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?

What is “Good Enough”?

just got back from the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) conference in Dallas. This is an annual event and is the largest gathering of Christian fiction writers anywhere. Close to seven hundred (that’s right– a reverse 007!) writers attended. I know because my good friend’s name ends with a Zw, and she was 688/688.

Amazing.

While there, I attended a talk given by a MAJOR Christian publisher about a relatively large survey they did on Christian fiction readers. Don’t quote me, but the survey included over 200,000 participants and focus groups were conducted in three large cities. Just to say a lot of people participated–not just me and Grandpa Joe.

Since many of you may be salivating over some of those results, I’ll share a few here. The largest categories selling are: #1 Amish (shouldn’t be a surprise, just look at any CBD catalog and they are leading by 5-10 pages), #2 Mystery/Suspense/Thriller (my eyes glazed over with excitement right here!) ,and #3 Historical Romance. The romance categories were split among three genres: Contemporary Romance, Historical Romance, and Romantic Suspense so if all three were lumped together, the romance category may have had a higher overall percentage.

They asked “what would you like to see more of in Christian Fiction?” and the intriguing answer there was gritty is okay. Not everything needs to be wrapped up in a pretty bow at the end. Dangling questions are okay.

What surprised me was when one of the presenters said, “Should we move away from highly curated content to just good enough content?”

To be honest that floored me–in a bad way.

What is the purpose of a traditional publishing house? Some say they are gatekeepers. I like to view them more as museum curators. What is the benefit of having a museum curator? It’s so that my seven-year-old’s finger art isn’t next to Rembrandt. That when you pay your money, in the form of a museum ticket or as a book on the shelf, you know someone somewhere who gets exposed to LOTS of art and books picked the very best ones. And you’ll be getting your money’s worth.

Are there some self-published authors who are putting out high quality novels? Yes, absolutely. Are they the majority? No. If we are honest, they are not.

Can you buy a horrible, traditionally published novel? Yes, but it should be edited to near perfection. That’s the other part you pay for.

Proof, my debut medical thriller, went through four rounds of edits. Are there typos–yes. But I can guarantee there are fewer in the whole novel than in the first chapter of a few self-published novels I’ve started to read.

What disturbs me is when a curator/publisher says perhaps we don’t need as many editing runs. Perhaps “good enough” is okay for the masses. They won’t notice the difference anyway. Those are my words–not hers.

But isn’t that the implication? There are so many “so-so” things out there that we really don’t need to be consumed with quality anymore?

To me the quality of the editing is the one thing differentiating traditional and self-published books in many cases. So, if that’s gone, the strive to put the best product out there–what will be the difference then?

Will traditional publishers actually place the last nail in their own coffin if they adopt such an attitude?

What do you think? If you’re published, do you think there are too many editing rounds? Would fewer be better? How should traditional publishers continue to offer value in ways other than editing?

Another Brick in the Publishing Wall

Inevitably, whenever I read an article about the publishing business lately, Amazon’s name crops up—often to highlight how they’ve become the big, bad wolf trying to blow down the publishers and booksellers with a huff and a puff of discount prices, a far-reaching distribution channel, and the ability to sell direct to consumers. Much heft, in particular, has been placed on pricing as the lynchpin that could make traditional publishers and bookstores obsolete. No doubt (and for good reason) they fret over this more than the average reader, and time will tell if price and reach are the mortar holding it all together. Meanwhile I’d like to explore another factor influencing why and from where customers buy because I don’t believe it’s all about price, and I don’t believe it’s all about marketing and promotion, either. What about convenience? Selection? Fulfillment? What about how well the seller delivers on the overall customer experience at every touch-point and every interaction?

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Yes, I admit I’m a bit of a harpy about the ‘customer experience’ (call it a hazard of my day job), but it’s the one thing that keeps me coming back again, even if I can get something cheaper elsewhere, and when not done right, it’s the one thing that drives me away faster than I can pluck a hair from my chinny-chin-chin. Why do you think people who buy only from certain bookstores do that? Nostalgia for traditional publishing or because the experience and interactions they have in those places make them feel good? I’m guessing it’s the latter.

And do you think people who buy mainly from Amazon do that solely for the price, or might it have something to do with Amazon’s wide selection, easy to use website, quality packaging, fast (often free) shipping, easy returns, overall solid reputation, and available, empowered customer service? It just might. I’ve been buying everything from books, games, and gifts to guitars, clothing, and Cuisinarts through Amazon since 2004. Every time, they’ve worked hard to build my loyalty by delivering a consistently extraordinary customer experience.

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When I think about my experiences with other sellers, they’ve been average or infrequent. With publishers (traditional and electronic), it’s a mixed bag. As a consumer, I don’t have many. As a writer, I’ve mostly been rejected or ignored. I realize this is par for the course in the publishing industry, and I don’t doubt I deserved the rejection at the time, but being ignored is memorable. I’m expected to provide thoughtful responses to hundreds of emails a day (and, no, email isn’t central to my day job), so it chafes a little when publishers say they don’t have the time to respond at all, ever. These may be ego-bruising realities for a writer, but as consumers who buy a lot of books (and the occasional Cuisinart, for that matter), engaging us only when it’s self-serving isn’t the way to build a positive, lasting relationship.

On the flip side, Amazon isn’t perfect.  I hear some Indie authors say they’re unhappy with Amazon’s KDP Select customer service, and they feel ignored or unappreciated. Amazon may, in fact, be wading into dangerous territory if they don’t figure out how to deliver the same service excellence to indie writers as they do elsewhere. But given the overwhelming number of positive experiences I’ve had with Amazon, I might be willing to forgive the first lapse or two.

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If publishers and booksellers intend to compete profitably in a world where customers are ever-evolving in their expectations and where the likes of Amazon exist, they have their work cut out to deliver the kind of experience that builds loyalty (read: profitable behavior). There is no silver bullet. It takes time to build a reputation. Amazon isn’t the only threat to houses of sticks and straw. There’s a hurricane of savvy customers brewing.

What about you? Have you ever decided to purchase from somewhere (or not) solely based on an excellent or poor experience?

Disclosure: I have two contemporary romances published with Avalon Books, which was recently acquired by Amazon Publishing. I had drafted this blog post before I was aware of the acquisition, and it in no way impacted my depiction of Amazon here.