Discussing Indie Publishing

I have spent the last few weeks pondering indie publishing in a practical sense: what the prospects are, what kinds of things to budget for, and reading basic-how tos. Recently, there have been some reports and discussions on indie/self publishing that I have found interesting and encouraging, but not terribly surprising.

Beverly Kendall’s Self-Publishing Survey 2013 (link goes to pdf) polled 822 self-published authors about their earnings, price points, and release schedules. The overall conclusion Kendall draws from the results is that authors who spent time and money on professional presentation (graphics and editing), who wrote series instead of singles, and offered one of the series for free are out-performing what is generally reported in the press.

While success is not assured no matter the method of publishing you choose, 48.05% of self published authors earned more than $10,000 last year. In this survey, many self published authors were also published traditionally or digital first. Almost a majority of the traditionally published authors who responded (47.06%) earned more self publishing. The traditionally published authors who earned more with that route had twelve or more books out under a traditional press.

The  incomparable Chuck Wendig has a set of posts about getting self publishing to the right place. Not surprisingly, his comments are controversial to some, but I think he is bloody brilliant. The first is a call to be awesome.

The culture will need to start asking tougher questions. If we’re going to admit that self-publishing is an equal choice, then it’s time to step up and act like it. It’s time to stop acting like the little brother trailing behind big sister. Time to be practical. And professional.

Defeat naysayers with quality and effort and awesomeness so blinding they cannot see past you.

You should just go read the both posts. The follow-up explains, in true Wendig style, what readers should and should not be to an author, indies in particular.

Asking readers to be your gatekeepers is putting a lot of responsibility on the people who are paying you. Stop saying you’re going to let the readers figure it out when it comes to sorting through what’s crap and what’s not. You need to figure that out. That’s on you.

Both posts are a call to writers to hone their craft and put forth the best product possible for readers. The best product means a professional, well-produced product. We are, after all, asking readers to pay us money for stuff we made up in our heads. Wendig’s premise is held up by Kendall’s survey results. Authors who spend time and money on editing and design make more money in the long run.

Jeremy Greenfield and Dana Beth Weinburg from Digital Book World published What Advantages Do Traditional Publishers Offer Authors? A Comparison of Traditional and Indie Publishing From the Authors’ Perspective. You can read a brief summary with some charts on the blog here.

The categories in which all types of authors (aspiring, self-published, hybrid, and traditionally published) agreed traditional publishing has an advantage is a wider audience, better marketing, and the opportunity to be a bestseller. Otherwise, the categories seemed to favor self-publishing.

The most telling responses were from the hybrid authors. These authors, with a foot in both worlds, have a perspective to give a better picture of what is possible in both scenarios. They were the ones most likely to say that quality is the same regardless of being indie or traditionally published. Hybrid authors also thought their earnings potential was greater with indie publishing. I would be curious to know how many of the hybrid authors spent money on editing and graphic design.

One more note on the responses of the hybrid authors. They were more likely to think that marketing opportunities for traditional and indie publishing would be similar. I would like to know how many of them write in sub-genres which receive little or no marketing backing from their publisher.

I do disagree in part with the conclusion drawn by the authors of the survey. They list stardom as one of the motivations for going with a traditional publisher. While I would agree that some people striving for a traditional contract want to be bestsellers, the vast majority of authors just want to write compelling stories people want to read and pay a bit of money for. I do not want to make a million dollars and be on the NYT Lists. Would that be nice? Yes, but that is not my end goal. I just want to create something worth people’s time and money that they will love.

These things, and others, have led me to the same conclusion. I am saving up money to start self publishing the current series I am writing. It will take me some time to save what I think I need, but writing takes time and creating a great book takes even longer. The end result will be worth the time and effort.

–Jane, learning to be great