Before delving into the nitty-gritty of Indie publishing and marketing, I would like to check if we are on the same page regarding publishing. This is important, for not all aspiring authors are aware of the different routes to publishing when they embark on a writing career. When asked what it takes to get published, my counter question is: how do you see yourself published? This is not a trick question, but a valid way of establishing whether the aspiring author is familiar with all possibilities. It is a truth that not all writers are published straight away or even at all; indeed, it is the exceptional—combined with a touch of timing and luck—who are published first time around, so those determined to make it no matter what, should at least know what lies ahead.
Publishing has three main streams: traditional publishing, self-publishing and indie publishing. Despite these pathways the how of getting the job done is similar. The difference lies in who gets the job done.
Traditional publishers are publishing houses such as Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and the like. Authors who seek representation by one of these companies are usually required to access the publisher via an agent. But finding a willing, able agent can be like finding the proverbial hens’ teeth. Agents are busy people. And I mean, BUSY! The response time of most agents if you’re lucky enough to find one kind enough to reply, is two to three months. And don’t hold your breath it’s going to be what you wanted to hear. With competition at an all-time high, agents are fully represented most of the time and their clients are already established authors. Getting in as a newcomer is akin to winning the lottery. Lately, those individuals and parties who feed the agents—the agent’s agent so to speak—are also fully represented. Rejection is therefore more the order of the day than getting your foot in the door. No matter how fantastic the writing, you may not get published though an agent and traditional publisher—ever.
So, what are the alternatives?
Self-publishing means that authors approach companies such as AuthorHouse, Trafford, Lulu and others who publish books at the author’s expense. Self-publishing can range from a one-off book to enterprising bulk publications. Authors have all the benefits of a traditional publisher but pay for everything themselves. The up-side of self-publishing is that you do not get rejected. The downside is that, without all the checks and balances in place to produce a first-class product, you can get away with murder. For this reason, self-publishing is stigmatized as vanity publishing, which is met with skepticism. Far too many poor-quality self-published titles enter the market underlining the stigma attached to this type of publishing.
Depending on package, number of books and marketing strategy, self-publishing can run into thousands of dollars. A deal with a publisher should include ISBN, copyright, cover designing, formatting, printing and listing with retailers. Marketing, despite you paying for it, is anyone’s guess. After all, you’ve already paid them. Marketing is comprehensive and not even traditional publishers do all the marketing themselves. Another drawback of self-publishing is that you pay for middlemen and after all that there is still no guarantee of success. If you are not published traditionally and you have the capital to self-publish, this one could be for you. But before going this route, there is one more option to consider.
Indie (independent) publishing is when authors grasp the bull by the horns, doing just about everything themselves to get their books into the hands of potential readers. It is possible, and yes, it can be equal to or even cap the quality of traditional publishing. It may not be easy, but it can be rewarding.
For most, going indie is the only option, or rather, the only initial option if you want to see your book on sale in the bookshops. Submitting to agents first, hoping to climb on board with a traditional publisher in the process, but with thousands of books hitting the desks of agents every day, waiting months, even years to hear what aspiring authors dread to hear, why not go indie?
Technology in the form of digital publishing has opened the doors for you to be your own publisher. Sitting in South Africa, I can publish eBooks all over the world. I can now even publish paperbacks via print on demand, being the production of one book at a time and which allows indies to have their titles printed anywhere in the world and distributed to the door of a buyer without ever having to leave their home-based desk. Print on demand obviates the need for storage and its cost. Titles are available all the time and there is no such thing as ‘out-of-print’. Indie publishing also eliminates middlemen like agents, publishers and distributors, but unless you are a multi-skilled genius, indies still need the professional expertise of editors, graphic designers or illustrators and a format specialist to craft your book into the outstanding product of your dreams. Fortunately, you can source your team from the comfort of your own home. Indies are not only authors, they must learn to become publishers and marketers of their own work as well. Yes, indies do their own marketing, and believe me, if you though publishing was tough, wait until you get to the marketing part.
Indies have control over the writing, editing, formatting, cover design, book format and layout, printing, pricing, distribution; yes, all the aspects of creating and selling books, and you guessed it, instead of the 12-17% received from a traditional publisher, indies earn up to 70% of the profit. With increasing returns, however, comes greater responsibility.
Are you up for it? If you fail, at least you have only yourself to blame!
Becoming an indie is like going on a long uncharted road trip. And as with all journeys into the wilderness, it takes time to prepare, effort to pack and load, and money to stock and make the wheels go around. Don’t dare to hit the road unprepared; it will be costly in more ways that you can imagine. On the other hand, if you make it, it will be very rewarding. So, you might as well pack your bags and get going. Again—good luck!