Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Indie versus Traditional - Part Three

The biggest thing about indie publishing is the level of control you have.  If you can get past the stigma that's still associated with it, and likely always will be, the power you gain over your own creation is awesome.  However, it also means one other thing...

It's all on you.

All the stuff involved in the production, editing, pricing, marketing, accounting, and every other thing revolving around your baby is now on your shoulders.  You have no editor you can blame your typos on, no accounting department to handle the books.  From start to finish, the task is yours alone.

And this is where most writers fail.
To an extent, this is understandable.  I don't know about you, but I got into writing to write.  I wanted to share my stories with the world, not figure out where the breakeven point was or worry too much about the strategy to publicize my work.  Most just want someone to tell them where and when to be so they can show up, greet their legions of adoring fans, sign a few books, and then go back to creating their next masterpiece.

Back in the real world, folks won't knock down your door and beg to read your work.  Further, if you price your book below the point where you have a good profit margin or fail to do the books properly and don't pay your taxes on time, no one is going to swoop in at the last moment and hand you that pile of cash you know you so richly deserve.

Going the indie route is about so much more than writing a novel.  If that's all there was, there'd be millions of folks out there who would be fawned over by the public.  However, going indie means starting a business, which also means spending a bunch of your time doing things that aren't composing your novel.

Most folks who go the indie route are happy with getting a few copies out there, and if that's all you want, then I'm happy for you.  However, you won't be successful in the conventional sense where you can "write for a living."  Making an actual career out of it means going above and beyond uploading your work to KDP Select.  You have to do some analysis on where you want to price your book - is the price too high, meaning people will look past your book and buy something else?  Or are you pricing too low, where people will automatically assume your stuff is trash?  If you want to print paper novels, how much does each one cost, and what's your desired profit margin?  Have you factored in shipping?  If people want a signed copy, have you factored the extra shipping in of getting it to you and then putting it in a flat rate box?  Who will address the labels, and what's your hourly capacity for that?

At a traditional publishing house, most writers have next to no control over the cover.  Sure, we'll gripe and bitch about that, but we also know that, in the end, the publishing house will produce something.  On the indie route, you need to find a graphic artist and those who will put it in a format that you can upload to Lightning Source, CreateSpace, Lulu, or whoever else you're looking to publish through.  If you get burned and get a crappy cover, are you willing to pay for a complete re-do?

When it comes to marketing, you have to decide which routes to go.  Where can you get reviews necessary to put your name out there?  What kind of advertising will you use?  Will you rely on word of mouth, or do you want to go radio and print?  How will you handle a blog tour?  Publishing houses have the media contacts you need to get noticed, so how does the indie author build that kind of network?

On the last point, there is a silver lining(or a dark cloud if you're in traditional publishing).  Traditional publishers expect most newbies to do their own marketing.  In the old days, new authors would slog it out in obscurity for a few novels until the publisher thought they were ready, and then they'd help the author out with a breakout marketing campaign designed to bring him or her into prominence.  However, unless your name is Brown or King, publishers are becoming less willing to expend limited resources on you.  Even the push that folks like Stephanie Meyer and Nicolas Sparks got a few years ago would be unheard of today.

In other words, you're going to be scheduling your signings and prodding book reviewers, not the publicity department at Simon & Schuster.  It's up to you to determine which bookstores to try and plead with for signing events, which libraries to try and horn in on, and which college campuses to try and build a following at.  Your publicity schedule will be your spiral notepad, or, if you're well organized, an Excel program on your laptop.

All of this sounds very daunting, and if it sounds like a lot of work for an indie author, that's because it is.  Those afraid of doing all of this themselves should forget it and either give up or ascribe to the life of a traditionally published author, one where you could find yourself fighting for that 12.5% royalty or begging to get your rights back because the publisher decided not to do another print run after the initial 5000 copies.

Here's the thing though - I want to do all of that.

By doing this, I can control it, and the onus for success or failure is all on me.  If I make it, I can continue to operate this way and expand in any direction I wish.  If I fail, I have no one else to blame, but at least I won't ever worry about those two most harrowing words in the english language - what if...

This path requires drive and work.  It'll take patience, as well as the knowledge that going fully independent, where I can get all of my income from writing, will take time.  I can't expect that one book will get me there(although that'd be nice), but rather that I'll have to build up a base of readers and probably publish twice a year.  In addition to being good, I'll have to make sure folks spread the word on my books and encourage others to read them.

I've seen a lot of indie authors fall short, but I've seen as many traditionally published folks struggle as well.  The typical observation is watching authors gripe about their royalty rates and long travel schedules, but they won't do anything to break free.  And these are big authors who have fan bases I'd kill for.  However, I pity them, for if they're so afraid to do the work themselves to ensure their success, they'll stay in the same rut they complain about forever.

It's going to be one hell of a challenge, but it's one I relish facing.