press was a great way for me to start my author’s journey. Since then, I’ve gathered the experience and resources to take greater responsibility for my writing career. Indie-publishing gives me control over timing, pricing, promotion, and updates. I’ve published books both ways now, and it’s clear to me that I’m better served by traveling the indie-publishing path.

I’ll continue to provide little updates on the process as I navigate the publishing switch. When I’m done, I’ll let everyone know the results 🙂

193 thoughts on “Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part II)

  1. A wise person advised me to self publish. I am forever thankful. It is great to read a fair and informed view from both sides of the fence Diana. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks so much for this info; I had just recently started to consider small-press as an option (wasn’t even on my radar before.) Hearing the pros and cons has re-affirmed my desire to go indie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad this was helpful. I think if we can land big publishers with active marketing departments, etc. it’s worth it, but otherwise, you’re doing all the selling alone anyway. Might as well have control and profits! Great luck with your book!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. […] Eight months ago, I started the process of canceling my traditional publishing contracts and re-releasing all my books as an indie author. My reasons for the switch were detailed in two posts Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part I) and (Part II). […]

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lily says:

    This is such great information for a new author, unsure which road to take. Thx!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Lily. Each of us and each publisher is different, but its good to have an idea of what you’re getting into either way. I’m really happy with my switch to indie, but there were good things about my traditional publishing journey too. Great luck to you whichever way you decide to go. 😀

      Like

  5. ksvilloso says:

    Reblogged this on K. S. Villoso and commented:
    Some factors to consider when switching from traditional/small press to self-publishing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ksvilloso says:

    Thanks for this incredibly detailed post! I’m also in the process of converting to self-publishing. It’s good to hear about others’ experiences.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I caught some of these posts in my emails and I had to laugh at the truths revealed and I HAD to post. I am an old timer who started publishing with traditional publishers in 1984 (but I had actually begun writing in 1971) and after 14 published novels with Leisure, Zebra, Avalon Books and others and 30 years I worked my butt off writing and juggling life but NEVER MADE ANYTHING BUT PENNIES (made 4% to 18% over the years) on all of them all those years. Then in 2012 I went Indie (52% to 70% royalties), now have 24 books out AND WILL NEVER GO BACK TO GREEDY PUBLISHERS EVER AGAIN! I am finally making money, a living, on my books (yeah!) and love having complete control for the first time ever. I have a great affordable cover artist Dawne Dominique. Self-edit. I am so glad self-publishing came, even late in my career. I’ve learned so much and am finally happy with my writing career. Oh, and in my early days I recall waiting TWO YEARS for a legacy publisher to make a decision if they wanted my book or not- and the one book Zebra dumped at the last minute 23 years ago (Dinosaur Lake) is now my BEST EVER SELLER! Shows how little some legacy editors/publishers knew. NICE DISCUSSION. Look me up…two of my books are free right now….Kathryn Meyer Griffith rdgriff@htc.net

    Liked by 2 people

  8. One question. The control is an obvious incentive, but, are you still in the black after paying out for cover design, and editing/proofing assuming you pay for that?

    I’m really asking if financially that trade-off has worked for you?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never been in the black. (Oh dear, should I say that?) My earnings on my traditionally published books were horrible, pennies, and yet I was still trying to promote: book fair fees, advertising, print copy give aways, free copies to reviewers, postage, etc. Plus I had to purchase the print copies to give them away and they weren’t cheap! This year, I will probably break even, despite buying new covers for 7 books. Next year I’m planning a happy dance.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dire. I realise it was an intrusive question, but it’s one everyone wants to know. The real issue here though, is that if your only publishing costs (ie pre-promotion) are cover design, then that still paints a gloomy outlook.
        Why not say it? A little honest goes a long way.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Not intrusive at all. Honestly, I believe the gloom is entirely behind me. Writing is a slow, labor intensive business for most of us, which is one reason why I recommend that writers LOVE what they do. I lost years of growth due to my choice to go with traditional publishing and just completed the transition to indie in Sept. I’ll have another four books out in the spring which will give more readers ways to find me and enough breadth to do some kind of monthly hoopla. Gloom? Nah. I’m all optimism from here on out. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

      • philipparees says:

        You absolutely SHOULD (say it) since it bonds you with others ( c’est moi) who had visions of you not quite laughing but happily tripping all the way to a modest Bank (Open only on Wednesdays perhaps, but open) Now you are loved even more simply because you keep at it. I was beginning to swallow the edict that I needed to put out more books ( I’m coming, coming, honest) and to find that your works, seried, boxed, redesigned with a dedicated following of seeming thousands ( comparatively) was not enough to persuade said bank to open Thursdays as well is a very great comfort!
        Thank you for revealing all ( even at an advanced age).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh good! Yes, that’s me, skipping to the bank at my advanced age to deposit my royalties and skrimping to buy a cover. Ha ha. Oh, this is such an adventure in creativity and love, isn’t it? I’m glad I give you hope, or at least something to grin about, Philippa 😀

          Like

      • And, yes, next year you will be doing a happy dance, trust me! Kathryn Meyer Griffith rdgriff@htc.net

        Liked by 1 person

    • Andrew Joyce says:

      May I stick my big nose into this conversation?

