The Advantages and Disadvantages of Indie Publishing

A couple of announcements this week. First, my new guide to indie publishing Down the Indie Road is now available. It will be free to existing subscribers and offered as a bonus to new subscribers. The content for this post is excerpted from Down the Indie Road. Second, Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) for my upcoming novel Confessions of a Failed Environmentalist will also available to subscribers in just a few short days. See below for details on how to get your copy.

Down the Indie Road

Down the Indie Road summarizes some of the key things I've learned over the past two years and covers some of the basics of indie publishing including:

  • preparing your manuscript
  • finding and working with editors and designers
  • costs and potential incomes
  • publishing platforms
  • the writing life
  • tactics that increase success

It also includes links to helpful blog posts on various indie publishing topics and a list of resources that I found helpful. Down the Indie Road is a brief guide geared for beginners who are just thinking of dipping their toes in the indie world. Although experienced indie writers might find something useful, you probably already know most of it, so it might not be for you. I will add to Down the Indie Road over time, so eventually it will become a more detailed guide to self-publishing. I would love your feedback on additional topics to cover. If you are not an existing subscriber to my blog, please sign up here to receive your free copy. Existing subscribers will receive an email in the next day with your link to Down the Indie Road.

Confessions of a Failed Environmentalist

ARCs of my upcoming novel Confessions of a Failed Environmentalist will be available early next week. This is a time limited offer that will run only from June 2 to June 8. If you are not a subscriber and you think you might be interested in an ARC, be sure to sign up. Existing subscribers will receive an email outlining how to receive an ARC on Monday.

Please note that ARCs are given in exchange for an honest review on Amazon. The review doesn't have to be long, just one or two lines sharing what you thought of the novel. Note that Confessions of a Failed Environmentalist is a bit different from my previous works. It contemporary literary fiction that is part satire and part serious and explores how many of us fail to do the right thing for the environment in big and small ways. There is romance, there are goats, there is a mine in a watershed, and there are lots of opportunities for comedy and reflection. Read the full blurb here.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Indie Publishing

Indie publishing has increased dramatically in the last decade. It’s gone from being a stigmatized and expensive undertaking (requiring commissioning a vanity press and having a garage full of inventory) to a legitimate option for writers. There are many reasons for the rise in indie publishing, and the indie path has, like everything else, advantages and disadvantages. Indie publishing is not for everyone, but it is a viable option and may be preferable for a lot of writers. Review the advantages and disadvantages carefully and decide if indie publishing may be for you.

  • Print-on-demand paperbacks have reduced the need for large print runs and maintaining an inventory of books.
  • There has been a dramatic rise in the availability and popularity of e-readers (and a subsequent demand for e-books), which are easier to produce than print books.
  • A large number of high-quality freelance professionals (many of whom worked in traditional publishing) are now available for hire by indie writers, allowing indie writers to produce books of equal quality to traditionally published books.
  • There has been a proliferation in the number of marketing sites that have huge subscriber lists of people looking for deals on e-books, and cater to indie writers in getting the word out about their e-books (e.g. Bookbub, Booksends, The Fussy Librarian, and Ereader News Today).
  • A wide range of platforms that allow for self-publishing now exist, including Amazon (Kindle Direct Publishing, or KDP), Kobo, Nook, Google Play, iBooks, Scribd, and Smashwords.
  • There are an increasing number of readers interested in buying indie books, in part because of the lower price point, but also because successful indie writers are delivering quality, unique material.
  • An increasing number of indie writers are making a decent living, and some have sold up to 700,000 copies of their books (and are making much more than a decent living). Many writers, including traditionally published writers, are taking up indie publishing because it might offer a greater chance of making a living as a writer.

