Hello and happy Wednesday!
If you’ve visited my site before, you’ve probably seen me talk about my soon-to-be published historical fiction novel, Cabin Girl. Centered around a girl’s fight to escape the Barbary pirates that kidnapped her and return to her family – and full of tense secrecy and deception that I enjoyed writing far too much – it’s one of my favorite books that I’ve done yet.
It’s also heavily inspired by my brother1 and many of his favorite story elements, which has made it a bittersweet blessing. Though I never thought I’d write a pirate novel, I’ve absolutely loved it – and have plans to write several more in the same series.
A few times now, I haven’t been able to figure out the right response to others’ reactions that I’m publishing. It’s usually the same reaction…excitement or genuine congratulations until they ask ‘how’ I’m publishing, and I answer “I’m self-publishing.”
All of a sudden the demeanor changes – subtle but there. I can see the look in their eyes shift, and the congratulating turns from being of a ‘good for you!’ nature, to ‘good for you for trying.’ Suddenly there’s a question lingering in the air – sometimes spoken, sometimes unspoken.
“Why would you settle for that, instead of trying for the real thing?”
Unfortunately, most people seem to share the same stigmas about self-publishing that I had for a long time.2 That, though it may take some work to do, it’s not real publishing. If you do it yourself, it’s just fake. Unprofessional. Not worth comparing to something traditionally published, because the quality will be astronomically lower.
Most people see self-publishing as the route writers take when they’re not good enough to be accepted by traditional publishing houses. It’s the cheater’s way in. I used to think the same thing.
And then I started researching.
To clarify, self-publishing and indie publishing are essentially the same thing. Rather than being signed on with a traditional publishing house, and having editing, cover design, formatting, deadlines, and all the other aspects of making your book widely available done and chosen for you, a self-publisher does it all himself (or finds and hires experts to do it for him).
Indie publishing is simply a term that’s been adopted to set apart the people that write and self-publish books more seriously (like for a career), from the people that self-publish for personal reasons (such as having physical copies available for their family and friends).
Because ‘anyone’ can self-publish, and that’s resulted in a lot of stigma toward self-published authors, indie authors have adopted a slightly different term to go by with the hopes that the small break will result in more open-mindedness from others. In my own experience, people are a lot more likely to honestly listen about my writing if I say that I’m working toward ‘indie’ publishing, rather than ‘self’ publishing.
When someone’s willing to honestly listen about my indie publishing, it communicates a lot of respect, and I appreciate that. It allows me to explain why I’ve chosen to go indie rather than pursue traditional. Because I do have a why. I have thought my publishing path through and I believe that it is the best one for me. It’s not the right one for everyone, but at least right now, it’s the one I know I’m supposed to be embarking on.
So, with the approaching launch of my first novel, I thought I’d take the opportunity today to share why I chose to pursue self-publishing (or indie!), instead of traditional. Don’t worry, I’m not here to persuade you that self-publishing is superior. Everyone’s paths will – and should! – look different, and there are many pros and cons to both routes. My respect for traditionally published authors is very high, and if I’d welcome the chance to be one if God ever chooses to nudge me that direction.
But right now, here are my reasons for indie publishing…
This is the first one on the list because it’s honestly my the main reason. Of course, like any freedom, it makes some things easier, and some things harder, but ultimately I prefer the ability to make my own choices in every aspect of the publishing journey. The freedom of an indie author means every single decision is up to them.
What book do I want to write and publish? When? How much editing can I do on my own, and how much do I want to be done by someone else? What cover do I want, or who do I want to design it? Should I learn to do my own formatting, or hire someone? Should I go exclusively through Amazon, or sell through another distributor – or all of them? What formats of my book do I want to put out there (ebooks, paperbacks, audio books, etc.)? Every decision opens up a slew of others.
I’ve heard it said many times now that an indie author wears many hats. And at any given time, they might be wearing a lot of them at once! They’re in charge of every aspect of their book and whether their publishing journey is successful or not depends largely on the effort they’re willing to put in. Of course, if my goal is to publish a book so that it’s easier for friends and family to read, the process could be much faster and easier and I’d still consider it successful. But if my goal is to try to make publishing books a source of income, I need to treat it like a business. Like a job.
