Forging Ahead On My Own: Going the Indie-Publishing Route

07 Apr

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.


Posted by on April 7, 2011 in AtoZ Challenge, Indie Publishing


25 responses to “Forging Ahead On My Own: Going the Indie-Publishing Route

  1. Anne Lyle

    April 7, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    I think taking the long view is sensible – though I reckon it’s very brave of you to bet your retirement on a writing career! However I know you’re the entrepreneurial type, so you have the drive to make a go of it. Maybe having a background in commercial (non-fiction) publishing makes me a lot more sanguine about its foibles 🙂

    I do take issue with a couple of your points, however.

    Point One. If your publisher is any good, your contract should specify that if the book goes out of print (including ebooks no longer being sold online), the rights revert to you – so you could self-publish if you want to. I know mine does! Hence I don’t think self-publishing has an advantage over commercial in that respect, unless you sign a bad contract.

    Also, a book advance is _not_ a loan, at least not in the normal sense used by banks, etc, because you don’t have to pay it back unless you fall out with your publisher and withdraw the manuscript, or something similar goes badly wrong with your working relationship. If your book doesn’t earn out the advance, the worst that normally happens is that you don’t get another contract from that publisher. As long as the book is published as per the contract, you get to keep the whole of that lump sum, regardless of how many copies sell.

    I agree that the percentage of revenue bites, but the money that goes straight to the publisher is what pays for the editing, cover art, marketing, and all those other things that indie authors have to pay for out of their own pockets. Sure you can do things on the cheap, if you have the talent/temperament – but not all of us are quite so multi-skilled.

    Anyway, all the best with the plan! You’re a great writer, and I seriously hope you see your dream come true.

  2. Alex

    April 7, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    @Anne: The long view is the only one that makes any sense in this business. As for the loan thing, I guess it depends on the contract and how it might get broken (unless I’ve misunderstood how Rusch explains the concept). As for the rights issue, I think small presses are still willing to do the limited-time rights thing but I’m not interested at the moment in taking that chance. Later I could very easily see myself doing both but I’m going to start out in the indie-world. We each choose what we’re comfortable with in the end, as long as we do it with our eyes open.

  3. Donna Weaver

    April 7, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    Good luck with that. I hope you keep us updated. I know Hocking talked on her blog about how long she’s been at this and how much work is involved in self publishing, because you have to do your own marketing. But it seems publishers are doing less now than they used to anyway.

  4. Erin M. Hartshorn

    April 7, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    Good reasoning. I am, of course, hedging my bets by attempting both, but I want both a living income and a retirement income. (How’s that for brave? 😉 )

    I was a bit surprised when Rusch said what she did about repayment of the advance, because every single other author blog I’ve ever read has said that their contracts specify it doesn’t need to be repaid if the book doesn’t earn out, and she implied that was the exception rather than the rule. Of course, every author’s negotiated contract is different, so that might account for the differences there.

    Good luck with building your retirement fund!

  5. Alex

    April 7, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    @Donna: Yes, I’ve heard that too – that marketing is more and more heaved onto the author unless you’re one of the few the publisher wants to get behind.

    @Erin: I was surprised as well as I’d never heard of it, but I figured not having really been well-informed before that I’d missed something. I suppose it might depend on how the contract ends. If it’s a broken contract I imagine the money would have to be paid back, but a case of the book not earning out, maybe not.

    I too want a living from the writing, but having done some basic numbers (in 25 years 50 books at a bare minimum of 300 sales per book per year giving me roughly $45000 a year on top of my government benefits and existing savings) that gives me almost double what I live on now adding onto my other stuff, so even if not all 50 sell even those low numbers I’ll have something to add to income.

    And once I have a bit of a following I’ll start hedging my bets and going for both.

  6. Anne Lyle

    April 7, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I wonder if the “returnable advance” thing is a new idea by publishers who are reluctant to drop their advance levels (because it might make lose them plum deals) but want a safety net in case the book flops? Personally I’d rather have a small advance with a hope of royalties down the line – you still get the money one way or another.

  7. PK Hrezo

    April 7, 2011 at 8:08 pm

    Hi, Alex. I wish you much luck! I truly believe self-pubbing is the wave of the future and it’s so great to see more options for writers.

    • Alex

      April 7, 2011 at 9:22 pm

      @PK Thanks. I too love all the options that are opening up for us!

  8. Jim Nelson (aka: liveworkdream)

    April 7, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Thanks for the reminder Alex! We’ve got one e-book selling well to a very small niche market, and a huge pile of rejection letters growing for a totally different traditional book we had an agent pitch.

    Time to stop saying “someday” about the self-publishing route. Care to share which on-demand houses you’re considering? We’ve found even many of those indie publishers try to rope you in with huge downpayments and expensive value added services we can do ourselves.

    • Alex

      April 7, 2011 at 9:27 pm

      Hey Jim! Great to hear from you! Dean Wesley Smith has a great pair of series on his website. One’s called The New World of Publishing. And the other is Think Like a Publisher. They’re great and they’ve really helped me gain lots of confidence.

  9. Marcus

    April 7, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    Alex, you echo my thoughts exactly. I’ve spent a year looking at self-publishing and traditional. I’ve finally decided to try self-publishing first because I think it better fits my personality for these reasons:

    – If a publisher accepts my book I’m immediately tied to their schedule. (Rachael Gardner posted on that topic yesterday, about what happens after you sign the dotted line)

    – I would prefer a stream of smaller payments to the advance-come-loan. I had no idea it can take years to “earn out” the advance.