      It’s not about the money. It’s about creating. When I first started writing, I would print out my short stories and run people down on the street, tackle them and force them to read my stuff. Then I found an agent and he got me a publisher that paid for everything. Nice! But I still had to do my own marketing. Not so nice. Like Ms.Peach, I went Indie. If I’m going to do all the work anyway, why not? Now people pay me to read my stuff. Once again, nice! I don’t worry about recouping what I lay out for covers, etc. If what I write is any good people will buy it. But not once have I thought that writing was a money-making venture. For me it did turn out that way, but that was only a pleasant side-effect as far as I’m concerned.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Not my blog. But on mine I am always happy for chat. Hope Ms P has the same view.

        Trouble is, if people pay out more than they recoup, doesn’t that seem rather monied classes?

        Liked by 2 people

        • philipparees says:

          No, not monied, just the madder classes! Have a head? Use it classes! Master book making ( that’s the bit that comes after the writing) and fail no worse than the poshly published. At least you can recover your books and try better without paying for your copyright back? As Diana has. Or settle for writing erotica, and do it monotonously.
          OK I parody, but not by much!

          Liked by 1 person

        • Andrew Joyce says:

          If I didn’t spend my money on covers, marketing, etc., I’d just spend it on volka, which isn’t such a bad thing. But getting serious for a moment, if you were into woodworking or pottery or whatever, there are expenses. You are still creating, but nothing’s coming in. My point is, so what. Create. You can get friends to help with the editing. Beta readers are all over the place (at no cost), you can make your own cover (multiple sites online). Amazon does not charge you for downloading your book.

          If you are a writer, don’t think about anything else until your book in complete. That’s the hard part. Actually, it’s the only part as far as I’m concerned.

          I once knew a woman who edited her book for 47 years. I thought she was nuts (I guess she was kind of), but I came to the realization that every time she brought out that old manuscript and went to work on it, she was creating something new. She never did publish it before she died.

          Now if you’ll excuse me, I got a Bloody Mary calling to me.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for sticking your nose in, Andrew. 😀 I agree. It has to be about the love and creativity, otherwise this whole business is going to be one long frustrating slog. 🙂 Financial sustainability is welcome, but that’s not why we do it. ❤

        Like

  9. confabler says:

    I found both these posts very enlightening. Didn’t know a book takes almost a year before being published!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. jademwong says:

    What a journey! Thank you again for sharing. You’ve given me a lot to ponder. It sounds like you definitely made the right choice for you, though! Good luck to you in this new chapter 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  11. […] Eight months ago, I started the process of canceling my traditional publishing contracts and re-releasing all my books as an indie author. My reasons for the switch were detailed in two posts Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part I) and (Part II). […]

    Like

  12. […] via Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part II) — Myths of the Mirror […]

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Very interesting. I’m planning on self publishing myself this year so was intrigued by your article.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Ah, you took just one small publisher and a year to learn what it took me over 30 years with larger publishers to learn. In 2010 before I really knew about self-publishing (and we legacy authors still looked down on it) I had again signed 14 of my new and older books with a small publisher and was making -this is no joke- about $500 a year royalties ON ALL 14! I was so unhappy and broke. Then in 2012 I read J.A. Konrath’s blog and decided to self-publish my 15th book, Dinosaur Lake, myself. I made more money in 2 months than in a year with all 14 legacy published. Like you, I had to put up with bogus accountability in their royalty statements, typos and bad formatting. It drove me nuts that they wouldn’t/couldn’t fix them. That did it. It took me years to get all those 14 books back (I had 5 year contracts) but last October (pure luck when my publisher got sold and the new publisher couldn’t find my contracts, yippie) I got the last 10 back and self-published ALL of them. Now I have 22 novels and MAKE MORE THAN I EVER HAVE SINCE I started publishing in 1984! I have total control and I keep learning (KBoards help). I WILL NEVER GO BACK TO A PUBLISHER EVER AGAIN. Oh, I’ve also gone wide and also see my sales rising everywhere each month. Amazon is still my biggest sales venue but the others (Create Space, Audible and D2D) help.
    I am an Indie!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for the reply. Similar stories! It’s validating to hear that other authors have happily made the change after experiencing the same challenges. I’ll have all my books back and self-published by September. I’m going through them now and fixing those typos that were driving me crazy. I’m also upgrading covers. The first one goes live in March and I’m curious to see what happens – anything will be an improvement. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Great luck to you will all 22 books! 😀

      Like

  15. Great thoughts you share here and I’m glad to get here to read it! Sorry for the delay… oh work, it keeps us busy!! I am with you on the control factor. With my first book, my original title was rejected by the publisher and so was my cover design. It took many collaborations to get to the final product. Thank you for sharing the benefits of going Indie and also being honest that there are drawbacks too. Thumbs up for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Bernadette says:

    I just reposted this great article on my blog this morning under the category, Worth Reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Anonymous says:

    As I understand it, there is a difference between Indie and self-published. You are using them interchangeably. Still, a great blog for those who are considering self-publishing.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
    January 20, 2016 I re-blogged a post, written by D. Wallace Peach, “Goodbye traditional, Hello Indie – Part I”. I thought it would be a great thing to re-blog the second part as well, which is just as greatly written! Thank you D. Wallace Peach!

    Liked by 1 person

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