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Indie or Not That is the Question

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

So, after years of toil, you have finally finished your magnum opus. Your masterpiece that will change the world as we know it and thrust you into the forefront of literary society. It is your first book, and surely the best thing anyone has ever written. People will laud your name with greats such as Tolkien, Lewis, and Dickens. You brush off the manuscript, smelling the clean paper, or dirty computer screen if you are me, and bask in the accomplishment.

Of course, no one knows who you are or that you have written the best book ever conceived by the imagination of man. Your twelve Facebook followers, which constitute mostly family and friends, are excited for you, but no one else even knows you wrote a book. If you are like me, everyone who knows you knows you wrote a book and are constantly asking you when it will be available for purchase.

Anyone who has ever written a book has had a million conversations like this:

Yes, the book is done. Yes, it will be out sometime. When? Uhm…I am still trying to decide what to do with it.
You mean it hasn’t been published yet? I thought you said it was done.
Well, it is done! It’s written, rewritten a gazillion times, and professionally edited.
Yeah, but it’s not published yet.
So, when will it be published?
It will be published when I decide what to do with it!

I don’t know about you, but if I have this conversation even one more time, I am going to either lose my lunch or kill someone.

Deciding which direction is best for your manuscript is not as easy as it used to be. Back in the day you had one option: traditional publishing. You got an agent, they marketed it to a traditional publisher, you got picked up and signed a contract, and then you were published. In todays digital world, however, writers have a lot more options.

You can go the traditional route, or you can become an indie author and publish your book yourself. Everyday more and more marketplaces become available to indie authors. Whether it be the granddaddy of all book sellers, Amazon, or the old staples such as Barnes and Noble; with a little hard work, it is possible to get your work out into the wider world.

Just because the avenue is open, however, does not mean that you can just hit a computer button and, voila, instant success. Of course, being traditionally published doesn’t guarantee instant success either. Just ask all of the millions of writers who have been traditionally published, but never found major success. What ever route you chose to walk will require work and a lot of it. Writing a book is just the first step in that journey.

The second, is deciding which road to take. Look at it like this, finishing a novel is like deciding to step out of the front door of your house. Deciding what publishing choice is best for you, is like choosing which direction to walk in. In order to get to your destination, which is hopefully a successfully published book, it takes a lot of steps and choices. You have hopefully accomplished the first step as I have and are now ready to take the next.

There are going to be a lot of people who will council you one way or the other, but you will have to decide on which approach is best for you. Or, perhaps, over the course of your hopefully long career, you will walk both paths. Or, like a lot of my friends, you will chose one or the other and stick with it. Neither direction is either wrong or right. It is all about what you feel is best for you.

Ok, so now that I have rambled on, it is time for me to talk about why I chose the indie route and not the traditional one. It certainly isn’t because the path of the indie author is easier. The general argument is that because you don’t have to go through the gate keepers of the traditional publishing world indie publishing is easy. That is just not the case. It takes a lot of work to be a successful indie author. The other argument is that indie books are simply not as good. Of course, that is not even a little true. I was reading indie books long before I realized they were indie, and most likely so were you.

Now, my book most probably isn't that great. What? Are you bad mouthing your work? Well, it is my first book, and I did my best with it, but it is not The Lord of the Rings by any stretch of the imagination. I feel it is good, and all of my beta readers enjoyed it. In fact, everyone who I have given it to, has had nothing but positive things to say about it. That being said, I did not chose the indie route because I feel my work is not good enough for a traditional publisher.

Agents, publishers, editors, and everyone who is involved in the publishing world will tell you, good and bad is relative. What one person enjoys, someone else may not. Some people like Star Wars and some Star Trek; and the crazy few like me, love both. The truth is both traditionally published books as well as indie books receive one-star reviews. All art is subjective to the personal taste of the consumer.

