Yes, that’s right, I’m entering into that much maligned (but recently much celebrated) realm of self-publishing. I’m not doing it in response to a houseful of rejections from traditional publishing (in fact, I haven’t really given them much of a chance). Nor am I doing it because I think I’ll become the instant blockbuster that’s Amanda Hocking. Instead, I’m setting myself up as my own publisher because, to be honest, I don’t need traditional publishing and it suits my long term goals.
Ever since I decided to get serious about my writing in 2006, I’ve had a crystal-clear aim: to fund my retirement with my writing. Some people fund it by working extra hours and saving lots of money. I, on the other hand, decided to fund it by investing my time in creating works of fiction that will sell for years after I’ve written them. Plus writers never really retire. They keep going until they drop dead over the keyboard, so not only will my back catalogue fund my retirement but new books will increase that income. At the time, I gave myself twenty years to create a strong career that would provide me the money to enjoy my later years and yet at the same time let me have fun in the moment, doing something I love. Now, four and half year in, I’m at the point of wanting to publish my finished novels and start the slow build to retirement.
Traditional publishing, however, was an obstacle to this dream. In that world, books expire. They have a shelf life then end up out of print without any hope of ever resurfacing and finding new readers (unless you’re a mega-big bestseller). This would mean that my time-investment wouldn’t grow. I would continually have to invest the same (or more) time just to keep my income at the same level (if I was lucky). With the indie-publishing world of ebooks and print on demand, my first novel will still be for sale when my twentieth novel comes out. Every time I publish something I will create more passive income for my retirement. Point one in favor of indie-publishing.
Indie-publishing is also a patient person’s game. Aside from the atypical cases of Amanda Hocking and the like, income only builds with your catalog. Since I’m looking at 2026 as the earliest date that I’ll need my writing income, my mindset is perfect for winning the indie-publishing game. I won’t care about this month’s sales of one particular book. I’ll only care about the annual income and growth. Point two in favor of indie-publishing.
Then there’s the whole percentage of revenue thing. Even if the big electronic distributors change their income models, it’s unlikely that things will ever get so bad as to provide an indie-publisher with the insanely low commission that traditional publishers offer. To earn a profit in indie-publishing, I will need to sell far fewer copies of each book than if I go through traditional channels. Plus I won’t need to give an agent a percentage or rely on the marketing department of a publisher to decide how (or even if) they market my books. Point three in favor of indie-publishing.
On the flipside of the time coin, indie-publishing wins there too. If I were to go through a traditional publisher, I would expect to wait at least eighteen months from the moment it’s accepted before the book starts earning (and that doesn’t count the time I or an agent might spend selling the book nor the time spent finding said agent). As an indie-publisher I can complete the book, get it proofed, buy a cover design and get it up online in a matter of weeks after finishing it. That’s a whole lot more time of potential earnings. Point four in favor of indie-publishing.
Then finally, there’s my personality. I hate being told what to do, I have a problem with authority that exists “just because” and I’ve never agreed with some arbitrary group of people deciding if others will or won’t like what I do. With indie-publishing, I am my own publisher so I make the decisions, I am my own authority figure, and the market (as well as my marketing) will decide whether my writing is sellable or not (of which I have no doubt – yes, confidence in my writing is paramount because if I don’t objectively know that I’m writing is good, then no one else will believe it either). Point five in favor of indie-publishing.
I think that’s enough in favor, no? So, what am I losing by not going with a traditional publisher?
- Access to brick and mortar bookstores: If my ebooks sell well enough who cares? Plus as print on demand gets more accessible, bookstores will look to that as a way of distributing books. Also, Dean Wesley Smith in his series on being an indie-publisher says that there are ways of getting books into bookstores without a traditional distributor.
- A seal of approval: Bah! Who needs one when I already know that I’m a great writer?
- The advance: I don’t know about other writers, but I much more prefer the idea of regular (smaller) chunks of money instead of lump sum payments that are really just a loan against possible future income. (thanks for that explanation to Kristine Kathryn Rusch!)
- Security: I don’t even know what this refers to given that writers get dropped from publishers and agents left, right, and center.
Am I scared? You bet! I ran an organizing business for five years before giving it up to write. I know how much hard work it takes to be a successful small businessperson. Many people don’t make it, even good talented people, especially in the art world. However, if I don’t take the risk, I won’t be able to live with myself.