As I once heard someone say, when it comes to the business side of things: ‘Indie publishers do 100% of the work for 100% of the profits.’
And while that may still mean a lot of work and very few profits, that freedom and control is a huge part of why I’ve decided indie publishing is for me. It also means that I keep all my rights. No one else can do things with my books that I don’t want done with them. I’m in charge of the content, the design, the publishing methods, and the marketing. The message readers get and the experience they have with my books is entirely my responsibility – and my privilege – to create.
Part of the freedom of indie publishing is the ability to choose when you publish. While traditional publishing is often an extremely long process, once the book you intend to self-publish is to the point that you’re confident in it, that publish button is ready and waiting for you to press, sending your book into the public.
And yes, this can be both good and bad. The key is waiting until you’re ready. Theoretically, you could write and self-publish a book in as little as a month. But would the book be ready to publish? Nope. Even if you made some time to edit it, you’d still be too close to the story to catch most the plot holes, cheesy characters, and typos. And any cover design, formatting, or marketing efforts would be weakly thrown together. Most likely, it would end up becoming one of the stereotypical and ‘unprofessional’ self-published novels most people think of right away.
On the other hand, could you write and publish a book of good quality in a year? Depends on the story, but a lot of people do. Cabin Girl has been in the works for about two and a half years now, and I finally feel that it’s ready to be published (after some last edits of course, haha). However long the self-publishing process takes though, it can almost always be faster than if you went the traditional route. It takes months or years to get your manuscript accepted in the first place (if it does get accepted), to even reach the point of editing, cover design, marketing, etc.
I personally am a perfectionist. I loathe the very idea of publishing a book that isn’t the best it can be, and I know I won’t push to put out a book that’s not ready, even if it takes years (I still haven’t let anyone but my siblings read the book I’ve worked on for seven years now, because it’s just not ready!). And yet, when I know that my book is to the point that it can and should be shared, I don’t want to wait years longer before others can read it. Personalities differ greatly in that regard.
My primary goal in indie publishing is honestly not to make a living, but to reach as many people as possible. And for me, that means making the most of the time I have left on earth and sharing my writing with people as soon as it’s ready. Indie publishing means that I can publish – on my timetable, and not on that of a traditional publishing house that has deadlines to meet.
Everyone has different focuses. Traditional publishing houses have every right to set deadlines and only accept the books that they feel will return their investments. They’re businesses, and they have employees to pay and families to provide for. It would be impossible for them to publish every manuscript submitted to them – at least if they wanted to stay in business.
But that’s where indie publishing comes in. I know that the kinds of books I write are not ones that would fit well with the current mainstream market (Christian pirate novels aren’t really especially popular right now, haha). Traditional publishers aren’t likely to sign with me, and even if they did, they wouldn’t use much of their budget on it or the marketing for it. And for good reason on their part. It just wouldn’t be profitable.
When it’s up to me, however, I can choose to put as much effort and budget into my books as I want. No, I’m not likely to ever be a bestseller no matter where I publish. But some people reading my self-published stories is far better to me than potentially having no one read my story if I throw all my time and effort into pursuing traditional publishers that aren’t interested. Especially when I also consider the other pros I’ve listed (full freedom in decisions, sole ownership of rights, etc.).
What It Takes
I know indie publishing is not for everyone. There are many, many people that have been, are pursuing, or will be traditionally published – and that’s absolutely wonderful. It all comes down to what the right path is for you. For me, for the books I’m writing now, that’s indie publishing. In the future, who knows where God will lead me?
As indie publishing is still new to me, I’m definitely not an expert. But to summarize, here are a list of things I’ve already discovered that it takes to indie publish (some of which I’m managing to do, and others that I…well, that I need to work on, haha!):
– Self-drive and good time management
(With so many aspects of indie publishing, it’s crucial to keep yourself motivated and on track. Good time management is also necessary so you don’t use all your writing, editing, formatting, etc. time on things like scrolling through social sites or even writing other projects. I’ve found that figuring out the one most important focus for the day helps me keep up. Setting my own deadlines is also very helpful.)
