While I’m preparing for my annual trip between houses I thought you might enjoy a brief trip through publishing. Today let’s consider independent publishing, or “indie.”
Independent publishing is far from new. According to Publisher’s Weekly independent publishing began in 2000 to 35000 B.C.E. with picture writing on papyrus and clay tablets. But let’s jump ahead to, say, now. In the twentieth century advances like the worldwide web, print-on-demand (printing one book at a time), and even blogs like this one, opened the doors to books that are directly published by authors.
In 2000 Stephen King led the band and published a novel in segments on his website with suggested donations as payment. Techie types then created e-readers, enhanced by the invention of “electronic paper” which looked, on the screen, much like regular paper. E-ink displays made reading on a device much easier.
By 2010 Amazon reported selling more ebooks for ereaders than print books.
Authors paid close attention to the new technology advances. Many novelists had tired of publishing house shenanigans: advice they didn’t want to hear; covers they didn’t like; modest distribution and royalty payments. No matter how hard the authors tried, some books never fit a publisher’s established guidelines, so their books had never gone to print. The authors still believed there was an audience for what they wrote, perhaps not as large as a publisher required, but one that was large enough to support their efforts.
Author Harry Bingham addresses this in an insightful guest blog at JaneFriedman.com. Despite what we’re led to believe, publishers are making more money now than ever before. Still, the author’s journey is fraught with barriers, even minefields. No matter how good novels are, no matter how well-received by critics, bad decisions from a publisher along with high prices for each book can sink a Big Five career. Luckily by publishing independently, a promising career can be resurrected.
Suddenly authors were interested in doing things their way, and independent publishing took off.
Authors began to assemble everything they needed. Companies like Smashwords gave them tools for publishing, and advice was everywhere. And what does an indie author need? First a good book–or perhaps just a book, because no one is judging quality at that point. Then an attractive cover, hopefully designed by a professional. Then the program or guidelines needed to format a book correctly so the author can put it online at any of the bookstores they choose to pursue. Finally a marketing strategy so that the book doesn’t sink into oblivion.
Not all authors choose independent publishing exclusively. Many–like me–are “hybrid authors” who publish both traditionally and independently, hedging their bets. At this point, busy with my traditionally published novels, I’ve only published portions of my backlist. The word “backlist” refers to books that were originally published by my traditional publisher but are now mine to publish digitally. With the help of my talented daughter-in-law I create new covers and edit them to bring them into present day.
So it’s simple, right?
Let’s not pretend this is easy. To be a successful indie, an author has to write a book readers will want to read. While nobody judges whether a book can be published online, readers judge whether to buy it. An author must professionally present and market every book. To make certain this happens, indie authors may use a variety of assistants, and some successful authors employ full-time staff.
But if the work involved is the downside–and many authors love doing it–the upside is that instead of 6-10% royalties on each book, the author collects over 60%. She can set her own price and make an impact on how many books sell by doing careful and creative marketing. Suddenly the author determines the success of a book, not a publishing house.
So what about print? I mean it’s not a book unless you can hold a stack of paper in your hands, right?
While indie-pubbed books are almost always available as digital downloads, a growing number are available as print copies, too. Print-on-demand companies like Lightning Source and CreateSpace have changed the scenery, but for now, many if not most indie books are exclusively marketed as ebooks.
Do you, as a reader, pay attention to the way the book you’re reading was published? Are you grateful or even mystified that books in a genre that almost disappeared from the market are back again? Indie-pubbed books are often cheaper because the author receives bigger royalties and can afford to discount. Are you happy to try an new author because doing so is not a huge investment?
Of course there are pros and cons. Would I write a blog without them?
Indie-pubbed books may not always be as professionally produced or edited as their traditional brothers and sisters. But because readers are less likely to continue to purchase substandard books from substandard authors, either the author shapes up quickly or his/her career fails quickly. Tools like Amazon’s “Look Inside” or BookBub’s daily newsletter with free or inexpensive books to try, help readers judge a book or author before purchase.
In traditional publishing, skilled editors determine which books to present to readers. In indie publishing, skilled readers determine which books they want to buy from a wider variety of possibilities. I bet, like me, you see the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Next week we’ll talk about different kinds of authors and who determines what they write. I’ll answer questions I’ve received about the ways a novel goes into print. Meantime, don’t forget to ask your own on my Facebook Author Page or here in comments.