When is it Good to Indie Publish?

When I first began going to writers conferences around 2003, vanity publishing (where you pay someone to produce your book) was considered only a dire writer’s avenue to get his poorly written manuscript to the public. These novels were not given any credit by publishing gatekeepers (such as editors, agents and book reviewers.)

PublishVanity publishing morphed into several forms to what is now the indie industry. There are still vanity publishers who will take your money and produce your book. However, indie publishing is where the author becomes publisher– hiring freelance people for all facets of book production but they remain in control of their product.

Over a decade later and the attitude surrounding indie publishing has changed a lot. Though some still hold the above attitude, it is diminishing, and self-publishing is no longer considered the last nail in a writer-wanting-to-be-an-author coffin.

A few years ago, I attended a talk given by well respected literary agent Rachelle Gardner, a self-published author herself whose book highlights traditional vs self-publishing. She gave a talk touting some of the benefits of pursuing self-publishing and in some instances considered it a bonus to an author’s career.

What?!? Yes, that screeching sound was both my feet hitting the brake pedal.

The dizzying pace of these changing attitudes in publishing can leave an author scratching his/her head.

Personally, I’ve seen several close friends pursue indie publishing and have moderate success. By this I mean they earned back the money they invested in preparing the manuscript (for editing, the book cover and interior design) and perhaps have earned a couple of thousand dollars. A smaller minority had great success and went on to further get traditional publishing contracts.

What I’ve determined is that there is a good time and place to consider indie publishing as an author, and here are some of those situations to consider.

1. You have a polished manuscript but it can’t find a home with a publisher. First, I want to qualify what I mean by a polished manuscript. This is much, much more than finishing a rough draft that your mother and friends slobber over. They’re not good book critics because they love you and don’t want to hurt your feelings. It means that it’s been professionally edited, at least twenty people outside of family (and are familiar with books, genre, and good writing) love it, and maybe your agent even shopped it around but it couldn’t find a home. An even better indicator of this caliber of manuscript is that it has finaled in a well-respected writing contest like the Genesis Contest sponsored by ACFW. It takes six to ten years to learn the writing craft and a couple of written books under your belt to fit this definition.

2. There will be a delay in books releasing between your traditional publishing contracts. What I’ve heard and read is that it also takes six to ten years to build a readership. During that time frame, it’s wise to have a book releasing no longer than once a year. Some authors do more—some do less but you want a predictable stream of novels to keep readers’ interest piqued.

3. You are a control freak. Creatives like control over their product. Publishing is not that way. It is a collaborative effort so some of what you love about your creation is going to change. Some people enjoy all aspects of the book publishing process and want to have final say over every aspect—going strictly with their vision. Self-publishing is the best venue for the author to maintain total control. You also have to front all the cost and carry the entire burden as well for marketing and distribution.

4. You want to maintain your rights. When you sign a traditional publishing contract, your book is no longer really yours—in a sense. The publisher owns it in certain formats (maybe even all formats) and most often times will have clauses in your contract on other avenues they have the option to pursue—like hard cover large print rights. Some authors don’t want to give this up but then, as in the above, you’ll also be the one to try and negotiate selling the rights in different formats if you choose.

5. You want to write in other genres. Most often, an agent and traditional publisher are going to encourage you to stick with one genre but few authors I know really want to do that for their entire writing career. These might be good novels to self-publish under a pen name. Even this attitude is changing as well. Many authors I know are writing in multiple genres using the same name and don’t seem to be suffering for it.

6. You want to build volume more quickly to increase income. The flip side of building a readership is how much material you have to offer. When my first novel released, if the reader loved it, there was nothing else for them to read. Now, if they love any one of my books—they have at least two others to choose from. The more books you have, the more options a reader will have to choose and buy another book of yours to read—thus increasing your potential earning income.

What do you think? Have you indie published? Did you consider a success? Would you do it again?

This blog post first appeared at Novel Rocket. Hope you’ll check their blog out!

My Indie Story (And Why I still *Heart* My Agent)

myindiestoryThere are a gazillion reasons why authors choose to go the “indie” route. (Wanting to use the word gazillion to the chagrin of every publisher out there might be one of them…. :-))

They want more control over covers and editing, more share of the profit, quicker publication. They may be tired of waiting and/or writing in a niche market that isn’t served by traditional publishers… the reasons are as wide and varied as the genres they write in.

I thought I’d share my story and my motivations, and why I still want, value, and love my agent.

IMG_5199My story is a complicated one. When I signed with my first agent and got that coveted first publishing contract, I was in the throes of a personal trial that was, to say the very least, difficult. My fourth daughter was born in 2010 with half of a heart and spent her first 308 days in the hospital.

About three weeks after she came home from the hospital, on oxygen and twenty different medications, and after four open heart surgeries including a heart transplant, an editor offered me a contract. I was also offered representation by an agent, all in the same week.

On one hand, I was ecstatic. This was my dream come true. And considering I’d given up my pay-the-bills day job to take care of my daughter, it felt like amazing timing.

What I didn’t factor in was a fun case of stress induced depression, ongoing medical issues with my daughter (including one very scary helicopter ride which included CPR… Boo!) and the immense stress of editing on a deadline and trying to market a book–all the while dealing with those deeply difficult, personal trials.

