Pros and cons of indie publishing

Part 5: what should you know about indie publishing before you decide to become an indie publisher?
If you want to be an indie publisher, prepare to fill a myriad of roles other than that of ‘writer’. Successful publishers, indie or otherwise, state again and again that it’s not the sort of game you want to get into unless you have: (1) buckets of time and a determination to learn what is effectively a new career; (2) an eye for detail bordering on the obsessive, combined with an ability to understand the ‘big picture’ dynamics of an industry, and; (3) a real belief that an understanding of publishing can only inform and improve your own writing.

Kali: the original multitasker     (source)

This is in addition to the qualities of a successful writer: persistence, stoicism and continual production. Disclaimer: I’m underqualified to be discussing this, but I do understand that there is much more work involved in indie publishing than just coding the second draft of a manuscript and slapping it up on Amazon.

Let’s indulge in a little roleplaying

Previously, a writer was responsible for:
1. planning
2. writing
3. redrafting and
4. submitting
a manuscript.
If you choose the ebook indie publishing route, you will also be responsible for:
5. structural editing
6. copy editing
7. proofreading
8. coding
9. compiling the front and back matter
10. designing or commissioning the artwork
11. handling publishing conventions (ISBN, CiP, Bowker listings, etc.) and
12. distributing
the manuscript.
(Side note: consider how hard it is for an author to make meaningful structural changes to their own manuscript. Structural editors approach a book objectively and ask: what do we have to change to make this story better? They don’t just murder darlings – they gun them down in waves. It is a wretchedly difficult thing to do to your own writing, because you are too close to the story and almost certain to be subconsciously excusing its weaknesses in the same way that some parents ignore the atrocious behaviour of their children.)
More than that, you’ll be in charge of all the marketing as well:
13. writing marketing copy
14. maintaining an author website (as well as domain registration and hosting)
15. writing blog posts tied into that website
16. arranging interviews, reviews and other standard publicity and
17. managing social media (Facebook and Twitter at least, and probably Tumblr, Google+ and linkbaited blog comments as well).
As well as the other concerns handled by traditional publishing:
18. financial and taxation
19. legal and
20. data analysis
There will undoubtedly be publishing functions I have missed. In addition, you have to get most of it right the first time. You simply can’t constantly upload new versions of a book because you need to ‘fix things’, or because your new understanding of publishing renders what you have done previously as substandard.
So, the process of indie publishing benefits from a person who has a bit of a fetish for detail and research. Happily, I suspect that this includes many writers who approach their craft with intent.

Points to consider

Marion Gropen recently made some salient points on a publishing blog comment for the would-be indie publisher to ponder: “It’s also a tremendous time-saving for the writer to have someone else do the dirty work of running their publishing company. Most writers would rather be writing or selling their book than doing accounting, customer service or maintaining their website’s shopping cart, etc.
“You can off-load some of that on a ‘Pay-to-Play’ publisher, which is sometimes lumped in with self-publishing, but all of those options come with substantial snags, that make it much, much harder for your book to be successful.
“I work with a lot of self-publishers as well as with small and micro-publishers. I don’t recommend this as a path unless you like the business of publishing books, and are considering founding a new press. Frankly, this is a lot of fun, as businesses go, and many people do get hooked. It’s addictive. But if you hate running a company, including all of the accounting and infrastructure, then either you’ll hate being self-published or you won’t do as well by yourself and your book as you would have done with a traditional publisher.”

And reconsider

Trey Ratcliffe and David Vinjamuri cover an interesting aside to the question of the roles that traditionally published writers assume. First time authors are often shocked when they realise that their publishers rely on them to do most, if not all, of the marketing and public relations work for their novels. It makes sense, though. If you were a publisher in an industry of contracting margins, who would you spend the marketing dollars on: internationally recognised stars with the power to sell hundreds of thousands of books, or a neophyte who may only sell thousands at best?

Proceed to Part 6: ‘Show me the money (that you’ll spend on indie publishing)’, or return to the article index.
Return to Re: writing
While I’ve endeavoured to provide you with accurate information, what is considered ‘accurate’ will change over time. If I’m wrong, or you’d like to ask a question or share your thoughts, I’d love to hear your take on things.

Rhys About Rhys

Teacher, writer, editor, cook: a bit like that nursery rhyme, really.
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