Goodbye Traditional, Hello Indie (Part I)

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A few blog friends and authors have asked about my decision in 2015 to switch from traditional to indie publishing. I thought it might be interesting to share a trio of posts about the factors that informed my decision. These posts are five years old, but my opinion remains the same. If this post, Part I, captures your attention, you can follow the link below to the 2nd and 3rd in the series.

Part I: Pros of traditional publishing

Part II: Cons of traditional publishing (and how they compare to indie publishing).

Part III: Results

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In 2016, I begun the process of reclaiming my 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 originally 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 unique 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 for 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.

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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 required a 90-day notice and there was no cost associated with ending the agreement.

My contracts were 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 do 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 Amazon and the quality of their paperback 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.

The Melding of Aeris goes Indie

TMOA EBOOK

A month ago, I wrote a post about my decision to cancel my publishing contracts and go indie. The reason for the decision was two-fold. One, to gain control over the actual book: fix typos, edit back matter, and update covers. Two, to gain control over pricing, both retail and promotional.

The first contract came up, and The Melding of Aeris has new life.

Ta da!

Aeris4The most exciting part of the process was popping on the new cover designed by talented artist Jennifer Munswami. The new one is above and the old one at left. Sort of a no-brainer. Of all my books, this is my brother’s favorite, and he’s a wonderful supporter of my work. When he worked for the Navy in Alaska, the old cover presented a challenge. He couldn’t give it away. Covers matter!

How did the rest of the process go, you might ask? A breeze.

The downside? Yes, there is a downside, which I knew in advance. I lost my ranking and most of my reviews. (Amazon moved 6 to the new book. Why 6 ??) Despite the downside, I’m doing a happy dance!

(UPDATE 4/1/16 – All my old reviews have now returned. I seemed to just need some time. I did it by asking Amazon to combine editions. The result: no downside at all.)

Prolog – The Melding of Aeris

Lasandra’s new lips curved in a bow, blood red and as plump and luscious as a bruise. Barely clad, she posed before her silvered looking-glass, glimpsing in her reflection the potential for perfection. Her transfiguration was almost complete, the last scars faint red seams that would fade in a matter of weeks.

She wanted new eyes, green ones, the bright emerald of spring grass or fresh limes, and a cascade of long curls as black and thick as a moonless sea. She’d spotted the ones she desired in the marketplace. The woman sold yellow onions from a crudely woven basket. Poor and barefoot, she would sell hers, surely. Lasandra could afford whatever the woman asked, and she’d purchase replacements. She wasn’t merciless; she wouldn’t leave the woman bald and blind.

Her fingers traced the tiny jewels arching over her eyebrows, four on each side. She’d decided on fire rubies with simple gold settings, nothing ostentatious. Bone-studding was nothing new, but with the other modifications, the gems dazzled the eye. And it hadn’t hurt at all when Syr Sorelis drilled the dainty screws into her forehead. Thank the alchemists for that little miracle.

A sultry pout over her shoulder, she turned in the mirror, admiring her skin. The designers had schemed with her for more than a year, visualizing something asymmetrical yet precisely balanced. And the Bestiary had grown the species exactly to her specifications, no easy task. The serpent skin scalloped like black lace over fresh snow: sheer, delicate, and soft to the touch. It curled across her skin, beginning behind her ears and swirling across her breasts and belly, down the inside of her thighs where it tapered to slender points near the knees. It sheathed her hands and forearms like fingerless gloves.

The fur alone had required years to cultivate for she desired fine black and white stripes with the texture of velvet. The first animals had been deplorable, their pelts coarse, the fur long and thick. When finally a creature met her expectations, the transfiguration melded its skin to her shoulders like epaulets, formed a curved V down her back, and covered every inch of her legs where she hadn’t already melded the snakeskin. Stripes ringed her long, silken tail.

Undeniably stunning, a human art form…almost.

As she studied her composition in the mirror, it was all too evident that her brown hair and brown eyes simply wouldn’t do.

USA – UK Canada – Japan

(sorry it’s not available everywhere yet)

(BTW in Japan, the title is translated as The Melting of Aeris 🙂 )

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 my first 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 2016, 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. Add an agent to the mix and profits are further split.

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

In one month, one of my self-published books earns what I made in a whole year with my 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. Why?

  • Traditional publishing’s higher book prices 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 was 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 sat there with their handful of typos, and I was helpless to fix them. The name of one of my characters was misspelled on the back cover of the paperback, and it took a year for the publisher to correct the mistake. The name was misspelled in the Amazon blurb for 3 years.

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 took back my books they all got 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.

For an look at the sales results click HERE