This is the second in a series of posts centered on the challenges faced by indie authors as we try to compete in the vast ocean of competitors/cohorts that is filled with sharks and other predators. Here are more that I’ve come up with to get you thinking and to foster a discussion:
The Stigma of Self-Publishing
I refrain from calling what we do self-publishing. I am an independent author. My publisher is Amazon. Instead of having services provided to me by a traditional publisher, I outsource them to providers that fit within my budget and style.
I recall trying to join a local author group and being refused because I was “one of those self-publishers”. Truth be told, I had essentially published more books than the total of all of the authors in the group. Many of them were waiting for some big publisher to say yes. Of those that had been “fortunate” enough to land a publishing deal, my sales were much higher then any of them. The reviews I’ve received for my books were also very positive.
Yet, despite my “writing resume”, I was snobbishly turned away for being an indie.
So, what is the root cause of this stigma? Books published by indie authors range in quality from poorly constructed pamphlets and short books to masterpieces that stand together with any traditionally published author. The differentiation, besides stories that appeal to the masses, is often the quality of the work.
You’ve seen me repeatedly post on the benefit of having an editor, quality book cover, good formatting and other items that improve the overall professionalism of indie author books. These things are not free. If your book is traditionally published, you might think these services are fee, but they are not. They are deducted from the profit you might otherwise realize on your book. The results of these services are also usually beyond the total control of the author. In the indie publishing world, you control everything. This is one of the best and worst aspects of being an indie.
It’s Cheaper, Right? Right?
If you landed on self-publishing thinking you can save money by editing yourself, creating your own book cover, and recording your own audiobook, well, you can.
You just might not sell many books (see the previous section on the stigma). You could be an English major with an impeccable understanding of every nuance of grammar and punctuation. You’ll probably make a great editor…of someone else’s books. There is scientific proof that when you read through something that you wrote, your brain will subconsciously skip over errors that are blatantly obvious to someone else looking it over.
A second set of eyes (and maybe a third, fourth and fifth) is an essential part of producing an independent work. Don’t trust yourself to edit. You will miss something.
If you insist, however, (I can see some of you rolling your eyes) put the manuscript aside for a couple of months without looking at it. When you read it, it will seem fresh to you and you may (emphasis on may) find the majority of your mistakes.
As for your cover, unless you are adept with programs like Adobe Photoshop and/or Illustrator, I would leave this to an outsourced expert. You can find experts in graphic design lining up to create an excellent cover for you on services like fiverr.com, experteer.com and freelancer.com. I’ve had good luck with these services. I’m especially proud of the latest cover for my book, Extra Innings. The cover designer hit my vision dead on.
If you create your cover on your own using the KDP tool from Amazon or your own software, be prepared to have your book skipped over. I’ve been able to have a great quality cover designed for under $50 for my books.
Am I good enough to be published?
My initial answer to this is, who cares. Are people reading your books? Are you getting reviews and useful feedback? Do you feel good about what you produce?
If you can answer ‘Yes’ to these questions, then I invite you to say ‘who cares’. The myth that only published authors are successful depends on how you measure success. If you made more than you spent, you are ahead of the game. Sure, traditionally published authors get advances (sometimes). Those advances, however, are not very large for most authors and aren’t earned until enough books sell to cover them. After the advance is covered, authors typically make 10-15% of the book’s cover price in royalties. If you sell a $20 book, you make $2-3. I’m no genius, but if I sell a $20 book on Amazon as an indie publisher, I make $14.
You might counter with, “I’m not going to sell that many books on Amazon as an indie published author.” Well, with that attitude, your not. Is there a magic formula for selling a million books. Not really, but it has happened for indie published authors.
Have you ever heard of Hugh Howie, Andy Weir or Mark Dawson. They are just three example of indie authors that have hit it big, really big. They are also some of the most generous in terms of passing along tactics that worked in their own success. Mark even has a podcast designed to help indie authors and a series of courses on marketing that are intricate and extremely useful.
The chance of success is out there for indie authors. You have to be in the right situation at the right time with the right book…pretty much like traditional publishing…except the potential rewards are much higher.
I hope this post generates some discussion. Share what’s worked and what hasn’t worked for you. If any of you have done both the traditional and indie routes, I’d love to hear your stories.