Advantages of Going Indie

  • You don’t have to worry about getting published, which allows you to spend more time writing and less time querying agents and publishers.
  • You can exercise a lot of control over your career and production schedule, which allows you to plan longer series and more frequent releases to build momentum.
  • Due to the higher royalty structure of indie publishing—and the fact that you have more control over your release schedule and marketing—you have the potential to make more money.
  • You get to have a more collegial relationship with the professionals with whom you rely on for support (e.g., editors, designers) because you are their client.
  • It allows you to be involved in—and bring your aesthetic and tastes to—every aspect of developing your product. If you have good taste and a unique style, this is a powerful thing and can be a vast improvement over the traditionally published industry, where you may have little influence regarding the editing, styling and design of your book. Although many traditional publishers do a great job with book editing, styling and design, they don’t do a great job on every book, and their choices may not match your vision for your work.
  • It allows you to learn about every aspect of book production, which will give you a better understanding of the industry as a whole and will probably make you a stronger writer.
  • It enables you to control the marketing of your book, including when to have sales and when to engage in publicity. This, in turn, allows for a much longer shelf life and much more time for your book to become successful, instead of the make-or-break six-week window (considered the standard for whether a book is to be successful in the traditional publishing industry).
  • There is an amazingly supportive and hardworking indie community, many of whom will help you if they can.
  • Indie e-books sell almost as well as traditionally published e-books in certain genres, such as romance and science fiction/fantasy.

Disadvantages of Going Indie

  • You probably won’t make a lot of money—at least not right away, and you will be out of pocket your costs. Most indie books only sell 100 copies. That will not likely be enough to cover your production costs. Many indie books, even if they sell more than 100 copies, do not generate enough revenue to cover their costs. Just keeping it real here. A lot of indie writers do make a living from their work. But let’s face it, making a living as a writer is hard either way. Many indie writers note that they didn’t really start to make it until they hit the three-year mark, so you have to be prepared to play the long game.
  • You have to do everything yourself. If you don’t like some aspects of publishing—like proofreading, learning grammar so you can vet editors, or understanding trim size and self-promotion—indie publishing can be challenging.
  • Although it’s changing, there’s still a stigma associated with being an indie writer. Some people won’t understand or might look down on you for your choices. You have to be prepared to be proud of being an indie, and keep in mind that many famous writers got their start by self-publishing.
  • To be successful, most indie writers have to keep up a more intense production schedule with some of them producing up to 12 books a year. Realistically, you probably have to be prepared to write at least 2 to 3 books a year. If you’re holding a day job to cover the bills, making that level of commitment can prove difficult.
  • The indie community is very supportive of each other and do a lot of cross-promoting and reviewing of each other’s works. You will have to decide who you’re going to support and how. This can be uncomfortable, and you have to be careful whom you throw your brand behind (as well as whom you choose not to support).
  • Platform is essential to selling books, so you generally have to be willing to maintain a blog, Twitter account, and/or Facebook presence, and build an email subscriber list. Staying regularly in touch with your readers (without ostracizing them by spamming or soliciting them too often) is key to growing your readership and, eventually, providing you the marketing base you need to make a living as an indie author.
  • Indie books generally don’t sell as well as traditionally published books in literary fiction or children’s books.
  • Traditional publishers have well-established distribution systems for print books and will be able to get your book into bookstores, libraries, and schools. This is much more difficult for indie publishers. Even though some distribution systems exist, they are mostly ineffective, and unless you become a famous indie writer, you will be unlikely able to get your book into many bookstores. However, there are some presses—like Auspicious Apparatus Press—that are working hard to get indie authors into brick-and-mortar stores.
  • It’s hard work! Being a writer of any sort is hard work, but being an indie writer is even harder. You have to be ready to spend much of your spare time (and money) working on building your career from the ground up.

Deciding what road is for you is all about weighing the advantages and disadvantages. There is no perfect road. For me, the indie road has been a great opportunity to take advantage of some of my strengths in design and platform-building, while playing to my preference for being independent. However being a traditionally published writer would be great too and I definitely haven't ruled out trying for a traditional-publishing deal in the future. What do you think? What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages of going indie?