To Indie or Not to Indie, part 1
As if the writing life weren’t complex enough, now we also have to face a new sort of decision-making.
Should I become my own publisher?
There certainly hasn’t been a better time for it. In years past, there was vanity publishing, where you paid thousands of dollars to some company to print your book and fill your garage with beautiful copies you’d probably never sell. Sure, if you were a marketing whiz, you might sell some, or all. The mythology is full of stories in which inspired writers went out and hand-sold so many copies that they were noticed by Big Publishing and given huge contracts and advances and then they Had Arrived. For every one of those stories there were probably ten thousand less exciting tales of garages and basements filled with dusty unsold books.
But, hey, people play the lottery, and look at THOSE odds!
There was also self-publishing, which differed from vanity publishing not because of a lack of vanity, but because at least you spent your money as your own publisher. Like building your own house by subcontracting out the work, you were in charge and contracted out the printing to a company that didn’t care to fleece you, they just got paid for their work. If you were a good cover artist, or had an artist or graphic designer friend, this might work reasonably well. You’d probably spend less, have more control, and end up with a better product. But maybe there’d also be the same full garage or basement.
The web brought about self-publishing with POD, where you could do all the work and pay only for a small batch of copies, sell them, and reprint more, all for much lower per-unit cost. Better, but still not likely to rocket to the top of any bestseller list. And places like Lulu came about where you could do the POD thing much more easily and without any major outlay of cash, paying only a percentage of every sale. Not bad, and a fair amount of books came about this way. Some small-time publishers used this method, like POD, to print some books that might otherwise not have existed. I know, because I had stories in a few such anthologies. Good credits, even if I didn’t make much money, or (in one case) any money at all.
And then ebooks came along… ten years ago. Yes, by the year 2000 there were ebooks and ebook readers. And barely anyone noticed. Well, some folks did. Romance and erotica readers, I’m told, embraced the new technology. I did, too, publishing my first collection as an ebook through one of those ebook publishers who sprang up seemingly overnight. Sold a few copies, too – enough to buy a couple pizzas. Eventually, my publisher disappeared… or was swallowed by another, like fish in the big, bad ocean. I’m not sure what even happened to my ebook. Spit out into the sand, deep underwater.
And then the REAL ebook revolution came along, the one named Kindle.
And the rest is and will be history.
Because it started a gold rush of sorts, a gold rush that in a couple short years is coming close to toppling traditional publishing as we knew it. There may be a little life in trad-pub yet, but it’s a fish gasping for air on a beautiful, sandy beach. Maybe the tide ill bring with it a little life, but then it’s get swept up again and left high and dry. Just a matter of time.
Now we have good options for self-publishing, because Amazon, the Kindle’s Dr. Frankenstein, gave its Creature more than life. It gave the monster a backstory and a personality and a humanity you can’t argue with: actual money payments to writers who decide to upload and sell their own books. And a marketplace full of people looking to buy.
Suddenly “going indie” means a lot more than it ever did.
Going indie can really pay off. Just look up Amanda Hocking, J.A. Konrath, Karen McQuestion, Zoe Winters, and others (name-dropping here courtesy of the legendary Konrath blog). And even if you aren’t like any of those lucky people, it can pay off well enough to make a lot of sense.
Books agents couldn’t sell, or backlists that had been forgotten, books that were “close” but hadn’t passed some arcane test of whether readers would buy them, tests administered by admittedly myopic publishing houses… these books suddenly gained new life, or first life.
The monster begat more monsters.
And the decision became both easier and more complex.
To go indie or not to go indie.
NEXT: Let’s take a look at the implications, and why the decision can still be complex.