    – I would have to do promo travelling for the publisher, which I may not be able to do. And as others have said, that time is better spent on writing which brings me long-term revenue.

    – I think I’m just more an Indie kind of guy. When I published my software I always did it on my own, and there’s something satisfying about it. That has nothing to do with control-freakdom, I just like the diversity of tasks.

    – I will hire editors, artists etc, and listen to their input, but I don’t want a publisher telling me their guess is better than mine. They only lose on one book out of many titles, I lose a lot more.

    – I think what counts is the relationship between writer and readers. The readers decide whether it’s good, nobody else. No critics, publishers, academics. Just readers.

    – I want my books to be available. It’s so annoying to discover a recommended book that is out of print.

    It’s a big topic, there’s a lot more to say. Thanks for your post.


  10. gail

    April 7, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    You make some interesting points and I read the entire post with interest. I recently self-published my first novel, see details at:
    and I believe it was the best choice for my situation also.
    Best of luck to you in your writing career/life.

  11. Jim Nelson (aka: liveworkdream)

    April 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    Thanks Alex! We’ll check out the links.

  12. Alex

    April 7, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    @Marcus: “They only lose on one book out of many titles, I lose a lot more.” Exactly! As I said to Anne, a small press might care more and an individual editor might care, but to the large corporation authors are widget-making machines.

    You’re other comment: “- I think what counts is the relationship between writer and readers. The readers decide whether it’s good, nobody else. No critics, publishers, academics. Just readers.” got me thinking about the whole Catholic/Protestant/Quaker distinction. The Catholics would be those who extol agents and publishers, the Protestants small press without an agent, and the Quakers with their unprogrammed worship the direct-line-to-readers indies.

    @Gail: Love the cover. It has a real professional look to it. I hope sales are going well for it.

  13. Kari Marie

    April 8, 2011 at 2:49 am

    This is a very sensible way to look at it. I hope you succeed! I started writing now to give myself something TO DO in retirement. If’ I’m published all the better (I’ve got about 25 years to practice before I CAN retire).

  14. Alex

    April 8, 2011 at 7:00 am

    @Kari: I like your way of thinking as well. Something to do in retirement. And with 25 years to practice, you’ll get there I’m sure!

  15. toby neal

    April 8, 2011 at 9:30 am

    I like your reasoning. I’m giving it the ol’ college try with traditional, but this is my fallback position and I may do some self pub as well, just with things my agent doesn’t want to push.

    • Alex

      April 8, 2011 at 11:02 am

      @Toby: It’s a hugely personal decision and as long as we make informed choices then it’s all great. Good luck!

  16. Jamie D. (@JamieDeBree)

    April 8, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Followed a link here from Twitter…and just wanted to welcome you to the self-pub world. From the sounds of it, you have the perfect personality and sound reasons for going this route, and I dare say you’re going to find it very rewarding, as I have (especially with such realistic expectations).

    If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. 🙂

    • Alex

      April 8, 2011 at 10:22 am

      Thanks Jamie! I will because I’m certain I’m about to find out exactly how much I don’t know. 😉

  17. Marcus

    April 8, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    Have you seen these responses on why some writers want traditional publishing. I was surprised by how many people name “affirmation” as their main reason, must be 30% at least.

    The main thing is you know what you want. I’m just not sure all the facts are widely known both options.

  18. Jill Engledow

    April 8, 2011 at 6:57 pm

    I also am thinking of that passive stream of income as retirement money (though I’m way closer to needing it than you are), and have done both kinds of publishing. My standard advice: There’s no easy way to get a book published, not to mention making money from it.

    I’m wondering if you’re thinking of going with hard copies via POD or ebooks or both. My big project of the moment is a coffee-table type book, with lots of vintage photos of Maui’s mountain, Haleakala. Too expensive for POD, I think, and I don’t know if this sort of thing works on ebooks. Any thoughts on this?

    Beautiful website, BTW!

  19. Alex

    April 9, 2011 at 11:17 am

    @Marcus: a lot of people because writers for that reason – approval from others. I used to think that way as well until I started doing freelance non-fiction writing and had to take my ego out of the equation. Now I see my fiction as a business that makes me supremely happy.

    @Jill: I do plan on doing POD books at some point, but I’m going to ramp up the publishing bit by bit, starting with ebooks and then moving into POD later. As for art-books I haven’t thought much about them from a self-publishing point of view. I think I’d look for a small arthouse publisher in that case as they have the tools to produce this type of book. Glad you like the site.

  20. Jill Engledow

    April 9, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Alex, I think the ebooks is a good idea–half the tourists I see on Maui are carrying Kindles! I’ve done the POD thing with a couple of work-for-hire books I did (old people’s bios), and it does seem to work well with books that aren’t filled with illustrations. I had a friend years ago who somehow lost control of her rights by using the ISBN assigned by the POD publisher, but I don’t think that’s a problem with services like CreateSpace. Something to bear in mind, though, for any newbies in self-publishing–make sure you keep those rights!

    • Alex

      April 9, 2011 at 10:11 pm

      @Jill: I can see once they figure out affordable color ereaders then photobooks will pick up in popularity.


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