Part 2 ~ Independent Publishing
D. Wallace Peach
So, Why Go Indie?
For someone who knew squat, my experience with a small press was highly instructive. 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.
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.
So what were my small press challenges?
This is one of those “know thyself” situations. 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.
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.
New manuscripts land at the bottom of the publishers 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. 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.
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.
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. The publisher is entitled to their cut – they’ve invested upfront time and resources.
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.
However, 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.
When a small press publishes a book, they move 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. 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 new covers.
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.