Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Indie Publishing: Ready or Not?

From My Cover Art

The people who are really serious about Indie Publication have taken a step away from the term self-publish because, quite honestly, there are still far too many people who leap into the fray without a clue about what they're doing.  I see it happen all the time.

Stop. Don't do that.  You're not ready.

There are a number of things to think about here.  Okay, let's say you've worked on your novel for most of your adult life.  You've tended it, written and re-written, and worked until you finally think it's ready for publication.  What should you do?

If you have always imagined your book on the shelf at the bookstores, don't throw that dream away by shoving it off into self-publication because it's easier.  Easier is not a good answer.  Whatever you do, don't leap in because you can't bear the thought of someone editing your work, or -- worse still -- the mere thought of someone rejecting your book leaves you in tears.

What are you going to do when people write to tell you that you wasted their time and your book should never have seen publication?  And they will, because there are people out there who delight in telling others how they failed.  It makes them feel important when the truth is that they were likely never the intended audience anyway.  They won't consider that possibility.  They're there to make sure you know you are not worthy.

And what will you do then?  How will you handle it if the idea of an editor saying 'no, not for us' was the worst thing you could imagine happening?  If that's going to bother you then you are beyond a doubt, not ready for Indie Publishing.

What will you do when these words don't arrive in a private email, like many do -- but rather as a review on a page where you know hundreds of people are going to read it? What are you going to do when the review points out some obvious problems that you never saw?  That's bound to happen when you self-publish, especially if you never take the time to have the work critiqued or edited by an outside person.  Even then, there are going to be problems.  No book is perfect.

How are you going to deal with those problems when you couldn't handle the ide an editor deciding the book wasn't right for his company?

Years ago, I belonged to the online group Critters.  One woman who wrote pretty good stories that needed only minor editing and a little tweak here and there.  However, every time she got a critique that said anything like 'your characters aren't realistic' or 'you should have done this instead of that' in the story, she would rewrite to cover the negative critiques.  Even the stupid ones.  In doing so, she often changed things that worked wonderfully for the rest of the readers.

I finally asked why she ignored the good critiques and ruined her stories for the bad ones?  Did she really expect to write something that worked for everyone?  The truth was she couldn't handle someone saying anything bad about her writing.  People telling her things worked and they liked the story meant nothing to her because every negative word outweighed anything else.  Make sure that this is not an attitude you have inadvertently acquired because if you go into independent publishing with it, you aren't going to be able to deal with the reality of what people say. Are you going to expect that the moment your book hits the virtual shelves you'll get nothing but accolades from everyone who reads it?  It's not going to happen.  Prepare yourself for that reality.  No one has ever written a book that works for everyone, even within their own genre.  Don't expect to be the first -- and don't think you're going to pull the book and fix it every time someone says something bad.  Even in self-publishing, that isn't going to work.

But let's go back a bit again.  You've worked on the one book for years.  Are you looking at Indie Publishing because it's easy?  It isn't.  Get over that idea, too.  Sure, you can throw it out there with little more no thought -- but no, it is not going to sell.  You better start studying marketing right now (all authors, Indie or not) and begin getting some solid ideas of what you're going to do when your book is out there.  No one is going to see it until you get enough people looking in that direction.

And let's talk about this being your first and only novel.  If it has taken you years to write, why are you rushing into publication?  Take a little time to try agents and publishers.  It's not going to hurt you or your story.  You've already taken a long time to get this story right.  Think about where it goes from here.  Indie Publishing is always a possibility, but once you make that step, the book is not going to sell to a traditional publisher.

Yes, there are a handful of authors that have made that change.  Maybe even one a year out of the thousands of books independently published each month.  Do you really think you're going to be one of those people who are 'discovered' through self-publishing?  Maybe you will be -- but you can't count on it.  All you can plan for is working hard to get each and every sale you make.

Nothing in the world of Indie Publishing happens unless you make it happen.  You will have to cajole friends and family not only into buying your book, but telling others to buy it as well.  You have to hunt out review sites.  You have to keep active on Twitter, Blogs and websites.  You have to consider buying ads and finding every other little way to market that you can.  And all the time you spend marketing means you are not going to be writing.

You are not going to make it as an author, traditional publication or independent publication, on just one book.

So, there are you are trying to push the sale of the book that took you years to write and you can't even think about writing something else because it's your BABY out there, and you have to watch over it, right?

You are really, truly not ready for the world of indie publishing.

So, many of you are looking this over and thinking it's way over the top.  You'd never have these problems.  Good for you!  But they are problems I've seen so many times that they are worth mentioning to those of you who are still standing on the edge.   You must think your way through every step of this before you leap in.  Taking that step before you consider all of these aspects of self-publishing is like stepping out into the road without considering where you're going or what's out there about to run you over.

Okay, so there are some of the bad things?  Still ready to go on?

The people who are best suited to this are the ones who already have more than one novel written.  They do not need to have more than one ready to publish right away, but they should have at least a second (and more, if possible) in the queue and ready to publish within a reasonable amount of time, like within a few months.  These books should  be vetted by an outside source -- not your best friend, your brother or your sister.  I don't care how good you think they are at the work, they will still have a bias to either be too nice or too harsh.  Besides, you should never go with just one person.  Let them be the first round, but move on to another one as well.  Don't rush.  There is no reason to hurry.

People have to be prepared to spend some time on marketing, which includes finding the locations to market in.  Set up a schedule and devote X amount of time a week to the work.  Don't let it overwhelm you, but do approach it like a professional.  Make lists.  Do Google searches.  Hunt out every little nook and cranny where you can get reviews and notices.  Set aside some funds to buy marketing spots or giveaway items.  Use the money wisely.

Be prepared to be patient.

People who are leaping into Indie Publishing because it's easy and it's quick are the ones who are going to have the worst problem with this part.  They're likely lacking patience to begin with, and when things don't move quickly, they'll get disgusted and give up.  If you're serious, you can't do that.

Be prepared to experiment.

This is the last thing that a serious writer entering into Indie Publishing has to consider.  You can't follow the tried and true path -- if that's what you want, you need to stick with traditional publishing.  This is a new world.  It's going to take a lot of experimentation for the next few years before anything is really settled.

And also, always remember that if you go to Indie Publishing for one book, that doesn't mean you have to do it for the next.  Don't cut yourself off from any path.  They'll all help you sell more books and reach more readers.  In the end, reaching readers is all that really matters.


J.A. Marlow said...

Very nice post, Zette, with a lot of good points. I've seen a lot of authors similar to what you describe. Indie is not the easy path, it's only a different path.

Bratty said...

Thank you so much for the advice.

I worry when I see young writers whose only goal is to get published and become a writer. I worry how they will be able to take rejection.

Me? Well, suffice to say my only goal in life is definitely not to get published. I've been published in the newspaper world for three years. I've seen my name in print. I'm over it. What I want now is to do the best work I can, and I'm focused on that aspect of writing.

People do need to understand that if you put dreck out there, someone is going to call you on it.

It's tough to learn your mistakes in the limelight. Better to learn them before you jump in!