Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part II)

printing2

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.

enwikimediaorg

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 🙂 For the Results click HERE

Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part I)

en.wikimedia.org

en.wikimedia.org

I’ve begun the process of reclaiming my 6 traditionally published books and republishing them myself. I thought it might be useful to document my reasons, particularly for those writers dawdling at this fork in the publishing road, trying to decide which way to go.

I published through a small press, and I don’t want to give the impression that this was a bad deal or that the publisher did anything wrong. It was, in fact, a valuable learning experience, especially for a new author and one as clueless as I. A small press may be the perfect publishing solution for many authors, especially if the words “traditionally published” carry personal weight.

Before I dig in, it’s important to state that – with a few exceptions – this was my experience. It reflects my personality, expectations, and quirks. What worked for me might not work for you and visa-versa. In addition, each publishing house is a unique entity represented by a staff of individuals. It’s reasonable to assume that my comments don’t apply to every small press!

So what was great about my small press experience?

Hands-on relationships

I wrote a book without a blog and all the valuable online information available to authors. I did zero research on publishing, knew no published authors. Basically, I knew zip. Typical for me.

I can’t speak for mega-presses, but with my publisher, I received generous personal attention. I had tons of questions, sent daily emails, and received prompt replies. The process was laid out for me, contracts thorough and easily understood, my expectations set. It was comforting to know that my endless dumb questions and new-author anxiety were treated with respect and patience.

No Upfront Cost

When working with a traditional publisher, the professional services needed to bring a book to market come at no charge. This includes all facets of editing, proofing, cover design, formatting, obtaining ISBNs, and anything else you can think of. The publisher recoups the costs when the book goes on sale and they contractually take a portion of the revenue.  For a writer with few financial resources, upfront costs may be a factor. Besides not having any idea what I was doing, I also had a pitiful bank account. This way, all I had to do was write.

Professional Editing

When I “finished” my first book, I was part of a writer’s critique group. I applied all the suggestions of my cohorts, and my writing improved to the point that a publisher was interested. Yay for writers’ groups! Little did I know how much I still didn’t know.

The editing process commenced. The editor and I went back and forth for an entire year and made hundreds and hundreds of changes – literally. Working with a professional, I received invaluable lessons on the craft of writing. The process improved my book and armed me with a battery of tips to employ on future projects.

This process was highly collaborative, and I was grateful to be able to argue my case when I felt strongly about a point. I understand from a few colleagues that some publishers are less collaborative and some will exercise a contractual right to make the final call on changes.

Covers

As a clueless person, I had no resources for cover design. The publisher worked on the concept and sent me multiple drafts for comment. My contract allowed 3 changes at no charge though we made many small tweaks. I have heard that some publishing houses don’t request input on design and don’t allow changes. I know of one author who wrote a book about “coyotes” and the publisher put “wolves” on the cover. The author was stuck with the wolves.

enwikipediaorg2

Contract Length

My contracts were for one year from the published date. This is a relatively short period when compared to contracts that span 3-5 years. The shorter contract is a boon in the event the relationship isn’t working, or the author or publisher wishes to terminate. My termination requires a 90-day notice and there is no cost associated with ending the agreement.

My contracts are on a per-book basis with no commitment tying up future books. This is particularly important when writing a series or serial where a contract may commit future books to that publisher for the agreement’s term. An author may end up making due with the publisher or leaving books unpublished until the contract can be terminated. Contracts are important and they aren’t all the same.

Paper Book Quality

Publishing houses will likely use printing services of a high quality. Personally, I’m satisfied with Createspace and the quality of their books. However, printing houses will often have more size, style and color options as well as better quality paper and bindings. Many professional print houses are not “print on demand” so there will be a sizable minimum order or set-up fee that may exceed what the author wants to invest. This was a significant challenge in my case.

So, Why Go Indie?

For someone who knew squat, my experience with a small press was highly instructive. The editing process improved my writing. The service was professional and respectful, the contracts fair.

Yet, publishing through a small press has significant pitfalls. As my knowledge and experience grew, it became evident to me that the challenges outpaced the advantages. Would I accept a contract with a big publishing house with a huge marketing department and a tasty advance? Um…yeah! But in the meantime, I’m going indie.

In Part II, I’ll explain why. Check it out HERE.