– A love for learning
(There is so much to indie publishing. While it makes my head spin, I’m very grateful that I’m someone who loves to learn. Even if you hire others to do things like the cover design and formatting, you still need to learn a torrent of other things, such as how to self-edit well (whether or not you’re also hiring an editor), how to communicate what you want/need to others, how the distributor you’re publishing through works, how to understand and fulfill their requirements, how to create and run a website/blog, how to market and reach your ideal readers, and so on. And of course, there’s no one right answer. Much of learning is piecing together what works for you from other people’s experiences and advice.)
– An open mind and willingness to listen to other’s opinions
(This is not exclusive to indie publishing, but it is necessary to create your best book. When you get feedback from readers, you don’t need to change every detail they suggest, but you should at least consider them. If you keep receiving the same unfavorable opinions on something, maybe it should be tweaked. Even if you like it as it is. Some of the best changes I’ve made to Cabin Girl have been ones that I greatly resisted at first. It was only after I put some deep thought into them, prayed about them, and decided to test them out, that I discovered they were absolutely right. Ultimately, you are the author, and they are the readers. It’ll take work, but the key is being willing to find the perfect balance for all of you.)
– The ability to take critiques and negative comments well
(This is something I’m still working on….But whether it’s in the form of a critique, an Amazon review, a beta reader’s feedback, or just a comment from a family member, friend, or stranger, you will hear less than sparkling things about your writing sometimes. Sometimes it will be worded somewhat nicely, and sometimes it won’t. And it will hurt either way. What helps me to remember is that my writing is not me. It’s a huge part of me, sure, but it’s not where my worth comes from. My worth comes from Christ, and that’s something that will never change. When I receive negative feedback, I find that I need to take a step back, allow myself some time to absorb it, process it, and pray about it, and then carefully consider if it requires my action or not. If it’s pointing out something that I could make better in my work, then I should look into improving it. If it’s not, I need to move on. But if you let every harsh comment cripple you – like I used to do – you won’t be able to ever grow in your writing or career.)
(Of course, everything should be done with friendliness and indie publishing is no exception. Throughout the entire process, you talk to and work with many people, and you want to make it a good experience for them. Even if you’re tired, frustrated, or don’t agree with what they’re saying, you still need to be polite and courteous, and never argue or insult. I view every interaction as an opportunity to share Christ through my words and demeanor. That means holding myself to the highest standard when it comes to communication.)
– Plans to write more books
(As appealing as being a one-hit wonder sounds, you’re not likely to make a living or reach millions of people off of one book. If you do attain those things, it will be through continuing to write. And really, if you like to write, this should be no problem! You do like writing, don’t you? Keep looking for ideas, keep outlining, keep writing books, and keep publishing them once they’re ready. The more good-quality books you have out there, the more people you’ll reach and the more resources you’ll be able to put into your next project. This will be both the most challenging part of indie publishing – and the most rewarding.)
To summarize this long and rambling post, indie publishing (self-publishing with an intent to keep at it for a while), is a lot of work. It’s overwhelming, strenuous, time-consuming, sometimes terrifying, and can be painful. But it’s also an incredible opportunity to reach people you might not otherwise. A chance to entertain, inspire, teach, share what’s important to you, and to offer others a vehicle through which to learn and grow and be moved. Through the process so far, I’ve grown and learned so much already. It’s not easy. But to me, it’s worth it.
Once again, though I’m far from an expert at any kind of publishing, I’ve been fascinated by the opportunities and challenges that come with diving into the indie side of things and look forward to continuing to learn! I hope you found some insights here, or at least enjoyed reading about my journey so far. I’m excited to continue on!
What are YOUR thoughts on indie vs traditional publishing? If you plan on publishing some day, which route do you think would suit you best? I’d love to find out, so let me know in the comments!
1.I talked about my brother in my previous post, here.
2. I discussed what being a real writer means here.