Why not aim for traditional publishing? It seems unbelievable that I haven’t talked about this here, but my sensible searching isn’t bringing up “publishing” or the right thing under “independent,” so it must be that I haven’t addressed my election towards the independent side of publishing vs. the traditional. I came up in the environment where finding oneself an agent was the end-all-be-all of aspirations. To then go from agent to selling your book to a publisher was like getting to the top of Mount Everest for those who can tolerate the cold and oxygen deprivation. There was no higher achievement. So I fully understand the mythology around having an agent and a publisher. I also get the skepticism at my choice to go the independent route instead of pursuing more traditional forms of publishing. There are a handful of reasons why I let go of that particular set of myths. No single one of them was enough to get me over the ego involved in being able to say I have an agent and/or a publisher, but taken together…
I have to have permission for everything I want to accomplish in my real life. A supervisors approval, their supervisors approval, and then a package on someone’s desk who amends stuff in a way that doesn’t make sense and passes back the changed product for implementation. Assuming you can ever get approval. For this, my passion and my baby, I started asking what I could accomplish that didn’t require anyone else’s permission. Well, I could write the thing. I could send it to early readers for feedback. I could edit and re-write and get more feedback. Doing the thing that didn’t require permission became a habit, at least when it comes to the writing. It didn’t make sense to suddenly start asking for permission when the story was finally done.
The world of writing and reading has changed. We are awash in content. Words are everywhere – anyone with a computer has a global platform, and it is all free. It used to be that the publishers could set themselves up as the arbiters of good taste. If a publisher picked a book, the readership could be fairly certain that the book was of quality. Now they choose to publish Paris Hilton and Snookie. If nothing else, that should tell you that the publishing industry isn’t interested in what’s good, they are interested in what they can sell. Which is fair. But if you want to be published, they pretty much want a sure thing. Convincing a publisher that your book can sell without a name or any particular connections or an established readership is damn near impossible. How do you get a readership? You find a way to get to your readers independently. And if you’re going to take on that challenge, why not just stick with it? I’d rather convince an audience one by one that this is a story worth reading than convince an editor that this is a story worth selling.
The average book sells less than 2,000 copies. If you go through a publishing company, they are no longer providing the marketing for your book – all of that is on you. And for this, you give up 85% of the price of your book. The rest of it gets split between the bookstore (no problem there), Manhattan real estate and overhead, editors, accountants, marketing people, CEOs, and so on. Most of whom aren’t lifting a finger in the promotion of your book. Nor should they be expected to. However, there isn’t much incentive for me to spend years begging a publisher for the privilege of being published, taking on all of my own marketing, all for the expected sales of less than 2,000 copies of the book knowing I’m only getting $0.15 for every dollar.
Through the independent route, I get to pick the people I trust to kick my backside and make sure I’m delivering. The team I’ve got keeping me honest is amazing. Seriously. I wouldn’t be here without them. There’s no way I’d give them up for a team of people hand selected by someone else.
A couple of years ago, I attended a series of writing workshops. Over a couple of days, I heard from 10 panelists, all writers, all living off of the sales of their books. Of those 10, only one was convinced that traditional publishing was the way to go. Everyone else said to find your audience independently and make of it what you can. I believed them.
So that is why I chose to go the independent route. It is a lot of work this way. Every question, every technical issue you have to find an answer to yourself, or you have to have friends that will tolerate your begging when you can’t get a file to transfer from one format to the other on your own. You’ve got to be writer, technician, social media expert, typesetter… plus, the world is full of people who want to sell you the hope of success along the way, if only you give them a chunk of change in exchange for edits, or introductions, or assessments… I have an awesome publicist, but no one found her for me. No one else is picking up her tab. I hired her because I recognized that I can’t succeed at a day job, writing the next book, troubleshooting website problems, and getting the book in front of readers. There are limits. The reward is that I don’t have to sit around and wait for someone’s approval to do move forward with a story that matters to me. I think it could matter to someone else too, so here I am. Independent publishing, it should be noted, is a misnomer. I’ve called out my team before, so I won’t do it again. But this isn’t just me, renegade writer, with a pen and a story. There is an unwitting plot consultant hanging around that gets drafted in to helping me think through issues that are making my head hurt. There is a life coach that calls me up and bitches at me for not finishing book two yet. There is an editor that I couldn’t possibly live without. There is a publicist that keeps me out of trouble. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’m not that special. My team, however, is unparalleled. I am completely dependent on them. Which I’m okay with.