With publishers getting ever more picky about what books they publish and more conservative with how they spend their money, with bookstores closing or reducing shelf space, and midlist authors being relegated to obscurity, many writers might be tempted to delve into indie publishing. If that's you, please read on before you take the leap.
Note: this blog post first appeared on the ROSA blog in November 2016
We've all heard the headlines: self-published author becomes overnight gazillionaire. And of course, we want in!
Stop right there, and read beyond the headlines to the true story!
First up, I'm going to de-bunk a few of the myths in that attention-grabbing headline.
Myth #1: Self-published means different things to different people. In this instance, self-published does not mean 'I paid a shitload to a vanity publisher to give me several boxes of printed books I have no idea how to sell'. In this instance, self-published actually means Indie Published. As in: an independent publisher. As in, the author has now become the publisher.
Myth #2: There is no such thing as 'overnight'. The most successful indie authors have been doing this a while. They've learned the craft of writing, learned about the publishing business and book marketing, and they've invested hard cash and even more time in building their successful careers.
Myth # 3: There hasn't been an indie published gazilionaire since Amanda Hocking and EL James sold their souls to traditional publishers back in 2011/12. Sure, there are lots of indie writers making a good living at it, but the golden age is over. Everyone and their mother-in-law is now self-publishing, and because of this complete explosion of content (without a corresponding explosion of readers) it means everyone is getting a little less of the pie than back in those golden years.
But enough with the doom and gloom. As I said, a good living can be made from self-publishing. After all, on the plus side, indie authors have content, marketing and pricing control of their work, so they can adapt quickly to changes in the market and hop on bandwagons before the big traditional publishers have even realised there is a bandwagon. If, like me, you're a control freak, then indie publishing is made for you! And finally, being an indie publisher means you get to keep all the profits. That's a pretty big incentive.
So what do you need to get started as an indie publisher?
There are just 3 things:
Computer savvy. Don't even think about becoming an indie publisher if you can barely navigate your way around a Word document. Most indie publishing is digital. Unless you outsource absolutely everything (at major personal expense) you will need to be able to format your work correctly, upload it to any number of retail websites, create your own online profiles, create your own teaser graphics, have a presence on social media, send out digital newsletters, preferably manage your own website, and a host of other online activities that require at least a little tech savvy.
Start-up capital. You're no longer just an author. You are now a business. Which means you will need to invest some start-up capital to launch your indie career. At the very least, you will need to hire a professional cover designer and a professional editor. Those are non-negotiable costs. Even if you are a graphic designer in your day job, if you do not also have a good grasp on digital formatting for book covers, book retailers' rules and restrictions, and an awareness of market expectations, you are still not a book cover designer. You may also need to pay for website design, budget for advertising etc.
This last requirement is the most important. You need to have a head for business. If you cannot balance your own cheque book, and terms like Reader Magnets, Return on Investment, domain names and web hosts, Profit & Loss Statements and Business Plans turn you cold, then maybe you're better off in traditional publishing where other people manage all those kinds of things. When you are your own publisher, you need to be your own business manager, accountant, and marketing guru (without neglecting your job as the business' resident author) - at least until such time as you're earning gazilions and can hire people in to do those jobs.
For me, my indie published books have yet to earn me as much as my traditionally published books. But the huge amount of satisfaction they have brought me is priceless. Along my (continuing) journey as an indie author, I have learned so much, and met some incredible people, and I am incredibly grateful for the experience. I may not have achieved gazilionaire status yet, but every single book that sells feels like a huge accomplishment because I did it.