Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Self-Publishing versus Indie – One Author’s Story

One of the wonderful things about being a writer in 2016 is that being rejected by every agent and traditional publisher on the planet doesn’t necessarily mean shoving your novel into a drawer where it will one day be discovered by a great-grandchild after your death. (Although sometimes this is exactly where that manuscript belongs!) Thanks to the internet and Amazon revolutions, for the past few years, writers have had the choice to self-publish. And with several self-published writers going on to make big names for themselves (Hugh Howery), and well-known writers opting out of their traditional-publisher contracts to get their work directly to their readers, self-publishing no longer has the stigma that it did in the days of the vanity press. At the same time, independent publishing has also exploded. With the ease of print-on-demand and ebooks, many small companies – some run by self-published authors – have sprung up to take the editing, design, and marketing aspects out of the hands of authors whose stories aren’t big enough to attract traditional publishers, but don’t want all the hassles that come with self-publishing.

So if you’ve exhausted all traditional publication outlets but aren’t willing to let your book baby go unborn, what option is best for you? I currently have two books out: Keeping Score, and The Ties that Bleed. I self-published Keeping Score, which led me to publish The Ties that Bleed through an indie. I found out that there are just as many cons to indie publishing as self-publishing. I learned, basically, that the old adage is true: If you want something done right, do it yourself.

Yes, I was grateful that I had someone else design the book cover and prepare the text for formatting. However, the book designer was limited to creating covers that matched others that the publisher had released, and to certain stock photography. The resulting cover was nice, but not what I originally had in mind.

The publisher had me work with an editor, who went over a few logic points with me (such as, the room is too dark for her to see his face so clearly) and stressed that the publisher hated em dashes. She and I went over the manuscript several times, at which point it went to the typesetter. I made the mistake of assuming someone at the publisher would go over the formatting as carefully as the editor had. Wrong! The book was released with typesetting errors such as smart quotes being used interchangeably with straight quotes, paragraphs not being indented, and random italics. (I was never given the option of okaying a proof.) The reviewers I sent the book to, and people who’d bought it through Amazon, pounced all over these errors. It was humiliating.

I had had two different indie publishers vying for the book, and I chose the one that had been in business for several years and had a strong output. Their authors seem very loyal and excited to be part of the publisher’s family. However, that does mean that each individual book only gets a brief moment of attention from the publisher before the next one hits the presses. Perhaps a smaller one would have been more supportive.

Secondly, I had no input as to pricing or sales decisions. My book is only 200 pages long, yet the ebook is $5.99. I’m a voracious Kindle reader, but I rarely if ever download a book that is more than four dollars, and that’s only if it’s a famous author and a book I’ve been looking forward to. Otherwise, I’ll reserve it at the library or wait for it to go on sale. Who’s going to spend that much money on a book from an author she’s never heard of? Very few people.
Sales are at the heart of ebook marketing, yet I never heard back from any of my emails suggesting a sale, especially around Halloween. Occasionally the publisher announces that all books will be briefly discounted for a very short amount of time, but this comes way too quickly to take advantage of the book-sale newsletters that self-published authors use to get the word out on their books.

The admittedly unscientific result: While I have 56 reviews of KEEPING SCORE on Amazon (most written in the first few months after I published it), I only have 11 for THE TIES THAT BLEED.

I have the next four books in the TIES series planned out, but with paltry sales and few reviews (although most everyone who reviewed it asked for a sequel), it doesn’t look like writing the next one is worth my while. Yet most self- and indie- publishing experts agree that a series helps keep sales of all books high.

Obviously this is just my experience, and I know that many authors who published with this company are very happy. And they were very responsive about getting my book to CreateSpace and issues that cropped up later with the back cover. They allowed me to purchase print copies of the book at their price. Royalties are paid promptly. But my thinking that almost any publisher was better than going on my own – and that a strong, professional contract mean professionalism in every capacity – was obviously wrong.

My third book may end up in that drawer, after all.

1 comment:

  1. Jami, what a wonderfully open and honest post. We hear plenty from self-pub'd authors (incidentally, I'm in that group, and not because I was rejected - this was my first choice method and I never queried anyone) but not much, it seems, from people who've tried both a "supported" method and self publishing. It's always tricky to know what the outcome would have been if the other path had been chosen, but it's a comfort to all of us who are going it alone that a "publisher" does not always mean a quality product (or huge sales success).