SandwichOnce my book came out, I kinda collapsed. I was exhausted and needed a timeout. I took the next year to recharge and focus on my family. Writing was almost laughable during that time.

When I finally emerged during the fall of 2013 and felt God nudging me to write again, I was met with a few stark and depressing realities regarding my writing career.

1.) Releasing a novel without a follow-up anytime soon does not make for grand sales history.

2.) Trying to market a book well during such a difficult time also doesn’t breed super quality sales either. While my book didn’t totally bomb, it fell much below my expectations, which probably didn’t help my depression either!

3.) Even if I polished up my finished manuscript and had my agent immediately submit it, due to publishing schedules, it’d probably be at least two years or more before it would actually be published, thus making a span of close to three years between book releases. The business side of me knows that isn’t ideal for marketing purposes.

So what to do?Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00095]

I needed a book release sooner than later, and a way to build back up the platform I lost during my mental-health break. I looked at all those indie authors and wrinkled my nose. No. I’m a writer, not a publisher. That is not what I want at all.

But the more I rejected the idea, the more God pushed me toward it. Then ideas started flowing… what if I did some followups to the first book? Maybe some novellas, then finish out the series with a full-length?

The thought blossomed over a few months. God gave me some fun ideas for books and titles and put some amazing indie-authors in my path to teach me the ropes. I am forever thankful to them!

And you know what?

I don’t regret it for a moment. My sales haven’t been astronomical. My “grand plan” is to release three novellas then a final “full length” to wrap up the series, while my fabulous agent works her magic with a new series.

I’m using the three novellas as trial books, trying different marketing strategies on each to see what works, what doesn’t, and what I can do better. The first book, A Side of Faith, came out in August, 2014, and the second, A Side of Hope, came out March of this year.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00095]A Side of Love will release later this year, and the full length, The Greatest is Love, will release in 2016.

It’s been a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I’d originally dreaded every single step in the process, but the idea of being a hybrid author is intriguing.

At this point, I don’t see myself going “full” indie. I LOVE my agent (waving to Sarah) and LOVE working on a team with a publisher. I know this idea isn’t embraced by all indies, and that’s super okay. What is good for one is not for another.

But this is my Indie story, and I’m very thankful I followed God’s leading and stepped out of my comfort zone. In the end, my hope and prayer is that my indie books and my traditional books can work hand-in-hand to help each other.

What about you? Have you ever thought of indie publishing? Why or why not? While I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m happy to answer what questions I can!

Should Indie Publishing Be For You?

stack-letters-447578_640The average writer is no longer required to only do one form of publishing these days. When I started to investigate the literary world ten years ago, publishing houses just a few years before had started taking queries exclusively from agents and to publish your book without a publishing house was a frowned-upon shortcut for those who didn’t want to do the work on their book to make it publishable. Getting an agent to represent you was difficult as there were only a handful in the industry, but publishing houses wouldn’t look at your work without an agent and agents wanted you to come to them with a contract in hand.

Now, there are more agents than editors—all of them with projects they want to pitch to the handful of remaining houses, hoping their well-known or debut author will strike the fancy of the over-worked editor on the other side of the desk.

In consequence, agents are finding it increasingly difficult to land their talented authors and those that are landed are getting smaller deals or having to settle (which isn’t always settling depending on the author’s attitude) for a smaller house.

Publishing is far from what it used to be. Even as a reader, you can’t help noticing this fact.

So where does this leave the writer who is struggling to get picked up, is consistently being told that their product is good and has interest, but no publishing house is up for actually buying it? Are you settling to indie publish or are you giving yourself a leg up in a vastly changing industry?

First: It depends on the type of writer you are. Are you a go-getter? Are you fascinated by the publishing process and like having the control in your hands over the cover design, interior layout, editorial, content, price and release dates, just to name a few? Then indie publishing could quite possibly be for you.

Second: Indie publishing should not be your choice just because you haven’t been able to sell in a larger market. While it is often the #1 reason writers investigate this avenue, it shouldn’t be your only reason. Why? Because in our impatience to have a book published, oftentimes we can overlook the major flaws that have caused us to be rejected.  Which leads to my third point.

Third: Find out why you’ve been rejected as best you can. Is it because the publisher doesn’t think your topic will sell right now or is it a structure/voice/grammar/ability to write issues? To succeed at indie publishing, you’re still going to have to do the work, which means you better have a darn good product to release. Readers aren’t going to care if you’re publishing with a Big Five house or your own press; you write a poor story, that baby ain’t going anywhere.

Fourth: Be prepared to do the work. There aren’t any shortcuts about this: indie publishing is hard work. But then again, so is traditional publishing. There should be much wisdom taken into the decision to self-publish. If this is for you, I absolutely encourage you to get out there and get it done and I’ll be the first in line to buy your well-done product.

Self-publishing is all about the research. Research is King in this industry and knowing what you’re getting into beforehand, as best you can, is definitely Queen. Do your homework, ask those who have gone before you and succeeded and failed. On both sides of the fence. In doing this, you’ll be best prepared to make the right publishing decision for you.

