I didn’t start out to do indie publishing. My first two novels back in the 1990s were publishing with a small press and mid-size press. My small-press experience was that it was virtually worthless for me, and my mid-size press experience was pretty positive.
My problem with the mid-size press came when I tried to get the second book published in what I hoped would be a series. The company sent each manuscript out to pre-readers and had it reviewed by an editorial committee. All it took was one person to say “no” and the book wouldn’t be published. I kept running into that problem as the company also started to shift its focus.
Meanwhile, I was also shopping another manuscript in a different genre around and getting frustrated from the lack of response. It wasn’t that the publishing houses were saying “no,” it was that many of them weren’t saying anything even after six month!
Then in 2000, I decided that I wanted to write a historical fiction novel after I took a bike trip along the C&O Canal in Maryland. As I was writing the novel, I started to wonder if I wanted to go through all of the hassles that I was going through to get a publisher interested in the book especially since I couldn’t take it to the two publishers I had already used. They didn’t handle that genre.
I knew someone who had been self-publishing since the 1980s, though. I talked to him about what it involved. He published targeted books that were generally collections of postcards that he owned. He also did very well with it.
So I started doing more research and I realized that everything my publishers had done for me, I could either do myself or farm out to someone. The biggest obstacle I saw at that time was distribution. I wasn’t sure how I could go about getting national distribution. It wasn’t a big concern for me, though. I thought that my major sales outlets would be places near the canal, and I could visit them myself. Also, by the time, the book was complete, I had found a way to get into the Baker & Taylor catalog to get my national distribution.
As far as marketing went, well, the publishers I had used hadn’t done a lot of marketing. I knew that I could do at least the same level. Besides, who was going to promote my book more enthusiastically than me? I had invested part of myself in it. I wanted it to succeed.
I took the jump into indie publishing and Canawlers became my first project. It is still in print and selling 16 years later when my first two novels have long since gone out of print.
I discovered that I liked having the control over the project. If there was something that I didn’t like about a project, I could change it. By contrast, with one of my first novels, the publisher didn’t like the title and changed it without asking me.
I also started making decent money from writing. I remember that my very first novel sold around 10,000 copies in three years. It had a cover price of $10. I made an average of 50 cents a copy or $5,000 over three years. My first indie published novels has a cover price of $18 and I make an average $8 a copy, taking into account printing costs, shipping, and bookseller discounts. That’s a 5% versus a 44% royalty!
About half of my income is from my books and the other half is other types of writing. I wouldn’t have been able to make the jump to a full-time writer if I hadn’t taken the indie-publishing track. I have since found out that many popular authors with mainstream publishers still need other work, despite their books being successful (just not bestsellers).
Indie publishing is certainly not the easy way out for authors.
You take on more responsibilities and duties, so much so that I would say it’s harder than simply being an author. If you stick with it and work at it, though, the payoff both financially and with a book that is just how you envision it are worth it.