I decided on the independent route for really two reasons. The first, because these characters mean a lot to me and I wanted to retain all creative rights to them. Like many, I love comics and IPs such as Star Wars and Star Trek. I think we can all say that having those characters change hands with many different creators over the years has been both good and bad. I jumped for joy when Disney bought Lucas Films, but have been overall disappointed and down right angered by most of what they have done with Star Wars.

Likewise, I have given up on both Marvel and DC because of how they handled my favorite characters over the years. I don’t want that to happen to my characters, so I am going to go the route that allows me to keep creative control. I am not against selling it to a traditional publisher, but on my terms and not as a new untested IP. Moreover, if I sign a one book deal and it tanks and I am dropped from the label, then I lose the ability to write about these characters again as my characters are, in essence, owned by the publisher and not me.

Secondly, the length of time it takes for someone to get published in the traditional publishing world is crazy. I spent years writing this book and I need to get it out there. Now I know that there are those who would say that if you are not traditionally published you are not really published. Certainly, it is the goal of most authors to have someone acknowledge their work and want to publish it. I am no different, but after a few years of blood sweat tears and sacrifice, I do not want to take another three to four years to get traditionally published.

Three to four years? Certainly, it does not take that long. Well, all things are relative, and the road is different for everyone, but from my research, three to four years is standard. The consensual agreement is that it takes around a year to find the right agent. Then another year for said agent to find the right publisher. After you have signed a contract, it takes around another year for that book to be published. The final step could be even longer, since you will most likely have to do another compete edit and rewrite using the publishers people. (This leaning back to reason one for me, since they will have their own opinions on the story and may want to change things I do not.) So, three to four years is standard.

Now, once you are traditionally published your next book should take less time, right? Theoretically yes. The usual turn around rate for traditional publishing is one book a year. Obviously, there are always the exceptions, but the traditional process generally takes that long. Of course, if your book doesn’t perform up to expectations, then you could get dropped and have to start the process all over again. This time it could take less time since you no longer have to find an agent, but who knows.

Having a book fail may make other traditional publishers wary of signing you and slow down the process considerably. Another problem that may arise, is that you have already written a few more books in the series and now are dropped from your label and can no longer use those manuscripts. I don't know about you, but that is just too much work for me to throw away because my publisher doesn't feel like my first book sold well enough. Of course, if it is a multi-book deal you would not lose the work, but you would lose the right to write more books in that series. That again, goes back to point one for me.

As far as the indie road, it is not an easy road either. The truth is you have to do all of the work. You flip all of the upfront cost for editing and cover art as well as advertising; and I don’t know about you, but I suck at advertising. I am learning from my friends who have done this already and all of the resources you can find on the internet; but the truth is, that it requires a whole lot of work that does not involve writing.

I have a fairly good job and my financial situation has allowed me to be able to flip the bill for this, but you may not have the same resources. There are a lot of different ways you can do it all for cheap, but it can be daunting and even overwhelming at times. The weakness of indie publishing is that you will spend as much or more time on all of the other aspects of publishing instead of writing, and this may not be what you want for yourself. I have weighed my options, and for now, I have decided I am ok with that. You, however, may not be.

As far as money goes, indie authors have better royalties and potential to earn more money in the long run. You will, however, need your royalties to offset the expenses you have already invested in order for you to make a profit. (as an example I have already spent $2500 on my book and will need to make $2500 before I turn a profit.) Traditional publishing offers money upfront with no cost to you, but you will not see any royalties until the profits from your book have covered your upfront stipend. And of course, your agent generally gets fifteen percent, which is the industry standard. For me, however, money was not a factor. I am not looking to make a profit just yet but to build my brand, so investing money now for future gain is ok with me.

So, these are the main reason I have chosen to go the independent route. I want to retain creative control over my work, and I don’t want to wait another three to four years before my work is out there. Yes, I would love to be traditionally published someday, but I don’t feel like it is the right move for me right now. You may feel differently. Your goal may be to make enough money to quit your day job and just write, and you feel that being a traditionally published author would help you accomplish that. Or you may simply want the accolades of being a traditionally published author. Either way, whatever road you chose, I hope it is enjoyable and you find success.


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