Question: would you ever indie publish your books? What do you see are the pros and cons? And if you are a published indie author, what do you love or hate about the process?

ACFW 2014 Wrap-Up

Speaker at Business Conference and Presentation.Fall brings not only great weather (autumn is my favorite season!) but also several big-name writers conferences. The American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) gather every September to celebrate great inspirational fiction (in the culmination of the Carol Awards) but also to inspire and teach the craft of fiction writing.

Here are a few of the things I took away . . .

1. Indie is IN! It used to be the scourge of writing to even breathe that you might publish your own book either through a vanity press (paying a company to process your book) or indie publishing (or self-publishing) where you become your own publisher and own all aspects of book production while fronting the costs yourself. This can take several forms. Established authors indie publishing their backlist once rights revert back to them. Traditional authors using indie publishing to supplement their income. I even heard one indie author say her traditional publishing contracts offer her a “bonus” but she mostly depends on her indie books to meet living expenses. Then there are those going solely indie because they enjoy the process, the control, and/or may be using it to catch the eye of a traditional publisher if they can hit a certain number of sales. The only cautionary note was, if you have a traditional contract, to ensure that your publisher is okay with the content of the indie book and that release dates don’t compete.

2. Effective marketing campaigns may not be realized until later. Last year, my third novel Peril was a newborn. To ACFW, I brought full-size Hershey bars with a sticker attached to each one that had photos of all my books together and a link to my newsletter. I definitely got some additional newsletter subscribers but this year, several people commented to me about those chocolate bars. I think a good marketing campaign is something memorable that lasts long after the item is gone. Trust me, bookmarks get lost in a sea of other bookmarks and postcards. Take the time and maybe spend a little extra money for something unique. Honestly, this year, there weren’t a lot of interesting giveaways.

3. Networking is important. Even if you’re not pitching, you need a network of other writing peeps to help keep you sane. They understand that it’s normal to talk out loud while arguing with a character. They’ll help you in the writing valleys and celebrate those writing highs. Always go into a conversation open to the possibilities of new friendships. Sit with people you’ve never met before. Introduce yourself to those of the other gender (men might feel a little lost in a sea of mostly women they don’t know!). Make face-to-face contact with an editor who rejected you and say a sincere thanks for any feedback they offered.

4. Professionalism is key. Everything you put out there speaks about you as a writing professional. It’s probably not too far-fetched to say that you’re in one long job interview. The way you dress. The way you treat others waiting for appointments. Are you on time for your appointment? If you yell at an appointment coordinator over some perceived slight, it’s not going to come back to you in a positive way. When you submit your work for a paid critique, format it correctly with no typos. Always be helpful to someone else first; this reaps large rewards in the end.

What have you learned recently from a writers conference?

A View From the Assistant’s Desk

alphabet-15461_640Working for a highly respected literary agency is not quite all it’s expected to be.

Some things I wasn’t fully expecting:

It’s a lot of emails. A lot.

It’s a lot of report filing.

Spreadsheet documents and, oh, spreadsheet documentation.

I am far from bored since I started working for Wordserve Literary and frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way!

So what do I see from my small desk in the publishing world?

  • Self-help books are really in. True, our agency has a felt-need and a niche in this market to pitch to the nonfiction sector, but it still surprises me how many marriage, parenting, general life/encouragement/devotional books continue to come through our office doors.
  • Book deals really aren’t that awesome. While this didn’t surprise me, as a writer myself, I’ve always wanted to know what dollar amount writers were forever bemoaning. Makes me that much more grateful for the novels I consume on a regular basis and the authors who continue to write them.
  • Social media is huge. Something I already knew, but a platform is so incredibly vital to a writer. It’s the main reason Greg Johnson started FaithHappenings.com. Writers with a great story and no platform are getting passed right on by without that audience to market to.
  • Self-publishing is becoming more and more the norm. Writers who can’t get a deal for their great new book, or who don’t want to wait a year or longer for readers to have their next content, are pushing the “send now” button into the great wide world of indie publishing. It’s not the same as it used to be years ago. Indie is becoming a good opportunity to take advantage of with new cover options, quality printing companies, and more opportunities out there to publish a good product. Self-publishing is walking away, though slowly, from the stigma of poor quality material.

Publishing is a swiftly changing monster. But I don’t need to tell you this. Even if you are not published, the reality is that you can’t be a book lover and not notice that things are always changing. Publishers are trying to find new ways to get their books to capture your attention—and are buying less content. Authors are pounding the pavement harder. Literary agents are pitching the right book to the right house and still hearing no, for seemingly no reason other than “it’s not the right fit for our house.”

Does that make publishing a discouraging business to be in? Well, maybe, if you only look at the negatives of the business. But with changes come opportunities to rise to the occasion and come out on top with a great idea. A great book. The opportunity to impact lives with your words on the page. Because whether publishers are buying or not, a great book is still a great book. And passion for story can’t quell that. Ever.

The gift of a literary agency is the team behind you, believing in your product. It’s not just you. It never has to be just you. So even when the wait seems long and the emails slow in coming, we are behind you. Fighting for this book.

Keep on writing.